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TAFA Market: Using Merchpin to Create a Marketplace

tafa market horizontal

I wrote an article about Selling on Etsy recently that spurned quite a bit of interest. Little did I know that it would dramatically change how I spent my time in the following weeks! The comments and other discussions taking place in our Forum and in our Facebook group clearly pointed to the angst many of us are feeling with Etsy’s choices and direction. The two biggest issues (look for them on your favorite search engine) have to do with all of the re-seller products that are now sold on Etsy and with a change in the feedback system between sellers and buyers.

Re-seller products are basically junky items that can be purchased in mass and are resold, clearly violating Etsy’s original mission and their current rules. There is so much now, that it is impossible to control it. Etsy also no longer has the word “handmade” as a part of their mission, so it might just be a part of their plan for the future.

The feedback system has been based on “positive” or “negative” reviews between both sellers and buyers. That has now suddenly changed to a five-star system for sellers only, creating a fear that their rating will go down as many people don’t give 5 stars as nobody is perfect…  but, more than that, the change has also impacted customers who may feel that their support of the site and their historical relationships with sellers has been wiped out without warning, along with cute thank you photos that were exchanged between both.

Navigating around the web shows extreme discontent with Etsy these days. It’s a shame because I still think it is one of the nicest shopping cart solutions out there and Etsy has contributed so much in staff time and in documentation of resources that have helped so many small businesses improve and succeed at what they do.

One of the comments left on my post was by Beverly Rustica whom I have had some contact with over the years because of her work with Indie Artisans. Beverly makes beautiful drawer knobs and other things out of beach glass and clay, selling them from her Sea Glass and Knobs site:

Sea Glass KnobsSea Glass Knobs by Beachy Rustica

It turns out that both of us have had some parallel experiences on other marketplaces, including the now defunct 1,000 Markets. Beverly has also worked with several of our TAFA members in the past. Boiling it down, she has been embedded into the handmade movement and its mutations for many years. Her comment basically encouraged me to take a look at Merchpin as a marketplace option for our TAFA members.  From time to time, the longing for our own marketplace comes up (where each member could have their own shop) and all along I have rejected that as a possibility because it would mean hiring staff, dealing with customer service and delving into technical issues that I can’t resolve on my own. Etsy’s current crisis made me look at what options are out there for us and I concluded that we are just not there yet. However, Beverly’s Merchpin solution was viable.

In a nutshell: Once you sign up with Merchpin, it creates a catalog for you and is able to synch with several different platforms including Etsy. It pulls all of the products into a searchable database which you can then use to create curated collections. For example, type in quilt in their search and all of the items that use quilt in the title or tags pop up into a list. From that list, you can choose which products you want to use and then assign a new keyword for them.  Beverly runs a site that has a beach theme and is using Merchpin:

boardwalk artisans

In order to understand how it works, I used some TAFA members as guinea pigs and loved the potential! But, I also saw that this was going to be a lot of work and it’s a sizable financial commitment for me at $99/month. In order to make it work, members would have to pay a set up fee and a monthly maintenance fee. I figured that if ten of them signed up, I would go for it.

TAFA’s Market is now up!

Visit TAFA's Market

How it Works

I’ve created several themed pages where products can be shown in different ways. The easiest way to manage what shows on the pages is to use keywords that are logical like wool bag, blue scarf, etc. But, I have found that this is too random of a selection and doesn’t control who is showing enough. As our product selection increases, my goal is to have tightly curated pages that will feature carefully selected products that work well together, giving as many participating members as much visibility as possible. Etsy has a popular tool that reminds me of this, Treasuries that are created and shared by both buyers and sellers. They are often quite stunning and fun. Click on the image and you land on that product’s shop. The same is true here: click and you go to wherever that item is hosted.

The beauty of this is that it is not Etsy-centric. Merchpin supports many other shopping cart systems, including Big Cartel, which many of our TAFA members use.

merch

This is exciting because it means that we can be much more inclusive about creating something that members who have their own site carts can also use. If we all direct our followers to this common Market, then we all have much more potential to be seen and to bring new people on over to wherever we are. The code can also be pasted anywhere. Our new forum is only a couple of months old and if I had known that we would be doing this, I would have named the site something else. The Forum area will soon be visible only to members who are logged in, leaving the Market, Blog and a few other pages as the ones that are visible to the public. It’s a bit strange to have TAFA’s market have the forum as its host url, but for now, it’s what we will use. We can create special collections which members can also paste on their own sites and blogs if they want to. I really believe in joint marketing and this system has many possibilities which I haven’t even tested yet, including a Facebook app which we can install on our Facebook page.

Beverly thinks that this will be the next big trend in group merchandising. Instead of investing time in promoting our shopping cart sites, we promote a destination that will host us no matter what changes we make on the back-end. For example, let’s say someone has a shop on Etsy and they decide that it is time to have a shopping cart on their own site. We delete the Etsy feed and add the new one. It might involve some re-tagging of their things to get them to show in the right collections again, but it’s not a major task for most shops. I can imagine like-minded friends banding together for featuring their products together, either on a main site or on a page on their site. Merchpin’s code works well anywhere. Beverly has been using Blogger and we’re using WordPress.

home-slide3

One thing that I really liked: how the products display can be customized to fit into your blog or site. That’s a biggie in my book!

The Downside of Merchpin

It’s not intuitive and there is little documentation. Beverly has been using this for quite some time and she has been helping me along. She has spent countless hours this past week explaining things to me and I consider myself to be pretty techy. Without her, I would have given up.  On the site there is a link to review their extensive tutorials and there is only one short video there.

No staff contact.  I was expecting some direct interaction with the staff but so far that hasn’t been forthcoming. Beverly and the site developer do have an agreement that she would help train groups, so that’s fine. She has gone above and beyond any expectations of what we see with tech assistants these days. But, I’ve had a couple of questions that are critical for us, and haven’t received any developer response or comments.  I’m told by Beverly that he is very nice, so at least that is reassuring.  (!)

The pricing does not make sense:

pricing

Who would pay $9/month to show 20 products? If you have an Etsy shop, you can post your Etsy mini around for free. Here are 25 products from my shop in a mini:

And, if you have a group of people, reaching the 250 products limit for the $39/month plan will happen in a twinkle. Part of the problem is that although you can deactivate items from showing up on your site, they still show up in your main catalog on Merchpin and count as products, even if you aren’t going to use them. They get in the way as you can’t delete them from your results there and show up when you are doing keyword searches. It would be great to delete all products that don’t fit in our theme, ugly photos, etc. and only look at what might be used. The developer has waived the 1,000 item limit on the $99/month plan which is the only thing that makes sense for Beverly and for TAFA. She has over 4,000 items in her cart and ours will reach that quickly as well.  He has given her the freedom to give others the discount and if you are interested in setting you your own market with no limit, use this link.

Here is what I think would work better:

  • Forget the impressions. They are irrelevant. What matters is not how many times something is seen, but whether the right crowd is seeing it. I don’t see how that affects performance issues with the Merchpin site. Holding significant amounts of inventory in a catalog, however, could end up costing extra server space. I haven’t tried the targeting rules yet, so don’t really know how that would impact us.
  • Create some kind of a bounce system for unwanted items that get kicked out of the selection. Items go into a holding area for approval and if rejected, they are not allowed back in but are reviewed each time they are re-listed or renewed on the host site. The remaining items count towards the Merchpin total.
  • Price categories: $9/month for 100 products, $25/month for 250 products, $50/month for 750 products, $99/month for unlimited. This would attract more small groups that might limit themselves to the 750 products. I can see the $9/month appealing to people who might want to arrange their shop on their blog or website. I would even consider that for mine! :)  (He’ll make more money if he listens to me…)

 

There are many other little things that are just annoying but most have workarounds that Beverly has figured out. I am going to put all of her tips into one manual format to make it easier to review and to remember. Both of us see Merchpin as a genius solution to something so many of us are struggling with in terms of doing joint marketing. I can see groups organize around all kinds of products: gardening, books, classes, homeschooling, church groups….  If it’s on a shopping cart it could be Merchpinned.  (I created a new verb!) Hopefully, the developer will see this potential and make it more user-friendly so that we can spend more time marketing what we’ve set up instead of struggling to do the set up. Even at the stage that it’s in, I highly recommend it as an option for those of you who already operate in a community and have products you can market jointly.

Visit and share!

Go visit our TAFA Market and share with your friends! Check back often as we continue to develop it, add products and pages and curate new collections. True eye candy! And, if you buy something, you will be spreading that happiness factor that comes with supporting the handmade way of life. We truly appreciate your support!

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Do you have questions about Merchpin? Feedback on what we are doing? Special requests?

Both Beverly and I can answer your questions here, so feel free to ask!

About

Profile photo of Rachel Biel
I've been working with the arts and craft world in many capacities since 1988. Handmade textiles have been my core focus since launching TAFA in 2010.

My hope is to contribute to the economic development potential the arts bring to the world, along with the intrinsic beauty shown in the work. May the world become a friendlier place for artists and nature!

Arrived in Kentucky after a childhood in Brazil, college in Minnesota and 20 years in Chicago. It's been a ride!

7 Comments

on TAFA Market: Using Merchpin to Create a Marketplace.
  1. […] Merchpin.  Merchpin allows us to create a catalog of products from Etsy and other cart systems. More info on our blog. We tested it in the Fall by creating a TAFA Market then launched a new site in January, Artizan […]

  2. Profile photo of Carole Simcox
    |

    Rachel, even after reading your article on Merchpin, I’m just not computer savvy enough to know exactly what you are talking about. I feel rather stupid actually, lol. I think that I am interested. I’m hoping that you are trying to get us to register but will be offering more information as time goes on?

    Thanks.

    • Profile photo of Rachel Biel
      |

      Carole, I’ll email and try to explain it some more. :)

      • Carole Simcox
        |

        Thank you Rachel. I know that you are busy. I appreciate it a lot.

        Carole

  3. |

    Hi Rachel, we are taking a look at this, if I can find the time :( I would much rather point it to our website as the fees are non existent there. We use webs.com is this possible?
    Barbara

    • Profile photo of Rachel Biel
      |

      The synch with Etsy is really easy. You pick the Etsy button, enter the shop name, hit enter and the synch starts immediately. TAMMACHAT wants to do this and they are on Bigcommerce, which is also supposed to synch. They required more information and it didn’t work. Beverly has asked the developer to look into this, so hopefully, we will hear back soon.

      Webs.com is not one of the listed platforms, so Beverly would have to ask. If a cart does not synch, there is a manual way to download products to a csv file and then upload them to Merchpin. That would be a pain because we would have to do that often. The great thing about synching the products from one of the carts that work is that the participating shop doesn’t have to do ANY work. All of the upkeep is done on my end, so it relieves the merchant from having to worry about it. Downloading CSV files would become a task for the merchant, too. Beverly explained it to me and I think that I would have to add another fee to cover that. I would waaayyy prefer to load your Etsy shop! And, I really hope you do it. I don’t know if you saw how many likes and shares on that boot photo I shared on our Facebook page yesterday, but our people LOVE your stuff! :)

      • |

        For those who aren’t on one of the supported venue/sites, there is an option for using the feeds that are created for the shopping search engines (ie: Google Products, shopping.com, amazon product ads, etc.). So if you’ve created a product feed to one of the shopping sites that should work. Otherwise it would have to be csv uploads which is a lot more labor intensive to keep up with.

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