Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thinking about Opening an Etsy Shop?

I've been meaning to give a little write-up of our experience with Etsy.  For anyone who has toyed with the idea of starting a shop, or if you've just wondered what ever happened to the one Tom and I opened, I hope this post will be helpful.

We decided to start a shop on Etsy to sell vintage items, which Etsy now allows in addition to the traditional handmade items.  Tom and I share a passion for second-hand finds, so it seemed up our alley.  Each time we went to our favorite thrift stores, flea markets, etc., we began picking up additional items to sell in our shop.  We also raided our own house for neat things that we didn't really need anymore.  We set up our shop and became pretty involved with it for the first few months.  Things took off really quickly. 

It seems like it was a great success: we gained followers, made a profit, and received only 5-star reviews. 

...But we ultimately decided that we just couldn't keep up with the demands of our shop.  We began to ease out of it - we stopped adding new items, lowered the prices on the remaining inventory, and allowed everything to either sell out or "time out" (listings are only good for four months before you have to renew them). 

Here's a look at the extensive process involved
[this would look a little different if you were selling handmade items]

1. Acquire items 
This step wasn't too much extra work, since for the most part, we were already going to many types of second-hand sales.  But it did send us pretty far out of our way a few times to check out new "sources".

2. Prepare items
Things needed to be ready for photos.  Many things required a lot of cleaning or ironing, and some things needed small repairs.

3. Take good photos
Natural light is always best, with a neutral background.  Depending on the item, we hung a light or dark-colored sheet as a backdrop.  For clothing items and jewelry, Tom or I often served as human models.  You need to take photos from several angles, and usually some close-ups.

This was by far the most time-consuming step.  We wanted good natural light for our shots, which limited us to daylight hours (which end around 5:30pm in the winter) so meant we had to wait for the weekends when Tom was home.  And since wit was freezing outside, we had to take all our photos indoors.  It was always a big to-do every time we had a batch of new things to photograph, so we would wait until the kids were out of the way, at their naptime.  We spent several hours of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon every few weeks just taking photos for Etsy.  We had to rearrange the whole dining room each time, Tom usually had to go through multiple outfit changes, and it always created a huge mess and a fair amount of marital strife.

4. Prepare photos for listing
Upload them to the computer, crop them, edit them, select which ones you will use for the site.

5. Figure out a price for your item
We would then do a little "research" on the internet to see what the item was worth, and what price similar things had sold for.  We tried to price our things a little below everyone else - we usually bought them for such low prices that we knew we'd still make money, and we hoped it would help our items sell more quickly.

6. Calculate shipping costs
We bought a postage scale for this.  We'd have to weigh the item plus the type of packaging it would ship in, and add in a little extra for the weight of the tape, label, etc.  Then we'd go to the USPS website, fill out the form with the various specs, and calculate the cost for it to go to California (basically, the most expensive place to send things from here).  That number became our shipping cost.

7. List the item
Etsy has a form you fill out for each item.  You select various indicators for what type of item it is, upload all your pictures, create a written description, set "tags" that people can search by, fill in the price and shipping info.  It takes a while.  Oh, and if we had clothes or hats for sale, the sizing labels were often absent.  So we also had to measure most of the clothes, and compare those measurements to sizing charts to try to figure out what they were.

8.  Package and Ship the item
Once something sells, you have so much time to get it in the mail (we had designated a 1-3 day turnover time).  Packaging, taping, weighing, and filling out the Etsy form to print a pre-paid shipping label took a little time.  Then you have to find a way to actually get it to the Post Office.  I won't bore you with the explanations, but I rarely did this myself - it would have been unnecessarily burdensome to manage with the kids.  Tom usually took the packages to work and mailed them downtown.

9. Keep good records
We created a huge spreadsheet on Excel to keep track of everything.  We listed our items, when and where we got them, how much we paid, when we listed them on Etsy, when they sold and how much they sold for, charge for shipping, actually cost of shipping, city it shipped to, how much of a "cut" Etsy took from the sale, etc.  It was mostly to track how much we were making.  But Tom had fun playing with statistics and creating various graphs to find out information like which of our "sources" were most lucrative, which areas of the country bought the most of our stuff (San Francisco and LA area, and Brooklyn, NY for the record).
10. Store all your stuff
We had to clear out an entire closet to dedicate to storing all our items while they were waiting to sell.  It was frustrating not being able to use that space for our own stuff.


By the time we were done with all this, we'd spent many hours just to sell a few items.  Considering that a lot of our stuff was for sale in the $5-$10 price range, it was simply NOT WORTH all the time and effort involved.  So we're done, at least for now.

That was our experience.  But I can certainly think of situations where selling on Etsy might be worth the trouble...
  • You just really enjoy it.  It might be a fun hobby for you.  Maybe you have some craft or cool vintage stuff you're really excited to share with the world.  It started out that way for us, but quickly became too much work.
  • You have a fair amount of free time to spend on it (e.g. not having little kids)
  • You have helpful tools such as: a little "photo studio" with good lighting that you can keep set up, dressmaker's dummies to model clothes, etc.
  • You are selling the same/similar items, so don't have to keep re-taking photos, or re-creating listings from scratch [this is frequently the case when people sell homemade items]
  • Your products have a high profit margin which makes the time worth it.  (Our best items by far were our vintage fedoras.  We found about five really nice hats from the 40s and 50s, which sell for $50 or more.  If we could have managed to sell only fedoras, we could have had a nice little business!)

If anyone else has had experience selling on Etsy, I'd be interested to hear what you think of it.  And if you have an active shop, feel free to leave a link, so I can check it out :-)


  1. Sadly, Etsy is too hip for us and I don't think our products qualify.

    However, and I hope this isn't too much of a jump, just a couple weeks ago we (OK mostly my husband) started selling on Amazon. Check it:

    1. Wow Anna, these are really beautiful - what a great idea! I'm adding these to my Amazon wishlist :-)

  2. I just opened my own shop last week! For now I'm just seeking T-shirt quilts, but i was thinking about adding some knits too. I'm hoping to make some extra money to help us pay off our student loans faster. Did you do any kind of advertising to promote your shop?

    1. Thanks for sharing! I always think t-shirt quilts are great for people who have trouble letting go of all those t-shirts (my husband among them!).

  3. I would like to do this with handmade crafts but am scared. LOL I also don't know if I could handle sewing 8 hours a day… Hmm…

  4. I make quite a few crafts, and Etsy has my curiosity, but the entire biz of the paperwork and everything else seems overwhelming. Also, most of the crafts I see don't have a price tag to make it worth it, I don't think enough ppl realize they are often getting a real bargain. I'm glad you found some items with a good margin! Good to know it is possible!