10 things I’ve learned from a failed Etsy shop and a new shop that just hit 100 sales

shoey (1)
Just a few pairs available in the shop now

Now on to those Etsy lessons….

This is my second vintage shop on Etsy, the first far surpassed 100 sales actually ending up in the thousands but this time around the process has been smoother and I’ve hit that 100 sales way faster.

If you have been toying with the idea of opening an etsy shop this is a must read, you can learn from some of my mistakes so you don’t have to make them in the first place.  Please like and share this post if it speaks to you.

Remember, in business losses are lessons.   If things go awry now and then be grateful, those are the most impactful learning experiences you will ever have.

And now without further ado… The top ten things I have learned from my old Etsy shop and from those first 100 sales in my new one.

  1. Start. Your. Shop.  It seems simple but honestly, so many people want to wait until they feel like everything is perfect to take action.  Guess what guys…  You’ll never have all the answers and perfection is an instagram filter.  Its not real. If you want to start selling on Etsy you’ve got to start listing products.  The beauty of etsy is that it is not just a selling platform, it is a search engine.  People will find your products even if your photos, tags and descriptions aren’t perfect at first. Once you start you will be able to make tweaks as you go.  I kept putting off opening my shop because I couldn’t find a suitable live model.  Eventually I just said F it, and began photographing my items hanging on a plain wall, with footwear displayed on a sheet.  Did it fulfill this image of perfection I was striving for? Far from it.  But I made my first sale within 48 hours and now 6 months later I’ve hit that 100.  All that time agonising over hiring a model could have been spent making money!
  2. Offer a good product and be ethical.  If you want to import mass produced goods from factories, there are some great platforms for you to sell on, but Etsy is not one of them.  Etsy buyers are generally there to support small businesses and find unique items.  The marketplace has recently become saturated with things found on wholesale websites and it makes me so sad.  Yes, you might trick the average consumer into buying your imported products and you might even make a killing in the process, (a few shops come to mind) but there is no honor in taking sales away from genuine artisans.  Focus on filling your shop with products that align with Etsy’s Tou’s, and make sure those products are of a high quality.  I only buy good quality pieces for my shop and am careful to include any flaws in my descriptions so that I am not misrepresenting my items.
  3.  Niche down a bit and identify your avatar. When I see a shop selling handmade fly fishing hooks, wooden figurines, and lace doilies I do not think ‘awesome selection’, I think, ‘what a mess.’ Yes, you want to have a good selection in your shop, but you should fit within a certain niche in the market. Hopefully Etsy will soon make it possible for people to run multiple shops from the same account (ETSY CAN YOU HEAR ME?!) But until that happens, if your products are too different they probably should be in different shops. The key is to focus on selling items that look like they could belong to the same person.  Ie find your avatar, and the easiest way to remain consistent is to use yourself as that avatar.  It’s impossible to appeal to every person in the world so that should never be your goal.  By basing your product offerings on your own wants and needs you can be fairly certain there will be an audience out there for it, and without too much effort your shop will take on a curated appearance.  I’m a curvy, minimalist, vintage loving girl who cares about the environment and has a slight shoe obsession, I bet just by reading that you can guess what my product selection might look like….
  4. Take good photos.  Now you may go to my shop and say, ‘what does she know about taking good photos?’ Admitadly, very little, but I’m comitted to the process of learning.  I recently bought a mannequin and after spending an entire afternoon photographing bags, I realised the metal pole was awkwardly in the shots and the photos just weren’t as good as they could be. Yes, I could have just used them, but I knew exactly what I needed to tweak to make them better, so guess how I spent the entire following afternoon? (Tip: before photographing your entire collection, take a few test shots to make sure you like how they are looking!!)  We can only do so much working with what we’ve got. Yes, I may not be a professional photographer but I will put in the time to change the things I do have control over whenever I can.  I couldn’t find a live model so I purchased a mannequin.  I didn’t have a great camera, so I hit up the pawn shop.  I. just. can’t. with photoshop, so I use the simple photo editing software built into my lap top.  I wouldn’t buy a wrinkled garment thrown across someone’s bed, so I steam and hang all of my clothing prior to photographing.
  5.  Offer good customer service.  Etsy has their own algorithms and they do take into account your response times to convos as well as how quickly you ship items.  In my last shop, I found myself getting annoyed with people asking the same questions over and over again. Where is my tracking? It’s been a week shouldn’t my item be here?  Will you take $20 for this $80 item? etc.  So I started ignoring some of the more repetitive and irritating questions.  While I still maintained a 5 star rating, I ended up getting a couple unsavory reviews for poor communication, and as a result my shop was pushed lower in the algorithm.  At the end of the day, I was not operating good business.  People don’t realise how often you’ve been asked the same thing or why you have to charge a certain price for something, if they are taking the time to reach out to you they deserve an answer.  I now have a few custom made responses to my more common inquiries typed out in a word document, and when I get a standard question I copy and paste.  I also always try to slide the persons name into the response to personalise it a bit.
  6. Use Esty’s calculated shipping option.  Not only will this help you rank higher in the algorithm, but when people ask why you charge so much for shipping you can cut and paste your custom response explaining that Etsy calculates your shipping and you do not profit off of shipping fees.  On the flip side, I grossly underestimated shipping costs MANY times in my early days on etsy.  I have ended up paying money out of pocket to ship things to Europe or Australia because I thought, ‘$20 to ship a winter coat sounds reasonable.’  I kept putting off using shipping labels because I didn’t want to buy a shipping scale.   I have probably lost $100’s in international shipping over the years, but that scale only cost me $20.  I also don’t dread packing orders and holding up post office lines like I used to.  Shipping labels save time and money, take it from me!
  7. Tweak. Tweak. Tweak.  Your shop should be treated as a work in progress.  Etsy has built in software that shows you where your traffic is coming from, as well as the key words that are generating the most hits.  Use all the tools Etsy provides, they are there for a reason.  There are tons of articles out there explaining how to tag and title your items while keeping Etsy SEO in mind, read those.  If your tags aren’t bringing you traffic, change them.  And remember, trends (and tags) change.  Keep on top of the most relevant tags for your items and you will keep on top of the market.
  8.  Price compare and pay yourself.  Most vintage sellers can relate to the term ‘seller regret’, but I promise you, that regret is felt tenfold when you sell those items for less than what they are worth.  I sold some killer things for some ridiculous prices in the beginning.  A mint condition 1930s Hungarian folk blouse for $30, an amazing 1960s pink alpaca coat for $40 and a pair of 70s lace up campus boots for $45.  Anyone who knows vintage and just read those numbers is probably cringing.  It is so easy to search up an item and see what a similar thing would sell for in other shops, so DO IT!  This is also a great way to learn about what is trending and what titles and tag words are being used.  Whether selling vintage or handmade, it’s important to price compare and charge somewhere towards the higher end of the middle.  No one want’s to buy the most expensive item, but people can also be wary of deals that sound too good to be true.  Most importantly, make sure you are PAYING YOURSELF enough.  If you actually have made that item by hand it is not unfair to ask a living hourly wage (plus the cost of materials)!  Yes your prices may seem high next to shops carrying imported goods but at the end of the day your integrity will pay off and those shady shops will weed themselves out, I’ve seen it happen time and again.
  9.  Crunch those numbers.  It’s easy to blow through those extra pay cheques that magically direct deposit into your account every week, but it’s super important to identify your actual profit margins.  Don’t just tell yourself ‘ I made an extra $500 this week.  If you ended up investing $100 on ads and $200 on product or supplies, you really only made $200.  Be meticulous about keeping records, go over your finances every month, keep a careful inventory, and try to save as much as you can.  You never know what rainy days lie ahead, which leads me to my last and most important lesson…
  10. Don’t build a castle on leased land.  Etsy is a wonderful platform.  I recommend Etsy as a great place to start for any artesian maker.  I used my etsy earnings to pay a down payment on a house, buy a car, and take my kids on a few mini vacations.  Etsy has been good to me, but it has also broken my heart.  In 2015 my old shop disappeared seemingly overnight.  I went from making close to $6000 one October to $1200 the following month (and watched helplessly as those numbers dwindled lower and lower still).  It happened.  And while I ultimately blame myself and my mistakes for the downturn, the truth is, even if I had run a perfect shop it could have happened.  Etsy is constantly making their own tweaks and algorithm changes.  These changes will not always benefit every shop and some shops will inevitably be hurt by them.  It is an incredibly helpless feeling to have your numbers drop so quickly without any warning, and I know I am not alone.  Just google ‘my etsy shop has died overnight’.  This is a phenomenon that happens and no blog post on Etsy success should come without a warning.  Putting all of your eggs in one basket is a bad idea for any online endeavor.  While I am currently focusing on using etsy as a place to get my business started, I am simultaneously running a blog, using social media and working with a business coach to plan my standalone shop.  I’m also back in the salon working as a stylist so I have multiple sources of income and get to be creative both on and offline!  I hope to always be involved in the Etsy community because I love it, but I am no longer foolish enough to put all of my hope in it.  I have learned that lesson the hard way and encourage all new sellers to proceed with caution and create a long-term plan that goes beyond Etsy.

So there you have it.  My 10 lessons from a failed Etsy shop and 100 sales in a brand new one.  If you’ve been mulling around the idea of starting an Etsy shop I hope this gives you the encouragement to go for it.  It truly is a super easy, user friendly way to dip your toes into ecommerce and it is FUN!

If you have any more questions about getting started on Etsy, feel free to reach out and if you like vintage shoes be sure to enter my IG contest @lesagevintage.  (The shoe collage above is just a teeny tiny baby taste of the amazing selection of vintage shoes I have up for grabs in the shop right now.)

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