Etsy made its first trip to visit their Canadian contingent last Friday, May 1 in Toronto and on Saturday, May 2 in Montréal.
Mayday in Toronto saw etsians from Toronto, southern Ontario, and one visiting seller from as far away as New Brunswick gather at the Workroom (a fabric store and crafting venue on Queen St. West., in colourful Parkdale).
Etsy was represented by Liz Wald (muka on etsy), Sara Hicks, Etsy's VP of Product (“Product” being the website itself) and Chad Dickerson, Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Though their flight was cancelled they managed to make it to the meeting by 6:30. Our gracious hostess Karyn Valino (kvalino on etsy, author of make something blog) provided us with snacks and beverages and we had an opportunity to meet and chat with some fellow local vendors, buyers and enthusiasts, before they arrived.
The main goal of the Etsy staff was to tell us more about their history and future goals and hear from us what we would like to see to improve our Etsy experience. The conversation was informal, but began with introductions from the Etsy staff. Liz recounted how Etsy had started. Web-designer Rob Kalin was asked to make a website for one vendor making hand-made goods. He thought wouldn’t it be great to make one site which would work for many such vendors, rather having to start from scratch every time an artisan wanted a site. It all snowballed from there. They are growing faster and faster and hopefully moving towards being a profitable company, which is also profitable for us, the vendors.
Liz made it clear that they were aware of some of the commonly discussed issues for non-US sellers, including the exclusive use of US dollars, or the English language (we can't even write appliqué without an accent aigu) as well as shipping issues. She specifically mentioned that she understood that it would cost us less to send packages to US destinations than across the country. We discussed the challenge of meeting expectations of US buyers who might not recognize that packages from Canada can sometimes take weeks to be delivered and or be held up at the border. She mentioned the possibility of adding some innovative, environmentally-friendly options such as hold-for-pick-up for local buyers. This might be particularly useful in large urban centres like Toronto, Montréal or Vancouver. She expressed their desire to expand internationally and be a more fully international site, and how the Canadian market was the one where they felt the most comfortable as a culturally similar neighbouring country, with a common language and similar banking systems. They reviewed their previous job experience, talked a little about recent technical changes. Chad spoke in particular about how opening up the API and allowing independent software developers access has already increased functionality – i.e. offsite tools like the craftcult heart-o-matic and etsyhacks). Then they opened up the floor for questions.
They asked each person to identify themselves, their shop and explain what they produce. There was diverse, predominately female crowd, of a wide range of ages. There was a nice vibe in the room. Sometimes a questioner would identify their shop name and there would be murmur of approval from the room or someone (including Sara, devoted shopper as well as staff) would call out a favoured item from the speaker’s shop. The conversation was quite productive. In a few instances immediate possible solutions were suggested. In most instances the issues were new to the tech people and they would discuss the possibilities of how to remedy the situation. The Etsy staff took a lot of notes, so we look forward to seeing these suggestions bear fruit in the future.
There were some questions from one woman who runs a wedding website and wanting to know whether she could work together with Etsy to feature her recommended Canadian sellers of wedding items, wanting both the handmade and the more environmentally friendly local sellers. The response was enthusiastic to work with her or similar smaller business people in ways which can help promote sellers and the site. A discussion of how they could help facilitate sellers who wish to sell wholesale as well as to individual buyers (at different price points) ensued.
One seller mentioned coupons, so I (minouette) recounted our recent TCET Easter promotion and how we would love to see a coupon which could work in any of our participating shops. I was asked to introduce the concept of street teams for sellers who were unfamiliar. I mentioned how another one of my street teams was formed through flickr, rather than on Etsy, and perhaps this was telling. Liz said that they thought that the teams were a real value to the community and that they wanted to provide more tools to facilitate interactions. They would like to see the teams able to network on Etsy itself.
A lot of the comments made by other sellers reflected my own opinions and seemed to be commonly held. One seller asked about sorting favourites and hearted shops. Sellers mentioned the dismay of finding the gray square of a disappeared favourite item and loosing the link to that shop. Since the technical people were also Etsy shoppers, they were quick to understand. One seller mentioned her desire to not allow her mother access to all of her favourites – to much laughter from the crowd.
I was encouraged to see their interest in the problems expressed and that they interpret them as opportunities to increase the functionality of the site. In general the focus was on how to grow, as individual shops and as a community.
As the meeting wrapped up, Liz said how glad she was no one was angry at them and someone said how sorry they felt when she reads the angry threads in the forums. It all seemed so Canadian. I made a point of letting her know that we would like to see them in other Canadian cities too. She said that she has family in Portland, OR, so that might make for an ideal opportunity to come and visit Vancouver in the near future.
Though they didn't bring me cake and candles, this was a lovely way to spend my birthday afternoon. ;)
Edit: See Karyn's post on make something about this meeting. Liz wrote an article for the Storque about Etsy's visit to Canada. They posted photos on flickr too.
Edit: There is also a brief write-up and picture on lunar crafts by the Toronto Craft Alert's Angelune.