Nicola Watts
In The Artisan Economy, All You Need Is Love

A pervasive trend over the last decade has been the growth in popularity of “authentic” products and retailers with “provenance” such as craft beer and microbreweries, the farm-to-table movement, and a boom in artisanal crafts and manufacturing.

Research by Professor Glenn Carroll from Stanford Graduate School of Business last year determined that consumers value more highly those products they feel are more genuine as opposed to mass-produced. “In advanced consumer economies, consumers are buying on the basis of their interpretation of the product and its story,” he says. “Authenticity has real value.”


Consumers believe artisanal products are of higher quality. But what else? Research published earlier this year in the Journal of Marketing demonstrated that machine-made products are missing a vital ingredient; love.

“Handmade products might be perceived to contain and transmit the artisan’s “essence” in the form of his or her love for the product in a way that machine-made products cannot,” write the authors, Christoph Fuchs, Martin Schreier and Stijn M.J. van Osselaer. “The customer then perceives the handmade product itself to be literally imbued with love.”

A clear preference for handmade was identified when purchasing a gift for a friend or a loved one, with many prepared to pay up to 17% more. Consumers appeared to believe that the maker’s love for the handmade product had somehow permeated the product itself, to the extent that the product now “contained their love” despite not even necessarily knowing who the maker was.

Ironically, technology is enabling consumers’ appetite for both authenticity and artisanal, by connecting them with products and facilitating great customer service in the same way their forebears did at the local store. Technology has leveled the playing field through creating platforms that allow local retailers to more effectively compete; the rapid growth of companies such as Etsy is testament to this.


Started in 2005 as a C2C eCommerce site trading in handmade and vintage products, Etsy was built on the values of a consumer who was concerned with the provenance of products, and wanted a more personalised shopping experience. It now has nearly 20 million active buyers and 1.4 million active sellers, with revenues of almost $200 million last year up 56.4%.

Additionally, they have provided a new platform for traditional retailers, allowing partnerships between them and independent sellers. In the US, upmarket stores Nordstrom and West Elm have both featured special in-store and online collections from local Etsy sellers. These collaborations have proved successful for all parties, enabling independent sellers to gain visibility whilst bringing personality and a local character into the stores.

“There’s a great deal of economic incentive to get into the handmade marketplace: consumers clearly yearn for something beyond conservative, mass-produced everyday basics bought at the lowest possible prices,” says Keith Recker, editor and founder of HAND/EYE magazine. “Fast fashion and even faster retailing have left us with a need for authenticity, a need to rediscover something personal and individual in what we touch, use, wear every day.”

Amazon obviously agree; “Handmade at Amazon” launched last week. The new online store promotes itself as “the home for artisans” with over 80,000 items from about 5,000 sellers in 60 countries. Their 285 million active customers, coupled with their infrastructure and customer service, have the potential to accelerate the handmade movement to become mainstream.


Artisans play a big role in many emerging economies — the “artisan economy” is estimated to have an annual value of $32 billion and to be one of the largest employers. The artisan is clearly an engine of growth in both developed and emerging economies.

Marketers need to think carefully about how the term artisan is used. There is something odd to the consumer about big companies using the term to brand something that is the very antithesis.

Artisan is not a line extension, it stands for so much more. Calling yourself an artisan when you don’t have an authentic story about the ingredients used and the special processes used in creation is a sure fire way to be derided. However, exploration of alternative models such as artisanal manufacturers or retailers; well, that’s another story!

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