Handmade, Amazon’s Etsy rival, expands into Europe

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Amazon continues to try to turn the screws on its competition through its scale, and now it’s the turn of Handmade, the e-commerce giant’s marketplace for arts and crafts that competes most closely with Etsy.  Today, Amazon announced that Handmade would expand to Europe, starting first in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK, where some 30,000 “genuinely handmade items crafted and sold directly from European artisans” will be on offer in its debut.

On the site, you can search for items by those artisans’ locations (which includes artisans from outside Europe, too).

Amazon also said that Handmade in the U.S. is expanding Prime two-day shipping service to ‘thousands’ of items, taking away some of the friction of buying them (and adding one more bonus for those on the fence about whether to pay for a Prime subscription).

Handmade’s U.S. site now stocks 500,000 items, growing five-fold in the last year, but this is still a very small number compared to Etsy, which says that it currently has 40 million items for sale from 1.7 million sellers and 26.1 million buyers.

With the moves announced today, Amazon is moving slowly but surely in its plan to rival and perhaps one day overtake Etsy as people’s go-to place for buying arts and crafts and other handmade goods online.

Europe is an interesting case in point for how Amazon will do this. Etsy today makes about 30 percent of its gross merchandise sales revenues outside of the U.S. — spurred in part by its acquisition, back in 2014, of French Etsy-style site A Little Market — and the strategy is to grow that to 50 percent over time, Etsy’s CEO Chad Dickerson recently said.

He also said that Etsy, which beat Wall Street expectations last quarter, has “not seen any effect” from Amazon Handmade or other competitors in terms of interest from buyers and sellers. But all the same, it’s also trying to invest to help stay ahead of the game. Just a few days ago, Etsy announced that it acquired an AI startup called Blackbird Technologies to add advanced features like image recognition and natural language processing to its search features. Dickerson says that it will continue to also add more services over time (perhaps things like inventory management, better analytics, and more tools for marketing wares on the seller side, alongside better search and discover for buyers).

Handmade first launched in the U.S. last October. Amazon has been known to take as long as several years to bring some products and services outside of its U.S. home market (the Kindle e-reader and Kindle e-books perhaps being the most extreme examples), so relatively speaking this is a quick roll out for the company.

The site in the UK, at least, is still very small but holds some promise if it continues to grow.

More generally, Amazon has been exploring ways to grow in a number of new categories to take it beyond its core marketplace of books, electronics and home goods. Adjacent to art and crafts, the company has made a big push into fashion and design, eyeing up acquisitions in the process; and it’s also making a play in the business of food, both with grocery sales and delivery with Amazon Fresh and also Postmates-style restaurant food delivery.

The Handmade launch is an interesting detail in that strategy: although Amazon is well known for being one of the biggest and most successful examples of the application of economies of scale on very small margins in the business of e-commerce, Handmade puts its emphasis on “genuine handcrafted products,” which is interesting considering that Etsy — while still focusing on small producers — has also moved away from that to include objects that may have been made with machines and, in some cases like jewellery, pretty advanced technology like 3D printers.

Since the launch of Handmade at Amazon in the U.S. less than a year ago, Amazon’s selection of quality handcrafted products has grown over 5x to include more than 500,000 items from all 50 states and over 80 countries around the world. Artisan crafted products are available in ten categories, and over 50 percent of items include options for customer personalization.

As with Launchpad, another vertically focused store on Amazon’s wider marketplace, when the company expanded its shop that sells gadgets made by newer hardware startups to the UK after a U.S. launch, Amazon filled out the inventory with products made by European companies. That’s the case here as well.

“When we introduce a new business at Amazon we think long-term and globally. Since launch, we’ve received feedback from customers and artisans around the world that they want a Handmade at Amazon store in their local marketplace,” said Steve Johnson, Director at Amazon, in a statement. “With our focus on genuine handcrafted products, the Handmade at Amazon store has been a big hit with artisans and customers in the U.S. and we’re encouraged by the strong growth of sales and customer traffic. Amazon has become a one-stop shop for holiday gifting, and this year customers will see hundreds of thousands more handmade items, with thousands eligible for Prime two-day shipping.”