Etsy – a different kind of eCommerce

etsyIf you’ve not yet heard of Etsy you will. It’s quite a different approach to selling online that tackles a niche marketplace, and embraces all that the niche stands for – including the social / community side.

What is Etsy? is an online marketplace that facilitates the selling of craft and vintage goods by those who make / find them. (in eCommerce Business Structure terms it’s Niche PiggyBack)

There’s quite a community on the site with over 7m users worldwide. And in 2010 sales revenue was $314m.

Anyone can buy or sell. Sellers create their own “shop” which they can merchandise and improve to their hearts content. There’s also a big focus on feedback and user recommendation – so you can “heart” (favourite) shops and individual pieces. Some shops are quite eclectic so it’s easy for the sellers to create seperate areas within one shop – one for designs, one for knitting, one for vintage etc.

The range of goods available is HUGE – basically anything that you might class as:

  • Vintage
  • Craft
  • Art
  • Supplies for art and craft (there’s a lot of wool and scrapbooking resources available)

With the supplies being the most eclectic – anything from old clock hands, to driftwood, to beads buttons and wool.

Whilst there are a lot of hobbists selling on Etsy there are also many people earning a living from it, and a few famous artists too. Including:

It’s such a popular community that it’s even created a spin-off site Regretsy. Regretsy is the “fail blog of hand crafts”, so basically it’s a place to post, laugh, share and moan about bad things on etsy – bad descriptions, bad craft, clearly commercially bought non-vintage sales etc etc.

Where did Etsy come from?

Etsy’s roots are firmly in the craft and art world. It was set up in 2005 by Robert Kalin (a frustrated furniture maker), Chris Maguire and Schoppik Haim. The aim being to give crafters somewhere else to sell their wares – not just via galleries and craft fairs.

The Etsy business model.

Very simple.

Etsy supply the difficult stuff (website, software, payment gateway etc), the sellers pay them 20 cents per listing, and 3.5% of any sale made (ex P&P).

So it’s a scale-game. So long as there are enough sales going through to cover the overheads of running the website then it’s going to work really well.

They really don’t rest on their laurels though. The site and its editorial content are set up to encourage 2 things:

  • better selling
  • wide range of purchases

There are MANY MANY resources available to both help the seller merchandise their goods, AND to encourage them to get better at their craft / try out new craft.

The navigation methods on the site are pretty original too. Whilst on any other ecommerce site you’d want to drive the customer to the most popular products / shops that’s not the case here. The secret of Etsy is the eclectic product range. So the navigation is designed to show case everything, rather than focus the buyers attention on the most popular. These methods include:

  • A homepage that shows a really bizarre mixture of goods
  • Shop by colour
  • “pounce” – where you can either see a snapshot of shops that haven’t yet sold anything, or the shops that have most recently sold something (very wide ranging selection, and very addictive!)
  • Treasury – other people’s lists of great stuff
  • Time machine – for just listed items
  • (all of these you can search geographically)
  • Wide range of categories – including the intriguing “geekery”

Etsy the social media beast

In the offline craft/art world the community is king. So online Etsy have followed that idea.

Not only do they have very strong community fucntionality on the website itself, they’ve also embraced the other social media engines, including:

  • twitter
  • facebook (including seperate pages for different languages)
  • video & Youtube
  • blogging

So what can we learn from Etsy?

  1. Understand your customers – create a site that brings them value
    (Etsy helps sellers earn an income, and allows buyers to find unusual/hard-to-find goods)
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Create the right navigation / site structure for your customers
  4. If you’re going to use social media – embrace it