How (and how not) to ask for a Discount on Etsy

Everyone likes feeling like they’re getting a deal, but there’s a right, and a very wrong way to go about asking for a discount on Etsy. I’ve wanted to write this post for awhile in light of a particularly obnoxious new trend by financial bloggers, but a particularly egregious example recently made sure I got it done.

This isn’t the first subscription box I’ve been asked to participate in, and they all ask for deep, deep discounts (obviously the more they spend on items to include IN the box, the less they make). Still, I was curious and responded, but couldn’t help but notice that she was linking off the full-sized Moondust, which I sell for $14.50 and she was wanting for $3 (Editor’s Note: This article is now several years old and the pricing information is out of date, but the sentiment is the same). I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she meant the $3.50 sample size. This entire box, after all, is “for-and-by women” surely she wouldn’t think that she was supporting a one-woman business properly by asking for a discount so deep. After a few more questions (and clarifying that there is no way I could turn on order like that around in a WEEK, see: one-woman business) I finally asked the big one:


So she WAS asking for an ~80% discount. Now, even an 80% discount, 155 units puts that over Etsy’s “free shipping” threshold, so let’s see how the math breaks out.

Come now, what’s $1,322.30 off between friends–er, someone who literally just asked out of the blue. That $140.48 doesn’t even cover the cost of 155 JARS, much less the product inside, much less my TIME. And here’s the thing with subscription boxes–most the people that enjoy them aren’t looking for a long-term product, they get these boxes because they love trying new things, then moving on to the next batch of new things. So the odds of me netting potential long-term customers here is really, really low. A typical conversion rate for something like this is going to be 1-2% which means I might net a 1-3 new customers.

Stars and feathers, don’t I feel loved and empowered by my fellow woman!

But ~The Exposure~

People DIE of exposure. Or, as The Oatmeal so perfectly sums it up:

I’m not saying that exposure isn’t valuable, but it’s a soft value, and the money to make and ship my products is a hard cost. In business-speak, soft-costs/benefits are things that are hard to quantify into an exact number, while hard costs/benefits are easily translated into time, money, or both. Essentially, I was being asked to trade a very tangible $1,322.30 for the chance that 1-3 of those 115 people getting the box would like my stuff enough to go to my store and get more.

My AOV (average order value) is $17.97, so even in this best-case scenario those new customers would have to place 74 orders *just for me to break even on the investment*.

What Else Not To Do: The “I’ll totally order more if you give me a discount”

This leads me to my runner-up least-favorite ask:

This type of ask is a lot more common than the subscription box type, it’s dangling the potential of “many orders” in front of me, all I have to do is give them the first hit for free.

I’m not a drug dealer. If I was, I’d make a lot more money.

Do you know who I LOVE giving discounts to? My loyal customers. The ones that come back again and again and again . The ones that send people my way. That send me notes telling me how much they love their items until I’m grinning at my computer screen. The ones that take the time to leave reviews (which is SUCH a huge help to my business!).

These are the customers that are on my mailing list, follow me on Instagram, are my Patrons.

Patrons at the $7 tier get a 15% flat discount at NightBlooming. Always. Every day for that month, on every order. It stacks with free shipping. Patrons also get a Patron Perk every month (for example, September’s is a free 1/32oz vial of Selkie Oil). And no, I will NOT be offended if you support me at the $2 tier and then bump it up to the $7 tier on just the months you decide to order a tanker truck of Blooming Grove Color-Changing Tea.

My true, loyal customers are the ones I am delighted to give upgrades, freebies, and to ask to try new products. They are here for me and NightBlooming. A very wise, crabby man (hi, Doug!) once told me that the people who shop based on price are not your actual customers–they’ll leave the second someone else has something similar for less. My true customers are the ones that understand why I charge what I do, and accept that as it supports NightBlooming and the rest of my creative endeavors.

These same customers are the ones that supported my novel, sight-unseen, and then, on top of it, asked the best way to purchase to make sure I was getting as much of the money as possible (hint: not Amazon). I don’t see these people as just customers–many of you I’ve known for years and years and consider friends.

But but but…

It Can’t Hurt to Ask!

Actually it CAN. This is where I was actually going to start this article before I got fired up about the aforementioned examples and needed damn near a thousand words to get it out of my system.

There’s a money-saving trend in personal finance blogs and articles like this one that push the idea that you “should always ask for a discount” and that “it can’t hurt to ask!” This particular article also cites the book “Women Don’t Ask”  (which is about women not negotiating for salaries, promotions and other benefits) as an inspiration and then takes a hard left turn into “I can ask for a discount on anything!” Shoppers, boldy armed with this strategy, have managed to usurp MommyBloggers as the most egregious askers of discounts and freebies.

The author manages to touch on this point at the very end of the article, saying that one should consider if the other party would feel ‘somehow constrained to give in’ or ‘desperate to make a sale’ and in that case to ask anyway and then repay them by spreading the word about their business, but here’s the thing…

The corollary to “Women don’t ask” is “Women give in”

This is honestly what REALLY lit me up about asking for an 80% discount in language that attempts to frame it as “women empowering women.” If it’s hard for a woman to work up the confidence to ask for a discount, it’s even harder for women to deny that ask. A recent study by University College London found that most people were willing to sacrifice double the amount of money to spare a stranger pain than they would pay to relieve their own. And of the genders, experts say women are more likely to be people pleasers. Which means if you think it’s hard to ask for a discount, it’s twice as hard for a woman to say no to that request.

The power imbalance becomes greater when the ask is going to a tiny Etsy shop with a handful of sales and that shop owner is startlingly aware of how saying ‘no’ could translate to a bad review if the customer followed through with a purchase. I have enough True Customers that I can refuse these requests and soak a shitty review if that’s what comes of it, but I’m in the top .05% of Etsy stores. (And still can’t quit the day job, so let THAT sink in.)

Etsy is Mostly Women Making Less than Minimum Wage

A whopping 86% of Etsy sellers are women and many of them depend on the income Etsy brings in for them.

For 30% of sellers, their creative business is their sole occupation. For the rest, Etsy shops provide a meaningful source of supplemental income. On average, sellers report that their creative business—both on and off Etsy—contributes 15% of their yearly household income. Notably, 44% of sellers use creative business income to pay for household expenses, and 17% for rent or mortgage payments. This income matters, particularly to the 17% of Etsy sellers who earn less than $25,000 per year.

For this group, income from their creative business makes up 21% of their entire household income. While the latest census data shows that the percentage of Americans living under the poverty line decreased from 15% in 2012 to 14.5% in 2013, this is still well above the prerecession figure of 12.3% in 2006.14 With a considerable proportion of the US population still living below this threshold, enabling lower earning households to supplement their income through their own business ventures is an important step in helping them achieve financial stability…

Meanwhile, sellers with children at home are more likely to say that their creative businesses enable them to support their family financially (27%) and to use their Etsy income to pay for household expenses (49%).


Tl:dr- it’s tricky to ask for discounts from sellers who are going to feel obligated to give it to you, even though most of them can’t afford to do so.

Ways to Sleuth a Discount without Asking at All

Money is tight for everyone, I totally get that, and there is nothing wrong at all with wanting to see if you can snag a deal or get something a little cheaper. There are likely several special offers already out there, and these are ones that the seller has already set up and feels comfortable extending: these are discounts you can feel good about taking full advantage of:

1) Check the Shop Announcement

Etsy keeps moving this thing around, but if you CTL+F and type “Announcement” you’ll find it. Looks like this:

At the time I’m writing this, it’s currently WAY a the bottom of the page, but who knows where it’ll be when you read this. Shop announcements are just that, they announce what’s going on in the shop. Some sellers post sales, discount codes, and other incentives right here.

2) Check their Social Media Accounts

Also at the bottom (or in the About the Seller section) you’ll find an area called “Around the Web” with links to the seller’s social media accounts.

Many sellers offer something like a 10% discount for following them on Social Media (I don’t), or will post current offers to their social media (I do.)

By following me, especially on Instagram, you also get bonus pictures of my mutinous cats.

3) Sign up for their Newsletter

Etsy doesn’t have a standard place for sellers to post a newsletter because they don’t want Etsy customers being spammed by emails from every seller they interact with. Sellers CANNOT add your email to their list just because you checked out with an order, meaning you generally have to sign up manually (I have an API plugin that sends people an email asking if they’d like to, and if they click yes, they’re signed up.)

You may have to dig a bit to find this, or send a polite inquiry to the seller asking if they have one. The good thing about signing up for a newsletter is you get all future orders delivered right to you, no having to do all this hunting around nonsense. You can sign up for my newsletter here if you’re not already.

4) Favorite the Item You Want and wait 24 hours

Etsy has two types of what they call Targeted Campaigns and Recently Favorited is one of them. Sellers can set this up so that if you add an item to your favorites, when Etsy sends you an email, it can include either a % off, flat amount off, or free shipping. If you favorite an item and don’t purchase it, and the seller has this enabled, you’ll get an offer after 24 hours.

5) Add the Item You Want to Your Cart and wait 24 hours

This is the second type of Targeted Campaign sellers can opt into. Just like the Recently Favorited discount, sellers can choose to set this as a % off, flat amount off, or free shipping. If you add the item to your cart and don’t purchase it, and the seller has this enabled, you’ll get an offer after 24 hours.

The emails for both of these Targeted Offers look something like this (also how cute is that dragon? It’s by the amazing DemiurgusDreams. (They may or may not be currently running these offers, please don’t hit them up and be all “But Melissa SAID…”)

The best way to take advantage of these Targeted Discounts is to favorite the item, wait 24 hours, then, if nothing, add the item to your cart and wait 24 hours. That way you get two chances at a discount (Etsy won’t send you both within 24 hours). The discounts you get from both these Targeted Campaigns aren’t just for that ONE ITEM, it’s for the seller’s ENTIRE STORE. Some sellers change their codes often, some never, so if you have a working code from previously, it can’t hurt to try it again before attempting to source a new one.

For #4 and #5 you’ll need to have your Etsy Email preferences updated. This is the option you need checked:

Keep in mind I DON’T offer either of these. I used to, but found they weren’t serving their intended purpose (helping new customers to complete a purchase), and I retired them in favor of offering my Patron 15% off Evergreen Discount instead.

Finally, How to Ask for A Discount the Right Way

That’s not to say that you can’t EVER ask for a discount. Sometimes you just strike out on the sleuthing. But when you do so, frame it in a way that you’re exploring what discounts or offers the seller currently has out there rather than asking for a super-special one just for you. Try something like this:

Hello! I came across your lovely shop today and I really fell in love with [ say something nice about one or all the items]. Before I place an order, I just wanted to ask if you have any currently running special offers, or offer discounts for signing up for either your newsletter or social media accounts. Thank you!

Short, sweet, and to the point, but here’s what this does that the one I got earlier didn’t: It shows that you’re willing to engage with the seller in the future. A potential customer that is willing to sign up for a newsletter, or follow you on Instagram is much more likely to be a repeat customer and those are really what Etsy sellers are after. If you didn’t get one of those email discounts, the seller might just give you the code outright, or might make a special offer for you, or might say that since you loved x thing so much, they’ll give you a discount if you buy two.

This is all possible because this sort of inquiry preserves the power balance of the buyer and the seller. You’re not asking for more than the seller is willing to offer and I guarantee you that this will get you a much better chance of the discount you’re after in the end.

Anything you found surprising? Got questions? That’s what the comment area down there is for!

3 thoughts on “How (and how not) to ask for a Discount on Etsy”

  1. Insightful and informative as always. I think it’s an excellent point to investigate before asking. There’s nothing wrong with saving money, but there is something wrong with trying to manipulate people into giving you a discount.

  2. Great article. Am in love with the henna products I just purchased from you last month. Can’t believe the nerve of this woman asking for an 80% discount for your product. Wow.

  3. I’m glad you posted this. I have never asked for a discount and never would (rude!), but I’m glad to know about the add-it-to-your-cart/favorite discount emails. I had promo/coupon emails turned off! I could have been buying all the things, haha. Anyway, turned it on now. 🙂

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