Market Communications, Product-to-Market Fit

The Top Three Etsy Seller Mistakes

Look at any of the dozens of Facebook groups out there dedicated to selling online (usually on Etsy, eBay, or Shopify) and on any given day, there is someone asking if sales are down this month. Their sales are down 30%, 60%, or worse this month and want to know why.

There isn’t a month of the year that you couldn’t find 100 people to say “my shop is slower this month” so there are definitely others to commiserate with. But that’s a minuscule part of the overall marketplace. 

Based on their Q3 2017 income report, Etsy averaged about $8M a day in sales, so the money is there to be had.

Some people say that October is a slow month for retail. Retail sales trends move in like 1% and 2% increments, not the 50% differences some sellers see. I’m not buying that it’s an industry trend. The early reports look like October’s retail sales were up slightly from the month before (with the biggest growth in sectors related to people replacing household items in parts of the country hit by disasters)..

There are some mistakes that I see almost every struggling seller make.


1) Making the same thing as everyone else
Many of the products have no differentiation at all.
You could line their products up with those from 20 competitors and not be able to tell which is which.

If you looked at Amazon, Target, Michael’s, or other retailers you could find even more products that look almost exactly the same and might even be cheaper.

As a result, the buyers start to see the products as a commodity so it doesn’t matter who they buy from.

Commodity markets are BRUTAL. You are competing to be the brightest, roundest, firmest apple in the basket, hoping to get picked first. Success in that kind of market usually means aggressive (and potentially expensive) marketing campaigns to make sure their product is seen first. They usually have tiny profit margins and succeed by selling thousands (or millions) of units.

If you want to succeed in a handmade business, your products need to be different. Not just “handmade, high quality, and supporting a small business” (because all 1 million Etsy sellers say that), but actually different in a way that anyone who sees it says “yes, I want that one instead.”


2) Putting too much emphasis on the platform (aka, expecting Etsy to bring you customers)
I see a lot of sellers who focus really hard on Etsy SEO, Etsy descriptions, Etsy photos, and adding more Etsy listings … all of which is 100% reliant on the Etsy algorithm to reach the shoppers who come to Etsy.

None of this is helping your business stand on its own. Every time Etsy makes a change to anything, it could destroy your business. But that’s your choice to make. 

That’s why I keep saying that relying on Etsy to bring you customers is a huge mistake. Their purpose is to bring buyers to the marketplace as a whole, not to any one seller. 

Yes, your Etsy listings should look and read like beautiful catalog entries. But it’s not enough if that’s all you do.

Think of Etsy as a low-cost way to host your items in the beginning, not as a sales rep who will bring in paying customers.

3) Not helping customers find their products
Sometimes sellers branch out from just Etsy and post their listings on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest… which usually gets their friends, family, and other makers to follow them. None of that gets them many orders, even if it gets them a fair number of followers and interaction. Interaction doesn’t pay the mortgage though. 

I call this “check the box” marketing. Sellers hear that they should post on social media, but they don’t know what to post or say, so they post their items, maybe post a couple of memes, comment on other random sellers’ posts, and hope for the best.

My “Customer Journey” blog post talked about what you need to do in detail. It’s a lot more complicated than “posting stuff”. Some people called the post an eBook because it was really long, but that’s because describing how to “do marketing” requires a lot of information. People with 4-year degrees in marketing  get entry-level jobs for pretty low pay. It’s not an easy skill to pick up.

Going out and finding customers is HARD. It requires you to think like a customer and figure out where they hang out, what they care about, and what they like/dislike about current products on the market. You will try out ideas for products and ads and campaigns and most of them will fail. 

Don’t be surprised if you make 20 products and only 1 or 2 get significant sales. A 5% or 10% product success rate is actually really good.

Marketing can cost a LOT, whether you spend lots of hours or lots of money (or both). I probably spent 100 hours and$1000 on Facebook ads before I had the right targeting settings dialed in to reach the people I wanted to and had a message they responded to. I was brand new to advertising so maybe I was a little slower than others… but whether you do it yourself or hire someone else, it’s not going to be fast, cheap, or easy.

I don’t say all this to scare you away from it. I say all this so you can decide today that you will start spending the time you put into your business on improving in the areas that are most important, areas that help you stand out from the crowd and reach the people who will buy from you.

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