If you're a regular reader of my blog, you've probably gotten used to me saying "My shop is almost ready!" My relaunched blog has just had it's 1st anniversary & is now one year & two weeks old. I'd hoped last year, that my shop opening wouldn't be far behind it. Alas, things don't always go to plan, but it will be so nice, & such a relief to open soon, in plenty of time for the holiday season (yay!). Here's a screenshot of my shop so you can see my progress. I wouldn't have such a beautiful shop (& blog!) if it wasn't for Julian, who took my designs & illustrations & turned them into a working website - thank you so much Julian! My shop just needs a couple of tweaks, & I'm also finishing up on a couple of new products before launching. During September-October, I'll be adding lots more stock, including textiles, more jewellery, new gocco prints & some original artworks. I'm so excited! I also planned to reopen my Etsy shop at the same time, but sadly, that won't be happening. By protecting my intellectual property & showing my packaging in my product photos, I am apparently breaching Etsy's policies - they classify it as fee avoidance. I'm very disappointed.
I wrote recently about the importance of online exposure for independent micro-businesses like mine, & the constant vigilance needed to make sure your content is shared with correct accreditation & linkage. We all know how photos can end up floating around the internet on Pinterest, Tumblr, etc, & I bet we've all seen a really interesting photo here & there & been curious about its source, but not been able to trace it back to its owner (isn't that annoying?). I also mentioned in that article how one of my photos was used without my knowledge by BuzzFeed & received in excess of 3.5 million views, but because I wasn't credited, I didn't benefit from any of that traffic. It was in fact, one of my Etsy product photos. It's for reasons like this that I now discreetly watermark every image I upload with my url, so that interested people can always find me when they see my photos elsewhere. I see this as a vital part of successfully running my business. You never know when someone is going to see your work somewhere, which might lead to a new blog reader, a sale, commission, press feature, etc.
Unfortunately, Etsy interprets this practice as "fee avoidance". It all stems from their policy that you can't link to an alternative site where you sell the same products. I can understand why Etsy wants to keep shoppers on their site & not have them tempted away to another venue, & why they would put a stop to any blatant attempts by sellers to poach traffic. They have a business to run. So do I, & as an Etsy customer, I should be able to protect my work, build my brand, & not feel that my Etsy shop & my independent shop are in competition with each other. It is so obvious in my case that I have a genuine reason for watermarking my product photos & am not trying to steal away Etsy's shoppers. I like to think that each case is judged on its merits by Etsy staff before they go ahead & close someone's shop, & that genuine shop owners are allowed to stay open.
I know of someone whose shop was recently closed by Etsy for featuring their url in their product photos on their packaging. Afterwards, they went back over their stats & found their other shop had only ever received one referral from Etsy. Urls discreetly placed in product photos are obviously not a very effective way of "linking" to an alternative site (I would guess that shop owners receive more traffic to their sites from people Googling their shop name). It was this case that made me realise that my own new jewellery packaging might be problematic too. All of my packaging features my url, so that when I sell it wholesale & it winds up in shops, the people who buy it can find me online. Makes sense, doesn't it? Not if you wish to show off your packaging in your product photos on Etsy. That's "fee avoidance".
I wrote to Etsy to get clarification of the policy on this, & it was suggested I blur or crop out my url on my packaging in my Etsy product photos. This just seems crazy to me. The reason I spend so much time & effort designing packaging is to make my products look engaging & pretty. I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for nice packaging, especially if I'm buying a gift for someone. Of course, the product comes first, but I know how I feel about beautiful packaging, so I assume my customers also appreciate it. I want the whole experience of buying something from Magic Jelly to be positive & memorable & for there to be a cohesive character & feel to everything I make - that's branding. So in my efforts to build my brand, why would I want to obscure my own name on my packaging?
Despite all the Etsy Success articles & talk of helping people make a living, there is no provision for businesses like mine to grow their brand & offer something unique to their customers, unless they obliterate the name of their site from their packaging (if they sell their product there too). Ironically, I just received an Etsy Success email calling for sellers to share their creative packaging ideas. Apparently not if their packaging features the url to their domain & "rival" shop.
Shop owners are also not allowed to link people to their mailing list sign up form, if they use their newsletter to promote another shop along with their Etsy shop. Building a mailing list is such an important part of marketing, but not an option if you sell elsewhere & promote that via your newsletter.
I think it's really important to not put all your eggs in one basket, & be as independent as possible. If you rely on a third-party site such as Etsy for your entire business activity, you could find yourself in a very vulnerable, unpredictable position, such as the shop owner I mentioned above whose shop was closed. Imagine if instead of his own domain on his packaging, business cards, etc, he had used his Etsy shop url? His customers would not be able to find him online if his shop was closed by Etsy, or if there was significant site outage, or when the time came that Etsy closed its doors. And how many times have you heard people say "I bought this from Etsy?" without it even occurring to them that there's an independent maker behind that product? Best to spread those eggs in a few baskets where you have greater control over your brand & destiny.
But it seems as though Etsy only wants shop owners to have an Etsy basket - they want independent creative businesses to feel dependent on them for their success. That is good for Etsy's business, but not their customers. The policy that prevents me from opening my shop is totally at odds with the growth, independence & security of my business. I could upload my product photos without watermarking them, but then they will inevitably be used without credit or linkage, & I'll miss out on that precious traffic I'm entitled to, & potentially miss out on business opportunities. I could remove my packaging from my product photos, but the very reason I have packaging is to attract potential shoppers, to give them that little extra incentive to buy from me, & that point of difference to remember me.
There's also that degree of ownership you have to identify, where you take credit for your efforts to make a great product, brand & market your own business - where you are primarily responsible for your success, not Etsy. Etsy provides the site, the infrastructure, enabling you to set up shop. It also provides some inbuilt traffic (yet shop owners are encouraged to draw their own traffic to their Etsy shops), but should Etsy "own" you to the point where you can't successfully run your Etsy shop & independent shop side by side?
*Sigh* is it too much to ask to have a mutually beneficial relationship with Etsy where I pay them fees in exchange for my Etsy shop, but am "allowed" to grow my business beyond Etsy too? In other circumstances, Etsy has addressed some of their customers' growth by redefining the term "collective" to basically mean "small business with several employees" - which is quite a departure from the early days when Etsy shop owners really were little independents hand-making their products. You can see why Etsy likes these "collectives", they produce, list & sell vast quantities of stock. Widening their net to embrace rather large "small" businesses is good for Etsy's business. In contrast, revisiting their policies to address the needs of the little guys (like me) doesn't come with the same monetary incentives.
I am genuinely sad about not reopening my Etsy shop. There's the sales you make on Etsy, as well as the business contacts & opportunities that come your way, but also from a community perspective, I have gotten acquainted with some really fabulous artists & designers, shared information & learned so much. I've also had many wonderful customers who have been so generous with their time, sending me lovely emails & keeping in touch. Working alone most of the time, I've found contact with other artists & customers so energising, enlightening & inspiring - it's just the boost you need to keep going sometimes.
I'm sorry for the long, long post, but I really wanted to air my thoughts on this issue that seems so contrary to Etsy's spirit when I joined back in 2006. I don't like to use my blog to have a big whinge about things - I much prefer to keep it positive, which best reflects my attitude most of the time - but perhaps there are other business owners like me out there, who are in the same type of position & didn't realise they were doing anything wrong.
Anyway...onwards & upwards! I have a shiny new shop to get ready!