Plus: How and Why Artisans Discount Their Work
Does it seem like each year, the holiday sales start earlier and the discounts grow higher? You’re not alone in noticing. Big businesses are setting the standards that consumers expect. Small businesses struggle to keep up. And micro-businesses like us artisans just can’t compete on the same level.
Instead, we rely on values other than price to survive: our uniqueness, our ethics, and our personal story. Some of us may put our products on sale from time to time, but these are honest promotions, uncoerced, and for fair prices.
In this post, we’ll talk more about how artisans feel about sales and discounts, and how we came up with our “Artisans Choice Sale” – a non-coercive, self-empowered sale for artisans who choose whether or not to participate on their own terms.
Big Business Holiday Sales Have Gone Too Far
Holiday sales used to begin in late November. Now, they begin in October, run all season long, and offer bargain-basement clearance discounts rather than promotional nudges.
Artisans selling on Etsy have watched them set increasingly aggressive holiday sales every year, for example setting ever-higher minimum terms for participation in their promotions.
Five years ago (or so), Etsy called for sellers to put their products on sale. They asked sellers to offer at least 10% for a weekend called Black Friday/Cyber Monday (abbreviated BFCM) in order to be featured in their sales promotions.
Over the next years, they steadily ratcheted up the minimum discount and the length of the sale. First, it was 15% for a week. Then “Cyber Week” became two weeks long, and the discount increased to 20%. Then they doubled the sale by adding a second “Early Holiday” sale: two 2-week sales for 20%. All of these discounts are being dictated by Etsy, but the costs come straight out of the seller’s pocket.
Now in 2023, they broke their own site rules and possibly some state and country laws on deceptive advertising, calling for sellers to discount their products by at least 25% for five weeks to participate in the 2023 Etsy Cyber Sale. Their own on-site discount tool only allowed sellers to put on a sale for four weeks. Clearly it has gone too far.
Etsy’s holiday cyber sale runs for 5 weeks this year, and they are asking for discounts of at least 25% off. Since regular sales can only run for 30 days on Etsy, they provide a link to set up this special event for the correct number of days.Etsy watchdog CindyLouWho2, Etsy Ecommerce Update October 2023
How Artisans Feel About Discounts
Artisan-owned shops are different from giant companies and even most small businesses.
Pricing is more difficult because we have higher overhead and lower profit margins. There’s less room for error.
We also put our labor time into each individual product, and it can feel personally difficult to discount one’s own labor. For many artisans, a discount just means more work for less profit.
“Most of my items are made-to-order and I don’t do sales or discounts because I’m not on sale. As a solo-entrepreneur I cannot have grand canyon scale profit margins that big companies do which allows them to discount and have sales and still be profitable. I try to price my items in that narrow space where I can achieve a certain profit margin (and pay myself) while not over-pricing. Always tricky.”Artisan Shannon of Many Moons Emporium
Fixing one fair price and sticking with it is a simple and fair pricing strategy that creates less administrative work, too. Artisans are already juggling their website listings, customer service, making, and shipping – doing all of this themselves without the benefit of marketing teams and IT support.
Pricing is about perception and long-term strategy, too, especially for artisans who commit to a design for the long haul. They’re thinking about the future and keeping an honest ongoing relationship with their customers, not playing marketing tricks.
“I do run sales from time to time, but very rare. The more sales you run, the higher your base price has to be for the same profit margin, and I’d rather have a “decent” normal price that almost never gets reduced and retains its perceived value, than one that looks artificially bloated so people only ever buy on sale!”Artisan Averil of Doom Bloom Art Germany
Fair Prices and Fair Discounts
As you would expect of creatives, we come up with non-traditional ways to provide more value to customers, on our own terms.
“I haven’t run any sales yet and I’m not sure what I want to do [for seasonal sales] yet. I’m considering adding value instead of discounting, more of a bonus free add-on thing.”Artisan Saelie of Pug and Paper
Artisans don’t have warehouses of factory-made widgets to offload. But we do have tools, materials, and skills, and sometimes we do have overstock and “ruined” works.
“I rarely have sales, but when I do it’s to point attention at something I value, move things that haven’t sold (I don’t have a lot of storage space), or to bring people to a specific location like Artisans Co-op because I don’t have to charge as much as I would have to in order to cover fees on Etsy or at a consignment shop.”Artisan Erin of Stella NC Works
Some artisans see a value in discounts and sales, particularly to take advantage of high-volume shopping seasons. We have to make enough profit each month to put bread on the table – and sometimes that means taking a risk at the right moment.
“[We] were talking about setting a bunch of our higher priced items on sale for Thanksgiving weekend to try and take advantage of Black Friday, etc. buyers looking for gifts.”Artisans Miya and John of Pixie Wolf Publishing
We know that times are tough and customers, even ethical shoppers and fellow artisans, like discounts. Whether this comes from societal expectations, nature, or nurture is irrelevant: a deal is a deal. A survey of our own members showed that the most likely reason for opening an email is a discount offer.
“After 10 years in business, we ran our first sale during COVID lockdown (other than our regular annual “AS-IS / Dents & Dings Sale”). It was a big success for us. It kept me busy all year long, and being busy / productive brought in more income. We’ve tried having a sale every year since and found the volume of sales more than made up for the difference. I wouldn’t run my business like that from day one – but that COVID sale changed my outlook.”Artisan Geoff at Walnut Studiolo
The Artisans Choice Sale: Honoring Artisan Autonomy
Sometimes artisans can offer sales because it’s what works for their business and helps engage those customers who like shopping sales and discounts. These are realities we can accommodate without resorting to pressure tactics or coercive minimums.
The important thing for Artisans Cooperative is that we want to offer support and self-empowerment for artisans. Unlike Big Tech companies who dictate the terms of your sale – such as 25% off for 5 weeks to even have a chance of getting noticed – we decided to create a simple and totally optional space for artisans who do want to host a sale.
We’re calling it the “Artisans Choice Sale” – a sale that reflects the artisan’s autonomy and control over their participation, and a nice little double entendre for the many “choice” items that will end up in the sale!
Artisans choose if, how much, and how long to include their items on sale. All artisans who set a sale price lower than their listed retail price will be featured in the Artisans Choice Sale collection. Once in the collection, shoppers can use our filters to narrow down the selection.
In addition, the sale items have a visible pink discount badge and markdown price wherever they normally live on the marketplace.
And while you’re there, check out the artisans’ shops to see their other listings – most offer combined shipping, so you’ll realize a discount there, too.
About Artisans Cooperative
We are growing an online handmade marketplace for an inclusive network of creatives: a co-op alternative to Etsy.
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