Thankfully, the “shop” has returned to shopping; and the shelves are lined with curiosities. With last month’s launch of Handmade At Amazon, the Internet World’s Fair appears to be open to everyone. Yes, the past few years have seen boutique websites courageously address the loss of cottage industry (manufacturing at home), but most traffic is still congregated on the heavy hitter, Etsy, with more than 20 million buyers. That number alone proves that shoppers are willing to dig deep and sift for hours in their search for something unique.
The Biggest, But Not the Coolest
Although Etsy still rules the handmade item market, flatlining profits and shrinking traffic have encouraged Etsy executives to interfere with the fundamental policies of the site, attempting to force growth in the wake of their recent IPO. Lowering restrictions on reselling, raising limits on the number of crafters allowed under a single identity, and most notably, rethinking the definition of “handmade,” have contributed to uncertainty. According to this Forbes article, relaxed standards in late 2013 opened the marketplace “to a wave of mass produced trinkets and lower-quality goods.”
Taking the Art Underground
These moves are threatening the strategies that put Etsy at the top, and crafters and customers are seeking alternative forums that foster more deliberate guidelines and protect the principles of the industry. Smaller third-party marketplace hosting sites, such as RebelsMarket and Craft Is Art, are seeing growth.
However, these boutiques are years away from competing with the sheer numbers of the larger sites. Although artists retain their integrity by shirking Etsy and spreading their listings among more elite addresses, they lose millions of potential customers.
Big Enough to Think Small
Here may lie the solution to the constant threat of the artist’s shrinking customer base and the shopper’s progressively limited selection. Handmade at Amazon could lend the strength of its 244 million active users to rejuvenate the cottage industry, solving issues and minimizing risks for both artists and seekers of the singular item.
Handmade at Amazon in principle is dedicated to upholding standards of what constitutes “handmade;” although this new division is young, with the jury still out on what passes in practice. In any case, it presents a friendly, artisan vibe for a site completely unlike Amazon’s central warehouse sales persona. Amazon might seem an unlikely storefront to host a teenager making hand stuffed, button-eyed, one-eared bears. But the online giant started small itself, and still aims to “empower others to unleash their creativity - to pursue their dreams.”
Originally published on November 5, 2015, updated May 9, 2019
This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.