Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Battle Of The Giants: Wal-mart vs. Etsy

Since about October, when Etsy released their new code of crafters ethics, they finalized a prediction that WIRED magazine had made the year before ... that craftsman, like me, who only made one of a kind things were going to be competing with people, who may have started like me on Etsy but who grew so large that they were still designing but not making anything anymore. They became so popular they had it made somewhere else or were using additional workers. In any event, they were no longer "individual" craftsmen. My retort was, and still is, "everything" we use is designed by someone and usually created by someone else. What then would distinguish Etsy from Wal-mart?

The day that announcement was made, hundreds, if not thousands, fled to and crashed their servers.

Then Craft-Star, another Etsy wannabe did the same thing. They sent an email asking its members, those that had about 1,000 of the same thing laying around, to sell it for two days at 50% off because they might be seen on TV. I don't know about you, but unless you work in a factory, you have never even seen a thousand of the same things anywhere, even Wal-mart.

To prove to myself this was happening I purchased a ring on Etsy for ten bucks that ironically was shipped to me from a few miles away.  The ring is nice.  The price was right yet there is no doubt that it wasn't hand made. Really, that's no different than buying it from Wal-mart also a few miles away. It is nicer than one can usually find at Wal-mart but it is not hand made.

I woke up today remembering an article I read years ago about a study on the impact to a community of the arrival of Wal-mart. While it was devastating to the local merchants, the consumer got a price break, of a kind. Tax bases actually went down impacting city coffers, so did personal service and choices often came down too.  It became so notorious communities started turning them away, in fact, in droves. There have been epic battles here in Southern California in fact. Big box stores usually win.

Is there any hope for the craftsmen in Etsy? Maybe.

Another book, now studied in college, is a book written by Robert Pirsig called ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE. It's a true story of a semantics professor who went mad trying to define the word "quality." As he nears the scene of his madness on his motorcycle, the University of Montana, the pressure builds. He still has no answer. Yet, as he discovered, everyone "knows" what it is. I had a boss who once observed that if you put a Chevy and a Mercedes next to each other, removing all identification, nearly 100% would choose the Mercedes as the better car. Most of us have the sense of quality but maybe not the definition.

Which leads me back to Wal-mart. That same study gave local merchants everywhere a ray of hope. The answer? Sell, what Wal-mart does not. Service, better or unique products, things consumers can't always get anywhere else. In fact, merchants who changed their strategy in fact thrived. Many even congregated in the same mall benefiting from the foot traffic. Possibly the same applies on Etsy. If you are selling the same thing as 50 other merchants price becomes the target. If what you offer is different than anyone else, unique, fills some kind of niche, you stand a chance. I really don't know any other merchants but I would guess that is sound advice.

Standing out in the crowd, I guess there are 1 million Etsy sellers, is not easy. Yet, constant refining of key words, attention to detail and especially checking out the competition can give you some hope. We craftsmen can never compete against the giants but we have it in us to stand out in the crowd!

For unique, one of a kind and hand painted crafts and paintings, please visit I can assure you each and every design you will see there is mine and was not made in the hundreds overseas!

Happy crafting!

1 comment:

  1. We can't begin to compete with Wal Mart and like sellers as far as quantity but we'll always be able to crush them with our handmades and OAK items, Personalization/Custom goes a long way, too, in what we offer. I agree with tags being used appropriately. I'll spread your name around a bit. Happy sales!