Douglas Rushkoff, filmmaker, scholar, media wunderkind and author of Life Inc., a manifesto of changing our culture of corporate-run consumption, spoke at Etsy headquarters recently. In addition to telling the tale of how corporate culture came to be, Rushkoff debunked the myth that industrialized production is more cost-effective than local production and trade, addressed how specialization is the territory of the handcrafter (not the worker on the assembly line), and emphasized the importance of the peer-to-peer exchange.
Etsy is one of the few organizations that is changing the way people buy and sell things in our culture. We are returning the value of what is created back to the hands of the creators. (That’s you!)
During the Q&A portion of the discussion, one Etsy seller, a furniture maker, asked how the value of a handmade object can be communicated to buyers who don’t necessarily understand the care and effort that goes into making objects outside the system of mass production. How do you show people the furniture you build with your own two hands in your garage is better than an IKEA chair?
Rushkoff’s answer was that you need to show people why your product is better. He talked about the first time he introduced his mother to a CSA salad, and how she said, “The arugula — it tastes different,” to which Rushkoff replied, “Yeah, it tastes like arugula, not like something engineered to be shipped across the country and picked when it’s blue. It’s a different thing.”
Rushkoff also observed that the Internet as an interface is an issue Etsy sellers have to contend with. It is difficult to display the value of objects, especially complex creations, through a computer screen. “You have to go on reputation,” Rushkoff said.
Based on the observations and studies of Rushkoff, and the vocalized concerns of Etsy sellers, it is clear we need to push our message of value to the Etsy buyer community. Luckily, both showing buyers the value of your product and enhancing your reputation are things sellers can proactively address; on your Etsy pages, and in your overall interactions with the buying community. It all comes down to two basic principles: Displaying Your Value and Making It Personal.
Displaying Your Value
As sellers on Etsy, makers of screenprinted notecards and homespun yarn and hand-sewn pillows, you can both qualify and quantify the amount of time and energy that goes into making things by hand. But not all buyers will understand this implicitly. People have become used to finding the same products in every store, and buying things wholesale. Here are some ways in which you can proactively impart the great value of your truly specialized, handmade products to potential buyers:
- Make a Video: You make something by hand? Show me how. There is something deadening in the process of making a sweater pumped out of a factory line. What fascinates people is the hand construction process behind the 8-layer tulle skirt of a wedding dress. Or the steps involved in taking slabs of raw wood to a polished, working cabinet. Even a simple video showing the process behind making your screenprints or dying your fabrics will increase intrigue in your products. Look at how many people tune into shows like Project Runway just to see how the garments are made. The attention paid to your craft and the unique qualities of what results will be apparent.
Check out the Etsy Process Videos to see some examples, or these posts to help you get started making videos.
- Bolster Your Descriptions: What makes your product stronger or last longer than other mass manufactured items? Highlight these elements in your descriptions. Break down what terms like “serging” and “varnish” mean for the layman, especially if they add to your message of quality. Don’t assume your buyers understand these terms or the value they convey. Whether you make utilitarian items, or pieces of art, or objects that function as both (as many of the items on Etsy do), talk about the intricacies of your creations and how they’re made. What techniques do you employ to make the product last? What are your materials? Why did you choose them? What makes them special? Why can’t you get this item anywhere else? Buyers want to know.
Check these seller how-to’s about writing descriptions.
- Post the Right Pictures: When it all comes down to it, pictures tell the most. Supply shots from all angles. If you sell fine artwork, capture the wide shot and the details. Be sure to post pictures that show scale, especially for very large or very small items. If you list imperfections or describe special textures, show them. Make sure your buyers know they can request additional images if they have questions about the item’s quality/size, etc. You want to make the shopping experience for your buyers as multi-dimensional as possible.
Check out these seller how-to’s about photographing your items.
Making It Personal
Another thing that stuck out in the discussion with Rushkoff was the disconnect between individuals and corporations. We have no relationships with these massive companies from which we buy so many of our possessions. At Etsy we have a unique opportunity to forge relationships with the buyers one-on-one. Here are a few ways to increase your interactivity with the Etsy shopper community and beyond:
- Maximize Social Media: Open up your social media channels to your customer circles, not just your family and friends. On Etsy, your customers are your friends. Buyers who admire the things you make are often curious about the personalities and backgrounds of the people who make them. So build up those Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Post links to these pages in your announcements and have people email you to be added to your mailing lists. Invite people to get to know you better, and in turn, get to know them. Customers on the edge of making a purchase may discover random information about you — connect to the movies you like, or a book you’ve read — and purchase from you for the first time. Buyers who feel like they’re updated on your activities regularly (even if they’re simply following your feeds) will come back to you time and time again.
Read this post about taking the time to be personal — and not being spammy.
- Customize Your Packages: The receipt of a package from an Etsy seller is an exciting moment for buyers. Tailor the experience to each customer. Include a handwritten note. Say something about the particular item they have bought. When you open a television from Sears you get computerized paperwork and boring manuals. I’ve never once received a Halloween-themed notecard or an envelope full of confetti, or a heart-shaped lollipop in a department store box. Getting a package from an Etsy seller should simply be more interesting then the average consumer experience.
Check out these seller how-to’s about packaging.
- Customer Service is Key: You are your business on Etsy. You don’t have a bureaucracy to blame when shipments don’t go out, or when emails don’t get answered. Check your messages every day. Make sure you answer buyer questions promptly and thoroughly. You manage your own reputation, so show people that their experience with an independent seller will be positive and engaging. Proactively contact buyers who asked about items that were once unavailable and have now become available again. Show shoppers that they are not numbers, they are people you have logged in your memory. Offer small, private discounts to repeat customers as a token of your appreciation. Send notes to thank people when they buy something you have made.
Check out the Service Tips for Sellers series.
Your products aren’t the blue arugula created on an assembly line by workers paid far too little and shipped across the country to big box warehouses who take all the money and credit for your blood and sweat. You make things and sell things you put your soul into. You need to impart that message to your buyers. You need to show them — it’s a whole different thing.
Stacey Brook is a marketing and public relations consultant with over six years of experience in the arts and entertainment industry and a specialty in copywriting, web project management and social media marketing. Her clients include a host of artists and designers, many of whom sell their wares on Etsy. An avid collector, Stacey has published numerous articles about screenprinted rock poster art. She is a staff writer for the Williamsburg Greenpoint News and Arts. She is especially fond of decorating her massive mane with handmade trinkets and is romanced by all things ink-on-paper.