In the early open-ended version of our Marketplace Research Survey, we asked the following question:
Anyone that knows me could probably guess my answer! I had lots of fun imagining and describing a goth boho space with sparkling black crystals and comfy, decadent velvet lounging cushions.
We asked that question with the goal of getting everyone’s creative juices flowing. We wanted every possible idea for our research project – not just the ones constrained in reality. After all, reality (existing marketplace research) has been entirely informed by what investors and shareholders want, and our project is completely different. We want research based solely on what buyers and sellers – the people who actually use the marketplace – want, not just what Big Tech decides will make the most profit!
Your answers were utterly enchanting. In reading through the anonymized data, we noticed a few themes. Your ideal marketplace is a comfortable place – I wasn’t the only person to imagine plush spots to sit! You want a place where your shoppers might just want to hang out with you for a bit, no pressure. You loved the idea of customization too – the ability to set up your space in a unique way to match unique aspects of your creative business. Things like accessibility, ease of use, and good lighting to showcase your creations or curations came up pretty frequently too.
If you think about it, a marketplace designed purely for profit is going to do the exact opposite. It’ll be a space designed to push shoppers to hurry up and purchase something, already! The marketplace would prefer that people remember the marketplace instead of your specific business – so why give you advanced customization options? A cookie cutter shop – where yours looks just like everyone else on the platform – for them, that makes more sense.
We also asked more practical questions. Like, “What types of things should be sold on a marketplace for …?” On that question, an overwhelming number of you stated “No Resellers!” No items mass-produced in sweatshops masquerading as handmade or vintage, that is. Only things made, designed, or painstakingly curated by people. Unique things. Customizable things. One-of-a-kind things.
We talk a lot about marketplaces putting profit over people here at the Indie Sellers Guild – but there’s another thing marketplaces tend to put ahead of the communities they’re supposed to support.
Growth. And let me tell you something about growth. That one-of-a-kind aspect we all love to embody with our creative businesses – it’s not compatible with infinite growth.
My business actually illustrates this perfectly. Once I’ve booked all my sewing time for a month, it completely loses its scalability! And I know there are things I COULD do to make it easier to create my designs in bulk – like stop offering hundreds of choices of fabric people can custom order, and stop tweaking the patterns of most everything I make to each customer’s measurements. But when it comes down to it, I LOVE offering that customization. I would rather create the exact thing my customers want, even with fewer overall orders, then sell a thousand carbon copies of one design.
I don’t care if longer processing times cause me to make less sales. I will enjoy creating each of those orders so much more when they’re made special for each person. So long as I can earn enough in sales to be able to pay myself a livable wage for my time, then I’m happy.
But that’s not what a profit and growth focused marketplace wants out of me. They want me churning out new items as fast as I possibly can. That’s how their profit and their sales can keep growing exponentially.
And businesses designed around reselling mass-produced items are infinitely scalable. The only limit to how many sweatshop-made items you can purchase is the size of your wallet! When it comes to profitability and scalability, the things investors want most, we will never be able to compete with resellers.
And so, eventually marketplaces will lower their standards to keep growing, and they’ll try to hide it from us if they can. Which brings me to the next thing you told us you cared about deeply in our open-ended marketplace research survey.
You want radical transparency from an online marketplace, and I get it, because I want it too. I am absolutely sick of Etsy saying one thing to us, and then another thing entirely to their investors.
But of course they’re going to do that. Because they’re trying to appease both of us, and we don’t want the same thing.
Indie sellers want the same thing all workers want. The ability to pay for the roof over our head and the food in our bellies, and some fun things here and there, which of course requires enough free time to be able to have that fun.
Investors and shareholders want us to keep producing more and more and more, because the more we create, the more they can profit off of our hard work.
Our priorities aren’t the same. In fact, they’re diametrically opposed.
And so, it’s going to be utterly awesome to have rigorous academic research out there, available to anyone who’s serious about building ethical alternatives to giant platforms like Etsy. The first step to getting what we want, is making sure that the world knows what we want – definitively and comprehensively!
The open ended version of our research survey is complete, and we used the awesomely detailed information provided to us by our sellers and supporters in the first version to create a simpler-to-complete multiple choice version. We hope you’ll take it, and make your voice heard. We hope you’ll share it with your friends and your customers, and help us get a shockingly large number of responses, so that our research data is as accurate and as valuable as it can possibly be!
This research study is done in collaboration with Dr. Samantha Close at DePaul University. Survey responses are completely anonymous.