Spending Ace Shopping on Etsy While Supporting Small Businesses

Discover why this e-commerce platform is so lucrative for small business owners and how you can navigate the many options to best find what you’re looking for.

By Brienne Walsh
PUBLISHED 01/20/2023 | 7 MINUTES

When Valerie Freeman, the founder of Betty Lu Paperie, set up an Etsy shop in 2013, she did so because she had a passion for creating wedding stationary. “I figured, hey, maybe I can sell a few things and make a little extra money,” she says. At the time, she was working full time at a magazine and, within two years, was making so much from her stationary business on Etsy that she was able to quit her job.

Today, Freeman, who is based in Alabama, brings in more than six figures per year through sales on Etsy and her website. “You don’t have to do much work to build an audience on Etsy,” says Freeman. “The company already has a built-in network of more than 90 million shoppers that becomes available to you as soon as you set up shop.”

This ready-made network is part of the reason why South Carolina-based Katie Rutland, who owns an Etsy shop called The Thrift Curator, was not at all perturbed when the company raised the amount sellers pay for each transaction from 5% to 6.5% earlier this year. “I don’t see a downside,” Rutland says. “All I see are continued opportunities.”

Rutland started her shop more than a year ago to sell the antique objects she has been collecting. To date, she has sold nearly $10,000 worth of goods to buyers in nine different countries. Rutland also prefers Etsy to other e-commerce sites like eBay and Instagram: “It feels like a classier situation,” she says of the platform. “Because of the shop view, you feel like you’re buying from a small business, not just a random, unidentified individual.”

When users come to Etsy, Freeman notes, they come to shop around—unlike when using Instagram, where shopping is typically imposed on users primarily looking for content from friends and influencers. “On Etsy, people are usually looking for something handmade; something they can’t find at Walmart,” she says.

These are just a few of the many reasons why Etsy, which was founded in 2005, has grown so quickly over the past decade. Indeed, the company reported $13.5 billion in sales in 2021, a growth of 29% from four years earlier when sales topped $3.93 billion. Today, there are 7.5 million sellers on the site who have listed over 120 million items available to the platform’s 94 million buyers.

As impressive as those numbers are for the company, the overwhelming choice of products can be intimidating to users. Below, Freeman and Rutland share some tips on how to find the best deals—and products—on Etsy.

1. Know What You’re Looking For

Many sellers, including Freeman, optimize the keywords in their listings so that users can more easily find what they have to offer. So be specific in what you’re after—for example, try searching for “traditional letterpress wedding invitations” rather than simply “wedding invites”—and you will have better success locating what you want.

2. Consult the Reviews

Doing your research starts with the reviews. Underneath every listing, there’s a starred review section that includes all the feedback a seller has received for their shop. Use this to learn if the items customers bought were in good condition, if they arrived without damage and if the shipping was delayed or not—plus, it will give you a better idea if the advertised images match the real products.

3. Browse Entire Shops

Many of the small businesses hosted on Etsy have a myriad of items for sale. If you search for an item and find something you really like, take some time to browse through the rest of what that seller has to offer. “I’ve really worked to develop my shop’s identity,” says Rutland. “I have a logo and business cards, which I put in every shipment I send out.” You never know what other gems you’ll find—or if you’ll discover something even closer to what you were looking for originally.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Message the Seller Directly

Behind every Etsy shop is a person—likely a small business owner—or a few people who are more than happy to engage with their customers. If you have a question about an item, don’t be afraid to ask it. And if there is an item you don’t see, ask the seller if they can make it or know where you might find it.

Millie’s editor Kelly Meehan Brown got a special laser-cut wooden map for her husband’s birthday that wasn’t originally for sale by asking the seller directly if they could create it. “They were all too happy to oblige—for no extra fee—and now that item is available on their store for others to buy,” Meehan Brown says.

5. Consider Buying the Items in Person

If you’re looking for something delicate, such as vintage glassware, narrow your search down to include sellers within a certain radius of your location. Rutland says she has made more than a few sales to buyers located less than an hour’s drive away from her (and that she’s happy to bring the item to them to avoid any shipping issues). If you do choose this option, make sure someone is home if the buyer comes to your house or, even better, try to meet them in a public place like a supermarket parking lot.

Millie content is licensed from Dotdash Meredith, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle, Investopedia, The Balance and more.

Brienne Walsh is a writer based in Savannah, Georgia. She contributes to Forbes, Rangefinder and MarketWatch, among other publications.

Image courtesy of Starling and Sage Photography.


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