TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Sunday, May 4, 2008

How To Search on Etsy

I have a shop on Etsy, Rayela, where I sell textiles, vintage ethnic clothing and rugs, remnants, fabric and things I make. Etsy's intention is to become a community of buyers and sellers, an alternative to corporate production. I've now been there for almost a year and do feel like I'm part of a wonderful community of peers who are working hard to grow their small art/craft businesses. I also sell on eBay, but have never felt a community spirit there. Several Etsy sellers have contributed articles to Fiber Focus and I hope to continue to invite more in the future. Some I have become familiar with through the Forum and others I found through searching for fiber related products.

Searching on Etsy can be an adventure or a headache. If you are killing time and just playing, Etsy has developed many search toys that are visually wonderful. If you want to find a specific product, search can be a nightmare. Let me show you some of the toys first.

Etsy's home page has an icon on the top bar, just to the right of the logo, called "Buy". If you click on that you see a list of all the ways you can search on Etsy:

The first of these is the traditional method of a category listing. If you are looking for a specific item, this is the best place to start, then go into the category and enter you key words.

Unfortunately, the categories aren't the best selection for all the gazillion items sold on Etsy. For example, there is no fiber arts category, which is strange since the site is supposed to be dedicated to artists and crafters. When I look for fiber art items, I have to go into clothing, knitting, housewares, needlecraft, and so on, categories which often irritate fiber artists as they are more functional or craft related than "art". The distinction between craft and art is a whole can of worms that can be debated out in other articles.

Etsy's home page showcases a collection of items that are usually stunning. These items are called treasuries which have been selected by other Etsians. There were 364 lists when I checked today, each handpicked by an Etsian who took the time to put it together. Both buyers and sellers are welcome to do this and anybody can explore the collection by going into the Treasury section. If a seller puts one together, they are not allowed to showcase their own items. Etsy staff selects the cream of the crop from this list for the front page. Several of my items have made the front page, resulting in tons of new views and purchases in my shop. It's truly a wonderful altruistic service. Here is what the treasury page looks like:

Note that at that time 372 people were viewing the list. This is an example of a treasury, the first one listed at the time:

Treasuries are often united in theme by color or type of item. There is a color picker on Etsy that is quite fun:

You can also find items by location. The geolocator shows the last 100 items listed globally.

One Etsy seller was annoyed by all the derogatory comments made on the forum about Chinese items, so she made a treasury showcasing Chinese items on Etsy that were not mass produced. Shop Local allows you to find sellers who live close to you.

This one shows a Kentucky search, and since I had just renewed some items, my store came up first. Stores with no listing activity drop to the bottom of the list. Sellers enter their location when they set up their store and many enter funny places like "the world", "planet earth", "nirvana", and so on. They would be unlikely to show up in Shop Local, unless someone happens to do a funny search, too. This tool is especially nice to find other artists in the area who might want to show or advertise together.

The Gift Guides are themes selected by Etsy staff with items they also select for those themes.

This feature started last year before Christmas and there was a general uproar about it because people felt like there was favoritism shown in the types of items that were represented, especially as many sellers were featured over and over again, even within the same category. Things have quieted down since then.

You can also explore Etsy by looking at their seller list:

I sorted the list by number of items and ended up on page 11 out of 8420. What does that say? It tells me that most stores on Etsy have very few items. This comes up often in the forums and many feel that if you have too many items, customers will tire of going through your pages. But, you can separate your items into categories and there is a search function within the store where you can look for items by keyword and price. My feeling is that if a seller really wants to have their business become a source of real income, then they need to have a healthy selection of product. Right now I have 273 items for sale, while the majority have under 20. Of course, it depends also on the ticket price of each item and demand for those items. Several successful Etsy sellers can't keep up with the demand and sell as fast as they list. Bead, fabric and pattern suppliers tend to have huge inventories, but sell low ticket items.

There are a couple of silly search functions for those who are really killing time. Want to buy from someone on their birth date? Take your pick from those who were born on this day:

This is actually an interesting picture of what sellers choose to use as their avatars. I use my logo and feel that branding recognition is an important part of a business. Some use their faces, their pets (a topic of huge controversy as some buyers have allergies and won't buy from sellers if they have pets), cute images, or product. An avatar is an important point of entry to a store which can also reflect the seriousness a seller has in considering her business.

Feel like pouncing on just anything?

Pounce shows three huge images of items that are randomly selected, either by "just sold" or by "undiscovered" (sellers with low sales). You can keep pouncing and the page will reload with the main item and smaller images of what else is in the store.

Of all of the Etsy fun ways to search, I really only use Time Machine 2. This is a moving slide show of items. You can look at what was just listed, what is expiring soon, or what just sold. You can see two of my items that I had just renewed below:

I prefer to search for new items through my own store connections. When you see something on Etsy that you like, you can save it to your store's favorites list, either by item or by seller. This becomes a heart in that seller's store. Here is what my favorites looks like:

You can choose to keep your favorites private which shows up as a question mark in that seller's hearts' view. I keep mine open to the public because I see it as my own treasury, a good point of entry for anyone wanting to learn more about Etsy and what I think is quality product on there. Feel free to explore my favorites! My logo shows up on each of these seller's hearts page. And, in their favorites, the last three items I listed represent the store. I figured this out on my own and think most sellers are unaware of this. It makes a difference in how I list my items as I want those three to best represent the body of my product. I have things I consider more interesting than others and want others to remember the store based on my best items. I sell a lot of textile blocks on Etsy and try to keep one always there as a reminder to those who purchased them before that I still have more.

I now have 1248 users who have hearted my store. This is very important for a seller because each heart is a potential buyer who may come back at a later time to look at new items. If they hearted a specific item, they may come back to get it. I look at every Etsian's site who hearts mine (except the private ones) to get an idea of who my potential customer base is and what items they are interested in. That means I've looked at over 1,000 Etsy users in this way. Whew!

Hearts are important because there is a domino effect that happens the more your avatar is out there. Etsy calls this effect "Connections":

If you go to the connections page, you can click on others who you have put in your favorites and see who they connect to. The idea is that you probably have similar interests. I do look at the favorites of stores that interest me and find lots of new stores that way.

So, these are some of Etsy's main search toys. They are fun and graphically beautiful. But, they are all impulse related. Compared to eBay's search engine, I find Etsy's frustrating and backward. This is another topic that comes up over and over in the forum. Here's the deal: Etsy's search engine is based on top categories and then 14 tags that each seller fills in describing each item (very time consuming!). Etsy has suggested tags for each category (many of which don't make much sense), but it is up to each seller to figure out how to best describe their product. The categories also bleed into each other and are time sensitive, meaning that the most recently listed item gets top listing over items that might be the exact match. This drives me crazy! Part of the problem is that many sellers don't know how to use the tags, filling in the options with anything related that might bring people to their store. Another problem is that Etsy refuses to allow search by title only. This would help reduce searches that are corrupted by tag abuse. Some sellers argue that they want their titles to be cute and simple and have tags be the descriptive search mechanism and others state that a title only search would mean that titles would start looking like those on eBay. Well, people find me on eBay.... So, what's bad about that?

You can narrow your search by using "not" as a way of weeding things out. "Green Hat not knitted not crochet not baby not felt not polka dot not striped" might help you find your green hat. Ugh.

I especially dislike the time sensitive aspect of searching because it helps move your items out of the public eye quickly. Listing on Etsy is inexpensive, only 20 cents per item. But, a few days after you list, your item drops into the black hole of Etsyness. That means you have to renew it to keep it up top. Renewing one item a day isn't enough- I usually do at least five. That's a dollar a day, $30 a month, just in renewing fees. It adds up quickly. Fortunately, I've developed a niche that has been welcomed on Etsy and have been selling fairly well there. I just feel badly for those who are struggling to stay afloat, especially in highly competitive niches like jewelry or soap or vintage clothing.

My intention here is not to discourage you from searching. On the contrary, I believe Etsy is one of the best marketplaces around. Come on in, search away and have fun doing it! I just wanted to introduce some of the methods Etsy has available as it can be very confusing for those who are not very familiar with the site. I would not be a good business woman if I didn't hope you would search my store first, heh, heh. You can do that by keyword (Miao, hemp, Afghanistan, India, indigo, and so on), by the categories I have set up, or by price. Then, go on to my favorites and on out to Etsy at large. You will find treasures there!



  1. A million thanks for taking the time to explain all this, Rachel. Little wonder my etsy shop has yet to take off - I'm not WORKING it! Time to get serious, and you are a fabulous mentor.

    Cheers, C

  2. I have never shopped on esty before
    ore so this was a great introduction. I aways wondered how it worked beyond goin to shops via blogs. I stumbled on your blog today and have subscribed - its great!


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