Wednesday, June 15, 2011

You cant have your cake and eat it too!

When it comes to online selling of handmade items you need to ask yourself some questions.
1) Am I prepared to work hard to promote my products and my store?
2) Am I prepared to network and potentially promote others in order to expand my reach?
3) Do I want to sell on a 'shopping site' ie ArtFire, Handmade Artists' Shop, Etsy or do I want to have my own site?
4) Am I prepared to compete with those who sell mass produced items at a way lower cost than I can make things at?

So let's take a look at each question more carefully.
1) Online selling requires you to market yourself. It is not a case of listing an item with a shoddy photo and no description and making a quick buck. Ok, sometimes someone will strike it lucky and do just that, but for the majority of handmade artisans it takes work. This is not face to face selling where the buyer can pick the item up and look at it, feel it, smell it etc. The only thing they have is your photos, your description, your measurements. Added to that is the fact that the internet is HUGE. Your buyers need to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. So you need to get your 'brand' out there, you need to inspire others to help you.. which leads us to the next question.

2) Forming a network of other online people gives you a wider reach than you could possibly have on your own. If you have a network of 30 unique people, and each of them has a network of another 30 unique people your reach is considerably expanded. The likelihood is that they will have many common connections to you though, so the more diverse your network the better your reach is. But you don't just want to promote yourself and your items to them. This will quickly be viewed as spam and you will lose connections. You need to engage your network. Share topics of interest, answer questions, and introduce them to other artisans that you find inspiring or who sell products you would buy. You will find that sometimes this promotion of others results in further promotion of you without you doing it. Don't expect it to happen every time, and if you do find that it happens, acknowledge it.. it may just lead to a new connection for your network, a new friend or a new customer.

3) Where to sell - well that will depend. Do you have the skill and time to design a website and maintain it, or the funds to pay someone to do it for you? In this case you may decide to go it alone and start your own website with its own shopping cart. This is not for the faint of heart, it can be extremely time consuming, which will mean less time for promotion and, more importantly, creation.
Your other option is to sign up to a shopping site.. or several shopping sites. The benefits of these sites is that the code work, the maintenance etc is taken care of by someone else. But it is not free (ok, some have a 'free' account, which is usually quite limited). To gain the most benefit from these sites you will need to pay.
Some sites, ArtFire, Handmade Artists' Shop, Zibbet, have a monthly fee. You pay your fee, and you can list as many items as you like for as long as you like, and you wont have to pay a fee after you sell either. The searches on these sites tends to be based on relevancy - matches to keywords.
Other sites, Etsy,, Ebay, have listing fees. This means you pay a certain price to list your item for a certain amount of time, after which you need to pay the same fee again to relist your item. They also have a sales fee, which means you pay a percentage of the price your item sold for to the site. The percentage you pay varies, but expect it to be around 7%. These sites generally have searches that return the most recently listed items first, meaning the best way to be seen is to relist on a regular basis, paying the fee each time.

4) Now assume you have joined a selling site. Regardless of what their 'mission statement' might be, there is a major issue with most sites that sell handmade. They are know as resellers. These are people who buy ready made items in bulk really cheap, then sell them on. In the case of sites such as ArtFire and Etsy, they are supposed to be against the Terms of Service. These are meant to be sites that have Handmade Items, Vintage Items and Commercial Supplies... not mass produced finished pieces. But they are a fact of life for the online handmade seller.
There are sites that are 100% handmade, namely a site such as Handmade Artists' Shop, which is relatively new.
But here is the catch - you can have lots of traffic and compete in a really saturated marketplace with resellers, or you can have lower traffic, but not have to compete with the mass produced items being in the same marketplace. Most of the bigger sites are more interested in the money they make from sellers than the integrity of their 'mission statements'.

Nothing is perfect in life, and the same goes for online selling of handmade items. There are pros and cons for every option, every site, every situation. You, as the artisan looking to put yourself into this marketplace, need to weigh up for yourself what is right for you... and remember that even if the grass looks greener on the other side.. its probably a trick of the light.


Peruzi said...

Very interesting and well written article - thanks Haff.

Valldawn said...

Very good article, full of great information and advice! Thanks Haffina!