Tell me if this sounds familiar: You sit down in front of your computer to do a little holiday gift shopping, only to realize your mind is completely blank. You have no idea what to get for your dad. Your niece would like…some kind of toy, right? OK, it’s time to admit you need a little—or a lot—of help.
Online shopping is like falling down a rabbit hole. You can waste hours and hours without buying a single thing. Nowhere is that more true than Etsy, which is known for its wealth of handmade treasures—but, like a physical marketplace, it’s a better experience if you wander in without knowing exactly what you want.
Etsy realized how difficult it was to find the millions of items its sellers are hawking, so a few months ago it completely overhauled the way you search the site. I recently spoke with Jaime DeLanghe, Etsy’s senior product manager for search and discovery, to find out how to use the new search tools to find holiday gifts.
“Unlike a site like Amazon or another big, known e-commerce retailer, we don’t have a lot of things people have necessarily seen before,” DeLanghe said. “You’re not going to buy a flatscreen TV for the lowest price for the holidays, you’re going to buy a unique gift that shows the unique connection between you and the person you’re buying for. That makes shopping a little bit different, and to address that difference, we built a bunch of stuff.”
The new search tools have dramatically changed the holiday shopping game, making it easier to find a perfectly distinctive gift without stepping foot outside your house. We’re down to the wire in terms of the present-buying window of time, but don’t worry: There are tips for that, too.
A new way to search
It helps if you have a vague idea what your loved ones like: old TV shows, photography, watches, a certain George Lucas–created space franchise. Before Etsy revamped its search tools, when you typed in a phrase like Star Wars, the site would show you all 80,000-odd results. Now, it surfaces the top categories of Star Wars listings—collectibles and clothing, just so you know—and you can filter products by price, seller location, and whether the items are handmade or vintage.
The search bar also autocompletes your phrases as you type, just like Google. A friend of mine loves everything rose gold, but I’m not about to drop a few hundred dollars on a rose gold iPhone 6s or Apple Watch for her. The autocomplete feature is populated based on what other Etsy users are searching for, so I typed in “rose gold” to see what popular items turned up. The search bar autocompleted “stud earrings,” which would make a great gift.
Etsy’s Jaime DeLanghe said her secret gift-buying tip is to use the search bar to find people you know who use the site.
“If you know someone you like is on Etsy, you can find all of their favorites and what they’ve been engaging with on the site,” she said. “I don’t buy things for people that are on their favorites list, because I don’t know if they bought that already, but it’s a great way to get a sense of their taste if they’ve made it public.”
Gift guides light the way
If you really have no clue what to buy someone, Etsy’s editors put together gift guides for just about every kind of person: Teen boys, people who love gag gifts, and even pets. There’s even a Star Wars vintage gift guide—’tis the season. There are gift guides year-round, not just leading up to Christmas, but the holidays bring out more specific recommendations from Etsy’s team. They’re a good place to start if you’re lacking inspiration.
There’s little time left to order online and have a gift delivered in time for Christmas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy from an Etsy seller a little closer to home. Etsy Local finds shops in your city that sell goods both online and in-store, and also lists holiday fairs in your city where you can find Etsy items. There are more events and shops in metropolitan areas like New York than rural areas, obviously, but don’t count out your city.
New Yorkers do have one perk that other buyers don’t yet: Etsy is piloting a same-day and next-day delivery program called Etsy ASAP with Postmates. You can find the list of participating sellers here, and for a $20 fee, a Postmates courier will bring the item to your door. Yes, $20 is a little steep—Amazon’s Prime Now program offers two-hour delivery for $7.99. But that's the price you pay for a handcrafted gift on-demand.
Amazon also has its own Handmade marketplace, which is a clear Etsy rival. You can find handcrafted and vintage goods on eBay, too. Etsy is clearly aware of the competition, and wants to make it easier for buyers—or potential buyers—to find what they don’t even know they’re looking for.