Tuesday, 30 April 2013

How do I sell expensive crafts online? Practical advice from 11 experts.....

More and more designer makers are selling their work online – via their own website, with specialist online boutiques and shops, or with one of the popular online market places like Etsy, Folksy or others.

But what do you do if your work is high end, high quality and unique? Will people buy expensive crafts and handmade products online without seeing it?

We asked this question to 11 creatives, online selling experts, various online market places, an art expert, and various online shops and boutiques. A wide variety – from individual creatives to some of the largest online market places in the world. Although some of the advice obviously overlaps it is great to see their advice from their own perspective.

Some great learning: what might be ‘expensive’ to one person on one online market place, isn’t expensive at all to somebody else on another site!

You get here a real wealth of practical advice that you can use if you want to sell more expensive, high value crafts online.

Sidsel Dorph – Jensen, silversmith & creative business adviser
Sidsel Dorph-Jensen‘As a former silversmith (only doing large scale work) I completely understand the issue here. Selling expensive items online is really difficult because people are scared of being cheated on the internet.
With expensive sales, one of the key components is trust, and usually trust is build between a maker and a customer when they meet in person, and the customer gets to take the piece home when they purchase it. Handing over large amounts of money via the internet to somebody you haven’t met is very intimidating for most people. What you need to do is handle all their worries up front to create a level of trust.
Here are my five steps to creating a sales page for high value items on your website:
Step 1: Photography The most important part of selling anything online are the photos. Make sure you have good quality images, that tell the story of your work. Show your work from different angles, or photograph in the perfect setting or just a really simple beautiful photograph.
In my experience you can sell your work online – no matter how expensive – on great photographs alone. But there are a few other things you want to consider as well.
Step 2: Describe the item they are buying. This might seem obvious, but I see quite a lot of online shops where it just says ‘silver vessel’.
You need to be as specific as you can, include material, size, weight, manufacturing method, year made and everything that could possibly be of interest to a buyer.
Step 3: Be transparent about the process of buying. Write out exactly how the process works, so: What happens after they click the button? Do they pay up front or in installments? How is the money paid, via cheque, bank transfer or credit card? When do you ship the item and how is it handled?
Often customers a wary about shipping of expensive items – and last what your return policy is.
Step 4: FAQ If you have questions that customers ask on a regular basis, make sure to include them on your website, as your potential customer probably have the same questions. It could be cleaning advice, if you take commissions, where else they can buy your work or what ever you get asked all the time.
Step 5: Testimonials We love to buy something other people have tried and vouched for first, so if you have customer testimonials put them on the site.
On my website I have got a page about how to commission from me which includes all the above details. You are free to have a look and take away anything you can use from it.
Answering questions before they have been asked makes potential clients feel safe when buying and it gives you credibility.’

Susannah Bradley, Seller Development Specialist, Etsy UK
sbradleycroppedSusannah recently started as the Seller Development Specialist at Etsy UK, the world’s largest online selling platform for designers and makers. Susannah says:
1. Perfect the basics
 Make sure your photography is both beautiful and detailed.
Answer all your buyers’ questions in your imagery, including the quality of the materials and handicraft, and how the item will fit into the buyer’s life. Including a close up can show off your items texture as well as your craftsmanship.
Although this Etsy video about successful photography is aimed at beginners, it has excellent photography suggestions for everyone to remember.
Request feedback from all your satisfied buyers to beef up your credibility. Include their comments on your reviews or testimonials page.
Have excellent craft shop policies that support you and make your buyer feel comfortable. You will find great tips on the Etsy blog (available to everybody) on creating online shop policies that work.
2. Gather information
Research the market. Find out information on your product, its market and your competitors. Use this information to your advantage when designing your brand. Make conscious decisions about how you will be the same as the rest of the market and how your business will be unique.
While you are building your brand and figuring out what works best, don’t be afraid to experiment! Try out different photo styles, tags, advertising, packaging, etc. Keep track of all your options and the results of each test.
This will help you hone your brand into something that really works.
If your sales seems to be stuck and you have a mailing list, send out an optional survey to your previous buyers. Ask for their feedback on the product, your packaging, customer service, website, etc. Take their opinions into consideration when making your next moves.
3. Write up a solid marketing strategy
 Know your buyer. This means knowing what they respond to and where they are looking for items or advice.
Many savvy craft sellers sign up for a feature on a blog or an advertisement on someone else’s website to drive traffic into their online shops, no matter where they are hosted. When choosing these opportunities, make sure it is for a blog or site that attracts your specific buyers and make sure your ad will appeal directly to them. This article from Etsy’s Seller Handbook has ideas on how to approach blogs that resonate with your brand.

Word-of-mouth advertising is worth so much in the higher-value craft market, so make sure every purchase is a positive experience and follow up with your buyers.
When someone makes a purchase, ask your new buyer if they’d like to join your newsletter or Facebook Page. You can offer incentives for referrals like coupons or other special offers.’

Claire Hughes & Polly Dugdale, online marketing & selling experts Handmade Horizons
pollyclairecropClaire and Polly are two friendly online marketing and selling experts who work especially with female makers to advise and coach them to take their handmade business to the next level.
They run a really practical online course and coaching programme called Handmade Horizons, which The Design Trust has reviewed.
1. Think about where you are promoting your products
Establish what kind of customer buys your product, and seek promotion wherever they are.
E.g. for higher value product ranges, the customers are more likely to be reading “Homes and Interiors” or “Living”, rather than “Ideal Home”.
What blogs do they read? Do they use social media?
Don’t focus exclusively on selling directly to customers. Forge relationships and partner up with people who influence them, like interior designers or boutique hotels.
2. Work out how you can get in front of the right peopleIf you have figured that out, then make sure you:
  • Have fabulous photography
  • Understand your customer – what is motivating them to buy your product? Is it self-indulgence, a reward they have been saving up for, a wedding present, a desire to be fashionable or because money is no object and it quite simply, downright gorgeous?!
  • Use your product descriptions to address their motivations – tell them why your product is exactly what they have been looking for
  • Justify the pricing – use language in your product descriptions to emphasise the quality of materials used, the exclusivity of the range, the skill involved in its creation – anything that will paint a luxurious picture and boost confidence that your product is the right one for them
  • Establish confidence and trust – Publish your telephone number and physical address, as well as an email address (ideally not a free one). Customers will then know you are not just a virtual entity and can ask questions if they want to
  • Publish testimonials from happy customers / highlight press coverage you’ve had, to bolster confidence and to demonstrate that they are onto a good thing’

Emily Barnes, Content Editor, Folksy.com

Folksy is one of the largest and most popular online market places for British contemporary design and crafts.

photo (16)1. Photography is key to showcasing your work well online
And this is even more important with high value crafts. The buyer will want to know that they are making a sound purchase so give them no reason to doubt the quality of your work.
Invest in a good photographer to take sharp, clear, beautiful images of your products. You’ll want shots from different angles as well as some close ups of the work.
Make sure you list 4 or 5 images online so potential buyers can have a really good look before committing.
2. Tell a story
Buyers love the stories that come from making your own products. What materials have you used, where was the item made, what was your inspiration and is this is one off?
This also helps buyers to understand the cost of the item. If you have sourced good quality materials & spent hours designing and making your products then let us know in your item description!3. Customer service
Choose to sell on a site that allows potential buyers to contact you with questions they may have.
Think carefully about your packaging – continue that feeling of a good quality product with fresh tissue papers, recycled paper gift boxes or pretty coloured ribbon.
Some of our sellers add little handmade keepsakes in with their parcels which really adds to the buying experience. Handmade notes of thanks also help to create a relationship with your buyers that will continue far beyond that first purchase.’

Azra Ahmed, English Community Manager based in Berlin (D), DaWanda

Azra_DaWandaDaWanda is Europe’s biggest online market place for handmade goods, and a thriving opportunity if you want to sell more towards the European market.
Azra works closely with sellers of handmade items on a daily basis, providing them with resources, tips and personalised advice on how to sell their work online, as well as identifying trends in buying and selling handmade items online and sharing these with our users. Azra advise is:

1. Take great photos of your product
At DaWanda, we’ve discovered that a high-quality image of an item will generate on average 51% more clicks and 61% more visitors than a poor-quality image of the same item.
So presenting your creations in the best light actually doubles your chances of getting them seen.
This is even more crucial with high-value items, as your buyer wants to see exactly what they’re getting if they’re parting with a lot of money.
Take lots and lots of photos from every angle so you can choose a few of the very best to highlight your product. You don’t even need expensive equipment to get a great shot: here’s how to make a light box out of a laundry basket.
2. Provide as much information about the item as possible
Buyers want to know an item’s exact dimensions (height, width, weight). They’re also interested in exactly which materials were used to create it, and which processes or techniques are involved.
The more detailed information you can provide about your item, the more authentic the story of its creation seems, which helps the buyer to trust in you as a maker/seller.
Buyers also find it easier to assess if an item is worth its asking price if they know just how many hours of labour, special skills or quality materials went into it. This is even more crucial if your item is difficult to photograph well.
3. Know your stuff when it comes to shipping
If you are sending valuables by post, choose a reliable, well-known service provider to make sure your parcels are delivered on time and with insurance, protecting both you and your buyer.
When describing your product online, make sure you add information indicating how it will be shipped. If you can promise your buyer in advance that they will receive a tracking number for their shipment, they have all the more reason to put their trust in you.
Keeping in regular touch with your buyer after the purchase, (e.g. making sure they have the URL of the page where they can track their parcel and asking them to confirm when it has been received) gives them all the more reason to come back another time.
4. Offer your buyer the chance to come & see before they buy
When it comes to really expensive items, you may wish to offer your buyer the chance to come around and inspect the item before purchase.
Even if they don’t take you up on your offer, knowing that you are willing for them to come and visit you gives your buyer more reason to trust that you are who you say you are.
5. Hone your returns policy
Ensure that your returns policy is comprehensive and easy to find in your online shop. A reasonable, well-written returns policy is essential for a buyer who feels they are taking a risk in parting with a lot of money for something they have not seen in the flesh.
6. Make sure your selling venue is the right fit
Find an e-commerce marketplace where items with a similar value and quality to yours are not only being listed for sale, but actually being sold. This might require a bit of hunting around in other people’s stores to see their sold items, but it’s worth it to ensure you are in good company and reaching the right audience.
You can take advantage of the trust and good feeling which regular users have towards their marketplace of choice, and your feedback from previous purchases will be easy for your customer to find if your marketplace has a rating system like DaWanda does. At DaWanda we also offer added customer support to ensure smooth transactions.
If you’re using a personal website to sell from, be sure to add testimonials and references from previous customers to your site – your potential buyers will be very interested!’

Pete Mosley, Creative Business Adviser, The Art of Work & The Refectory Table

Pete MosleyPete is the author of Make Your Creativity Pay and developer of the Creative Business Explorer – a unique online creative business development toolkit.
He is the Business Editor of Craft & design magazine, and has worked as a mentor and coach to creative businesses for over 20 years. His insights are based on real businesses and real people. Pete has a lively blog at Creative Musings and delivers tailor made business training for creatives at The Refectory Table.
Pete says: ‘Working on the assumption that this is high quality product with a ‘wow’ factor, illustrated with the highest quality images possible, I’d recommend the following options:
Try to leverage others to spread the word on your behalf – for example by securing editorial in good quality online lifestyle publications, influential blogs and on niche sites. If you can get features that combine a bit of biography and images of your work, so much the better. This – and strategic re-posting of the article links – helps spread the word and get people talking. One maker I know secured multiple orders for his wrought iron planters this way.
Use visuals to get a buzz going – write a blog post, pin it on Pinterest with a board of great photos – and use the peer to peer interest and recommendation to get it in front of a much wider audience. Share all this on Facebook and broadcast the blog and other posts using Twitter.
The buyers of this type of work are likely to be high net worth individuals – or maybe those who are setting up home, remodelling or trying to find high value gifts for significant occasions. Even so, you can still use non-buying fans to spread the word using the above methods.
I have known people sell high value items on day to day online outlets by funneling interest in through social media. Don’t forget that around a third of all crafts purchases are made by artists and makers themselves.
My last recommendation is one for the long haul. At the end of the day, your business is sustained by long term relationships and return buyers. High value customers, if they love your work, are likely to come back for more.
Don’t forget the power of a really good looking email newsletter going out to a well targeted list of contacts and a loyal Twitter following to keep reminding them that you are there every time you have new things to offer.’

Daniel Goode, Chief Seeker at online boutique Seek & Adore

Seek & Adore Daniel Goode‘There is no doubt in my mind that selling high-priced items online is tricky.
When investing in more expensive pieces it is natural for a customer or collector to want to see items before they make the investment, but as the public gets more savvy with online buying there are techniques a maker can use to increase their chances of selling their pricier creations.
1. Good photography
This is essential. Never, never, never undersell work with poor photography. Poor photography will undermine you at every turn and will be a poor and costly investment.
  • Always get the best you can possibly afford.
  • Ideally have your pieces taken against a pure white background for clarity and instant impact on a web page. A white background will also give greater scope for media coverage if a publication should spot you.
  • Have a minimum of 4 shots per piece – this is the industry minimum for online selling – showing the piece from different angles.
  • Make sure you include what is called ‘the lifestyle’ shot. The lifestyle shows the piece in context and to scale which is crucial for online selling.
  • Your work should look as good online as it does in real life. With substandard photography a customer can be forgiven for not taking you seriously.
  • Photography ultimately should communicate ‘I am proud of my work and I have nothing to hide’.
2. Product descriptions
  • Describe your pieces well, with clarity and precision.
  • Check for spelling mistakes and errors in the layout.
  • Ensure what you have written makes sense and presents the piece in a positive and aspirational way.
  • Poorly written product descriptions will undermine your work. A lack of detail here will suggest to the purchaser that you lack an attention to detail.
  • Remember, when someone is considering spending a great deal of money they will want their potential purchase to be described in an exciting and detailed way.
3. Free postage and packing
Include the cost of postage and packing in the price of the item. It can appear churlish to add extra costs to an item already costing hundreds if not thousands of pounds.
4. Join an online selling site
  • Join an online selling site like Seek & Adore where makers are handpicked for the quality of their work and where you will be marketed to raise your profile.
  • Sell with your peers. We are all judged by the company we keep!
  • You need to tell the world that you are here, that you make beautiful things and where you can be found. Joining an established website makes this easy.
  • If you have the time and the financial resources to market yourself all well and good but if not let someone else take the strain for you.
5. Limited editions and one-off pieces
Do limited editions of special pieces and/or one-offs to increase exclusivity. Nothing attracts a collector more than the idea that a piece is unique and unrepeatable!
6. Tell your own unique story
Nothing adds more value to work than the personal story behind it!
  • Have a page on your website to tell your story or join a site where you can do this.
  • Tell the world what inspires you and in turn why your work exists.
  • Share your passion and you will in turn engender passion in your customers.
  • When you capture someone’s imagination they are more likely to invest in you.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is to present yourself well at all times. When selling expensive work online you must never forget that first impressions undoubtedly count!’

Karen Nairstone, Director of Design Event and online design store British By Design

Karen Design Event NE‘More and more people are using e-commerce as a route to purchase high end craft and design. High end craft has been a slower area to benefit from e-commerce, but with the advent of integrated social media with online selling facilities makers are able to give reassurance of quality and tell the stories of their products thus engaging potential buyers.
Traditionally high end craft purchases are made after seeing and touching a piece, and it is important to convey these aesthetic properties through online means in order to convert potential buyers into actual purchasers.
1. Choosing the right e-commerce platform
It’s important that you choose the right online selling platform for your work. You can either sell directly from your own website if it has this capability, or e-commerce can easily be added; or via an online brand portal, such as our British By Design online shop that specialises in selling a similar type of work and quality to your own.
Do your research and approach sites that you feel align with your products and brand. Benefits to selling through these sites are that the marketing element is usually done for you and allows you time to focus solely on your products.
If you’re using a third party platform be sure that the products and price points align with your own work and link to the e-commerce site from your own in a clear way, so that people can easily see how to purchase your work, and are directed via your own website to make the purchase even if this is through a third party.
2. Tell the story of your product
In order for potential buyers to develop a greater understanding of the product and it’s aesthetics, it is important to tell the story of the product and convey it’s added value.
This can include information on provenance of materials, the making process and the inspiration for the piece. These can be supported by good photography or short video pieces to truly engage potential buyers and give greater understanding of the work.
3. Engage your audience with your practice
Through integrating social media with your e-commerce site it is now possible to maintain continual dialogues with potential customers and gather feedback and interest in your work.
Using twitter and facebook to show images of new materials, commissions in progress, production and finished works gives potential buyers a greater insight into your practice and also shows demand for your work.
Linking to social media and using blogs enables people to post ‘likes’ on individual works and comment on your posts.
Developing this 2-way conversation with potential customers provides reassurance of quality in your work and underlines it’s added value.
4. Present your work at its best
With craft purchases being very much aesthetically driven, it is hugely important to have good photography of your work – both of the piece as a whole, and of any detailing.
It’s a good idea to also take images during the making process and of raw materials to use in social media and to tell the story about the piece. These images also need to be good quality and consistent with other images on your site.
5. Offer reassurance of quality
By linking social media to your website you can provide regular information to potential buyers that will instil confidence and desire in your work. This can be done through enable people to ‘like’ products through social media, using social media to provide information on events and exhibitions you are participating in, and sharing information and images of new commissions which the public would not normally see as they may be private commissions.
Blogs can also be a useful tool to generate feedback and comments on articles and can be promoted through direct links from your social media. Using social media in this way enables potential customers to see positive comments from others about your work, thus reinforcing quality.’

Sophie Rees, Founder of DesignersMakers

Designersmakers Sophie Rees head shotSophie manages DesignersMakers a not for profit agency to promote contemporary design in the UK. She runs the online shop as well as regular popup events.
‘Alongside your own online web shop (I recommend SupaDupa e-commerce software ) select online retailers where your products fit in well with other designers, and are at a similar price bracket. There is no point being within an online shop where most items range between £10 – 30 if your products average at £300.
Contact some other crafts people whose work you admire, who sell to customers in the same marketplace as you – but who don’t directly compete with you. For example, if you make pottery, you could team up with a textile artist. Offer to publicise their products or services to your customers in exchange for their publicising your services to their customers. Could be as simple as a reciprocal feature and links on your respective websites.
If you are struggling to build your customer database, find someone who has the same type of customer as you, and set up a deal whereby you write an article with a link to your newsletter sign-up box in their newsletter, and they do the same in yours – that way you can each grow your databases – and your customers benefit from getting more choice.
One of the easiest ways to share a link to your shop is with an email signature. It’s fairly easy to set this up in your email programme. Include a link to your website along with a tagline and any other pertinent info you want to share. It’s standard practice and it’s a must do. Some people also include a signup box for their email newsletter.
More and more people are using Twitter as a marketing tool – simply by following other users who are in their target groups – galleries, crafts outlets, online retailers, and sending regular (once or twice a week) messages with a link to an item, page, or offer of interest.
It’s taking over from Facebook as the social network of choice when it comes to raising your profile.
It’s quick, it easy, and people do actively forward links of interest to each other – in that sense it is ‘viral marketing’ in it’s purest sense. A great place to offer discounts, competitions and promote any items to a wide audience.’

Susan Mumford, Art Dealer & Founder of Be Smart About Art

Susan 2012 low-resSusan is an expert in the commercial art world who embraces digital technology, addressing makers’ (and dealers’) concerns about selling online is paramount. Key factors that will optimise your likelihood of selling high value craft are as follows:
1. Present yourself as a professional, trustworthy maker
To achieve this, establish your credibility with quotes from existing clients, an ‘about’ page that tells the story of your practice and a maker biography that provides your career history (exhibitions, fairs, awards, clients etc).
2. Make shopping & purchasing as easy as possible for potential customers
List prices online and be clear about how to make a purchase – whether that’s with a shopping cart (best option) or by sending an enquiry via an online form.
And if relevant, enable a ‘search’ function for browsing as well as viewing by category.
3. Provide reassurance with a clear return policy
Offer a full refund or exchange for any goods that are damaged or do not meet the clients’ expectations. A tiny proportion of clients generally request a refund or exchange, and giving them peace of mind will help to close a sale.
4 Present FAQs (Frequently Answered Questions).
These will be similar to questions you already address in your practice. They might address shipping, framing, etc.’

Patricia van den Akker, Director The Design Trust

patricia portrait‘Of course I got the benefit of being the last person to give my advice on ‘how to sell expensive crafts online’ and after I read everybody else’s advice. So here are my closing comments:
1. Allow only the best photography
Nearly every single one of the experts above mentions the importance of photography. To have clear, good looking images, showing your work at its best, from all angles and with some detail shots to show off your craftsmanship.
Include some fantastic images of you at work to show your craft skills and dedication. Better even is to have a short video of you talking about your work. That really can bring across your passion and professionalism.
But I am still surprised how many people don’t follow this advice. Most of their pictures might be good, but it is often 2 or 3 images that let your entire collection down. Make sure you edit and be hyper critical of your images if you want to sell higher value crafts.
Invest in a good photographer or get a great book on how to create your own gorgeous pictures and styling.
2. Being online isn’t just about selling
Having a good online presence (either your own website, on a portfolio site or market place) is crucial. It doesn’t need to take up all your time and money – just a couple of well designed pages can make all the difference to presenting yourself professionally.Your online presence is ‘your shop window’. People might never buy from you online, but they will check you out there. This is the place where you can share your story and show your brand values. This is where you can educate people about your work, and raise your credibility and profile.
If you haven’t got a website or a professional looking website, then they will quickly dismiss you.
3. Online and off line go hand in hand
You need to market and promote yourself both online and offline, and they need to work together. Your exhibition stand, business card, website, twitter and face book all need to reflect what you are about, and present yourself in the best possible and consistent way.
Potential clients are very likely to use your website as a follow up after they have seen you in an exhibition or at a crafts fair. It might be months or years after they have first seen your work in the flesh that they will purchase from you (online or direct). Remembering your name, having a business card or post card, and then a website enables them to come back to you.
Have a subscription box on your home page where people can sign up to your newsletter or events (and basically to your ever growing database). You can then invite them to future events, or keep them informed about what you are working on or new workshops or exhibitions that are coming up.
One of my biggest marketing tips is: ‘Have always something to invite people to’. People love to get invites, they don’t like to be sold to. So make sure that you can build trust and credibility over time with people who are interested in your work.
4. Build your credibility
Your own website is the best place to share your story and present yourself at your best. This is where you have most control of how you present yourself professionally.
If you sell work that is more expensive than your website probably should look more expensive and well designed too.
Create a kind of ‘gallery’ feel about it. Think about how you can create this image of an online gallery, by:
  • showing fantastically generous images of your work, with loads of space around them
  • including full titles, year of making, materials and a statement on each piece
  • include good listings of client’s names, high end galleries or shops where you are stocked
  • sharing media and press interest in your work,
  • include listings of private or corporate collections, private and public commissions
  • quotes of clients or known people who have bought your work or are supportive of your work
Show with good images how your work has developed over time to create credibility and show your creative development.
Have a look at more established creatives who you admire, who are selling higher value crafts, and see how they present themselves online. You can learn a great deal checking this out.
5. What is expensive in one place, isn’t in another
Make sure that you select well where you show your work. This is partly because it is important to be shown with your equals and peers to support your credibility.
But one of the really interesting things that daunted on me after asking the question ‘How to sell my expensive crafts online’ was to realise that the price level that potential clients are willing to pay hugely differ.
Don’t undervalue yourself, ask the right price for your work in the right surroundings.’

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