Emily Bidwell’s job is not for the easily overwhelmed. As an Etsy.com merchandising specialist, she plunges into the depths of the Etsy marketplace each day, sifting through nearly eight million listings for vintage wares and handmade goods. Yes, her job basically means she gets to shop on Etsy all day, but it also requires an eye meticulous enough to fish out the trends and remarkable items swimming through the teeming Etsy site, and then translate those findings into curated content like the Etsy homepage and daily “Etsy Finds” e-mails.
We swung by the company’s Brooklyn headquarters to ask the 36-year-old searching pro how she got such an awesome job, what the now-booming site was like when she joined as its sixth staffer, and what makes a successful Etsy shop.
What do you do as a merchandising specialist?
What I do is dig into the site, find great things that people haven’t seen before, and put together a story for [our audience's] shopping needs. We look at merchandising calendars, trends, and basically shop the site all day. We’re professional searchers. One of my primary responsibilities is curating the “Etsy Finds” e-mail, which is our daily shopping guide. Another thing that I do is work with PR and press and business partnerships, so that when magazines come to us and say, “We’re looking for great stocking stuffers under $50, help us out,” I can create a collection for them.
My job [also] entails working with Etsy’s homepage. Our homepage is curated by the community, but my job is to look through the community-curated treasuries to see which ones will fit. Whether it’s a seasonal fit, or, you know, just to make sure there’s nothing inappropriate there. When [Etsy] first started in 2005, the homepage would be the exact same for days. Now, it changes every hour or 30 minutes. Ultimately, we’re trying to show shoppers things they might be interested in looking for, or get ideas from to search the rest of the site. We’re trying to engage people.
Beyond that, I do a lot of things around the office. I’m involved with decorating the office, and I’ve been working on getting an office lunch program started—and that kind of goes beyond lunch. It’s really about retaining our culture. I was with Etsy at the beginning, so it’s really important to me that as we grow, we continue to sit down and eat together.
How did you come to Etsy as its sixth staffer?
So, I was doing screenprinting—mostly T-shirts—with a friend, Matt. Matt had been living with Rob [Kalin], one of the Etsy founders… and, basically, Etsy had a really terrible site outage. It lasted a couple days, and sellers were really mad. So, Rob came to me and Matt and said, “Will you make T-shirts to give to the Etsy sellers as an apology?” We printed up these shirts, and then there were problems in the Etsy forums over this because the sizes weren’t exactly what people wanted. So, I started talking to people through e-mail, and that was the first time I really got to know the community. I realized that this was a serious community, very communicative, and very engaged. It was exciting.
Before long, Rob said to me, “You know, you kind of already did customer support. Would you like to keep on doing that? Because I could really use help just answering e-mails.” So, for the first three years I was at Etsy, I headed the Customer Support department, and it grew from me to about a dozen people. From there, I moved over to Merchandising. Matt also works at Etsy now. He came on two months before me as our marketing director, and is heading up the Berlin blog now!
Do you find most of your trends from Etsy, or outside of it?
That’s such an interesting question, because I really look internally, in the Etsy marketplace. I think it’s a trendsetting environment. Of course, I think that in many ways, we all live together in a greater community. I definitely follow lots of media—I read magazines, blogs, Martha, all that stuff.
Do you have any insight as to what makes an Etsy shop successful?
First, engaging photography. Something that’s a little bit editorial, that has a feel to it, rather than a harsh, gallery-type slide. So, when a shopper goes to your shop, they have an idea about who you are as a brand. Imagine that you have a brick-and-mortar shop. What would that look like, smell like, and be like for shoppers when they step into the store? Do you have flowers out? Is it mod? Try to capture that in your photography.
Beyond the photography, I really do believe that if you want to have a successful Etsy shop, you have to treat it as a serious business, and market yourself, whether that’s through Twitter, blogging, engaging in the Etsy community, or other online crafting communities. You have to work for your business. Our top sellers would all tell you that sometimes, it’s tireless! The thing is, that as employees at Etsy, we are right there with you. We’ve worked tirelessly to make this venue happen.
Do you find that you just buy everything off of Etsy now? Your Favorites page must be billions of pages long.
I search the site all day, so it’s pretty irresistible. I have over a thousand pages of Favorites! (Which is literally bigger than some of the categories.)
What’s the favorite thing you’ve ever purchased off Etsy?
My most recent favorite is this gold starburst cocktail ring by Ahna6. I love it, it’s dreamy. It’s kind of boho-chic, but also kind of The Jetsons. I love that.
What’s the best part of your job?
The best part? You know, I never thought I’d work for a company. I’m really proud to say that this is the only company I’ve ever wanted to work for, and the best part of my job is that I’ve learned to work within a context of a company that cares about individuals, about personal expression, and that is in line with my values as an artist. I love everything I’ve done here, whether that’s customer support or merchandising.
I feel like that company culture is reflected in the Etsy seller community, too.
Yeah, it really is a conversation. The energy is transferring back and forth. The excitement that people feel about Etsy is something we take, and hopefully give back!
When you joined Etsy, it was a five-person op. Do you have any advice for young folks who are looking into small start-ups, or ventures that seem risky but exciting?
Firstly, it takes a lot of responsibility. You need to initiate a lot. Don’t wait for somebody to tell you what to do. If you have an idea and you can organize it, do it! Sitting back and waiting to be told what to do does not work.
Any other parting advice?
Believe in what you’re doing, despite what people may say to you. I was an artist, and my mother worried about me. I wasn’t worried about myself. I think the love and passion and devotion that you put toward any kind of art or interest will always reap benefits. When you do commit, life really does unfold the way that it should! That’s how I feel about how I got to Etsy.
Thanks, Emily! Also, watch the blog closely for our next Best Job Ever. In the meantime, tell us what you think the best job ever is—and we might just find someone who does it!