Seja Brumley first started selling on Etsy in 2009. "At the time, I worked in corporate America but had a lot of creative desires, I guess you could say," Brumley told me. Her first outing was a handmade jewelry shop. But she soon realized that sourcing and creating supplies for her peers would be an even more fruitful venture.
"I opened up a supply shop for other people who make jewelry—other jewelry designers—in 2011, and that’s really what took off," she said. Cut to 2015: Brumley quit her day job as a pharmaceutical sales rep at Merck to go all in on what started out as her side hustle.
For Etsy, which is transforming itself from a niche craft-seller website into a launching pad for at-home entrepreneurs, Brumley and her customers are the future of the business. That's why they've spent the past year creating Etsy Studio, a marketplace launching this April that is dedicated to selling craft supplies, and DIY tutorials. At the same time, Etsy is adding a new service called Shop Manager that will improve the seller experience.
It's the company's largest expansion ever. And while Etsy is still dwarfed by the likes of eBay and Amazon Marketplace, the Dumbo, Brooklyn-based company attracts a loyal following of 1.7 million active sellers who reaped $2.3 billion in sales in 2015.
"In terms of numbers, it’s a $40 billion market opportunity," says Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson. "We really believe that we at Etsy are perfectly positioned to take advantage of that opportunity and really add something to craft supplies buying that we see is really missing—and that's a sense of joy and inspiration."
Etsy Studio will launch with 8 million items, and is optimized to assist makers in tracking down any supply they need—beads, yarn, cut metal—using search functionality that can sort by size, color, material, shape, weight, length, or width depending on the medium. Each listing also estimates preparation time, tells you where the product is shipping from, and offers additional information about whether the supply is handmade or recycled.
"With Etsy Studio, what we really want to focus on is giving people the ability to find exactly what they need," product management director Tim Holley explained. "This is different from the behavior or the needs that we see on Etsy.com today. If you're making a necklace [with wood beads], you probably need to know exactly how big [each bead] is—meaning, down to the millimeter, because you probably got some thread that needs to go through it."
According to Brumley, who has been beta testing the search capabilities on Etsy Studio, the results are superior to those she has used on other retail and wholesale sites. "I'll type in something like 'gold-filled clasp,' and 68 pages will come up," she said, "when really there's only four gold-filled clasps that they sell."
The simplified search results should help Etsy attract more creators to the platform. And if they still need a bit of inspiration, Etsy Studio will launch with 60 tutorials on everything from customizing a cutting board to creating a bezel setting for a ring. Each tutorial links to all the supplies required to complete it, giving users the option of buying all the products at once or picking and choosing which ones they need. Holley says that new tutorials will be published weekly, and that Etsy is planning to partner with bloggers and influencers to supplement their in-house writing team.
Ultimately, Etsy Studio aims to attract someone like me—an avid browser of Etsy who has long enjoyed making things, but isn’t intrepid (or patient) enough to gather supplies from Michael’s or Alibaba and pair them with a tutorial sourced from Instructables. For everyone who enjoys buying handmade wares, Etsy Studio offers an easy way to begin making them as well.
Along with building a funnel to attract more creators on the front end, Etsy is upgrading its back-end tools for existing sellers as well. Shop Manager, which is available to all sellers starting today, streamlines management of a seller's Etsy sites in one centralized dashboard, from which they can manage their orders, respond to questions from buyers, and toggle between their various sales channels.
One of the biggest improvements in the new interface is that orders can now be easily filtered and organized according to ship-by dates, and each order is denoted with a thumbnail that includes, at a glance, any requests for customization that a buyer might have submitted with their order. Matthew Cummings, an Etsy seller who creates customized beer glasses, says that his Wholesale shop—another Etsy platform that connects retailers with Etsy sellers who wish to sell their products in brick-and-mortar stores—often went ignored because it required a separate login.
The introduction of Shop Manager addresses a pain point specific to Etsy: Its sellers are not necessarily tech-savvy. The less time they spend liaising with buyers and sorting through orders, the more time they get to spend actually making things.
One of Etsy's big advantages is that it is relatively easy to use—which might make selling on Etsy more attractive than building a stand-alone site using an e-commerce platform like Shopify, which boasts 325,000 merchants. But a Shopify site offers greater flexibility, which explains the impetus behind a number of Etsy's launches since going public nearly two years ago. To compete, Etsy has to both provide superior tools and differentiate itself from the competition.
The stand-out feature of Etsy has always been its tight-knit community. "Most of my customers are other Etsy sellers, so it's created this community of people who trust each other," Brumley said. "We know we're other makers, and we go to each other because we know, well, 'I'm not buying from this huge corporation. I'm buying from Seja, who's also a mom, and this supports her family and feeds her chickens.'"
Correction: As previously noted, Shop Manager is fully launching in the spring, but the platform is available to sellers starting today.
Slideshow Credits: 01 / Photos: courtesy of Etsy;