Etsy launched back in 2005, which qualifies it as an elder statesman of the internet retail scene. It rose to online prominence as a site full of quirky, cute and crafty handmade goods. It grew to include rare and unusual vintage items and embraced buyers and sellers from all across the globe. Today, Etsy is a massive store and savvy shoppers need smart tactics to make sense of the sprawl.
Follow along with our Etsy shopping tips to help you find the perfect handmade Star Wars apron, turquoise ring, craft supplies, or one-of-a-kind custom pet portrait.
What does handmade mean?
On its "About" page, Etsy notes that its heart and soul is made up of its global community, including "the creative entrepreneurs who use Etsy to sell what they make or curate." Take note of the word "curate." Though Etsy built its reputation on handmade crafts, not everything sold on the site is made in that fashion.
The presence of manufactured goods on Etsy isn't a bad thing, it's just something to be aware of while you're shopping. Etsy requires sellers who use manufacturers to go through an approval process to show they are honestly representing how their goods are created and produced.
The quality of art and handmade items can be very subjective, but Etsy's reviews are a good place to start when you're vetting one of the site's sellers. Each review is associated with a specific product, so you can see what previous buyers have to say about it.
Etsy doesn't provide an easy way to sort reviews, so you may be stuck scrolling through quite a list of customer responses to find relevant information. It helps if you start out on the page for the item you're interested in. Click on the yellow review stars and it will display reviews for that particular item if there are any. For one-of-a-kind offerings, you will need to pore over other reviews to get an idea of the seller's overall feedback.
Talented artists flock to the Etsy marketplace. That means your dream of a custom portrait of your pup Sir Fluffytoes or a caricature of your favorite aunt is just a few clicks away from becoming a reality. But when the search term "custom dog portrait" returns over 26,000 results, you might feel a little overwhelmed about finding the right artist.
Start off by narrowing your search down into categories. There are special sections for paintings, drawings and pet portraits.
From there, scroll through the gallery-style thumbnails and look for a style that catches your eye. You might want something cartoonish, or perhaps a more refined watercolor suitable for hanging above the mantel. Expect a large oil painting to cost more than a digital print with some hand-embellished brush strokes on top.
Finally, look through an artist's portfolio, check reviews, read up on return policies, and keep an eye on pricing, which can vary quite a bit depending on the size and type of art you want. This same vetting process also applies to other custom items, whether it's jewelry, costumes or wedding invitations.
Etsy has a very well-thought-out messaging system that puts buyers in touch with sellers. This is how you get details on how big that bracelet really is, ask for a different photo angle, or kick off the process of ordering custom work.
Look for the "Ask a question" button to get started. You can even attach images to your messages, which is handy if you want a portrait based off of a photograph, or you are looking for specially made earrings to match an existing necklace.
Curious if anyone in your town makes a quartz-and-silver pendant? You can shop on Etsy and still support local artisans. When you run a search on Etsy, the site gives a variety of options for fine-tuning your hunt.
Under "Refine your search" you will see an option for "Shop location." The main defaults are "Anywhere" or "United States," but you can choose to set a custom location for a specific town, state or country. You may find your new favorite artist is living right in your neighborhood.
Etsy may well be one of the internet's biggest flea markets. You might not think to check the site for that elusive mid-century modern Danish chair you've been looking for, but you'll find nearly 2,000 examples for sale on there. Besides furniture, Etsy is stocked with estate jewelry, retro clothing, collectible dolls, board games from your childhood, and antique ceramics.
When buying older pieces, condition is key. Are there any cracks or repairs? Is it original or a reproduction? If the product description is vague, be sure to ask the seller detailed questions to avoid disappointment.
Part of the appeal of Etsy is that the shopping experience feels like an adventure of discovery. The hunt for a unique item sets it apart from a lot of other online retailers. Go in prepared for the shopping safari, keep your wits about you, and enjoy the ride.