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03/02/2014 by

The 4 Lessons Etsy Can Teach The eCommerce Giants

If you’ve ever shopped online for quirky home decorations, whimsical gifts for kids, or eye catching jewelry designs, chances are, you’ve already stumbled across Etsy.

The 4 Lessons Etsy Can Teach The Ecommerce Giants - Rosie Scott for

Etsy is a handmade, vintage and craft good website site where you can buy everything from hand stitched stuffed animals to, well, whatever there is.

But while Etsy may be the premiere place to connect with small-time craftspeople, there is nothing “small” about the business the platform enables.

With over 60 million unique visitors every day, each of whom spend on average 8.5 minutes on the site, the Etsy community powers big time business – enough to give any eCommerce giant a run for its money.

How Does Etsy Do It?

Um, by competing in every way that the big retailers don’t. Big ecommerce stores, after all, tend to be one trick ponies.

Sure, they’ve got customer service representatives standing by, and an easy to use shopping cart is always a click away, but they tend to rely heavily on the fact that they’re big to keep customers coming back.

Bigger margins mean more room for price cutting, which is why you’ll frequently see bigger ecommerce sites like Amazon or ASOS pushing the market price down through sheer industry domination or offering a constant stream of incentives.

But cutting prices often means cutting various crucial aspects of the customer experience — and that’s where Etsy’s real advantage comes in.

As the eGiants race to the bottom, Etsy provides an experience that’s more akin to a digital mom and pop store than a commercial superstore.

In terms of customer loyalty and advocacy, that approach comes with big payoffs — ones that come with bigger and bigger dividends as the eGiants reach the pricing floor.

Let’s take a closer look at just how Etsy does it and what the eCommerce giants stand to learn.

Lesson #1: Communities Make the World Go Round

Etsy isn’t just a random amalgamation of craftspeople. From the beginning, the site’s popularity has always depended on its vibrant, opinionated, helpful and passionate community.

On the seller side, this primarily takes the form of forums, where sellers can post questions and start discussions for their fellow sellers to answer.

This makes selling on the site more of a team effort, and it also is a great way for sellers to discover one another and pool efforts through things like Pinterest pages or collections.

With such a strong seller community, Etsy is far more likely to attract a diverse range of craftspeople, many of whom are looking to get started online but might be intimidated elsewhere.

More diversity means better products, while more passion for the site means even better PR as sellers promote their stores across the web.

Lesson #1: Communities Make the World Go Round

See how completely antithetical this is to a bland, overly corporate site where sellers are just kind of there?

What This Means for the eGiants

Communities take time to build, but they’re well worth the effort when it comes to fostering a dedicated and vibrant community of sellers. eGiants without forums should start some, pronto.

Forums should be actively promoted to sellers via email and social media. Initially, they may need curation help, with eGiant employees posting topics and reaching out to top sellers for comment.

Hosting events via Google Hangouts or Hangouts on Air can also be an effective strategy, as sellers gather to discuss the most pressing topic of the day or just to get to know each other.

Local events can be similarly effective.

Lesson #2: Turn Consumers into Creators

Just as sellers are more loyal when they’re not just some faceless entity thrown into a sea of other sellers, so, too, does Etsy increase rates of customer loyalty by keeping them actively engaged.

This is something even the eGiants recognize in encouraging customers to leave reviews, which other consumers then use in droves to make critical purchasing decisions. In fact, Amazon was the eCommerce review pioneer, and continues to be a leader in the area.

Amazon reviews, however, tend to be a wall of text, while Etsy reviews are more dynamic, with product photos posted right next to the review.

What’s more, while a big seller relies heavily on its big data to suggest new items, Etsy combines big data with a host of other review tools that empower customers, from starring products to leaving testimonials and favoriting shops so they can easily come back for more.

Etsy review tools

What This Means for the eGiants

It’s not enough to simply encourage customers to leave a wall of text on a product page.

Give customers a variety of ways to rate products and to engage more deeply with each brand, whether that means encouraging them to Tweet about their purchase after it’s been made or asking for new ideas for product lines.

The more interactive the store, the more likely a customer is to come back.

Lesson #3: Let Brands Tell Their Stories

Just like many big eCommerce sites, Etsy curates work from a wide variety of sellers. Unlike on other eCommerce sites, the sellers on Etsy feel like real people that could just as well be your neighbor.

In fact, that’s one of the biggest reasons customers turn to Etsy: they like supporting the individual craftsperson, and learning all about who that person is as they do so.

That gives Etsy a big incentive for giving their sellers a good stage for telling their story, and for making it easy to do so.

Just take a look at the difference between individual seller storytelling on Etsy vs. Amazon. This is Rachel’s profile:

Smart Etsy profile -

It’s easy to find within one click from her shop, and feels more like a social media profile than anything else. We get to know all about where she lives now, where she’s from, what drives her, why she’s passionate about her art, what materials she enjoys most, and how she feels about her customers.

It’s also easy to follow her, so if we like her work, we’ll have a quick method for learning when she’s posted more.

Contrast that to Amazon seller Quality Bargain Mall (yeah, can you tell what I’m going to say about this just from the name?).

Etsy Quality

It took about 4 different clicks to find this profile from a list of Harry Potter mass paperback sellers.

Once I did manage to find this profile, there was absolutely nothing personal about it. There’s no photo of happy employees. There’s all of one line about the company, and the rest of the information is about Amazon.

The company is as anonymous as the name. With no impression left in the buyer’s mind, that leaves this individual brand only one means of competition: cutthroat low pricing. Greeeeat.

Doesn’t exactly give you warm fuzzies, does it?

What This Means for the eGiants

Look, we get it. eCommerce giants give us low prices because they’re bare bones.

But come on guys, you could at least let your sellers have profile photos and logos, or encourage them to write more than a single line of copy to communicate the brand story.

When consumers know who they’re buying from (and that business isn’t gigantic and sterilized), they’re far more likely to become passionate advocates for each individual seller.

And when that happens, the bigger eCommerce store can compete on more than just price.

Lesson #4: Partner Up

Over the past couple of years, Etsy has started several initiatives that match the efforts of its sellers up with bigger brands.

Recently, this has taken the form of partnerships with brands like Martha Stewart Living and West Elm, which have been given dedicated pages on Etsy where they can curate and highlight the work of sellers whose work fall within the umbrella of their brand.

Etsy: Martha Stweart and West Elm Partnerships

In the past, Etsy has also organized in-person events at West Elm in particular, where sellers get to display their wares.

For loyal customers, this has proven a great opportunity to meet their favorite sellers in person, and for every day West Elm customers who may be Etsy newbies, it’s a great way to learn about the site.

Events and partnership like these combine the best of eCommerce’s massive reach with that essential one-on-one relationship that can only be developed in person.

What This Means for the eGiants

eGiants certainly have the budget to throw in-person events, especially when combined with other big retailers.

Online partnerships can also further increase an eGiant’s user base, as it exposes a new range of customers to the platform.

If such efforts involve curated boards as on Etsy, partnerships can also make for great social media marketing, as it provides meat for the marketing team to tweet out to the world.

My Opinion

The eCommerce giants are giants for a reason: with so many resources at their disposal and so much customer data at hand, they can pull a large profit, and they can do so in an increasingly automated manner.

But, ultimately, there’s only so low they can cut prices, and when they reach that bottom, where will they go next?

Sites like Etsy, where sellers are distinctive characters consumers intrinsically want to get to know, are far better poised for the future of eCommerce, as customers seek to learn more about the companies from which they buy.

What About You?
Do you think Etsy has an advantage of the bigger eCommerce giants? What do each have to learn from the other? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the Author
Rosie Scott is a digital content strategist at an online marketing company in London and avid blogger. You can find her and her knitting at The New Craft Society or on Twitter @RosieScott22 where she’s always up for chatting.


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