INTERVIEW: Nicole Vanderbilt of Etsy
As incoming UK country manager at Etsy
, Nicole Vanderbilt’s job is to raise the profile of the craft marketplace in this country at a time when it is looking to expand across the world.
Her appointment follows Etsy’s success in raising $40m (£24.8m) from investors earlier in this year in order to fuel international expansion. Beyond its US headquarters the company also has country teams in Canada, Australia, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Vanderbilt's arrival takes the UK Etsy team to four, but new hires in marketing, PR and seller development staff are expected to double the size of the team in coming months.
“My job is basically to take the great momentum that we already have the UK and capitalise that to grow both the buying and the selling side of the business,” says Vanderbilt. “We do that through investments in building up the team but also investing in marketing in the UK so in the coming months we’ll see both digital and offline marketing from us to help introduce the Etsy brand and the Etsy site and shopping experience to new UK buyers in the run up to Christmas.”
So just what is the size of Etsy’s potential UK market? “It’s hard to quantify the UK craft market because it’s a very fragmented informal industry,” said Vanderbilt, “but I’ve heard it put at a £5bn market which means there’s loads of head room to grow the business in the UK.”
So far, it seems, the UK market is similar to other markets in that jewellery and vintage sales are strong. But art is an area where the UK site seems stronger than in other markets, says Vanderbilt. “I think that has a lot to do with the nature and strength of art education in the UK. You get a lot of illustrators and artists who are very well educated by the lead colleges here.” She also singles out supplies as a category set to do well in the future.
But Etsy, founded in 2005 by painter, carpenter and photographer Rob Kalin and currently turning over $525m (£325.7m) a year, is also looking to change the way that shoppers approach its website, with a recent focus on the browsing experience. “Ecommerce is still centred on search,” said Vanderbilt. “You have to think about what you want and have to be able to articulate that in keywords.
“With the nature of Etsy’s business we like to encourage people to browse around, shop without knowing specifically what they have in mind and hope that we can help guide them to find something interesting. We have updated the browse experience so that people can wander through our categories and the site. That’s going to be a really important part of how the shopping experience on Etsy evolves, helping them find the inspiration.”
So how is Etsy different from the competition? Vanderbilt singles out both the global nature of the marketplace, which means sellers in 150 countries trade across the world and a “democratic” approach that means that anyone who sells handmade or vintage items can sell through Etsy. That, says Vanderbilt, has created “a real community.” That social sense of community is also important to the site. “A great part of Etsy’s success has been meeting sellers face to face,” she said. “We spend time at craft fairs and festivals and spend time giving workshops to help people be more successful on the site.” In turn that helps boost social interactions on the site.
But in the end, says Vanderbilt, the ease with which sellers can trade online gives the site an edge. “Fundamentally, Etsy is about making it easy for anyone, anywhere to build or directly buy from independent, creative businesses. We are providing a platform for individuals to market and sell their products through fantastic technology which is bringing together a global creative community. In turn, we’re offering buyers a place to shop for products with real people, inspiration and passion behind them.”