My Love and Hate Relationship with Selling on Etsy

Go to the profile of C. E. Dembeck

I have been selling my photography and artwork online for a few years now, and in the course of trying various platforms and marketplaces, Etsy has been the center of my universe — and then it hasn’t been, more than one time.

If I could liken my relationship with Etsy, as I would with another human being, I would say it is a love/hate relationship. When I first joined Etsy, there was much less competition. At the time, only handmade products were allowed to be sold on Etsy. Since then, Etsy has relaxed its handmade rules. opening its marketplace to those who have partnerships with a variety of manufacturers throughout the world.

As a result, the doors of Etsy’s cyber marketplace are bulging at the seams with millions of competitors from Eastern Europe, India and China. Competitors that have access to markets were crafts and artwork go for pennies on the dollars, markets where the cost of my raw materials are more expensive their these foreign importers’ finished products.

Subsidized U.S. Postage Through e-Packet

In the beginning, I could still compete with these new Etsy stores because it took the Chinese companies several weeks to deliver their products. But this stopped with Uncle Sam cut a sweetheart deal called e-Packet with foreign countries in which U.S. taxpayers subsidized such foreign competitors’ postage and sped up their deliver time, so much so, that they could often match or beat me on delivery! And get this: at a lower postal rate than I, as a U.S. citizen, paid. Of course, there was no reciprocal deal forthcoming from Asia.

When small U.S. sellers like myself complained to the Postal Service and the Obama Administration about this, we were met with shrugged shoulders and the implied answer: “That’s just the way it is.”

This is not a political piece at all, but the only person who seemed to respond or even understand the significance of e-packet deal between Asia and the Postal Service was, believe it or not, President Trump. In October, 2018, he ordered the Postal Service to raise rates on Chinese sellers. In fact, according to the Atlantic, “much of the fentanyl currently circulating in the United States has come from online sellers in China,” at these subsidized postal rates. But his plan has met resistance and it could take years to make an impact.

Not Etsy’s Fault

While it’s certainly not Etsy’s fault that cheap labor and subsidized postage made it almost impossible for many artisans, photographers and artists to compete on Etsy and other marketplaces, it did become apparent they were no longer interested in promoting the kind of mom-and-pop operations that helped make them a household name.

This is why I have opened and closed my Etsy shop several times since 2011. For a while, I made some sales, but I never reached critical mass. I also witnessed a growing race to the bottom price wise. I see competitors with low prices somehow showing up on page one multiple times, even when they are not paying for promoted ads. I suspect black hat SEO tactics are at play by those who are savvy at that game. Meanwhile, Etsy and other marketplaces keep making their selling and listing fees.

Red City, Abstract Art by Chet Dembeck

Etsy’s Good Points

Now that I told you what I do not like about Etsy’s marketplace, let me tell you some positives things about Etsy.

  • Etsy is pretty not invasive and easy to get along with
  • Etsy’s platform is easy to use and has a ton of really excellent features
  • Etsy’s presentation, Web site additions and shopping cart are seamless and top notch. In fact, probably the best overall in the industry

Promoted and Google Ads

Despite this, the main reason for selling on Etsy or any marketplace is convertible traffic and sales. When I first opened a shop on Etsy in 2011, traffic was steady, though moderate — but it converted into sales. Plus, did I mention, it was free traffic.

Today, if you want any real traffic, you have to pay to play, not just on Etsy, but on all of the major online marketplaces. Sad but true: the day when you could just list some quality products and wait for the customers to come and buy them is long gone. Another positive about Etsy is that they make it extremely easy to buy promoted ads from them, shopping ads from Google or even Facebook ads. Your marketing promos can be made with a few clicks of your mouse and you can spend as little as a couple of dollars a day up to $50 a day.

The problem is, as always, how well do the ads convert. My experience with Etsy product ads is that they have a low conversion rate. I have yet to make a profit o a sale. Simply put: the cost of the ad that converts is higher than my profit margin of the item sold.

Google’s shopping ads have a higher conversion ratio, but they also cost more per click. In the past, I have barely made a profit when making a sale from a Google ad.

Finally, Facebook ads have been a total loss for me and many others I know. Although they do yield a lot of clicks, I’ve never had one convert to an actual sale, no matter how well it is targeted.

Domino Sugars at Dawn, Image by Chet Dembeck

Serves as Testing Ground

With all of these negative experiences and the poor market prognosis on Etsy, you might be asking, why did I decide to try Etsy again, starting Jan. 5, 2019?

I am using my Etsy store primary as a testing ground for some of my new products. I will test each niche using different ads that I can switch on or off. I have budgeted about $300 for this experiment and if it fails, I will fall out of love with Etsy once again and shut the doors to my shop.

I will keep you posted.