Wednesday , 2 December 2020
One of the most rewarding things about selling handmade is working with a customer to design something special. If you do a lot of custom work, you may choose to create listings for custom items in your Etsy shop. Here are some tips to help the custom order process work great for both you and your customers.

Tips for Selling Custom Items on Etsy

Two Dog Collar Corsages Special Value

Tips for Selling Custom Items on Etsy

One of the most rewarding things about selling handmade is working with a customer to design something special. If you do a lot of custom work, you may choose to create listings for custom items in your Etsy shop. Here are some tips to help the custom order process work great for both you and your customers.

Streamline your options. Overwhelming your buyer with too many options may not be the best approach. I’ve found that narrowing things like color choices to those that are most popular gives the buyer easy, fast choices that don’t lead to them delaying their purchase. If a person feels they need to come back and spend more time with options, they might talk themselves out of buying the item or find something else in the meantime.  When you describe your options in the item listing, use very clear and simple language. Now is not the time to wax poetic about the lovely materials you have available.

Since we don’t have a drop down menu to select sizing and colors on Etsy, your customers will need to leave this information in “message to seller” at checkout. Make this very clear so buyers understand how to select the options you give them. Keep your listings short, and leave spaces between important information so it will draw attention to each option and information about the checkout process.

If possible, provide photos for the each option they should select for the item (color, materials, sizing diagram, etc.). The order you display the photos in the item listing should correspond with the order you mention the options in the listing. Some people are more visual or just won’t read the listing – photos will help bring the options to their attention. Here you can see my original dog hat sizing diagram. I drew it with a sharpie and scanned it into the computer. The second is a newer hat sizing guide I created in Adobe Illustrator.

Mention the turnaround time for the item in the listing description. Some people are impatient for orders to come right away, others are amazed it doesn’t take months to receive a custom item. Clarity about your timeframe up front will often help you make the sale and will save worry on both sides about the status of an order.

If there is an important part of your shop policies that pertains to custom orders you may want to include a link in the listing. You may also choose to include information about returns on custom items in your item listing.

After a customer purchases a custom item, repeat the information they provide back to them in a confirmation email. For example, “thanks very much for purchasing x, in blue with a silver buckle. I will create the custom item as you described and it will ship in 5-7 days”.

Be patient when people get things wrong. Over 60% of my orders are custom items, and about 35% of the time people miss a step and leave out information. If you receive an order and there is no message to seller, contact the buyer as quickly as possible and lay out all the options in an email or Conversation. I attach photos to the email instead of directing them back to the listing to make things easier and faster for them. If a buyer never responds, cancel the sale after 72 hours (or whatever time period you state in your shop policies). For a number of reasons, it’s not a great idea to just send them a similar item.

No matter how many options you provide, there will always be customers who can dream up something you don’t yet offer. For customers who request unique items, create a listing for them to purchase that includes a detailed description about the item you will make and how long it will take for you to fill the order. This way you have a sort of contract in place you can both refer to and agree upon. I also keep track of price quotes I give customers in a notebook next to my computer, so if someone asks me for, say, a custom Great Dane sweater, I have the information on hand and am consistent with quotes I give for similar items.

Custom items often take more time, so to increase your price for these items accordingly. When dealing with customers one on one to design an item, outline where the additional cost is coming from. If you need to research and purchase new materials or develop a pattern for an item, explain that this contributes to the additional cost of the item. If a custom item is considerably more expensive than what you have in your shop, you may choose to offer the potential buyer more than one option to make it affordable for them.

This photo of the adorable Bailey was provided by our customer Kristin in North Carolina. I created a custom floral collar for Bailey to wear in her lovely outdoor wedding. Customer photos are my favorite part of what I do, and are a great way of showing potential buyers what custom items might look like. You can see more of our custom item photos here on Bean’s Blog.
Aside from trial and error, shopping handmade yourself is a great way to understand what you want as a buyer. Pay attention to how you shop and when you lose patience with too much information. I keep a notebook next to the computer that I use when I shop to keep track of my experiences as a buyer.

For those of you who have been selling through custom listings on Etsy for awhile, I’d love to hear about the challenges that selling different types of (human) items present! 

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  1. Examples of how I offer custom robot sculptures.

    Robot Wedding Cake Toppers:

  2. I am always worried that I offer to many options. But I want my customer to feel like they are getting exactly what they want. Great post and more for me to learn from. Thank you so much.

  3. This is a great article and I love the dog blog. Hysterical! Most of the watches I sell have to be customized to fit the buyer. I have done some special orders and I have learned that getting half down before I start work on the watch is very important. If they can’t pay me half then I can’t do the watch. I have learned this the hard way. I have had no problem with to many options. Thanks for the great write-up.

  4. I make a “Family Bracelet” with birthstone color Swarovski crystals that is always a custom item based on which colors the customer wants. My listing tells them in a list style what to put in their notes to seller:

    1. Birthstones – list the month of each one
    2. Order – from left to right of stones
    3. Size (sm, med, lg, or actual wrist size)

    I always send the customer a photo of the completed item before sending it just in case I get something wrong (I prefer to fix it before they get it, or give it as a gift)!!

    These things plus lots of communication I think are key to selling custom items. Customers appreciate knowing where you are in the process of making their order.

  5. I agree…too many options, too hard of a choice…I learned that from my husbands business. He was a cabinet maker and when he handed the customer a large ring of formica samples it would take forever for the customer to make a choice…then there was the constant changing of the mind!

  6. I’d say about 90% of my sales are custom orders, I find it rewarding and sometimes extremely challenging- because the items I make are made using 100% reclaimed materials! I think its very important to outline specific information in your listings… for me a big one is- No, I will not reproduce any copyright material. I think that linking to your Shop Policies in your listing is a great idea as well and will give the buyer more confidence in purchasing from you.

  7. I would love to have more custom orders I will implement this information ASAP. Thanks Handmadeology you’ve done it again another great post.

  8. Country By Design

    I’m doing a lot of custom rag quilted items and your information was very helpful. The hardest ones always concern color, since it is hard for me to “see” what they have in mind. When choosing fabric collections, I will often send them links to two or three collections that I think they might like. I don’t keep a lot of fabric in stock, so I let them choose the fabric to be purchased, then I send a picture of the proposed layout before I stitch the squares together.

  9. I never really thought about how leaving customized listings opened ended could actually keep a buyer from making a purchase! I’m going to have to go back and fix that. Thank you

  10. I do about 75-80% of my pottery as custom/personalized work and LOVE IT! Here are a few thigs I have learned along the way.
    1. ALWAYS GET FULL PAYMENT before beginning the project or buying the supplies to do the project.
    2. DON’T RUSH the completion time for the project. If it normally takes you 3 weeks, tell the buyer it will be 4-6 weeks. Then when you ship the project a week or 2 early-they LOVE IT! It also reduces the pressure on yourself. If you are having a bad day opr not feeling well, you won’t have that pressure hanging over you.
    3. BE HONEST! If something goes worong, or if you are going to need more time-just say so.
    4. COMMUNICATE any concerns, questions and get clarification from the buyer. If the detailed order is in writing on a listing, it will be proof should there be a question.
    So far I have only had one buyer that became an issue in spite of following all the above steps. I just stepped back and out of that project. I could tell, that no matter what I did it was not going to be to her liking. So I refunded her money, offered a discount on any other item in my shop and walked away. It was a huge weight off my shoulders.
    Collaborating with the buyer is for me, almost as much fun as throwing the custom pottery piece!
    Enjoy the process…you will meet a lot of great people along the way!

  11. This is great for CUSTOMISABLE items, but what about one-of-a-kind custom creations from scratch? Etsy guidelines don’t allow you to create listings for these. I’m finding it difficult to know how to promote that option in my shop without being able to list anything up front.

  12. I provide a few listings for things like “design your own” and provide photo examples of one of a kind pieces I’ve done for other customers. I provide color samples and a few design options to structure the listings for customers who might be intimidated by a design it all from scratch option, but you could just say that you will contact the buyer after purchase to discuss the design if you’d prefer not to limit it with options up front.

  13. I do quite a bit of custom orders for brides and people looking for keepsake items. I keep them involved in the process by sending them photos during the creation of their item. For such a personal piece I want them to have what they envision. Providing a photo of a design laid out prior to adhering them permanently not only gives my client a good idea of what it will look like but also it eliminates the need to redo work on the piece. I find it amazing what wonderful ideas clients have and the joy of bringing them to life is a great thrill for me and my customers.


  14. We make custom wedding favor magnets, save the date and other party favor magnetic items like bookmarks. The customer can select one of our designs and we personalize it with name, theme, date, etc. They can also send us their own arttwork design or have us create a new design. It’s time consuming, but they are purchasing quantity, so it’s worth it. Besides…it’s so gratifying to help make someone’s event so special. That’s the advantage of handcraft, right? We send proofs via email and have samples available as listings, should they want to see an actual magnet.


  15. This is very helpful. Thank you!

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