Crafting consumption through community: an exploration of the Etsy experience

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Tiffany Machado Blanchflower (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Nelson Hodges

Abstract: In a global market dominated by the mass production and consumption of branded goods, an interest in craft products has become a growing trend among consumers Walker, 2007). Consumer demand for craft products includes a wide array of items, from those that are perishable, such as micro brews, to those that are nonperishable, such as jewelry (Clay, 2013). There are many reasons why consumers are embracing craft products, as they are often unique, one-of-a-kind, of higher quality, and provide a connection to the creator. Ultimately, craft goods provide a unique consumption experience within a marketplace dominated by carbon-copied products and consumption experiences (Walker, 2007). While some retailers are trying to integrate the craft trend into their merchandise assortments, others have sought to build a business around craft products. Etsy is one such company that, through the craft community, has built a successful online business. Etsy, in turn, has helped promote the popularity of craft products. The convergence of craft products with community has turned Etsy into an innovative kind of online market. Since its introduction, Etsy has experienced tremendous growth. For instance, from 2005 to 2012 Etsy expanded into close to 200 international markets, attracted over 800,000 sellers, and sold roughly $80 million in products (Mitroff, 2013). Etsy owes its quick success to the avid community of craft Sellers and Buyers. Yet despite the uniqueness of Etsy’s growth and unique approach to retailing craft goods, no academic research exists on the topic. Thus, the purpose of this dissertation is to understand how Etsy functions as both a community and an online, craft-oriented market. Three objectives guided this dissertation: (1) to explore what it means to be a member of the Etsy community, (2) to investigate the extent to which this community shapes Etsy’s practices and functions as a market, and (3) to examine the implications of Etsy as a community-driven market for online retailing. The purpose and objectives were framed by a sociological perspective and understood within the context of consumer behavior research. Three overarching concepts —culture, community, and market— were used to weave together a conceptual framework for the study. Ethnography and netnography serve as the interpretive approaches to explore Etsy’s community and market. Three methods of data collection were employed, including participant observation, in-depth interviews, and visual documentation. Participant observation and pure observation occurred over a three-month time period resulting in a total of 312 hours of observation. Nine Buyers, eight Sellers and three Etsy Administrators were interviewed. Last, visual documentation was used to capture online and offline observations. Spiggle’s (1994) suggestions of qualitative data analysis were employed to identify patterns in the data, which resulted in the development of three thematic areas: (1) Uncovering Etsy’s Culture, (2) Etsy as a Community, and (3) Etsy as a Market. The thematic interpretation revealed that Etsy’s platform relies on an interdependent community/market relationship, as such, the community influences the market and the market influences the community. In turn, it was found that members’ roles, (e.g., Buyers, Sellers, and Etsy Administrators), were integral to fostering this relationship and ultimately shaping Etsy’s platform. Findings of this dissertation reveal the ways that Etsy has taken a unique approach to online retailing, as it diverges from the traditional online retailing model by seamlessly integrating community into its market. In so doing, this dissertation reveals how Etsy brings a new format to online retailing, the community-based electronic market. This particular retail format is unique in that it is dependent on market consumption communities to not only purchase goods and services, but to provide the merchandise to be sold within the market. Another distinct characteristic of Etsy is the market prosumer, a member that buys, sells, and works for Etsy. This market player is unique to the community-based electronic market, and like the concept of the community-based electronic market, it is new to the literature. Although future research on the topic is needed, findings from this dissertation point to the beginning of a new era in online retailing, as well as new avenues for consumer behavior research.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Community-based electronic markets, Consumption communities, Etsy, Market consumption communities, Market prosumer, Moralized markets
Etsy (Firm)
Internet marketing $x Social aspects
Electronic commerce $x Social aspects
Consumption (Economics) $x Social aspects
Online social networks $x Economic aspects
Social media $x Economic aspects

Email this document to