Sunday, November 25, 2012

How To Sell On Etsy: My Top 25 Tips

A few years ago, I started making bottlecap bows to put on my family's Christmas presents. At the time, I didn't know that bottlecap bows were a trend - I was simply looking for a fun, inexpensive way to dress up the holidays. I bought the bottlecaps en masse from a brewer's supply company and matched them to ribbon I found at Target. The results were gorgeous, even if I was still treating hot-glue-burns well into the new year.
After the holiday season in 2010, I shyly showed my work to a friend who had her own, very successful bottlecap bow business. She suggested that I try selling my work on Etsy. Encouraged, I listed my first item, and it sold within 15 minutes. I ran down the hall, high-fived my husband, and eagerly awaited my second sale. It didn't come for 33 days.
In those 33 days, I delved into research about Etsy, learning everything I could about how to generate sales. I've been an eBay seller since 2001, but I soon found that Etsy is a completely different ballgame. I learned a lot from my trial and error (mostly error), and eventually brought myself to the point where I average at least one sale a day. On my best day, I've had 16 sales.
I wouldn't say that I've become an expert on Etsy. I'm still much more knowledgable about eBay (a post about that is sure to follow) but, in the past two years, I've learned a lot. I've also expanded my shop, selling bottlecap designs, birthday invitations, embroidery designs, custom seam binding, personalized clothing, and jewelry. I haven't become fabulously wealthy, but my shop runs smoothly, and I'm happy to be a part of the site, meeting customers from around the world.
Sometimes, someone will ask me how to sell on Etsy. I don't always know. There are still days that confound me. But I have learned a few things. Here are my top 25 tips to selling on Etsy, plus one adorable bonus tip:
1.       Perfect your product. If you have an idea for a fantastic product, make several prototypes. Gift them to your friends and family and check back often to see how the items are holding up. Work out all of the kinks before you create a listing.

2.       Create a product you would want to buy. There are lots of fads that go in and out of style, but trying to follow them will only end in frustration. Think about what you, your friends, and your family would want. Chances are that other people will want it too.

3.       Having said that, pay attention to your shop stats. They’re located on the left-hand side of the page after you click “your shop” on the upper-right corner of the page. This is valuable information that shows how people are finding your shop and your items. If people are finding your shop after searching for something very specific, like “green sweater,” you might want to make sure you always have at least one green sweater listed.

4.       Shop stats also show you the time at which you have the most views (for me, it seems to be consistently 10:00 a.m.) Try to list new items and relist existing items when you have the most views.  

5.       Take clear photos that show your entire item. I purchased a few yards of black and white cotton knits to use as a backdrop for my items. I take photos with several camera settings and “play” with my photos on Photoshop until I have a picture that best represents my item. Sometimes, it takes a few hours to get the right photo, but it’s worth it.

6.       Tag carefully. Etsy offers you the option of “tagging” your items so they’ll show up in in searches. You have the option of creating 13 tags. Use all of them. Carefully think about what searches you want to lead to your items. And, if you create a new listing by copying another listing, remember to change the tags so they reflect the new listing.

7.       List at least one new item a week. Every time you list a new item, the new item briefly shows up on the front page of Etsy under the heading of “recently listed items.” This is valuable publicity for your item and your shop. Quite a few shoppers go to the recently listed items first. The new items will be considered first for treasuries, too.

8.       Unless an item is literally flying off the virtual shelves, list only one of each item at a time, even if you have more than one available. This seems a bit counterintuitive, and it does mean more work, but you’ll get more sales in the long run. Every time you relist an item, it shows up on the front page, just like a new item would. This means a larger audience for that item and for your shop.

9.       Price your items fairly. It’s easy to overprice your item on Etsy. After all, you made it yourself, owned it for years, or hunted it down and restored it. To you, it’s priceless. But, to a potential customer, it’s worth the going rate of similar items. Check and see what that rate is and price accordingly. Better yet, price a few cents lower. Competitive pricing drives buyers to your shop.

10.   Accept direct pay as well as Paypal. It’s easy to do and the money is deposited directly into your bank account. You can still refund and offer discounts, too.

11.   Ship internationally. There’s no reason not to. You’ll have to fill out a bit more paperwork at the post office, and possibly adjust some of your shipping prices, but that’s a small price to pay for increased sales.

12.   Sell items that are easy to ship. Some customers are going to be scared off by the cost and logistics of shipping something large and unwieldy. Consider offering a few smaller items as well to bring customers to your shop. Once they see how quick and fair your service is, they’ll look at the bigger items, too.

13.   Be clear about shipping and turnaround times. I know very few people who don’t have Amazon Prime and aren’t used to one- and two-day shipping. This doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to purchase an item that won’t arrive for two weeks, but they’ll expect this to be directly stated in the listing. It’s also a good idea to send updates and tracking information when it’s available. I send updates via convo, which is more personal than Etsy’s standard shipping update. It allows my customers to convo back, asking me for more information, or letting me know when the item arrives.

14.   Avoid cutesy item descriptions. This is in direct opposition of what Etsy will tell you to do. Etsy even offers description-writing workshops that tell you to write whimsical descriptions in the voice of your item but, the truth is, most customers don’t even read the full item description before they buy. Make sure you have a concise description that puts the important details like materials, size, and color up front.

15.   List your shop policies in every description. This is a hassle but it keeps buyers from having to leave your listing to read your policies. The longer they stay on your item, the more likely they are to buy it.

16.   Create an internet presence outside of Etsy. You can’t directly link to your blog, facebook, or twitter accounts from Etsy, but you can allude to them, and you can place a link in the follow-up e-mails you send your buyers. Online shoppers do miss having a personal connection with the person they’re buying from, and the more they know about you, the more likely they are to become repeat customers.

17.   Treat Etsy like a business. Set aside hours. You don’t need to keep a 9-5 schedule, but you should have a time each day when you answer your e-mails and convos, pack and ship items, and create new products. The four hours after my daughter goes to bed are my “business hours.” It’s a little unconventional, but it works.

18.   Print business cards and hand them out. You can find customers offline, too.

19.   Follow up each sale with a convo, checking to make sure your customer received and is enjoying the item. Don’t ask directly for feedback (nobody likes to be hassled), simply offer service.

20.   Leave prompt feedback. Etsy isn’t as feedback-driven as eBay, but it pays to be courteous.

21.   Create complimentary products. I try to offer as many complimentary invitation/favor designs as I can, but this works for almost every product. If you make a bracelet, also offer a matching necklace and earrings. If you’re selling a sweater, consider knitting and listing a matching cap. Better yet, offer combined shipping or a quantity discount.

22.   Track how you do each season and plan accordingly. Halloween is my “busy” season. From October 1 – October 31, I can get up to 14 sales a day. So, I try to list more items in October, and make more connections with my customers, keeping in mind that more people will be viewing my shop during that time. When things are slower in the spring and summer, I try to work on making more items and making more offline connections.

23.   Be patient. I’ve gone up to six days without a single sale. It’s discouraging and my first reaction is always to leave my computer and neglect my Etsy business. But things turn around, and you don’t want to be caught off-guard the next time you do have sales. Keep your business hours, convo your repeat customers, and create more items, even during the slow times. You’ll be rewarded if you do.

24.   Create custom listings for custom work. If someone sends you a convo requesting custom work, you can set up a listing just for them. That way, you’re paid in advance, and they know exactly what they’re receiving. I also set up listings that can be purchased in advance by someone who needs a personalized product. If I start receiving too many requests for custom work, I can easily take these listings down so I don’t fall behind. It’s a very easy way to manage your work.
25. Be brutally honest. If you need to put your shop on vacation mode, explain why and tell customers exactly when you'll be back. You're more likely to retain customers if you say "I'm taking some time to visit family and I'll be back promptly on the 15th" than if you simply say "I'm on vacation." The same applies if you're going to be late shipping or need extra time to complete a custom order. More than customers on other sites, customers on Etsy are looking for a human connection. They're buying your art, which is a part of you. They expect a relationship that goes beyond a simple business transaction.

Adorable Bonus Tip: If you create wearable art, wear it! This sounds so simple but it’s true. You’re the best advertisement for your shop. Unless you have a six-year-old. Then, she’s the best advertisement for your shop.
Pictured: The best advertisement for my handmade seam binding.
Kid not included.

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