Sunday, July 5, 2009
1,000 Sales on Etsy
A couple of weeks ago, I reached a goal many of us strive to achieve: 1,000 Sales on Etsy! That is an accomplishment, both on my part for persisting and actually coming up with 1,000 items to sell, and on Etsy's part, for its growth as vibrant marketplace for small time sellers like me. I started selling on Etsy on May 31, 2007, which makes it a little over two years, averaging 500 sales a year.
I thought I would use this landmark as a way to evaluate what this means in terms of making a living online. Those of you who are in the same boat will surely relate to some of what I've experienced and those of you who are newbies in this will hopefully come away with some good pointers.
Etsy is an online MarketPlace which allows sellers to open stores that sell things that they make, vintage items or anything that can be used as a supply in making crafts. The site is not juried, which means that among the bounty of treasures, one will also find garbage and items which stretch or even disobey the guidelines set by Etsy on what is allowed. As stated in their "About Us" page,
Who is Etsy?
Etsy was founded by Rob Kalin, Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik and Jared Tarbell in June, 2005. We are a community and a company.
In the four years since its inception, Etsy has grown into a vibrant, international marketplace that has attracted high quality sellers offering an abundance of eye candy that is truly remarkable. Here is an interview with Etsy's founder and former CEO, Rob Kalin, talking about the financial side of Etsy as a concept:
As you can see by Rob's age, Etsy is a young company both in terms of how long its been around and in its leadership. Etsy, from its inception, committed itself to being both a marketplace and a community. They have succeeded in both and should have every reason to be proud of both their track record and the impact they have made on the handmade revolution. I do have some critiques about their methodology and priorities, but will address them late in this post.
1,000 sales! Does this mean that it is viable to make a living at online sales, even in this horrible economy? Well, let's take a look at what these sales mean.
As of today, there are 159,786 sellers registered on Etsy. A significant number of these, have only one item in their shop or have not had any new product listed in a couple of years. Yet, everyone who opens a shop on Etsy must have a hope that their product will sell, that they will generate some income from their time and energy invested in opening the shop. Then, there is a large percentage of sellers who use Etsy as a side gig for a hobby. Someone knits too many scarves, they are compulsive about it, everyone they know already got for Christmas and birthdays in the last five years, so they put them on Etsy in the hopes that they will at least get reimbursed for their yarn. Finally, there are those of us who sell on Etsy because it is part of our business. We need the sales because they are our income. The sales help pay our bills, materials, business expenses, feed our children and so on. If you look at the stores with the most inventory, you will see that they are selling supplies, mostly beads. Etsy Wiki lists the top sellers on Etsy. The top 14 have over 20,000 sales, and the number one seller, Lululaland, has over 52,000 sales! Lululaland has also been on Etsy for about two years, so even if each sale was a dollar, that business would be bringing in $26K just on Etsy. But, most of us are not selling in those quantities. Let's take a closer look at what 1,000 sales might mean.
Wikipedia states that Etsy makes money by charging a listing fee of 20 cents for each item and getting 3.5 percent of every sale, with the average sale about $15 or $20 and mostly sold by women, who tend to be college-educated and in their twenties and thirties. Let's look at an average price point of $20 per item. 20 x 1,000 = $20,000. Sounds like good money, but when you think that 1,000 sales could take two years, that means $10K a year or $833 a month. Out of that, one has to take out expenses like the fees charged by Etsy and Pay Pal and cost of goods sold. Even if you make all of your product out of recycled items that have a very low purchase point, there will be costs involved in finishing a product, in computer maintenance, and all kinds of hidden fees or costs. If we doubled that pricepoint to $40 per item, we would have a more livable income of $1,666 a month. But, what if your rent is $1,500 a month? And, in this economy, selling higher ticket items has definitely become more difficult. Do you see the challenge here? OK, now I will share some of my experience and what I consider to be key to surviving through online sales.
Fabric, Trim, Remnants (59) and Textiles, Quilts, Throws (54). You will find remnants from salvaged ethnic textiles and clothing as well as new, finished items like cotton spreads from India that make great quilt backs or that can be cut up as fabric. I have worked with handicrafts from around the world since 1988 and also have several skills including sewing, working with clay, and refinishing furniture. I started selling online about 10 years ago, mostly on eBay but I have also tried several other venues that have come and gone or that simply did not generate enough sales to make the effort worthwhile. Last year my income was around $32K, generated mostly by my online sales, but I also have a part time job, work on commissions, do henna tattoos in the summer and have provided some technical assistance for other businesses. I have cheap rent and a husband who helps subsidize what I fall short on. My income was not enough to pay for my expenses, but it was a great improvement over the previous year which was around $20K. My goal is to grow another 25% this year. I consider myself an expert in my field and have learned my business through the school of hard knocks. My hope is that you will find an easier route!
"Do not put all your eggs in one basket!" We've heard this over and over. And, it is true. My main outlet now is Etsy although I still keep my eBay store and have recently been accepted into 1,000 Markets where I have the things I make. I also have a booth in an antiques store in downtown Paducah which has started to generate significant sales. Online sales, like any retail sales, go through different, unpredictable cycles. Sometimes, a week can go by with no sales, and then all of a suddent there will be a spurt where there is activity here or there or on all three sites. As I stated above, I also have outside income and I find that I need that, both for the stability as well as for a foot in the "real world". Being tied to a computer all day, every day can become an unhealthy, isolating lifestyle.
Define your product. I love many different kinds of crafts and have had experience in selling wonderful crafts from all over the world. When first started selling online, I also had a brick and mortar shop in Chicago. I had three different shops over a 15 year period, always focused on ethnic crafts from around the world and when I began selling on eBay, I sold baskets, carvings, jewelry and even furniture. I decided to focus on textiles because of the ease in shipping and storage and because I decided to focus my own craft skills on sewing. Having an identity helps customers understand your business. If you sell vintage, zoom in on one period or collection instead of having a mish-mash of stuff that will make your store look like a junk shop.
Avoid jumping on the bandwagon and selling whatever is hot at the moment. For example, the most saturated category on Etsy is handmade jewelry. Everybody who gets hooked on beads starts stringing them, hoping that their special selection will stand out. Very few do. It's one of the toughest markets to break into. I know how to string beads, too, and have made some beautiful necklaces and bracelets, but so have thousands of others. If you want to work with beads, think of some products that are less competitive: wineglass markers, pull cords, beaded curtains, and so on.
Have a range of prices in your shop. My lowest priced items right now are at $7.50, mostly textile stamps like this one:
My most expensive item right now is this Suzani Textile at $180:
I have never sold an item that was over $200, although I have had customers spend more than that on several items purchased together. Give your customers and option and use your sections well. I don't sell anything under $5. I would rather group small ticket items together to make a $10 sale. I can't justify the environmental cost of selling really cheap items singly.
Again, give your customer options! I try to keep my store on Etsy stocked at over 200 items. Right now I am low in all three stores and am working on photos of new items. Those of you who have spent some time on the Etsy forum will have seen post after post of sellers crying out for help, asking "Why am I not selling?" and you go take a look at their shop and they have three items, or at best, 20. What store can operate on low inventory? What street vendor ever sat on a blanket with three items to sell? If you are making your own things, it is hard to grow your store with a healthy selection, but it can be done. Think about growing your inventory and then later, just maintaining it. I worked out the numbers of how many hats and purses I would have to make to have a decent inventory. I could do it, but instead, I have chosen to re-sell the types of things I have in my store so that my sewing could be my creative work. Etsy gives us 10 sections. Try to separate your product line into those sections. It can be by price, color, size, type of product, age, whatever. Then, try to have at least 10 items in each category. That means, a stock of at least 100 items.
Make your store beautiful! Take good photos, explain who you are, what your policies are, and make it professional. If you can't spell or write well in English, have someone help you. Do NOT use texting as a form of writing, do NOT write everything in caps, and do use capitals in the beginning of a sentence. Remember, although Etsy sellers and management might be young, most of the buyers with disposable income will be savvy, professional women who are over 40. Until this recession hit us, 30% of my buyers were Europeans and Australians. English is the language used on Etsy and if you want to sell and make your store believable, use language as well as images to sell your product. Make your message positive and welcoming. Cultivate your online image.
Those 1,000 sales I made only happened because people out there decided to put their trust and money in my hands. And, I delivered. I am grateful for every single one of them, no matter how small the sale. And, when they come back, I almost weep with joy! I have many repeat customers which shows me that I have come up with a product line that is well received and that my customers like how I do business. I do not spend a lot of time and money on cute packaging. I respond immediately to every sale, thanking the customer for their purchase and informing them when I will ship (usually the next business day) and I offer free shipping on purchases over $100. I use the United States Postal Service for almost all of my shipping, printing labels through Pay Pal, and mostly using flat rate envelopes which fit most of my items. Almost all of my sales include multiple purchases, so those 1,000 sales really reflect perhaps around 600 individual sales. My cost in offering free shipping last year was over $1,000, so it is a significant cost, averaging about 10% of the total sale.
I cannot stress how important it is to treat your customers well. They do not need cuteness. They appreciate efficiency, quality products, good packaging, and timely shipping.
Ah, marketing.... This has been the major burden for me in this business of selling online. There is no way around it. You have to get out there and form your online community. A lot of it can be quite fun and I now count quite a few people who I will probably never meet in real life as dear friends. But, it is time consuming and involves constant vigilance of the new venues that are out there. I'm on a whole bunch of groups and networks and even twitter occasionally (watch my eyes roll around in my head!), but I focus my time, energy and money on this here blog (bad grammar intended), Facebook (which I think is an excellent tool!), Project Wonderful, and the Ning group that I started, The Fiber Focus Group. Some of my peers are in all of them, while each also has unique relationships that do not overlap into each other.
When I first started selling on Etsy, I spent a lot of time on the Etsy Forum. I learned a great deal there and have huge respect for the sellers there who take time to guide newbies and confused sellers into making sense out of many difficult issues. But, as I became more savvy with how it worked, many topics began to get repetitive and I also found a strong bias against people like me who work with cultural crafts. There is a definite clique on Etsy in favor of the young indie movement that excludes many traditional crafters or those who work in other craft areas. Then, when I started this blog, I was focused on creating content and found that each post took several hours to produce. Now, I rarely visit the forum, although I continue to refer others there.
I have subscribed to Google Analytics which analyzes traffic to my Etsy store. Over time, this shows what marketing efforts succeed in drawing traffic to the store. In the last six months, 38% of my traffic has been generated through Etsy's internal traffic (including my repeat customers), 23% through Google Key Words, and 4% through this blog. The remaining 35% was broken down into very small percentages from many different sources. You absolutely cannot sit back and wait for business to come to you! How you choose to build your online community is your choice, but it is important especially if you have limited income and cannot spend big marketing bucks on getting visibility.
I like Etsy. I think it has done a wonderful job in providing a beautiful venue for those of us who sell online. It is a huge community and a significant force in providing small businesses with a platform for economic change. I would like to continue to have a presence there for a long time and I hope that as it matures as a site, so will its leadership. I have several complaints that I have whined about in other posts, mostly related to seller tools and its search system. I also find it inexcusable that they do not find a place for fair trade products. The bias against cultural crafts that I mentioned above is really disheartening as the handmade movement is global and should include those who are underserved, lack access to larger markets and who do not have computer skills. I would buy much more from fair trade suppliers if I had an outlet for their products on Etsy. But, I respect their guidelines and stick to those items which I can sell there.
My store on eBay is sorely depleted right now, basically because I have lost the joy of selling there even though I have always had wonderful customers there, too. But, I don't like eBay's management and they have become very expensive. Yet, they provide the best seller tools I have seen on any online market and their search system works. 1,000 Markets is a beautiful model which I believe will become serious competition for Etsy. Even though they are only a few months old, they arrived with a mature, sensitive and beautiful template. I know that they will only keep on getting better and their number one goal is to match buyers to sellers in a vibrant way. Etsy's number one goal seems to be creating community, which is fine, but would be even better if they did that within a business model that made life a little easier for the seller.
Oh, I could go on and on, but these are my basic insights I thought I would share with you today. Whatever my moans and groans, I am deeply thankful that I even have this lifestyle as a choice. It's hard work and it takes discipline to attend to all the many facets of running an online business. You are tied to a business and cannot take off on trips easily. But, there is also a great deal of freedom that comes with this lifestyle. I have my first vegetable garden this year. If the weather is nice, I can go outside and work on it. I can go to the public pool if I want to. I can clean the house, play with my dogs, sew, read or do whatever the muse of the moment mandates. I treasure this freedom and for that, I thank Etsy for all that it has provided me in the last two years and I especially thank all of the customers who have made this 1,000 sales goal possible!
Now, on to the next one thousand!