Is selling on Etsy worth it in 2020, still? The famous platform for artists, crafters & makers, but also re-sellers of vintage treasures, has been all the hype for over a decade. If you’re contemplating joining the seller crew, here’s what you should know about how Etsy operates.
Etsy has rolled out some drastic changes over the past couple of years. Did you know there once was a time where you had to deliver printable files to customers via manually sent emails?
While Etsy in recent years has started to build a track record of pissing off shop owners by pushing through new rules, it’s still a pretty cool place to hang out.
There were issues in the earlier days (that have since been smoothed out) and there are new issues now. Pros and cons, y’all. As is the case for most things, selling on Etsy has upsides and downsides.
Today we will look at what it entails to be or become an Etsy seller in 2020!
1. Etsy’s Big Advantage
You bring the stuff, Etsy brings the audience. Right?
It’s a little more nuanced than that, but technically, yes. Versus owning a self-hosted online storefront and being solely responsible for attracting potential buyers, Etsy already has an audience. A very large one, too!
Etsy is, of course, a business, existing through the percentage they make of each sale. Their interest coincides with yours: the more traffic and conversion the better.
So, on one hand, you have Etsy herding in droves of visitors. On the other hand, there has been this exponential growth of Etsy sellers, resulting in lots of competition. It’s not exactly easy to stand out on Etsy, though probably still easier than on Google.
It has to be said that while the number of shops on Etsy has grown immensely, the number of visitors coming to the site has also increased by a lot. In 2012, there were 830.000 sellers on Etsy, while the number of active buyers was 9.3 million. In 2018, the Etsy seller counter has hit 2.1 million for 39.4 million active buyers.
Math wizards may see it right away, but us normal mortals need a calculator or pen and paper for this. In 2012, 830.000 sellers for 9.300.000 active buyers equals 11.2 buyers per seller. For 2018, 2.100.000 sellers and 39.400.000 means there were 18.8 buyers per seller.
Those awesome statistics can be found here.
The year 2019 was not finished at the time of the report. Up until October, the number is a tad lower (17.9) but a solid chunk of revenue is very likely made on holiday (gift) shopping.
2. The Customer Service Component
Sites such as Zazzle or Society6 have artists upload designs, after which they’re done. Sellers can then spend their time on other work, or focus on off-site marketing to increase the exposure of their designs.
Production, shipping, and customer service are out of hand. It won’t come as a surprise that the cut you receive from a sold item’s profit is small.
On Etsy, people can correspond directly with sellers. This direct contact with customers is what many find very rewarding. Understandably so – someone is (or ideally a lot of someones are) pleased with your creation and let you know, how cool is that!
Without wanting to take away from this gratifying feeling, as a would-be Etsy seller you may want to spare a thought for two other aspects of the platform’s short lines of communication.
Convo’s & Questions
Answering questions from potential customers is part of being an Etsy seller. Only a portion of those reaching out to you will actually make a purchase. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know who will randomly drop off the radar and who won’t.
Drumming up a thorough list of Frequently Asked Questions may be hard when you’re just starting out, but keeping track of questions you get more than once will be worth it in the long run.
Sometimes a customer needs assistance after buying. Certain niches are more prone to this happening than others. (DIY kits, knit/crochet/sewing patterns, printables or other digital files…)
When factoring in the time spent on assisting post-sale, this seller won’t have made a single dime on this particular purchase.
Excellent customer service is a must. Your customers deserve nothing less and reviews can make or break or shop.
However, it is also a must to factor in the time spent on correspondence (both before and after a sale) if you want the bottom line of your operation to make sense.
It isn’t always pleasant
On planet earth, there are a lot of wonderfully kind human beings. Also a certain number of people who are various degrees of rude, or just plain nasty. Selling on a large platform like Etsy means you may have the occasional interaction with one of the latter.
That’s also a matter of statistics, though harder to put numbers to. 😉
The extent to which this has the potential to ruin a perfectly fine day (or a week, or month if things drag out) will depend on the thickness of your skin and the nature of the issue.
This is definitely not a reason to abort a budding Etsy shop idea. Maybe you’ll only ever deal with the loveliest customers! However, because it seems there’s a bit of a taboo surrounding this topic, I wanted to mention it. Unpleasant customers exist, and they don’t seem to realize or care Etsy sellers are people too. 🙂
Going above and beyond for customers is always the best idea – just so we’re clear. With that said, if you happen to stumble upon one of the real meanies, Etsy sellers aren’t totally defenseless.
You are allowed to reach out to Etsy about a negative review and make your case about it being unfairly given. I don’t know how poignant the case needs to be for it to be taken seriously, but it is an option.
Moving on to the most important chunk of this post.
3. Etsy makes the rules
All. The. Rules.
This is the thing you need to understand and be okay with before pouring your lifeblood, time, and sweat equity into opening up and maintaining an Etsy store. You may be your own boss, but you’re not just operating out of a rented building on a day-to-day lease, your landlord even owns your Rolodex.
Best and worst-case scenarios
Being the proud owner of an Etsy shop is not like owning a self-hosted website. There are testimonials online from folks who lost the entirety of their business and customer base overnight due to Etsy suddenly shutting down their shop. They can do that.
As a general rule, I like nothing more than to think in terms of possibilities, not limitations.
You’re probably wondering what one would have to do to be punished so harshly by Etsy’s headmaster. Once, a few years back, I found myself reading the story of a lady who really had no idea what she did wrong. Lost her livelihood overnight. Etsy never answered her questions. Scary! (Can’t find that particular article now.)
The odds of this happening are very slim – in fact, the odds of your store being successful are much bigger. (Full disclosure: that’s a completely unfounded statement, based only on how many times I’ve encountered one or the other.) What you may find when searching online are similar experiences where folks do know what they were guilty of before Etsy pulled their plug.
So what are those rules?
Here’s an (incomplete!) list of things not to do as an Etsy shop owner:
- Use copyrighted text or images
- Accumulate negative reviews
- Not disclose the multiple accounts/shops you run in each shop’s individual profile
- Sell the same products across multiple shops
- Blackmail/bribe a customer to leave a positive review
- Not pay your monthly Etsy bill
- Not read Etsy’s Terms and unknowingly violate one that isn’t listed above.
Either way, what needs to be mentioned in a complete overview of whether selling on Etsy is worth it is that they own your store. Your online presence, your customer base, your business. In return, they let loose lots of targeted visitors in their jungle of 2.1 million individual shops.
Obviously, as a shop owner, your mission is to excel and stand out towards potential customers but also to be aware of and abide by Etsy’s rules on the back-end. Both are part of running an Etsy shop.
4. What it takes
Etsy sellers consist of people from all walks of life. What will happen once you register and open a shop will depend largely on your skills. It helps if you’re reasonably good at:
- Marketing (incl. social media marketing)
- Writing (compelling product descriptions, convos)
- Photography (for physical products)
- Graphic design
Doing all of this yourself is a good way to keep startup costs low, but the good news is that most can also be outsourced.
The ones who make it
Some discover a sweet spot of doing something they’re both good at and enjoy. Filling a customer demand, over time – with consistent work and effort – they manage to make of their Etsy store their daytime job. Even among these successful Etsy sellers, there are big differences in earnings. As in just enough to call it ‘making a living’ versus making well over six figures.
The ones who peak
Some strangely skyrocket to the top of the charts but they seem to be more like comets… Peaking gloriously, but by the time a random link you stumble upon, on Pinterest for example, leads you to their store, they’ve dropped out of the race for one reason or another. Maybe they rode the wave of a passing trend. Good for them and kudos for being ahead of the curve, even if it was some kind of fad and they’ve moved on to other endeavors.
Certain Etsy stores have the life span of a fruit fly and there’s no shame in that either. For a whole lot of potential personal reasons we’ll never know, a start is made and then… crickets.
Some give it a solid try and don’t get anywhere near a decent wage.
Maybe life got in the way.
Maybe the stuff they listed wasn’t isn’t in high demand.
Perhaps the niche is good, but what they offer simply is not the best in its kind. Other sellers offer it better looking and/or cheaper.
Subpar photography and presentation can make or break a shop. There may be nothing ‘wrong’ with the items for sale; if the first impression isn’t there, customers will quickly look elsewhere.
Last but not least, some Etsy stores are practically dormant but not entirely. With the listings on auto-renewal, there isn’t much to do so the seller might choose to keep things as they are. There are people who barely make a few sales a year through Etsy but a lot more offline, at craft fairs and the likes. It doesn’t cost much to have an Etsy storefront, and it’s just plain fun to have your own stuff out there.
5. Etsy’s Key Features in 2020
Some of these crucial components of selling on Etsy are the result of changes that have been implemented throughout the years. Of course, it’s not all that relevant how things were before but it can show a certain progression. Maybe it’ll give you insights into how Etsy evolves and, if you’re really good at observing trends, maybe also what is to come? If so, do share! 🙂
Selling digital goods on Etsy is a smooth process. Ten years ago, not so much. Now? A breeze. I wouldn’t say selling printables on Etsy qualifies as what is called “passive income”, because you still get questions, convos, requests for change and whatnot. It won’t do your business any good if you neglect those pieces, but the Etsy instant download system certainly makes the process a whole lot easier.
Lots of Pictures & Variations
Listings can have up to ten pictures. The Variations-function allows for multiple options within the same listing, and custom pricing. The blank listing even contains some neat ideas for how to photograph your creation, like this:
Etsy has taken charge of payment methods. They pay sellers through direct deposit. Listing fees and Etsy’s cut are automatically deducted.
The purpose of taking away sellers’ autonomy (the choice which payment methods to accept, paying listing fees separately) was to provide a more streamlined experience for shoppers and simplify the process.
It caused lots of discontentment in the sellers’ community when these changes were pushed out because people found it patronizing. Not sure why – I find it very handy and it’s less work.
The introduction of paid accounts also caused quite a stir. Accused of un-leveling (which Grammarly graciously informs me is not a word but I’m keeping it, thank you very much) the playing field, you can easily remain on the free plan and purchase ads and whatnot separately.
Free shipping, or else…
Enter – practically – forced free shipping. Now that’s an imbalance in that playing field. On its continuous quest to please the customer, Etsy recently (mid-2019) informed sellers of the following: listings from shops who go along with Etsy’s “free shipping on orders of $35 and up” campaign will be given priority in the search results.
The latest concoction from the Etsy headquarters is once again caused an uproar. This is the announcement on the shop dashboard.
The concept is explained in further detail here:
A lot of sellers are disgruntled about this, mainly because it won’t be optional for those who make over $10.000 per year. However, you’re not paying a dime as long nothing sells, so as of yet I’m not convinced it’s such a bad thing.
6. Things you can do to make selling on Etsy worthwhile
If you dig through what so-called experts say, a few things stand out. These strategies might help to get more exposure and generate more sales. Emphasis on might, because there are no guarantees, and isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
New items / New listings
Adding new listings often, every day or at least regularly – this isn’t a huge surprise, right? The algorithm gods favor active shops over the ones with nothing new going on. Just like Google prefers websites with regularly added fresh content.
I even recall someone stating it’s good to have friends make purchases (even if you mutually agree to not actually fulfill them!) because the Etsy algorithm responds positively to turnover.
As a result, the claim was that when listings get purchased more often they’ll appear in other potential buyers’ search results more often. If I remembered who said that and where I’d be able to attribute this idea – unfortunately, I do not.
Photography and presentation
Creating a visually appealing storefront and a consistent line of products – those are obvious. If perhaps back in the early years, some might have found it cute to get a mug cozy from a crappy picture, the handmade trend isn’t new anymore and people have come to expect more.
If you run out of free photography tutorials on Youtube or don’t want to lose time searching for good ones and watching tons of ads, Bluprint has very affordable photography courses that are both excellent and fun to do.
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Fans gather here
If you still have time for it after mapping out your ad campaign, optimizing titles, taking killer pictures and writing descriptions for all the right keywords, building a following for your brand on social media is another thing you can do to increase exposure.
From an at-risk-for-burn-out point of view, trying to stay on top of all social media channels is bonkers. Pick your favorite one to focus on, and maybe also use Tailwind for Pinterest.
Hunt for the right keywords
Marmalead is a subscription-based tool that supposedly provides to its users a crucial advantage over other Etsy sellers.
Another thing you may run into online is self-proclaimed teachers specifically targeting Etsy sellers pining for success.
These “guru’s” have made a business out of selling courses designed to help Etsy sellers blow their competition out of the water.
I have to admit I’m bringing a hefty dose of skepticism to the table here. Their services or subscription packages typically aren’t cheap. What bugs me is that the Etsy stores that allegedly raked in hundreds of thousands for these teachers have since been abandoned. Not that I’m doubting their claim to have owned very successful Etsy shops per se.
However, do you think it’s a safe bet they’re making more selling their courses than they ever did on Etsy?
But I’m a tough crowd.
The personal story narrating how ‘nothing worked until they hired that crazy expensive business coach’ doesn’t move me. The alleged number they spent on gathering the knowledge they’re now practically giving away for free because nine monthly installments of $97 is a steal for the life-changing wealth this course contains? Eyeroll.
I’ll read the sales funnel page to the end mostly to count how many tacky marketing cliches it contains. (Unfortunately, the jubilatory reviews from Etsy sellers who have taken the plunge are one thing, when looking at their storefronts and the number of sales it’s typically underwhelming.) Oh, and let’s not forget you have to act now because at midnight the price of the course will triple and ‘will never be this low again’.
Most importantly – dropping some of the income your Etsy shop hasn’t made yet on a course/coach might simply not be feasible for everyone.
Are there any Etsy courses that have worked great for you? Do chime in – I’d love to be wrong about this.
Bottom line – is selling on Etsy worth it?
There are many different ways to start a business or side income stream. Opening an Etsy shop has pros and cons. Etsy can definitely be worth the hustle…
- If you enjoy the scene and being part of a group of makers, artists, crafters, and hipsters.
- If you are happily motivated to give it not just a shot but your best shot. There is a lot of competition, so bringing the works is key.
- If your niche is in demand and profitable and you manage to make your product stand out from the crowd.
Even if things don’t take off as hoped or expected right away, there are lots of things you can learn to improve on the various aspects of running an Etsy shop. Not much is lost in giving it a shot. Etsy is a world in and of itself, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a whole world outside of Etsy.