Most Etsy shops get their beginnings when a crafter makes a product for friends and/or family, decides they should try selling it, and then discover Etsy.
The maker creates listings on Etsy and waits for sales to start coming in.
This route leaves most makers disappointed when it’s months later and they have few to no sales.
When you decide to sell your crafts, you’re starting a business.
Whether you want to call it a business or not, the act of selling an item for profit, makes it a business.
And when you have a business, you need to be strategic with the types of products you list.
These are the types of products that tend to be harder to sell on Etsy and you may want to avoid listing.
1 – Avoid listing easy-to-access products
When starting an online shop, you must consider online shopper intent.
Meaning, what do people go online to buy?
More specifically, what do people visit Etsy to buy?
Products that are easy and convenient to buy at the grocery store or a local shop don’t sell as well online.
Consumers aren’t going to pay for shipping and wait 2 to 3 weeks for an item they can easily grab locally.
Most people head online to buy when they’re looking for something specific.
When someone is on the hunt for “glow-in-the-dark chapstick” it’s easier to type the keywords into a search bar and find hundreds of results than it is to go from shop to shop in the mall.
A basic bar of soap, chapstick, birthday card, etc. are all easy to grab at the grocery store. If people are going to buy those items online, they’re likely looking for a specialty bar of soap/chapstick/birthday card/etc.
Avoid listing items that are easier, cheaper, and quicker to buy locally.
2 – Avoid listing products that infringe on intellectual property
One of the laws you must follow when starting a business is the law of intellectual property.
Etsy does not act as a gatekeeper.
There is no one at Etsy checking each shop and item listed to ensure they’re not breaking intellectual property laws.
It’s up to you to know, understand, and follow the categories of intellectual property laws (e.g. patents, trademarks, copyrights).
There are hundreds of shops selling Disney-themed products illegally.
It’s a matter of time before one of Disney’s lawyers does a sweep on Etsy, reports the listings in violation, and the shop is taken down (at a minimum).
(It’s not just Disney; Disney’s intellectual property is one of the most commonly violated).
Although intellectual property laws can be complicated, it’s easy to understand if you think about how you would like your work to be protected.
Imagine you created an original image and had that image printed on t-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, etc.
You spent a lot of time and money marketing that image and building a strong brand around it.
Consumers started searching for that specific image by name and had to come to you to buy any item with that original image on it.
Now imagine another business coming along and using your image on their products.
Instead of consumers coming to you to buy items with the image, they’re going to the business that is using your image, without permission.
Other businesses are profiting off of your hard work.
If you create products using a Disney character (or other copyrighted/trademarked material), you’re taking sales away from Disney.
There are circumstances in which you can use copyrighted material (e.g. fair use), but when in doubt, it’s best to avoid using other people’s/business’s designs.
3 – Avoid listing high-risk products
Some products are riskier to sell than others and require more legal prep work.
There are many more regulations to follow when selling baby products than there are if you’re selling art. For example, children’s sleepwear must meet strict flammability requirements.
Products that make health claims, have the ability to cause health issues (e.g. a cream that might give someone a rash), or could pose a safety issue (e.g. teething products for babies could cause a choking hazard) means there are more legal hoops for the seller to jump through.
For example, natural health products, kitchen utensils, or products that come in contact with food, chemical products, cosmetics, etc. are considered higher-risk products in most countries, and businesses selling them have strict regulations to follow.
Not only are you at a greater risk of a lawsuit when selling high-risk products, but you’ll also have to spend more time and money to set up your business properly and follow stricter regulations.
When selling products that pose a greater risk to the consumer, you should also have liability insurance, which will increase your business costs.
Without liability insurance, your personal assets (e.g. house, car, etc.) will be at risk in the case of a lawsuit.
Avoid selling high-risk products on Etsy if you’re not willing to invest the time and money to get the proper licenses and/or permits, or follow the necessary regulations.
4 – Avoid listing hard-to-ship items
Shipping fees can make or break a sale.
Consumers are accustomed to “free shipping” and if they see high shipping fees on a product, they’re more likely to abandon their cart.
If you keep shipping fees low for the consumer, your business must cover some, or all, of them, and your profits go down.
You also want to ensure it’s easy to package your products for shipping so they’ll travel well.
Although your package is (literally) out of your hands, and a damaged item may be due to the shipping courier, customers will be unhappy with your business if their item arrives damaged.
A damaged item may also result in a bad review.
Replacing the damaged item may help you avoid some bad reviews, however, waiting for the replacement item to arrive may still leave some customers unhappy.
Replacements will also eat into your profits as you must provide a second item to the customer, free of charge, and pay the shipping fees.
Before listing an item on Etsy, consider if it will travel well and if you can keep shipping fees reasonable (without reducing your profits too much).
5 – Avoid listing generic products
When you’re selling a “basic” product (e.g. hoop earrings, blue scarf, coffee mug) you’ll have a lot of competition.
On the other hand, when you sell a specific, specialized, or niche product you’ll have less competition.
At the time of writing this article, these are the number of listings for each “basic” item:
- hoop earrings – 522,237 Etsy listings
- blue scarf – 131,118 Etsy listings
- coffee mug – 1,110,081 Etsy listings
As you get more specific and less generic with your products, you’ll have less competition on Etsy.
- hoop earrings – 522,237
- gold hoop earrings – 303,595
- thick gold hoop earrings – 13,713
- thick solid gold hoop earrings – 1,957
- thick gold hoop earrings – 13,713
- gold hoop earrings – 303,595
- blue scarf – 131,118
- knit blue scarf – 14,698
- chunky knit blue scarf – 2301
- knit blue scarf – 14,698
- coffee mug – 1,110,081
- personalized coffee mug – 145,388
- personalized dog coffee mug – 10,107
- personalized coffee mug – 145,388
You’re also targeting consumers who are ready to buy when you get more specific and niche with your products.
For example, someone searching for “hoop earrings” probably hasn’t narrowed down what type of hoop earrings they want (e.g. silver or gold? Big or small?). They’re browsing to see what’s out there and what they like.
Someone searching for “thick solid gold hoop earrings” knows exactly what they want and is ready to buy when they find it.
A niche product lowers your competition and can help you target a ready-to-buy market.
>> Not sure who your target market is? Here’s how to find a profitable one.
The less competition you have, the easier it will be for shoppers to find your products on Etsy.
However, very low competition may indicate there’s little to no consumer demand for it.
When you find a low-competition word, you need to ensure there is a decent search volume for it.
This brings me to my next point…
6 – Avoid listing low-search volume products
When selling products online, search volume is incredibly important.
If no one is searching for the product I list on Etsy, I must rely on my own marketing efforts to drive consumers to my listings.
On the other hand, if I create an Etsy listing using the exact keywords thousands of people are typing into search bars each month (e.g. “solid gold hoop earrings”), shoppers will come to me.
Selling a product no one is searching for also requires more educating and convincing consumers that a product is right for them.
Someone searching for “thick solid gold hoop earrings” is already convinced it’s a cool product they want to own.
If I’m selling “fuzzy pom pom hoop earrings” (a term no one is searching, based on Google search data), I need to then convince consumers that fuzzy pom-pom hoop earrings are stylish and trendy, even though they’ve never seen anyone else wearing them.
It’s harder to make the sale when a consumer isn’t aware of and searching for your product.
The best way to find terms with good search volumes is to use a keyword research tool.
A tool such as Marmalead will help you uncover the search volume of different keywords on Etsy.
Search volume off Etsy is also important.
You can use a tool such as Ahrefs to uncover search volumes for keywords typed into Google’s search bar.
If you find a keyword thousands of people type into the Google search bar each month, you have a good chance of reaching a portion of those people if you create an Etsy listing that uses the same keywords.
According to Ahrefs, the term “solid gold hoop earrings” has a search volume of 2400 (approximately 2400 people type “solid gold hoop earrings” on Google each month).
When I type that term into Google, Etsy shows up as the 3rd result.
Millions of people searching for products on Google end up on Etsy each month.
Marmalead estimates there are 132 searches on Etsy for “solid gold hoop earrings” each month. Significantly less than the number of searches on Google. But, if you can attract some of the people searching the term on Google and Etsy, you can get a decent number of people to your Etsy shop.
It’s important to know which keywords people are searching ON AND OFF Etsy and to list products that have hundreds, if not thousands, of searches each month.
Once you find a good keyword to target (i.e. high search volume & low competition), make sure you implement proper SEO (search engine optimization) techniques. Here’s how: Etsy SEO: 3 Easy Steps to Boost Traffic
Avoid listing products that have low online demand (unless you plan to put more effort into marketing them).
*Don’t fall into the trap of going for basic terms “hoop earrings” because they have more search volume than specific terms “solid gold hoop earrings”. If you create a listing titled “solid gold hoop earrings”, your listing still has the opportunity to appear when a shopper searches “hoop earrings”. But you don’t have a chance of appearing in searches for “solid gold hoop earrings” if you don’t use those keywords in your listing. When you target basic terms that have a high search volume AND high competition, you have a lesser chance of being found by any shoppers.
7 – Avoid listing low-markup products
If you don’t price your products properly with the right amount of markup (and healthy profit margins) you could end up losing money on Etsy.
The price of a product should consist of:
- Production costs
>> Production costs cover your materials and time to make a product.
>> Markup helps cover other business expenses and your wages for time spent on other work (such as taking photos of your products, creating Etsy listings, packaging orders, driving to and from the post office, etc.). Markups also allow you to offer discounts (e.g. running a sale, selling wholesale to retailers, offer free shipping, etc.).
>> Profits allow you to earn more than an hourly wage, invest money back into your business for growth, float your business during slow periods, etc.
You can find a more detailed pricing breakdown and the steps to properly price your products here.
Many Etsy sellers complain of high Etsy fees, but they’re simply a cost of doing business.
No matter which sales channel you use to sell your handmade products, it will come with expenses.
Marking your prices up the right amount will ensure Etsy fees don’t get the best of you.
Make sure you understand all the Etsy fees you’ll be responsible for paying when you list, advertise, and sell on Etsy.
Then make sure the markup you build into retail prices will cover those fees.
Avoid listing products on Etsy that won’t leave you with a profit.
8 – Avoid listing disjointed products
Every product you list in your Etsy shop should work together to:
- tell a story
- strengthen your brand
- encourage more sales
As a creative, you have an endless supply of ideas.
But just because you can make something, doesn’t mean you should.
If I start an Etsy shop to sell quality gold jewelry in classic styles, every item listed in my shop should strengthen that message and help tell that story.
Adding listings for jewelry made with plastic beads will confuse shoppers.
If you walked into a store and saw a $200 shirt sitting next to a $10 shirt, you’d question the price and value of the $200 shirt. But if the shop is full of clothing that’s $200 and up, everything in the shop will seem on-brand. You’ll believe you’re buying high-quality, luxury products from a luxury brand.
Listing high-end luxury products next to lower-quality products will confuse shoppers and tarnish the value shoppers place on the high-end products.
You also want to consider how your products will be purchased together.
Someone buying a pair of solid gold hoop earrings is unlikely to be interested in a plastic necklace.
Those two items appeal to two different consumers and their styles, and they’re not items that are likely to be worn together.
Know your target market and stick to products that appeal to them. Here’s how to define your most profitable target market.
Avoid listing items that will confuse shoppers and have them questioning your skills or the quality of your products.
9 – Avoid listing fitted clothing
Selling a t-shirt or sweatshirt on Etsy is one thing. These types of clothing items don’t need to fit like a glove.
Clothing stores that sell items such as fitted dresses, pants, or suits generally have higher margins that allow them to offer free shipping on returns, and to spend time dealing with returns and exchanges.
This will eat into your profit margins.
Accepting returns or exchanges on items that are commonly returned/exchanged opens a new can of worms when running a business as a solopreneur.
Unless you want to deal with returns and exchanges constantly, avoid listing fitted clothing items.
10 – Avoid listing fragrances
Fragrances that combine several scents are hard to describe. Most consumers want to smell a perfume or fragrance before purchasing it.
Selling a simple and recognizable scent (e.g. lavender, vanilla spice, etc.) is easier to do online because most shoppers can imagine what the fragrance will smell like.
But when you get into more complex scents, fewer online shoppers will be willing to take a risk on your product or will expect the option to return or exchange the item if they don’t like it.
And just like fitted clothing, accepting returns and exchanges will eat into your profits and may cause extra headaches.
In addition to these 10 types of products, you obviously must also avoid selling any items on Etsy’s Prohibited List.
I hope you found this list of items to avoid listing on Etsy helpful! Let me know in the comment section if I missed any 🙂
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!