Etsy_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


It’s the ultimate month of gifting—is your Etsy shop ready?


The crowds are coming, from Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers to the last-minute gift-givers looking everywhere for holiday presents. Last year, members of the marketplace for vintage and handmade goods rang up $117.8 million in sales during December, a 73 percent jump from the year earlier; for the year, the total was $895 million, according to Etsy. For its one million active sellers, there are now 60 million shoppers perusing every month, hailing from more than 200 countries.


Yet some concerns are equally universal. Will what I want be available? Can the merchant deliver it in time? Will it be just what I expected?


The charm of Etsy is that its community’s unique products show a human touch—from virtually anything crocheted or inspired by deep artistic craftsmanship to just the right vintage accessory that recalls a fond memory. For customers, that human side can also be a challenge: Many Etsy shopkeeps run their pages as a side business, and service and fulfillment compete with full-time jobs and busy lives. For every fantastic find, there are online reports of wayward sellers who don’t respond or leave clients unhappy.


One of the problems is Etsy’s low barrier to entry. “Anybody can have an Etsy shop. It’s not curated,” says Laura C. George, a business coach who works with creatively gifted artists all over the world. “There’s not a lot of policing of a certain level of talent, or a certain level of business professionalism on the site. I think what often gets in the way is that people don’t feel like their Etsy shops are actual businesses, even though customers certainly feel like it’s a business or they wouldn’t be buying.”


That said, most sellers take their Etsy quite seriously and strive to deliver excellent service. What are they doing to make the holiday shopping season a success for their shops? A few tips from those who’ve made it work:


Etsy_PQ.jpgStart planning early

To make the most of year-end holidays, it pays to start planning at least six months in advance, says George. Media opportunities—gift guides, product coverage, etc.—tend to work that far ahead and should be pursued early, with professional photos of your goods lined up for print outlets, she says. “You need to know what you want to have available for sale and what you’re going to need six months early. It sounds crazy, but it’s how it works,” George says.


Be upfront with policies (and follow them)

Communicating with customers is key. It’s smart for beginners to mimic the giants of e-commerce. Every Etsy page owner’s site should make clear shipping times, costs, currency conversion rates, returns, and even what happens if a product arrives damaged. One step further: Add a request for the customer to message you when they place an order. If a customer is in another country, the rules should remind them that shipments need to go through customs, which can take more than a week. If there’s a shipping tracking number available, send it to the customer and monitor it yourself to document that the package arrives. Because most products on Etsy are one of a kind, it’s often not so simple to just replace what has been ordered. If a problem arises, contact the client immediately, apologize for the situation, and offer a solution. (Take another page from the pros: Add a Top 10 Most Popular List to your site, which could help guide customers to pick an item for a hard-to-buy-for person on their list.)


SBC newsletter logo.gifSet a holiday-delivery deadline

Ask yourself: How much time do you really need to turn around an order in your busiest periods? Before you answer, consider the frenzy of the holiday season personally and professionally, with family commitments and many full-time jobs under pressure to meet year-end deadlines. Conversely, a frustrated customer who comes up empty-handed if an unforeseen problem arises can make what’s supposed to be a cheerful time difficult for both of you. Give yourself and your shipping providers some breathing room. A quick look at more than two-dozen Etsy shops shows Saturday, Dec. 14 as a popular cutoff date to have gifts delivered before Dec. 25.


Cultivate good reviews

Erma Williams-Nurse has a great policy of updating customers at nearly every stage of their orders at her store, The Pomade Shop. Since she set up her venture two years ago, she responds to messages as soon as possible and always within 24 hours. She also always says “thank you” to customers for their purchase and follows up after shipping with an email to find out if the product was received. Before packages leave her desk, she verifies that what’s going out matches the order and, because some of the orders are gifts, makes sure everything looks neat right out of the box. Ultimately, it’s the Golden Rule, Williams-Nurse says. “Be sure to produce what you would require as a shopper,” she adds. “Let’s go forward in the spirit of treating our customers the way we would want to be treated.”