Competition – what is it good for?

I’ve been thinking a lot about competition lately. I am not sure what has sparked these thoughts but I do get a lot of people asking me ‘how did you get your Etsy shop up and running, how do you find customers, there are so many sellers on there now, how do you compete?’ 

Etsy IS becoming a bit of a megalith – it has received significant investment for development of the site (good for all) and this in turn has attracted a lot of new sellers (good for most). Etsy has also relaxed the type of products and enterprises it allows to sell on the site. Etsy is, after all, a business and they want to make more money and give a return to their investors. They achieve this by allowing more sellers who can list and sell more goods.

The changes at Etsy are not an issue for me, as I have always believed that if you have the right product and the right combination of price, service and supply, you will get customers, and if you work hard, you will get to keep them.

I have noticed in my little market segment – selling antique jewellery and supplies, mainly from France – that competition has really increased over the past few years and more and more suppliers are coming onto Etsy. Interestingly, a lot of the people in France I used to buy wholesale from are now selling retail on Etsy…at wholesale prices. Good on them! This means that the buyer has greater choice and the whole market for antique French jewellery and supplies is growing.

Not everyone sees this competition as a good thing and it has always baffled me when fellow sellers complain if someone else starts competing with them. It has happened to me for years (competition, not complaining) and my first response is not ‘boo hoo, how dare you compete with me’, because, quite frankly, I do not possess that sense of entitlement. My initial response is usually, ‘great, now I have to lift my game and stay one step ahead of the rest of them.’ 

I am faced with this issue at the moment. I have been neglectful of my shop over the past few months and of course how can I expect it to thrive when I do not have time to source new products, do regular listings and keep customers interested and excited. I can forgive myself for this neglect as I have been busy with things such as studies and starting a new job. I have a few ideas on revamping my shop and taking it in a slightly different direction. I am having a sale to clear out existing stock so I can start fresh with a new concept.

But I come back to the unfortunate situation of competition complainers. Unless you own a copyright to something and you are being ripped off, someone selling similar things to you, or sourcing products from the same source as you or opening a shop offering similar products to you is not a crime – it’s competition. And if a seller has to lower their prices because someone else can get the same product and afford to sell it at a cheaper price, then too bad. That’s what competition is. I’ve seen plenty of these complainers come in into a market undercutting others, then complaining when they themselves are undercut.

There is another side to competition, and I have seen this on Etsy in the products/segment I operate in. A few years back a few wholesalers of French antique jewellery and supplies came onto Etsy and started selling really cheaply – basically at wholesale prices. I must admit that I did buy a few things from them for my own use (not for re-sale) and they have done really well. Good for them! What I am now seeing with these sellers, as many of their competitors have disappeared (presumably from inability to compete) is that their prices are creeping up. It’s quite noticeable to me and I am not seeing an increase in quality. This is not such a good thing for buyers, who understandably flocked to the cheaper sellers when times were good. But I wonder if they will desert, when prices continue to rise?

I suppose another differentiator between the little fish, like me, and the big wholesalers is that you can’t get to know the big fish. They don’t share their lives on blogs, provide inspiration when they talk about their own collections or share what inspires them. They don’t make lifelong friends through online connections. It’s a bit like when the local corner shop closes and is replaced by a chain store. Something special is lost forever.

So, what’s the point of this ramble? Nothing really, other than to say that I am still here, though La Comtesse de Talaru (my supplies/antiques shop) is in a bit of hibernation at the moment. I do see gaps in the market that are not being well-serviced at the moment and I do intend to work towards these opportunities. And I am still making jewellery, and doing very well locally at markets with my local customers. Ever since I started on Etsy my goal has been to build up a strong local following, and I feel that I have achieved that.

But sometimes life just gets in the way and things more important than an Etsy store need to take precedence.

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