For starters I have been putting this post off for a while in fear of backlash from the many people who use it. Well I am at the point where I just don't care If I get a ton of crap and I am hoping that my explanation will maybe shed some light on my angst for Etsy.
If you are a maker or artisan interested in selling online, you have probably thought about or even attempted to sell your products on Etsy. And there’s nothing wrong with that! However, you probably discovered a few downfalls about the platform too.
If you are a new crafter or just starting up and have never heard of Etsy its a marketplace for DIY and handcrafted goods and its an easy way for small startups to sell their goods without having a big understanding of the technical undertakings of starting an e-commerce platform.
Most makers start with Etsy in hopes that they can make enough sales to eventually quit their day jobs and eventually launch a full blown online store.
I have heard many many times that makers and artisans are struggling to make sales using Etsy as their only online sales platform. Low sales volumes and an overpopulated marketplace brings increased competition and a crazy host of other issues. There's also been an increase in complaints about lower sales because of Googles last update and Etsy's rising fees.
The truth is that running your business solely on Etsy’s marketplace puts you at a major disadvantage when it comes to selling, marketing, and branding your goods when compared to a small business owner who owns their own website and domain.
First, let’s talk about the success stories you hear about on Etsy
I am not saying that there aren’t success stories of small independent brands that are making bank selling on Etsy.
Over the years I have met a handful of small business owners that are successful using Etsy as their sole e-commerce platform and they all have one thing in common. They are very organized and have kick butt strategies in place to make it happen...I bet you want to know how they made it happen right?
They use another platform to drive traffic to their Etsy account. Like social media (Instagram, Facebook) or Art Shows or possibly another digital platform.
Some of them have a massive list of followers!
Using Instagram or facebook... and being consistent in their visual identity, messaging, and constantly posting high quality video to their stories, carefully curating their Instagram feed helps build a consistent visual language that translates across all of their marketing platforms and they drive traffic to their Etsy store.
They also drive traffic and sales by using a sales tactic called “The Scarcity Principle”. It’s a basic economic rule and it means that changes in the supply and demand of products causes a scarcity effect in people's subconscious. It uses a bit of human psychology to persuade people to buy because a product, offer, or piece of content is only available for a limited time. This principle was coined by Dr. Robert Cialdini and it works because we think the product will no longer be available and we have to buy now.
If you only open your Etsy store once a quarter and drive traffic from another social platform...you might, might be successful. Some small brands can do this effectively if they have an amazing brand established and a killer social strategy...but most small businesses are just trying to figure out the basics and this jump is really hard.
Why it doesn’t work for MOST makers…
Etsy is basically a huge online marketplace filled with makers, artisans, and even mass produced goods these days... It’s one of the largest online marketplaces for artists on the great wide web. As of 2019, more than 2.5 million sellers sold goods through the Etsy platform, up from 2.1 million active sellers in the previous year.
Thats a crap ton of products!?
It’s really hard to get noticed when you sell on Etsy. With so many artists selling in one place, with products that allllll look the same or similar how do you beat out the competition?
Etsy also loves to “reward” it’s sellers who have mastered the use of SEO and those that get a lot of page hits and sales, because of course, Etsy receives more money from charging those darn fees. Most makers or artisans that are starting out don’t have the technical know-how to make a good go at it. Understanding the use of “tags” and “SEO” to get their products noticed without paying for premium product placements.
Here Are The Reasons I Don't Recommend Using Etsy As Your Sole E-commerce Solution:
The Ability To Brand Your Own Business
When it comes to actually building a brand or a memorable business, Etsy sucks. Let me explain.
Branding your business is about bringing your unique and differentiated business to life, helping your business to stand out from the crowd, and giving you a unique position in the marketplace. Well having a clear brand identity (your visual design) helps build connection and make a lasting impact with those who see it.
You see, the problem with Etsy is that potential customers really have to search to see you, understand, and become engaged followers with your brand.
Many people will buy products on Etsy to be asked, “Where did you get that?!!” and they respond with, “Etsy”.
They hardly ever say the actual name of the company that made it. That really really sucks! You want them to rave and hollar about your handmade awesomeness right?
Using Etsy to actually scale your business and build a reputable connection with your customers is almost impossible.
The most that you can do on Etsy is customize the appearance of your Etsy shop home, create distinctive packaging and promotional materials and hope that they are amazing enough to be memorable.
But how many start up companies or small indie makers understand the nuances of package design, high quality photography and capturing branded images for your products, writing engaging and unique product descriptions, etc.?
If you want to create a unique and memorable connection with your customers Etsy is not the place or the platform to try and do that on especially when there are a whole bunch of other stores and product listings that look and sound exactly alike.
Etsy's Pricing And Ethical Standards
Another issue that I have seen is that Etsy’s shopping format encourages consumers to comparison shop. This is so tragic because Etsy started off as an amazing platform with high quality products but these days, with comparison shopping focusing the consumers attention on the price as opposed to the actual quality of items. I don't know about you but I am always willing to pay more for better service and quality.
Etsy also is struggling with “Handmade Integrity”. No one in their right mind wants to purchase something that is marketed as Handcrafted when it’s made in China on a machine. It’s just not right and these days Etsy is really struggling with putting the kibosh on mass produced goods.
The response to that issue is quite funny as they have created an “Etsy integrity team” where they review submissions and ask applicants about the outside manufacturers that they work with. Basically they just want you to be, “honest” and we know that people these days have a hard time with that. Etsy’s attempt to quell this issue and ensure that the
merchant is actually the creator, designer and maker of each item but it’s still seems to be a grey area that needs more attention.
So Many Darn Fee’s!
With all the fee’s these days that Etsy keeps stacking on a lot of makers on Etsy are starting to bail. For me the fee’s are one of the things that makes Etsy so frustrating. Transaction fees, listing fees, forced advertising fees, GAH!@!
For all the fee’s that you pay over 1-3 years of using Etsy you could have a website, an actual email list, visibility, a loving customer base, and a brand identity that is adored.
Too many darn fee’s.
Reason 4: Working For “The Man” Again
Every small business owner or maker has a dream to be their own boss, set their own hours, and do their own damn thing. Am I right? Another problem that I have seen with Etsy is that your Etsy store limits you to only Etsy customers. And it’s likely that those customers will not be repeat customers again. When you sell on Etsy you only sell to Etsy shoppers and are missing out on so many other possible sales.
Also the ability to actually communicate with customers is nill. Etsy does not allow you to add buyers to email lists or use an email marketing provider. Pretty much after your initial sale you can expect to lose them as customers. And this is huge! The ability to connect on an emotional level, and build a rapport with your customers is essential to branding. We all know that getting and growing our new customer base is super important but what’s even better is taking care of our existing customers because they keep us going. Repeat business is the secret to growing our business. The problem is, Etsy doesn’t help you do this very well. Because of this Etsy greatly limits your sales potential.
To grow your business, it’s tempting to concentrate on making new sales or pursuing bigger accounts. But attention to your existing customers, no matter how small they are, is essential to keeping your business thriving. The secret to repeat business is following up in a way that has a positive effect on the customer.
So What Does This Mean For you?
If You Are Already On Etsy:
If you are already on Etsy...that is great! It never hurts to have your work in multiple places. Just don’t put all of your eggs in one basket so to speak. I am hoping that you will just consider Etsy to be just one way to transact your sales online.
Whatever you decide to do you can’t just list your products and expect to be found. You have to figure out a way to drive your customers to your “Etsy store” for sales. Use social media as a tool to drive traffic and build a reputable relationship with customers.
The sad truth about Etsy, Artfire, Ebay, and even Amazon is that they don’t really care about you or your small business. They care about raking in the dough for their investors and they will do whatever it takes to stay profitable and SO SHOULD YOU!
At any notice Etsy can jack up their fees, require you to pay shipping and who knows what else...and you could be put out of business quite literally because of factors outside of your control.
It’s time for you to start investing your time and money into your own website and your own platforms so you are no longer at the mercy of Etsy.
If You Are Just Starting Out:
Please if you are just starting out on your e-commerce adventure don’t invest all of your time and efforts into an Etsy store. You can't just throw all your products on Etsy and expect a whole lot of traffic or sales so I recommend you invest your time, and money in getting your own domain set up so you are not at the mercy of a huge corporation.
I am guessing that you want to be in control of your own small business and avoid any crazy hiccups along the way. The only way to do this is to start your own web property. I want to see you succeed and avoid the pitfalls of having someone else make the rules for you. You could, and I promise with a smart marketing strategy and social media, you can make anything work better than primarily using Etsy.
I know that most startups don’t have the time to set up a website so where does that leave you?
You can either hire a super smart girl like myself to set up an amazing website that truly converts or you can buy a few books, take some crash courses and invest hours and hours deciding on a CMS and website that might work great but do you really have the time and motivation to DIY?
Both options are good but one has a better outcome...
But If you are looking to try and DIY You have 3 options:
A Free Open Source Shopping Cart
With this choice the source code is provided to you for free but you have to be savvy enough to host it and maintain a server on your own. It’s the cheapest option but you have to know what you are doing to maintain your site. You don't have to be a coding genius but you do need to have a bit of tech background. (Woocommerce, Bluehost, Opencart…)
A Fully Hosted Shopping Cart
A third party company helps you with this easy option. They handle everything for you. You pretty much don’t have to worry about anything in regards to keeping your website up and running smoothly. (Shopify, Webcommerce, Squarespace, Wix…)
Adding e-Commerce To Your Website
So let’s say you already have a website and want to add a shopping cart to it then you can do a hybrid solution like BigCommerce or Ecwid and keep on keeping on.
In the end you need to do what works for you. If Etsy, Artfire, or Amazon allows you to get something up quickly in the short term, then that’s great. But in the long run, the best way to run your business is by having your own website so you can set the tone correctly for your brand.