A Window of Opportunity for Smaller Online Marketplaces
We live in a world where automation, speed to produce and low-cost goods are the norm. When you visit your local big-box retailer, you're guaranteed to find the same items in the same store the next state over. And the majority of the products in those big-box stores are made in China, Indonesia or Thailand. Every product looks and feels the same. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind, locally sourced item, you would need to check out a nearby farmer’s market or boutique.
However, there isn’t always a farmer’s market or a boutique nearby. It used to be that Etsy filled that need. Times have changed.
When Etsy was an indie startup, it had the ability to make judgment calls on company policies that not only enhanced the organization, but placed value on the artisanal store owners and their handcrafted goods. As Etsy grew, its goals changed and its mission to support artisans was tested.
Over the past few years, Etsy has become more comparable to an established corporation than a vibrant, young startup. For an organization of Etsy’s size, it’s only natural that it evolved over time. With its recent IPO, Etsy is now answering to stakeholders instead of the store owners who created its success. Etsy has made critical adjustments to its original mission of supporting handmade products, including permitting manufactured goods to be sold on the site. Over the past few years, Etsy has made its goal clear — to become even larger.
With this growth, the individuality that brought shoppers to Etsy has been lost, leaving certain shoppers in the lurch. These are the types of shoppers searching for more than a product; they're looking to make a connection and purchase goods that are unique and unusual, something that fits their style. The gap caused by Etsy’s policy changes and corporate transformation has naturally created an opportunity to reach these customers. Smaller organizations have started to move in to the space vacated by Etsy.
Artisans who have felt abandoned by Etsy have been exploring alternative marketplaces. Their artisanal goods have become crowded on Etsy by manufactured goods made overseas. However, with other handmade marketplaces like aftcra, DaWanda, Folksy and Zibbet, these artisans’ goods can stand out and be easily found by shoppers. Each of these Etsy-like marketplaces comes with its own regulations and policies, which vary from Etsy. For example, both Folksy and aftcra are country-centric, showcasing artisanal goods from Britain and the U.S., respectively.
As Etsy continues to morph into a corporate goliath, its products, policies and focus will steer away from what made the site so unique. Instead of being considered a hip startup, Etsy will be compared to the likes of Amazon.com or eBay. Etsy's initial mission to highlight talented makers across the globe will continue to live on however, as alternatives move in to claim that position and keep the focus on handmade goods.
Erica Riegelman is the co-founder and president of aftcra, an online marketplace where you can buy and sell American handmade products.