Breaking the mould - RSA

Breaking the mould: How Etsy and online craft marketplaces are changing the nature of business


  • Economy
  • Manufacturing and materials

The number of online craft marketplaces has proliferated in recent years, fuelled in part by the growing popularity of making and selling handmade goods. Yet despite their growth, there is still much that we do not know about the people using them and the impact they have had on their lives.

Engage with OUR research


Our research – based on an original survey and semi-structured interviews – shows that people using online craft marketplaces differ from business owners in the conventional sense. While the average self-employed person is male, middle-aged and relatively asset-rich, the typical person selling on Etsy is female, young and without significant amounts of capital to their name. Moreover, those selling on platforms like Etsy appear to exhibit different attitudes and behaviours. They will often start up for creative reasons, offer customised and niche products, have deep interactions with customers and provide subtle peer support to one another.

The report finishes by considering how the lessons learned from Etsy and related platforms might be used to inform our approach to delivering business support more generally – especially when it comes to helping the growing numbers of people running hobby-like ventures. 

Our recommendations include:

  • Recognise ventures in official measurements

  • Create a new tier of business support for part-time business owners

  • Make business support part of the BBC’s public purpose

  • Promote the importance of having a personal ‘brand’ from an early age

  • Tweak search engine algorithms to highlight smaller businesses

  • Deepen our knowledge of the therapeutic effects of selling


Picture of Benedict Dellot
Senior Researcher

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