December 9, 2010

Thoughts on Etsy, Circles, Feedback and Reputation Management

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 7:59 am

A few things have been circling around in my head this week. There’s the flap about, an online eyewear vendor who used negative ratings to boost his SEO rankings. (This story sent Google into a tailspin as they vowed to change their algorithms to block unscrupulous businesses from gaming their search rankings.) There’s also the debate about Etsy’s new “circles” tool which enables consumers to shop on Etsy socially. (Circles lets you see what friends have liked and helps you find stuff to buy based on friends’ finds).

One commenter who shops and sells on Etsy said, “I hesitate to open a stand-alone shop because I feel like Etsy is so pervasive. It gets mentions on the Today Show and Martha Stewart regularly now. Plus, when I can find what I want there, I like shopping there better than individual websites, primarily due to the feedback feature.” This struck a chord with me for a few reasons:

1. Etsy is big and this new feature is just one more way for them to grow. Circles encourages more browsing on their site and hopefully more sales on Etsy. Etsy makes money no matter who sells so this is nothing but a win for them. As a vendor, this is a mixed bag. Yes people can find you, but traffic you worked to deliver to your own shop can also be lost to this tool.

2. Just because Etsy is big doesn’t mean it should have a monopoly and, in fact, it does not. There are thousands of retail sites online. Many of them are successfully selling tons of awesome handmade/indie/vintage wares without any help from Etsy. Etsy is big but they don’t own the internet and you need not throw up your hands in defeat and let them own your brand and your business.

3. We are in the process of doing away with our Etsy shop. We opened our Etsy shop when we first started because we wanted access to Etsy’s large user base. We spent not 1 penny marketing our Etsy shop and not one minute promoting it. Any sales that came from there came from Etsy’s search tool.

In 2 years we sold about 100 items. In the same amount of time we sold several thousand products through our own website. At this point our brand is growing and we don’t want it tied to anything but itself. When customers buy from us, we want them buying from us, not another site that acts as a middleman. We want to control the customer experience. We want an easy way to get them on our mailing list, get them to our blog, get them to our Facebook page, etc. We wanted it to be easy for customers to pick the size and color product they wanted. We also didn’t want to deal with all the manual effort involved with listing on Etsy and entering orders that came from Etsy. (We had to hand key all orders from Etsy into our order management software.)

For all those worried that people want to shop on Etsy instead of an individual designer site, this is proof that people will shop where the trust is. People shop on Etsy because they’re an established brand that has built trust. You too can become an established brand and build trust and you don’t need Etsy to make that happen.

4. Feedback is not only on Etsy. If you’re an ill-behaved merchant, customers will make it known. They can do it on Twitter, blogs, Yelp, etc. Reputation management is not a concern only for Etsy sellers. So with that in mind, be good or your misdeeds will get out.

On the other hand, I think there are some customers who abuse Etsy’s feedback feature and use it to behave badly and get away with it. This is one of the things that helped push my company off of Etsy. We had too many customers behaving as though buying from our shop was a charitable activity rather than a retail transaction. We had customers throw fits when custom made items were not shipped immediately (despite our clear indications about the time frame we needed to make the custom made items). We had customers scream as us for canceling orders they didn’t pay for.

There are crazies everywhere, and we sometimes get some tough customers on our own website, but not at the same rate that we saw on Etsy. People don’t typically think it’s okay to behave this way if they’re dealing with Amazon or Banana Republic, but they think it’s okay on Etsy.

They get this idea in part because they know they can leave their hate mail right on your own shop website if they don’t get their way and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t remove their rant, however unreasonable, and you can’t even respond to it.

The other reason I see people getting the idea that they can misbehave on Etsy is because a lot of Etsy shops act like they’re a charity. I see forum posts like “buy my stuff so I can afford diapers for my baby” and “If I don’t sell soon I will be foreclosed. BUY MY STUFF! 50% OFF EVERYTHING MUST GO!!! MAKE ME AN OFFER!” When people who sell on Etsy go around behaving this way, it gives the impression that it’s a site full of unprofessional starving artists who will take any scrap of business they can get, no matter how abusive the customer that comes with it. This all lowers the entire tone of the site in my opinion. It drives down prices, encourages bad behavior from customers and makes everyone selling on Etsy look bad.

What do you think? Are you excited about Circles as a buyer or seller? Does being on or off Etsy effect your concerns about reputation management? If you sell on Etsy, do you worry about the impact the Etsy brand has on the brand you’re trying to build?

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  1. I work with so many people who see Etsy as the be-all and end-all, and their business suffers because of it.
    Thank you for pointing out that Etsy is just a tool (although a very valuable one) that should be one of many tools in a seller’s business box.

    Comment by Miss Persimmon — December 9, 2010 @ 8:25 am

  2. I agree with everything you said here. I’m close to finishing my own website, that i will promote rather then pay money to bring people on etsy, where they will be navigated away with my favorites in profile, circles, or anything else etsy will come up with..

    P.S thank you for making this site, so much useful information!

    Comment by Victoria — December 9, 2010 @ 9:25 am

  3. I also agree with all you have said.

    I initially began selling my jewellery through my website then after a year I decided to start a shop on Etsy. At first I found Etsy to be rather overwhelming but once I began seeing Etsy as just a marketplace to help me sell & buy things it helped me from feeling so overwhelmed by all Etsy has to offer (the forums still scare me a little!). In this past year, by selling via both my website & Etsy shops my sales have tripled.

    I feel that my reputation (feedback etc) and networking through Etsy has helped boost sales on my website. I display my Etsy feedback both on my website & blog. Also, as I’m in Australia my website is in Australian dollars and Etsy is US dollars. I have Australian customers who have found me on Etsy but have ended up purchasing from my website and International customers who have found me via my website but have purchased from my Etsy shop. So these things alone have convinced me to stay with Etsy and keep using it help build my business.

    Etsy has also been good in terms of networking and meeting like-minded people from all around the world. I have made not only connections for my business (Etsy teams, other sellers who become customers) but I’ve also made some good friends. It’s opened up the world to me!

    Comment by Jules - Black Heart Jewellery — December 9, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

  4. Jules, I think that’s a good way to work with Etsy. We did the same thing for the last 2 years. We just recently decided the cons were outweighing the pros for us. For a designer who has his/her own site and just wants to get even more exposure, Etsy is great. I just wouldn’t recommend using them as the hub of your business unless you’re a hobbyist.

    Comment by Meredith — December 9, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

  5. This is a great article and encourages me that I’m heading in the right direction. I have been an Etsy seller for 3 years and have done pretty \ well. When I started on Etsy, I was clueless about selling on the web. Etsy has been a great incubator for my business but I feel that I am also outgrowing Etsy. My plan for 2011 is to aggressively develop my own website and then transition over to this being my primary online sales venue

    Comment by Mary Ellen Coumerilh — December 9, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

  6. Meredith – I’m really glad you wrote this post. My disillusionment with Etsy arose earlier this year when I stopped the vicious renewing cycle. My views and sales plummeted to literally zero, and it was a huge wake-up call for me (though I haven’t stopped renewing at this critical holiday period – that would be death to sales). I have definitely realized that people who are successful on Etsy are so because they promote outside of the site and that there is no real magic involved in being a little cog in their big machine. But…it’s SO hard to be seen on Etsy, and the WWW is a million times bigger. How much harder will it be to be seen there even with advertising and promoting and social media, and even if I were a wizard at all of that, which I’m not? It’s a classic case of the known evil vs. the unknown evil. Regardless, your site – and Megan’s and Tara’s – have been huge motivators for me every step of the way and I’m sure they will continue to be. Thank you.

    Comment by Jillian — December 9, 2010 @ 8:27 pm

  7. I am sure the people who sell a lot on Etsy do their own marketing. I just think marketing is expensive, time consuming and a lot of hard work and I see no reason to put the money, time and effort into anyone’s brand but my own. I don’t dislike Etsy, I just think it’s a better venue for hobbyists or emerging brands that have their own website but want an additional selling channel.

    The web is bigger than Etsy, but you have a lot more control over your web presence than your Etsy presence so in some ways it’s actually easier to get seen on the web than Etsy. Google still has more eyeballs than Etsy and ranking for the right keywords is certainly doable. I’m glad Smaller Box has been encouraging 🙂

    Comment by Meredith — December 9, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

  8. I, too, am reassured by this post! I am just finished revamping my own site + store and am now moving everything over there. I plan to keep a few one of a kind things and maybe some more “experimental” items over on Etsy, but everything I consider to be central to my brand will be on my site.

    A lot of the things you wrote about were behind this decision, including the realization that I get the most traffic from the promoting I do myself. I am so not into playing the “Etsy game” and would rather put my time and energy into something I fully own and can make all the decisions about!

    Comment by Zoe @ A Quick Study Paper Goods — December 10, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

  9. Thank you for writing this article! You said out loud some things that I have said in my head. Etsy is a great site, but I too have seen the abuses you talk about. People think they can get something for nothing, that they can demand anything and get away with it, and that they can take advantage of the “friendships” they’ve made through this Etsy “community”. I’m all for social networking, but I’ve never met most of these people, they’re not my friends particularly, and I don’t owe them anything. I am still trying to run a business, that’s the bottom line.
    I had my own website long ago, and I’m starting to think it might be time to go back to it, knowing some of the tricks I’ve learned in over 3 years (and only about 40 sales) on Etsy.
    Best of luck to you, and Happy Holidays!

    Comment by Julie D'Arcy — December 25, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  10. Hello Meredith,
    I agree with your post too. I have a shop on Etsy that I opened at the same time as my own ecommerce site. I did it to add an additional stream of revenue. I havn’t spent one dime on my etsy shop and I get twice as money sales from it despite the fact that i am constantly tweaking my own branded shop. It has puzzled me to no end. I wonder if it comes down to trust as you say. How can make people trust me and my ecommerce site when they first visit my site? Is it a good design, SSL badges, customer reviews?

    Comment by Annie @ le neko noir — January 28, 2011 @ 8:07 am

  11. Annie, I don’t know that it is a lack of trust that is preventing people from ordering on your site. I’d need more information to figure that out. There could be a lot of different issues going on. You may not be driving enough traffic, you may have cart abandonment issues, you may not be driving relevant traffic. I did take a quick peek at your site and your cart page could be the culprit (it looks broken, it may not actually be broken, but it looks really off with the mismatched fonts and lack of logo,etc). There could be other issues too. One place to start doing some analysis is in your Google Analytics reports. It should answer a lot of these questions.

    Comment by Meredith — January 28, 2011 @ 8:37 am

  12. It’s really to bad to, there are alot of die hard etsy sellers out there that really believe that Etsy is the only game in town. I finally gave up and am now on ebay. And so far so good I sell bath and body. I did try to sell tie dye but never caught on. And I got tired of people saying everyday you have to put more in your store before Christmas and fix the pictures. And don’t forget to relist and renew. And the insult and attacks I got when I asked a question. And calling me out saying my labels basically were sloppy I was told not asked to fix them. And my tie dye shirts would never sell because they show to much white. Well guess what one did sale on ebay. I am done with everything on etsy my only reget is what am I going to do with all the business cards that have my old store name for etsy. I have to get more now made oh well live and learn.
    Have a good one,

    Comment by Brandi — January 28, 2011 @ 9:33 am

  13. Yikes. Etsy can’t be the only venue for marketing. It’s simply an online destination where you can list your items for sale and should only represent a portion of your business. If you are trying to run a business with all your eggs in one basket (i.e., Etsy), you will fail–and it’s not the fault of Etsy. Running a business isn’t for the lazy. It’s 24/7 marketing and learning. If you think that just listing stuff on Etsy is the way to run a business, you have a lot to learn.

    Comment by MadMary — December 16, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

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