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Can Brands Play Nicely with Etsy?

Utter the name, "Urban Outfitters" on any Etsy community forum, and watch out for burning pitchforks. The retail giant, known for being quirky and crafty, is notorious on the site for blatantly stealing much of that quirk and craft right from Etsy sellers. This is, of course, a copyright violation and blatantly illegal, but it's pretty hard for sellers to do much about it without racking up legal bills they can't pay because their ideas were stolen. Add in other Goliaths like Anthropologie and countless other chains, and it's no wonder the crafting community is wary of any attempts by big brands to forge deeper relationships.

But Etsy isn't just a marketplace, it's a marketing platform, and there are a number of ways brands and sellers can form ties that are a little more mutually beneficial. If you're new to Etsy, I highly suggest giving this Beginner's guide to Etsy a read as a primer.

For inspiration on how to properly approach Etsy as a brand, let's take a look at how some of the biggest brands are doing just that.

1. Imitate Etsy Pages

Drawing on the popularity of Pinterest, Etsy launched a new venture back in September called "Pages."  With this feature, Etsy has reached out to several big brands and blogs, like Martha Stewart Weddings and Apartment Therapy and invited them to curate their own Pinterest-like boards featuring Etsy products.

This is obviously great for the selected sellers, as they're curated away from the millions of other products on the site and highlighted prominently. While brands don't get any percentage of the profit, it's also great for them as they gain all of that "quirk" credibility by partnering with such a well-respected community site without infringing on anyone's copyright or ability to make a living. Additionally, both the sellers and the brands benefit from shared buzz and traffic.

The only problem with pages? It's limited to a select few brands, and it's likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. But that doesn't mean that you can't benefit from the mentality. Why not reach out directly to sellers and tell them you'd like to feature their brand on your site, either in a similar Pinterest board manner or with gift guides? Of course, you'll need to emphasize that full credit and links to their store pages will be given, and that you won't ask for any percentage of the profit. In this way, curation of products can be another form of content marketing from which both you and the seller really benefit.

2. Host a Local Popup

Etsy's online platform is certainly powerful, but sometimes there's just no substitute for in-person shopping. That's a fact Etsy has been embracing fully as of late with its pop-up shops, hosted at likeminded stores like West Elm. Last winter, for example, the store hosted an entire holiday shop. The stock of Etsy wares was added to everyday with freshly created pieces, often curated by partners like Martha Stewart. Loyal fans could meet artists in person, and sellers had a chance to reach out to customers who had never heard of the site at all.

If you work in marketing for a big brand, this could certainly be a great strategy for you. But even if you work for a small retailer, why not again reach out directly to sellers in your local area and offer to host a popup event? Even just an evening of in-person shopping can be a great way to build community and will bring a lot of foot traffic in through your door. Add in some bands and food, and you'll have a golden marketing and relationship-building opportunity.

3. Place Wholesale Orders with Sellers

Etsy has formed wholesale partnerships with several of the brands I've previously mentioned, but last April they took the next big step of launching the beta Etsy Wholesale, making bulk ordering (eventually) possible for a much wider range of brands. That means that if you like Etsy sellers and want to feature them in your store, there should (in theory) be a means for doing so that doesn't include copycatting. Just like Etsy pages, you'll again benefit from joining your brand to the increasing consumer preference for a shorter artist to market chain. This time, however, you'll be able to directly profit from that partnership.

The site is currently in its beta version and is open only to selected invitees, but keep your eyes peeled for more.

Final Thoughts

For many years, Etsy was a very powerful platform for small craftspeople, dreaming of quitting their nine to fives to focus on their passions. In many ways, it's still just that, but the community has also been burned by several unscrupulous brands. There is, however, no need for an adversarial relationship. Get to know the community and the platform, think of ways you can show respect to the sellers and reap benefits in the form of marketing, not copycatting. In that way, brands and Etsy can definitely play nice.