4 Lessons to Beat Giant eCommerce that You Can Learn from Etsy

Are you big on handmade or vintage stuff? If so, chances are, you’ve already stumbled across Etsy.

Since launching in 2005, this “handmade ecommerce website” has created a storm of new styles, great marketing and innovative ways to buy and sell products. Etsy currently has millions of registered users with hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions each year.

Etsy has found a way to drive real consumer participation on a massive scale and is definitely worth paying attention to. Etsy provides an experience that’s more like a digital family store than a commercial superstore. In terms of customer loyalty and advocacy, that approach comes with big payoffs.

Let’s take a closer look at just how Etsy does it and what we can learn from them.

1. Communities make the world go ‘round

Etsy reminds me of a web-based game that I find hard to escape: Kingdom of Loathing. From the beginning, the site’s popularity has always depended on its vibrant, opinionated, helpful and passionate community.

Communal content is great because it means your content is being shared and written for those in a community, or those who think similarly. Even though your content might not get millions of clicks, those who are clicking and sharing might be much more relevant, and therefore help you convert.

On the seller side, this primarily takes the form of forums, where sellers can post questions and start discussions for their fellow sellers to answer. This makes selling on the site more of a team effort, and it’s also is a great way for sellers to discover one another and pool efforts through things like Pinterest pages or collections.

With such a strong seller community, Etsy is far more likely to attract a diverse range of craftspeople, many of whom are looking to get started online but might be intimidated elsewhere. More diversity means better products, while more passion for the site means even better PR as sellers promote their stores across the web.

What you can do:

Invest in branded communities and forums. Brand centric communities are a direct line to insights, consumer collaboration, and on- and offline advocacy. Your consumers have a lot to say about your brand, and a forum is the best place to shout.

2. Turn Consumers into Creators

You see sellers are more loyal when they’re not just some fish in the sea. So does Etsy. Increase rates of customer loyalty by keeping them actively engaged.
 Etsy encourages customers to leave reviews in a unique way: it’s not just all text; they post product photos next to the review.

What’s more, while a big seller relies heavily on its big data to suggest new items, Etsy combines big data with a host of other review tools that empower customers, from starring products to leaving testimonials and “favoriting” shops so they can easily come back for more.

What you can do:

Your consumers are your most powerful advocates. Don’t let them or their content slip through the cracks. Give customers a variety of ways to rate products and to engage more deeply with each brand, whether that means encouraging them to tweet about their purchase after it’s been made or asking for new ideas for product lines.
Here at Breadnbeyond we invite clients to write a guest post on our blog knowing that their knowledge and experience will ignite inspirations for others.

Just like many big eCommerce sites, Etsy curates work from a wide variety of sellers. Unlike those on other eCommerce sites, the sellers on Etsy feel like real people who could just as well be your neighbor. Actually, that is one of the biggest reasons customers turn to Etsy: they like supporting an individual craftsperson and learning all about that person as they do so.

That gives Etsy a big incentive for giving their sellers a good stage for telling their story. You get to find out about the seller as well as their passion and their feeling from their profile.

What you can do:

Encourage brands to write more than a single line of copy to communicate the brand story. When consumers know who they’re buying from, they’re more likely to become passionate advocates for each individual seller.
We are offering interviews so you can tell people about your difficulties and success, hoping that people can take notes from your journey.

4. Partner Up

Over the past couple of years, Etsy has started several initiatives that match up the efforts of its sellers with bigger brands.

Recently, this has taken the form of partnerships with brands like Martha Stewart Living and West Elm, which have been given dedicated pages on Etsy where they can curate and highlight the work of sellers whose work falls within the umbrella of their brand. In the past, Etsy has also organized in-person events at West Elm in particular, where sellers get to display their wares.

For loyal customers, this provides a great opportunity to meet their favorite sellers in person, and for newbies, it’s a great way to learn about how Etsy works.

Events and partnerships like these combine the best of eCommerce’s massive reach with the essential one-on-one relationship that can only be developed in person.

What you can do:

Get offline. Don’t limit yourself to your computer. Your consumers are out and about every day — make sure you meet them there. Have your consumers throw parties or host events. Invite them to a store for a meet and greet or send them a sample of your top product. We all still have lives outside of Facebook; lets try not to forget it.
Create online partnerships to further increase your user base. It exposes a new range of customers to the platform. If such efforts involve curated boards like on Etsy, partnerships can also make for great social media marketing, as it provides meat for the marketing team to tweet out to the world.

What we do:

Breadnbeyond has partnered with Olark to increase our customer base. From this partnership we’ve gained more traction from new segments.

It’s ideas, not widgets that drive commerce. Companies have gotten so efficient at the production of physical and digital products that the market is cluttered with inexpensive, and mostly commoditized choices. As the market shifts from valuing the physical to prizing the intellectual, it is the community aspect that you need most to focus on if you want a sustainable brand.

Like Robert Kalin, the co-founder and chief executive of Etsy said, “It’s not just ‘you are what you eat’ anymore, you are what you buy, and these things define you.”

The insight here is to involve everyone: erase the line between sellers and buyers and create a community where its many and diverse members actually support each other and thereby gather an audience large enough to sustain itself.