An interesting thread in the etsy forums today got me thinking about the massive learning curve necessary to make the transition to online sales. Many of us that have been doing shows or selling in booths for years already grok what's necessary to generate sales in those venues. We might be good at staging, or merchandising, or knowing our clientele. For online sales, however, it's a whole new ballgame.
Guess what? Buyers can't touch your item, or heft it, or inspect it for flaws. There's an etsy adage that you need to photograph your item as if there is no description, and describe it as if there is no photo—and I live by it. Many vintage dealers don't get it, and rely on what we call the "autopsy shot" (dead-on shot from above)—popularized on ebay.
Etsy is a unique venue in that many of its buyers are savvy online/catalog shoppers. Note the popularity and reliance on the treasury feature. Hence, it's really beneficial to read up on product photography. Imagine your item in a catalog. Will that photo jump out at a buyer and make a buyer WANT it? What I did in the above doggie photo is employ the 3/4 view and add visual interest with the red/white box.
THEN. We have to think about SEO (search engine optimization). And not just etsy SEO, but Google SEO. It would be sooooo easy if all etsy buyers were just like us. We could title/tag everything as simply "crusty scale" or "creepy doll". Nuff said. Items would FLY out of the shop, right? Hell, I bet we wouldn't even have to bother with photos. All I'd need to read is "lot of yardlong photos" and I'd click the BUY button....
Unfortunately, online selling is harder. But, just like selling at a show or in a booth, it can be learned. Know your audience and what it takes to sell online. I'm no expert, but in my years of selling (and over 500 sales), I'd like to offer up some advice to anyone considering selling on etsy (or wanting to beef up their sales).
1. Understand (and respect) the importance of good photos. It'll take practice, I know. Showcase your item either with appropriate and interesting staging, or silhouette it on a plain background. The latter is key if you want to be featured in treasuries. Fair or not, treasury makers look for a cohesiveness of background. Don't plunk your item on a carpet, or drape it over a chair, or in your driveway (yes, I've seen that). Remember that every etsy (or even Google) search brings up a "gallery view" of similar items. Will your photo be the one a buyer clicks on? Which brings me to ...
2. Check out the competition. How does your photo/description stand up next to a similar item? Many buyers may want your item, but what makes YOUR crusty scale more appealing than the one next to it? If 2 items are similar, have the same price, and same attributes, don't you think a better photo will be the tipping point?
3. Ugh. Learn, understand, and love SEO. Like it or not, you need to understand how to title/tag/describe your items online. For etsy, you need to have the same accurate phrases EXACTLY in both your title and tag to come up high in a search for that item. For instance, if you have a creepy doll for sale, you need "creepy doll" in your title AND in your tags. Use the "noun" of what your item is as often as possible in your tags. If it is the aforementioned doll, the word "doll" should appear in every single tag. Maybe "creepy doll", "decrepit doll", "damaged doll", "scary doll", etc. are your tags.
For Google relevancy, your title and description are important (Google doesn't look at tags). Get the same keywords in your description as well.
I'd also recommend using the word "vintage" in conjunction with your keyword. Etsy buyers can narrow down their searches to include ONLY items in a vintage category, but most Google buyers will include the word "vintage" in their search. Google also crawls your shop title (the gray words under your banner) and shop announcement and shop categories to see what you sell. I'd recommend including "vintage" in those as well. Yeah, I haven't done it yet, but it's a "best practice".
4. Keep up on current trends and phrasings. Let's say I have a scary doll for sale in my etsy shop. Next month, Flea Market Style magazine does a huge spread on dolls and emphasizes that "creepy-ass dolls" are all the rage. You betcha I'd change my tags/title to be "creepy-ass dolls". OK, that's an extreme example, because I'd just love to include "ass" in my tags. My point is: if people are calling your items something different than what you are, your item won't be found. If it's called something different in Europe, you'd better have that in your tags as well.
5. Divulge information. The motto of the modern marketplace might be caveat emptor, but you don't want to deal with returns, negative feedback, or chargebacks. Utilize all 5 available photo spaces to show all aspects of your item. With vintage, many of our items will have flaws, so it's best to accurately depict and describe them upfront rather than face a return or negative feedback. The first photo should be appealing—all subsequent photos (when appropriate) should divulge any flaws, as should your description. I also recommend including at least one photo that shows your item with something to scale (a ruler, a quarter, a half-empty bottle of Dr Pepper—which I've seen, believe it or not), and one should show the back or the underside.
With vintage, we need to remember that many of our buyers are NOT vintage enthusiasts. They just saw a cool picture of a vintage typewriter in a Pottery Barn catalog and want one for their office bookshelf. But, a serious typewriter collector will be looking at the same listing. Divulge whether it is in working condition (and if not, what's wrong with it). Or, explain that it's for decorative purposes only and is in nonfunctional working order.
6. Research shipping. Do your research and don't guess on shipping charges or you will get bit. Buy a digital scale. Weigh your items with packing materials (it doesn't have to be wrapped—just pile it all on the scale) to get an accurate weight. I splurged and bought a digital scale at the post office (because it's guaranteed accurate) for about $30. Then, go to postcalc.usps.gov to figure out the precise shipping charges. I've never been off.
Many items can go via priority flat rate boxes, which can be a lifesaver, but are not always a good value for buyers. With vintage, the multiple "with another item" can bite you in the butt, so look into that too. You can always refund overcharges via PayPal. We've all had to eat shipping charges, but you'll get better at it.
7. Be VERY careful about shipping charges for large/oversize/furniture items. I don't go anywhere near this, but it comes up a lot. You cannot put $0.00 in your shipping charges and mention "contact me with your zip for an accurate shipping charge." By law, in doing so, you have indicated that shipping charges are $0. If the buyer files a dispute, you will LOSE. Put in a shipping charge that is furthest from your location and indicate that you will refund overcharges.
8. Offer international shipping. I know a lot of sellers are leery of international sales, but DO IT. Most overseas buyers are well aware of shipping charges and any levies associated with it. At the very least, offer shipping to Canada, UK, and Australia. This month alone, I've had 2 sales to Italy. Don't box yourself out.
9. Remember that your items are AWESOME. As with selling at a show or in a booth, buyers will always ask for a discount or offer a lower price. Personally, I'm not a haggler, so I hate this. But be prepared: it's gonna happen. Pre-plan your reaction so you're not caught off-guard. Counter-offer, or explain that you're not offering a discount at this time—just don't ignore them.
Etsy is a great auxiliary venue for anyone selling vintage. Anyone else have any etsy-specific selling advice?