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

Do you have an Etsy store? Or do you have your own website? Or are you managing both?

Whether you’re already selling your work online or you’re exploring your options, you’ve probably asked yourself this question, “Which venue is the best one”?

It’s a struggle I’m constantly grappling with, and judging by the comments I see in Facebook groups and other online forums, it’s a common question among other artists and creatives as well.

So let’s suss out the pros and cons of each method. And perhaps by the time we’ve listed why having an Etsy or your own website, or even both can either be awesome or a massive headache, you will have determined what’s best for you.

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

Etsy Pros

Etsy is an absolute powerhouse in the creative and handmade industry. Ever since it’s launch in 2005, thousands of artists have been using it to sell handmade items. And there’s plenty of reasons why:

Little or no technical expertise needed– One of the biggest attractions to using Etsy is that you don’t have to be a web designer or hire one to start selling your products online. You don’t need to learn HTML or web design, you don’t have to know how to set up e-commerce features, nor do you need to wander through the confusing details of obtaining a merchant account. A complete newbie can have an Etsy store up and running and ready to sell 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– Building your website is only the beginning of the work ahead. A website also needs regular maintenance to remain secure and up to date. Etsy takes that worry away from you. You don’t have to worry about software upgrades, redesigns, or adding new features or removing features that no longer work. With Etsy, most of your energy is focused on maintaining your listings and bringing traffic to your store.

No (or very little) money down– Etsy can be a rather economical way to start an e-commerce presence for your handmade business. There are no setup fees or monthly membership fees. Each 4-month listing in your Etsy store costs only 20 cents, and 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 or if you even if you just want to test new items in the market, Etsy can be a low cost way to do it.

Instant trust– Ask the average buyer where they can go to buy something handmade online, odds are they’ll say “Etsy”. Over the years Etsy has built up a level of recognition and trust among both the general public and buyers of handmade items. Some of that trust rubs off on your business simply by virtue of being an Etsy seller.

Seamless shipping features– Much of the friction that can happen between an online buyer and seller happens after the buyer presses the “Buy” button. Etsy has a lot of tools in place to help reduce that friction; such as customized shipping labels, automatic email notifications, an invoicing system, and the calculated shipping feature. Etsy sellers have everything they need to get their items to their customers quickly and painlessly.

Manage your Etsy store on the go– The Sell On Etsy mobile app is a great way to do some basic store management from your mobile device. You can use the app to create new listings, renew or update existing listings, get notifications on new orders, check the status of open orders or make basic changes to your Etsy storefront. You can even use the app’s “Sell Now” feature for direct, face-to-face sales. Not to mention that it’s really fun to hear your phone sound like cash register sound whenever you sell an item.

The Sell on Etsy app makes it easy to manage your store on your mobile devices.

It’s the go-to destination for handmade– Half the battle of successfully selling your work online is being where the buyers are…and Etsy is where the handmade and art buyers are. If you’re looking to buy a handmade candle, often it’s much easier to go to Etsy and search under the “Home and Living” section to find handmade candles and related accessories. And even if you do happen to Google “handmade candles”, chances are that the first few search results will lead you straight to Etsy.

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

Built in community and resources– In addition to the technology, Etsy has also managed to build up a community and a large collection of resources to help sellers to help themselves and each other. From a constantly updated information library, community forums, to seller led marketing “street” teams, Etsy sellers don’t have to look far to get useful advice and information to help them succeed.

Website building options– Until recently, Etsy had two big disadvantages, 1) all Etsy stores essentially looked the same and 2) you no way for potential buyers to sign up for your email list from your store. Last year, Etsy took a big step towards eliminating those disadvantages with the introduction of its website builder, Pattern.


With Etsy’s website building tool, Pattern, you can build a standalone website that runs from your existing Etsy store.

For an additional monthly fee, you can build your own Pattern website, which runs directly off your existing Etsy store. You will be able to choose a theme for your website, customize the color scheme and fonts. It also includes a simple blogging feature and integrates with Mailchimp so you can gather email addresses for your list. And it’s just as easy to build a Pattern website as it is to build an Etsy store.

Etsy Cons

When it comes to building an e-commerce presence for your handmade business, Etsy has an impressive list of advantages, and they’ve worked hard over the years to continue to be a valuable player in the online handmade market. But there are some disadvantages to Etsy that may give you pause, especially if have big plans for expanding your creative business.

Third-party control– By building your business on Etsy, you’re handing over a big portion of control over how you bring in your income. As an Etsy seller, you’re subject to Etsy’s rules on what you list in your shop and how you interact and communicate with your customers. And these rules are subject to change at any time.

It’s also prudent to remember that the piece of digital real estate you’re selling on is actually owned by Etsy. And as such they have the ability to close your store because of rules violations, customer complaints, legitimate or not, or even by mistake with little or no warning. If you depend on Etsy for most or all of your business income, that can be a pretty scary thought.

Noisy market– As the current go-to for handmade items, Etsy is a massive web presence in which your store is a tiny portion. Naturally, one of the problems of being the go-to place for handmade is that it’s easy for your tiny space on Etsy 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, that's over 3 million (with an 'm') accessories listings.

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

While there’s a lot of traffic on Etsy, it doesn’t mean that it’s coming your way. You’ll quickly find that there may be dozens upon dozens of other Etsy sellers making and offering items that are very similar to yours. Some categories are so completely saturated that customers often don’t get much past page 5 or 6 of the listings, which stinks if your first listing doesn’t appear until page 20.

Few options for complex sales– Selling single items or even items that have several variations on Etsy is a breeze. Features like coupon codes also makes it possible for you to offer discounts to your customers. But if you want to offer products that require a monthly subscription, or you want to offer payment plans, or volume discounts for larger orders, you’ll find it somewhat difficult to do on Etsy.

Fees can add up– While Etsy fees really aren’t that expensive per item (20 cents to list or relist an item, 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 overall. And unless you keep a close eye on your expenses, features like Etsy’s Direct Checkout or shipping labels may make your monthly bill a bit larger than you may expect. If you don’t have enough margin on the items you sell, which is a common problem with creatives just starting out, then fees can easily start eating into your profit.

Branding competition…from Etsy– Just a while ago I saw a really nice fireplace decoration at my friend’s house and asked where she got it. She told me she got it off of Etsy. No, the artist’s name wasn’t on the item. No, she didn’t recall which Etsy shop she got it from…but she thought that maybe she still had the artist’s name or the receipt…somewhere. Months later I still hadn’t gotten the name of that Etsy shop.

If you’re an Etsy seller, not only are you competing with other sellers, but you’re also competing with Etsy as well. A lot of buyers like my friend tend to remember that they went shopping on Etsy rather than remembering the particular Etsy shop they went to…little wonder since all the shops look alike.

Beware of the copycats– Copycats in the handmade world is fairly common. And if you’re selling on Etsy you may have the misfortune of selling your items right alongside someone else’s copycat version. Bummer. In many cases, it’s not even even a issue of someone copying a design, but the inevitable tendency of artists and makers following general trends. When chandelier earrings became all the rage, it looked 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 e-commerce, 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.

Next up: The pros and cons of building your own website.

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