June 14, 2011

Is Etsy Hindering Your Customer Relationships?

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 5:08 am

Last week I wrote about the difference between transactional and relationship-based business models. When Etsy mentioned this article in their round up, it drove some readers to Smaller Box who said they were focused on a relationship-based business model, despite having Etsy as their primary venue for an online presence. While you can make this your goal, marketplace websites work against this type of business model. Here’s why:

1. The relationship is with the marketplace
A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who shops on Etsy but is not a crafter. She asked why we don’t run Ex-Boyfriend through Etsy. I said “You shop on Etsy a lot, right?” She nodded.

I continued, “Imagine you found the scarf you’re wearing on Etsy. If I said to you, ‘hey that’s a great scarf, where did you get that?’ what would you tell me?”

She looked confused and said “I’d tell you I got it on Etsy.”

And that’s why Ex-Boyfriend isn’t run through Etsy. I know when Ex-Boyfriend’s customers are asked where they got their tees, they’ll say Ex-Boyfriend. It’s the only possible answer. They won’t say Ebay, Etsy, Amazon or any other marketplace website. While we do sell some overstock items via Etsy, the hub of our business is through our website, and the main reason for this is that we want the customers to have a relationship with us, not a marketplace website.

I know as a consumer, I think the same way that my friend thinks. I buy stuff all the time on Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc. I couldn’t name a single individual seller who I actually bought from on those sites. The entire time I was seeing the marketplace’s logo, getting email from the marketplace website. Of course, that’s the branding that stuck with me.

If you want to build a relationship with customers, they need to know who the heck you are. If another brand name is stuck in front of their face during the transaction, how will they remember you instead of the marketplace?

2. The user experience is dictated by the marketplace
In my article about relationship-based business models, I talked about how these businesses place their emphasis on creating a unique brand experience. This starts the minute a customer steps into your virtual doors. The brand experience is communicated via the web design, product photos, website features (i.e. VIP customer clubs, virtual dressing room aps, etc.) and even on down to product packaging, customer emails, website copy, etc.

Sites like Etsy and Amazon do create a brand experience, but the experience is with Etsy or Amazon, not the people who sell products through them. Etsy looks like a modern indie website, if it had a storefront it would be in Williamsburg Brooklyn. That brand experience is conveyed through the site’s design, features, etc. If that’s not the brand experience you’re trying to create, and you sell there, you’re kind of out of luck.

Check out the different vibes cultivated at sites like Lochers vs Brooks Brothers. If the exact same products were for sale on Etsy or Amazon.com instead of those branded websites they might look like just a phone case or just a polo shirt. It’s the branding these companies have created that make their customers want their cases or shirts over the others. Those brands would be incapable of communicating their specialness if their products were featured on marketplace websites.

3. Marketplace websites inhibit lead-nurturing activities
In my article last week, I talked about how relationship-based business models focus on getting customers, not transactions. A marketplace website is designed to give you the opposite result. It might bring you sales, but since you don’t get to build a relationship with the customer and you can’t communicate the uniqueness of your brand, it’s very hard to turn one-time buyers or casual browsers into die-hard fans. Aside from the limitations already discussed, the technology is also a problem.

Marketplace websites don’t make it easy for your to direct the casual visitor to your blog, Facebook page or newsletter. There’s no single click access to any of these tools that would help you foster relationships with visitors. You certainly can’t employ banner ad re-marketing. Even if a customer makes a purchase, you can’t simply have them check a box to get on your mailing list. Repeated marketing communication with the person buying from you is almost discouraged. So how are you going to keep the conversation going with that person who was interested but didn’t buy today, or did buy today but may forget about you by next month?

What can you do about all of this?
People sell their products on marketplace websites for 2 reasons: either because those websites can send you customers since they have a large user base or because they’re easy/convenient to use. If you are serious about growing a real business, neither of these reasons is especially good. A profitable business can bring its own customers in the virtual doors, and after I talked about all the disadvantages of relying entirely on a marketplace for your online presence easy/convenient seems like a weak excuse compared to what you’re giving up for ease and convenience. So here are some options:

1. Get your own ecommerce website
Treat your business like a real business by investing some money in an ecommerce site. If you’re not ready to go whole-hog, consider ready-made solutions like Yahoo stores or Big Cartel. You will still need to invest in a web designer, but it’s still easier and cheaper than creating an entire ecommerce site from scratch.

2. Get your own website and leave the ecommerce where it is
If you aren’t ready to create your own online shop, you can at least create a website with a professional design and links to your blog, social media accounts, etc. Then you can direct customers to your marketplace store (Etsy, Artfire, Amazon, Ebay, etc.) to make their purchases. It’s not ideal, but at least the customers meet your brand before they meet the marketplace.

3. Have two online shops
If you can’t give up the traffic and sales that marketplace sites deliver, there’s no reason to leave them entirely. But treat them like an ad venue instead of the hub for your business. Create your own site and sink all your marketing efforts into that, then leave your Etsy/Amazon/Ebay shops where they are, so that visitors using those sites as marketplaces can still find you.

4. Create an experience in a box
If you are determined to stick to the marketplace entirely, you’ll need to work extra hard on product presentation. Make sure everything about the finished product that gets into customer hands reinforces you branding. You want to get your branding into your product packaging, inserts that go into the package (i.e. stickers, buttons, etc.) and the product itself. Make sure your logo is on the products, on your invoice, etc.

Your goal is to deliver a package that is so memorable and so branded, that the customer’s lasting memory about the transaction is your brand instead of the marketplace.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, I’ll show you some examples of how we try to do this with Ex-Boyfriend.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

This content is copyrighted. See my content sharing policy here.


  1. Thank you for writing this! It perfectly encapsulates my sentiments (I’ve been unable to articulate this in a concise manner in the past to friends/indie business owners – – now I know where to send them). Etsy is such a big name to people who shop handmade. When I’ve been a vendor at craft fairs quite a handful of visitors to my booth inevitably ask, “do you have an etsy shop?”. This innocent question gets under my skin every time! (but don’t let on 🙂 The thing is, I do have an esty shop, but that’s not where I direct people (see #3).

    There are times when I feel like giving up and just heading over to Etsy 100% – I look at the super sellers and see somehow they’re making it work (and I know I shouldn’t compare as I don’t know how they operate or if they truly are “full time”) But for all the points you mention – blog access, sign up, branding, etc. I can’t seem to give up the main site.

    In any event…thank you. I enjoy reading your advice and words on Smaller Box.

    Comment by Mary P. — June 14, 2011 @ 8:41 am

  2. We have people ask us if we have an Etsy shop too. We always just say “We have our own site” and hand them our beautifully designed card with a $5.00 gift code on it and tell them to check it out. I am not sending a customer I meet to someone else’s business and cutting them in on a commission of my sales. I think Etsy is good as an affiliate, because they can deliver their users to you. But I see no reason to deliver my customers to them.

    Etsy is a double-edged sword for consumers. It is one stop shopping, so there is that, and it’s a known brand. However, there’s zero quality control so you have to wade through a lot of stuff you don’t want to find something good. I don’t usually have the patience to sift through hundreds of pages to find something I want. Plus if I want to buy a ton of stuff, I am better off at a site that can combine my shipping.

    I don’t hate Etsy. I think it has its good points and it’s great for hobbyists. What it’s not good for is trying to run a real business. There are better options for that.

    Comment by Meredith — June 14, 2011 @ 8:53 am

  3. I always love reading your blog, Meredith! Whenever I feel like I’m getting off track, I come over here and read something that kicks me in the butt and makes me realize what needs to get done!

    Any way, this is exactly what I needed today. I’ve been waffling over so many decisions these days because Etsy brings me so much business. I’m finding that I kind of can’t stand the *type* of business it brings me though. I don’t want to be associated with the “homemade” mentality on there and I’m starting to feel put down a lot because customers on Etsy really just don’t seem to value my time. I don’t want to be harassed any more and I don’t want to feel like those convos own my day. I might not be ready to totally break up with Etsy just yet, but between the week I’ve been having, and now reading this great post, I think it’s time that me and Etsy started seeing other people.

    Thanks 🙂

    Comment by Christine — June 15, 2011 @ 7:16 am

  4. Thanks, Christine 🙂 What a pretty site, by the way!

    I have had the exact same experience with Etsy. The customer base is very different than the crowd we get from our own site. I think it’s okay to use them as a glorified affiliate if they’re driving a decent number of sales via their marketplace, but hand over your whole biz to them? No thanks!

    Comment by Meredith — June 15, 2011 @ 7:21 am

  5. Well said! I have had my own e-commerce site for a long time. It is my primary source of income and where I direct my efforts to drive traffic.

    That being said – last year I also opened an Etsy store as well. I use this great venue to get my products in front of people who might not find me in any other way.

    When I package my product for shipment to a customer – I also include a small thank you gift with my business card and a feedback card with information about both my primary online store as well as the url for my Etsy store and for the various blogs I write. Every item I make carries my label – easy to do with a sewn product, but a makers mark is possible with nearly any product. I also send all new customers an email with a code for free shipping on their next order on my primary site.

    Nearly every person who has purchased something from me on Etsy – has made a followup purchase on my primary site.

    Maintaining multiple e-commerce sites can be a challenge – but if done well, can pull in traffic and build your brand.

    Comment by Deb Messina | OneMark Creations — June 15, 2011 @ 7:22 am

  6. […] list – I came across a great article this morning that I had to share with you. The article – Is Etsy Hindering Your Customer Relationships is a well written look from the indie business owners at the smaller box – at the use of […]

    Pingback by E-commerce Options for Artisan Sellers — June 15, 2011 @ 7:57 am

  7. Well said! I agree about etsy vs. an autonomous ecommerce site. Last year, I opened up my own ecommerce site and it was fascinating the different kind of customer and traffic stats I received on the two sites. A lot income came from etsy (without putting very much money or effort into the site) that I can’t say I will let the etsy shop go. However, I made a couple of adjustments, so that, hopefully, customers who found me on etsy will go to my own ecommerce site instead. One of which is I send a personalized thank you email from my website’s email address that includes in the signature links to my regular website, to my email list sign up and to any recent press or a recent blog post. Many of my repeat customers originally found Xmittens on etsy and now shop at my ecommerce site instead!

    Comment by Amber — June 15, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

  8. FINALLY! Someone with the guts and brains to come right out and say it in plain English! I’ve been watching others sell things on FB for months now and I was ready but afraid to leave the shelter of Etsy and madeit. I procrastinate from fear, and it’s got to end today. I love you. Really. I do.

    Comment by Pam — June 15, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

  9. Wow, this is exactly the conclusion I came to this week!

    The Etsy forums are filled with sellers asking how to get more traffic/sales to their shops and one of the solutions is outside advertising.

    I thought, if I’m going to go to the expense of buying advertising I’d rather bring buyers exclusively to my own website and not to Etsy where they get to look around!

    Thank you! I will definitely be going in this direction and not rely solely on Etsy.

    Comment by Bren — June 16, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  10. You are so right about the branding issue. I have wanted to sell things from my own website for a long time, and I actually do better at fairs and shows than I do in either by Etsy or Artfire shops, but my main fear has been setting up the cart! I designed my own website, but it just seemed like a bridge too far to deal with cart/ecommerce software or coding. Big Cartel might be just the thing. I’m looking into it more now. Thanks!

    Comment by Kelley Pounds — June 16, 2011 @ 11:42 am

  11. Big Cartel is a pretty nice easy solution to implement for people who are wary of doing something more technical or complicated. It has its drawbacks and limitations, but it’s better than just relying on Etsy.

    Comment by Meredith — June 16, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

  12. great article – just shared on facebook…I totally agree about branding and have recently set up a big cartel shop to focus on my jewelry line…I like that I can utilize what I learned in my website class to re-style the css in big cartel….

    Comment by amy — June 16, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  13. […] a busy week here in Smaller Box land! Tons of good conversation about marketplace websites, branding, and picking the best business/marketing blogs to follow. My anti-guru rant had been a […]

    Pingback by Smaller Box :: Blog :: Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week — June 17, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

  14. I enjoyed reading this as it really chimed with me. I gave up on marketplace selling, especially Etsy, a while ago as it just did not work for my business. I spent a lot of effort trying to articulate why on my blog last year (http://www.misofunky.com/news/2010/08/risky-business/) but this post summed up the point I was trying to make much more succinctly! Thank you.

    Comment by Claire — June 18, 2011 @ 7:04 am

  15. Great post, thank you – I hadn’t thought this through at all but you’re right. The answer to “Where did you get this?” really is the marketplace, not *me*. And with so many enticements within Etsy to leave each of our individual shops (circles, faves, teams, treasuries and on and on) it’s harder each day – food for thought.

    Comment by Heather aka Niftyknits — June 19, 2011 @ 4:01 am

  16. […] the step I wasn’t quite ready to take. I’m still not quite there, but I recently read an article which articulated my vague uneasiness in a way that I’ve been unable to. And now I can’t get it out of my mind, especially […]

    Pingback by Dear Etsy, It’s not me, It’s you. « lorigami — June 22, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  17. Thank you so much for putting into words the exact message I have been working to enact with my own business. I currently do business on Etsy and on ArtFire, but I no longer direct people to those stores. I have an ArtFire RapidCart on my own domain, until I can find an eCommerce program I am happy with.

    I recently attended a branding and SEO seminar in St Louis at the HAA tradeshow. The advice expert marketer CS Wurzberger gave is exactly what you are saying. Build your own presence, make your own brand, by using YOUR domain in your emails and creating a “face” for your business with a weblog.

    Studies show (Country Business, July 2011) that buyers really want to connect with a business in a personal way. Blogs are the #1 preferred (by the BUYER) marketing tool because the customer can “get to know you” a little. eCommerce isn’t going to go away but people still crave that personal interaction, even if it is seemingly one-way. You write the blog, they read it. But that is more than just dumping a product in their lap, they interact with the content by creating an image in their minds about who your company is and who you are behind the company.

    People will shop very loyally with merchants they like. Ben and Jerry, everyone knows who they are, they’re these two guys! But who’s behind Breyer? Mr. Breyer, I guess. Tell a story with your brand and make yourselves a personal presence behind your storefront. Remember Mr. Hooper, the grocer on Sesame Street? What was the name of his store? I don’t even remember, but I remember him.

    Thank you again for taking the time to write this very amazing post.

    Comment by Ande Spenser — July 7, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

  18. […] The Smaller Box blog has a terrific post (one of so many) called, “Is Etsy Hindering Your Customer Relationships?” […]

    Pingback by All Things Metal Clay » Blog Archive Round up of Good Reads in Jewelry, Crafts & Biz | All Things Metal Clay — November 8, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

  19. […] You’ll think that it was my friends who talked me into this, and you might have something there. Meredith Keller, you know her from her blog, Smaller Box, she talked me into it with this post. […]

    Pingback by All Things Metal Clay » Blog Archive Dear Etsy, It’s Not You, It’s Me (a break up letter) | All Things Metal Clay — February 6, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment