Convenience Versus Craftsmanship: Where Should Consumers Shop This Holiday Season?

To buy, or not to buy? That is seemingly the question when it comes to shopping online via Amazon instead of using more niche e-commerce sites known for supporting communities of artisans, like Etsy. With the slew of designated shopping days officially marking the start of the holiday season, and the pandemic making online shopping even more appealing than usual, the debate over which e-commerce sites to patron has grown louder than ever. 

The announcement of Amazon’s trillion dollar valuation raised questions over how the company amassed such a large net worth. The company has been accused of workplace abuse, hefty contributions to pollution (though they are trying to become at least 50% carbon neutral by 2030), gentrification that displaces minorities, using child labor in its Chinese factories, et cetera according to Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs  and CNN Business

Etsy, on the other hand, is seen by some as the poster child for ethical consumerism, as the New York Times points out. In a marketplace seemingly consumed by Amazon, Etsy is the site where the craftsmen, artisans, conscious consumers band together and hold out. Unlike Amazon, Etsy allows small business owners to build their own customized brands. Most everything on Etsy is handmade, made in small batches, rooted in homegrown creativity, and/or able to be personalized. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter resurgence, Etsy has promoted Black-owned businesses. 

Junior Ayeesha David says she prefers to shop at Etsy because of its support of small-scale artisans. “I love supporting small businesses,” she says. 

Class of 2019 alumna Christine Gomes also likes that Etsy supports small businesses and adds, “There’s a lot more unique, creative stuff [on Etsy].”

Yet, Etsy is not without its downfalls. Etsy has expanded considerably in the past few years and the quality of some of its goods has come into question. Though Etsy itself regulates every independent store, some companies have been accused of mass-producing goods or even passing off Chinese-manufactured goods as vintage goods they had collected. Etsy’s merchants’ shipping policies also contribute to pollution, though on a smaller scale than Amazon. 

Additionally, the homegrown aspect of Etsy that appeals to so many also means a limited supply of goods, and this is where Amazon undoubtedly has Etsy beat. Consumers can buy virtually anything on Amazon, from food to clothes to the latest tech gadgets. On Etsy, consumers are limited to a select few craft-related products. If one were to search “Christmas trees” on Amazon, for example, they would receive listings for 225 artificial Christmas trees. The same search on Etsy yields more than one million results, but only a handful of those are actual faux trees. The rest are either advertisements, pajama sets with Christmas tree prints, glasses with Christmas trees painted on, et cetera. The provided filters don’t do much to narrow down the results.

Many consumers are drawn to Amazon’s variety and like that Amazon offers faster, more flexible shipping options (which is part of the reason their carbon emissions are so high). Senior Josh Mims says, “As much as I shop on Etsy and support small businesses whenever possible, I do prefer Amazon only because of the prompt delivery and the overall quality of products.” 

In terms of fairness to merchants, both Etsy and Amazon take arguably high commissions from sales. Etsy, however, lets merchants run their businesses with more independence and allows them to build their own brand. As a seller on Amazon, one’s small business is owned by Amazon and if the seller’s product does well, Amazon’s brand can start competing with that merchant. 

So, it would seem that, overall, Etsy is the more ethical option for holiday shopping. Etsy does more to support small business owners, who are really struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Etsy is definitely the e-commerce platform to use if one wants to add a homegrown, personalized, creative touch to holiday gifts. Sure the product selection is limited, but by buying on Etsy, consumers can rest assured they are supporting small-scale artisans and somewhat greener e-commerce. In terms of convenience and variety, however, Amazon cannot be beat. What cannot be found on Etsy or other niche virtual marketplaces can surely be found on Amazon and delivered quickly. Amazon Prime subscribers also have access to many perks like free/discounted TV shows, movies, shipping, etc. Amazon really is a one-stop shop, and it is no wonder that the company has done as well as it has. 

The crux of the “Amazon vs Etsy” debate is convenience versus craftsmanship—an ongoing debate that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. It will be up to you to decide what holds greater value for them this holiday season.