Why I've left Etsy, Asos, etc... About E-Commerce.
When it comes to this subject it's hard to know where to begin. In my work and collaborations I have made many attempts at getting my head around e-commerce, some successful some, not. When you're just starting out it's intimidating, figuring out the right platform, creating attractive products, deciphering SEO, shipping, policies. It's all a bit much. But if you manage to get through all that and actually find some customers it becomes thrilling, hugely vindicating and maddeningly addictive.
It took me a long time to get to that stage, after mining through hundreds of articles, videos and podcasts with titles like "How I made $1000pm on Etsy". Some helpful, but most just regurgitation of the same common sense steps. For a while, after some false starts I sort of just gave up on it until some time last year I was asked to take a look at a friend's Etsy shop.
They'd had a reasonable amount of sales for a jewellery store, particularly over the Christmas period but since then things had gone quiet. It didn't take me long to identify the problem. Their listings were looking pretty tired, with average photography, little to no SEO friendly keywords and most importantly they hadn't updated in a while. Well here was something I could work with. With my phone and some photography know-how I quickly spruced up the photos with nice light filled shots and some funky backgrounds to help distinguish them from the crowd. I went to town on the SEO until their listings were coming top of practically every related search I could think of and with their help we got the processing and shipping totally streamlined.
I don't know why I'd never managed it before but this time something just clicked because within hours of making the big changes we got a "ker-ching", the first new sale in months and the start of a trend that would quickly change everything. By the following Christmas the sales were pouring in, we were carrying bags of orders to the post office everyday. I started to hear ker-chings thoughout the night, filtering into my sleep, singing dollar - dollar bills as the US market logged on. It was awesome.
Encouraged by my first success I decided to try it for myself. I opened a new shop; My So Called Disco. A shop dedicated to 90's Nostalgia Pop Culture. I filled it with mostly 2nd hand and up cycled items that I had thrifted or made. Some bits along with some pieces I bought in for customization and resale. I also enlisted the help of a friend to put me in touch with a manufacturer to start producing my own designs. Great.
So I took the lessons I had learned and applied them to my shop and bam! Within 3 days I had my first orders and for 2 months they the orders poured in. I was ecstatic, smug even. I'd actually managed to achieve something I had wanted for a long time. A decent online income, but like all good things, it wasn't to last. Managing 2 busy shops had proven to be a full on full time job and one small mistake on one listing cost us everything. I had mislabelled something as hand-made, technically I had found it in a thrift shop and then customized it but for one particularly eagle-eye shopper, this was enough of a violation.
I don't know if they reported one item or many, or if they were a genuine shopper or just a mean spirited competitor (it happens), but my shop was reported and then swiftly shut down. Kaboom. I wrote to Etsy and tried to explain the snafu but they were unsympathetic. Not only that but over the following week, our original shop, which had been going from strength to strength was also closed. I wrote again and begged them to reconsider, even if it meant that I would relinquish my role and wash my hands of Etsy for good. They politely but firmly told me to piss off. I was infuriated. Not only did we all lose a sizable chunk of our income but they had effectively, for no reason whatsoever, lock, stock & barrel, destroyed a thriving little business. Game over.
The real kicker is - Etsy is marketed as a place for independent, hand made goods, but it actually thrives on commissions from people selling junk bought in from China. The site is literally inundated by it. They know it's a problem but I honestly can't see what they're doing about it because every time I search that site I might as well be searching through Ali Express. They even have a section dedicated to craft supplies, yet 10 minutes of digging soon reveals those supplies are all invariably bought in from, you guessed it.... China. The hypocrisy makes my blood boil.
So what's a shop-less wonder to do?
Well, naturally I turned to Etsy's competitors. For the Jewellery we decided to go with Amazon, their sellers interface was a bit jarring after the user friendliness of Etsy but once we got past that we enjoyed being exposed to a huge market and low commission and transaction fees. However it wasn't a great place for a small independent seller and once they changed their payment scheme from fortnightly direct deposit to a weird 28 days after receipt confirmation thing so that you effectively end up receiving your profits in infuriating dribs and drabs, we'd had enough. Ultimately I would still recommend it for drop sellers as Amazons customer protection goes a long way to making sales. For me though, no good.
The next thing I tried was Asos Marketplace. By this time (May/June 2017) I had started taking my vintage clothing to the various markets in my area and was starting to build a pretty decent trade. I decided to apply for an Asos Marketplace shop, initially I was impressed by the one on one attention I got in the beginning stages, receiving good advice on appropriate photography, how and when to post and how often to update and I really like the simple, clean layout of the shop. However, at £20 a month and a 20% commission, Asos Marketplace had a lot to live up to.
Here I found my self quite simply unable to compete. Asos Marketplace may describe itself as the home of independent boutiques and fresh talent but I failed to see how anybody could make the high cost worth it without an army of helpers and a warehouse of stock. In their emails to me they recommended listing 12-15 items a week, a grueling schedule for a one man show. Only to see my items quickly swamped by stock dumps of 50 + items. Furthermore, one of the main ways Asos justify their astronomical fee is by the extra marketing and promotion they do on your behalf. For example, grouping similar, on trend listings into easy to find, click-bait-able edits on their homepage. So you can imagine my frustration when, for example, they do an edit on all things orange, of which I had a number of excellent item however it seems every orange item in the store has been listed except mine. Seriously, I double checked. It wasn't all bad news, I did make some good sales, but at £20 a month and Asos pocketing 20p of every £1, I ended up owing them money.
Fortunately, around this time my vintage pop up shop was starting to gather some momentum after a string of successful events. As someone whose working life had existed, predominately at a desk, in the comfort and seclusion of my home, getting out and about about, networking, socializing and promoting IRL proved to be a refreshing change of pace and really took some pressure off my shoulders. Still, I don't want to rely on just one or the other, this isn't a case of either/or, both sides have to work together. So with that in mind, I kept looking. Next to Depop, then Ebay, but again something just isn't right, either I don't like the look of the products and shop in the case of Ebay, and while Depop is supposed to the best of Instagram and eBay/Etsy I find the comparison does neither justice and it is rife with spammers..
Ultimately, and I think you've probably reached this conclusion; if you want something done right, do it yourself. I've always been a big Squarespace fan and while I've neglect HoD of late, the best strategy for me seems to be to build on what I already have and devote my time to creating something simple, beautiful and effective. I want the photos to be the star of the show and for people to be able to buy great, high quality vintage clothing from me with ease, transparency and most importantly on my own terms.
Thank you for reading and please, feel free to comment below. If you'd like to know more about my shop policies just head here for the full low down. Auf Wiedersehen. x