I hope that these posts will provide useful information to sellers new to either or both selling platforms, through objective facts and some of my own opinion and experiences too.
This first post includes a brief introduction to both sites and a run down of what you can sell on each one.
Note I have updated this post 18th September 2012!
etsy.com was launched in June 2005 by a group of three Americans. It now has 250 employees, hundreds of thousands of sellers (exact numbers are hard to come by now - this site suggests there were nearly 300,000 shops with items in stock as of February 2011) and millions of registered buyers (7 million in December 2010 according to the NY Times). Quantcast says that in 2011 Etsy got visits from about 7 million individual visitors every month, rising to 10 million per month in the run up to Christmas. You can check how many items there are for sale on Etsy at any one time here (at the time of typing this, it was 8.5 million, of which 6.4 million were handmade). Monthly "Weather Reports" on the Etsy blog give information about the number of sales and their dollar total (for example in August 2011, 2.3 million sales were made which totaled $45 million; in December 2011 3.4 million and $70 million). In 2011 the top Etsy shop made over 50000 sales!
folksy.com was built by two British blokes and launched in summer 2008. It is based in Sheffield and now employs 9 members of staff. According to this press information, as of November 2011 there were 7900 active shops, 139,000 items for sale, 2.4m unique visitors a year, and sales had an average value of £17.45. Visits to Folksy each month are of the order of 300,000 (from the site's monthly updates), increasing towards Christmas (423,000 in November 2011).
As you can see, the difference between the two sites in terms of size is huge - and it's worth bearing this in mind when comparing them in terms of their other characteristics. The much greater investment in Etsy, and much larger numbers of employees - including 90 "engineers" working on the nuts and bolts of the website - means that new tools and features "come to market" a lot quicker. On the other hand, the small size of Folksy makes it much more of a cohesive community in my opinion, and I find it more friendly, on the whole.
There are some important differences between Folksy and Etsy in terms of what is allowed to be sold on the sites. The list of acceptable items for sale on Etsy can be found here, and for Folksy here. Remember, you don't need to sell the same product range on each site. I've highlighted some of the key differences below:
Etsy - there's a thriving vintage section on Etsy (2m listings!), defined as anything 20 or more years old. I know, right?! My Popples could be vintage now, if only I'd kept them... hang on, this makes me vintage...
Folksy - vintage items cannot be sold on Folksy as-is. If you have significantly altered a vintage item, for example by reupholstering it, printing or painting it, or decoupaging it, that is acceptable. Will Folksy ever allow vintage items to be sold as they are? Personally I doubt it, they really seem to pride themselves on being a handmade site.
Etsy - yes
Folksy - no
Bath products and cosmetics
Etsy - yes
Folksy - yes to solids such as soaps and bath bars, no to liquids such as balms, lotions and oils, and no cosmetics.
Etsy - yes
Folksy - yes
As of summer 2012, Folksy is now quite a lot more supplies-friendly in my opinion, due to the Plus account which takes listing fees out of the equation. However, neither site offers the ability to add options (such as colour, size, quantity) to a listing. Still, if I was starting a supplies business, I would probably go to ebay first. Having said that, there are a lot of large supplies sellers on Etsy (although, most of them have ebay shops too).
"Handmade" vs "Hand Assembled"
Etsy - anything goes.
Folksy - they do not allow what they call "hand assembled" products.
This has been a controversial topic on Folksy and I don't want to cause any further arguments about it here. Broadly, to be sold on Folksy, an item must fall into at least one of these two criteria: majority handmade, or original design. Thus a hand knitted jumper from a pattern that you have permission to use falls under the first; a professionally produced print of one of your photographs falls under the second. Folksy's guidance can be found here, and more clarification here. If you are unsure whether your products are permitted, I strongly recommend that you contact Folksy before you list them, not afterwards, as there's no reason to think you'll get your listing fees back if you inadvertantly list something that isn't permitted. Essentially if your craft involves putting two mass produced things together (eg a chain and a pendant or charm, or a card and a premade decal), it's unlikely you'll be able to sell it on Folksy - but do ask.
Etsy is much more permissive, allowing "hand assembled" items, people to sell in collectives or groups, and even permitting a significant amount of the making process to be outsourced. As a result of this, along with the size of the site and difficulty policing it efficiently, the lines between what is and isn't acceptable are in my opinion more blurred than they are on Folksy.
A final word - note that on top of each site's policies, all applicable rules and regulations of the country you are selling from must be adhered to as well. These include but are not limited to legislation regarding: copyright, safety of toys and other products marketed for use by children, fire safety regulations for furniture and nightwear, cosmetics, and food safety and hygiene. These laws apply to single person businesses just as much as they do to huge manufacturers. A couple of starting points for UK sellers are these two pages from Folksy:
Copyright information on Folksy
Product safety information on Folksy
The next post in this series will be about listing and relisting items on the two sites.
All parts of this series:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Listing
Part 3: Personalising your shop
Part 4: How items appear on the sites
Part 5: Sharing your shop and items
Part 6: The buying experience
Part 7: Everything else!!