22 February 2010

The Perfect E-Commerce Venue for Handmade: Part 1 - Defining Handmade

Before I start the discussion in earnest, I'd like to say that, obviously, there really isn't any such thing as a 'perfect' venue. There will always be something in any multi-seller site that falls short of the absolute ideal. Still, I feel that there is much to be gleaned from an honest and comprehensive conversation about what sellers and buyers most want and need in a venue specializing in handmade.


For one, it will help in deciding which venues are best suited to us, personally, as sellers and buyers. For another, it will help solidify in our own minds which features and tools are the absolute essentials and which things are possibly less critical - which in turn may help us make more targeted and prioritized requests for improvements and upgrades at our various venues. Thirdly, this will hopefully provide a wealth of usable information for the admins of current venues and for those who may be considering creating future handmade e-commerce sites.

Obviously, the best way to be in complete control of options and features is to own and manage one's own personal website - but many sellers and buyers prefer the traffic, visibility, and variety (and often the camaraderie) that are likely to come from having a shop, and shopping, on a mall-type venue. With that in mind, I will open the discussion with the first topic and several related questions:

What is handmade?
  • How can it be best defined, described, or categorized?
  • Are fine or visual arts disadvantaged by being sold on a site that headlines 'handmade' products?
  • Should there be a set of standards placed on the degree of hand-assembly that qualifies as handmade? Why or why not?

This is possibly one of the most hotly contested and subjective topics surrounding handmade. While it isn't necessarily easy to arrive at a universal consensus, any venue that purports to be all about handmade should thoroughly explore this question, and be ready articulate, and to stand by, its own definition.


Again, please feel free to suggest other topics, or questions relating to a particular topic, in the comments.

Let the discussions begin!

13 February 2010

The Perfect E-Commerce Venue for Handmade: A Discussion in Several Parts - Introduction

Disclaimer: I am not a web designer or technician and I am neither an expert in the arts and/or skilled crafts, nor a historian. I am a self-taught craftsperson and writer with a personal interest in the set of opportunities and challenges facing individual creators and sellers of art and craft online. My aim is to gather a full-spectrum of perspectives from others (experts or not) who are similarly interested.

Humans have been handmaking art and crafts, as well as functional objects, forever. Originally, mankind had no choice: it was either do-it-yourself or do without. But, as time wore on and mankind's ingenuity turned toward ever more industrial and technical pursuits, handmade became less desirable. Factory-made became the preferred standard. Instead of seeking unique and/or skillfully hand-constructed products, people wanted to possess things that were easily recognizable, well-branded, and uniformly identical. True, visual and sculptural arts, and certain artisan crafts, have always enjoyed a certain level of appreciation and demand among specific demographics. And local galleries, markets, fairs, bazaars, etc. have long provided small-reach opportunities for artists and handmakers of a variety of products. But making (or supplementing) a living by one's own hands and creativity seems to have been discouraged in direct proportion to humanity's progress in mass production and automation.

But now, handmade is coming back into vogue. And with that has come the desire for the makers of such to be in control of their own creations, from concept/visualization and realization to placing them into the hands of expectant buyers - but without the many limitations of physical venues. There has been a small proliferation of online markets to facilitate and capitalize on this movement. Some are better than others. But, rather than discussing the pros and cons of those existing venues, or comparing them to one another, I'd like to know what sellers and buyers would consider to be the ideal venue, if one could exist, for transacting in handmade.

This introductory post is to gauge interest, and to gather additional topic suggestions. If I decide to go forward, I'll be introducing one or two topics of discussion per week, to try to keep things somewhat organized and coherent.

Preliminary Topic List

Part 1 - Defining Handmade: What qualifies?

Part 2 - To Jury or Not to Jury: Pros and cons of open membership versus approval-only. Is there a happy middle ground?

Part 3 - In Support of the Individual: How big is too big for a handmade venue?

Part 4 - Companion Merchandise: Which products, if any, are a good fit?

Part 5 - Venue Interface: Aesthetics and Navigation

Part 6 - Categories and Meaningful Taxonomy

Part 7 - Shop Essentials and Basic Seller Tools: Listing, Editing, Basic Management, Etc.

Part 8 - What Buyers Want: Basic Tools and Account Options

Part 9 - Technical Functionality: A Search that works

Part 10 - Technical Functionality: An efficient, buyer-friendly Shopping Cart

Part 11 - Customer Service: The absolute necessities

Part 12 - Forum Essentials: From lay-out to sections to posting options and moderation

Part 13 - The Community-Admin Connection: How important is it? How much involvement, in either direction, is too much?

Part 14 - Preserving Venue Integrity: Combating illicit shops and listings

Part 15 - Marketing: Onsite opportunities and external advertising

Part 16 - Extras and Fun Stuff: Non-essential wish lists
I look forward to an interesting and insightful discussion!


Please note that healthy debates and respectful disagreements are both inevitable and welcome. This is not, however, a place for denigrating either the views or crafts/skills of others, nor for disparaging specific venues. This is an information gathering endeavor and meant to be a positive exercise. A lot can be learned by considering all opinions and perspectives. Thanks!