19 May 2008

Pay it Forward- The Etsy Revolution

The newest trend in online shopping- Pay it Forward, where sellers on the handmade items site Etsy are giving away their art and crafts and only charging the listing and shipping fees. Is it an exercise in philanthropy or just another marketing ploy? At this point, the jury is still out. My inner optimist wants to think that everyone just wants to do some good, and even if it is just a small thing, in great numbers can make a big impact. So far, the movement continues to grow towards great numbers, and more and more PIF (pay it forward) items are being listed everyday. I have searched "pay it forward" on Etsy, and found everything from clearance items to prayers that will be said on your behalf to really great handmade gifts. Some of my favorites:

The purse is one of several similar handmade purses listed by heidimonkey.etsy.com, and the glass earrings are a one of a kind item listed by debrasdesigns.etsy.com. I, myself have listed, and "sold" three pay it forward bracelets this week, and "bought" a purse from heidimonkey. The only requirements to "buy" an item is to either list a pay it forward item in your own shop, if you have one, or to promise to pay it forward, and commit to a random act of kindness for someone. The latter acts on faith, of course, and truly represents the movement as it was intended.

The hard question still remains, though, and the cynic inside me is bothered by it. How many of these sellers are just using this guise of philanthropy to get cheap publicity? Several PIF's listed are not items at all, but a prayer. In exchange for the listing fee (currently $0.20), a prayer circle that several sellers proclaim to belong to will get an instant message to drop what they are doing when you make your purchase and pray for world peace. A beautiful thought, but are they really doing it? Who knows? Does it matter? That is for the buyer to decide. Another thing to consider is that it does get the listing seller free publicity for little to no effort. At the best, you are getting a group prayer for world peace, at the worst, you are essentially paying Etsy $0.20 to visit the particular seller's shop.

Some sellers also see it as a way of trading, which may be what inspired this movement in the first place. Trading is already a favorite pastime of many Etsy sellers, including myself, and the listings for a trade are usually priced at $0.20, so Etsy gets their cut, but saves sellers on commission charges for items they aren't actually charging money for. It's a fun way to get handmade goodies in exchange for items you already make. It is also a great way for new sellers to gain that much-coveted positive feedback.

I will continue to partipate in the PIF movement on Etsy with the greatest faith that it is, at the root, a good thing. As with anything, not everyone's heart will be in the right place, and that is a risk, or a leap of faith, every seller takes when placing things in their shop to give away to someone they have never met. In great numbers, I still believe that it can make an impact.

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