etsy-business-model

How Does Etsy Work And Make Money? Etsy Business Model In A Nutshell

Etsy is a two-sided marketplace for unique and creative goods. As a marketplace, it makes money via transaction fees on the items sold on the platform. Etsy’s key partner comprises sellers providing unique listings and a wide organic reach across several marketing channels. Etsy generated over $2.3 billion in revenues in 2021, it counts 88.3 million active buyers, and 5.3 million active sellers as of 2022. 

Revenue Stream 2019 2020 2021
Marketplace $0.59B $1.3B $1.75B
Services $0.22B $0.422B $0.583
Two-Sided Community 2019 2020 2021
Active Buyers 46M 82M 96M
Active Sellers 2.7M 4.4M 7.5M
Year Gross Merchandise Sales
2019 $4.98B
2020 $10.28B
2021 $13.5B
Year Take Rate
2019 16.4%
2020 16.8%
2021 17.26%

Etsy’s two-sided marketplace

etsy-two-sided-marketplace

Etsy 

As a two-sided marketplace, Etsy has two key players:

  • Sellers.
  • Buyers.

From the interactions among those players, its business model is sparkled. More specifically, the Etsy business model has evolved by:

etsy-flywheel

  • Solving the Chicken and Egg dilemma by making the platform attractive to sellers.
  • Making the platform attractive to buyers as more sellers joined by offering varied items with their unique craft.
  • And by enabling interactions among these key players, the value created is captured as a transaction between those parties, which becomes a fee that the company collects for providing such value.

It is important to highlight that for any business model to work, you need to create much more value for what you capture.

In other words, when a marketplace is born, it creates an ecosystem like a small economy.

As a result, the marketplace collects a fee as the enabler of that ecosystem.

Etsy value propositions

A multi-sided marketplace as it offers opportunities for more players, it also comes with multiple value propositions.

On Etsy.com, buyers want to discover a broad selection of unique items that can hardly be found anywhere else. That it’s core strength, what powers up the platform.

Therefore, the platform’s long-term success and “magic” are about curating and enhancing this diversity.

Etsy emphasizes several unique qualities that make the marketplace successful:

  • Unique products comprising handmade, customized, personalized, vintage, and craft supply products from all over the world.
  • A global reach of this varied listing.
  • A strong organic traffic base that keeps going back to the platform with minimal marketing acquisition costs.
  • Buyers and seller interactions, as Etsy, emphasizes human connection as central to buyer engagement.
  • Experience across all devices, indeed, in 2018, approximately 55% of the GMS was generated on a mobile device.
  • Buyer Intent also adjusts in real-time based on transaction data and previous browsing history. Indeed, Etsy is a real discovery platform where buyers can land and look for browse for items even if they don’t know what to buy yet.

How big is the total addressable market?

retail-and-online-total-addressable-market

Etsy S-1

Any company has to understand the context around which it operates. That helps identify several things:

  • How big is the opportunity?
  • Who’s the key customer to serve initially?
  • Can the offering be expanded to capture a chunk of that bigger opportunity?
  • What’s the long-term vision?
  • What’s the short-term execution?

Etsy identifies its whole opportunity in retail and online spending, which the company estimated at $1.7 trillion.

Within that, online spending alone is estimated at $249 billion.

And in 2021, Etsy generated $13.5 billion in Gross Merchandise Sales, still represents a small percentage of the overall $249 billion cake identified as TAM

Those estimates will vary based on whether the online spending in the core categories Etsy focuses on will grow or shrink.

And the interesting part is, as the pandemic hit the world, in 2020, the e-commerce category expanded. 

Etsy found itself positioned to surf the wave of forced digitalization brought toward by the pandemic. And, the company was able to retain momentum, also in a post-pandemic world. 

etsy-post-pandemic

In fact, compared to 2019, Etsy doubled the number of active buyers, while also increasing the spending of these buyers on the platform. 

In 2019, Etsy counted 44 million active buyers, whereas in 2022, it counted over 88 million active buyers. 

In 2019, these buyers spent on average $102, whereas in 2022, the spending increased to $135. 

The interesting part? In order for Etsy to gain a competitive edge over time, it’s critical that those active buyers, become repeat buyers first. Then move to be habitual buyers.

Indeed, by, 2022, of the over 88 million active buyers, 49% were repeat buyers, and 7.6 million of these active buyers turned into habitual buyers (those who place continuous orders on the platform throughout the year). 

A key point here. Etsy makes it a mission to enable buyers to find items they can’t find anywhere else.

There is a community component: buyers’ incentives, sellers’ incentives, and trust enhancement.

At community levels, these were some of the initiatives that worked:
– Continued improvement of messaging between buyers & sellers.
– Continued to expand the use of seller and buyer videos on Etsy.
– Purchase Protection.
– Improved delivery transparency in non-U.S. markets.
– Stepped-up Handmade Policy enforcement.
– Improved clarity for returns.

But there is also a tech component that was key to this success.

Etsy has been massively investing in its internal search infrastructure in recent years.

Etsy revamped its internal search to make it into a visual (images and videos as primary avenues to shopping) recommendation engine (customized experience for buyers based on previous journeys); Etsy has restructured itself into a recommendation engine for its buyers. 

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How does Etsy work?

Etsy can be considered a platform business model as its core players that interact on the platforms have an enhanced experience thanks to the technology and data employed in the marketplace.

When technology amplifies the value, perception, and experience of the core players on the platform, it becomes an enhancer of the overall business model.

In Etsy’s business model is very important the ability of the company to enable its buyers to find all sorts of items; it’s also vital that those items represent the inventory of what the sellers can offer and that buyers have multiple options to access them.

For instance, the engineering team highlights how the platform is shaped by its power users:

One of the primary ways that we currently collect structured data is through thelisting creation process, since that is our best opportunity to learn about each listing from the person who is most familiar with it: the seller!

Examples of category suggestions for “ring” coming from codeascraft.com (the engineering blog of Etsy).

etsy-marketplace-experience
Etsy’s platform strength is in the search that enables buyers to find a wide variety of items and in the faceted navigation, which might help them find what they’re looking for.

As technology makes it possible to integrate buyers’ behaviors more and more into the platform, we can expect the process to become more bottom-up over the years.

Technology, then is among the founding pillars for the company’s long-term success:etsy-platform-business-model

One key element of the technology that empowers the Etsy business model is its search algorithms, improving the discovery capabilities on the platform.

In the last years, Etsy has been emphasizing the transition from more traditional search to visual search, both through images and video. 

And a customized buyer experience, based on the journey. 

etsy-key-strenghts

Etsy identified all its strengths, based on best-in-class search and discovery, human connections, trust, and the ability to incentivize sellers in listing unique items (that can’t be found anywhere else). 

And a platform which becomes more and more visual. 

etsy-visual-platform

Etsy’s mission, vision, and guiding principles

As the company highlights:

Etsy’s mission to “Keep Commerce Human” is rooted in our belief that, although automation and commoditization are parts of modern life, human creativity cannot be automated and human connection cannot be commoditized. This is what makes Etsy and our marketplace distinct from mass retailers. Our mission guides our daily decisions, sets the path for our long-term success and reinforces our commitment to make a positive social, economic, and environmental impact.

Guiding Principles

The key guiding principles are:

  • We commit to our craft.
  • We minimize waste.
  • We embrace differences.
  • We dig deeper.
  • We lead with optimism.

The Etsy ecosystem in numbers

The six core geographic markets where Etsy operates are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France.

With more than 60 million items for sale across dozens of retail categories, Etsy.com generated $13.5 billion in Gross Merchandise Sales (“GMS”) and $2.3 billion in revenues for 2021. The US represents 60% of Etsy’s sales in 2021. 

  Areas
United States $1.4B
United Kingdom $0.33B
Other non-U.S. $0.6B

Gross Merchandise Sales is a crucial metric as it helps understand the growth of successful interactions on the platform.

At the same time, a metric like GMS should also be assessed against the frequency of items purchased by “power buyers” on the platform and the frequency to which a seller makes a sale.

As of September 2022, the Etsy marketplace connected 5.3 million active sellers and over 88 million active Etsy buyers.

Those contribute to the interactions on the platform, and generate revenues in fees and services (very active sellers pay for a promoted listing on the platform and other services, while active buyers make multiple purchases on the platform).

The importance of habitual buyers

Within the active buyers, we need to differentiate three levels of users:

  • One-time buyer.
  • Repeat buyer.
  • And habitual buyers.

The company has been strategically targeting habitual buyers since its inception. 

etsy-habitual-buyers

Etsy Annual Reports 2018

Repeat buyers (those that throughout the years have bought at least once on the platform) which represented 49% of the total active buyers as of September 2022. 

Etsy’s success as a platform depends upon the habitual buyers or those who have spent $200 or more and made purchases at least six days in the last year.

As of September 2022, habitual buyers grew to 7.6 million. Representing 8% of the total active buyers! 

The top six retail categories were:

  • Homewares and home furnishings.
  • Jewelry and personal accessories.
  • Apparel.
  • Craft supplies.
  • Paper and party supplies.
  • And the beauty and personal care.

Below are the statistics related to the three core categories of buyers by September 2022:

  • 88.3 million active buyers. 
  • 7.6 million habitual buyers.
  • 35.5 million habitual buyers.

etsy-active-repeat-habitual-buyers

The importance of active sellers

Active sellers, like active buyers, matter as they can remain so for multiple years on the platform.

For instance, 33.1% of active sellers and 37.5% of active buyers as of 2015 continued to be active sellers and active buyers through their fourth year on the platform.

As of 2018, 19.6% of active sellers have been selling on Etsy for more than four years.

Active sellers are also more prone to use Etsy’s services. For instance, in 2018, 15.1% of active sellers used Promoted Listings.

Understanding Etsy’s fee structure

Marketplace revenue is the fees that the Etsy seller pays for marketplace activities.

Those activities include:

  • Listing an item for sale,
  • completing transactions between a buyer and a seller,
  • and using Etsy Payments to process payments, including foreign currency payments.

Fees represent 5% of the transaction Etsy seller pays for each completed transaction, which comprises shipping fees charged.

On July 2018, Etsy increased the seller transaction fee from 3.5% to 5% and now applies it to the cost of shipping in addition to the cost of the item.

Understanding Etsy service revenues

how-sellers-spend-time-on-etsy

Etsy Annual Reports 

Services revenue is comprised of the fees an Etsy seller pays for optional services like:

  • Promoted Listings is an on-site advertising service allowing sellers to have prominent visibility on the search within the platform.
  • Etsy Shipping Labels, allowing sellers (in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia to purchase discounted shipping labels).
  • Patterns, allow sellers to build custom websites.
  • And Etsy Plus is a subscription service providing sellers with enhanced tools and credits for use on the platform.

Etsy’s flywheel starts with sellers and it ends with habitual buyers

etsy-marketing-strategy

Now that we looked at the key partners, how the fees and services are structured. It becomes easier to understand how Etsy’s flywheel works.

For a platform business model to be successful, you can’t think in terms of the sales funnel but in terms of the flywheel model.

As Etsy highlights in its financial reports:

Our sellers are the heart and soul of Etsy, and our technology platform allows our sellers to turn their creative passions into economic opportunity. We have a seller-aligned business model: we make money when our sellers make money.

For such reason, the Etsy flywheel starts from them, the sellers:

  • As more sellers join the platform, a critical mass of unique and varied products that can’t necessarily be found on more conventional e-commerce platforms start.
  • As those products become compelling for buyers, they enable word-of-mouth and organic growth to pick up.
  • When that happens, more buyers join the platform by becoming extremely active.
  • This makes the platform compelling for sellers, that in turn start selling more items, thus further improving the product variety.
  • As the product variety improves, interactions and transactions pick up.
  • Thus creating more habitual buyers.
  • And in turn, creating a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.

etsy-flywheel

How does Etsy make money?

Revenue Stream 2019 2020 2021
Marketplace $0.59B $1.3B $1.75B
Services $0.22B $0.422B $0.583

The company collected over $1.75 million in 2021 in marketplace fees happening. And over $580 million in services provided to its sellers.

How does Etsy spend money?

Etsy spends money on the following activities:

  • Marketing: Digital marketing spending is a critical component.
  • Search as core technology: to improve machine learning capabilities in order to help buyers find the right selection of products from the over 60 million items available on the marketplace as of 2018.
  • Customer Support.
  • Shipping.

etsy-growth-channels

The key growth channels are organic (search engines), email/push, and paid advertising channels.

What are the real core advantages of Etsy?

There are two primary core advantages:

  • Collection of unique items: The foundation of Etsy’s competitive advantage is the collection of unique items. With over 60 million items across dozens of retail categories of unique, handmade, vintage, and craft supply products from all over the world.
  • Best-in-class search and discovery: The search and discovery experience unlocks the value of the unique items on Etsy. The core interaction that Etsy needs to ensure to serve over and over is the best match between the buyer’s intent and the platform’s more varied items.

Etsy business model highlights

In a two-sided marketplace there are a few variables to take into account:

  • The business model needs to be aligned with the core player, as the company will make money from successful transactions on the platform.
  • In the Etsy business model case, the core player is the seller. Thus the company needs to be aligned with the success of sellers, as those might be or become small businesses, able to sustain the platform in the long run.
  • At the same time to make the platform attractive to the seller side, the two-sided marketplace has to guarantee a great buyer experience to enable those buyers to get back time and time again. At the same time also, item variety is significant as those buyers will be more motivated to get back to the platform.
  • Another relevant aspect is the ability of the platform to provide product recommendations or to create the context for buyers to find all sorts of products.
  • Indeed, this is the core strength of the Etsy business model, as its culture specifically is about the diversity and uniqueness of items you can find on the platform.
  • In addition, a two-sided marketplace, in general, makes money on both sides of the marketplace. In short, the company makes money from fees on the transaction and by selling services to sellers on the platform.
  • In Etsy’s specific case, the 5% transaction fee is charged to the seller, which is, therefore, the primary “customer” of the platform.
  • Habitual buyers also are a key players for Etsy as its business model it’s built around them. Not only do they strengthen the sellers’ ecosystem, but those buyers also provide valuable data that enables Etsy to better understand their intents, thus making it easier to match them with the variety of items on the platform.
  • In the end, the Etsy flywheel starts by attracting a wide range of sellers offering unique products, and those attract a diverse range of buyers. On top of that, Etsy leverages technology to make it possible for those buyers to find the most diverse items on the platform.

Related Business Model Types

Platform Business Model

platform-business-models
A platform business model generates value by enabling interactions between people, groups, and users by leveraging network effects. Platform business models usually comprise two sides: supply and demand. Kicking off the interactions between those two sides is one of the crucial elements for a platform business model success.

Marketplace Business Model

marketplace-business-models
A marketplace is a platform where buyers and sellers interact and transact. The platform acts as a marketplace that will generate revenues in fees from one or all the parties involved in the transaction. Usually, marketplaces can be classified in several ways, like those selling services vs. products or those connecting buyers and sellers at B2B, B2C, or C2C level. And those marketplaces connecting two core players, or more.

Network Effects

network-effects
A network effect is a phenomenon in which as more people or users join a platform, the more the value of the service offered by the platform improves for those joining afterward.

Asymmetric Business Models

asymmetric-business-models
In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus have a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility.

Attention Merchant Business Model

attention-business-models-compared
In an asymmetric business model, the organization doesn’t monetize the user directly, but it leverages the data users provide coupled with technology, thus having a key customer pay to sustain the core asset. For example, Google makes money by leveraging users’ data, combined with its algorithms sold to advertisers for visibility. This is how attention merchants make monetize their business models.

Wholesale Business Model

wholesale-business-model
The wholesale model is a selling model where wholesalers sell their products in bulk to a retailer at a discounted price. The retailer then on-sells the products to consumers at a higher price. In the wholesale model, a wholesaler sells products in bulk to retail outlets for onward sale. Occasionally, the wholesaler sells direct to the consumer, with supermarket giant Costco the most obvious example.

Retail Business Model

retail-business-model
A retail business model follows a direct-to-consumer approach, also called B2C, where the company sells directly to final customers a processed/finished product. This implies a business model that is mostly local-based, it carries higher margins, but also higher costs and distribution risks.

B2B2C

b2b2c
A B2B2C is a particular kind of business model where a company, rather than accessing the consumer market directly, it does that via another business. Yet the final consumers will recognize the brand or the service provided by the B2B2C. The company offering the service might gain direct access to consumers over time.

Crowdsourcing Business Model

crowdsourcing
The term “crowdsourcing” was first coined by Wired Magazine editor Jeff Howe in a 2006 article titled Rise of Crowdsourcing. Though the practice has existed in some form or another for centuries, it rose to prominence when eCommerce, social media, and smartphone culture began to emerge. Crowdsourcing is the act of obtaining knowledge, goods, services, or opinions from a group of people. These people submit information via social media, smartphone apps, or dedicated crowdsourcing platforms.

Open-Core Business Model

open-core
While the term has been coined by Andrew Lampitt, open-core is an evolution of open-source. Where a core part of the software/platform is offered for free, while on top of it are built premium features or add-ons, which get monetized by the corporation who developed the software/platform. An example of the GitLab open core model, where the hosted service is free and open, while the software is closed.

Open Source vs. Freemium

open-source-business-model
Open source is licensed and usually developed and maintained by a community of independent developers. While the freemium is developed in-house. Thus the freemium give the company that developed it, full control over its distribution. In an open-source model, the for-profit company has to distribute its premium version per its open-source licensing model.

Freemium Business Model

freemium-business-model
The freemium – unless the whole organization is aligned around it – is a growth strategy rather than a business model. A free service is provided to a majority of users, while a small percentage of those users convert into paying customers through the sales funnel. Free users will help spread the brand through word of mouth.

Freeterprise Business Model

freeterprise-business-model
A freeterprise is a combination of free and enterprise where free professional accounts are driven into the funnel through the free product. As the opportunity is identified the company assigns the free account to a salesperson within the organization (inside sales or fields sales) to convert that into a B2B/enterprise account.

Franchising Business Model

franchained-business-model
In a franchained business model (a short-term chain, long-term franchise) model, the company deliberately launched its operations by keeping tight ownership on the main assets, while those are established, thus choosing a chain model. Once operations are running and established, the company divests its ownership and opts instead for a franchising model.

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