Hands up, who in Ireland has heard of Etsy?
Not too many, it would seem, are familiar with this e-commerce website where anyone anywhere in the world can set up a virtual shop and sell to an international audience, without incurring the cost of website design with an e-commerce facility.
And it’s open to all as long as your products are authentic, hand-crafted or vintage items, as any attempts at buying cheap products to resell on the site are vigorously policed.
Currently there are 1.6m Etsy retailers worldwide, with 20m active buyers and over 35m items for sale, ranging from playthings for your kitten and wedding invitations impregnated with seeds for planting later, to wood-turned products and sculpture.
Many will have evolved from kitchen table hobbies, where a friend might have suggested selling what you make and earning some extra money, while others grow into serious businesses with employees.
Founded in a little Brooklyn, New York, apartment in 2005, Etsy is based on the principle of standing up for honest, handcrafted items, and sees itself as the antidote to mass-production.
It’s far from folksy though; it doesn’t have the jumble sale feel of eBay; it’s cooler than Amazon and has a wider global reach than the Europe-focused, DeWanda.
But what appears to be key to the success of retailers on the site is setting up a shop with all the professionalism one would apply to a dedicated e-commerce site, or a real shop.
Sligo-based wood turner Matt Jones has been selling on the site for six years, and even though he set up his own e-commerce site during this period, he returned to Etsy which now accounts for around 75% of all his sales.
“It’s a slick site,” he says, “and easy to have a presence without the investment. But you have to make sure your products are perfect, and get good photography. Showing your product well will attract attention.”
Also, the importance of tapping into Esty’s retailer support groups is stressed by Matt.
“Read the sellers’ guide and monthly newsletters,” he says, and use the support groups to get feedback on your shop from other sellers.”
Now selling to customers in Ireland, the UK, US and Australia, he’s learned along the way to keep his products small to cut down on pricey postage and shipping.
“Postage can really add to the cost, especially if you are sending to the States,” he says, “so the lighter the better.”
Another successful Esty shop owner, Belturbot-based Corinne Smith, agrees wholeheartedly with that statement.
She makes vintage-style wedding invitations which prompt a large volume of enquiries from America, but she says shipping costs for something heavy like card can be an issue.
“Sometimes it can add €60 to €80 onto the price which can occasionally put my work outside the reach of a bride abroad.”
Despite that, America remains her main source for sales, as it’s a huge market, and based on what she, as a native Californian says, is American love of Irish products.
But to date her Etsy shop has not prompted any enquiries from Irish brides, with all her local work coming through wedding fairs and Facebook. This is due to what she terms, Etsy’s low profile in Ireland.
Kasia McArt who makes sculpture in Sligo which sell exclusively through Etsy, describes a similar experience.
“We haven’t many Irish customers, maybe 10-15%. Mainly our business comes from the US which is a bigger market. Etsy advertises more over there.”
But nonetheless Kasia is doing so well with international sales she’s now employing her father full-time, so it’s possible to earn a living just by selling on the site. But like Matt she stresses the need to set up an appealing shop, and the importance of on-going promotion.
“It takes time for the shops to be optimised on search engines so it could be six months before you make a sale. It’s not enough to put up the shop and leave it, you have to promote it through social media too.”
Costs to retailers are small with $0.20 charged for each product advertised and 3.5% commission on sales.
It makes the site an attractive retailing prospect, despite the common refrain among Irish retailers that the company is not well known here.
Odd, isn’t it, given their European headquarters are based in Dublin.