Amazon and the Handmade Frontier

Today, Amazon launched a new marketplace called Handmade at Amazon, which takes competitor Etsy head on. This new arts-and-crafts bazaar hosts over 80,000 items from about 5,000 sellers in 60 countries, moves Amazon into new territory and positions it to take lead in the every growing, home-grown artisan market.

What’s in it for shoppers?

Amazon shoppers will already feel at home browsing around the 6 handmade categories—home, jewelry, artwork, stationery and party supplies, kitchen and dining, and baby—through a familiar interface and cart process. Each product’s detail page prominently displays the Handmade logo and features a picture of the artisan behind the work, with links for specific inquiries. So, they get to know the person a little more, and make a connection. While being able to request custom products, shoppers can also easily automate the made-to-order purchase process without directly contacting the seller through Amazon’s options.

Shoppers are also assured that these products are in fact, handmade (not just made to look handmade). Amazon has been vetting artisans since May for their marketplace, and has strict guidelines for what constitutes handmade:

All products available in your Handmade at Amazon store must be made entirely by hand, hand-altered, or hand assembled (not from a kit). Products must be handmade by you (the artisan), by one of your employees (if your company has 20 or fewer employees), or a member of your collective with less than 100 people. Mass-produced products or products handmade by a different artisan are not eligible to sell in Handmade.

While this may seem like a trivial distinction to make, it’s one that Etsy has skirted since changing it’s vendor rules, allowing for outside manufacturing. Etsy’s controversial decision has lead to an expansion of what vendors offer, but there has also been a rise in counterfeit items and a perception of moving away from their handmade roots.

Prime shoppers may also find free expedited shipping through Handmade at Amazon for select products.

What’s in it for vendors?

Well, Amazon has 285 million active account shopper base, so that’s a ton more eyeballs on your wares than Etsy’s 22 million active accounts. Amazon is also offering sellers logistical benefits as well, such as lot shipping through their fulfillment centers across the country, enabling Amazon to ship the goods as part of the Prime program. On the site, sellers can develop a profile page to introduce themselves and their passion for their product, and also promote their goods through Amazon’s Sponsored Products advertising program.

Greater traffic and exposure, along with shipping, are certainly beneficial, but at what cost. According the NY Times:

Most sellers are likely to give Amazon a bigger cut of their sales for that reach, however. Etsy charges a 20-cent fee for each item a seller lists on its site and takes a 3.5 percent cut of the sales. For now, Amazon will charge no listing fee but take 12 percent of sales, which it says covers all costs, including payment processing, marketing and fraud protection.

Given that most of the vendors behind handcrafted goods are small, independent outfits, some still hobby enterprises, the addition of Amazon as another avenue for selling may add a layer of complication for folks already selling on Etsy or EBay. However, with increased traffic could come more consistent sales and more stability, and they may be better off opting out of their former markets.

What’s in it for Amazon?

Moving into the handmade market place isn’t a huge stretch. Amazon already has a general marketplace open to vendors. But it’s clear, Amazon is spreading its capabilities and diversifying offerings. While it has done this for years through products, some with more success than others, the company is geared up to take on services like grocery delivery and home repairs. So why not get a stake in the ever-trending artisan market, in this day and age of pinspiration? Why not put a different face on what IS Amazon? Through the handmade marketplace, Amazon becomes a supporter of the little guy, the independent, not just a big company pushing mainstream products like it’s big box competitors. It’s another feather in the hat for Amazon, so let’s see how this goes.

Your Own Personal Retail

Like so many people do this time of year, my husband and I decided to make a change and move. Specifically, we chose to uproot from a one-story house in the Dallas ‘burbs to a three-story townhouse downtown so that we could be closer to the things we enjoy doing, reduce our commutes and make a step towards becoming a one car family. All that being said, we needed to not only downsize but to use our move as a opportunity to clean house and get rid of all the extra stuff the two of us accumulated over the years. And so over the past few months, I’ve been on an adventure in personal retail and resale. With the perspective I have as retail marketer, I would fine tune my approaches, observe potential buyers of my wares and take note, and wonder where brands could authentically fit into this very organic, grassroots shopping arena. Here are a few of my takeaways after diving head first into the world of personal retail.

The Yard Sale

The yard sale is still a mainstay and key route to selling your extraneous stuff in a time crunch. Step 1: Organize and promote your sale. One can still go with a low-key approach of posting a few handmade posters at key intersections the morning of your lone yard sale because there are still people that shop for yard sales by driving around early Saturday mornings looking for said signs. However, in 2015, you can do better without a ton of effort. First off, there’s power in numbers. Multi-family yard sales are typically big draws. Propose a neighborhood yard sale day, or even take it further by partnering with another neighborhood. With just a few clicks on your neighborhood’s Facebook or NextDoor pages to rally the cleaning house spirit, you can exponentially drive traffic to your front door and boost your sales. A simple post on your personal social media can go a long way – in fact, you’ll be amazed at the responses you’ll get, the shares of your post and who of your friends is or knows a yard sale connoisseur. Post on Craig’s List, which has pretty much replaced the classified ads in local papers and it’s free. Post about it on the virtual yard sale groups (more on those later). And just think, if all your neighbors are doing this, too, that network will be spreading the word beyond your reach to their mom groups or their work friends, etc.

Yes, the day of your sale, you’ll still want to put out some kind of signage to direct people to your sale, but for the most part, the leg work is done and you just have to focus on Step 2: Close the sales. In my opinion, cash is still king, so it’s important to be able to make change. Staging your goods is important because only the rare yard saler is going to want to dig around in your stuff. In fact, plenty of shoppers will do the “slow roll” in their car to scope out what you’re selling without getting out of their car. Suggest bundles to make folks feel like they are getting a deal (and it also gets more of your stuff gone).

Even with all that, be prepared to see shopping behavior that you wouldn’t have expected. People will walk away from deals over a difference of 25 cents. I had a shopper spend no less than 20 minutes looking up reviews on Amazon for some of my items – showrooming is not uncommon with brick and mortar shopping these days, but at yard sales? Really? Really. I also had another shopper Facetime his wife for nearly 30 minutes over $2 storage containers, which he ultimately passed on. If I wasn’t in shopper marketing, I probably would have been guilty of an eyeroll or two, but it was all very fascinating to observe the trickle down effect of technology on even yard sale shopping behavior.

What’s in it for brands? Some retailers have already gotten in on the direct connection between yard sales and moving by selling yard sale signs on the same aisle as moving boxes. Organization brands, like Container store, could sponsor National Yard Sale Day (the second Saturday in August) with parking lot events or promote offers to help you stay organized once you’ve decluttered.

The Virtual Sale

There seems to be about a million different ways to sell stuff virtually. From EBay to Etsy to Craig’s List, you can sell your stuff, but much of that depends on knowing your target audience and understanding the medium. Etsy is really more about selling crafted and made products, not so much for selling your old high school calculator. EBay can do instant sales, but it’s still mainly about the auction and you will have to make time for shipping. Craig’s List can be very hit or miss in terms of the kinds of buyers you’ll attract, and I always approach it with caution to never meet anyone alone. These days, you have even more options and even more control over how to sell things online and via apps, but I’ll touch on the one that seems to be gaining the most traction in my opinion, the Facebook Sales groups.

I probably joined my first Facebook sales group a few years ago at the invitation of a friend. It essentially served as a virtual garage sale. You could post a picture of an item, the sales price and approximate location of where it could be picked up. Interested parties would comment and then through private message, work out the details to finalize the sale. Over the years though, it’s become a culture, complete with it’s own language, rules and trends. The dynamics of these groups evolved so much that Facebook even created a new post form specifically for groups to help streamline the essential details of a post and requiring those details before a post could be submitted.

Let’s talk about the lingo. Want and Next comments are enough to solidify your place in line. Porch Pick Up means I’ll leave it for you on my front step and you better leave the money for it under my doormat when you come to get it. PPU means pending pick up, which a seller will post to indicate that the sale is almost done but since sales fall through all the time don’t lose hope entirely. A seller can also comment Bump to send their post back to the top of the group’s news feed to ensure fresh eyes see it. X-posted means you’ve posted this item across several groups, so even if it looks like you are first in line for an item, someone in another group make actually be first. No holds means the seller isn’t hanging onto the item for anyone, it’s a first come, first serve to make the sale.

The trends are fascinating to me. Pinterest inspiration is a big one here. For example, in the last year or so on these groups, I’ve seen a spike in the sale of “project pieces,” specifically rehabbed wooden coffee tables, end tables, entryway tables, and consoles painted in bright pastels or bold colors. Most of the time, these sales are for the completed projects, but there are also plenty of the incomplete “I bought this with the intention of rehabbing it and either my time or my skill level prevented me from actually finishing” pieces. There are bloggers and youtube channels dedicated to teaching people how to bring old furniture back to life with chalk paint and glaze. In the past, people used to go to flea markets to find these project pieces, and now they don’t even have to leave the comfort of their homes if delivery of the piece is included. (Other current trends I’ve seen in these include wood pallet crafts and barnwood/farm tables).

What’s in it for brands? Furniture and craft brands should be looking into this underground network for insights and noting these trends (much like fashion designers seek inspiration from people on the street or dancing in clubs). For instance, I would love to see a long established furniture company like Bassett or Broyhill run a targeted FB promotion that asks shoppers to rehab one of their brand’s furniture pieces from the 60s or 70s for a chance to win a $10,000 living room makeover. It authentically ties into what this audience is already doing, establishes the heritage and quality of the brand, and is prime for social sharing.

The Resales

Consignment and second hand shops have been around for decades as yet another avenue for getting rid of your unwanted items. From clothes to books to furniture to sporting equipment, these days sellers can not only look to brick and mortar specialty consignment/resale stores but also to any number of apps to consign their wares from the convenience of their phone. For my purposes, I went the brick and mortar route for the luxury of immediacy.

Dallas-based national chain Half Price Books, while known for selling new and used books at a discount, is a great resource for getting cash for your old books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, videos and, dare I say, even laser discs. It’s a very familiar process for anyone that ever sold their study books back at student bookstore at the end of a semester. You bring your items in, a store clerk looks them up in their system while you wait in the store and you receive a cash offer for the total of your bounty. Demand and condition are the main factors for determining offer prices. Unless you are trying to sell something special, like a signed, limited first edition Harry Potter, they don’t break it down for you item by item – it’s a lump sum, take it or leave it. Don’t expect to make out like a bandit selling your books and CDs back, but something is better than nothing. Also keep in mind, what they don’t resale, Half Price Books will donate to nonprofits in support of literacy, so you can feel good about where your items are going. (Don’t have a Half Price Books near you, Amazon also has a trade-in program.)

Clothing consignment can be a bargain shoppers dream, but for someone looking to unload unwanted clothes, it can be a little confusing and nerve wracking. So many of these stores are locally-based and have their own guidelines for selecting what items they’ll take and the method for selling, which means every store is different. For my needs, I opted to give national consignment store Clothes Mentor a try. Here, you bring in your items, a store clerk accepts them for review and gives you an approximate time for your estimate to be completed, then you receive a text to let you know your estimate is ready, and upon return, they’ll walk you through what items they want and what they are willing to offer. Based on my experience (and from reviews I’ve read of others’ experiences), it’s completely hit or miss and not much rhyme or reason as to why they want some items over others or offer a certain price. Seasonality and condition can play a roll, but for the most part, they tell you it’s about your items not being the latest style. I was told this about a batch of clothes I brought in and yet one of the shirts they did buy from me, I kid you not, was 12 years old. It’s a roll of the dice, and again, something is better than nothing.

And then there is Good Will. An American mainstay in donated clothing, furniture, electronics, etc, Good Will makes these things accessible to people of all economic levels, but their stores and proceeds also go to support job creation and career education. Any true purge of belongings should involve several trips to your local Good Will, where you can get a receipt good for writing off your donations on your taxes. Win-Win for everyone.

What’s in it for brands? Clearly, specialized brands in the market of resale know their niche and understand their place in the resale market. But with all these burgeoning apps furthering simplifying the resale of not only the things you don’t want (like that sweater your mom gave you for Christmas without a gift receipt), but also of luxury and high ticket items that you may have used once and no longer have a need or space for them. It’s also important for brands to consider the benefits of trade-ins for credits over cash, which ensures the money essentially stays in there pocket but almost always guarantees a greater return as a shopper has to spend more than their credit to get the benefit of spending it all.

Image: Getty

Targeted Marketing takes Aim

That time West Elm advertised to me with a photo of my living room:

Last week, I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and came across a photo of my living room. This wasn’t something I had posted on Facebook, it was a West Elm ad. I snapped it on my iPhone when my new couch finally arrived and uploaded it to Instagram with the hashtag #mywestelm.

In April 2015, Facebook began testing a new product ad with Olapic that pulls in user-generated content for ad imagery. This is the first true test of user-generated content in a Facebook ad.

In the past, consumers didn’t want to interact with brand content on their social platforms. But with the rise of image-based platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, a shift happened. Consumers now want to share how they engage and interact with their favorite brands and products. Because of this and consumers’ need and desire to have everything hyper-personalized, we are seeing the rise of user-generated content, from staged food photos on Instagram to product hacks on Pinterest. When consumers started seeing products friends and influencers were showing interest in, they found a desire to buy, right from social. They became shoppers.

Facebook is taking the Instagram and Pinterest user experience that motivates shoppers to make a purchase, and applying it to their ad units. West Elm didn’t know they were showing me my own photo (why would they sell me a product I already own?). What they do know is that consumers are more responsive to user-generated photos than branded content and I was the type of consumer likely to shop at West Elm (which is very accurate). My photo could have sold someone a coffee table. I should probably take a new picture now that I have a new West Elm rug.

Right? Wrong.

Yesterday I heard an interview with a talented song-writer on NPR radio and I found myself wincing a few times as I noticed both the interviewer and interviewee were peppering their dialogue with the word, “Right?” As if asking the other “You know what I mean?” I don’t mean to pick on either of them, as I am not a perfect speaker or writer myself. I make my share of mistakes and have communication crutches that I am not proud of, just like everyone else. So, it is with empathy that I bring this up.

I hear these all the time in conversation: “Right?” “Like” and “Um” (still a crowd favorite after many years) and it is concerning to me.

It was not so long ago that we became infected with the word LIKE. We identified “Valley Girls” in Southern CA as patient zero of this epidemic that quickly spread across the nation, to grown women and men, like a virus.

The infectious disease today seems to be “Right?” I am hearing it more and more in business conversations and, also, in business presentations. It is distracting and unnecessary. And there seems to be little awareness of the quantity of its use.

I am a big fan of Urban Dictionary, WordSpy, Slangsite and others who have turned an interested ear to current, cultural chatter and teased out the new words and phrases that are popping up daily. Vocabulary should and must evolve. We had no established words or definitions, for instance, for all the technology of the past decade. Those words have been fun, colorful and necessary and using them connects us all to the new conversation. But this thing with “Right?”, while definitely reflecting a cultural tick, is not the same thing.

It is not fun. Shoes are fun.

 

It’s Been a Mad March 2015, Baby!

As 2015 March Madness draws to close tonight with the championship game facing off Duke and Wisconsin, we’ve seen pretty much all brackets busted, gametime excitement around the players, the underdogs and the upsets, and more promotions than swooshes of the basketball. With that in mind, let’s take at a look at how some of the NCAA partnership brands got into the action this year.

Burger King’s 2 for $5 with Seth Davis and Kenny Smith

On the heels of its Watch Like A King 2014 campaign, NCAA Corporate Sponsor Burger King is back with a value bundle, two premium sandwiches for $5. Guests can mix and match their favorite premium sandwiches including the new Spicy Big Fish Sandwich, BIG KING Sandwich, Big Fish Sandwich, Original Chicken Sandwich and the YUMBO Hot Ham & Cheese Sandwich all for $5. The value play is getting buzz thanks to supportive TV spots with sports analysts Seth Davis and Kenny Smith. Nothing like bringing in the experts to add some authenticity to the messaging. Word is Burger King will also be part of the experience at the 2015 Final Four by bringing fans autograph opportunities with sports legends, along with free rides in Burger King-branded cars.

ReesesStartingLineUp

Put REESE’S In Your Starting Lineup

REESE’S is at it again this year, keeping it’s perfect combination of peanut butter and chocolate top of mind with shoppers, with its Put Reese’s In Your Starting Lineup! Facebook promotion. This simple, but engaging promotion, encourages you to create a lineup of your favorite REESE’S candies for a chance to win free product. REESE’S is highly engaged with the NCAA as a corporate sponsor and incredibly visible throughout the tournament with advertising and brand highlights. The brand has also taken to social media to keep engagement going as the excitement of the tournament builds. In addition to presence at the Final Four Friday, REESE’S is a sponsor of the NCAA College All-Star game, which took place Final Four weekend and aired April 5 on CBS. Through its GoReeses.com, REESE’S has created a hub for gameday recipes and its NCAA promotions.

REESES_SnackTalk

REESE’S SnackTalk at WalMart

As part of its retailer specific executions this year, REESE’S brought the Snack Talk to Walmart, encouraging REESE’s fans to submit photos of their favorite REESE’s game day recipes during March, with finalists announced at the REESE’S NCAA College All-Star game this past weekend. Viewers were encouraged to vote via Twitter for their favorite to be crowned the winner. Erin @DelightfulEMade was deemed the REESE’s Snack Talk Champion and got to have her recipe featured on air.

BW3

Buffalo Wild Wings #WingWisdom

As the Official Hangout of March Madness, Buffalo Wild Wings debuted its #WingWisdom with a fully-integrated campaign across television, social, digital, in-store and on-site Final Four experiences. From ads starring Steve Rannazzisi (“The League”) to “Basketball Wisdom” studio segments on CBS Sports and TBS Sports to an online Tournament Tracker to engaging in conversations about the tournament and providing shareable invites via social media, Buffalo Wild Wings’s omnichannel approach was keeping its brand top of mind with consumers in a sea of restaurants vying for share. In particular, the brand kept the engagement alive with fans by encouraging them to compete for “B-Dubs Baller” status in restaurant with skill-based games and bracket challenges — guests who participated could compete for over 1000 prizes, including a trip to next year’s Final Four.