I know that many of you are already very active in the handmade movement, both creating and buying quality handmade gifts, but for people who are only beginning to explore the possibilities of buying handmade online, here are my simple tips for a safe and happy shopping experience.
Firstly, the very great joy of buying handmade is not only the amazing quality of the finished product, but the guiltless pleasure of it… you are buying something that has been made with joy by someone pursuing their creative dream, rather than a mass-produced item from a sweat shop. You can also feel a lot more comfortable that you will be receiving safe and non toxic goods and also goods made from the materials they claim to be made from, rather than cheap imitations that don’t last.
It’s an incredibly vast world out there, here are my top sites for shopping for handmade gifts, each boast a large and constantly growing number of shops and sellers within the site, I encourage you to check out the sites, and use the search features to find potential stores and sellers you would like to shop with.
Etsy Etsy is the home of my first shop, and the first site I ever bought handmade from, so I know and love it as both a buyer, and a seller. Etsy is a vast handmade market, without leaving your home you can meet and shop with sellers from around the globe, there are over 9 million of us, as far as I last heard. Etsy also sells genuine vintage items and supply items and is a great place to look for collectibles.
Artfire Artfire is also an international online market for handmade goods, I enjoy shopping here very much, for completed handmade goods and for supply items too.
Madeit This is a site for handmade items only, and all sellers must be based in Australia, selling only goods created within Australia, but most sellers offer international shipping and are happy to meet and assist buyers from around the globe. This is the site where I opened my second online store, and I love it. The prices are incredibly competitive and often underpriced here, great for buyers!
Once you are looking at these incredible sites, you might wonder, how do you choose who to buy from, and here are some of my tips, learned through experience.
Seller Experience and Reputation If you haven’t shopped with a particular seller before, I would begin by checking out their stats… when did they open, how many sales have they had, and what kind of feedback have they received? It’s a comforting thing to find a seller has 100% positive feedback, this means they have completely satisfied their customers. If someone has received neutral or negative feedback, read the comments and assess whether you feel comfortable trusting the seller, it is worth reading the seller’s feedback on buyers who have left negative feedback, there are two sides to every story, after all. It is not uncommon for new sellers to have few sales and little or no feedback, it can be a wonderful thing to be one of the first to support a new small business, I have actually been the very first customer of new etsy stores and enjoyed the experience very much. To help me decide whether to buy with a new seller I look at a couple of things… have they got an established reputation elsewhere? New sellers may have online stores on other sites, if they provide a link to an existing store, why not check out their reputation there? I also read the store policies… these will either make you feel comfortable taking the chance on a new seller, or have you running for the hills! If a seller has not filled out their policies, either do not buy from them, or via the contact seller feature, let them know that you would only feel comfortable buying from them if they publish their policies. New sellers often are unaware of this element of setting up their shop, however if a store has been operating for months and still has not filled out the policies I look elsewhere.
Store Policies A good set of policies helps you feel comfortable, you should know by reading them, what happens if you: receive damaged or faulty goods, how a complaint will be dealt with, whether you get a replacement, a refund, or a store credit, and whether you are responsible for return shipping of goods you are unhappy with. I also like to know whether the seller takes responsibility for lost parcels, and if they don’t (which they do not have to), you might like to request a method of shipping that has a tracking number, or some kind of insurance for valuable parcels. It is a wonderful thing to read that the seller’s key priority is securing your satisfaction, this means they want to work with you to resolve any issues that might arise.
Method of Payment No two ways about it, I love paypal… and failing that I love google checkout, either way, I do not have to reveal my financial details to the seller, I am protected, and the payment is secure and instant. If you are new to online shopping, get a paypal account and shop with sellers who offer paypal (which in my experience on etsy, is nearly universally offered). You should check the payment methods offered by the individual seller, and only commit to making a purchase if you can complete payment via one of these methods. I recently have had great difficulty with a buyer from overseas who ignored my offered payment options and committed to purchase a pair of earrings, after I received her order, she requested I send her my bank details so she could make a direct deposit. I do not offer direct deposits… I let her know that in her circumstances payment could only be made via paypal, and she replied that she would send me a cheque, it is not possible for me to accept a cheque from overseas, and it has been most inconsiderate and frustrating process…. so I guess I am trying to reiterate that you should respect the rights of an individual business owner to establish the manner in which they conduct their business, and work within that frame, and not commit to a purchase you cannot complete.
Shopping On A Deadline If you need to receive your gifts or purchases by a certain time, you need to look at where the item is shipping from, how long the seller expects it to take (they have the experience and should be a good guide to the average time it takes, but make sure they are not promising anything unrealistic or that your own expectations are not unreasonable), do they have a shipping cut off point for pre holiday delivery? and is the item ‘ready to ship’? An item that is refered to as ‘ready to ship’ has already been completed and can be sent quite quickly, but many fashion items and custom creations are created or completed only after you have made your purchase, so you need to allow for this when making your shopping selections. Sellers who make items after receiving an order from you have a work schedule, orders are created usually in a first come first serve basis, good sellers usually declare their current turn around time (how long it takes for them to complete your order) in their store announcement, item listing, or store policy. I have had custom orders that have been delivered within three weeks, and custom orders that have been created eight weeks later, and then taken two weeks to ship to me. Your satisfaction will depend on carefully placing an order that can be delivered on time.
How Unique Do You Want Your Gift to Be? There are handmade sellers who create OOAK (One Of A Kind) pieces, and sellers who create multiples of a design, how unique you want your gift to be is up to you. All my handmade jewelry is singly created, meaning I do not make the same design twice unless stated in the product description, while some sellers like to create multiples of popular designs as a way of sustaining their business. However, even a seller who creates multiples of an item still creates a lot less than a commercial franchise would produce and since they sell to people around the world you are not very likely to run into someone wearing the same garment or piece of jewelry as you are so you still feel like you have something very special, and it is still a very good quality creation, which is satisfying.
You Get What You Pay For If something says that it is made with 14k gold filled components, or leather, or cashmere, the chances are extremely good that you will get items made with the genuine materials. But here is a guide to feeling confident before you purchase: you get what you pay for. Price is an excellent guide to whether you are getting real or fake produce. I also like to do check the materials in the title or description are listed in the materials list offered by the seller. If an item is called ‘gold’ in it’s title, but in the materials list there is no ‘gold’ but there is ‘metal’ the item is made from plated metal and not gold. Simple as that.
Specials and Sales When you purchase your gift will greatly depend on when you have the finaces to pay, and the deadline you need to receive the item by, but if you have the time to wait, you can make great use of opportunities to buy during generous sales. Etsy and Artfire in particular are going to be bursting with competitive sales offers during Black Friday (November 25th) and Cyber Monday (November 28th) and I myself will be offering sales during this period. If you are sitting there, scratching your head saying ‘how do I know if I am getting what I pay for, if I am buying at a steep sale price?’ my answer is that you can compare the sale price to sale prices of other sellers using the same materials, or you can compare to the original price of the item you are looking at, if the original price is a fair one for genuine materials, than the sale price is okay.
Phew! It’s really not that difficult to begin confidently shopping online for handmade creations, print this post if you need to and you are welcome to share the link with others, I want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable shopping experience.
If you aren’t already familiar with my stores, I sell handmade traditional, symbolic, and healing jewelry, as well as vintage postage stamp jewelry online in my Starry Girl by Starzyia etsy store and madeit store and I often enjoy creating custom orders.