Online e-commerce platform vs. traditional retail stores chain; a brand based in everything handmade vs. a brand of factory made furniture. How did goods from the online indie-craft hub end up in West elm’s catalog and stores? Look for the answer in the reasons that are making possible collaborations apparently unlikely but obviously win/win once you forget traditional prejudices.
Etsy is an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items, supplies, as well as unique factory-manufactured items, born in 2005 as a global platform to give independent designers the opportunity to sell everything handmade. Etsy sellers range from hobbyists to professional artists who use the site to make a living. The platform reached 30 million registered users and projections of one million sellers and over US$1 billion in total annual transactions have been announced.
West Elm is an upscale retail store that features contemporary furniture designs and other housewares in about 60 stores in US and some other countries. After some years of struggling, a revival strategy started to be implemented some years ago and West Elm is now the fastest-growing brand of owner Group Williams-Sonoma, delivering double-digit comparable-brand-revenue growth every quarter since 2010.
That was the year that West Elm reached out Etsy for first time. Although they could be considered as competitors, West Elm had the counterintuitive idea of showcasing Esty products in its print catalog. “We wanted the catalogs to be more realistic, and we know our customers home is not all West Elm.” says West Elm’s Brand Marketing Director Abigail Jacobs.
A question for a next logical step: Why not tell customers where to get the stuff we’re propping with? After some months of conversations, ten Etsy sellers were finally featured in West Elm’s January 2011 catalog. At the same time, Etsy started experimenting with physical world outside its only online approach since then, and began doing regular local pop-ups at West Elm locations, which featured a dozen Etsy sellers at a time. One year later West Elm invited local Etsy merchants to set up one-day pop-up shops in all of its U.S. locations simultaneously.
So West Elm wanted to showcase merchandise from independent sellers and artists to add local character to their stores, to bring personality and soul and handmade into the business. At the same time, Etsy was looking for partners to a new venture called Etsy Whole, which main target is to connect Etsy sellers to brick-and-mortar shops, gaining a visibility difficult to reach on the infinite products world of digital realm.
So last year West Elm became one of the major partners in Etsy Wholesale. On the path to this initiative, each new West Elm store displays a grouping of items from local Etsy sellers, called out as “Etsy for West Elm” collections. West Elm curated the items with a helping hand from Etsy; the furniture retail company and the individual sellers sealing their own wholesale deals.