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Advice For Etsy Shoppers: 8 Distinct Products You Could Buy With Free Shipping

Here’s one thing Etsy can offer shoppers that Amazon might not: A sweater for your box turtle that will make it look like a stegosaurus. And at $35, the shipping is free.

Photo: Bloomberg

The little green reptile sweater is among many unusual artisanal finds customers can discover on the online marketplace, and the kind that make it such an original shopping destination. But paid shipping is increasingly a deal breaker for shoppers. So 14 years after Etsy was founded as a sanctuary for independent-artists and vintage goods, it is making corporate-like decisions to maintain viability.

Most recently: It is encouraging its merchants to offer free shipping on orders of at least $35. In return, these artisan merchants will receive higher rankings on Etsy’s search results.

For shoppers, this new model may mean free shipping on exclusivity, because many of Etsy’s products are unique to its marketplace. Following are eight categories of products that shoppers may be able to get with free shipping (meaning they are at least $35), should the vendors offer it. All distinguish Etsy from its competitors, and reveal why it should matter to shoppers. 

  1. Homemade candy and candy cakes: Yep, they are just what they sound like: Tiered cakes constructed entirely of Snickers bars, Mike & Ikes, Tootsie Pops, Twix Minis and other wrapped sweets. Several are themed (Father’s Day, Harry Potter/Muggle cake and peanut-lover’s dream). For those who want fresh candy processed in the home kitchen, many makers of artisanal sweets sell on Etsy, from made-to-order truffles to chocolate tools that look authentically rusty.
  2. Faux wedding cakes. They’re a thing, and increasingly popular among couples who prefer to have a fake cake melt in the sun or succumb to mishaps. They also are a less-expensive option for couples who want a wedding cake only for a centerpiece and photo shoot. Made of Styrofoam and sometimes covered in real icing, faux wedding cakes can include a slice of actual cake for the cutting ceremony. The price difference is substantial: A faux cake can cost $100, while the average real wedding cake is closer to $400. (One Etsy merchant sells elaborately decorated faux doughnuts and popsicles for weddings).
  3. Handmade children’s clothing. Speaking of photo shoots, parents often hunt for one-of-a-kind outfits for baby’s first (fifth, 11th) portrait. Similarly, grandparents, godparents and friends tend to want to be remembered for gifts that make a statement. For this, Etsy has several options, including bell-bottom toddler pants, handknit hooded baby ponchos and traditional African and Indian clothing. (Many items, including baby pinafore dresses, sell for far less than $35.)
  4. Taxidermy oddities. A shopper in need could find a rabbit’s foot or stuffed duckling across many websites, but Etsy stands apart for its breadth of taxidermy creativity. The artisans of this craft flock to Etsy with offerings that come in the forms of Jackalopes, hamsters with human faces, winged hares and mounted swans. The choice of animals in the midst of human activities alone could fill an unusual Christmas list.
  5. Vintage designer wear. Shoppers who want to really stand apart at an event have a better chance of accomplishing so much on Etsy. Its “vintage couture” selection goes back decades, ranging from a 1950s Jean Patou jacket to a Valentino “new” haute couture polka-dot dress ($8,280). Its selection also covers a variety of tastes, price points and brands, including 1990s Versace and a 1960s Adolfo knit dress from Saks ($60).
  6. Genuine Eames furniture. Charles and Ray Eames were a powerhouse designing duo who helped define mid-century modern furniture, notably with their chairs. Etsy carries a range of them, including the iconic leather lounger and ottoman. ($7,000). New Eames pieces are still in production today — Herman Miller and Vitra International are the only producers — but the Etsy items come straight from the period, which could make a big difference to enthusiasts. Etsy also offers a broad selection of mid-century modern furnishings from other designers.
  7. First-run psychedelic concert posters. Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and Janis Joplin concerts are as well remembered for their promotional psychedelic posters as for their bootleg live recordings. Enthusiasts can discover original posters by Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin and other pioneers of psychedelic rock art on many sites, but Etsy has a deep collection that spans artists and musicians, some of which are one-of-a-kinds.
  8. Long lost board games. Out-of-circulation board games aren’t just for collectors, they can make for highly personalized gifts and party activities (just keep the dip and drinks away from the board). Etsy’s selection covers those mass produced by Parker Bros., J. Pressman and others. Among the offerings: Pollyanna (early 1900s); Whippet Race (1920), the Wide World Travel Game (1950s) and Waddingtons Monopoly (made in the UK, 1930s). And for those interested in teenage sleuths, there’s a rare Nancy Drew Mystery Game.

Other retailers are likely watching Etsy’s free-shipping effort to see how it works out, and they will hopefully fold these consumer insights into their own customer-service cost structures. Though, as any customer would be happy to tell them: When it comes to delivering shopper value, free shipping is just one part of the experience.

Regardless of the outcome, shoppers are the winners, because one more barrier to affording increasingly hard-to-find treasures is being removed.

This article originally appeared in Forbes. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more on retail, loyalty and the customer experience.

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