do you know the real value of your coffee mug?

print by sloeginfizz - click image for more info

I recently ordered a couple gifts for my sister for Sister Day. I’m a big Etsy fan, and I choose to shop there when I can. My sister knows of Etsy only because she’s been charmed by other goodies I’ve gifted from there. This summer she made her first purchase on Etsy, so she’s catching on.

I bought prints from two separate shops, both with a note to the seller that they were a gift. I planned my purchases so they would arrive when I was visiting my sis so I could be there when she opened her treats. I was excited to see her reaction to my finds; that’s part of the fun of being the gift giver.

Package #1 arrived in cute but not overdone packaging. The gift note was spot on, and we laughed and laughed when she pulled back the tissue from the print, because believe it or not, she had already bought the exact same one in her earlier purchase. At least I knew what she liked. She contacted the seller and was able to able to exchange it, no problem.

Package #2 I never saw. It arrived more than 2 weeks after I ordered it. I received an apologetic convo from the seller saying things had backed up, and she had included an extra print in the order to make up for it. A very nice gesture. She had also forgotten to include a gift note, and suggested I let my sister know that it was from me.

I’m a small business owner; I have compassion for seller of Package #2. I appreciate her communication and attempt to make things right by throwing in a second print.

But no one really wanted a second print. We wanted to share the experience of opening up the first print together. For us, that was the real value.

And that’s the tricky part: you never fully know the real value of the service or product you’re selling. You have to make a guess so you can set prices and anticipate needs, but your buyer will have her own expectations and experience with her purchase.

The woman who buys your scarf – it could be a fun treat for herself or a gift for her mom who’s going through chemo. The man who buys your ring – it could be an anniversary gift for his lady love or a birthday surprise for his growing up girl. The gal who buys your print – she could be an Etsy regular, or this could be her very first purchase and impression of buying handmade.

So what can you do?

1. Manage expectations.
Communicate how long delivery may take, what kind of quality can be expected, and other things you have control over.

2. Do your best to exceed the expectations.
And if you goof, step up like seller #2.

3. Add something personal.
A short handwritten note, fun packaging, a follow-up card, a plastic giraffe in the box. Little delights go a long way.

4. Remember that behind every purchase is a person.
They’ve ordered from you instead of big box, and instead of other handmade artists. They’re buying from you because you’re offering something special. They’re special, too.

5. Ask them about the experience of their purchase.
This can be a gold mine for testimonials, but it will also clue you in to the real value people are getting from you. Ask them for the story of why they picked what they did, what it was like to open the package, how it is used in their home or life. The coffee mug you sell is more than a coffee mug; find out about what it means to people, and how it makes them feel.

How can you make changes in your business to be more aware of the buyer’s experience?

Do you know the extraordinary value of the ordinary-ish objects you sell?

Gathering light,

21 thoughts on “do you know the real value of your coffee mug?

  1. Such a great post – Since I started selling on Etsy about a year and a half ago, my appreciation for handmade goods (and the people behind them) has grown so much. I, too, find myself trying to anticipate who each of my customers are and with every package I send out (I have one sitting next to me as we speak!) I hope that it meets and exceeds their expectations. I try to do this by not just simply stuffing the item in a mailer and slapping on an address label – Each piece is simply wrapped with tissue paper and tied with twine (because who doesn’t love opening gifts – From yourself or otherwise!). I also tie on a hand-written “thank you” note and include a couple of hand stamped stickers for fun. I like to think that these little things (along with great communication with the customer) push their buying handmade experience over the top, encouraging them to come back or to visit other indie shops.

  2. Since I sent out my first package, I’ve tried to make each one as personal as possible, but sometimes I wonder if I’m being too ‘cute’. I’ve ordered things from other Etsy sellers and some take the time to include little notes or treats, but others have just put the item into a bubble envelope and sent it off without a care.

    But I like writing the thank-you notes and choosing the tissue paper to wrap each order in, so I’ll keep doing it, even if I’m the only one who appreciates it :)

  3. this was very inspiring. I don’t typically think of the reaction on the othe side of the box opening. Heck I’m just excited that they purchased something I created! This gives me ideas of where to go with the “after delivery” drop off. Thanks!!

  4. I have trouble with this issue. I make an organic product, and try hard to minimise excess packaging. I don’t want to put a lot of stuff in my package that is just going straight to the trash, at the same time I hear over and over again that customers expect gift wrap, cards etc when they buy handmade. Of course if like in your situation a customer requests a gift card and wrapping I am happy to do it, but otherwise? I just know how wasteful I feel when I buy something and it arrives with all that stuff and I immediately throw it in the trash.
    I am actually thinking about making reusable cotton tote bags to use as gift packaging just so I can stop feeling like I provide bad service!

    1. Hey Chantelle,

      In my experience, it’s not about adding extra stuff. It’s about making it attractive and personal. Package #1 that we enjoyed so much didn’t have fancy extras, but there was a fun stamp on the outside of the package. You could consider adding your handwritten signature or something else to packaging you already have to use. It’s not the stuff; it’s the experience.

      1. “It’s not the stuff; it’s the experience.”

        You should totally write a follow-up expanding on this. The post was GREAT and gave a lot of food for thought — but THIS line from your comment really gave me pause.

        I’ve wrestled with my branding and packaging and have finally come up with the perfect way for me — it has touches that say “I care, and I’ve put thought into this” while still being simple and letting my art keep the spotlight. I tried other, fancier routes, but they just weren’t me and just didn’t fit. I wanted my packaging to look nice and complement what was inside, showcase it thoughtfully without distracting from it.

        I never once thought of it the brilliant way you put it — but from now own, I’ll start out with “how can I make someone feel awesome opening this?” rather than “how can I make this look nice?” It actually makes it MUCH less of a struggle!

  5. Just some ideas here – I classify myself as a buyer only. From this perspective, I have to say that what matters is that what you “do” do, you do well. By well I mean heart-full and consistent – either in “the what” (e.g. they get a lip gloss every time they order) OR caliber (if you like to change things up – you could get known for just that – but the “value” needs to be consistent – not this time I got something bad, last time it was better). It’s something that you actually want to do for the customer that the customer actually would appreciate. Sometimes that something is nothing more than exactly what they bought. Play with something that speaks of your style IF you’re going to do anything at all. You don’t have to and you only need to when it integrates well into what you are offering. Make it easy for yourself. Maybe partner with someone starting out to give out sample sizes of things to help their business grow too (or some other idea like that).

  6. All of this is so true. I treat everyone like family who buys from me. I love to communicate with my customers, so if they have a question, I make it easy for them to understand what they are wanting to know. I will go out of my way for my customer’s because this makes them happy and me happy also.

  7. I think about this every day since I make everyday objects. The customer is my number one priority and I hope that they will use my pottery on a daily basis. So I make sure all orders go out immediately, that they are well packaged and sealed, and depending on the sale I might add a little something extra. I should probably start a newsletter but I do have a Facebook page and other social media for people to keep in touch and learn what I am doing. I love what I do so I hope that translates to the customer.

  8. Nicely said, Laura! I always lack the confidence to ask my customers “why me?” I feel like I’m bothering them. Any tips on how to ask and how to followup or deal with rejection (or silence)?

    1. I don’t have any tips on how to ask, but as for confidence…just remind yourself that they DID choose you. Even if you don’t know why…they do. There WAS something about you and your work that made them choose you. That’s a fact. :)

    2. Shift away from “why me” and put the focus on them. They’re not really thinking about you as much as they’re thinking about the experience they’ll have with your product. Ask about them and that. And silence is not rejection. People will respond or not. It’s your business to ask. Just do your business and they can come along or not. They’re already customers, after all!

  9. I too never ask customers why they ordered from me or what their experience was like. I am afraid it will offend them. How do you ask without being intrusive?

    1. You make it short, easy, and about them. Maybe a week or two after their order has been fulfilled, a quick & friendly email would be great. Perhaps something like…

      “Hi Laura,

      Thanks so much for your recent order with Shop Name.

      Being an Etsy seller is not all about the transaction for me; I’m really interested in the experience people have with my designs.

      If you’d like to participate, I’d love some quick feedback from you about your experience.

      Question 1

      Question 2

      Thanks again for your time!
      Signature”

      If you want to use their feedback as a testimonial, then it’s courteous to ask permission.

  10. You have so hit the nail on the head. Handmade is not only about the item purchased, but also the experience. At arts and crafts shows you can talk to the creator and feel his/her passion as she tells you about the item you are purchasing. I think when you buy online the seller needs to put forth that extra effort to make the experience close to that one-on-one setting. I love putting together the package almost as much as I love creating. I just ordered postcards from Moo of pictures that I took in Arizona and Colorado. They are beautiful and will be my little “thank you” to my customers.

  11. Enjoyable article and great discussion. For me, when I buy, I very much enjoy the personal touches sellers add. I don’t EXPECT them, so they really feel like gifts.

    As a seller, I’m just starting out, but I’m trying to make the experience of “opening” a good one. I go by own experience of appreciating common household materials used in uncommon ways (i.e. baker’s twine is more fun and feels more special than curl ribbon).

    I have a huge crush on Moo–all the pieces I’ve ordered through them have been beautiful and people really appreciate them.

  12. Thank you!
    Very interesting post. Great tips.
    I do think that follow up is very important.
    I still wonder what is the best way to do this.
    I’ personally, don’t like to fill a questioner , but my husband always do that, so..

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