Still searching for that perfect gift? Have you considered handmade mittens from the UK, or how about a handcrafted baby Yoda doll from Russia? Those can all be found on Etsy (which stands for “Easy to Sell Yourself”), the largest online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods. The platform connects artisans and sellers with millions of buyers around the world, taking a cut per item from sellers. 

Today it ranks as one of the top five most-visited ecommerce sites in the U.S., although still considered niche. However, a recent survey from CivicScience of 2,500 U.S. adults shows how niche it still is. Nearly one-third of respondents have never heard of Etsy before, outranking the total 25% of respondents who have previously made a purchase on Etsy. 

Customer retention is relatively high — of the general population, 21% of people say they’ve shopped on the site and plan to return to purchase again. In addition, 8% say they plan to make a purchase in the future.

However, things look far less niche with age. If you were a youngish twenty-something around 2010, Etsy was a cool new thing growing up alongside Amazon (at one point Etsy was valued at $8 billion). The survey shows that still rings true today. The largest buyer base consists of 25- to 34-year-olds, of which 44% say they have purchased on the site before or intend to. 

When it comes to gender, it’s pretty well-known that women make up the majority of Etsy’s seller and buyer base. Just a quick glance over the site shows that appealing to men isn’t exactly in the overall marketing direction. 

But it’s worthwhile to note that among women, Etsy isn’t all that niche; 45% have purchased before or intend to purchase on the site, which is twice the likelihood of men. At the same time, men are twice as likely to have never heard of Etsy before (a huge 42%). 

What People Want from Etsy

Etsy sells a huge range of handmade and vintage items such as clothes and shoes, jewelry and craft supplies, toys, home goods, skincare, costumes, instruments, artwork — the list goes on and on. According to the survey, most people who shop Etsy are coming to the site in search of unique and handmade items. 

While middle-income earners ($50K-150K) are the most likely to purchase on Etsy, the site still brings in shoppers from all income brackets. However, those who earn less than $50K per year are most interested in finding unique items while those who make $100K or more are the most likely to say they want handmade items. Just a small minority of shoppers earning $100K or less mention price as a factor.

In addition, survey data show that Etsy buyers tend to be heavier online shoppers who make significantly more mobile purchases and online banking transactions than non-buyers. They’re more tech-savvy than non-buyers; they’re more likely to be Netflix subscribers, use wearable fitness trackers, and spend more time on social media. 

At the same time, they strongly identify as socially-conscious shoppers. A solid 85% of previous Etsy buyers and those who intend to buy say that a company’s social consciousness and overall kindness are important to them when deciding where to shop. Ultimately, Etsy easily fits into the ecosystem of tech-savvy online shoppers who place a high value on ethically-produced goods.

Free Shipping and the Future of Etsy

Buying handmade and vintage goods isn’t for everyone — there are shipping costs and longer wait times for delivery. Despite Etsy’s moderate degree of popularity and adoption among women and young adults, it still has to contend with Amazon and Walmart. 

In an effort to incentivize holiday shopping and stay abreast of Americans’ ever-increasing expectations for fast and “free” shipping (CivicScience data show that 66% of U.S. adults say that free shipping is “very important” to them), Etsy released a bold new “free shipping” initiative this fall urging sellers to wrap shipping costs into their prices. Sellers who do are rewarded with receiving priority product placement on the site, while sellers who don’t may lose out on business.

The question is, will Etsy’s new free shipping policy fuel growth into the future? Survey results are positive — a total 40% of U.S. adults said that they are likely to purchase an item from Etsy if they could get free shipping. To put that into perspective, consider that just 29% of surveyed respondents initially said they would shop on Etsy (see the first chart).

To further drive home the value of free shipping to Etsy shoppers, CivicScience found that 54% of previous Etsy buyers who plan to buy again, and 67% of potential buyers, are Amazon Prime members. 

The promise of free shipping could be a step in the right direction when it comes to Etsy’s future, however how it will affect sellers, pricing, and overall revenue is still to be determined.