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Etsy country director visits Oz – five insights from the crafty company

Tuesday, 19 February 2013 | By Michelle Hammond

The country director of US-based eCommerce website Etsy has offered some insight into the company, and has outlined some key tips for online start-ups, as part of her Australian visit.


Etsy is an online marketplace where people buy and sell handmade or vintage items. It was conceived by Rob Kalin in early 2005.


Kalin – a painter, carpenter and photographer – set up the site after realising there was no viable marketplace to exhibit and sell his creations online.


Today, Etsy has 20 million members and attracts 42 million unique visitors every month. More than 75% of the businesses on Etsy are owned by women, and merchandise sales last year reached $895 million.


Nicole Vanderbilt, who is currently in Australia, is Etsy’s country director for Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada.


Vanderbilt spoke to StartupSmart about the ever-changing eCommerce landscape, and what it means for start-ups.


1. Make your site browser-friendly


Unlike a lot of eCommerce sites – which appeal to customers who know exactly what they want and for what price – Vanderbilt is quick to point out Etsy is built on a community of browsers.


“At first eCommerce was about getting everything on the web. Now it’s on the web the question is, how do you help people find it?” she says.


“On Etsy, they’re not necessarily things you know you want in advance – a lot of browsing goes on. There are changes we’ve made that reflect that.


“From the home page, we’ve highlighted the browser experience… You can go into a category like weddings, mobile accessories or jewellery [rather than using the search function].”


2. Acknowledge Australians’ appetite for overseas goods


“Etsy has taken a very global approach right from the get-go. Our business is very conducive to sellers getting demands from all over the world,” Vanderbilt says.

“We did transactions in 200 countries last year. Some of our biggest markets were big English-speaking markets. Australia is in our top five.


“The distinction around the Australian market is Australian buyers are willing to buy from outside of Australia.”


3. Don’t spread yourself too thin


“I think in the beginning, it’s so much about getting your value proposition right. Spreading yourself too thin is a bit dangerous,” she says.


“Focus on making what you love. It’s not going to be an easy road so make sure you love what you’re doing. And get feedback on it.


“The great thing about Etsy is you can start small, test, iterate and grow from there. That’s what we advise a lot of sellers to do.”


There’s plenty of time to expand your presence – either online or offline – once you’ve earned a name for yourself, Vanderbilt says.


“Over time, we do see our sellers end up selling in boutiques on a wholesale basis,” she says.


4. Look beyond the transaction


“I think [eCommerce has] become a lot more social… The notion of eCommerce as a cold, transactional way of shopping [is less prevalent],” Vanderbilt says.


“The internet has gotten better at a lot of different things – it has become a source of inspiration.”


5. Keep the conversation going


While it’s crucial to spark conversations with your customers, Vanderbilt also highlights the importance of encouraging communication between sellers.


“We have a huge amount of educational material. The seller handbook is, as you can imagine, an accumulated and edited bunch of tips and tricks to become more successful on Etsy,” she says.


“We also encourage sellers to help each other. One way we do this is with teams – sellers are organised into small groups… You can go into those teams and get all kinds of help.”