In the past 4 to 5 years, the number of Etsy store owners that have come to FinerWorks to fulfill their print orders have steadily increased. Because these numbers were leading to a lot of questions that we felt could not be answered properly, we decided to get a firsthand look of what the Etsy seller experiences. So, one of our staff decided to take on this task of offering prints for sale and having us drop ship her orders. It took probably about 6 months but once her Etsy shop gained some traction and began to draw sales we could see things a little more clearly and be able to empathize with some of the challenges Etsy sellers face. It has been a little long in coming but after speaking with her, and some of our customers over the years, I think I have some information that people thinking of selling giclee prints on Etsy will find useful. And if you already are running a Etsy, shop, maybe there will be some tidbits of information here that might help you as well.
1. Create a Positive Brand
You are the brand, when you have an Etsy shop which showcases your creations. Your artwork (or in this case of giclee or other prints) will be the product. Part of establishing yourself as a brand requires understanding your customers are going to expect a positive experience from the beginning. No one likes dealing with people or businesses with someone that seems temperamental, snobby or aloof. Even if your artwork is dark in theme, it is still important to portray a positive and energetic storefront. This means sound positive in your profile, product description and everywhere else that potential buyers will read about you and what you offer.
I know some people hate showing photos of themselves, especially online but you must post a good quality photo of yourself as the shop owner. Make sure you are smiling. It places a human face to your shop so the people you sell to feel like they are dealing with a real person.
Finally, maintain that positive brand in your communication with your buyers and potential buyers even in times where you don’t feel the most positive. As an example, you will or may have already had the displeasure of having a buyer that was difficult to deal with. No matter how unpleasant the experience, never respond at their level. Always write in friendly terms even if you must swallow a bit of your pride in the process.
2. Be Professional in Your Communications
With Etsy, you will have a communications platform that acts like email and allows you to keep your conversations organized with your customers. Professional messaging and friendly email responses goes a long way. So, you are not rewriting the same messages, create canned / pre-written answers to some of your most common questions. If not, you will find it is easy to get overwhelmed and you will find yourself spending a large portion of your Etsy work day trying to formulate similar messages to what you may have already have written before.
I like the idea of having templates for your answers indexed in a document that you can copy and paste into your email responses. You can then tweak the specific message afterward to fit the circumstances as needed.
In message, be as readable as possible. I will be the first to admit, I am not the most gifted in writing and MS Word’s spellcheck loves to sabotage me but take some time to read through your templates before you start sending them. It won’t hurt to have some friends or family read them and get their ideas about how you can make them sound better.
Be prompt as much as you possibly can, even if you are not ready to send off a response, just to let you know you got their message and are on top of things. Keep all this communication within the Etsy messaging platform if possible.
One of the surest ways to get negative reviews back and forth conversations you have with a customer which are poorly resolved. As a preventative step, always start with a thank you for them reaching out to you or other pleasant greeting. For all initial and subsequent messages, sound positive in your tone and be careful of wording that might be construed by some as impolite or dismissive. Assume that people by their nature are prone to read into things, even more so dependent on their existing emotional state. So be aware that the most innocent intended statements or questions can come across negatively or even patronizing by some people due to something as minor as a misplaced comma or punctuation. End your any message with a level of warmth and grace. Or as some Etsy sellers always do, try to end your messages with assurances you look forward to following up or helping them with anything else they need.
While you want your messages to be upbeat, remember this is not texting so use complete words and sentences. There are some people that have an aversion to a texting style of messaging so while it may make you sound trendy and hip, it won’t resonate with everyone. At the same time, be brief. People do not like to read a long email, especially if they are busy people. Keep the message as straight to the point as you possibly can. It decreases incidents of the recipient missing any questions or information you might have.
3. Order in Bulk
This tip might not be applicable if you sell commissioned customized art on Etsy. If that is you, have you considered also selling non-commissioned work? More on that in a later tip. But ordering in bulk can be the smart thing to do since if can increase your profit margin. While many of our Etsy users use FinerWorks to have their Etsy orders fulfilled individually, many of our highest volume customers do not order every day. They are placing relatively large orders of prints they can stock. They then ship the prints themselves. Admittedly most started off placing individual orders but once they saw what sold the best they could take advantage of that knowledge to increase their profits.
4. Organize Your Time
I have known of some Etsy sellers that processed a few orders a day but still felt swamped and found it a challenge to keep up. I won’t be surprised if this happens to you if you try to process orders as they come in. Initially that might seem it gives you a sense of being on top of things for your customer but doing this can ultimately lead to you becoming less productive while spending more time “working” when you don’t need to.
As an example, shipping is one of the most time-consuming and labor-intensive processes you will encounter as you fulfill Etsy orders. The mistake many new sellers make is packaging and sometimes even shipping orders as they come in. This can cause you to spend too much time redoing motions that could have been more effectively done when doing them in an assembly line fashion. Putting prints in sleeves, taping up envelopes or boxes or other mundane task can be completed in less than half the time per order if you have everything organized and already laid out before you.
It all starts by keeping an organized and CONSISTANT schedule. Don’t deviate from this schedule. Set either a time of day, or days of the week where appropriate to perform certain tasks, from updating your product descriptions, to reposting listings, answering emails, and finally processing orders. You will find that not only will this give you more free time but it will help you in your overall performance as a shopkeeper.
5. Use Care When Handling Prints
If shipping prints yourself it is a good practice to wear white cotton lint free gloves when handling them regardless if it a giclee, canvas or even cards. One place you can get these (as well as shipping supplies) is Uline.com. Even gloves can leave finger prints that can be noticeable under certain lighting conditions on some type of prints, but it will help eliminate the chances of the natural oils of your skin having a negative impact.
It’s also a good idea to have some canned air with which you can give a quick blast over the print to remove loose dust particles. Dealing with dust particles on giclee prints is a common challenge. Thanks to static electricity sometimes canned air won’t be enough. This makes it very hard to differentiate it between a small needlepoint size spec that you might think is a defect where the ink has flaked away. Never fear, a trick of the trade is to have a good assortment of colored sharpie markers at hand where you can gently and very lightly dab at those spots. It takes a little practice but if it is dust, the sharpie will pick it up. If it is a small needle point size ship, the sharpie will cover it up.
6. Properly Package Your Prints
Most of your customers will begin to formulate their opinion on the value of their order starting with their first view of the package their prints arrive in. It will be further judged by the inner packaging. It would be fantastic if packages always arrived looking exactly like they did when first turned over to the shipping service but the reality is the outer package may look a little dinged up and dirty once it goes through the various trucks and shipping centers. There is not a lot you can do about this but sometimes an additional inner package can help. As an example, if you ship smaller prints, drop them into a flat mailer then package that mailer in a sturdy corrugated flat box so the outer package receives the brunt of the abuse. I will caution you that this approach may substantially increase your shipping cost due to the increase in weight and size so you will want to carefully evaluate if it is worth going that extra step or not, especially if a larger or bulkier print. At a minimum wrap the print. I personally favor individually wrapping each print in clear plastic sleeves or some sort of foam wrapper. This can add protection from moisture, handling and give your prints a more pristine appearance when it arrives. Incidentally we offer these plastic clear sleeves for sale on our website but you may be able to find them elsewhere online and photography supply stores.
Use enough tape or padding to keep any contents from shifting with a buffer between the print and the edge of the package. Place some sort of fragile or do not bend sticker. Statistically this will increase the chance of it getting damaged. Yes, I said “WILL”. However, you will benefit more in the long run by giving your customers an appreciation that you are giving that shipment some extra attention to make sure the order arrives safety.
Try to ship smaller and possibly medium size prints flat. While shipping in tubes may seem safer, it will more likely get caught up on a shipment conveyor system or dropped by the shipping service. More important is the any unmounted or unframed prints are more likely to have lost the original paper curl by the time the print arrives when shipped flat. Your customers may not realize it when they get a flat shipped print but a print that is wanting to curl for a while after having been shipped in a tube is not fun to deal with and can harm perceived value.
By both using care, (previous tip) and properly packaging your prints you can be assured that you took all the appropriate precautions when the inevitable DOES happen: a damaged or lost order as will be discussed next.
7. Have Protocols in Place for Mishaps
To make these mishaps go as smooth for both you and the customer, write out a game plan to follow. Know that orders will get lost and damaged. Statistically UPS, FEDEX and USPS are approximately the same when it comes to lost or damaged packages so be prepared to be notified by your customers (not the carrier) when a package is lost or damaged. Be prepared to take the blame by angry customers when this happens no matter how irrational that seems. Most will be very graceful and understanding but some will lash out and want to blame you personally. Have a thick skin about it and focus on making it right for the customer even if you must write that order off. I find that goes a long way in improving seller/buyer relations.
As part of your plan of execution you should have established how you will get a replacement out to them as quickly and painlessly as possible. Have carefully worded (but upbeat) email responses ready that you can customize as needed. In the case of a damaged shipment offer easy to follow instructions on what you will need so you can file a claim with the carrier.
Since reshipments can eat into your bottom line factor these rare mishaps into your overall product cost. Again, don’t be upset. Consider it as merely one of your business expenses. One easy solution one of our users does is she adds an extra 2% to her produce prices to cover time and cost for the occasional reshipments.
Yes, you will get the handful of cranky types when something goes wrong that no matter what you do, nothing will appease them. Some may even leave you a negative review even though it was obvious not your fault the shipment was damaged or lost, but most of your buyers will both appreciate what you are doing for them to replace their print even if it means it took a little longer for them to get their final product.
8. Share your Sales on Social Media
This little tidbit was mentioned by one of our site users. Share your actual work, photos of the product that was shipped, online. This takes some care but once you come up with the proper formula, you might be surprised at the results.
The first thing to know here is you want to share your positives and not negatives. Remember your Positive Brand? Everyone is going to have some negative experience as a seller at some point but we want to highlight the positive experiences. Your formula may entail snapping a photo of a print you are about to package and ship then posting it on Instagram. It might be to write a little description of a commissioned project you just completed for a customer and sharing it on Facebook.
9. Test New Product Concepts
Don’t just stick to one type of print if you can avoid it. I know many our customers only offer canvas prints or only offer prints on the fine art papers we have. Try offering them in other formats such as metal prints, framed prints, etc. You might be surprised by what people gravitate to based on your artwork. Yes, price does pay a role with many sellers, especially if you are an artist doing a style of artwork that is prevalent within the Etsy universe but you really won’t know what opportunities you might be missing out on until you have tested different things. Incidentally a trend we notice with our most successful sellers is they will sell about 80-90% of their prints as a specific style (for instance canvas) but will earn an additional 10 to 20% of their incoming sales from the artwork printed in other formats.
You might also discover other formats that you did not expect to sell well outpace your original format. As an example we had one artist whose business took off when she started offering the same work as fine art prints versus regular phot prints,.
Remember when I asked if you sell commissioned work if you considered also selling non-commissioned work as well. This would be another example of testing a new product concept.
Stress can play a large role in a person’s success or failure in any endeavor. When operating an Etsy shop, some of the stress associated with it can be the result of not managing time properly, therefore feeling unable to keep up with the demand of creating art, processing orders, and shipping. The best cure is to regroup and meditate on ways you can streamline, make improvements to your shop, products, customers service and shipping.
It’s best to do this either a way from the computer or even in a different venue. First, I suggest you step away to give your mind a chance to rest during some part of the day. You may want to do this by engaging in activities unrelated such as exercising, reading, cooking, watching a movie, etc. Sometimes it is not so much a change in what you are doing but where you are doing it. When you are ready to get back to work, and if you can do so, spend some of your allocated time for emails at a coffee shop or even a park. One of the great features of today’s technology is you can now do things on a computer that makes location less of an issue.
My last bit of advice is if selling on Etsy is your main source of income or fulltime business, taking time off is so important, even if it means suspending your shop temporarily while you head out on a trip or vacation at home. As someone who has run a business I know it is extremely hard to step away for a period when you have things to do piled up. But I also told myself I did not want to be one of those people that worked non-stop unaware they were working their life away. So, take some time off, enjoy your Etsy business and enjoy life as an artist.