Wednesday, 2 March 2011

How much online selling depends on luck?

You love making things.  You think the things you make are beautiful.  Others think so too.  You've decided to sell them online.  You open up a shop on Folksy, Etsy, Dreamaid or Zibbet or another selling venue.  You spend a long time getting photos and descriptions of your items as perfect as possible.  You're waiting for the sales to flood in.  You start to engage with the handmade community, because you read that's good for selling.  You are in the forums chatting quite a lot.  You use Twitter, Facebook and any other social media that is currently fashionable.  You're still waiting for a lot of sales to happen.

The amount of time you spend making things begins to be compromised a bit by your activities on the PC.  You read a lot about promoting, you start to use treasuries, blog posts, Craftjuice, Etsy teams, maybe the Folksy listing clubs, and then you start to read up on SEO.  You realise that you need to spend even more time at your computer interacting as much as possible to keep your business name and your items high up in the search engines....

Meanwhile, making things is becoming an activity you can hardly fit in because most of your time is spent on promoting...And you're still waiting for the sales to flood in.  You worry a bit that your items might not be good enough, so you post on the forums asking people what they think.  They all say they love your stuff.  A couple of them might even buy.  But you're still waiting for the sales to start flooding in.

What are you doing wrong?


Let me repeat that:

You are doing nothing wrong.

So why am I not selling things every day?

Because, online selling is 90% perspiration and 10% luck.  And you can't plan for luck.

Let me explain what I mean.  And this, of course, is my humble opinion, and could be as wrong as burnt toast for all I know.

Selling on handmade sites should be easy.  You have a captive audience, the crafting community on Folksy, Etsy, Dreamaid etc.  Their common characteristic is that they are crafters.  If your target market is crafters, then all you have to do is find a product that interests them and all things being equal you will sell, probably lots.  The key thing that most crafters have in common is the love of buying supplies.  Supplies shops do really well on handmade sites.  So open a supplies shop.

But wait, I hear you cry, I make jewellery, I crochet, I paint, I make cards, throw pots, make sock puppets.  That's my craft.  Not selling supplies.

Aha, that's different then.  You need to attract a different sort of customer really, the internet shopper.  This shopper probably hasn't heard of Folksy, Etsy, Dreamaid.  They don't know yet that buying a handmade item can be a much superior experience to getting something mass produced.  These shoppers might spend a long time browsing online and buy whatever takes their fancy.  But in these times when most folk are time poor, they are more likely to go online and search for a really specific item, probably using Google to search for keywords describing the product they want.

These sorts of customers are difficult to categorise.  They don't all assemble in one place like the crafters do in the Folksy and Etsy forums.  They come online at all sorts of times of the day or night.  They search for all sorts of strange combinations of things.  They probably pick something off page 1 or 2 of the search results, because they are time-poor and they honestly can't wade through through thousands of results.  They probably won't pick your item over another solely because it's handmade, or because it's cheaper, or because it's more expensive.  They will use a variety of judgements to make the decision over which of the competing items they find to buy.  
Maybe some of these customers are interested in developing a relationship with the seller, so your profile is really important to them, or maybe they just want to buy and fly - get what they need, when they need it, and you'll never see them again.  Maybe they want to buy something being sold locally to them, or ethically produced, or something recycled, or maybe the exact colour match of the item to their needs is the overriding consideration. 

This is where the luck comes in.  Your item needs to shout out to the customer, so it needs to be high in the search engine rankings.  All your efforts at promoting will help with that.  But it also needs to be exactly what that person wants, available at the particular time they need it, in the right colour and size, at the right price point for them, with the right delivery options so they get it exactly when they need it, with the right returns policy for them. 

You can't plan for this customer.  You can make your shop inviting, make your products look good, have great customer service and feedback, and sell beautiful things.  But that customer might still miss you.  It's like the brown bears fishing for salmon - for every one they catch, a lot will swim away!

What do you think - luck or not?


  1. I think that was brilliant:) great observation and very well written.

    Also made me laugh, and rush off to find a four leaf clover and a black cat.


  2. Very interesting, and I think you're absolutely right!

    I think there can be a lot of luck in the customer finding the product they want for all the reasons you've highlighted there.

    There's a lot the sellers can do to help themselves of course, by doing all the promotion they can to maximise the chance of the 'right customer' finding exactly what they're looking for that's available at just the right time and also by providing excellent photos and descriptions to encourage the buyer to part with their money once they've found that item!

  3. That was very good and spot on.Linda

  4. Fantastic Post!!!!!!!

  5. I kind of get what you are saying here. There are thousands of us all striving to get to the top pages on Google etc! We can't all get to page one and even if we do we may still not be clicked on. I've been selling online for 2 years now and am starting to get more sales recently. I think a lot of successful online sellers build up a customer base who return and who also recommend shops to friends and family.
    It is all a lot of work, but if I stop enjoying it then I'll give it up. Happily I'm not trying to make a living, just finance my passion.

  6. As always you have it spot on. I've tried all those tactics since before Christmas and I actually think most of the people I have sold to have come from outside Folksy and do not have shops on there, apart from two very lovely lovely ladies - and one is of course, you. So it's very difficult to know who you actually, eventually target isn't it? Do they stumble across you accidently, did you pop up in google - I've tried that one, and I can't even find me!! It's a minefield out there and I just cross my lickle fingers that they negotiate the mines and come through the door. Here's to good luck to us all.

  7. So,so true ! I do think many people give up too quickly , it's a matter of right place ,right time for me I think. But superb blog post, really put it all into perspective !

  8. Actually quite comical to read - well written and kept me reading til the end :)

  9. Thank you for the lovely comments :-) Really glad people found it interesting and thought provoking.


  10. This is such a great article, I can totally relate! Very well written, made me :), and so true!
    Were you reading my mind? :)

    Thanks for writing this article, and sharing your view. I really enjoyed reading it!

  11. Great article! This is on my mind every single day. How could we let THEM know that we are there at one place and they would only need to come to folksy, or etsy, etc to be able to find LOADS of lovely things, they don't need to google! : )
    Beata x

  12. So true! It's just like life really. Being in the right place at the right time.

  13. I heartily endorse everything you say. But I also think Folksy and the like could do more themselves to promote their site as a market place so that people outside the crafting community knew it was there.
    Has anyone tried selling on ebay?

  14. So very, very true.... fab blog!!!
    I must add that 'word of mouth' has worked well for me in my local community. My first & often returning customers are the people I work with, & even busineses run by friends. It's more tricky with family because you don't really want to charge them... but customers they are still.

  15. Wonderful post, and so very true. I just joined a few teams within the last few weeks and I see alot of sellers saying all the things you wrote about. Such as, I did this and that and still no sales. It takes time and LUCK. My supply shop is doing well, but later on when I finally open my handmade shop I wonder about if and when items will sell too.

    blessings, jilly
    visiting from etsy success discussion


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