It would be fair to call Etsy, which bowed in 2005, a disruptor: The online marketplace birthed a new business model that gives independent designers a global platform to sell everything from handmade jewelry to vintage clothing and home furnishings.
But lately mainstream, national chains like Nordstrom and West Elm have been turning to Etsy — which swelled to $895.1 million in sales in 2012, up from $525.6 million in 2011 — to inject their stores’ merchandise with a patina of one-of-a-kind-handcraft authenticity — much like many big Hollywood studios set up independent film divisions to burnish their art-house cinema bonafides.
Etsy, which has about 850,000 sellers worldwide, is now testing Etsy Wholesale, a business-to-business platform by which retailers ranging from national chains to museum shops and local boutiques sell the wares of Etsy vendors and designers in their stores.
This year, tony department store chain Nordstrom has signed on to be an Etsy Wholesale buyer. The retailer is spotlighting select Etsy vendors in its At Home department via the “Etsy & Nordstrom Present” collaboration, featuring products such as mugs from Seattle-based Downing Pottery and terrariums from Tiny Terrains.
Meanwhile last year, West Elm, Williams-Sonoma’s hip, modernist furniture chain, started merchandising groupings of items from local Etsy sellers in its new stores after marketing Etsy items online and in its catalogs.
Cookie Cutter Doesn’t Cut It
For retailers like West Elm and Nordstrom, showcasing merchandise from independent sellers and artists brings “local character to their stores,” Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson told Forbes following a press event.
These partnerships are a sign of the times. For mall chains, selling cookie-cutter, widely distributed merchandise just doesn’t cut it anymore when consumers have infinite shopping choices online, and an endless assortment of idiosyncratic fare for every aesthetic sensibility.
According to West Elm press material on the Etsy partnership, the “goal is to bring authentic and handcrafted products into customers’ homes at a great value. [The] relationship with Etsy and Etsy wholesale is a big part of this. Etsy has become an incredible resource and curatorial filter on the handcrafted world.
“The partnership stems from this overall desire for a more personal exchange: A time when you knew the shopkeeper, and you knew the maker and you valued how, where, and by whom your products were made. West Elm has an intensifying enthusiasm for the ‘maker.’”
Etsy Wholesale will move from test mode to officially launch later this year.
And while CEO Dickerson stressed the company’s focus isn’t on expanding via national chains per se, an Etsy news blog said its goal is for retailers of all sizes to “have Etsy Wholesale at their fingertips.”
Does your store carry locally-crafted items? If so, tell us about them in the comments section!