We’re living in exciting times. Let’s call it the age of “commercial democratization,” an era in which anyone with a good idea and a well-honed craft can sell handmade goods online without having to maintain the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store. Best of all: there are now platforms that make it possible for small business owners to expose their unique products to a wider audience.
Etsy vs. Handmade at Amazon
Another player has entered the handmade e-commerce game -- and it’s no mere fringe contender. It’s Handmade at Amazon, a new store from the company that revolutionized the online marketplace and set every benchmark as an e-tailer. Let’s compare it with Etsy -- the original purveyor of bespoke goods and arguably the company responsible for the Handmade Revolution -- and find out which platform is best suited to helping you grow your small business.
Handmade is Mainstream
One thing’s for sure: Etsy helped turn “handmade” into a general retail category. Likewise, the word “artisanal” is no longer limited to local shops or crafts shows. The lines between “consumer craftsperson” and “online retailer” are blurring -- which is great for your business!
Jawn McQuade, co-founder of the successful DIY startup MakersKit, shares his thoughts on the handmade industry:
“This genre of goods is so wide and varies in so many different ways. There are tons of products out there that people assume are handmade but rarely are. On the other end, I think there's this perception that handmade goods are easy to point out because of the perception that handmade products need to look handmade, when in reality there are some makers that kill it with what they make. There are people out there that can make jewelry, art, or other products and you would swear that it's mass produced just because it looks and feels flawless.”
Fast Company recently featured the shop ThreeBirdNest, which makes nearly $1 million a year selling handmade leg warmers, scarves, and headbands. The founder, Alicia Shaffer, is transparent about the fact that not all of the items her company sells are handmade (some knitted products are sourced wholesale from India). Customers always appreciate and respond to transparency. Clearly communicating your manufacturing process goes a long way.
The Etsy Economy
In 2015, Etsy.com registered for an IPO, ten years after its launch from inside a Brooklyn apartment. This development inspired CEO Chad Dickerson to lay down his manifesto and emphasize his belief that Etsy would create a new type of economy: the "Etsy economy," of course.
So, does the advent of this new economy mean we no longer need to rely on our corporate jobs to make a living (#goals)? We’d all love to buy into this narrative, but it isn’t realistic. Etsy has benefited greatly from the rise of freelancers today, but many of its sellers aren’t running full-time businesses. Etsy still remains a side hustle. In short: don’t believe the hype. And there’s a lot of hype.
Etsy Launches Manufacturing Marketplace
To help individual sellers find the right production partners, Etsy recently launched a new program called Etsy Manufacturing Marketplace. This free service matches U.S. and Canada-based sellers to the right manufacturing partners. Etsy takes care of the legwork by vetting the manufacturers before adding them to the database.
This means you’ll be able to more easily scale your handmade business to meet demand. It also frees you up from repetitive tasks in the production process so that you can focus on the fun stuff: design, marketing, digital content, and growth.
At the end of the day, with over 800,000 online shops and 15 million one-of-a-kind items, Etsy is a force to be reckoned with in social commerce.
Handmade at Amazon: How it Works
Amazon launched “Handmade at Amazon” in October 2015, and since that time has positioned itself as an exclusive storefront for invited merchants. Literally, you have to be invited. Here’s their mission statement:
“Handmade at Amazon is a new store on Amazon.com for invited artisans to sell their unique, handcrafted goods to our hundreds of millions of customers worldwide.”
To be considered, all products must meet Amazon’s specific handmade criteria. Applications will be reviewed by their team. Amazon’s definition of “handmade” is fairly strict (this means no help from factories, manufacturers, or even kits).
For now, the product categories include: jewelry, party supplies, stationery, and home products such as art, baby bedding, bath, bedding, furniture, home décor, kitchen & dining, lighting, patio, lawn & garden, and storage & organization. They will be adding more categories in the near future.
With 280 million active shoppers, Amazon’s search tool and interface allow the Handmade at Amazon’s products to show up alongside other handmade items, even if they’re listed in a separate category.
Pinterest: Why it’s Important
Etsy has long been known as a source of “Pinterest-friendly material” for vendors and consumers alike. One might even argue that part of Pinterest’s success lies in Etsy’s highly “pinnable” items and images (and vice versa!).
Etsy has invested important marketing dollars in shaping its brand presence on Pinterest. Its strategy includes inviting guest bloggers, Etsy sellers, and household brand names like Martha Stewart Weddings magazine to curate boards – a great tactic for a fresh perspective on content to engage the Etsy community on Pinterest.
Etsy also added “Pin It” buttons on product detail pages so that each pinned product now features the item name, its price, and the shop’s name.
Handmade Items: Tips for Success
Whichever platform you decide to use, here are some tips to ensure your handmade business is a success:
Let’s make DIY an acronym for Develop Income Yearly!
- Be serious about your business -- don’t treat it like a hobby. Develop a strategic marketing plan.
- Add image-based social platforms to your marketing mix to increase word of mouth, solidify branding, improve amplification, and leverage SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
- Having an SEO marketing strategy ensures you’ll use the right keywords so your target audience can actually find you.
- When you sit down to write your “Bio” / “About Us” page, be honest about what inspires you. You’re telling a story. It's about content + commerce. You want to project your authentic personality -- a real voice with a real mission. When in doubt, use a conversational tone of voice.
- Content is key. And in this case, a picture tells a thousand words! Develop elevating images of your products for visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. (Have fun with contextualization too!)
- McQuade of MakersKit adds: “The one thing that you have to do as a handmade seller is to make sure that you yourself would buy your product. If you're not willing to buy it, then you can expect that very few others would be willing to as well. It's also really important to know who you're selling to and not just who you want to sell to. People can stall their businesses by neglecting to actually identify their true customer base.”
Who’s the Winner?
You. No, really.
Do your research. Know your target audience and establish where they’re most likely to find (and follow!) you. Is it on Etsy’s close-knit community, or on Amazon.com -- the e-commerce giant? If you think your target audiences might not know where to look for you in the first place, then take advantage of Amazon’s scaled searchability and interface to expose your business to different kinds of customers. But you still need to know the differences between the two platforms so you can determine which one will help you meet your business objectives. Even in the world of artisanal items, it can be a jungle out there! With the right tools and branding, you’re sure to rule!