Online marketplace Etsy has proven to be an excellent channel for small to medium product-based businesses. A site that drew more than 60.27 million buyers last year, Etsy is loved by shoppers looking for unique products with lots of personality.

That said, Etsy has become increasingly competitive over the years, so it’s more important than ever to implement strategies that help you stand out and ensure that your account stays in good standing.

Riverbend Consulting co-founder and partner Lesley Hensell

Here to discuss how you can do just that is Lesley Hensell, a co-founder and partner at Riverbend Consulting. The company solves critical problems and offers growth strategies for sellers on online marketplaces such Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.

We recently caught up with Lesley to chat about online marketplace success, with a big focus on Etsy.

Check out what she has to say!

Etsy’s big draw

According to Lesley, the main thing that draws shoppers to Etsy is the site's focus on unique products.

"When you're selling on Etsy, people want a custom experience and they want to feel like this is a handmade product. The packaging as well as the product need to give that same kind of custom, extra special, feel,” explains Lesley.

She adds, “When people buy things on Etsy and they feel like they got a corporate or generic cookie cutter product, they're not going to be happy and they're not as likely to give positive reviews.”

The challenge then, says Lesley, is for sellers to be able to provide a customized experience while ramping up their business and handling more volume.

Offering personalized shopping experiences at scale

How do you navigate the challenge of providing customized buying experiences while still continuing to grow?

Lesley says that the first step is to establish systems and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for everything you do — including personalization. She recommends coming up with ways to make a product or shopping experience feel personalized, even if it's not. One example is to provide handwritten notes.

“Your SOP could be that there's handwritten notes in every single box. You can assign someone whose main job is to make sure you never send out a product without a handwritten note,” comments Lesley.

Another idea is to come up with customer support messaging templates that incorporate your brand's unique voice. Lesley recommends crafting messages that give customers a friendly feeling about your brand. You can then templatize those messages and have someone else in your team use those templates when interfacing with customers.

The bottom line, she says, is to iron out how you can make customers feel special and then turn that into standard operating procedures in your business.

"You know this can be done. When you go to a high-end spa, for example, you get what feels like a custom experience. But really, it's the same thing that they do for all their guests. All their clients get the same thing. It just feels really good because they have an SOP for it.”

How to stay competitive on Etsy

In addition to standardizing your customer experiences, there are several other things you can do to thrive and compete on Etsy.

Speed is key

The first, says Lesley, is to make sure you’re able to fulfill orders quickly.

“There is no faster way to tank an Etsy business than to not actually fulfill the products on time,” she says.

That’s why it’s imperative that you only sell products that you know you can fulfill on time.

“As you're growing quickly, you have to make sure you only offer the products that you can actually fulfill in a timely manner. When businesses are growing really fast, I think sometimes they underestimate what's going to happen if they actually get the number of orders that they get. Then all of a sudden you’re unable to fulfill orders.”

And while Etsy customers are understanding to a point because they know products are usually custom-made, their patience can still run out rather quickly because shoppers have been conditioned by other retailers to expect orders ASAP.

“Customers have been trained by Amazon and even now eBay with its very strict standards on shipping times. They've been trained by that experience. They want that fast shipping that these other marketplaces are offering, even if you’re selling a custom thing.”

Compete on the packaging and unboxing experience

Still on the topic of fulfilling orders, Lesley says that product packaging can also be a competitive advantage. "Packaging can be everything if you do it right. People love the unboxing experience and they love receiving products that are carefully packaged for them" she remarks.

“When you read the reviews on Etsy, you’ll see people talking about the unboxing experience, and how well packaged the products were or how there was no breakage. So, packaging really is a way to set yourself apart without that much extra expense. Even if you spend that extra dime, that extra quarter, you can really create that feeling you want people to have when they are receiving the item at home.”

How to keep your account in good standing (and what to do if you get suspended)

A big part of what they do at Riverbend Consulting is helping sellers overcome problems they run into on the marketplaces they sell on. This includes getting accounts reinstated in the event that sellers get suspended.

When asked about what usually gets marketplace sellers into trouble, Lesley mentions the following:

Complaints for "used sold as new". This is when customers get something that doesn't seem to be new. This could be due to the product being open, leaking during transit, or selling an old product with a lot of shelf wear.

Inauthentic products. This is also a big one, though it's much more common on sites like eBay and Amazon.

Late shipments or invalid tracking. This usually doesn't get your whole account shut down, says Lesley. Though it does limit your ability to ship until the issue has been resolved.

If you do encounter any problems as a marketplace seller. The first step is to do a deep dive into your account. According to Lesley, this is the initial step they take if a seller comes to them with marketplace problems.

“We go through all their account statistics. We read things like the complaints from buyers or the notification they got from the marketplace. We look at things like return rates and say, ‘Okay, let's figure out why this product is getting damaged or why you're not getting it out the door in time.’”

She explains that marketplace problems often stem from operational issues, where sellers continue implementing ineffective processes simply because that’s what they’re used to doing.

As an example, Lesley shares how she had a client that sells high-end cosmetics, whose account got suspended because of the issue, "used sold as new."

“When we looked through all the feedback on the account, we saw that a lot of people were complaining because they had blushers that were broken. Like, when you drop a blush and the powder goes everywhere. They had a lot of that for eyeshadow and blush.” Lesley recalls.

The reason for this is that the client's team were simply putting the products in padded envelopes "because that's the way they've always done it."

So, Lesley recommended new packaging practices and advised the client to take steps like using bubble wrap (here at noissue, we recommend checking out this list of eco-friendly bubble wrap alternatives)) to protect items when shipping cosmetics.

"We figured it would cost an extra 15 or 20 cents per unit, but then they have no returns and they certainly weren't getting their accounts shut down."

After resolving the issue, the next step is to communicate to the marketplace how the issue was resolved.

"Usually the marketplace requires a plan of action," says Lesley. "They want a written plan saying how you're not going to have that happen in the future. We write that with them and they submit it to the marketplace to get reinstated."

Wrapping Up

Marketplaces like Etsy may be getting more competitive, but if you create amazing experiences and tighten up your fulfillment processes, you’ll be in a good position to thrive and succeed.

So, take note of the tips above and make sure they’re implemented in your business. Good luck, and happy selling!