Etsy, website, or both? Part 1: Selling on Etsy pros and cons

Selling on Etsy Pros and Cons

Whether you have your own website or you’re selling on Etsy, or you’re even doing both, you’ll ask yourself the inevitable question. Which venue is the best venue? Or is it better to have both?

As someone who struggles with that question and have talked to other artists who have as well, I’m going to break down the main pros and cons of each and figure out how to make the best decision for you and your work.

Let’s start off with the pros and cons of an Etsy presence.

Pros (Or why Etsy is awesome)

There are thousands of artists and businesses who’ve used Etsy to sell their work. And there are plenty of reasons why:

Very little technical expertise involved– Starting an Etsy store is dead easy. You don’t need to know HTML, web design, how to set up commerce on your store or even wander through the confusing details of getting a merchant account. A complete newbie can have an Etsy store up and running in a matter of hours.

Etsy's easy to navigate management system makes it easy to set up and maintain your store

Etsy’s easy to navigate management system makes it easy to set up and maintain your store

No technical maintenance required– On the few occasions that Etsy happens to go down, that’s not an issue you have to handle. Nor do you have to worry about software upgrades, redesigns, or adding new features or removing features that no longer work. Your energy is spent on maintaining your listings and bringing people to your store.

No (or very little) money down– At 20 cents per listing for four months, Etsy has made it rather economical to get started to build an ecommerce presence to sell your work. There are no set-up fees to get started or monthly membership fees to fork over to keep your shop going. Once an item sells, Etsy takes a 3.5% fee on the sale price. If you’re looking to building an online store on a budget, Etsy is a very economical way to do it.

Instant trust– Ask the average buyer where they can go to buy something handmade, odds are they’ll say “Etsy”. Etsy has built up a level of recognition and trust with the online population. The general public has heard of Etsy and it’s a brand name they trust. By virtue of being an Etsy seller, some of that trust dust rubs off on you.

Easy built in order management features– Sending orders quickly and accurately can make or break your business. Etsy has done a lot throughout the years to make this as easy as possible for their sellers. From customized shipping labels to the newly unveiled calculated shipping feature, artists have everything they need to get their items to their customers quickly and fairly painlessly.

It’s the handmade market go to– If you want to sell your work online, you need to be where the buyers are. Etsy has become the go to place for anyone looking to buy handmade items. Sure you can Google “handmade candles”, but it’s much easier to go to Etsy, look under the “Home and Living” section to find handmade candles and handmade candle accessories all in one place.

Built in community– In addition to building up the technology, Etsy has also managed to build up a community and resources to allow sellers to help themselves and each other. With everything from an ever-evolving information library, community forums, and seller led marketing “street” teams Etsy sellers don’t have to look far to get useful advice and information.

There’s an app for that– Actually Etsy has two apps for that…one for customers (Etsy) and one for sellers (Sell On Etsy). The Sell On Etsy app is a great way to do some basic store management while on the go. You can even use it to sell items from your store in person, which is very convenient for those spontaneous face-to-face sales. And it’s really fun to hear that cash register sound on your phone every time you sell an item.

Like everything, success on Etsy is not necessarily easy or guaranteed Click To Tweet

Cons (Or why Etsy makes me want to *headdesk*)

Even though Etsy can be a great place for artists to sell their work, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are some reasons why Etsy might not be a good idea:

Limited customization– Let’s face it…all Etsy stores pretty much look the same. Yes, Etsy’s overall design is fairly clean…the most recent design tries to make the product the main spotlight, but at the end of the day the overall design of your Etsy store is going to look the same as everyone else’s. If you have a definite brand personality, there’s very little you can do design-wise to have that translate into your Etsy store.

Few options for complex sales– Etsy’s great at selling single items. It’s not so great for allowing more complex sales such as volume discounts, cross selling (offering an additional item with order), upselling (offering upgrades and add-ons to an existing order), and custom bundling of items. All of these methods can be a great way to increase your average order amount and increase your sales. Plus it can be more convenient for your customers if they want to buy multiple items at a discount.

If you sell items that can be bundled into groups or you like to give price breaks for customers who buy a certain number of items (you can create a coupon code for customers that purchase over a minimum dollar amount), there’s really no easy way to do so on Etsy.

Yes, that's over 3 million (with an 'm') accessories listings.

Yes, that’s over 3 million (with an ‘m’) accessories listings.

Noisy market…really noisy– Etsy is huge. And one of the problems of being the go to place for handmade is that it’s easy to get lost. The sheer volume of sellers is not only overwhelming for customers, but it also makes it harder for individual sellers to get noticed. Yes, there’s a lot of traffic on Etsy, but that doesn’t mean that it’s coming your way. You can quickly find that there are dozens upon dozens of other sellers making and offering items that are very similar to yours on Etsy. Some categories are so completely saturated that customers don’t get much past page 5 or 6 of the listings, which stinks if you’re on page 20.

Limited list building abilities– As someone who thinks that building an email list is one of the most important things artists must do for their businesses, this one is a real sticking point for me. Simply put, there’s no easy and immediately obvious way (as in a sign up form that says “Join my mailing list” on the page) to allow people who haven’t purchased from you to sign up for your email list to get updates and news and offers from you. Sales are important, but building a list is just as, if not even more important.

Etsy’s house, Etsy’s rules– Because Etsy controls the selling platform, they can set the rules up any way they want and change them whenever they want. As cool as Etsy is, the bottom line is that they are a business and they will change the rules and their policies to serve the business. Some of these rules and policies and changes to the platform work for many of the sellers…some not so much.

It’s also prudent to remember Etsy owns that piece of digital real estate you’re selling on and they can close your store down with little or no warning for rules violations, because of customer complaints (legitimate or not), or even by mistake. If you depend on Etsy for most or all of your business income, that can be a pretty scary thought.

Fees…they can add up– While individual Etsy fees really aren’t that expensive (20 cents to list or re-list, plus 3.5% of the sale price when an item is sold) the more successful your business is, the more you’re going to pay in fees. Sellers also forget that there may be some additional Etsy fees that they may not account for when listing their items. If you use Etsy’s Direct Checkout which allows customers to pay with a credit card instead of Paypal, you’ll get assessed an additional transaction fee of about 3 to 4%. If you use Paypal, then Paypal will take their fee.

If you use Etsy’s labels to create shipping labels for your order, that also goes on your monthly bill. If you take advantage of some of Etsy’s marketing products like Etsy search advertising and Promoted Listings that’s also going to add to your Etsy expenses. If you don’t have enough margin on the items you sell (a common problem with those just starting out), then fees can easily start eating into your profit.

Managing large inventories…not so easy– Managing an inventory of 50 items or less on Etsy isn’t so bad. It’s when you start managing more than 100 items that things can get a bit difficult. If you’re running low on an item or you sell out, there is not built in alert in your Etsy store to bring it to your attention. Recently Etsy launched the Auto-Renew feature that allows you to automatically renew an item that sells. While that can help you keep your store listings fully active, that may not be much help on the inventory side, especially if you have limited edition or one of a kind inventory. If, say, you had a sudden rush on your shop and you hadn’t had a chance to update your inventory numbers on your end, you could get caught short by accident.

Branding competition…from Etsy– When someone buys something off of Etsy they’re quite likely to say, “I bought this off of Etsy” instead of “I bought this from Suzy Artmaker”. When it comes to building your own recognizable brand, not only are you fighting to stand out from other sellers, but you’re also fighting to stand out from Etsy itself. Unless you do a bang up job with branding off of Etsy as well as on it, you’re likely to lose the brand recognition war because a lot of buyers, especially casual ones, tend to lump Etsy sellers together instead of recognizing them as individual artists (little wonder since all the shops look alike).

Beware the copycats– Copycats in the handmade world is fairly common. And if you’re selling on Etsy you might have the misfortune of selling your items right alongside someone else’s copycat version. Bummer. And it may not even be a case of copycats, but the inevitable tendency of artists and makers following general trends. When chandelier earrings became all the rage, it looks like everyone started making and selling chandelier earrings. Imagine trying to stand out from a dozen listings of chandelier earrings from a dozen different artists. Don’t want to? I don’t blame you.

Conclusion: Etsy can be a great place for beginner or even veteran artists to dip their toes into the world of ecommerce, especially if they have limited technical expertise. But like everything, success on Etsy is not necessarily easy or guaranteed. A lot of hard work will be required both on and off Etsy to make it work.

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