Michaels EVP on Taylor Swift, why it sells on Amazon, that new handmade marketplace and launching a retail media network 

By April Berthene

June 13, 2024
Michaels handmade marketplace retail media networks

Operating a retail media network is in the cards for craft retail chain Michaels, said Heather Bennett, executive vice president of marketing and ecommerce at the Retail Innovation Conference in June.

The chain previously dabbled with operating a retail media network but did not move forward with the initiative — as many of the products Michaels sells are its own brands. (Retail media networks allow outside brands to advertise to shoppers on a retailer’s website, such as on the homepage, search results page or product listing page.) At the time, it didn’t make a ton of sense, Bennett said. 

But now that Michaels has launched its own Etsy-competitor marketplace, a retail media network is likely in the future — so third-party merchants can advertise their goods. Building the network, however, will not likely be on the roadmap for 2024, Bennett said.  

Michaels launches handmade marketplace MakerPlace 

First, the retailer is promoting the marketplace it launched last fall. The marketplace, called MakerPlace, is a separate tab on Michaels.com, where sellers can sell handmade goods. It’s free for sellers to list products on the marketplace, and Michaels takes a 2%-4% fee on each sale. 

“It’s in its infancy,” Bennett said. “There is still so much work happening on MakerPlace — whether that be from the tech team, whether that be seller acquisition, the growth team driving transactions, whether that be our marketing teams and just bringing awareness that this thing exists. All of those things are happening simultaneously to help get this thing from infancy to into the next phase of its life on the growth trajectory.” 

Michaels says launching the marketplace is the last stop on the creative cycle for its shoppers after many buy the crafting materials at Michaels, then make the actual craft … and then move on to needing a place to sell the finished product. 

“It was a white space opportunity,” Bennett said about launching MakerPlace. “When we think about Michaels’ competitive advantage and what do we own. We are owning the creative cycle.” Michaels is positioning MakerPlace as an alternative to leading handmade marketplace Etsy. 

“Our goal is to be standing for handmade, which fits in with our brand ethos,” Bennett said. 

Michaels tested several iterations of the marketplace, solicited feedback from shoppers and made changes before launch. The chain has a consumer insights team that uses a large group of customers to gather feedback on new ideas, which it relied on for building MakerPlace, Bennett said. Michaels also is piloting having a few of the marketplace sellers sell their handmade items in Michaels’ stores. The company has a dedicate team to MakerPlace to ensure the initiative is successful, Bennet said.  

Michaels goes all in on omnichannel with birthday parties and Amazon listings 

While MakerPlace is primarily an online initiative, Michaels is dedicated to enticing shoppers to visit its 1,300 stores. After a successful pilot in Canada, Michaels is launching in-store birthday parties at its U.S. stores. This allows shoppers to book a dedicate space in a store for a children’s party with a craft activity.

Michaels also piloted in-store classes, but realized that this endeavor was not as much of a hit as birthday parties, and so it decided to put its resources there. Michaels also offers online crafting classes.  

Beyond investments in the stores and its branded website, being an omnichannel retailer is about having its products available to shoppers where they are shopping, Bennett said. And often that’s on Amazon.com. So Michaels also sells a selection of its products on the Amazon and Walmart marketplaces.

“We are saying, ‘Yes, And.’ And really living our omnichannel principle of wherever, however the customer wants to shop us, we are going to be there for them,” Bennett said. “A big percentage of searches start on Amazon. So that’s the first place they search for something they want. They don’t start on Google. They don’t start on Bing. They start on Amazon. If that’s what the customer behavior is going to be, it really makes sense for us to have our product on there.”  

How to react when Taylor Swift likes your product 

Beyond planned growth initiatives, Michaels also worked to capitalize on cultural moments. When artist Taylor Swift showed an affinity for friendship bracelets, that was very good for the chain, Bennett said.  

During Swift’s Eras concert tour, many fans wore and swapped friendship bracelets to the event. And Michaels took the opportunity to talk to its younger shoppers and showcase products including beads, string, bracelet kits, guides on how to make them quickly and molds to design them.  

Michaels took a sampling of these products and brought them to the front of its store and alerted shoppers it had more bracelet supplies in the aisles. It also had a few in-person events, such as taking a red van around and inviting people to come in to make a bracelet.

“Part of it is not just, ‘oh that’s happening’, but how do we become part of the conversation, how do we become their first choice, in showing them the breadth of what we have, enhancing the trend so we can really be capitalizing and be a part of that conversation and be a part of that community and not be just a place that sells things,” Bennett said.  

Michaels also started talking about friendship bracelets on TikTok. 

“People actually welcome brands with a fun, playful attitude online to participate in whatever the cultural moment is,” Bennett said.  

The merchant will often use TikTok in its marketing strategy when it wants to talk to a younger shopper and not specially buy media targeted toward children under 18, which can come with a lot of regulation, Bennett said.  

Other recent initiatives from Michaels include reducing its prices and launching a private-label credit card where shoppers can receive 9% back on Michaels’ purchases.