At the intersection of commerce, content and social media sits Etsy.com, a website as beautiful as the products it sells. The online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade embodies its own do-it-yourself style in both design and function, creating a hub where independent artisans can connect directly with their buyers.
Since the site launched in 2005, more than 250,000 sellers from around the world have opened up Etsy shops to sell their unique crafts. With a robust blog highlighting the handmade lifestyle and a host of entertaining videos, Etsy has attracted more than 2.3 million members with 3.6 million items currently listed for sale.
Etsy has redefined product discovery. Busting out of the traditional 2-D e-commerce model of "search" and "browse," the distinctive nature of the Etsy marketplace allows visitors to explore its array of products via search categories such as color, geography, posted date and discovered and undiscovered shops.
"It's sort of playful," says CEO Maria Thomas. "It's like the old days when you went to a grand bazaar; you connect with someone, hear their story and understand why they're making their craft."
Here's a look at how Etsy keeps the handmade spirit alive.
post requests for custom handmade items and sellers bid to make the goods. It's all the joys of do-it-yourself and made-to-order in one.
Etsy's 450 Teams are members bound by a common interest or location who interact, share skills and promote their shops and Etsy together. Most Teams have their own blogs, which creates links back to Etsy. Teams are the site's biggest grassroots resource for support, networking and marketing.
This most popular section of the site is an ever-changing, member-curated shopping gallery of handpicked items. Etsy Admin often chooses exceptional "Treasury" lists to promote on the homepage. "This highlights the innovation of Etsy: the way in which products can be discovered," Thomas says.
This new section offers interactive online shopping events. Here, an Etsy staff member (known as Admin) broadcasts via video in the center of a virtual auditorium, discussing her favorite items on the site while buyers chat with one another live. "It's like Etsy meets the Home Shopping Network meets Woot," Thomas says.
This massive blog--37 pages!--comprises news and articles about handmade culture. "Other sites pick up the content, people talk about the content, and that drives traffic back to Etsy," Thomas says. A monthly "Weather Report" tracks the number of new members, the total cost of goods sold and page-view figures.
This story appears in the September 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »