Observations on Selling Crafts Online

Last week, I had conversations with two different crafters. They make and sell very different things. One is just getting her feet wet selling crafts online, the other is highly successful with a customer list approaching 200,000.

When folks submit their sites to Crafty Tips, I sometimes offer suggestions or observations about their sites and shops. For the most part, my advice is spot on. This week my suggestions met with mixed results and I was reminded of a fundamental piece of information that one should always know before trying to market anything.

I’ll start with the advice that universally works no matter who the items are being sold to. I’m not going to mention the name of the first crafter because this is not about ‘outing’ her but hoping that anyone still reading Blog About Crafts can learn from her mistake. She doesn’t sell candles, but the visual and metaphor work well for what she does sell.

Product Descriptions vs. Product Photos

Let’s use the heart design shown here as an example. It’s obviously made from two different types of candles – we can tell based on their color. What we don’t know is whether or not the candles have the same scent, are both soy candles or are made with more traditional ingredients. All we know is there are two different colors and the photo shows 17 individual candles.

The product description says they are cinnamon scented. The price is what many are selling a single candle for. The word ‘candle’ is not in the description nor does it mention how many candles are included for that price or which color is being offered. Nor does the listing mention who picks the color – the seller or the buyer.

The shop introduction had a sentence that all items are being sold as individual units, i.e. one candle. But, it was not part of the description. I read the introduction and still was left wondering what I would receive were I to buy from this new Etsian.

When writing product descriptions, it’s always a good idea to include specifics about what people are purchasing. There’s nothing wrong with using a photo with multiple products as long as you make it clear which item the customer will receive. If the customer can pick from the options shown, then say that too. It’s so much better to take the time to identify exactly what someone will receive rather than have a customer think they are getting 17 candles when they are getting only 1, 8 or 9 of them.

Know Your Audience

Ah, the number one rule of selling anything – Know Your Audience. I’m generally pretty good at looking at a website or shop and figuring out who the target customers are even before I talk to the shop/site owner. This week, I got it wrong; big time.

Another site owner, who submitted to Crafty Tips this week, has a very visual graphical element on her homepage. If you are old enough to remember the robot-like animations of Max Headroom, then you have a picture of what I encountered on her site. (I’ve included a picture from Wikipedia to remind you if you have forgotten or weren’t around yet in 1984.)

The visual was the designer, telling me a bit about herself, her site and her products. The words being spoken were spot on. They told me exactly what the site was about, who the designer was and even discussed her philosophy on selling her items at a comparatively low price point.

I didn’t really like it. I didn’t like that the sound came on automatically and the whole Max Headroom style of animating a video of herself just seemed very old school to me. Conventional wisdom is that auto-loading audio animations are “OUT!!!” and can hurt sales. The site owner had asked me for a review of her site…and I gave her one. Trouble is, I’m not in her target audience. Trouble is…members of her target audience adore her animated self. And apparently, the animation is more than just a bit of video on the homepage – it’s a virtual shopping assistant that helps guide folks through her site.

Whoops. I had more than a little egg on my face with this one. I assumed that her target audience were people my age – nope. I assumed that people buying her technology-related items would be web warriors who don’t go for auto-loading videos – wrong again. And, I also assumed that she was a new to selling crafts online because her product catalog was a bit smaller than some of competitors. Again, I was oh so wrong.

The designer has a client base of almost 200,000. And, considering a huge percentage of them are repeat customers, she definitely knows how to sell crafts online and who she is selling her items too. She’s been selling online for over ten years. (In my defense, her copyright notice does not include a date.) I’m guessing here but it looks like she keeps rotating her offerings so that her product line is always fresh. It would also provide her customers with designs that the whole world isn’t using.

Her customer base includes about 65% seniors on fixed incomes and people who are handicapped. Her demographic isn’t me. It’s my Mom. And, guess what, my Mom adores any site with moving, animated talking things. She’ll visit a site multiple times just to see a cute or clever video play more than once. She surfs the web from the comforts of our home and doesn’t have to worry about someone in the next cubical being annoyed by a playing video.

Teriann sells machine embroidery designs. I made an assumption that since embroidery machines are highly sophisticated, technological wonders that her client base would be more at home with computers, iPods and techno-gadgets than a typewriter or remember a time when a mac referred to a raincoat. Thankfully, rather than get angry at me for my idiotic suggestion to remove what in her words has been a “BOON” to her business, she explained to me why it works for her site and reminded me of that universal number one rule for marketing – know your audience.

Marketing Lessons We Can All Follow

The information I shared with the new Etsian is universal. No matter who your audience may be, you should always be as specific as possible in your product descriptions. If you use a product photo that casts any doubt on what the customer may receive, always make it clear what is or is not included in the price. Never assume that a customer ‘will just know’ that based on the price they are only getting one of the items shown. Never assume just because you mention something once on your site that a potential customer will find that information.

Teriann reminded me and can teach us all that when selling crafts online or off, it sometimes pays to defy “conventional wisdom” in pursuit of something that works for us and our customers.

And no matter what   –   ALWAYS    KNOW   YOUR    AUDIENCE ! ! !

A few suggestions for further reading...

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