Sunday, 26 January 2014

On managing an online vintage shop

I thought I'd write a bit about certain things I learnt over the past few years of having an etsy shop. Now, I'm definitely not one of the biggest sellers, and I don't have the best product photos or business cards either, but I thought I'd make a list of certain things I wish I knew from the start instead of going through the process of making many mistakes. At first, I was mainly using the shop to sell a few vintage things I no longer wore, plus the occasional amazing thrift shop find that didn't fit me, but even with just the occasional sale every month or two, I encountered pickles I wish I had been able to avoid. So here's my guide to selling on etsy - if it can help just one person to avoid technically paying their customers to purchase from them due to miscalculations, I'll be happy.

1. Shipping

When I first started, I was pretty naive about postal services. Back then there was a post office that wasn't very busy not too far away from my house, and I would bring items over to have them weight and the shipping costs estimated. This worked fine until I sold something heavier than a lightweight summer shirt or dress. To Japan. I was unaware of the huge price difference between the various oversea services, and shipping the clogs to the customer ended up costing more than what I had listed them for plus shipping. I ended up technically paying the customer to buy them, yep. So I bought a kitchen scale to calculate my shipping at home, perfect!

Except I hadn't banked on the fact the envelopes I used the most were swiftly replaced by heavier ones. Meaning my estimates were no longer good, and that I ended up paying for shipping out of my own pocket, again. Fortunately, Canada Post went back to supplying its old envelopes, and I learnt to 1)always keep at hand a few of the average bubble envelopes I use, and b)add 50 to 100 extra grams to the overall weight of my package when I calculate shipping just in case the weight of the tissue paper wrapping tips the scale (sorry) into a different price category.

2. Policies

It's through encountering problems that I have managed to come up with satisfying shop policies that give buyers a sense of what to expect. To be fair, I'm pretty sure most buyers don't read my policies from some of the emails I get, so if something comes up often in those, I make sure to copy it on every item page. I mentioned earlier I always slightly over-calculate shipping, but I also mention in my policies that I always refund the customer if I overcharged more than 1$ for shipping.

I have also made the mistake as a buyer to assume that a seller who had no policy section simply subscribed to the general way of doing for vintage sellers: no returns or refunds unless the item is grossly misrepresented. The seller got off scot free from selling me boots that were measured from the outside although described as being measured from the inside, and some deep cracks at the toes rather than 'some light creasing.' They completely refused to make arrangements of any type, and the item was not only too small, but too damaged for me to re-sell it. Etsy reviews used to affect the reviewer negatively, so I couldn't leave a negative review for my own sake. Fortunately, most sellers are super nice and will be willing to make very satisfying arrangements. But, both as a seller and as a buyer, take care of those policies!

3. Finances and pricing

Until this fall, I was horrible at keeping track of my stock and finances. Not that I'd lose a piece, or forget whether something had been cleaned or not, but I'd put off listing items for a long time, lose interest in them or give up on trying to mend them and would end up just packing them and giving them off to the closest Sallyam. I wouldn't keep track of how much I paid for a piece, or how much I invested in the shop because I didn't actually have that much stock anyway.
This September, however, I decided to turn things around and went over 2.5 years worth of stock, including pieces I had ended up giving away. I preferred to overestimate my costs so as not to fall short, and that technique has been working rather well for me so far.

I made some big purchases in the fall, buying almost all of my friend Penny's stock when she closed her own shop. I discovered Outright (now GoDaddy Bookkeeping), which is a useful free tool that registers all your sales and costs. It needs a bit of decluttering because it also registers my personal purchases and shipping income, but it's made things a thousand times easier for me to visualise. 

When it comes to considering my costs, I prefer to consider my bulk costs rather than a per-item cost when I do my finances. Still, I do keep track of a gross per-item cost when I do my pricing so as not to 'pay' the customers to take my pieces home. I also try to keep my prices reasonable by having a look at the average price/condition ratio of similar items on etsy. While many other elements factor in the pricing of items, I try my best to keep things reasonable while not devaluating the items either. I think it's important to keep in line with the other sellers' prices so as not to devaluate their work. Of course, I have nothing against a good bargain for something that requires a bit of work, or paying more for something very rare in excellent condition!

4. Stock management

That's one element I still need to really work on. I have nearly 60 pieces in the shop right now, and at least three times as many waiting to be listed. I try to make myself feel better by reminding myself I did some really big buying in a very short time, and that of fantastic pieces, but I won't lie, I don't have much of a solution for you here. I might eventually move in a place that has more than 2 closets, that would help, but in the meantime, I just make sure to keep the clean, unlisted pieces on a rack in my boyfriend's office (thank you Jaime!), the listed ones in a pile of clear bins, and the unwashed ones and the ones in need of mending in their respective bins in my own office. I just really need to push myself to stay away from buying more, and list it all already. To be fair, I'm already worrying about what I'll do when all's listed, but if I managed to hoard all of that in a very short time, I'm sure I'll be able to hoard just as much when I'll start running out of fresh stock.

5. Mentors and help

As I said earlier, I'm no professional, and I still have much to learn (not that I won't be learning new things forever anyway!). However, I found that following some sellers I admire on facebook, via their blog, or (silently, as I'm cellphone-less) on instagram has been very fun and instructive. My favourite seller to read is Amy of Wildfell Hall Vintage. I find her truly inspiring ad she has amazing taste and won't shy away from sharing the very good and the very bad of vintage selling.

This guide only brushes the surface of managing an online vintage shop - I haven't even gotten around talking about stain removal, or occupational hazards such as dealing with allergies - but I hope it might be of help to any of you thinking of selling online, or doing so already! 

1 comment:

  1. This is a brilliantly useful guide to Etsy selling that covers all sorts of the questions and areas that have, frankly, put me off trying to become a seller. Really, really useful.
    Also, thank you for the thoughtful comment you left on my 300th post. It was very much appreciated.


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