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Sat Apr 4 2009 20:35:07

Etsy, Where Handmade and Vintage Collide

By: Ina Steiner

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Etsy calls itself, "Your place to buy and sell all things handmade." After I began giving more coverage to the site last year, I received letters from sellers who said they felt Etsy does not do enough to promote the vintage category. This issue may prove to be one of the company's biggest challenges - and potentially one of its greatest opportunities.

I hadn't really thought about Etsy as an "eBay alternative" per se, given Etsy's focus on handmade items. But if you look on Etsy, you will find vintage collectibles including books, movie posters, comic books and other items that I associate more with online auction sites and antiques malls.

A search for comic books on illustrates the problem vintage sellers describe. The default search is for handmade items, so searching for comic books brings back homemade, self-published comic books alongside items made from comic books, such as a key ring sporting images cut from comic books. Shoppers must manually select Vintage from the pull-down box in search in order to bring back more targeted results for vintage comic books on Etsy.

Maria Thomas took over as CEO last year after the company received a large infusion of funding (over $30 million received altogether). She's been imposing structure and focusing on scalability, which makes sense since those investors are expecting rapid growth - and eventual profitability.

But in addition to geographic expansion, where will Etsy's growth come from? In eBay's case, it was category expansion - consider eBay Motors and the Business & Industrial category, for example. But this is especially tricky for Etsy, whose brand is all about handmade. Sellers are not allowed to sell items they haven't made themselves, unless they list in the Supplies or Vintage categories.

How would Etsy attract buyers to non-handmade categories? And how would it keep its hardcore fans happy if it expands greatly beyond handmade?  It will be interesting to watch how Maria Thomas approaches this problem, along with other growing pains the company is sure to encounter.

Be sure and read more about my tour of Etsy's headquarters in the April 5th issue of AuctionBytes-Update.

Comments (23) | Permalink

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by: Brenda

Sun Apr 5 00:30:55 2009

I sell vintage items within Etsy.

There is an undercurrent of tension that surfaces periodically created by the manner in which Etsy represents itself to the public.

The vintage items and commercial supplies are listed as separate product lines within the site and are not included within the site's default search. They only receive catagory status, and only appearr as one of numerous catagories to be found within the site, positioned toward the bootom. There is nothing to distinguish vintage items from vintage style, especially when the site's byline is ''ALL things handmade''.

Forum threads spring up on a fairly regular and ongoing basis that ask ''Why is this here?'' The items in question do tend to be the vintage items. The vagueries of the site lead to confusion and the threads of this nature tend to become heated and escalate to toxic on a regular basis.

The artisans think that they have become involved with a strictly handcrafted site and the sellers representing the vintage product line feel slighted and tired of having to continually explain and or defend their presence within the site.

These problems become worse because of the unique to Etsy product search. Partly because there is a greying between vintage, the item and vintage the style or componant, catagory crossover contamination threads a la, keep your stuff listed in the right place threads also run rampant.

I believe that Etsy needs to do ALOT more in giving their entire product line equitable billing and equitable search options. The company needs to be more forthright in how they present themselves to the world.

I invite you to run a few sample searches and to visit the forums of Etsy. There are areas where the dirt is begining to bulge out from under the rug. It needs to be properly cleaned.

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by: Not my thing

Sun Apr 5 06:19:34 2009

But good luck taking another chunk out of failing ebay.

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by: Harriet

Sun Apr 5 10:21:38 2009

It's interesting. I have vintage and antique items listed on Etsy, also have handmade items.

I have yet to sell any handmade items, but have sold many of the others.

And my handmade items are pretty nice.

I was surprised at that.

One of the latest things that has put a damper on many handmade items on that site (which were beautiful quality things for children), is the federal CPSIA law which requires very expensive finished item testing for any children's products aimed at children 12 years old and under. The law was passed mainly to stop tainted imported toys, but has had a serious trickle down effect on USA based small businesses which were never part of the tainted products situation to begin with.

It did put quite a few sellers on Etsy out of business, or forced them to discontinue the affected portion of their business.

I do not sell children's items, but have been following the effects of this law carefully.

There may be changes on Etsy in the future to cover this portion of their business volume which has been lost due to the law. And it might include more emphasis on things other than handmade.

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by: o.c.d.collectibles

Sun Apr 5 12:30:47 2009

This is the bottom line with every site who sells vintage or "used" items. Because there used to be (and still is) a stupid stigma about buying things that are not brand new. This stigma was what got the ebay downfall going.Mr Donahoe HATES used merchandise. He does not want it on ebay. He has stated it time and time again, that he does not want ebay to look like a flea market with noisy sellers.

Etsy can be just as snobby with their new handmade items as ebay is now with new Chinese imports.

Hello?? What part of ebay's mistakes can Esty learn from??

There will always be a HUGE Following for used and vintage stuff. Why in the heck would flea markets and outdoor multifamily yard sales, Church Bazaars, and other thrift stores be SOOOOOO popular???

Look at the traffic around these kinds of venues! Look at the number of people who stand in line to get in! Look at the people carrying bagloads of stuff out! Look at the business figures of thrift stores in this country, (and other countries too!!LOL)

One would think...that the obvious to the average layman, would be obvious to the Master's degreed corporate directors  of the world..there really is no magic to this, and it's  not rocket science. Just simple observation! You don't need statistical reports for that!!!

Any sales venue that wants to succeed, will EMBRACE the "used" inventory sellers and merchandise, because THAT is what people are actually LOOKING for!

You lose those sellers, and you lose all your public attraction.

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by: mamacita

Sun Apr 5 13:01:34 2009

I bailed out on eBay last year and moved to Etsy with my vintage items. I am surprised at how well my items sell. I don't do any outside advertising, yet I sell quite a few items every week and get decent prices for them.

However, there are LOTS of problems with the way Etsy is set up. It's quite confusing to a person who has just stumbled across the site to figure out exactly what's going on there. The vintage category seems to be an afterthought; the red-headed stepchild or something, YET.... it's HUGE. In many ways, I think vintage sells better than handmade items do but Etsy is not capitalizing on that potential.

I think Etsy needs to separate vintage from handmade and split into two sites, or make the distinction between the two categories MUCH clearer. I think I could best describe Etsy right now as "QUIRKY".

Etsy is growing very fast. I would say that 90% of my buyers are brand new to the site, registering on the very day they purchase from me. Many of them find me through a Google search for a specific item.

The vintage category on Etsy is becoming cluttered with 1000's of NON-VINTAGE items as well. It seems that Etsy staff is generally very young, 20-somethings, who really have no clue if something is vintage or not. I see things that are only a few years old, and when I complain, nothing is done about it. Etsy needs to hire some vintage experts who can police the listings to make sure what's being sold is REALLY vintage.

Etsy has made great progress in the short time I've been there, but if they can't (or won't) follow their own rules, it will backfire on them. Why have rules if they aren't enforced? It's not quite as bad as eBay yet, but if they don't get their act together pretty soon, it WILL be.

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by: Cathy Orosi

Sun Apr 5 13:02:57 2009

I sell vintage and supplies on Etsy. I am doing well.

I also ask myself why Vintage and Supplies are not promoted on Etsy very much (there is a weekely email newsletter that talks about Vintage). Perhaps crafteds are tied to the influx of capital and the cash is required to be spent on promoting the handmade.

I wonder how much better I could be doing with some promoting of Vintage/Supplies categories. I know having listing and upload tools geared to ease and speed for the heavier lister would enhance my Etsy experience.

I would like to see what portion of Etsy sales/income come from Vintage/Supplies and if that same proportion is spent on us.

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by: Patricia

Sun Apr 5 13:04:50 2009

I have never really gotten to know Etsy.  I don't like their search - there just doesn't seem to be much exposure for one's items except for the first day it is listed.  They have policies that I don't understand like recently harassing me for 61 cents on my bill and yet not allowing me to pay unless the bill is over 1.00! (shrug) They have weird things like Alchemy...what that?  Not good instruction as to what is what.  At this point, I much prefer Bonanzle though I list on both sites.  Both have potential if they work their cards right...but I definitely think Etsy needs work in simplifying their site and clarifying what sellers need to do and need to know!  Plus I agree with the first post...if they allow vintage then SAY SO instead of letting sellers sit around and pick at each other!  Have they learned nothing from Ebay's failures?

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by: Jay

Sun Apr 5 16:16:13 2009

When I first started listing on Etsy, vintage and handmade were mixed together in the search. Then they separated them out into separate searches.  Many vintage sellers reported a decrease in sales after vintage became a separate search. I am not sure if this was due to the change in search, or the huge influx of Ebay refuges to Etsy.

I do wish Etsy would state in interviews that Etsy also has vintage. Last week Mr. Kalo was interviewed by CNN, and he repeatedly said Etsy was the place to find handmade.  No mention of vintage. There is no mention of vintage on the Etsy Wiki page either.

So far, I am glad for Etsy's quirkiness.  The difficult listing tools keep the mass listers out. Bonanzle already has some of them.  Search for "vintage 40s dresses" on Bonanzle and you get a hundred brand new oriental dresses from China.

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by: mamacita

Sun Apr 5 16:40:14 2009

I'm fairly happy at Etsy too; it's FAR better than eBay and their customer service is better... although lately the customer service has declined due to the influx of new sellers.

I look at like this: You're on vacation and drive into a quaint picturesque town full of art galleries. You walk down Main Street to shop for art, but if you poke around town a little you'll find a lot of antique stores and vintage shops tucked away in the alleys and side streets. You'll have to do the legwork yourself to find these places because there isn't a tour guide or a directory to help you.

Perminate Link for Etsy, Where Handmade and Vintage Collide   Etsy, Where Handmade and Vintage Collide

by: jay

Sun Apr 5 16:57:15 2009

I think that Ebay has failed because of large corporations.  I think Ebay had to pull the focus off the small seller because the large retail outlets were threatened by the success of the small seller on Ebay.  The small Ebay sellers were putting a huge dent in the large retailers bottom lines, and the large retailers were sueing Ebay and enforcing VERO.

In addition, too many Ebay buyers were also sellers who got vindictive if the seller they purchased from did not follow the rules exactly.  I think that the PITA buyers were Ebay sellers who got over zealous in policing Ebay themselves when Ebay wouldn't do it for them.

I think there are way too many Etsy members who need to focus on their own business, instead of reporting other peoples listings.  I spend my time making money on Etsy instead of looking for listings to report.

I make money from a dedicated return clientele on Etsy. The buyers know when they are looking at brand new crap instead of vintage.  Focus on building a following on Etsy, and it won't matter what else is in your category. They will visit your store first.

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by: Mitzi

Sun Apr 5 17:49:18 2009

Thanks so much for this post Ina! I have two Vintage shops on Etsy, and I am a member of the Etsy Vintage Street team.

It really is sad that Etsy doesn't choose to promote the Vintage sellers on its site very often - but the sellers themselves have taken up that slack and do an amazing job of promoting their own shops - and Vintage on Etsy in general - so much so that Vintage is in the top 10 categories on the site!

I would like to see a solution that has been discussed in the past - give Vintage it's own site, with all the features and options of the main Etsy site. A prominent link from and a team who knows the Vintage market devoted to managing (and promoting!) it would do wonders. The same thing would be great for Supplies as well.

I think Etsy is in prime position to build a brand new home for Vintage sellers - I know my sales are steadily increasing, as the word is getting out that you can find Vintage on Etsy from honest, passionate, and professional sellers.

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by: JoeyD

Sun Apr 5 21:16:23 2009

I can't say that I'm very impressed with Etsy. Perhaps some artists do well on the site, but I personally do much better on eBay and Amazon with my handcrafted items. I've heard a lot of good things about Bonanzle and I set up a booth this weekend, but my concern is (like Etsy) there just isn't the traffic. Maybe things will change in the future :)

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by: mamacita

Sun Apr 5 22:05:03 2009

In response to Jay about reporting listings: I don't actually go searching for non-vintage listings to report, but I do search Etsy when deciding how to price my items. When I see more contemporary stuff come up in a search than VINTAGE stuff.... I think that's a problem.

I do report non-vintage items that come up right next to mine on the search list. If Etsy doesn't take the listing down, I politely email the seller about it. That usually works.

It would help if Etsy had a discussion forum just for vintage where sellers could post pictures of their items, like eBay does.

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by: jay

Sun Apr 5 22:28:47 2009


I didn't mean you in particular when I ccmplained about over policing a selling venue.  On Etsy, the forums are full of sellers complaining about others listing violations.  It seems they should be working on their business instead.  I think most sellers are mistaken about the impact that miscategorization has on their sales.

If you sign up for google analytics on Etsy, you will probably find out the same thing I did.  That 80% of the traffic to my Etsy store is repeat customers. The buyers on Etsy find you because they like your store, and they keep coming back to look around. Not because they found you in a category.

I have to pay extra for google analytics on Bonanzle, and the traffic is pretty slow.  My items get about 1% of the views my Etsy items get. But then that is what google base is for, and Bonanzle has a quick way to list to Craigslist.  I really like that.

My website gets as much traffic as my Etsy store each month, but the new visitors are 95% of the traffic. So, the traffic to my website is mostly through google base.

My point is that each site has to be worked to it's full advantage, and taken as it is to increase sales and make a living.  If you subscribe to the Etsy success e-mails, you will read about a lot of artists who make a full time living on Etsy ($2000/month profit and up).

Some day, Etsy management might include a vintage seller in their success stories.

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by: V

Mon Apr 6 10:03:52 2009

Please, please, please Do Not Split Etsy in two! It is a mistake in my opinion. If sales fell when the search was divided, what do you think will happen when the site is divided? It is a mistake. Let the Buyer find the vintage. It is really not that hard.

I sell both there, a split site would probably mean a split administration as well.

Sites have to make it easy for buyers to find items but let's not treat buyers as 2 year old children (like eBay likes to do). They are savvy net users, they'll find what they are looking for.

Leave it alone. It works as is.

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by: SK

Mon Apr 6 10:29:36 2009

Etsy has succeeded at something that no other alternative site has - it has it's own traffic.  I believe this traffic has come specifically because at Etsy you will not find the same junk that's filling all the other sites. Most buyers come to Etsy for the handmade and art stuff - not for old comic books.

Unlike Bonanzle, who makes the ''find everything but the ordinary'' claim - but it's only a slogan since the site is filling up with thousands of ebay-migrated items (that, let's face it, isn't selling on ebay).  These items never expire, so like an enormous trash bin of unsellable, often over-priced, waste products, they just fill the site like some binary landfill.  With no actual customer base of their own, at least outside of their own desperate sellers, they depend soley on Goggle traffic.  Sorry, but I want buyers, not bored people looking for a place to chat all day.

What Etsy has are actual buyers - and they are not coming in from Google.  Nothing wrong with Google traffic, but anyone can get Google traffic.  It's free and only marginally effective - but all the alt sites offer it - and anyone with a webstore can get it too.  It's the least-common-denominator of web traffic.

Like Ebay, Etsy generates it's own traffic.  What this means to the online seller is that when you pay .20 for a 4 month listing, you are buying real traffic that you might not otherwise get in any other way.  That's the kind added value sellers need - not just another website with freebie googler's.

It's no wonder that those selling non-homemade stuff want a piece of the action.  Etsy had over 400 million visits in February and sold over 600,000 items - in February alone.  Wannabes like Bonanzle had just 1% of that traffic - and won't even tell us their meager sales figures.  That's the difference between hype and real business.

A lot of people say that Ebay's single biggest mistake was forgetting what made them successful to begin with - the small time auction seller.  I'd suggest that Etsy learn by Ebay's mistakes.  It's handmade items that have made you what you are - stay focused!  You do not want to be ''just another ebay alternative''.

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by: Mitzi

Mon Apr 6 14:08:05 2009

The traffic/sales for vintage fell when they split the search because they hid the vintage section under a drop down menu. It took a while for people to get used to that, but I think they have. I don't think it would be any different if they created a completely separate site for vintage - especially if they put a prominent link on (unlike now!) pointing folks to the new vintage site.

If vintage had its own forums, its own treasuries, its own fun search tools, its own categories showing up on the front page - in other words, everything that is on the Etsy site now but specific to vintage - I think that once the adjustment period was over, it would really take off.

Of course enforcing the 20 year rule would be very important, so hiring a few people who know antiques and collectibles to manage the new site would be the final piece of the puzzle...

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by: clea

Mon Apr 6 15:44:15 2009

Etsy really needs to work on their search.  The search from the dropdown menu really seems to run completely on tags (rather than categories) which is an unorganized mess.  When I list an item, as a seller, it seems that the first two tags I choose determine the category and subcategory my item will appear in.  But I'm not sure some of my items don't still show up in multiple categories.  And etsy doesn't have subcategories (to my knowledge) beyond a second.  So if you're selling vintage beads, which are jewelry supplies, and you list them in the vintage section, they will turn up in the vintage jewelry search no matter the order of your tag words because there is no separate category for vintage jewelry supplies--only for vintage jewelry-- which is a nuisance for buyers searching for just vintage jewelry, but it's not the seller's fault.  The search system is totally inadequate.  Ebay has a very effective search system--just because no one wants to be like ebay does not mean they cannot learn from ebay's successes.  

In any case, the search problem is probably why mamacita keeps coming up with so many items that aren't vintage.  Everyone here seems to forget that Etsy also allows the sale of craft supplies which do not have to be vintage and there is a huge number of artists buying on etsy and elsewhere who make altered art, assemblage, repurposed jewelry, etc, out of items you might not think of as supplies, but which, to those artists (including myself), are the supplies they seek.  It's Etsy's responsibility to make sure the search system effectively separates these items so that they still get the proper exposure yet are not impeding the exposure of other items.  

Personally, I think the tag system along with the lack of appropriate multiple subcategories is the problem.  It seems Etsy wants to be different from other marketplaces in all ways, including their search methods, but Etsy is different because of the people who buy and sell there and, I think, because of the people who run it--the tag search is not necessary for this purpose and really is detrimental to the site.  

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by: Jay

Mon Apr 6 17:14:47 2009

A woman's magazine that was on the grocery check out line had an article about making an extra $2400 by selling stuff lying around the house.  It gave an examples of readers who had made some extra cash selling on Ebay, Craigslist, and Etsy.

The Etsy reader sold vintage items to make extra cash.  She stated how surprised she was while browsing Etsy to find out there was a vibrant vintage community on the site. So she listed some of her old sewing patterns, and made about $600 profit in one month.

I think Etsy is going to have to claim it's vintage sellers soon, or the media is going to start asking why they keep trying to hide them.

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by: Kitty

Mon Apr 6 18:23:10 2009

I'm selling on Etsy now.
It is so much better than eBay.
I hardly notice the vintage stuff, too.

Too bad they cannot feature it more prominently, or create a mirror site devoted to vintage, with a separate search.  Collectors have been practically chased off eBay with pitchforks and need a new home.

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