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The Dawning of the Age of Etsy

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“I spent the morning reorganizing my board on pinterest. I feel like I really accomplished something.” Those are the words of  the social media customer, your next customer.

These are the sentiments of the socially plugged-in mass marketplace of micro-manufacturing, the small one-crafter operation or even the massive disaggregated team of micro-manufacturers working for a single behemoth. This is the Dawning of the New Age of Aquarius… the dawning of the age of Etsy.

At their 2011 Hello Etsy: Summit on Small Business and Sustainability, Etsy tells us they want to work with “small business owners who want to connect with their peers, learn the skills to find success and independence, and be part of the movement to build human-scale economies.”

Etsy was one of the first online platforms that understood the booming retro Indie audience and has continuously worked to capture, develop and encourage that audience, which is growing like mad.  Etsy has become the gateway platform to begin a successful online business for the small crafter who wants to quit her day job  and work for herself, but has not yet developed any of the essential marketing skills to sell her vintage products or handmade goods or crafting supplies. Etsy provides those, small start-up, big-dreamers with their own personal web sites where they can begin to sell their products from their own online stores with very little overhead.   Many then go on to develop their own websites, but the ease of Etsy when it comes to everything from billing to marketing encourages many to continue to link their own websites back to their Etsy sites.

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According to Emily, owner of Etsy shop, USA Handknits, “The great thing about Etsy is you can start a business with practically no start-up costs: it’s free to set up your website on Etsy and free to set up the checkout process, etc. And Etsy has lots of instructional blogs about pricing, website organization, etc.”

In a way, Etsy provides that small business hopeful with a business education by trial and error at virtually no cost at all. It costs twenty cents to list an item, and if you sell that item Etsy takes 3.5%.  But Etsy also sets up your Paypal account and even supplies a tax platform to help the new online business owner pay quarterly taxes.  Etsy literally makes its income when it helps the crafter become successful.  Imagine that!  Your success really is Etsy’s entire business.

The real genius of  Etsy, however, is that it is simultaneously both a social media platform and an online storefront. That is awesome. That is disruptive. That is the new business model for the future of the micro-manufacturing revolution.

In this way it is entirely different from Ebay or Craigslist or Amazon.  When you buy or sell on Ebay you want as little to do with the seller or buyer as possible.  Etsy sells an “EXPERIENCE.” Ebay is about anonymity.  Etsy is about developing social relationships and personal experiences, getting to know the owner of the local yarn store who happens to be a continent away.   Unbelievably, Etsy sellers commonly give buyers little gifts with their purchases.  On Ebay feedback is there, but just to tell the buyer whether or not a seller is trustworthy. On Etsy, everyone has great feedback: what separates sellers is the way they interface (or don’t) with buyers.

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Etsy is as interested in building relationships between customers and sellers as it is interested in the backbone business of actually selling products.  Etsy advances business to customer relations by  strengthening the social relationship that undergirds the micro-manufacturer’s success. This is where we all have something to learn from Etsy.  Etsy does social manufacturing like no one else right now.

We all know using tweets and facebook to push product and blogs simply to talk about our own enterprise comes across pushy and is an ineffective a marketing tool.  Developing a living relationship with customers by using the ever growing social media platforms to answer customer questions and satisfy customer interests is vastly more effective. Etsy is rooted organically in social media and actively helps micro-manufacturers integrate social media into their storefronts.  Again according to ‘Etsy’ Emily, one of the great benefits of selling on Etsy is:

“Ease of social media integration: When you publish a listing on Etsy, you’re given the choice to advertise your listing on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. I’ve made several sales just by publishing a listing in my FB feed. Also, stores are able to link to their social media accounts in their storefront introduction. Etsy has lots of blog posts on how to successfully use social media to promote your shop and make more sales.

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Pinterest is the perfect medium for marketing Etsy wares. Basically Pinterest allows users to “pin” pictures to “boards” that the users create. These boards are usually themed (the theme is chosen by the user) and the pins they contain link back to the place where the user found them– for me, that’s my [Etsy] storefront.

In this new day and age of “green” and “buy local” Etsy has hit a sweet marketing spot. Their whole deal is repurposed, handmade or reusable goods (vintage). That’s part of what I mean when I say they are selling an “experience”–people are sick of buying cheap crap from a low-wage worker at Dollar General. Those with expendable income now want something they can feel good about, something unique. And Etsy offers that–with a shopping experience that doesn’t require you to leave your living room! How cool is that? Now you can buy something local, handmade and unique and possibly meet a crafty, creative seller who will have an actual conversation with you! (When you message someone on Etsy, it’s called a “conversation” or a convo. You know that was intentional!)”

Entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out on the web, could learn a great deal from the Etsy model. Social media should integrate seamlessly with products and storefronts: as a business, if you offer a tutorial or genuinely useful information to your potential customers, you will generate more traffic and sales. Also, like Etsy, invest where it matters: in knowledge and authenticity. Everything else will follow.


Emily Cantin researched, co-authored and created original artwork for this article.



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