Etsy IPO and What We Can All Learn

Etsy’s long awaited IPO is finally happening with the release of their S1 filing today. Surprisingly, unlike many of the classic ‘marketplace’ ecommerce companies like Ebay, the company is loss making:

The company registered a $4.9 million net loss on $108.7 million in revenue in 2014. The prior year, Etsy was actually closer to profitability, with a $796,000 loss

That aside, there are a couple of pieces of information related to marketing and loyalty that I’d like to point out and may be useful to you running an ecommerce business. First up, marketing:

We believe that the rapid growth of our marketplace is a testament to our compelling value proposition for Etsy sellers and Etsy buyers. Etsy sellers and Etsy buyers have been our best marketers, and the majority of our visits have come from direct and organic channels. Historically, we have invested relatively small amounts in marketing. We spent only $10.9 million on marketing in 2012 and only $17.9 million in 2013. In 2014, we began increasing our brand and digital marketing efforts and spent $39.7 million in marketing, up 122% from 2013.

In essence, let our customers market our company and our products. Easier said than done right? But it’s absolutely the right strategy to compete in today’s world where everyone is fighting for attention, just look at Apple. Yes, the iPhone maker spends a ton on marketing – especially traditional advertising like TV and print – and yet, look at their social media strategy or lack of it. The whole focus of successful companies like Apple and in alignment with Etsy’s marketing strategy is the notion that you both let (and encourage) customers to do marketing on your behalf.

Some call this word of mouth and more formally, ‘organic’ but whatever, it’s where you want to be. And on loyalty:

Our members’ repeat sales and purchases drive GMS growth. In 2014, 78.5% of our GMS resulted from repeat purchases made by Etsy buyers, and 99.3% of our GMS was generated by repeat sales made by Etsy sellers.

Over three quarters of sales from repeat customers; some would say this is a sign of a small customer base but remember what happened during the .com boom with all of those ecommerce companies who bought customers and lusted after those sales; they burned off course. You are far better off with a smaller, more engaged group of loyal customers. Amazon started with book buyers, Ebay with coin collectors, Netflix with DVD by mail and so-on – you want to start small and then grow horizontally into other categories or customers over-time.

Finally, if you’re wondering what the typical Etsy customer (aka ecommerce business) does, check out this graphic form the S1. You won’t be surprised to learn that the vast majority of time is dedicated to inventory – circa 70% in the Etsy seller’s case. The rest? Broadly split between marketing and administrative tasks. Running a company can be very exciting but much of time, it’s a case of getting your head down and working through the stuff that just needs to get done.

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