Practical Ecommerce

Marketplace Mania, Part 2: Buying Unique, Niche Items

Editor’s Note: This is “Part 2” in a series on buying and selling products on marketplaces. “Part 1: Reviewing the Buying Experience” we published previously.

Last week, I examined the buying experience in the larger marketplaces: Amazon, eBay, Buy.com, Sears.com, and Newegg. They all offer an immense number of products from thousands of sellers. If you are shopping for commodity items and are seeking to find the best price or a wide selection of colors or sizes, these venues will likely suit your needs. However, if you are looking for more unique, niche items or handmade products, these marketplaces are not the best place to shop.

The biggest niche marketplaces are Etsy.com and Zazzle.com. Sellers on Etsy.com offer handmade crafts, art, and jewelry. Zazzle.com sells one of a kind, customizable items that are manufactured by their designers and suppliers. Both these marketplaces have growing traffic, with Etsy.com on a strong upward track.

Other marketplaces that sell handmade items include Artfire.com, Craftisart.com, ShopHandmade.com, and Zibbet.com. If you are shopping for jewelry, crafts, art, or other handmade items, you should certainly check these out at the same time you browse through Etsy.com. If you are a seller of those types of items, you should be investigating them as potential channels.

Since there are so many different niche marketplaces, I’ve decided to focus on four of them for this article: Etsy, Zazzle, iOffer, and Artfire. As in “Part 1,” I’m shopping for leather shoulder bags. Here are some of the things I found.

Etsy.com

Etsy.com is the largest marketplace for handmade items — for both buyers and sellers. Items are sold by individual sellers and are required to be handmade. If you want a unique gift, Etsy.com is a good place to shop. Here is what I found when I did my search in their site.

Etsy search results for "leather shoulder bag."

Etsy search results for "leather shoulder bag."

If you compare the items in the search results to the larger marketplace in my previous article, you will see that these are much more unique. With 8,260 items, there is a large inventory to choose from. I was a disappointed in Etsy’s search capabilities, however, as I could not drill down by color or style. On the other hand, browsing through the selections is more interesting on Etsy because all items are unique.

Zazzle.com

This store is very unusual. Rather than describe Zazzle’s purpose here, just watch its video.

Zazzle offers designs that can be highly customized. This is a good venue for shoppers as designs are customized, but may not be as expensive as true handmade items. This is a venue for designers to sell in, as it has the potential to remove you from the manufacturing and fulfillment process.

Here is one of the results I found in my shopping experience, along with an example of the types of customization offered. The product configurators are well designed and easy to use.

Zazzle search results are well designed and easy to use.

Zazzle search results are well designed and easy to use.

iOffer.com

iOffer.com is somewhat like eBay in that a buyer can make an offer to a seller. But, there is no auction, just a marketplace that allows a bid and then sellers can choose to accept your offer or make another counter offer. They also offer a “buy now” option for those who don’t want to negotiate. In many cases, there are several sellers, which would help obtain a lower price.

Here is the product detail page for a leather bag.

iOffer product detail page for a leather shoulder bag.

iOffer product detail page for a leather shoulder bag.

Artfire.com

This marketplace has its roots in selling handmade jewelry. In fact, the people that started the site actually owned a jewelry supply company prior to starting Artfire.com. It has expanded into other types of handmade items and is similar to Etsy.com. It also has “commercial” items that expand their marketplace offerings to things like coffee makers and other branded, commodity products.

I like the overall design on the site. I was a surprised to see other category promotions above the search results. I assume that is to ensure that buyers discover they have a wider variety of products available, but it was distracting to me. Here are the results for my initial search on Artfire.com. Once again, I would have preferred a richer guided search, but there are not as many results here and as with Etsy, browsing through one of kind items is fun if you have the time.

Artfire search results for "leather shoulder bag."

Artfire search results for "leather shoulder bag."

Conclusion

For shoppers, the choice of marketplaces really comes down to what you are shopping for. If you want lower prices on a branded product, visit the larger marketplaces. If you want something unique, give the niche marketplaces a try.

I will examine selling opportunities in more detail next week.

Dale Traxler

Dale Traxler

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Mark November 23, 2012 Reply

    "Marketplace Mania" is a great title. I think it’s only going to get more manic–but in a good way. We’re certainly anticipating more marketplaces and are making a business of it. Dale, I think this is going to be an interesting trend to follow and I can’t wait to see more stories about it! Thanks for this overview!

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