Posted at 12:16 PM on December 2, 2008
by Jeff Horwich
As this especially frugal and self-conscious shopping season gets underway, it's not hard to find people raving about a new site called Etsy. I think it's actually a couple years old, but seems to have caught the wave this year. I ran across it a few weeks ago, but was reminded again today by a post from a local blogger who had just done some shopping for the holidays.
Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade gifts: Jewelry, potholders, artwork, jewelry (did I mention jewelry?). It looks like it's relatively easy for sellers to get up and running. The result is something like a virtual art fair, though browsing is considerably more clunky online than at the real thing.
Why Etsy is cool and has people gushing doesn't need much explanation: Handmade stuff makes special gifts, and this makes it easy to shop for it. And it gives (often struggling) makers of goods like this another revenue stream. Hard to argue with that.
But something about it makes me a little queasy, too. Somehow the idea of buying stuff like this online feels different -- maybe more or a betrayal? -- than buying something heartless like electronics or a book.
Maybe it's that, if brick-and-mortar venues (like the cute little art store here in St. Paul where I like to shop, or in a small town like Decorah, Iowa, where I did some shopping on Friday) aren't good for this stuff, then what hope does brick-and-mortar (and the wonderful in-person shopping experience) have?
Going online to buy handmade? A big part of me says that if you're going to buy handmade (and maybe even local) it should be done the old-fashioned way.
I'm a free-market guy, and I have probably bought half of what's in my house online. So that's an unnatural reaction for me. But there you have it.