Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Few Ideas for Safe Shopping on Etsy...

... and similar online marketplaces. 

If you are like me, you would rather have your wisdom teeth extracted (again) instead of battling hordes of shoppers, busting doors and fighting mature adults over ninja trains, gothic fairy diaper dolls, and action figures that really should not have been resurrected from the 80s.  

Online shopping is more popular than ever.  Reasons include convenience, the ability to compare prices easily, curing boredom, and impulse buying.  While I agree with these reasons, I feel there are different reasons for shopping on Etsy, Artfire, etc.  Convenience is definitely a factor, but people often come to Etsy because they want something more than the average online shopping experience.  They want something special, something lovely, something unique, and something that makes a difference.  Paying a little more for a beautiful sweater isn't so painful when you know that your money went directly to the talented person who made it, a person who wants to do things differently and make their own way in life.  (Some Etsy sellers even let you pay for the pricier items in installments).  Furthermore, the quality and design of a handmade item is usually superior to anything you will find at the shopping malls.  
What is a shopping mall?

Unfortunately, there are bad online shopping experiences and while the good outweighs the bad by far, the bad ones are the most publicized.  It's human nature to want to tell the world when you feel you have been wronged.  

Here is a list of my personal guidelines for safe Etsy (and Artfire, and Craftsy, and eBay, ...) shopping:

LOOK AT THE SELLER'S FEEDBACK SCORE - This is obvious but there are things to examine.
1.  Feedback as a buyer.
2.  Feedback as a seller.  
3.  Responses to negative feedback (if any).  The way someone handles a negative response says a lot about their character and the way they do business.    NOTE: Just because that person has 1 or 2 negative feedbacks (or more if they do a LOT of business) doesn't mean they are off limits.  Examine the feedback, see if reasons are listed.  If someone just leaves a negative and there is no explanation, to me that is a worthless report. 
4.  Also remember that shops with lots of small items are going to have MORE feedback usually, as feedback is left for each individual item.  
5.  Do not abandon a shop just because they have made very few sales!  The quality of the feedback can be more valuable than the quantity.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  

LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES - How do you know this shop is making everything they claim to make by hand? This may not apply to every seller, especially if they sell vintage items or supplies.  
1.  Look for images of the shop's work in progress, studio, owner, etc.  This can often be found on the shop's "about" page.  If not, seek other sources...
2.  Find another site associated with that shop.  Often shop owners have links to their blog, Facebook page, etc. available.  Blogs are great for finding out more about the shop and the owner, a glimpse into their creative world.  
3.  If this shop has nothing like this available, contact them and tell them you are interested in their work.  Ask them about their craft, their process, etc.  
4.  Keep in mind... some artists and artisans would rather spend their free time creating rather than social networking;  furthermore, they may feel "technologically challenged."  

Obviously there are exceptions to all of these "guidelines."

CONTINUITY OF LISTINGS - Does everything in the shop look like one person (or small guild) created it?  (Again, this will not apply to vintage or supply shops).
1.   If it's an artist selling items with their artwork, look for the actual artwork in their shop.  Also look at the image quality and resolution of the listings, make sure it isn't something they ripped off/downloaded from another shop.  Ask them for a clearer image if it looks sketchy.  Or say "This is lovely, do you have this available as a print?" OR "This image is lovely, does it have a name?" 
2.   A shop is selling 1 leather handbag, 3 velvet corsets all in size XS, 1 pair of silk stockings, 20 friendship bracelets ... and the "about" section indicates very little other than the fact that they love "all things artsy."  I'm not saying this isn't legit, but it probably merits a little research.  For the sheer sake of entertainment, you should at least message some questions concerning their inspiration and process.  
This image is irrelevant.
3.   Descriptive listings.  How well does the shop owner actually know the item they are selling?  Most artisans love to talk about their work, the fibers that went into the scarf, the old barn supplying the reclaimed wood for the bench, the smell in the air that lingered as they shot the image of Uther Pendragon's stomping ground.  There should be a story behind every handmade item, even if it's as simple as "this is so soft and cozy" or "I made this using reclaimed vintage carpet fibers from an old pet store."  
4.   With all that said, my shop is a haphazard array of art, jewelry, glassware, crocheted items, and even CDs.  A lot of people probably look at my shop and say "What the heck does she do, exactly?"  If you look closely, however, you will see a very common theme... trees.  Also, if you look at the jewelry, the stationery, even the album artwork on the CDs, you will see images from the actual artwork that is also available in my shop.  Of course, the crocheted items are a bit out of place, but I really don't want to manage multiple shops.  

SHOP POLICY - This is another obvious source, but it is often overlooked.  
1.  How do they handle shipping fees/overcharges?  Shipping is not a handmade item;  therefore sellers should not profit from shipping fees.  However, it can be difficult to predict shipping fees.  As a shop owner, I would rather overestimate and promptly reimburse as needed, as opposed to underestimating and going broke.  
2.  How do they handle returns?  
3.  Do they seem to have a pleasant approach to policies or do they seem to be scolding you before you have even made a purchase (my personal pet peeve)?
4.  What is the estimated shipping/processing time, what do they offer, etc.?  Shops that do a lot of business are going to need a longer processing time, especially if they are making the item or items to order.  While it is important for the shop owner to be realistic up front about the length of time it could take for you to receive your item, it is important for the buyer to realize the importance of shopping in advance for certain items.  
free to pet or scratch behind the ears
5.  Smoke free/pet free home.  How important is this to you as a buyer?  Most sellers will let you know what kind of environment they work in.  

1.  Be specific about your needs in the "message to seller" field during the transaction.  If there are choices, let them know what you want.  If offered, do you need it gift wrapped, do you need an enclosure card, what do you want it to say, is it going directly to the recipient ("do not include invoice").  
2.  Make sure your shipping information is accurate.  
3.  If it's a big ticket item, ask the seller to add insurance to the shipping fees.  

1.  If you should have received your order yesterday and you're getting frustrated today, give it another day (unless you paid extra for a shipping upgrade).  Verify the shipping method you paid for and look in your "purchases" section to see if the item has been marked as "shipped."  
2.  If the item has not been marked as "shipped" and you should have already received it according to the shop policies, by all means, contact the seller.  It's possible they just forgot to mark it as shipped.  

Sellers love feedback.  It's not just because they like a nice feedback score, they want to know they are doing the right thing.  Most artisans take great pride in their work and they want the buyer to love it as much as they do!  I have had buyers to send very happy messages to me personally about their purchase, yet they forget to leave feedback in the official feedback section.  Personally, I am COMPLETELY okay with that.  What matters to me is a happy customer and I understand some people don't get into leaving feedback.  If someone has a small or a low feedback score, however, and you are happy with your purchase...

These are just suggestions, loose guidelines, and a lot of words.  If you fall in love with something online, don't rule it out just because it doesn't meet one or two of my personal guidelines.  

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