UPDATED – The marketplace is taking shape, changes to the model are being made including no listing or sales fees. Take a look here at the new DandyGoods site and leave a comment on this post to further the conversation.


I’ve been an Etsy seller for years. I’ve had limited success. I think they have a pretty site and have become better over time at making each shop more customizable by the seller. I also feel like they are so large now that my items get lost immediately after uploading and aren’t ever featured in a way that would encourage sales. Their fees are reasonable. They’ve provided a spot to place my things. They include vintage and some reselling of items that I’m simply not interested in and those items often get in the way of my searching. I have a hard time finding things I’m looking for. They do allow a semi-customizable widget you can place on your own site.

I’ve recently looked at Zibbit, Artfire and Cargoh. All have a few things to recommend them, but for the most part, I’m not excited about any of them because of design issues, marketability, ease of customization, total exclusivity, bad customer service and more. And none offer a barter group, as far as I know, but I haven’t researched that yet.

You know me, I’m always looking for a good project. I tried to do a barter site a few years ago using Ning, which wasn’t customizable to the point of people actually being able to use it the way I wanted or they needed. But, I think I’m ready to try again.

Here is what I think I want and I’d LOVE to get input from all of you interested.

A semi-curated handmade marketplace and barter site that lists and offers crafts, jewelry, art, patterns/How-tos, supplies. NO vintage, reselling

Various account levels including

-Limited free account with small listing and transaction fees (includes barter/trading group)
-A few intermediary accounts which have monthly/yearly fees and include some site targeted marketing at different levels
-A robust all-pro package which includes targeted advertising on other large sites and a fully customizable store including code which can be used anywhere else on the web, i.e. your own website

I think the site should have

-Very clear categories and search system, easy to navigate
-A Curated Market done by approval of site editor which includes interviews with sellers
-A barter area
-Swap Groups
-Easy shopping cart and purchase system

To keep the site from getting too big and turning into the same problem, I’m wondering if all sellers should be approved based on quality of items and photos.

I’d love to hear what you think works and doesn’t work with the existing marketplace site. Please no site bashing, just good discussion.

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  1. Great! A lot of people on the web don’t know exactly what they want or need. You Do! Now to find someone to Code it the way you envision & it’s a Go! Sometimes, I wish I’d gone into Computer Programming, images of medicine. Do you know anyone who might fill the bill? I know there are a few folks on Twitter who code, but you’ d have to get them interested in it. I think it would be a Really Good Busimess!

  2. I’m with ya. When I started on etsy 4 yrs ago, my goal was to average a sale a day. Last year was my year, I surpassed my goal, but things are…. off. It’s not all one thing or another, but recent changes have brought my views down 30%, and my sales for January were off the same percentage. I’ve looked at the other sites too, and I have Artfire and Zibbet accts, but they’re just place holders. I don’t have any interest in persuing the accts for reasons you’ve mentioned. Do we need another online marketplace? I think we need something….

  3. @YKnot – I do know some good coders! I think with a clear plan of attack, this could be something really great.

    @Vanna – if you think of anything you wish to be added if we move forward on this, let me know!

  4. I like etsy because I feel like I’m part of this cool-kid indy community when i sell stuff on there. the other sites feel lame. i also like that it barely costs anything to use and i can throw ideas up there.. if they sell, awesome. if not, no big loss. i feel like sometimes im just clicking on photos that have nice textures to them, and those are the sellers i end up fav’ing. but i don’t have time to hang out on the forums or anything and rarely have time to have more than a couple things in my store at a time.

    i like that i can get supplies on there, but i don’t like the people who resell vintage stuff that’s not something like ribbons, buttons, paper.

    i also like that setting up the store is dead easy and i dont have to think too much about it. itd be nice to have better ways to customize the shops, though. you should also push custom orders. etsy offers it but most people don’t really use it or think about using it.

    i *really* like the idea of a swap/barter section.

    i think having more showcases, maybe one for each category, would be awesome. if you’re into jewelry made of gemstones, you’re probably not into soap shaped like mario characters and your audience probably has very little crossover. so having showcases/spotlight emails/interviews of each section (kinda like deviantART) with a different person heading each section might be ideal.

  5. @Pinguino – Pushing custom orders is a great idea. I love the idea of showcases for each category! You are so right about the Mario soap. haha Question – if you aren’t participating in the forums, what is it that makes you feel like you are a part of the cool-kid indy community? I can’t put my finger on it…..

  6. im not sure. i get the emails and they’re written in a really personable way.. as in you know a person actually wrote it, not some intern. when i find out my friends have etsy accounts too it feels like we’re in some diy club and share the same aspirations.

    the other plus is that by having a store on a site that people trust, that makes people think of handknit bacon scarves and cupcake rings and nunchucks for babies, makes it easier to sell stuff too. i might not buy something off some random crappily-designed website but i tend to trust random etsy sellers a lot more. ebay still gives off a “is it a scam?” vibe sometimes so its nice having a place i trust buying stuff from.

    also i guess since other quirky crafters all have stores there, it feels like the place to be. like setting up a store on melrose (back when melrose was fun to hang out at)

  7. @Pinguino -Trust is a big issue. I know what you mean about other sites feeling scammy sometimes. Thanks so much for your thoughts! It all helps.

  8. trust is a big issue, and one of the pluses of etsy to me is that it’s a sort of captive audience – people know to go there to get cool handmade stuff. i’ve been reluctant to get my own stand-alone site because who am i to anyone else? being part of a place like etsy just feels like there’s something behind all those shops, there’s the feedback system and threats of repercussions if someone isn’t on the up and up.

    i also use etsy as a sort of catalog for my bulk/wholesale accts. my customers have a lovely layout to peruse my items, it’s clean, it’s clear, it’s easy to see my sections and pick what they want to order. it’s cheaper than hosting my own catalog somewhere. i do NOT have the skills to code anything, i need to cut and paste or upload a file and not worry about crazy formulas to get things to appear or center or whatever.

    one of the downsides of etsy to me is that i don’t feel like i fit the demographic they’re keying in on. i’m not hip or trendy or shopping for mod vintage boots or a crocheted bowtie (like the items on the front page right now). i’m a mom in the suburbs looking for pretty doo-dads for my house and daughters, gifts for grandma or my preschool-mom friends… i don’t think etsy could give less of a rat’s hiney about folks like me. and that’s a shame, because i have expendable income, too.

    so i guess that’s it for now…

  9. @Vanna You make a lot of good points regarding ease of use with etsy. They do make it mostly easy to use. And I’m hearing what you’re saying about fitting in. There has to be a way to make everyone feel included in one way or another…..

  10. There is a lot I love about Etsy. I’ve been there since 2006 and have seen a lot of changes, some good, some not, over the years but I still feel like it’s a good venue for selling for me.

    But if I were building my ideal site… it would be juried/curated so that it had a feeling of representing many different mediums. Art would have the same amount of exposure as fashion, for instance, and there would be a limit on the number of hair bow sellers. I guess I’d be looking for a site with more balance.

  11. @Lisa – I love a lot of things about etsy, too. Especially how they were brave enough to go out and start a site to sell handmade goods in the first place. Real pioneers.

    The curated aspect is important I think, too. There has to be a balanced amount of wares in the same category to prevent over-saturation so people can find things.

  12. Hi Leah,

    I think this article has real value. Your perspective on the state of online marketplaces is spot on. Here’s what we have realized in our short life so far:

    Curated content and balanced categories are at the core of our business. We are trying to solve the 2 very problems you mentioned above. Streamline the buying process by only providing great products that are photographed well, and keep categories from being over saturated so sellers can stand out in the crowd.

    In our opinion, you’re right, the world doesn’t need another marketplace….but it does need innovative solutions for indie makers to get their products to larger markets, so they can make a living doing what they love.

    Now, we know there are things we could be doing better too. Our site is one of the newest out there (8 months), but we have had our ear to the ground and really listened to people like yourself who know what they are talking about. Our V2 of the site is in the works, and it is really close to being what we want it to be. Stay tuned!

    Anyway, thanks for writing this. We’re listening.

    And if you do end up creating something yourself, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

    Love, Cargoh!

  13. Hi Cargoh! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you guys have the curated part going for you for sure and some of the photos from your sellers are the best I’ve seen in any shop online. I’m looking forward to seeing your V2.

    I’d also really love to hear what you’d do different next time if you could start the building process over.

  14. Hi Leah,

    Our V2 will essentially encompass all the things we wish we had done out of the gates……but nothing can replace that real world experience of actually talking to the users, so we am not sure we would have changed much.

    You can spend months and months trying to build things that you think people will like, only to find that after launch, you were wrong. Having users tell you what they love, and what they don’t has been super valuable for us.

    You have my personal email. Please hit us up whenever you like. We won’t spoil any of the V2 surprises for you, but we are always happy to chat to sellers.

    Love, Cargoh!

  15. Hey Leah,
    Thought I’d give my 2cents. Etsy has been great for me thus far but there are definitely problems as with any of these sites. I like the connection with other sellers and those who purchase my work. That feedback and support has been invaluable. I do not like the enormity of Etsy as it is difficult to be seen. Then you throw in over saturated categories and an ocean of vintage… ugg.
    I think that your site should most definitely have a jury process (or something similar) to ensure that there is a set standard.
    Some other things that I like about Etsy is how user friendly the site is. Easy to set up a shop and easy to use. In the beginning it was nice to have the tutorials but actually other Etsy sellers have been generous enough to teach me a lot of the ropes… and I have done the same for many. I really have mixed feelings about the whole “Treasury” thing. Although it’s great to have more exposure… It is very clear to me that so many “Etsy Teams” make them, include primarily their own people, and and then inflate the #’s. I have been fortunate enough to be in a lot of them in spite of all of this but it has just left me feeling a bit hollow as a whole.
    I also think that having a great support for problems that come up is important. Even if the issue seems small… sometimes feeling like you have a voice can make all the difference.
    All in all I think you are on the right track my friend. I could go on and on with the pos and neg’s. If I can be of any help… just let me know.

  16. I have been thinking about developing a barter site for about a year, but have not gotten past the concepting. I’m more of a thinker than a doer. It’s a great idea!

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