etsy shop help :: custom listings & unhappy customers

| indie biz

etsy shop help

today we’re going to talk about two subjects not necessarily related (hopefully!): filling custom orders and how to handle unhappy (or rude, wacky or otherwise offensive) customers.

you make it happen

let’s begin with the first subject: filling custom orders.  of course, you can do this right from the comfort of your own shop, but also through a service etsy calls alchemy.  alchemy is a space on etsy where buyers can post requests for custom goods, and sellers then bid on the opportunity to turn that idea into a real item.  personally, i’ve never ventured into the land of alchemy, but i’ve heard good things.  do you have any experience? {for more on alchemy specifically, read this article on building a better alchemy listing}.

follow your bliss

i love doing custom orders. nothing get’s me more excited than to get inspired by someone else, and make something just for them.  regardless on whether you’re using alchemy or making a custom listing in your shop, custom orders do come with a few questions and policies that you should consider before you begin.

let the sunshine in

first, you need to decide on how to charge your customer.  some charge 100% up front and others charge 50% down and 50% after approval of the finished product (before shipping).  if you charge 50% upfront you may want to specify that it is not refundable, in order to cover the costs of materials and your time.  here’s a great forum on what other sellers are charging as well as their how & why for doing it.


secondly, you need to decide on your refund policy for custom orders, specifically.  if it’s something you could resale in the future, you may be able to keep your existing refund policy.  however, if it’s something very specific, like a portrait, you need to let the customer know up front that once you begin, it is not refundable.


now let’s talk about the unhappy, inconsiderate or otherwise unreasonable customer.  this could be in regards to a custom listing but applies to any off convo that gets your teeth to grinding!  some customers just aren’t the warm and fuzzy crafter like we all imagine.  as sellers, we must always put forth our best work.  even though difficult customers aren’t the norm, it’s nice to know that there are tons of help available to you from etsy & other great sellers!

etsy shop help

kindness and love

this article outlines how to turn a negative experience into a positive one, and also gives you some suggested responses to common issues.

*first things first, always contact your customer to acknowledge their order, thank them for it and let them know when it will ship.  making the buying experience personal from the beginning will always help put your customer at rest.

*if you do end up getting an upset customer, try to remain calm and ever so professional.  even if they are being uncooperative and unfair, it’s in your best interest to make the outcome a positive one.  so, seek help and take a deep breath (maybe even some yoga?) before you begin typing.  be understanding, kind, and offer as many solutions to the situation as possible.

*try your best to avoid getting defensive. it can be really easy to try to defend your work (or should i say 2nd child?), but placing blame or showing impatience won’t help the unpleasant situation get resolved.  try to avoid any negative, demeaning, or accusatory language like, ‘it’s not my fault’, ‘you must have’ or ‘did you not read my policies’.

random acts of kindness

*make right any mistakes you make.  wether it’s slower than promised shipping or not your tidiest work, leave the customer feeling like you care.  offer upgrades on shipping or shipping refunds, future discounts or in the most extreme cases, refunds for the product. having a clear and thought-out refund policy clearly stated in your policies section can make these difficult situations much easier.

*finally, if you get a real stickler and despite your sweet tones, apologies and suggested solutions, it might be time to thank them and move on.  better to get on with your work then spend much valuable time on someone who is just not willing to cooperate.

going, going

finally, the lovely lucinda has created one of the most useful forums i’ve ever read! there are (currently) 94 pages of incredibly thought out & positive responses to potential buyers unhappy comments and conovs. she must have an incredible background in human resources because her answers to these issues are ever so polite, thoughtful and productive towards a solution.

you can be who ever you want to be

as a few examples, she answers questions such as,

“how will i know your xxx won’t fall apart?”, “did you know xxx sells this for a lot less than you?”, and “can you tell me where you get your resources online?”.

whew! these are sticky questions!  if you can’t find your answer within the forum already, she welcomes you to add your questions- and her response are definitely worthy of your read!

tell people

so that concludes this (kinda lengthy?) shop help post.  we would all love to hear you stories, experiences, thoughts & suggestions.  will you meet us in the comment section?

xoxo, bonnie


  • ooh, lovely post, indeed! So informative and helpful–thank you! ;)

  • I’ve actually used alchemy quite a bit in the past year, since my shop was “new”, it was an awesome way to generate sales and get feedback/sold orders in my shop. Plus, if you plan on devoting at least a portion of your shop sales to “custom” items, it’s really good experience in determining your price tables/policies, etc. in the beginning.

    If you’re going to scour alchemy, I’ve found you have to be 1.) patient: your # of bids may outweigh your # of successful commissions. But it’s worth it to get something you’d really like to work on! 2.) keep good written records of details, etc. Sometimes alchemy requests contain most of the information and it’s a cut-and-dry process to begin working. Other times, they requires lots of convos back and forth with clients and that can become confusing. If it’s going to be a long, collaborative thing, i suggest continuing conversations via email, and then updating the final bid before buyer commits. It saves a LOT of time and energy later.

    Thanks so much Bonnie! This is a great post; and although I fortunately haven’t had any really negative experiences, I’m glad to know about that ladies forum!

    • hi moni! thank you so much for sharing your advice and experience! you’ve given me an ‘inside’ look and sparked my motivation. it does seem like a wonderful way to network and get your work out there. excellent advice on keeping records (can never go wrong doing that!), and also to be prepared to be patient. i might have just gotten discourage without hearing that from you!

      and, aren’t you glad that the ‘bad’ experience is seldom on etsy? i haven’t had one either, and it feels so incredible to be a part of such a supportive, warm & fuzzy community. :)

  • This is all very helpful, as in Lucinda’s forum. Wish I’d had it to hand a few years ago when I had a very bad experience. Its taken me over ten years to have the courage to try selling again.

    Oh and guess what we’re having for supper tomorrow!!!! It looks great! Thank you!

    Advice AND food- the perfect blog!

    • @heckety: oh no! your experience sounds dreadful. i’m so very glad to see you selling again, b/c no bad experience is worth putting aside your passion! i hope you find etsy full of supportive, friendly & like-minded people. i’ve heard of very few problematic customers, and even the ones i have heard of, it seems etsy does their best to mend the situation. we’re all standing behind you! oo, so glad you like the recipe, let me know how it turns out!

  • I have done alchemy a handful of times…was “picked” once, yay! when etsy sends the rejection they make it sound like your best friend’s dog just died…they could tone it down a notch! :)

    I have been meaning to update my return policy for custom orders…done now, thanks for the reminder!

    • jes you crack me up, oh the drama of etsy!

  • What a great article! Thanks for all the advice and links. We’ll be tuning in weekly for more pointers! Thanks for including our Sunshine poster too!

  • Great article Bon.
    Thanks for all your great tips :) I ENJOY every one of them.

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