Home / Tech / Etsy exec explains why the company has a huge advantage over everyone else who tries to copy it

Etsy exec explains why the company has a huge advantage over everyone else who tries to copy it


  • Other online stores have their own handmade or vintage shops, but Etsy remains the first one most people think of.
  • That’s because it has placed a special emphasis on these goods, which has required a lot of innovation specifically for these unique items that can’t be easily categorized or inventoried.
  • Etsy completely changed how it ranks its search results for buyers, and it’s resulted in hundreds of millions of additional gross sales.
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Etsy would like you to know that it stands alone.

Though other websites with handmade and vintage marketplaces like Amazon Handmade or Ebay have tried to imitate Etsy, it still remains the go-to for these goods.

“If I asked you like, ‘Where do you go to find special?’ Those names don’t pop in your head,” said Etsy’s CTO Mike Fisher. “But Etsy pops in people’s heads as a special place.”

After a major reorientation of the business two years ago, Etsy has made serving these sellers of handmade objects — and the customers who buy them — its top priority.

One example is Etsy’s reforming how the search on its site works to show more relevant results to its shoppers.

“We don’t have a catalog that a lot of e-commerce shops have, or SKUs that one person fills in the description. Our sellers write their own descriptions, and these are unique items,” Fisher said. “Our search becomes infinitely more difficult because of that.”

Read more: I ordered the same items from Amazon and Walmart to see which one does e-commerce better — and they both had major flaws

So, using machine learning powered by Google’s cloud computing muscle, Etsy has instead instituted a program called context-specific ranking that uses keywords sellers tag to re-rank listings according to a buyer’s past behavior. 

“We take searches from the past and what people look for — the terms — and we analyze that based on what they’ve clicked, favorited, added to cart, purchased, and so forth,” Fisher said.

It doesn’t re-rank all the search returns — only the top 800. But the first page is where 83% of purchases happen anyway, Fisher said, making it still very impactful.

In fact, he said, it added $260 million to 2018’s gross sales on Etsy in over the year prior.

Now, Fisher is figuring out how to put that data and machine learning to work on things like personalized recommendations for buyers.

Sure, other companies can copy this approach, but it requires a lot of data, resources, and focus to pull it off.

“If we had SKU and catalogs and stuff like that, we would be [just] another e-commerce shop,” Fisher said. “Because we’re not that. What makes us unique, that you don’t come to us for the commodities, you come to us for that special item.”

SEE ALSO: eBay exec reveals a key advantage for sellers choosing the site over rivals like Amazon

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