A long time reader, Marlene Hoffman of Amira's Jewelry Design, recently wrote to let me know that "after several years of creating jewelry and attempting to sell at fairs and markets, I'm thinking of starting an Etsy shop. Do you have any words of wisdom to share about selling through Etsy?" Thanks Marlene for inspiring this post!

I really get what she said. I tried the craft show route myself, mostly with my jewelry making friends, over the years. I find it exhausting and time consuming to prep up inventory and set up the booth. Having enough inventory was also an issue. I often didn't have enough items for a table - hence teaming up with friends which also allowed us to share the table fee. Lately though, craft show fees have become prohibitively expensive. The ones with affordable fees just didn't have the traffic so the return is poor. 

I also tried the consignment route - the shops typically want 40-50% so that often makes the final price too high. You also need to rotate out inventory so the displays don't go stale. Plus, it is difficult to maintain silver so it looks good in the shops unless you use Renaissance wax to prevent tarnishing or place the items in cellophane envelopes. 

Years ago, I tried selling through my previous hairdresser and a spa - the lovely owners of the shops I patronised kindly let me set up a display but sales were low. It could be that the salons were small, with low traffic or that people are there to have their hair or face done, not shop for jewelry!

I don't have much time as I am principally a blogger - writing is a creative outlet for me. So for that reason and those above, I resumed my Etsy (beadinggem), changing it to an online supply store.  I enjoy laser cutting wood and also selling off surplus supplies I didn't need any more. I also created a new store (CraftaGems) for finished designs a few years ago - when I get the time to upload my favorite upcycled and organic themed creations.  I separated them to make it easier to manage the varied categories I had.

Is it necessary to separate finished jewelry from tutorials/supplies? Not really. Yoola on Etsy does well selling finished pieces, tutorials and supplies in a single shop, as do many designers I have featured over the years. It really helps if all the items are of a common theme - like wire crochet which is what Yael of Yoola does.

As with anything, there are pros and cons. Etsy is enormous - it is the largest dedicated online craft marketplace that people know best. Many of their competitors either gave up like Dwanda (Europe) and Artfire. Or remain very small and relatively unknown to the average consumer. Zibbet has been sold off twice since 2017

Amazon is much, much bigger than Etsy. It has its own Handmade Marketplace but it is not a dedicated site - it is part of the main site. It's sort of buried unless you search for it using terms like "handmade wire earrings". Check it out and see if you agree with me that there is far less of an artisanal shop feel on Amazon. It's more about "brand" and storefronts are not really distinct as they are on Etsy.

You can see what Amazon charges here. The software to use it as a seller is not as intuitive and easy to use compared to Etsy's especially if you are new to online selling. What they don't mention is when you ship your goods to Amazon to be sold as FBA (Fulfillment By Amazon), they charge you warehouse storage fees if your goods do not sell after certain periods of time. You also have to pay for packaging, shipping and handling.

Etsy does a lot of offsite advertising - more than their craftplace competitors ever did, which is why they have stayed visible to the public and viable. But they do charge sellers a fee if the off site advertised item sells. In my experience, the number of off site advertised sales is small. I do gain from any one finding my shop that way even if they didn't buy (and I don't get charged). They might well remember me or even favorite my store for future buys directly in Etsy. Note : offsite advertising is an option which you can switch off unless you make more than US$10,000 a year.

High traffic is the main reason why I am on Etsy. Millions of people shop on Etsy. But that doesn't mean my listings will always be seen. Online shops either on Etsy or off Etsy are like needles in a large haystack. You have to work at promoting them - for example, through social media. Instagram and Facebook are popular with artisans. If you have cultivated a good following on either, you may not need Etsy or an independent website as you can sell directly to followers that way - they contact you if they see something they like. You can also set up to sell directly from a FB shop or Instagram shop.

No matter where your online shop is - Etsy or your own website, shop visibility is very important. If people don't see your store listings at all, they won't know your shop exist.

Consistent and regular uploads is key. Remember the needle and haystack analogy?  Plant a lot of needles to increase the chances of being found (same goes for bloggers and social media posts!).  You shouldn't post several items in a single day and nothing for a long time. It's better to upload say an item or two a day, every few days or once a week. Each time you upload a new listing, it appears on the first page of search results for that item (say, real flower resin necklace) so it is very visible for anyone searching for that particular item. As other sellers upload their designs in that category, your listing will gradually move down and then onto Page 2 and so on. When the listing is renewed, it will again appear on page 1. 

The more listings you have,  the more frequently your items will appear on the front search page so people can discover your store.  A long time ago, some sellers suggested having at least 100 listings but I think a few hundred will work better now since Etsy has grown larger. 

Etsy's algorithm also comes into play. If an item sells and you have more of them, then it gives that listing a higher priority and thus visibility. I recently sold a couple of pairs of my acrylic maple leaf (with heart cut out) earrings and the listing appeared right at the top as "most loved" if any one searches for acrylic maple leaf earrings . I think this higher visibility probably led to the a further sale and the listing favorited by other potential buyers :

Other ways to get more visibility is to pay for ads or do sales or offer free shipping. (Bear in mind, there is no such thing as free shipping - the cost is included in the item price). Some customers use the available filters to look for discounts etc. Etsy does offer general gift certificates for purchase but you could make up one yourself as a listing and make it only for your store. People who like what you do might favorite your shop or put items in their basket - there are incentives to offer those kinds of potential customers.  But you are not obliged to use any of these offerings.

Be prepared to be strategic - maybe run sales after Christmas? Or before Mother's Day?  Do bundle discounts if you are a tutorial designer.  Needless to say, you have to price your items well such that you will make a profit at the end of the day whatever you do. 

See more links below

Jewelry sales are highly seasonal.
 The majority of sales occurs in the run up to Christmas with smaller rises around Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.  For most people, jewelry is discretionary spending. So when times are tough, sales will dip. Perhaps earrings sell more than necklaces at such times as they cost less and is a welcome "treat". A friend of mine, Aims of Big Blue Barn Designs has noticed necklaces are not selling for her at this time. See my past post, Why Online Jewelry Sales are Slow

Good photography matters a lot. Photography is actually a bigger obstacle to new sellers than learning about the online shop software.   So use a good smartphone camera.  You do not have to purchase a dSLR. Customers cannot see your jewelry in person so you must show it off in different ways to make up for that lack - some sort of reference to its size, in close up, and what it looks like if worn. Also change the lead photo of a listing from time to time just to freshen it up. Buyers might respond better to a different photo. Maybe the angle is better, maybe the photo shows more clearly how it is when modeled (on a person or mannequin).

Selling supplies and tutorials is easier than selling finished items - the latter market is much, much larger.

There is no magic wand to make a shop successful. Many fledgling sellers have misconceptions about selling online - put something up and it will sell, right? Nope.  It does take patience, work and time. Be prepared to be adaptable.  Situations change, trends change and so must you.  Check your dashboard for activities to see what people favorite. Some listings are always bound to get more attention than others. Stats are always helpful as they tell you what appeals. Just because you like making a certain type of jewelry doesn't mean it will sell.  

The advantage of having an online shop is being able to work mostly from home - apart from trips to the post office or in my case, also to ChitChats, a Canadian delivery service for my US customers which offers tracking to the US at an affordable price.  

One common complaint I hear about Etsy is the competition. If that matters a great deal to you, then you can go with an independent website and work hard at promoting it. There is no competition but there is also no inherent traffic.  However, that might not matter if you are active offline on the craft show circuit - that website is key to keeping your customers informed and a reference about your collection when they or you are not at a show. 

Just check out the cost of maintaining an independent website vs maintaining an Etsy storefront especially if you have low inventory. I think it is less costly to maintain one on Etsy in that case. You can also sell your Etsy listings offline at craft shows - there are Etsy tools to do that.  It will help grow your sold listings on Etsy and in turn gain traction in views and more sales from Etsy traffic. 

A good strategy is to use Etsy to get started with learning the ins and outs of online selling. When you begin to get sales and are serious about continuing your business, then also open your own independent website. Don't put all your eggs in one basket!

The best way to deal with being on Etsy is to carve out a niche for yourself - something that separates you from others. For example,  I like making jewelry from recycled cans so those designs of mine will compete with a smaller pool of designers. 

Know who your target market is. In my case, it would be a smaller pool of customers who are looking for upcycled designs. I like making larger earrings so that will also limit my market to those who like that size. The most popular trend right now though is for dainty jewelry. No matter the style of your jewelry, there is always someone out there who will like it. It all hinges on them seeing it. I find it so rewarding when such a person comes along, finds your store and tells you how much they love what you do. 

Your listing titles matter a lot as do the tags you use.  So ensure all the keywords for SEO (search engine optimization) are there. Think like a potential customer who is looking for something specific. For those maple leaf earrings of mine, I made sure the title and tags included these words: " acrylic red maple leaf earrings heart Canada Day love transparent patriotic July"  I am hoping that a Canadian buyer might buy the earrings for Canada Day which falls on July 1.

Remember that Etsy is also a business, so they too have to make money to remain viable. They have a vested interest in helping you make money. Sign up for their newsletter - they offer free tips and report on trends and forecasts which might be helpful.

How Much Does Etsy Take Per Sale (2023)? There are essentially 3 main areas- the listing/renewal fee $0.20 for 4 months, the transaction fee 6.5% of total sale, and the payment fee 3%. If an offsite ad lands you a sale, then that particular sale will cost you an additional 15%. So the fees do add up.  And the prices you charge will have to reflect that overhead. 

Every business, whether you sell offline or online has to account for overhead expenses. Don't forget the time you spend packing up items or the gas you use driving to a show or the post office. Expenses, cost of supplies, deliveries and so on do inevitably increase for everyone so raising prices has to happen. The one overhead you don't have for an online store is rent which bricks and mortar shops have to contend with.

Etsy also make money when sellers opt to pay for ads, subscription for their extra services etc. 

This article is also helpful - How Can I Lower My Etsy Fees? For example, one simple tip for sellers who make international sales like myself, is to list your designs in the currency you bank your Etsy earnings in. Otherwise Etsy will charge you extra to make a currency conversion. 

Where Etsy is very weak is the low staff numbers relative to the huge numbers of vendors and sellers (nearly 2800 employees  vs over 7 million sellers and about 90 million active buyers) This problem is not unique to Etsy.  Companies like these just cannot keep up with individual inquiries and problem solving because they have so few staff so their customer service struggles to be effective. 

Etsy is also trying to get rid of mass produced items on its handmade site.  They do not have a rigorous application process for new sellers so non-handmade items do creep in and erode trust.  But change is on its way - see Etsy's 2022 Transparency Report.  They have already begun using AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning to spot those items which are also sold on other platforms suggesting they are likely mass produced.  They are also using their automated systems in other ways to keep house for them, for example to look for banned items such as teething or small beaded necklaces marketed for small children.  The latter stemmed from a lawsuit against Etsy when an infant died wearing an amber beaded necklace sold on the platform (see the full tale at the end of this past post).

The systems will need time to improve (hence, the term machine learning) as the bots are nowhere as effective as human eyes.  I found that out for myself when my laser cut Baltic birch wood listings started to get deactivated last year. I was initially confused as the automated notification was always for a banned item :
Etsy prohibits the sale of highly regulated items, including (but not limited to), necklaces, bracelets, or anklets composed of a string or strand of small amber beads, chips, or nuggets smaller than 1.25 inches.
Then after a few days or so, those listings were reinstated, presumably by a staff member who physically checked and saw what I sold was actually wood not Baltic amber. Any actual inquiries I made to Etsy did not enlighten me in the least. 

After some internet sleuthing on my own, I discovered some artisans who do not sell amber at all, but also had listings deactivated because they used amber as the color description. The penny finally dropped.  The bot just picked up the word Baltic in my description and tags and flagged listings as possibly Baltic amber.  I removed the word Baltic from my listings and voila, the problem was solved. The AI used by Etsy is clearly not sophisticated enough to "read" images but the possibility exists for the future. ( This Swedish study has recently demonstrated that AI can be used spot breast cancer in images at the same rate as two radiologists.)

Etsy's latest measure to put a stop to fraudulent shops who open shop just to scam buyers, then close shop and never ship is unfortunately, just like the Baltic amber situation, also catching innocent sellers.  

Those who used untracked shipping methods are most likely to be identified by the bot even if their shops are of good standing. What Etsy does is to put a temporary payment hold for sellers (to make sure potential scammers do not get money) and usually releasing after a set period of time. Note : Payment holds are not unique to Etsy, they are also used by Amazon, Shopify and so on. 

Tracking is ideal as it offers proof of sending and delivery.  Etsy also offers free insurance for lost items (less than $200) only if they are tracked.  However, as sellers in the UK and here in Canada have found - myself included - tracking on our postal systems is prohibitively expensive compared to the equivalent service offered by USPS to their US customers.  So we keep our local customers happy by just using the least costly untracked postal version. 

The payment hold did happen to me recently as my Canadian orders go out untracked via Canada Post. This time I didn't bother to waste time getting frustrated or trying to contact Etsy (BTW their support email link is here). The hold was released a week later.  

However, the recent issue with payment holds has been problematic for the many long standing and reputable vendors who depend on Etsy for their livelihoods. Their businesses got seriously disrupted when their payment accounts were placed on hold as they can't buy supplies to take on new orders. The most vocal complaints have come from UK vendors who banded together for a boycott and even got the UK Minister of Small Business to send a letter to Etsy a couple of weeks ago. After all the negative media coverage, many of the UK sellers have had their holds released. And Etsy has lowered the % of money held from an eye-watering 75% down to 30% for most sellers. 

Also see this excellent blog post by Canadian Cindy Lou about Etsy Payment Account Holds and some really good insights and suggestions.  She still sells on Etsy as CindyLouWho2 but also has her own website

Clearly, Etsy needs to work much more on their automated systems. Their bots are not discerning enough. They net all probable problems and then correct them after the fact which really alienates sellers. They also need to take quicker action on the feedback they receive. They know they have to do better job at communicating with sellers. So that is something to watch for in the future. 

Etsy is like a lot of companies who are now operating on a global scale but were forced to go public  to get investor funding to manage their growth. That means these companies are now also answerable to investors who will demand to see returns.  So management decisions to deliver on the money invested have to be juggled with the kind of decisions needed to keep customers (buyers and sellers) and staff happy in the long term. 

There really is no perfect marketplace either online or offline. So what works for me might not work for you, given your personal preferences or circumstance.  Etsy still works for me and I still recommend it for online newbies.

Watch this excellent video by Starla Moore on Why 99% of Etsy Stores Fail - 3 BIGGEST Mistake Etsy Sellers Make.  Doing some market research in the beginning, finding the right niche that suits you and keeping a consistent "brand" are the key issues. 

For example,  I am beadinggem no matter where you go to - blog, Youtube, Pinterest etc. I am sticking to the name and what I generally do - jewelry crafts - all the time. Make sure you do research into unique shop names - I have seen designers who fix on a name on Etsy only to find that someone else has the same name on Instagram. 

If you decide to try Etsy, I do have a referral deal - you and I each get 40 listings free if you sign up through this invitation link. And once you set up shop, you can offer the same deal to your friends. 

Before You Go :

jewelry making supplies


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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM