“Merchant Talk” is a weekly discussion with an actual ecommerce merchant. For this installment we visited with Laurie Marshall who sells hand-sewn crafts and vintage goods on Etsy.com, an online marketplace for artists and craftspeople. Marshall runs two stores on Etsy, Punkinhead.etsy.com and Girlchild.etsy.com, and she talks about them below.
PeC: Please describe Etsy for us.
Laurie Marshall: “It is an online marketplace intended for people who make their own goods. There is also a market there for vintage items, which it considers to be 20 years or older. The primary focus of Etsy is for people who are artists, artisans, and crafters of handmade items. Crafts have to be handmade by that person who’s selling.”
PeC: Tell us about your shops on Etsy.
Marshall: “The first one is Punkinhead.etsy.com, and that one is where I started. It has all things that I made by hand, primarily sewn things. I mess around on a sewing machine and I sew a pretty decent straight line, so, anything I can make by doing that I put it up on there. I have tote bags and some home décor items. It’s just a place for me to unleash my habit of picking up vintage materials and making things with them, and now I have an excuse.
“The other one is Girlchild.etsy.com and that is where I sell vintage items. I have some old records and some glassware and some vintage supplies like sewing ephemera. I love to go thrifting and I love to hang around at auctions and tag sales, and if I find something that I love at a really good price, I put it up on Etsy and turn it around to somebody else who loves it.”
PeC: When did you first start selling on Etsy?
Marshall: “I started in January of 2007 after somebody that I gave some things to at Christmas that were handmade said, ‘Have you ever heard of this place called Etsy?’ I’d never heard of it so I started looking into it and decided I might as well open up a shop.”
PeC: Have you tried other marketplaces such as eBay, for example?
Marshall: “No, I haven’t. I had thought about eBay, but it seems more difficult, and Etsy just was real streamlined. You sign up for free and there were no fees. There’s a $0.20 per item listing fee and a 3 percent transaction fee, and to me, that was very simple.”
PeC: Is running your two Etsy stores a full-time job for you?
Marshall: “No, unfortunately. I have a job where I work as a fundraiser 30 hours a week, and then most of my free time in the summer and fall is spent on sewing [my crafts].
PeC: How many items do you sell on Etsy a month?
Marshall: “I don’t do a lot of sales on it. A lot of people do a lot more than I do. I think Girlchild would average one to two a month, and on Punkinhead I only sell one every six or eight weeks. I sell a lot more at craft fairs because I think maybe people like to handle [items], and once they see them in person and handle them a little bit, they’re liking them more than just seeing them in a picture.”
PeC: Have you ever considered launching your own website?
Marshall: “It’s something that I’m considering and looking into for the future on my free time.”
PeC: How are payments handled in Etsy?
Marshall: “All of the people who bought from me so far have paid through PayPal, and there’s a fee associated with that of course, but it’s not very much. And, I price my items so that I have a decent profit margin. You can also choose to take personal checks or money orders and the shop owner can decide which they prefer. But, I think most of the people that are shopping there use PayPal.”
[Editor’s note: Alternative payment options not specified by Etsy are also offered.
PeC: How do you ship your products?
Marshall: “I use a postal service. The highest pricing I have is $40, but if I was selling a ring that was worth $275, I’d probably use FedEx or someplace where I could insure it a little more easily and track it. I just haven’t had to mess with that so far.”
PeC: Can you display more than one photo of your product on Etsy?
Marshall: “You could put five up, and [the marketplace] is extremely visually focused. If you have a good photo, even if your item is not anything special, you can probably sell it for more than somebody might buy it for at a thrift store just because it looks so good. On the forums everybody says ‘Get good photos. It’s what’s selling your item.’ The shops that get the most attention are the ones that have really nice pictures of their items.”
PeC: Tell us about the forums on Etsy.
Marshall: “They have forums for sellers and buyers, and they’re pretty diverse. There are shop critiques, and there are five or six different business topics where you can post. It’s full of really good information.”
PeC: Do you know of any merchants with brick-and-mortar stores and websites who cross-sell inventory on Etsy?
Marshall: “Well, if it’s something that is not handmade by that artist, you’re not supposed to be able to sell that on Etsy, and so there are not a lot of people like that. They have had interviews with folks who sell on Etsy as their full-time business, and so maybe they have other marketplaces such as their own website or they may sell in a shop. And, I know some artists that might have their items in different brick-and-mortar shops, but not necessarily a shop that they own.”
PeC: What do you like most about Etsy?
Marshall: “I think one of my favorite things is just the community of it. There is an understanding among people who are selling, especially the handmade folks, that we are all people who love to make things and we are all people who are visual and artistic. It’s always a help to a business if you can hang out with people who are doing the same thing you are.”
PeC: Anything about Etsy that you’re not happy with?
Marshall: “One thing that irritates me is the attention that is paid to certain sellers and not as much to other sellers. I’m talking in terms of putting people in the gift guides and featuring them on the site, but when I say that I understand completely that the people who are featured are the ones that are top sellers. They’re the ones who have branded themselves very clearly and they are a success story and they manage their business well, and so for them to get featured is understandable. But, when it’s the holiday time and I have a holiday item that I’d love to have featured in the gift guides but never gets put up, it’s frustrating to see that other shops may have several things in the gift guides. It just seems like you could spread the love a little bit.”
PeC: Does an Etsy seller have to pay to be in the gift guides?
Marshall: “No, but they have features that you can buy. They are like little advertisements that you can purchase that go on the side. I’ve seen several forum threads (and actually my sister has purchased a couple) and the resounding consensus is that they don’t really pay. So, I haven’t done anything like that.”
PeC: Any final thoughts for our readers?
Marshall: “Etsy is certainly something that’s growing and I think it’s easy to use. I’m looking forward to growing my business enough that I can start branching out and hopefully this would be a good start.”