When sales work for new handmade sellers

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Are you thinking of using a discount to jumpstart sales?

This is a common scenario: A new crafter joins Etsy or Artfire and lists her handmade items. The excitement is high as she waits for her first customer. After all, she poured her heart and soul into all those beautifully handcrafted widgets so someone with artistic taste is bound to take a fancy.

She waits.

And then… Crickets.

Day after day.

Eventually, she brainstorms for promotion ideas- anything to get her widgets into the limelight, but within her meager budget. She hits a light bulb moment eventually: a sale or a giveaway! It makes perfect sense: she loves it when her suppliers have a 50% off so her customers must love it too! She hurriedly creates a coupon, puts it on her announcement and Twitter, and waits for the stampede to follow.

Except, often? The result is also crickets.

You need a following to make a sale work and new shops usually don’t have one.

Extensive use of sales and giveaways hurt your brand

Don’t get me wrong, I love giveaways. I think they’re a great marketing tool when used correctly, I just don’t think they’re useful in every situation; certainly not for new businesses.

Think for a moment what a business that’s regularly giving items for free through a giveaway or selling them for half-off is saying about itself. It says their items are cheap.

If the crafter I talked about earlier managed to build a following through discounts, she’ll soon find that she needs constant discounts to maintain an income. Eventually, the only thing that comes to mind when people think about her store is that it’s a cheap place to get widgets- the kind of place they shop at as a last resort.

The right way to use discounts

Necklace by Bijouxbymeg
Initial Crystal Necklace” by Megan

If you’re going the discount route to jumpstart sales, the best way is a flash sale that’s piggybacking on another successful group’s following. This means holding it at another venue that can guarantee you customers.

Take the example of Megan from BijouxbyMeg. She joined Etsy in 2010 and heard crickets for a really long time. She had only ~50 sales by the time March 2011 rolled around and her sales exploded.

Here’s how she did it without hurting her brand: She did a limited-time sale on Heartsy, a groupon-like site for Etsy. Heartsy sent over a stampede of customers and the activity pushed her store to the front of Etsy’s search. Nowadays, she only runs coupons for her fans and repeat customers.

The difference between Megan and the widget seller is that Megan didn’t build a brand around frugality; the deep discount provided the burst she needed and the short time ensured her image wasn’t tarnished. The widget seller would’ve slowly accumulated bargain hunters to form the bulk of her following.

Followings to tap into

Popular Blogs: Pitch your product to blogs in your niche and convert their fans to your customers. You can choose to hold a giveaway or try to pitch for a gift guide or feature.

Other Popular Sellers: Network with other popular sellers and offer a coupon for their fans. This works best if your products are related; for example, plant seeds and recipes.

Flash Sale Sites: There are many flash sale sites like groupon and live auctions like Top Hatter. Though from my experience, groupon-like sites work best with services rather than products (mainly due to the high costs involved).

Charities: Many charities send out monthly newsletters. Offering their followers a discount is a great way to reach a targeted market.

Develop your brand

The first days of a business are vital to brand building, it’s when your image is just starting to take shape. Whatever decision you make will help shape people’s perceptions of it down the road, and things like unique artistry or personalized service are much more sustainable associations to go for.

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16 Comments

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  5. Interesting article – have shared it. Some sellers are constantly running sales on ArtFire and Etsy – and you’re right about the negative perspective that can result. My thought when I first opened by ArtFire studio was that I wanted my customers to get used to paying full price. Have never run a sale (but have opted into the Patron program). Free shipping is offered 3-4 times a year. Occasionally I’ll add a discount coupon for a good repeat customer – but not always because I don’t want them to get used to it (: Am hoping high quality workmanship, fun designs and impeccable customer service will keep bringing them back. So far, I have been very pleased.

  6. Anya

    a-ha! A light bulb moment, if I ever had one.
    Thanks for this! You saved my bacon as the crickets are chirping real loud right now and making me a bit unsettled……. Off to pitch to bloggers then!

    • Blaire

      I’ll send you a couple of blogs I think your jewelry would be a nice fit for :)

  7. Janine Davis

    This is great advice. I have been waffling about whether or not to offer a starting sale for our shop. (I have seen other shops do this.) I think we might stick to our current prices for now and see where that takes us.

    • Blaire

      Good luck with your store, Janine! Sales definitely aren’t for everyone. I’d recommend them only a few times a year for established sellers.

      This is just for those who want to use a sale and launch their store :)

  8. Meg

    Thank you so much for featuring my shop! Great post!

    While Heartsy was a GREAT move for me, deep discount sales like this can definitely make you or break you! I was just starting up when I took the plunge, and decided it was a good way to get exposure, clear out inventory, and have a very large start-up to expand my product line. While I didn’t expect to see most of my Heartsy customers ever again, I gained exactly what I wanted from my sale. & guess what? I haven’t had a sale in over two years (except for very exclusive sales for Facebook fans a few times a year)! Just be sure to crunch your numbers first before even considering something like this for your handmade items! Believe it or not, I still made out with a decent profit (which of course went right back into my business), only because I had such a large inventory when I started my Heartsy sale.

    • Blaire

      Thanks for reading and offering solid advice, Megan! I’m really glad Heartsy worked out for you :)

  9. Paula

    I was going to ask about Hearty but than I saw the comment below.
    Unfortunately I was the shop how had 3 running coupons at a time and that was not helpful at all. I deactivated them and I only have a coupon for repeat customers (this didn’t work either but I am hopeful :D ).
    Great post, Blaire!

    • Paula

      I was the shop *who had 3 running coupons, sorry!

    • Blaire

      Thanks Paula!

      Buyers have to opt-in to receive those thank you coupons, so that could be why not many people are using them :)

    • Blaire

      Thanks Rebecca!

      You’re right, Heartsy closed down. The creators ended up starting Top Hatter :)

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