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Selling Jewelry on Etsy - Should you do it?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here Seth and guess that your methods of creating custom jewelry online IS an experience. One that people enjoy, and I’ll take another step out on that limb and guess that more and more people are going to warm up to it as time goes on.

Dave

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Thanks @davidphelps7 ! I certainly hope you are right, and I obviously believe that you are :wink: I think people are already warming up to it, because let’s face it… things mean WAY more when they are made just for you.

The infrastructure required though is substantial, because as many of you guys know, it’s very easy to lose money on custom if you aren’t careful and disciplined. There is a lot of client interaction and much of that can be made efficient, but I don’t think it can ever be eliminated. Many of the folks who tried to do something like this before me, at least those who were venture-backed, tried to field a “configurator” type of experience, which essentially pushes the work onto the customer. Work that the customer is neither equipped to do, nor enjoys doing without guidance. We have chosen a high-touch customer-centric model. Time will tell if we are correct or not.

You can check out some of our stuff here… our reviews are updated live (but only 1 in 3 people leave a review, so it’s a small cross-section of what we make).

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@ErichCDesigns1

I have a nagging thought, and am wondering what you think about the following:

Assuming that a good brick and mortar gallery has a following, your work would be seen by a lot of folks who are likely to buy, plus, they think your work is “vetted” by the gallery. So in this regard, it makes sense that galleries can increase your sales.

And even though a gallery represents a selection of artists, it’s a fairly small pool compared to shopping from a variety of individual artists on the worldwide web.

There probably are less online galleries, but if an online gallery is as successful as a good brick and mortar gallery, then instead of crediting physical presence for establishing customer trust for big ticket items, might it simply be due to good representation that knows how to sell?

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I think you are 100% correct and would add that I think places like Etsy give credence to that exact thought. I mean, how many people sell on Etsy that would’ve had a heck of a time selling on their own site? The fact that their work can be seen there (and/or similar style sites) lends a certain validity to their business and hence it’s easier to buy from them. Plus, with the backing of a well-known company (ala Etsy) it’s easier to feel that you have a certain amount of safety in making a purchase.

I’ve gone back and forth myself as I mentioned earlier between wholesale with brick-and-mortar places to doing it all myself. Initially, many galleries and stores didn’t want to work with any designer that also sold online. Perhaps it is still this way, but it would seem that having both a physical presence somewhere and the ability to sell online are becoming nearly a necessity. This doesn’t matter as much for many products that have low production costs, but when you’re talking about gold/platinum jewelry (high material cost and high labor for unique, one-off things), it’s becoming imperative to put that product in front of as many people as possible. As you observed, why park $XX,XXX of wholesale goods in a lone store that may get 500 people/wk vs. a site that can be viewed by millions 24 hours a day? See, now I go and say something like that and it certainly makes sense to me, but the hard reality is that I often sold more at those little stores in a single month than all the years of online sales put together. (Of course, we’re also in a rough time for jewelry where gold prices are still high and people are spending more and more off their disposable income on phones and various electronics that need constant upgrading. Plus, where I live most of the jewelers I talk to are having a rough go of it and are surviving on repairs and custom work, but general retail is pretty much nonexistent). I dunno, I’m still left with the nagging suspicion that people just need to see, feel, and try on bigger ticket items when it has ventured outside of more mainstream jewelry design.

Erich C. Shoemaker

The main disadvantage that I’ve found in online consultation as opposed to face to face is time. It takes ten minutes or more to express and flesh out an idea via email that can be done in 30 seconds with a pencil and a few words back and forth.

I really prefer the old-fashioned face to face, ‘let me get you a cup of coffee’ kind of relationship with clients, but I can easily see the advantages you have. Your expenses have to be a fraction of what ours are with a brick and mortar retail operation.

Best of luck Seth, but I don’t really believe in luck. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Sounds like you have both well in hand.

Dave

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@ErichCDesigns1

I don’t think of Etsy like a gallery.

It seems like a gallery makes some kind of investment in the artists they represent, because at the very least, the gallery is doing the selling. And galleries do not represent just anyone.

I think of Etsy as simply a venue, because they allow anyone to sell anything. Customer trust in Etsy seems to be due to Etsy’s trustworthy checkout. Etsy has a lot of eyes, but you must capture and sell to those eyes; thus, you keep a greater portion of the sale because you did everything to get that sale.

Galleries might be afraid to represent an artist who also sells on their own website. They probably see the potential for the artist to undercut the gallery’s retail price.

The time and frustration an artist saves by letting the gallery do the selling, might be equal to the time an artist spends growing his relationship with the gallery. …Like trading one chore for a different chore.

Your thoughts about big ticket customers needing physical feedback made me wonder if a good online gallery (not just a venue like Etsy) could represent an artist as well as a good brick and mortar gallery. It seems like the combination of good online gallery representation with the plethora of online customers could create exponential results.

But finding good galleries is probably like searching for a needle in a haystack.

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Seth, I didn’t realize that you had purchased CM … when did that happen?

Betty, my experience is that some galleries
do not mind an artist selling from their website,
as long as prices are comparable.
High end galleries usually have artists
that do not sell their own work.
And then there are artists that
wholesale or consign, and have a retail store,
like I did.

I think the best replies to this subject is
from people who have experience in this area.
Seems that people like to speculate and
make suggestions or give advice without
having experience.
The “landscape” of doing business
has changed over the last 10 years.
Both the internet and the economy
has made it much harder for people who have
decades of skill and knowledge, and things
ain’t what they used to be.
I do not know how juried art and craft shows
are now, I had friends who did those for many
years, and then it was hard to break even.
I had a store where I did custom and repair,
I had 5 local artists that had a history of
selling their work, as I did my “art” jewelry,
and then it all stopped. These artists also did
local art shows.
For years 80% of the people who came in
my store made a purchase.
2008 was rough, every year after, just a
struggle.
No one came in.
I fought for years to keep it open.
The first 3 months of 2015, I made 55%
of what I needed, I did not have to make a
decision.
The next month was a going out of
business sale.
I had a good 24 years.
Just a bit south of me, there were six
jewelry stores, when I went out, it was
down to one.

@Richard_Hart3

I think the best replies to this subject is from people who have experience in this area.

Tell us about your experience selling on Etsy.

Seems that people like to speculate and make suggestions or give advice without having experience.

Well then, please tell us about your experience with gallery REPRESENTATION, particularly with online galleries. That was what my conversation with Erich was about, letting the gallery sell the work, and the possibility of getting that same representation online.

To @Richard_Hart3 point, I am now officially guilty of having brought the thread a bit off topic. :slight_smile: My apologies. I do have a lot of familiarity with etsy. I raised almost $30 million of venture capital to build a business that competed with some component of etsy - what was once called Alchemy. That was the first version of CustomMade, which did not grow as large as expected, leading to our current version of the business.

I don’t know the current management team, but I did meet Rob Kalin (the founder) on a few occasions, and I know Maria Thomas (the CEO that replaced him) very well. We hired numerous product, engineering and marketing people who worked at etsy over the years. And I am an investor from back when the stock was trading around $700MM market cap :wink:

I have never tried to sell jewelry on etsy, but I know many, many people who have. My perspective…

The pros:

  • etsy has a large volume of organic traffic, spread out across the spectrum (long tail, short tail, etc). So the domain ranks extremely well for many jewelry-related key terms. This means a lot of people looking for jewelry, especially unique handmade jewelry, do wind up at etsy.

  • etsy has excellent brand recognition and serves a growing niche - people “shop” on etsy, so it is not purely one-off transactional like many other marketplaces.

  • etsy is dirt cheap from a transaction fees (sale %) and costs (listing fees) perspective. Cheaper than anyone else, even when you include the listing fees and re-listing fees, and a bargain relative to building your own infrastructure. This is a large part of what led them to grow so quickly, but also a big challenge for them as they try to grow larger.

  • fears that another platform will unseat it, like Amazon, are largely if not entirely unfounded. So you needn’t worry about establishing a position on the platform.

The Cons:

  • by all accounts, etsy’s average order size remains very low. I can’t imagine it’s pushing much beyond $50 in the jewelry vertical, and it used to be $25 in aggregate across all categories (a while ago, but I doubt much has changed). So it is more crafty kitchen-table jewelry than fine jewelry.

  • Sellers on etsy are often not “real businesses” I don’t say this to be denigrating, it is simply my own opinion and I think supported by the evidence. The problem that creates is that many folks who are real businesses simply can’t command margins that compete with folks of that orientation. And the low-end is incredibly price sensitive.

  • A different problem exists on the high-end of etsy - it is 100% commodity, and a race to the bottom. Overseas manufacturers watch what sells in any sort of volume and replicate it cheaper. Since 99% of jewelry is derivative in nature, the designs really aren’t entitled to IP protection and so the cycle continues. This means differentiating in the fine jewelry category on etsy based on service when it’s so hard to compete effectively on price is extremely difficult.

  • Search on etsy makes it extremely difficult for a new business to be found. You will have to invest very, very meaningfully to bring sales onto etsy in order to establish enough velocity to start making sales using their traffic.

As far as galleries are concerned, I think there will always be a place for them, especially in fine jewelry. For my business, scale is very important, and we are 100% true custom, so that type of selling channel wouldn’t be ideal for me. But for many independent makers / fabricators, I like the channel

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Hi Richard,
Its always sad to see the demise of a B&M store like you had, so, the question is? why did folk stop buying? what you had on offer? then to what extent did you analyse this?
There have to be reasons.
If as I assume you design ,make and sell your ideas, to what extent did you innovate, away? from the standard traditional jewellry lines?
with a B&M store you get the buyers name and address and can put them on your mailing list
.Also of course, what is your demographic population, or catchment area?
. Static? or changing? and how many thousands are within say a 20 mile radius ?
So the one store surviving , what are they putting in their window? to keep going?
My experience now of 50 yrs of direct selling to put it bluntly, one has to offer something completly different, to the point that when a customer see it, they want it badly enough to dig into next weeks housekeeping money.
This limits the purchase in todays money to a max of $150, but Ive found it easier to sell 10 off at this price than one at $1500.
However one needs both on ones display. It sets the tone!.
Ive sold just about everywhere, from street markets( the 1st 19 yrs) to juryied applied art events (20 yrs) to steam rallies making a product on site, 1000 off sold off the hammer in 5 days, and by contract, turn key productions at venues throughout Europe.
I had an invite to the USA Numismatic assn 100th anniversary in Chicago, but couldnt get round the Unions that fixed up the exhibition venue. They insisted I had a foreman and 2 riggers on standby at my expense despite they doing nothing.!
!Now its a bi-annual event at my own studio over 3 w/e and 2 weeks to a private mailing list.
I went to look at a Xmas fair at our local agricultural college, the 1st thing I did was photograph the car park.
Why? because they were either Mercedes, Audi, BMW, or Range rover.
The moneyed class here in Dorset UK. Im doing it this year. Having looked at the exhibitors NO one was making their own products. Except the cheese man.
I expect to make a very good return for my efforts.
For example as mentioned elsewhere im in a production run of the “Dark” ages cuff. in s/steel assembled with TIG then fire oxidised. I dont really understand why there in such demand.
Hope this widens this pressing problem you all have that exists today.
Ted.

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Ted,
Nothing you can do about the economy. When people do not have discretionary income,
they do not have the need for anything other than basic necessities, shelter, food, vehicle, insurance. Restaurants were not doing as well as they had been.

The shift of people buying online, people buying diamonds on line through Blue Nile seriously damaged the profit margin of one of the products that was a foundation of a service that I could provide.

As a Gemologist trained to have knowledge to educate customer and help guide a customer to find a diamond that fit their budget that they would have pride in owning, customers started coming in to see if I could beat the internet price, not aware that without seeing the difference between a picture on a screen, and seeing something in person, they could not grasp the difference in the value of the money they were spending in relationship to the quality of what I could provide that was better cut and better clarity for the same price.

As I mentioned, several retail jewelry stores went out of business in my area. I still did a lot of repairs, that was not enough to survive.

Good advice, Seth! Could you elaborate on your Con: …“investing meaningfully…” ? I’ve had a small shop on Etsy for several months but not much traffic to it. I have my own ideas about how to bring sales but I need more. Thanks for a great job on Ganoksin.

Richard,
thank for your analysis of the current shiny shiny world where you are…
It used to be diamonds folk invested in ,but now that Samsung and Apple are the new ss,( as well as Tesla!) then folk spend $7/800 every 2 yrs or so on the latest and so called greatest upgrade, forgetting that its designed to be useless within 5 yrs.
What an awful world we live in now.
Seth’s critical analysis of the online market and how he plans to make it work for him is essential reading for us all. I wont sell on line. I found that customers like to meet the maker, even if its something not really valuable like gold diamonds etc that was your speciallity.
Im so humbled by customers of mine whom I may see perhaps 1 yr or even 15 yrs later who are wearing daily, what ive made!.They have part of me with them I suppose.
So what are you doing now? Assuming youve ideas to do something creative?
Despite anno domini and the issues it brings, I couldnt not want to go on making . Its a passion that drives me, and will continue till St. Peter say’s time up.
My medical guru said on review last week, that on present course, barring me falling under a truck or something he can still see me making 90. My poor wife then has that to put up with.
She is also driven by her vocation. At 70 she still goes out and cares for people in our community. Its her own business of course, and I support her in all things.
Just did the dinner for us all!. We have a special self propelled 2 handed kitchen clean up machine. We call it yours truly. on call 24/7.
Ted.

.

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My thoughts on etsy are based on having a shop for just over five years. The more examples of work, the more traffic. My sales have more than doubled every year since I started. About 25% of the etsy sales, are custom pieces based on 1) existing designs for sale 2) particular skills demonstrated in my jewelry pieces for sale. With jewelry pieces priced from $12.5 to $3200, pieces sold average out at $100 @ over time. All of my jewelry is sterling, GF, 14-18kt yg and platinum. I work with a local miner creating unique pieces with precious California gemstones. The last year my US sales were mid Atlantic, Midwest, southern coastal states, a small amount of NY, none in my home state of Cali. EU countries add about a sale a month.
As a whole, most of my sales are custom pieces with short production runs and referral clientele from that sphere of influence… I just started doing shows and am working on wholesale accounts but with most of the B&M around here has died so its into ‘the great beyond’ for clientele.
The initial and ongoing investment of time for competitive pricing (research) with descriptions, meta tags, and a consistent photographic branding is a an whole other part of the etsy shop. I hold back on posting new collections, waiting to do several days of that marketing task. It seems to be more effective for time management. I actively post and document in progress work on the bench on Instagram.

Eileen

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That pretty much sums up all of my impressions of Etsy as well. It’s biggest draw back is that it appears that most of the entities selling on it are hobbyists which means everything is a race to the bottom which is the #1 reason I want nothing to do with it.

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Seth, I very much agree with your pros and cons.

It’s so interesting to read these very different perspectives from people who’ve seen the market change over decades. I am very involved with Etsy. I was a member of their 2016 Seller Advisory Board, have been on the board of directors of the NYC Etsy “Team” (an independent non-profit business group, working often with Etsy staff), have done some small biz government work with them in Washington DC, taught for their Craft Entrepreneurship Program, and have contributed to videos/podcasts/workshops they produce.

All that said- I don’t think Etsy is the greatest thing ever. It’s just a venue where you can sell, but you really have to stay on top of their technology and search algorithm changes in order to surface in the mountains product. There is seemingly a never-ending line of new shops opening every day, from very high to very low quality. Especially with the explosion of affordable 3D printing and laser cutting.

I’ve been selling on Etsy since 2008. It used to be pretty great; people came to buy something hand-crafted and unique, and Etsy was a place to see trends starting that later wound up in the mass market. But the terms to sell on it opened up a lot over the years, so now there is a lot of competition with mass-produced items and huge downward price pressure. “Free” shipping is pushed. And there are a lot of very good jewelers out there who have a day job (or well-employed spouse) and do this as a fun hobby, which is an issue when considering prices.

If you make a niche product- you can still stand out on the platform. I do well, but I have a hyper-targeted market and generally sell reproducable costume to mid-range jewelry ($20 – $350. I do get custom commissions from the site too.) My friends who sell classic gemstone jewelry have to push all of their own traffic from social media and/or ads. But it can be done, especially if you only sell direct to the consumer (no wholesale). As others have said, I definitely would not recommend Etsy as a venue for fine jewelry, unless you are simply using it as an affordable e-commerce platform that you direct traffic to.

best,
Jenny

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I agree with your thoughts regarding a good online gallery. Anecdotally, I know lots of people that buy stuff on Etsy, but one thing they’ve all mentioned at one time or another is that they’d never buy mid to high-end items there. They’ve associated Etsy with the equivalent of the local church bazaar. . . not that there aren’t quality items there, but that the nature of Etsy and the majority of stores there give off the “trinkety, craft-fair vibe”. The: “Yeah, you might buy that odd item for the bookshelf, but you’re not getting your wife’s 30th anniversary gift there” kind of thing.

I should note that I also agree with your sentiments regarding Etsy vs Galleries, but was writing on a generic level. Either way though I’m back to having to deal with going the wholesale route for now. Ugh, I’m not looking forward to this. . .

Richard. . .it sounds like you must live in the same general area as me. That’s the same story I’ve heard from most of the jewelers around. They’re surviving, but its entirely on repair and custom.