Monarch butterfly coming out of cocoon

I began my Etsy shop reluctantly over seven years ago.  I can’t believe I just typed seven years.  And it’s crazy how much Etsy has changed since then.

The platform has transformed from an independently owned marketplace to a publicly traded company.  All within a span of six years.

An Etsy shop was not the original plan.  I wanted an e-commerce boutique and set out to create one.  I built it on Prestashop.  My web designer suggested Shopify at the time, but I refused to listen.  The monthly fee scared me when I wasn’t making any money.

After about two weeks in business and only a handful of sales, I decided to try another selling platform.  Why not?  I only had a newly minted toddler at home.

So, I added my shop onto Etsy and have been there ever since.  The website built on Prestashop was closed after the birth of my second since it was too hard to run both.

I later created a WordPress version of the e-shop, but had trouble figuring out how it worked.  I made a test run Shopify shop (on a subject completely unrelated) last year.  It was so much fun building it and getting it off the ground.

Since this experience was so awesome, I just created a Shopify shop for Katarina’s Paperie.  I feel like after seven years she is finally home.

So, my whole business really was built on Etsy.  It’s a great platform to use when you’re just starting out.  And by platform, I do not mean shoes.  A platform is the place where your e-commerce store will live. The place where it will call home.

I received my first order on Etsy about a week after I opened my shop with no marketing.  I didn’t understand marketing back then.  My plan was to list products in the shop and see what happened.  I didn’t know I needed an audience to get them in front of.

Customers seemed to just arrive.  The first year was slower, but by year three I had tripled my revenues into what some might consider a full time income.

When I had originally opened my Etsy shop, I was still in the party supply field.  I had just finished my graphic design certificate and did not feel confident as a designer yet.  Soon after, though, I moved to creating all of my own designs and filled the shop with those.

It still amazes me how much Etsy has changed.  It’s such a different place now than it was seven years ago.  Positively and not so positively.

The good news is that despite the changes, you can still build a profitable Etsy shop in a minimal amount of time.  It’s still a great place to start your business and begin building an audience.  So, maybe it hasn’t changed that much.

Rocks being washed with waves at the ocean with text overlay "How Etsy has changed"

New CEO, new mission

Josh Silverman took over Etsy in May 2017 in what could be classified as a traditional boardroom drama.  There was company underperformance, an attempted buy out of Etsy shares and fears of a take over.  His rise to power was followed by a large number of layoffs and a shift of focus to profitability.

All of these changes upset a lot of sellers.  They were still getting over the fact that their small handcrafted marketplace went public in 2015.

Overall, Etsy is a tough business.  Their success is based on the talent of their sellers.  If we bring our work to the table – note for free and by choice – they are able to help us sell it.  This is great for a seller, since most do not understand how to market their products themselves.

But if our creativity fails to keep up with trends or flops in any way, customers will go elsewhere.  After all of these changes, keeping sellers happy was no longer the focus – making money was.

We saw this again during the seller rate increases this past summer.  It was the final straw for many very successful sellers.  They simply closed their shops in a boycott.

On the flip side, the focus of making money isn’t exactly a bad thing.  It does mean that you need to cut overhead (the extra costs that aren’t helping – hence the layoffs).  You can then put profits back into the company and work on growing it.

I’ll admit that I had my skepticism when Josh Silverman gave his welcome speech in May 2017.  But, he is doing exactly what he promised.  And he has seen amazing results in growing profits.

They have made the Etsy system a lot faster and easier for customers to use.  They have invested in new marketing tools and promotion techniques to gain new customers.  The company has even provided ways for sellers to scale their businesses up.

But keep in mind, just because Etsy profits are growing doesn’t mean your shop profits will too.  The sellers payment of increased fees is helping fuel the company’s growth.  And now they are offering a monthly subscription service to access all of these new tools.

Overall, though, there are still some great benefits of starting and building a shop of Etsy.  Particularly the free marketing of your products and instant audience.  At least in the beginning.

Pricing competition and lots of it

When I started my stationery shop on Etsy, there were only a few hundred of us.  And the shops that were there had already been established many years ago.  I joined a field of stationery sellers that was small.  Sales were easier to make and we didn’t compete on price.

Today, I actually have to charge less for a digital invitation than when I started.  Or it would probably not sell very well.  And I am still over priced.

If you search a certain themed invitation, you will find hundreds of options all underpriced.  Once you take in the new Etsy seller fees and the time it takes to personalize it, I have no idea how any of these sellers are making any money.

But then one day it hit me – they probably aren’t.  Many sellers just scrape by and, most likely, don’t understand why.  They also probably spend hours and hours running their shops.

When trying to balance a family and your business, this isn’t a great trap to find yourself in.  Until they figure out how to price, their undercutting to make sales will continue to take a hit on everyone else’s success as well.

Factory Made Goods and Drop Shipping

When I started on Etsy in 2012, the requirement was that everything in our shop had to be handmade.  When I researched other sellers, I discovered many of them selling party supplies.  I assumed that it was okay to sell party supplies since everyone else was.

Bad idea.  I set up our shop in the party supply market.  Some of the supplies were handmade.  Others were supplies to complete projects at your party.

The one that caused the biggest issue was mini clothespins.  They were up for three days until someone reported me and I received my first violation.

I fought back to no avail.  The clothespins were meant as a supply to make gift clips, attach bunting pieces for a banner or even use for our advent calendar set.  I sent about fifty links of other shops that also had these clothespins.  I was informed that what others do doesn’t matter.  This should have been a first sign to me.  

Shortly after, I received another violation for selling white paper lanterns.  They are used to make our cow print lanterns and many other party crafts.  At this point, I knew something had to change in my shop.  One more violation and I would be banned from Etsy forever.

The inconsistency of applying the handmade term on Etsy was very frustrating.  Other sellers started to take notice of the double standard.  There were shops accused of selling factory made goods procured from suppliers in China as handmade.  Three Bird Nest and Ecologica Malibu were two that caused quite an uproar.

The truth is that no matter how lovely handmade is, there’s limitations on how big you can grow your shop. There’s only so much knitting that one can do in a day to keep up with demand.

So, once sellers realized that they wanted to grow beyond the handmade model, they would move their shop onto an independent platform.  Cue Shopify.  The result is that Etsy lost profits.

In response to this concern, Etsy started allowing factory made goods and drop shipping in 2013.  The results have been mixed.  For designers, it means that you can have your designs printed somewhere else.  It also meant that a lot of goods made in China suddenly appeared in the marketplace.  The price wars also started around this time.

But for those of us that ran scared of getting accused on selling a non-handmade product, there was a relief.  Also a chance to actually grow and scale our shops.  And that is good for everyone.

Copyright Crackdown

It wasn’t too long ago that you could go onto Etsy and purchase anything Disney, Pixar or Sesame Street.  There were so called designers that ripped off images from Google and smacked them all over their invitations.  They also made thousands and thousands of sales – daily.

I don’t even know how they kept up with the volume.

When the company discussed going public in 2015, there was a huge smackdown of all things that violated copyright.  Can’t have a publicly traded company with illegal Disney characters all over the place.

Although I occasionally still see them, there are a lot fewer invitations and shops with these kinds of designs.  It has really cleaned up the marketplace.  I think it is a more pleasant place to shop and sell.

Harder to get found

Up until about a year ago, you could rely on Etsy search to get found by potential buyers.  If you understood some SEO, Etsy search was a great way to build your business organically without going crazy with marketing.

When you posted a new item for sale (or renewed an item), it was moved to the top of the Search findings.  Customers saw that new item in front of them for at least a day or two before it got buried again.

This algorithm method guaranteed sales for shop owners that kept their shops up to date and present.  The shops that were neglected naturally fell to the bottom of the pile.

Then, last spring the algorithm changed again.  The customer search terms seemed to adjust too.  Suddenly views went down and if you didn’t have a popular item it’s harder to get found.  No matter how often you load new items.

It suddenly seemed more lucrative to start a new shop – they were getting more sales to convince them to stick around – then to continue building a shop you started years ago.

It’s like going to the farmer’s market and trying to find your favorite seller.  You don’t have a lot to go on.

To counter these adjustments, my time has been spent this year fixing SEO on individual listings.  The keywords that worked in the past no longer seem to.  More time also needs to be given to keyword research to make sure you have the right terms that buyers are searching for.

Promoting your shop through social media channels and paying for more advertising is also very important.  Shops that make a full time income can spend upwards of $50 a day just to be found consistently.

Tool pegboard with assortment of tools

Better Seller Tools

One thing that Etsy promised with the recent fee increase was that seller tools would improve.  And they have.  Etsy has designed (and is still designing) better tools that can help us promote our shops more efficiently.  They also help us sell more items.

Recent changes include the “Best Seller” ribbon on high selling items, photo feed from your reviews bar and announcing to customers how many 5 star reviews you’ve received that month.

You can also set up promotional techniques to email customers a coupon when they have favorited an item (I’ve had less success with this one) or if an item has been sitting in their shopping cart.

Now, you can create your own sales website through Etsy called Pattern to give you a little more independent selling platform. (I don’t really think Pattern is independent at all, but it looks better than a traditional Etsy page).

If you join their monthly subscription plan, you can create your website on its own domain (instead of the Etsy shop one you are assigned) for an additional fee.

Just like Shopify e-commerce platform, Etsy has also added app integrations to help you build your business.  Most of these apps cost money, but they provide more tool options.

It seems that goal is for you to no longer feel that you outgrow Etsy as a platform and can stay there awhile.  The problem is that all of these tools cost money.  And what might seem a small cost here and there at first adds up quickly.

And for those first starting out, there are now guides to help you navigate.  Etsy has been publishing a series of guides and videos to give you ideas about how to succeed, set up your shop and bring in customers.  This year they released an extensive collection about holiday sales too.

These guides as well as many of the Etsy and handmade bloggers are so helpful.  As they say, learn from the ones who have traveled before you.

If you are new to selling on Etsy, take the time to read these tools, watch the videos and follow your favorite bloggers.  Learn as much as you can before starting your journey.  You will find success so much faster.

Can’t critique customers

When I started selling on Etsy, you were able to leave customers a review.  Although at first I was never sure why you would want to do this (it was a carry over from Ebay), now that I’ve been managing customer service for awhile I completely understand.

Being able to review customers helped keep them in check.  They were less likely to try bullying techniques to get their way.  And if they had a horrible review – let’s say one star – you could ask them to leave by refunding their order.

At least you would have an idea what kind of customer you were working with.  Today, it’s a complete surprise.

It turns out these reviews were actually a good thing.  The negative part was that they were public.  I don’t think that the world needs to know that you are a terrible customer.  But, it is helpful for other sellers to know.

Many customers use certain tactics to get free products.  If they are doing this multiple times, it would be helpful for sellers to know that.

Treasury Days

Those of you who were on Etsy in the beginning, probably have fond memories of treasuries.  Or maybe not.  A treasury was a cultivated collection made by Etsy customers.  They showcased different sellers’ work.  The treasury period definitely had pluses and minuses.

The positive was that your work appeared in a different way as a form of free advertising.  A treasury feature gave you a little confidence boost too.  Someone you didn’t know suddenly appreciated your work.  Also, I found that the media would troll treasuries to pick up items for their news stories or gift guides.

Treasuries built community on the Etsy marketplace.  Sellers got to know each other a little bit more.  They were a reminder that you were part of a bigger world – a special website – and we were all there to support each other.

I was pretty sad to see them go.  On the other hand, I don’t miss the many, many emails I would receive asking permission or suggesting that I check them out.  I also think that treasuries skewed views a bit.  The people making treasuries were not there to purchase your item.

A treasury feature created an uptick of views, but not always an increase in sales.  So, they really didn’t help your sales numbers.  But they did make your work more easily located.

Red maple leaf changing colors with the text overlay "How Etsy has changed since I started my Etsy Shop"

Improvement of Photos (and descriptions)

I always used to giggle a bit reading descriptions of items back in the beginning.  Many would include the following saying – “Made in a smoke free home”.  This always concerned me because as much as I was happy about this fact, I kind of assumed that would be the case.  It’s just like when you drive by a motel and they tell you they have “Color TV”.  You kind of assumed that.

I always hoped that sellers would take the utmost care in crafting their items, but soon realized that wasn’t always the case.  You would need to tell others that your work space was smoke and pet free.  Just in case anyone worried.

Today, I don’t see that phrase too often.  Most sellers have taken a professional angle with their products.  They have to or they won’t make the sales.

This also includes photographs.  Many product photos today are BEAUTIFUL.  They are clear, crisp, pretty and creative.  The photos showcase the product perfectly.  That wasn’t always the case.  Most photos from just a couple of years ago were dark and grainy.  Many times you couldn’t even see the product.

Those photos still exist, but there are fewer of them and you probably don’t notice them any way.  You certainly don’t click on them because there are so many wonderful photos around them.

This improvement in product photography has led to a prettier website.  I love perusing listings now because they provide such amazing inspiration.  I’m glad that artists have gotten so creative with how they showcase their work.

Final Thoughts…

Many people ask me if they are too late to start a profitable Etsy shop.  Although a lot has changed since Etsy started, I still believe that if you want to enter the e-commerce scene, Etsy is the perfect place to start.

It is a great place for busy moms since you don’t have to focus as much on marketing your shop.  Etsy gives you a chance to try new ideas, find customers and learn about the ins and outs of running a business.  Without too much risk.

I never wanted to be just another shop on Etsy.  I had bigger things in mind when I started.  But it turned out opening a shop on Etsy was exactly what I needed in the beginning.

Etsy gave me the perfect platform to figure out what Katarina’s Paperie was.  It’s also given me the tools to run my shop while being a work at home mom.  I could balance the two because of the systems they have in place.  I can’t say that with any other e-commerce platform that I have tried.

I’ve loved my adventures on Etsy.  They’ve taught me so much about e-commerce.  I am so excited to expand that journey into a new Shopify shop.  But my Etsy adventure will continue.  There is definitely room for both.  And I look forward to continuing to use them in the future too.  Here’s to Etsy!