by Maggie Menderski
Amazon has moved into the marketplace for handmade goods, and at least two local artists have joined the mix.
The Internet retailer launched Handmade at Amazon last week, promising to connect shoppers with upwards of 80,000 handcrafted items from more than 60 countries. The company reached out to Sarasota-based painter Matt Pecson and metalsmiths John and Linda Whitney late this summer, encouraging them to apply for slots in the new online store for handmade products.
The artists had seen some success on Etsy, which has sold handmade and vintage items online for more than a decade.
“What’s really exciting is that there are now so many venues for artists to present their work,” Linda Whitney said. “It’s really neat that there’s just been such an emphasis now on handmade.”
The products sold on Handmade at Amazon fit into a variety of categories, including jewelry, home décor, artwork, stationery, kitchenware and furniture. The service promises customers the Amazon shopping experience while connecting them with artists and crafts people from around the world.
Etsy had come under fire since it announced plans in September to connect some sellers with manufacturers. The move aimed to increase production of some of the website’s most popular items, but many argued it diminished the products' handmade feel.
Amazon appears to have a strict application process for its Handmade marketplace. The Whitneys aren't sure how Amazon found their work, but their designs appear in shows and galleries nationwide, Linda Whitney said.
The Whitneys, the self-described “dinosaurs” of the new digital marketplace, have been crafting items of metal together since the 1970s. They started out making peace signs and leather bracelets, and then moved into flatware and liquor glasses. Today, they focus on fine jewelry. The pieces on Amazon are created by forming fine metals over silversmithing stakes and then soldering them with silver. They sometimes add clay and natural stones to enhance their look. The Whitneys had 16 pieces listed on Handmade at Amazon as of Monday morning. Business wasn’t booming immediately after the launch, Linda Whitney said, but they weren’t discouraged.
Business was initially slow for Pescon, too. But he said he expects that teaming up with Amazon will eventually give him a chance to find customers who might not have sought out original paintings online before.
His art often celebrates other American artists. He had 44 pieces listed on Amazon as of Monday that featured icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley, among others.
The search feature on Amazon funnels the handmade products into the all-department searches, which could put his paintings in front of a shopper searching for an album, who may not have seen his art otherwise.
“One of the things that we’re most excited about with Amazon is their current customer base that goes to Amazon for everything,” said Jennifer Carroll, Pescon’s business manager.
While Etsy has a loyal customer base, it does not carry the same kind of name recognition as Amazon, Pescon said. Etsy’s marketplace also has been flooded with products since it launched a decade ago. His work shares a category with 160,000 other pieces on Etsy, and as of Friday he was only competing with about 2,400 in the painting section on Handmade at Amazon, Carroll said.
The Etsy community as whole seems to be nervous about Amazon’s move into the market, Pescon said. There’s been concerns over Amazon siphoning off some of Etsy’s traditional customers, especially so close to the holiday shopping season.
But even with his new link to Amazon, Pescon plans to keep his Etsy store open.
“It’s just broadening our customer base,” Pescon said. “Yep, we’re not leaving Etsy. That’s been our bread and butter, and I intend to keep it that way.”