Panel Discussion on the subject of ‘Online Selling’ at the Surface Pattern Design Guild (SPDG) meeting 14th June 2018
Location: Finnish Hall, Berkeley, California, 94701, US.
Panel Moderator: Jennifer Thayer (US designer)Panel Members: Katja Ollendorff (US designer), Patrick Moriarty (UK designer), John Wylie (US designer)
I was very proud to be a panel member at the meeting and share my experiences and knowledge of online selling. I was specifically asked to include UK info for SPDG members in UK. It was great to meet the other talented motivated panel members: Jennifer, Katja and John.Jennifer was an excellent moderator who kept the evening lively and engaging by ensuring questions from members of the audience were answered by the panel members. We also had the chance to show the audience our surface pattern designs, textile samples and craft products. Here are the notes that I prepared prior to the meeting which I hope you find useful.
Group 1: Selling your hand-made products online through e-commerce sites or via your own website.
These include Etsy, Amazon Handmade, Ebay, Big Cartel and your own website.
Please describe and comment on these sites:
Etsy: Commission fee – approx. 3.25%. The site was launched in 2005. It is the fifth most-visited marketplace site in the U.S., after Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Best Buy. WIRED magazine says the principle of Etsy was to “meet your maker and consume conscientiously”. It’s original intention was to appeal to an audience who love the ‘handmade’ feel but in recent years there have been complaints from crafters because Etsy now allows lots of mass-manufactured items which are not handmade. These products are cheaper than hand-made items, the companies that produce them can afford advertising and ‘promoted listings’ which push their products to the front of Etsy’s search result pages. This has dramatically reduced the online visibility of independent designers’ products, which for a designer like myself, has resulted in a dramatic drop in sales.
Big Cartel and Shopify: If you are selling high volumes then per item, they have relatively lower fees.
Ebay: Commission fee – approx. 11% + some listing fees. Sometimes fees are waived if there are special promotions/offers.
Big Cartel: an online website that helps artists sell and promote their work. On the site you can create your own online store. Their company motto is “We believe in the artist”. I like the look of it. Mainly for Graphic designers and illustrators. There are also new fashion items by textile print designers and also ceramics. If you’re selling high volumes, they have relatively lower fees as you pay a set monthly fee.
Shopify: cost = $29 p/m. They sell all kinds of products. This site is suitable if you sell in high volumes.
Amazon Hand-made: designed to compete head-to-head with Etsy. Launched in 2015. You have to apply by completing an online application form and attach pics of your products and of your studio to prove you are small independent hand-made maker.
Facebook shop: As far as I’m aware it hasn’t generated any sales for my brand, Paisley Power. Maybe nearer Christmas it will be handy to remind people about my products. I can post images of products and tag them with links to my Facebook shop (all Facebook shop links redirect to my Etsy shop).
WiX (web development platform to create your own website) have a shop page facility but you have to pay their higher ‘eCommerce’ annual fees.
Advantages to UK sellers of using UK sites is that’s it’s generally cheaper due to lower postal costs and deliveries are faster. Also you don’t lose any money due to currency conversions.
Folksy: this is a similar marketplace to Etsy but mainly just for UK. It specializes in handcrafted items and craft supplies. It has a growing following and currently has around 15,000 sellers. It has been described as “country garden craft fair on the web”. Fees are relatively low: it costs 15p to list an item with a final commission of 6%. I had very low sales with Folksy when I was a seller so I switched to Etsy.
Not On the High Street. It’s very giftware focused, more commercial, and known for ‘personalisation’. My friend makes a good income from it.
Gumtree: is a classified ads website which was launched in 2000. It was acquired by eBay in 2005 and currently attracts over 8 million visits a month, and sells a million items a week. Typically the UK site hosts close to two million ads. Private sellers can list their ads for free, though business customers are charged a fee depending on what they are selling.
Describe how easy it is to use these platform. Please provide technical tips and tricks.
Take lots of different photos of your product and use them when you list your products. Also post the photos as often as possible on social media. Amazon handmade give you up to 12 photos per product. Include close-up shots to show the quality of the printing, sewing, painting, fabric texture. Make sure the product is well lit by natural light or studio lights when taking pics. Have a look for bloggers and Instagrammers that you think might fit your customer profile; can you see which magazines they buy? What style of photography would they be attracted to? All these things will help you develop the ‘look’ of your brand.
Naming your files correctly. Include key words.
Always include a detailed descriptions of your products for each listing as the customer is unable to pick up the product and look at it closely.
Describe images clearly with key words and mention yourself as the designer and include the name of your brand.
Don’t overtype words onto product images – apparently Google search engine doesn’t like it.
Encourage customers to leave reviews (especially at Christmas & birthdays, people want to know their order will arrive on time). Good reviews give customers the confidence to buy your products.
Own website: if you use a web-development platform like Wix or WordPress, they are quite easy to build. You don’t need to spend hours inputting complicated codes. Also you know it will look very professional/exciting. You have free online help, you don’t have to pay your own personal web designer for more hours to fix a problem.
Own website: Search engines like to see new content, so I would regularly change the images on your home page and add new wording. I found this increased the number of views per week.
Generally: add new listings, update your biography/profile, update your store front info.
Tip to save on fees: Etsy has an auto-renew option for each listing, which means your products will automatically be re-listed when you have sold out, which means you won’t incur re-listing fees. Obviously you have to make sure you still have those products in stock.
Obvious Tip to save time: most sites have a “copy listing” or “sell similar” so you can save time not having to enter all the info for similar types of products. Also you should save yourself time by copying and pasting all your product listing info from one site to another.
Etsy Tip: In your Etsy shop, next to each product listing is a link to twitter. Use it because it is very quick. It provides the words for you. It also posts the image of the product, which is much better than some sites eg Amazon Handmade which only posts the link.
Describe ways in which you have marketed yourself.
Important note: It’s easy to get your products onto online market places but driving traffic to your store is the hardest part.
Tell everyone you have opened your shop on social media. All your products are recognized as your brand. Selling online is good publicity for your brand.
Use pinterest and instagram to promote your brand because then people can look at your ideas and influences as well as your products.
On these sites (Etsy, Amazon Handmade etc) where you sell your own hand-made products, you can attach your own hemtag with your brand name so you know everyone will always see who made the product ie. It’s a bit more personal. You name your image files yourself (so they can be found on search engines), people become aware of your brand.
I repost good reviews on facebook (from everywhere: spoonflower, etsy, ebay). They are excellent free publicity as long as they are complimentary. Even if they are slightly critical, it can be useful information to you can improve your products.
I list my fabric pieces on Etsy and sometimes other makers will see your fabric and use it in their projects.
Publicise your suppliers, shops, collaborators and usually they will return the favour and promote you. Eg Kayes textiles always introduce me to their customers when I visit their shop to buy supplies.
Give products to charities eg for raffles: they will promote you on social media.
I use my Paisley Power products to promote myself as a designer. I hope that they will attract people to my website. My woven hemtags say PaisleyPower.com as opposed to just Paisley Power.
Google Business Page: You can post videos, product photos and invite customers to leave reviews on the page. It’s a free service so it’s worth using and people especially in your own town can find you and enquire about your services.
Business card: do people still use them? I find them handy as you can leave them at all the places where you show your work and carry them around all the time in your wallet.
Run an Online competition: this is a great way to engage an audience, especially if you spread the questions over a 2-3 weeks. I had success with a competition I posted over 3 weeks in the build up to a pop festival where I sold my Paisley Power products and gave the products as competition prizes.
Do you use direct mailers, videos or advertising?
I do not use direct mailers as I think they are slightly intrusive but I intend to start a monthly newsletter. Everyone who signs up for it will receive it, unlike some social media platforms such as Facebook, which annoyingly does not show your posts to all the people who like your business page.
Videos are very important. They receive 3-4 times more viewers than photos. Upload them to YouTube where you can create your own channel. Tip: imovie removes unwanted background sounds. Try making videos on a camera as well as your cellphone.
Ads: I don’t use them but I probably should do.
I have bought page advert in a local cultural magazine. You don’t really know if it’s successful.
Editorial is better than an advert as people find out more about you and your craft.
Discount codes/vouchers. Etsy has a very easy system for sellers to set them up. I use them to give customers Free Postage eg I’d print the discount code on flyers especially when I’m having a craft fair. If people say they don’t want to buy immediately but will buy later, you can give them a flyer and they can get free postage.
How do you plan the price structure for your hand-made products?
You have to be aware of your competitors on each ecommerce platform and then price your products accordingly. I generally sell my hand-printed fabric products at a higher price than my digitally printed products. This is because the cost of materials is expensive and screen-print is time-consuming. As long as your product is well-made, customers are quite happy with digitally printed fabric, because the print quality is so good now.
Other helpful info?
Trustworthiness: Customers want to be sure that their bank details are safe. They want to see reviews of your products and reliability of delivery from other customers. With the large e-commerce sites they have more visible regulations in place to guarantee payment. If you do sell on your own website make sure it has PayPal facility.
Group 2: Print on Demand (POD) sites where designers upload their surface patterns (designs) and the site manufactures the product or fabric.
These include: Spoonflower, Redbubble, Society 6, PAOM, Zippi.
Please describe and comment on these sites:
Society 6: they manufacture lots of different products using designs from thousands of designers. Their roduct range includes laptop sleeves, wall clocks, stickers and coasters.
PAOM: Fashion garments and accessories. I have used this site and was very happy with the product quality but it was quite expensive, especially the postage. I have sold 2 bomber jackets and other items on the site. They have more than 5million items for sale.
Zippi (UK site): Designers have their own portfolio showing their artwork on various products. The product range is quite basic: mainly art prints, canvas prints. Also cushions, mugs, place mats. Cushions are all faux-suede. Quite boring and limited.
Describe how easy it is to use these platform. Please provide technical tips and tricks.
You don’t need to provide any stock or product photos so they are extremely useful sites. Everything is made on demand and digital mock-ups are created to show your design as wallpaper in a room or an actual cushion/pillow.
POD sites can be used as a stepping stone to get your work seen without the personal expense of manufacturing but you don’t have any control over how your products are made or where they are made. They may not be as ethically produced as making your products and sourcing your materials yourself.
PAOM: it’s quite easy to use this platform and the site has some exciting designs and collaborations.
Spoonflower Tips: It’s not essential, but it’s a good idea to upload photos of your test swatches so customers can see how the designs look on real fabric (instead of computer-generated mock-ups). Unfortunately this is not easy to do because you have to upload to pinterest or flickr first and then copy and change http codes and then hope the image will appear on your Spoonflower design page. They really need to improve this function. Take photos at an angle to make it harder for people to copy your designs.
If you make your own fabric products with your own Spoony fabrics, then your own orders contribute to the popularity of your fabric, as well as the public ordering your fabric. So if you have a popular product eg a chiffon scarf you will frequently order more of that fabric. This helps push your fabrics up the rankings so they are more visible, which in turn usually results in more sales generally. This results in more commission, so you can end up paying for some of your own fabrics with your earned commission. ie. when you order the fabric to make your own products, if you’ve earned enough commission you’re virtually getting it free!
Describe the quality of the POD products.
Spoonflower: They have a great range of fabrics (more than 20) including an environmentally-friendly fabric called “eco canvas” which is made of 45% recycled polyester. It does feel a bit synthetic so maybe not best for some garments but perfect for aprons as it’s the most durable fabric they offer. Excellent print quality on all fabrics. Shame they don’t do silk.
Society 6: not very good quality. My friend has lots of her designs on there. They make a wide range of products. I ordered a pillow and a mug. The cushion is OK. It’s quite small and the fabric is quite synthetic but the print quality is good. The mug is very large and is still in good shape after 5 years but the print has disappeared so it’s a nice white mug now.
PAOM: company based in US but manufacture in China and post from China so not cheap. Good quality. I ordered a scarf, a t-shirt and a tote bag and the colours were very vivid, fabric quality was good and the sewing was good. The T-shirt fitted well. They are quite expensive. They have a good range of fashion products including, kimonos which have been a very popular fashion item in the last couple of years.
Have you been happy with their marketing?
Spoonflower: They have their own Etsy shop so you get extra sales. Their fabrics are sold on Amazon so you get extra sales there too. Images of your designs on their site appear highly on search engines eg Google. Theyhave pages showing new designs (“fresh picks”) so hopefully your new designs will get some exposure. People can buy your design, not just as fabric but as wallpaper and gift wrap so sometimes customers buy fabric with matching gift wrap, which means you receive more commission.
Spoonfower are associated with Roostery who make kitchenware and bedding. Use the photos for publicity! Post them or on your website.
Spoonfower are also associated with Sprout: you select a garment or accessory and they send you a piece of fabric which is enough for all the pattern pieces with the pattern outlines printed on top and instructions. Someone ordered an iphone case pattern using the very small version of my paisley elephant print and she made a lovely case, photographed it and posted it on the Spoonflower site with a 5-star review. This was excellent for marketing. I had a new product ‘story’ with a useful new customer pic for posting on my website and social media.
Design competitions: Spoonflower and other sites provide them. They are a great way to get your new designs seen as general public vote for the winners. They have lots of winners. If someone likes your design they might buy some fabric/wallpaper. If you’re a winner you receive even more publicity. By looking at the winners every 2 weeks you can quickly build up an impression of what the customer base of that e-commerce site likes; the type of motifs and common colour palettes etc.
Do they support their artists well?
Disadvantages of Spoonflower: they are not careful enough about protecting designers copyright. They have recently taken steps to improve this but for many designers we found our designs being copied by anonymous sellers on other sites.
Spoonflower help their designers to select and match colours well. You can buy an extensive printed fabric palette and you receive a digital copy too. Highly recommended.
Describe ways in which you have marketed yourself?
PAOM: I sold 2 printed bomber jackets, which used my Paisley Power designs. I then made lots of social media posts about the jackets, using the mock-up images on their website.
I recommend UK designers registering with ACID (Anti Copying In Design) https://www.acid.uk.com. There is quite a large annual fee. ACID is the UK’s leading design and intellectual property campaigning organization.
These comments are my own personal opinions and readers should do their own research and build their own conclusions about all the companies and websites mentioned in these notes.