Sell art online with Merchpin
Rachel Biel, founder of the Textile and Fiber Art List (TAFA) helps textile artists sell more work and reach a wider audience, so when she told us about a new tool she’d discovered with massive potential in this area, we thought our audience would love to hear about it.
Using Merchpin to create a virtual marketplace
TAFA was launched in 2010 with a main goal of helping it’s members find larger markets for their work. We now have over 500 members and more than half have shops on Etsy and another bunch use other shopping carts like Big Cartel, Bigcommerce, Shopify, various WordPress plugins, and so on. We have an Etsy team, but it has always felt rather exclusive and I longed for something that could include our other members who also had shops. Etsy has also increasingly become flooded with cheap merchandise that has made it harder to find the handmade stuff we sell. I wrote about that on our blog which led to a flood of comments including one by Beverly Rustica who mentioned Merchpin as a solution for us. I gave it a try and explain it in another post.
Without repeating everything that I said in those posts, let me condense it and tell you why I think this is an amazing tool for those of you who have shopping carts and sell art online. The basic process: Merchpin is a service which allows you to pull in products into a huge catalog through rss feeds. You can also download products as csv files and then upload them to that catalog. This means that lots of small shops can come together and become a central marketplace! You can then assign tags or categories to the products in that catalog and create collections based on a common feature. For example, we created a Colors page and have a bunch of reds, yellows, blues, greens, etc. grouped together, a fun way to see very different products! Here is a bit of Black:
Click on any of the images and you end up in that person’s shop! Think about how powerful this is as a collective marketing tool! The great thing is that this is done by a code that the system generates. For those of you who are familiar with Etsy, this is like a super-charged Etsy mini which you can organize into treasuries or themes. Whenever something sells or is deleted in that person’s shop, it also disappears from our catalog. CSV files need to be deleted manually.
Control the look and style
There is a design page on the Merchpin that allows you to control the look of your widget completely. You can make the images big or small, make them rectangular or square, change the background colors, etc. Beverly went more minimalistic with her design on the site she runs, Boardwalk Artisans. The code can be pasted anywhere where html is used. We are using WordPress, she is using a Blogger platform.
Merchpin is not free. The site owner has given us unlimited products for $99/month, a significant cost for my scant budget. See the pricing plans here: http://www.merchpin.com/plans. So, we are charging TAFA members who want to participate $125 for a setup fee and then a $10/month maintenance fee. Right now we have 12 paid members and I am hoping that we will end up with 40 or 50 which will give us an amazing representation of our larger group. We have so many different kinds of needs and targets within TAFA that no one project will be perfect for everyone, but my hope is that this sampling will drive new people to explore the rest of our members on our main site.
How can you use this?
Well, the basic plan for $9/month is pretty useless in my opinion, as you can only load 20 products to the catalog and most of us have more than that. But the next option for $39/month allows 250 products. Let’s say you have several friends who are artists, too. They might do non-textile work: ceramics, wood, etc. and all of you have shopping carts and blogs or websites. Let’s just say you are on Etsy, although it could be a different cart system. You could have five friends come together with less than 50 products each (to keep it under the 250 limit) and set up the account together. You could either have just one page that shows a few items of each or you could create topical collections like we are doing. Because this is just code that you paste on a page, you don’t need to set up a second site. You could each just add one or more pages on your own sites and paste the code there. That would cost each $7.80 a month! Each person’s followers would get exposure to the others in your group.
I’ve suggested to Joe and Sam that TextileArtist.org might want to have their own market and then we could cross-promote each other, each adding a page where the code would have featured items. Once the code is up and your products are tagged, the display is automatic. Guilds, Associations, and other artist groups could all use this to promote their members.
Finally, Merchpin offers automatic posting to Facebook, Twitter and tumblr. You can set it to post every hour or once a day and you can choose from which collection it should post. So, we could feature scarves for a while, then pillows, or something different on each one. Merchpin has a lot of features and tools and it took me a while to wrap my head around how it works. But, once I “got” it, I found it to be such an exciting opportunity that I hope other groups will start using it too. There are improvements which we would like to see happen and if more people get on board, perhaps they will become a reality. The two biggest are clicking on the image should open a new window (so that people continue to explore your site) and currency conversions (merchpin pulls the number that the shop has entered as the value, but assigns the same currency symbol on all products).
I will leave it at this and respond to questions via the comment section. I hope that some of you will see the potential in this and become as excited as I am about it. Technology is always changing and we don’t know what new tools will be out there for us next year or in five years. But, for now, this is a great one! Seize the day!
by Rachel Biel
- Find out more about Merchpin here
- Click here for groups interested in unlimited listings on Merchpin
- Visit the TAFA marketplace
- Read more about Rachel and TAFA
- See Rachel’s advice to artists seeking to reach a wider audience