Dave Stencil was puzzled when he noticed his Amazon sales spiking in mid-May.
The San Diego-based carpenter had been selling his handmade cutting boards and coasters on Amazon since 2015. That’s when Amazon recruited him and other Etsy sellers for the launch of its Amazon Handmade business. Since then, a small number of orders had trickled in each month, usually fewer than 10. But suddenly, business was booming. Stencil says he made more sales in May alone than he did in the whole year prior.
It was Stencil’s wife who figured out why: Amid the global pandemic, with news about local businesses struggling to stay afloat prominent in headlines, Amazon created a new “local shopping” feature on its homepage. It highlighted Handmade sellers, grouping them by region and state — Stencil’s listings could be found under California.
Other Amazon Handmade sellers were experiencing a similar bump. Jodi Kostelnik, who sells screen-printed food-themed gifts under the brand The Neighborgoods, says the month she was featured prominently in the regional promotion, she had to reorder packing supplies three or four times, selling out of several items. “We just packed orders all day long for a month straight,” she says. “I was grateful.”
The promotion, which featured a handful of sellers with Amazon-commissioned photography — and hundreds of others within region-specific product lists — ran prominently on Amazon homepages for about a month. The sudden boost in sales showed what Amazon could do for businesses it decides to put in the spotlight. But for sellers who weren’t featured, Handmade was operating as normal: They were competing, without special placement, against Amazon’s vast database of mass-produced merchandise.
Though Amazon promotes its Handmade category as a haven for small businesses, sellers say that in reality, they must navigate the company’s opaque system more or less like those selling factory-made products.
Amazon has consistently promoted its Handmade category as a separate section of its…