Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Econ 101: Jill gets sick of dumb pricing advice

I am not a brilliant pricer. I haven't mastered magic numbers for my shop. I haven't spent enough time researching it, but I have the advantage of knowing the economic theory behind it. It has nothing to do with the cost of my time and supplies multiplied by a magic number. In fact, for products I've already made, those things should barely come into account.


Yes. Revolutionary. And a little bit counter-intuitive.

Maybe you never took Econ 101. Maybe it made no sense. Maybe you hated it. But you've heard of "supply and demand." The part of supply and demand we care about right now is that a buyer will want to spend less money and you want to make more money.
Now let's do an imaginary Etsy example.
Let's say you make one-of-a-kind hand-sewn fish swimsuits. Even if they are free, some buyers still won't want them because they don't have fish, or their fish can't wear Lycra, or they just don't like your particular style. Fine.
Let's say this month you made 25 fish swimsuits. If you keep lowering your prices and your fish swimsuits are still not selling, you're probably at the point where all the people who have found your shop and would actually want to buy your fish swimsuits at any price have already made their purchases. Go advertise, fix your photos, change your product line, etc. Lowering your prices more probably won't help. After all, you aren't the only fish swimsuit seller and there is a limited total number of people who need handmade fish swimsuits in their lives.
But what if those 25 suits flew off the shelves at $1 a piece? Then you made $25. Swell.
The next month you again make 25 fish swimsuits. You want to see how much you can possibly charge, so you start with your price at $1,000 a suit and lower it until you get a sale (NOTE: this is not something I'm advising you do, since it's not like Etsy or your personal site has the traffic to make this really work, though it might be fun to try on one item just to see). Your sale finally comes in at $250. Holy crap! Someone paid $250 for a fish swimsuit! You rule!
So you should start charging $250 for your fish swimsuits and list one a day.
Because let's say you lowered it to $200, maybe you'd sell two a month (that's $400 total per month, FYI). And what if you lowered it to $100? Holy crap, you just sold 10 of them! that's $1000 a month! $75? 20 of them, giving you $1,500!
"Ok, so then I want to lower my price until everything sells."
Because now let's say in order to sell all 25 of them, you have to lower your price to $50, and that gives you $1,250. When you were charging $75, you only sold 20 of your 25 sweaters, but you made $1,500. That's an extra $250. $250 buys a lot of really cute felted crap from other Etsy sellers.

"So, wait. The best price to charge is some arbitrary-seeming number that probably doesn't sell all the stuff in my shop but also isn't the the most people are willing to pay and has nothing to do with how much it cost me to make it?"
YES. If it's already made and it's not doing you any good to hold onto it. Because once you've made it, all of those "how much it cost me, how much time it took, etc" things become what the econ world officially calls fixed costs or sunk costs. They don't change if you get $1 or $10,000 for the item. As a person who handmakes things myself, I understand the sentimental attachment involved, but I use that as a sort of base worth it has to me, so no matter what I'm not willing to part with it for less than that amount.

More on fixed costs: if I spend twice the time making a card because I did the whole thing with my left hand because I thought it would be more artistic and force me to be more mindful of my creation if I made the card lefty, and it comes out looking almost the same but a little worse than the card I made immediately before it with my right hand, a buyer is not going to pay me twice as much for the one lefty card to cover the two righty cards I could have made in that same amount of time.
"But it took me twice as long!"
Yes, please, whine like that to the buyers, too. If you're doing processes that take double the time and really sinking your teeth into the integrity (note: this is different from the actual product quality, which would lead to repeat customers. I'm talking about things that aren't visible in the final product, like the fight I had with my printer because it's my grandpa's old printer but I'm loathe to get rid of it because part of me thinks he haunts it except not really) then you need to be doing it for the integrity and not expect your buyers to pay you more, too.

"How the fuck do I find this arbitrary-seeming perfect pricing number?"
How do I get a flat stomach by June? Sorry I don't have a quick-fix. Unfortunately, you need data. And even all the data in the world won't get you a perfect solution, because even if you had an entire year's worth of data, there are all sorts of other things that come into play (maybe a major movie comes out one month in which Brad Pitt makes out with a fish wearing a fish swimsuit that's totally like the kind you make! Or maybe you finally re-do all your pictures and your sales jump up) and how are you supposed to know how much that changed things? And this is all assuming you have a fairly homogeneous (most of your crap is similar) product line. How the hell do you price that one random item? Yeah, good luck with that. But as a start, try playing around with your pricing in an orderly fashion. See how many items you've been selling and your total income week by week or month by month for the lasts year or six months or however long you've been on Etsy. Now try raising your prices a bit at a time week by week and see what it does to your income. If it goes up, keep going up. If it goes down, try lowering. See if you sell more. If not, don't keep lowering. It's like that lemonade stand computer game (less than 20 years ago I played it on an Apple IIe with no graphics...I'm too young to feel this old...) only your shop is your lemonade stand. You can play a free version online here.

What would be really nice is if sellers got together and could share data, or if Etsy could release some data to sellers. Maybe I'll ask my Aquatic Animal Lycra Team (AALT) to start sharing data on Google Docs or something so we can all have a better idea about pricing, but that might be considered price-fixing and might be a little illegal. Still, if just a few of us pooled resources, how is that any different from standard market research? Clearly, I need a marketing department. Where's my dog? He could totally do it.*

Ok, deep breath.

Now, let's say you make felted boogers. Hundreds of them. You frequently make them to order, and you can easily make more or less depending on what people want and seem to be buying. You are the seller who needs to worry about the time it takes to make each item and your materials costs and things. You are much more complicated. I'm too tired to deal with you right now, but if you're lucky, I might try to figure out a way to make the theoretical crap actually practical and useful another day.

But the more immediate reason I bring you up, oh maker of felted boogers, is that it will be obvious to you that if you are at the point where all the people who know about your shop and want your felted boogers have already purchased them, you stop making them until the demand returns. You work on your advertising and your photos, or maybe you stalk Alchemy and notice a lot of requests for resin boogers and try going into the resin booger business as a supplement or instead. And this is obvious to you because you weren't covering your variable costs. Those are the things that change with the selling of each item, and since you make each item to sell each item, materials and time kind of creep in there for you. They create a bit of a pricing floor, below which it's not worth it to you to be felting boogers.
What do I mean by a FLOOR?
A level below which it is no longer worth it to you to sell your crap.

So when we go back to our friend, the fish swimsuit maker, if she's not moving her stock of 25 swimsuits, she'd better not be making any more, either. That would be dumb. When people talk about pricing things and say that they "can't charge enough to cover their materials and pay themselves a decent wage," I know this is an asshole response, but THEN DON'T MAKE IT ANYMORE! If you're doing it because you love the art, then you're going to have to consider love part of your salary. It goes in the bag with integrity. If you're trying to make a living, go play Lemonade Stand, keep track of your weekly and/or monthly sales, stalk people who sell similar items and their sales, and if you're still in the red, your magic highest number may still be red! Hopefully, it will be huge and gorgeous and positive and you can quit your day job and buy all 25 fish swimsuits. I hear that shop is having a clearance sale.

*This is assuming "Market research" involves barking at other dogs and pawing my face at 4 AM


I'm in the Etsy Virtual Lab for a shop critique (not my own) and we're discussing the issue of round numbers for prices. It's come up before. I'm currious, since I tend to like weird decimals to avoid the big glob in price-sorted searches, but I think I'm in the minority. So vote. If it turns out everybody is of a different opinion, I will gladly change my ways. I think other people would be interested in this info, too. Feel free to leave questions and comments.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Making a difference

I was just poking through the Etsy gift guide and I saw TWO of my suggestions from the "gift guide suggestions" forum thread back to back! I feel so special. I am an arbiter of taste and a helper of friends. Observe:

For further JillHannah Fabulous Taste, check out my favorite sellers and items.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Yo' Mama's Day Card

Who says Mother's Day has to be purely mushy? I have friends who are now popping out babies. It is weird, and I want to send them Mother's Day cards. I had this "Holy shit! You made a baby!" idea for them, and then I figured a lot of Etsy is 20-somethings like myself poking through the Mother's Day cards, and they'll buy something for their own mothers, but suddenly they seem my BRILLIANT card and have to buy it for their friends who are babies. So far, I've gotten a convo from one woman telling me she totally understood the feeling and wanted to get the card but her friend who is the actual mother doesn't have the same sense of humor. Considering Mother's Day is more than a month away, I'll take that kind of response as a very good sign.