Launched in 2005, Etsy has built a worldwide reputation as a popular online marketplace where “people connect to buy and sell unique goods.” It’s a great place to look for one-of-a-kind holiday gifts, and with 1 million sellers and 30 million items for sale, you won’t lack for choices.

To help you navigate the Etsy landscape this holiday season, we turned to the data. We analyzed publicly available data from Etsy’s website and our sample size included data for almost 300,000 sellers and over 3.5 million products. Here’s a taste of what we discovered:

  • 91% of Etsy items are listed as “handmade,” but Etsy’s definition might be broader than how you would define the label
  • The smallest sellers on Etsy have the best average ratings, with 20% higher average customer rating than the largest sellers
  • Navigating the wealth of options on Etsy can be overwhelming, we’ve got a trick to fast-track you to finding the perfect gift

Read on for the details on our data-driven Etsy gift guide. Happy shopping!

Crafty nerds, rejoice: your data-driven #Etsy gift guide is here! ow.ly/ESr10 pic.twitter.com/C0QqwBjyqw

Tip #1: Think about what “handmade” means to you.

The Etsy brand is synonymous with handmade. It conjures images of the ceramic artist sharing his craft with a small audience, the stay-at-home mom selling gloves she knits during naptimes, the quirky artist who makes funny hats for dogs. And the product assortment supports this brand quality — 91% of the items for sale on Etsy are labeled as handmade.

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Along with the idea of handmade, many of us also think small. Again, the vast majority of Etsy stores, 79%, fit that expectation, carrying 100 or fewer items in their store. This makes intuitive sense. We would expect that the stereotypical image of the lone and committed Etsy crafter is going to be stretched thin if they’re selling over 100 products in their store.

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But here’s where things get interesting. While only 21% of Etsy stores have suspiciously large product lines of 100+ items, these stores are driving 75% of the orders on Etsy.

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It seems highly unlikely to us that big sellers, defined as those with 100+ items in their product lines, could really be handcrafting all of these items. But if it’s these very stores driving the majority of Etsy sales, is Etsy really the place to go for handmade?

Turns out the definition of “handmade” is trickier than it appears at first glance. In fact, it’s a question that Etsy has been struggling with over the past few years. On one hand, Etsy is faced with resellers, who buy factory products wholesale and then re-sell them, using the Etsy brand to falsely peddle their mass produced goods as handmade. But on the other hand, Etsy wants to continue being a part of the long-term success (and thus growth) of the artisans that have built their success on the Etsy platform.

In October 2013, Etsy officially announced how they define handmade. Its stance is now that sellers are eligible to use outside help (ie, factories) to produce their goods, as long as those goods are “designed and created by the shops that sell them.” According to the CEO, Chad Dickerson, “handmade” is not linked to any method or process. Instead, it’s “about values that we as a community prize.”

How can you tell if an #Etsy product is really #handmade? ow.ly/ESr10 pic.twitter.com/C0QqwBjyqw

In other words, on Etsy, a “handmade” good can also be a mass-produced good, as long as the shop owner is clearly linked to its design or creation. This is the perfect solution for small shops that need to outsource parts of the process to keep up with sales, but it also leaves Etsy vulnerable to the resellers who want to cash in on Etsy’s powerful handmade brand.

What this all means for you: Etsy continues to crack down on resellers and sweatshops masquerading as “handmade” businesses, but it’s up to you as a shopper to use a critical eye to spot the fakes. Make sure your expectations of handmade match the seller’s. For example:

Ultimately, it’s your call on how rigorous you want to be in your definition of handmade. What makes you feel connected to the seller?

Tip #2: Shop the small stores

Many feared that the new, expanded definition of “handmade” would result in an influx of bigger shops on Etsy. And while the large stores exist and claim a big chunk of sales on Etsy, the small stores do a much better job at leveraging the power of Etsy’s community.

First, on a per product basis, the tiny stores (those selling fewer than 20 products) are outperforming their massive competitors (those selling greater than 1000 products). On average, the smaller shops have 35% higher sales per product.

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Second, they are much better at gaining admirers in the Etsy community. Tiny stores have 7x the number of admirers per sale than their massive competitors.

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Finally, while their massive competitors get more reviews per sale:

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…the ratings are much higher for the tiny shops. The smallest stores (under 20 products) have the highest ratings (4.76) and the biggest stores (over 1000 products) have the lowest ratings (4.02).

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Across the board, Etsy sellers get great reviews. This is due to the company’s strict monitoring for negative buyer experience, a practice that is common in the world of online marketplaces. The data shows a roughly one-star difference in ratings based on shop size. Etsy’s smallest stores consistently get the best reviews.

What this means for you: For a better customer experience, stick to the tiny shops.

Tip #3: If you want to shop the tiny stores, head over to the art and home and garden categories

Of course, the obvious next question is: how do I find the smaller shops? While Etsy makes this information publicly available if you’re willing to crawl their entire site, a shopper can’t easily search based on store size. The trick to getting around this is in the data.

The largest sellers tend to sell more craft supplies, jewelry, and vintage products. Tiny shops are selling more art and home and garden items.

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What this means for you: If you want to increase your chances of picking a gift you’ll be proud to give, start your search in the art and home and garden categories. These products are more common in the tiny shops that garner the best reviews.

Tip #4: Use Pinterest as a fast track to finding the right gift on Etsy

When we analyzed Pinterest data earlier this year, we were immediately impressed by Etsy’s popularity on the site. While Etsy’s follower count (491,000) pales compared to brands like Nordstrom (4,407,000) and Lowes (3,470,000), Etsy is crushing it on repins.

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The data indicates two reasons for this. First, demographically, the user base is very similar: 80% of Pinterest users are female, 87% of Etsy shops are female-owned.

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Second, there clear subject-matter alignment. The top categories on Etsy are Home & Garden and Craft Supplies.

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The top categories on Pinterest are Food & Drink, DIY & Crafts, and Home Decor.

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What this means for you: Before you attempt to find the perfect gift hiding in Etsy’s 30 million items, check Pinterest first. It’s the perfectly tuned discovery platform for Etsy products that people love.

Happy Etsy Shopping

Etsy is still the premiere destination for unique handmade items. Where else can you find a cat face purse, doll arm earrings, or a copper meditation pyramid all on the same website? And, just in case you’re looking for something for the data nerd in your life *hint hint*, we already did the hard work for you. We recommend the following:

Happy holidays!


Photo credit: Etsy Labs

  • Rosalie Gale

    This is interesting information – but I have to say, I don’t think 100 items in a shop is “suspiciously large.” It’s certainly possible for a maker to create that many different products.

    • Isupporthandmade

      yes I believe that there should perhaps be another zero on the end of that 100…
      the suspicion would be if there is a new seller who suddenly lists a ton of items and their “about page” doesn’t tell much about them.
      One maker can make many things in one day. 100 is way too low of a “suspicious” range.

  • Tam Helmin

    I disagree that Etsy shops with “suspiciously large product lines of 100+ items” should be looked at with suspicion. While there are mega-shops that are obviously resellers and don’t belong on Etsy, most “large” shops are legitimate outlets for makers with successful small businesses. For those of us working fulltime at our craft and supporting ourselves and our families with our handmade goods, 100+ items is a sign of success and professionalism.
    Tiny shops are fun to discover but most are run by hobbyists who have other fulltime jobs and putter on Etsy in their spare time.
    If you’re wanting to “Shop Small” and support individual makers and small family businesses, look for the shops that have enough products to be sustain a successful handmade business.

    • bl2d

      I agree with Tam, limiting your shopping to small shops of less than 100 is unfair to those of us who do this fulltime. Having more than 100 items should not be a negative when shopping Etsy.

      • JanessaLantz

        Thanks for weighing in on this. Your feedback is great as we’re talking about writing a follow-up to this article. Do you think there is a certain store size that indicates items are factory-made? Or does it depend on what the product is? Or maybe (according to Etsy) factory-made doesn’t really matter as long as you’re not just a pure reseller?

        • Tam Helmin

          To avoid resellers, I think looking at the pricing is more important than looking at the size of the shop. If a ‘handmade’ leather purse is listed at 99 cents, I’m gonna assume that’s a reseller with factory-made items.

        • Tam Helmin

          Also, the type of items an artist makes greatly influences the number of listings. For example, I would expect a soap maker to have many more listings than a sculptor. Looking at numbers alone does not give an accurate picture of the real world.

    • JanessaLantz

      Thanks for weighing in on this. We were discussing writing a v2 on this article where we go deeper into store size and the “handmade” issue. Your feedback is great.

  • Vivien Pollack

    Being the sole proprietor of a small store on Etsy I appreciate your article. I hand-paint and work on every items myself from start to finish. It is hard for us to compete against the big shops especially when they sell their items very cheaply. We know how much time it takes to hand make each item. I am at VivienPollackDesign on Etsy

  • Leila Cools

    Interesting and useful article…except that your advice is way off
    base. For instance, I am a jewelry designer, my Etsy shop has 112 items
    and I personally hand make everything and not just by assembling parts.
    It is a time-consuming process taking materials from scratch to a unique
    finished piece. Most etsy sellers know that having 100+ listings can
    greatly increase visibility and the shops with truly handmade items do
    this by offering as much variety as possible.
    However, I’d still love to read more about etsy through your metrics. Ellecools on Etsy.

    • JanessaLantz

      We’re certainly not recommending staying away from Etsy jewelry, I have several beautiful handmade pieces from Etsy 🙂 But the data shows that those items tend to exist in the massive stores…which means Etsy buyers should shop that category with caution. I’ve definitely run into intricate “handmade” necklaces on Etsy that are being sold for $20 and less, that’s either an artist that seriously undervalues their worth or it’s factory-made posing as handmade.

      Thanks for weighing in on this. We’ve clearly touched on a topic here that matters to Etsy sellers and it probably merits some deeper digging.

      • http://LeilaCools.com/ Leila Cools

        Of course, the main issue is that a marketplace that was based on ‘handmade’ has added a whole new category of ‘small-factory’ work and instead of creating a new shopping category, has mixed it in with all the handmade items…making it much more difficult for customers to understand the value of the handmade items. I am one of those sellers that is maintaining the original handmade ideal and doing this as my day job, in between the mass producers and hobbyists. So yes, more nuanced data and advice in the future would be great.

  • http://paintedtulipstudio.com Melissa Bittinger

    I think basing your definition of small shops as 100 items or fewer is not accurate. I sell photography as prints and canvas, my listings are 264 right now (technically that’s about 130ish separate items, still over your small shop quota but I am definitely a small seller. Also my mom makes jewelry, all by herself and has around 180 items, soon to be more when I get her latest product pics done!! She is definitely a small seller. I think the biggest point of this article is the issue of mass produced hiding as handmade. There is a t shirt shop with over 1000 items for sale, doing quite well too but they are not handmaking the shirts, they suggest they are in one place then freely admit the brand they sell in another…a brand you can buy wholesale. I reported the shop two weeks ago and included a link to the wholesaler and check back periodically to see if anything has happened…nope. This makes one seriously doubt how much importance Etsy really places on ‘cracking down’. I’d like to see more emphasis on that subject in articles. I suggested to Etsy they just go ahead and provide a ‘Commercial’ category, then they still reap the financial benefits and the mass produced commercial items could get separated out of the handmade categories…nope…they want to stay ‘handmade’. Really?! Prove it.

    • JanessaLantz

      Thanks for weighing in on this. It sounds like the general consensus is that 100 items is still a small Etsy shop. Judging from the comments it sounds like Etsy sellers fall into more categories than just handmade vs. mass-produced. Instead the breakdown is something like: part-time hobbyist, full-time crafters/artists/artisans, makers (which include small “factory-type” shops), and mass-produced which is just a reseller benefiting from the “handmade” label.

      I’m not sure how we could get data on whether or not Etsy is doing anything to stop the mass-produced resellers, but it definitely sounds like we would have some interested readers 🙂

      • http://paintedtulipstudio.com Melissa Bittinger

        lol! No I think the consensus is small shops can still be small and have much more than 100 items. Some of the resellers selling quite well too, have under 100 items, they just keep selling the same product over and over. Item count is not an accurate litmus test for how large or how small a shop is, imo.
        edited to add: Also I don’t think you can count on the number of items in a shop to accurately determine if someone is part-time, hobbyist, full time, etc. Many may sell on other venues, either brick and mortar and/or other online sites. For me, I am at this part time but wanting to expand this to seriously supplement my income at a not too distant future point. I have been on etsy for a couple of years but this year all my photos are new, so it was like starting over and I need to build up more images in my ‘portfolio’.

  • Alex

    There are many jewelry shops with over 400 items for sale who hand make everything. However, not every piece is already made. They use the same picture as a sold piece, then remake when it sells. The same thing goes for crocheters, knitters, potters, etc. I am thinking you werent aware of this.

  • Alex

    the search bar will tell you the percentage of things that are listed on etsy under Handmade. Right now its about 71%, It will also tell you the categories with the most listings. Jewelry dwarfs housewares Not sure where you got the Home and Garden, as that isnt a category
    Including vintage and supplies, 1/3 of all items for sale on etsy are jewelry.

  • Ms. Knit & Pics

    Your comments are too generalized and misleading. I have a “handmade” shop in which I hand crochet and knit 90% of the items I have there, among a few other handmade things. With hard word and focus, I have managed to get 200 items listed in this shop. I also run a vintage shop with 300+ items. I hand-pick, clean, photograph, describe and ship everything 100% by myself. Neither of my shops falls into the art or home and garden category. You’re sending the wrong message here.

  • http://www.orglamix.com Cheri @Orglamix

    Interesting read, Tristian. You’ve broken downs stats into an understandable format. There are two sides of the Etsy handmade debate- similar to the mommy wars.

  • http://allglobalventures.com/seo-services/ Bill

    Great article, Tristan. Right timing for the holiday season. This is worth sharing among digital marketers that we know, who are currently at Etsy. Thanks!

    All Global Ventures