What the Etsy Design Awards Teach Us About Creating a Great Shop

 
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What’s more fun than watching the Oscars on TV? If you’re a maker, it might just be competing for $15,000 in Etsy’s own awards ceremony, the Etsies!

This year, Etsy’s hosting its first ever Etsy Design Awards, a.k.a. the Etsies. It’s a huge step boost for the 160 finalists to stand out in a marketplace where 2.1 million sellers are trying to gain brand recognition beyond the “I got it on Etsy” phrase.

According to Etsy, these design awards will:

highlight the highest quality items found on Etsy and celebrate the talented people behind the winning products.

We like pretty things, and we like celebrating the makers behind them, so when Etsy urged its affiliates to write a post about their awards, I said, “I’m in.” (PS - this post contains affiliate links.)

But rather than create a roundup of my favorite products, I wanted to use this chance to learn just what makes a brand stand out on Etsy.

Spoiler: It’s not your number of followers. It’s not your likes. Or even your sales. -- It’s not even your SEO! ;)

I looked through the finalists to understand what really makes an Etsy shop successful enough to get to the final rounds.

Buckle up, this is a long post, and it’s part of a new series on getting your shop ready for more sales ahead of the holiday seasons.

How do the Etsies work?

This year, shop owners were invited to submit their products for judging, and a panel of celebrity “tastemakers” and curators sifted through (probably thousands of) applications to get down to the 160 finalists.

There are 5 categories of awards this year: Inventive Decor, Signature Style, Festive Celebrations, Earth-Friendly, and Creative Collaborations. These must be some of the main categories that shoppers look for on Etsy. (Take notes here.)

But it’s interesting to note that designers are not competing only against creators in their niche. For example, there’s no Jewelry category, but there are several pieces of jewelry that made it to the Signature Style category alongside bags, dresses, and shoes, and others that appear in the Festive Celebrations category. 

Sellers are encouraged to list their items in the category that lets their creativity shine, so there’s also a lot of freedom in how you present your story.

I had already favorited some of this year’s finalists in my extensive Etsy Favorites collections, and was surprised to see such a variety of styles and products among the finalists. You can see the full finalist list here.

What makes the finalists just so special?

Okay, I know that you’re dying to know just what makes the Etsy Design Awards finalists just so special! I mean, there are over 2.1 million sellers on Etsy right now. Some of them making a full time living from their shops, and others running their stores as a side gig.

According to the FAQs, these are the judging criteria for the Etsies:

 
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Each and every product featured as a finalist lives up to all of these points, according to the judges. I’m biased to my own tastes, so I’m going to analyze what works for these products in a slightly different way, showing you practical examples of how these shops got it right. 

My hope is that you’ll be able to use some of these tips to optimize your own shop before next year’s awards. So let’s get started!

We’ll lead with Originality

Quality is the first criteria for the finalists, and we can assume that all the finalists possess some amount of “quality” to them, or they wouldn’t have made it this far.

So let’s start with originality, which is a bit like Creativity & Innovation.

Some of the sellers featured either create one-of-a-kind items (OOAK), or their product is so unique that you won’t find it anywhere else (besides their website or via wholesalers).

And originality, I think, is what Etsy was (or is still) about to a large extent. It’s a place for makers to sell unique and hand-crafted items that you wouldn’t find at department stores (until they go big), and a place for buyers to find original items that bring a sense of meaning and story with them.

Illustrated Row of Houses via MaisieParkesDesign

Illustrated Row of Houses via MaisieParkesDesign

Extremely cute hand-painted magnetic wallpaper by SianZing

Extremely cute hand-painted magnetic wallpaper by SianZing

Sometimes these objects are whimsical, such as the cute little illustrated clay houses by MasieParksDesign, and sometimes they’re extremely inventive, like the painted magnetic wallpaper by SianZing (which also happens to be whimsical).

You could expect to find either one of these products in a cutesy boutique, but it’s fun and rewarding to know that buying on Etsy directly helps support the artist. 

Sure, your idea might not be the most unique in the world, but your presentation could be. The judges this year chose several practical items, too, including lighting, cabinetry, and even a calendar!

If you’re looking to play up on the uniqueness of your piece to help raise your brand’s status, choose some qualities to highlight that will help your work stand out.

Is it the way you manufacture your products, e.g., by hand-forging or hand-knitting each piece? Do you pay special attention to sourcing all natural, eco-friendly material? It is the time that it takes you to lovingly conceive of, and prepare each piece? If you offer customizations, is it the stories of your customers that make your work special? Is it your skill at going what you do, that you’ve learned over X amount of years?

Think for a few minutes about what makes your work original and unique, and find ways to highlight this in your product copy and images. 

Next, let’s get “Wow-ed!” 

Because face it, these products wouldn’t be on the Finalists page without a little magic.

I’ll never forget the way that my Bavarian friend in college. The way that she said “Wow!” so genuinely and with such an accent still resonates with me every time I think of the word.

What is that “Wow” factor? Let’s call it the ability to surprise and delight.

Maybe you measure this by the way something makes you feel. Maybe it’s measured on Etsy in numbers, like time spent on page, or number of favorites. 

I think the “Wow” refers to the unique way that something makes a connection. Even if it’s for only a few seconds, you pause long enough to wonder what it is that makes this design so special, even if it’s not to your tastes?

How can we create this feeling? I say that it’s all about our presentation.

When you shop on Etsy, unless you know a store by name, you’re probably going to find products through search. So I put priority on product photography, as that’s what’s going to make the best first impression.

Let’s look at a few great examples of product photos from the Etsies.

Bow dress from  Elfenfabrik

Bow dress from Elfenfabrik

Noehmia butterfly dress

Noehmia butterfly dress

What I like about these images is that they’re clear, they present the product in use or in an ideal setting, and they don’t use overly dramatic filters.

Another great tip from these images is that where possible, you should include people in your imagery. I especially love the Moemiah Butterfly dress image because the model seems to be dancing around like a butterfly, adding movement and surprise to the scene - a WOW factor that elevates this dress to something special.

Likewise, the girl in the Chapeau Heirloom hat reminds me of Audrey Hepburn, sending me into imaginations of wearing this to the Races or role play at a Sunday cafe. 

In other words, if you can use imagery to help your customers put themselves in the scene, you’ve already done most of the work by creating an instant connection.

Once you’ve got the photos right, you’ll want to make sure your product descriptions tell a story, too. Click-through the photo to read this maker’s story.

Create memorable branding starting with your storefront

After someone lands on a product listing, they’re probably going to check out your store, too. What else do you sell? What’s your story?

This is your second best chance to grab their attention!

What goes into a great storefront design? This is what I notice, in order of importance:

  1. Your banner image (the first thing people will notice)

  2. Your logo

  3. The picture of you 

  4. Your product images

  5. The categories of goods

All of this should be organized in a neat, easy-to-follow way, where your eyes flow effortlessly from one image to another without anything feeling out-of-place.

TheSmallCreative  keeps a consistent color palette and welcomes us into a quiet world of crafting. We feel like we’re in the seller’s story already.

TheSmallCreative keeps a consistent color palette and welcomes us into a quiet world of crafting. We feel like we’re in the seller’s story already.

The best storefronts make it easy to know exactly what you’ll find when you land on their site. Like with websites, if it’s not clear within 3 seconds what that store is about, you’re likely to move on.

When we look at some of our Design Awards finalists’ banners, we can see that each of these sellers obviously put thought into creating a shop banner that sets them apart.

These banners are seasonal and timely (They’re all advertising their Finalist status), and many of them match the products that got selected.

Here’s an example of that from KeribyKriti. This is the image of her shop banner in all its colorful glory, and the product on the right (with the Finalist Badge) is highlighting the product that was selected.

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Likewise, SkyGoodies has created this adorable shopfront to draw you into their imaginative world of paper goods, featuring -- you guessed it -- their Finalist product.

If you’re looking for themes for your own shop banner, draw on these ideas for inspiration:

  • Highlight your best-selling products

  • Create a collage

  • Show you at work

  • Make it atmospheric: set the mood

  • Include your social links or special messages/discounts right at top

And where possible, don’t substitute quality for file size, especially in places like your shop banner. Start off with the appropriate image size (check Etsy’s guidelines on that). Then, yes, you want to “optimize” images to a small file size, but just make sure that images aren’t grainy and that they still look high quality.

Don’t fret (too much) about your logo

Now, the next thing is people look at is your logo, And I have a little counter-intuitive advice here. 

Yes, looks are important, but many of the finalists in the Etsy Awards have very “DIY branding” by my count. I won’t call names, but it looks like many makers used a logo template or just created a text logo for their shop. Even though they have great products!

As a designer, when I see this, I think about how much further they could go if they invested a little more in their branding.

But this DIY approach has its own charm, and especially if you have to make some decisions on where to spend your cash. If it’s a question of investing in supplies or getting a professional logo, I’d say to put your money into making quality products and creating an overall great experience for your customers!

Simple things have their own kind of charm, and you can easily find great logo templates, custom stickers and packaging supplies via other Etsy sellers! 

Just strive for strive for consistency in your shop and overall experience. As you grow and get more capital to invest, you can work with a professional designer (ehem, like myself) to create a look that matches the quality of your products.

In summary, don’t get caught up in “branding”. Don’t let that hold you back from putting your products out there and creating a high quality experience for your customers.

Personalization adds to the magic

Aside from Originatlity and the Wow factor, another tactic to set you shop apart is to showing your unique personality. (Btw, this is also a key point for the Etsy Design Awards judges.)

Because Etsy’s not supposed to be just like any other online marketplace. You can go to Amazon or eBay if you’re only looking to buy.

Etsy, even though it’s grown so huge, still charms with personal connections, and buyers often value helping other artists and makers create a life out of labors of love.

Here are two Design Awards finalists that really struck me with their stories. 

 

Example #1 : Creative About Video

EatingTheGoober is an odd name for a shop. But it’s pretty unforgettable, which must be part of designer Vicky Moudilou’s strategy.

Her slogan is “handmade clothes and bags from Greece” and what really got me is just how handmade they are: Her About video is an over-the-shoulder shot of her preparing an order for shipping, packaging the goods by hand.

While this is something that many Etsy sellers do, the unique way in which she presented this process helps make an instant connection with the artist. (Not to mention that I think her things are really cute, too!)

Click here and scroll down to see her About video.

Magic sliders by Eatingthegooober

Magic sliders by Eatingthegooober

Example #2: Telling Your Story With Shop Updates

Etsy has this great little feature of shop updates that lets you document your journey, much like you would on Instagram, any you can create buyable tags, too. Here’s how RosiePlusTheBoys did it. You can see their super cake topper that is a finalist on the left, and their updates on the right, which show inspiration and new products.

RosiePlusTheBoys creative cake topper

RosiePlusTheBoys creative cake topper

Her shop updates with behind the scenes and inspo-gathering

Her shop updates with behind the scenes and inspo-gathering

Other sellers get ahead by their great customer reviews and the real images that their customers send in with their products-in-use. These are all great ways to personalize and optimize your store for more interactions!

Wrapping It Up

I’ve only highlighted a few of the beautiful products chosen as Finalists in Etsy’s first-ever design awards. But there are total of 160 great art, jewelry, fashion, and home decor items and I encourage you to check out for yourself.

Pretend that you are a judge this year. Who would you vote for?

Then look at your own shop and think how you can improve it using some of the criteria that we’ve discussed in this post. Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve discussed with a few more pointers to up your own “Wow” factor.

  • Have great product photos: ideally several different angles, close up, far away, clear images and great colors, and several lifestyle shots

  • Write great product descriptions - tell a story, tell the process of how your item was made

  • Stay current with shop updates: feature behind the scenes peaks, inspiration, and UGC (use customers’ photos or testimonials in photos and your About sections

  • Strive for consistency and originality in all that you do. Be memorable for who you are and try to find a unique angle to your story!

  • And most importantly, make products that you love, and others many love to buy them, too!

I’m going to leave you with this great quote from a famous product designer. Take this inspiration and work on your store so that next year, your products might get to the finals!

 
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