Six Degrees, The Etsy Store

I’ve written about my/our Etsy Store, Six Degrees a couple of times lately. It’s relevant to this site in general because the site and our shop were both in existence long before there was a Silver Comet cycling project to dominate the last year and a half. And, it’s relevant to the project because the shop reviews are the tangible thing I have in my current life to show that I deliver on promises and follow through to make people happy.

Rating Section of the Banner of the Etsy Store Six Degrees run by Karen and Russ. You can scroll down from the Six Degrees link above for an explanation of your shop name.

I’m going to go ahead and give the store, and recent challenges, its own full (long) post here so people who are interested in that can read it. People who just want to see that I can successfully run something can click on the links to confirm the 5 star rating in photo above. And, people who aren’t interested in either can skip to cycling.

I go back and forth between “I” and “we” when talking about the Etsy Store is because, in its current operation, I’m doing everything, until I can’t get it all done and then Russ helps. That works for our lives right now and it’s all good. I do it with the Silver Comet project too. That’s because until he can give it full time focus, that’s working the same way. The Silver Comet project was also my idea, and it seems strange to say “We thought” when I can only speak for what I thought.

In both ventures, we are a team and that’s what makes things work.

The store can have a positive effect on the project by providing credibility, so, there’s a big reason to keep it going. I don’t know if it will be a two way street. At one time I was concerned that the project could tank the Etsy store. If a lot of curious people who were thinking about supporting our cycling project clicked on the Six Degrees site, (those who weren’t interested in finding that long lost treasure or trinket that they remember their great grandma having) it could destroy my conversion rate, but now I’m not really sure it matters for so many reasons.

I’ve recently found out that if a seller’s store goes viral or gets some smaller atypical boost in traffic, Etsy throttles it, sort of. The store and its stock disappear from showing up in regular searches until the boost is over. I’m sure there is some rationale, but none of the sellers I’m aware of who have experienced it were able to come up with positive comments on the matter.

There are a lot of mysteries I’ve tried to figure out. Last time I subscribed to an SEO service, I was shocked that my rank in comparison to worldwide stores was so high. I was shocked because it’s a sales based rating and my financial return on effort is ultra low. Some people are making good money with Etsy, but the cliff drops fast. At that time, I was in the top few percent and the cliff still dropped well in front of me.

Things have changed a lot at Etsy since then, but not in ways that help sellers like me, and the fees are due to go up before the end of the March.

The summary that sellers get never includes cost of goods sold, overhead or other business expenses

The shop is near the front of my thoughts now in part because the last quarter is supposed to be the busy season and this year… not so much. That’s not just for me either. And, it’s not just about changes created by the pandemic. Shipping has become a real burden and a pressure point for many sellers. According to Etsy, 50% of buyers who choose not to buy on Etsy give high shipping cost as the reason. On the other hand, look at that summary.

There was a time when some sellers on Etsy and other sites padded their prices with higher than cost shipping fees and some even added in handling to further increase their margins while making the purchase price look low at first click. It was pretty clear what they were doing. Buyers quickly learned to look out for sticker shock on the bottom line and hit cancel. While etched in the minds of buyers, those times are long gone, and shipping just keeps on getting more “extra” for buyers and sellers in every way. Now Etsy pushes sellers to cover shipping with their item prices instead. If my shipping isn’t “free”, my listings are lower in placement. If my shipping isn’t marked “free”, I get a notice saying that my shipping is too high on every single listing I publish. They also charge us sellers fees on shipping now too. Whatever the buyer pays for shipping, we pay a percent of that to Etsy.

Low volume sellers of things that are large or average size and weight (like me) are feeling the shipping pain the hardest. Sellers who offer small expensive things like fine jewelry can absorb shipping expense most easily. Their costs have increased the least, and covering that increase goes unnoticed to the buyer. Those who sell bulky or heavy items at low cost are struggling to stay in business. In this case, large as defined by the USPS means either packaging more than a square foot in area, or that weighs over 4 pounds. If you are shipping outside your postal region, or across several postal regions, you can watch the price double and quadruple as you edit the data to reflect the current sale. USPS Priority boxed have been reduced in size and quality as well.

Many sellers, including me, have taken large numbers of heavy or bulky listings out of their shops because shipping them is too expensive, and, I haven’t taken enough of mine out. With the 4th quarter USPS price hike. I cancelled orders totaling $20 and $40 because the shipping (on a small teapot and a medium small bowl) was going to be $70 and $80 respectively. Every time I’ve checked, alternate shippers were more expensive. When the losses were lower I’d eat my mistake and ship anyway in the name of customer service.

Now I offer the buyer the chance to pay additional shipping before canceling the order. I send a screen cap of the shipping cost when I do it because the cost is so incredible. People expect Amazon. That is a completely different animal and customers don’t understand why Etsy sellers can’t be the best parts of everything that Etsy was in the beginning while also being the best parts of what Amazon is now. How could you expect them to understand? They can order things from Amazon or Target that come in oversized boxes and weigh way over 4 pounds and do it repeatedly. Unless they have a background in online retail logistics, they don’t know the significance of regional warehouses, and if they did, there’s still a certain amount of market dynamics that will cause them not to care.

I personally buy intentionally, but I’ve spent a large part of my life being extremely price sensitive. When people don’t have much stuff or a limitless budget, conscious capitalism is a luxury they can’t take the time or the resources to figure. And, customers in general can’t truly appreciate the effect that “custom” or “unique” has on the number of hours it takes to produce an item and get it in front of them either. Makers and sellers are having trouble coming to grips with it. Many craftspeople and sellers don’t do the math, and they’re there for the whole process! It’s no surprise that buyers don’t

It’s not just the cost of shipping something that stays sold either. Returns cost everyone, but not everyone sees it. I walked on Kennesaw Mountain today behind some ladies talking about ordering a lot of swimsuits and cover ups in several sizes. One of them said “It beats trying them on in the store, and if I don’t get to go on the trip, I can just send it all back.” As a shopper, I so get it. I don’t want to risk being stuck with something that doesn’t work for me, and companies like Amazon, they found that pain and they fixed it. They take that risk away from the buyer, but, that only works for high volume companies selling mass produced goods at a high enough markup to cover losses from returns, the opposite of what people doing business within Etsy Terms of Service are doing.

Small sellers without repeat customers can’t charge $139 membership fees to cover part of the overhead of having a delivery fleet with the footprint of Amazon. On top of that, delivery services (public and private) give significant… read that HUGE, commercial shipping discounts to the big volume guys. Sellers who drop ship through sites like Amazon get all the big discounts and if it’s coming from overseas, they get international benefits from the Postal Treaty and still have to triple the markup to cover returns. They rely on the economy of mass production and high volume sales for their profit margin. How on earth can a buyer understand that they can get free shipping from China, but it costs $80 to go from Atlanta to Seattle?

Things are upside down (like they are in so many other parts of the economy and the world at large). Sellers like me don’t get big discounts. We make it possible for the big guys to get them instead, and my trips to the post office take half an hour at best because the close post office location closed. When my turn around time is short, I’m usually going for only one package. The same story echos through every facet of the business. My prices have drifted upward and I still end up thinking about a regular job when making trips to the postoffice at a loss.

The early emphasis at Etsy was on small makers of original works or curated vintage and unique supplies with sellers who often work from home, the opposite of what Amazon does best. But, even though they still market that to buyers, Etsy now allows “production partners” and puts increasing pressure on sellers to become more like Amazon in ways that don’t fit for small businesses. And, it’s becoming increasingly hard for buyers who are not makers themselves to recognize the difference between hand made and mass produced. The entire nature of the beast is changed.

It’s not that I couldn’t find a thing to sell and make a profitable business from Etsy or some other platform now. It’s that once I was able to make it support me, I wouldn’t have my heart in it. I need purpose as much as income. I love making things with the techniques of dying art forms, or saving some little known object from an obscure death. I love feel and weight of old things and tiny little stitches wrought with love that make a textile project take an enormous amount of time to complete. I love keeping tools and furnishings that were made when resources seemed limitless out of the scrap yard. Vintage and antique things take time to find, clean, research and bring to the customer, but I love the rabbit hole I fall in when I discover some something that I didn’t know about. One of my dream jobs would be to do research for History Detectives. When I get a customer who found a ceramic pot her deceased aunt made it makes my day, not just my day, really it keeps me going. Last week I had a sale that cost the customer a total of almost $50. After spending $26 to ship cross country and deducting other costs, I barely got my expenses back. I figure the buyer almost never knows it worked out that way. But, for the other sale last week that worked that way, a cup, the buyer wrote me a personal note saying that she broke the one she bought on vacation with har children and had been looking for one for years, and that takes all of the sting out of a sale that pays nothing for your time.

It doesn’t take the sting out of needing income though. In order to sell enough at a high enough price to support myself, or even make a profit would require me to spend my time and my mind on things I care much less about. It wouldn’t be the empowerment to makers working from home that Etsy was in the beginning. It would have to take advantage of economies of scale with a large proportion of passionless performance of marketing tasks while spending large amounts of advertising cash to feed the marketing monkey. If I was going to do that, I would rather work someplace more secure and less fickle for better pay and, most of all, a higher purpose.

We each carve out freedom for the things that are most important to us in whatever way we can and try to make most meaningful for us. I have happy customers and time to meet other obligations with my current Etsy store, but it isn’t supporting us, or even me, and that isn’t a sustainable way to make my life work.

So, I’ve put the Etsy store, at least for the near future, on probation. It’s a dream I don’t want to give up, but can’t really afford to keep up either. I have an unreasonable amount of “treasure” to sell (as well as things I can’t fathom why I ever bought), it makes sense to keep the store going, at least until I rejoin the workforce. And, if I create cycling project related items while pursuing the Silver Comet video project, it is an established site from which to make those available. I’ll put as much on the site as possible with increased focus on items that have never been listed. I’ll slowly stop renewing the oldest listings.

So, for now, we’re still hang around between making the best of things and wait and see mode. It’s been an interesting journey filled with hope and learning experiences, just like whatever we do next will be…

Fantasy Island

Every once in a while when I go through old pictures trying to better manage them and purge things I’ll run across a photo of something I really like that was listed on Six Degrees or personal stuff I had in the house when it burned and I remember really liking it. That happened recently with a craft. I had taken a wooden bird house and covered it in washi paper and other decorative papers. I did several with paper scraps I purchased in Japan at a doll making business, but I had a favorite. The desire to create still burns bright. I regret that the shop hasn’t showcased that much.

Fantasy Island for the store, of course, would be to sell out of the things we currently have listed starting with those that are in front on the shelves (so we don’t have to unload the shelf to get to the back). Then to have time to list every market ready item in the basement quickly and a clear brain on calm mode to write listings well. It will all come together, research is fast and flawless, write ups have almost no typos, and those items all sell too. They’ll sell to people who have been searching so long for that thing they lost or broke and nothing will cost significantly more to ship than I allowed (so that we make enough to pay for advertising the video project). Everything falls together like clockwork, the project funds, the basement becomes so orderly that I’m willing to show my unruly “before” pictures in a post beside my now beautiful workspace “after” pictures and I’m ready look for creative potential in a new direction after the video project ends. That’s some dream! I’m ready to do the work. I hope it all works out. But, we just got notices of fee increases, from Etsy and the Post office and sellers are angry enough to strike over the Etsy increases and policies.