Etsy vs. Your Own Website: What's Best for Artists & Makers?
Should you stick with your Etsy shop, create an ecommerce website, or both?
It’s a question I get asked all the time, but even as a website designer (with an obvious bias!), I still don’t think there’s an easy short answer to this - hence the need for the blog post you’re about to read!
I don’t think anyone - especially website designers - should knock Etsy without having had the experience of using it themselves. I know some incredibly successful artisan brands that make a living from their Etsy shops, and I also know people who have seriously struggled to make it work. It depends on your product and your target customer a lot, and as with many things in business & marketing - it’s not one-size-fits-all.
Why Etsy is great!
No set up costs!
Anyone can set up an Etsy shop without paying anything; no hosting/domain fees, not design costs - nothing! It’s free to set up your shop because Etsy instead takes a cut on items you sell.
Short set up time
You don’t have to faff around with website building platforms or hiring a website designer to do a month-long project; you can create an account and be ready to sell items within an hour.
Greater exposure (*potentially!)
People often create shops on Etsy because they believe it’ll help them get exposure as customers browse on the platform. This comes with a caveat though - mentioned over on the ‘cons’ list…
Trustworthy to customers
Customers trust Etsy to process their payments and because of their policies that protect customers, because it is a large, well-known website.
Shop-keepers don’t need to worry about their shop having bugs or going down for technical reasons. Of course it is possible, but very rare because Etsy is such a big company with their own tech team.
There is a great community on Etsy of other artists and makers that it’s nice to be a part of. Local groups organise events regularly, and there are forums to talk and ask advice etc.
Why Etsy is NOT so great
Any payment processor will take a small cut, even on your own ecommerce website, because it is a business running that software and they need to make money. However, Etsy takes a larger cut of each item you sell, because they don’t charge a set up fee for creating a shop - and just think, the cost of all those useful features and your shop front has to come in somewhere.
There are SO MANY shops on Etsy now that it’s extremely hard to get found for many search terms anymore. Think of Etsy as a search engine for artisan products - and just like with any search engine, everyone is competing to rank at the top. SEO on Etsy today now takes almost as much (if not more!) effort than SEO on your own website for ranking in Google, due to how competitive it is. If you think just being on Etsy will automatically make your shop easier to for people to find, sadly it’s just not the case anymore.
Limited brand awareness
You can create a few graphics and personalise your shop front a little, but the design features are extremely limited. This makes it hard to get your brand across, and when you’re competing with so many similar businesses all in close proximity, it makes it very hard to stand out and show why you’re unique!
As well as this, people often go on Etsy just to find ‘something from Etsy’; getting people to recall your business name and brand can be difficult.
No ownership = more risk
Putting all your eggs in one basket is always risky, because if that company (in this case Etsy) decides to suddenly change their policies or increase their fees, you don’t have a choice but to go along with it.
What about running your own ecommerce website?
While Etsy is great for all those reasons I’ve listed above, the main issue with it is the amount of competition on the platform (and how accessible your competitors shops are while customers are browsing your shop!) and the lack of brand awareness.
If you want to grow a strong brand that people will remember and follow and rave about to their friends, it’s very hard to establish that if you’re just using Etsy. The platform is full of distractions and your competitors’ listings, as well as having limited design options for your shop front. The whole purchase journey is done through Etsy, and often if you ask someone where they bought something, they’ll say something like “it’s from Etsy” or “it’s from this Etsy shop”, rather than recalling your brand - because there’s been such a limited amount of space for them to view & understand your brand.
With your own ecommerce website, you basically have unlimited design options and as much space as you need to creatively get your brand across. You use as much copy as you need to hook the customer in and tell them your story, and use imagery to get across the mission and personality of your business.
You also have more say in regards to your shop policies, and payment processors take a much lower cut than Etsy’s fees on each item sold. As well as this, you can add so many more areas to your business offerings - including a blog, or an events page, and you can create sign up forms to start an email list too. Having your own website is like having your own home on the internet; you’re in charge of everything on there, and it’s all personalised to your business.
Set up time & cost
Of course, creating your own website takes a lot more time than getting set up on Etsy. If you’re doing it yourself it can take months of learning and getting it right. Of course, you can hire a website designer (like me!) to do this much quicker and more professionally for you, but that requires a set up cost (my packages are designed to be affordable for small businesses, starting at just £699). You’ll also need to bear in mind ongoing hosting costs and paying for your domain, but you can sell as many products as you want without having large cuts taken - so it may save you money in the long run!
Maintenance & management
With your own website, you are responsible if there are any hiccups or things that go wrong on your site or shop, however with platforms like Squarespace (a managed host platform… rather than WordPress, which is self hosted), the updates and database maintenance is all taken care of for you, and if there are any technical bugs the 24/7 support team will help you (there are lots of other reasons why I recommend Squarespace and use it for my clients too!).
The Marketing myth!
One of the main reasons people are scared to have their own website vs Etsy, is the myth that they’ll need to do more marketing in order to have their website found, vs how their Etsy shop can ‘easily be searched for’ on the platform.
As I explained above, this ‘easy listing’ on Etsy doesn’t exist any more due to how competitive Etsy is now; understanding Etsy SEO is a whole skill of its own, and getting people to come to your shop should take just as much effort and time in marketing as it would for a normal website - if not MORE because you are competing with other listings right next to yours.
Using marketing to build a brand should be equally important whether you have an Etsy shop OR your own ecommerce website, so don’t think that being on Etsy means you can do less.
I’m not saying that Etsy isn’t a great way to get customers and build a business - it is! But relying on it as a platform when you want to expand your business and grow a sustainable, recognisable brand will be a struggle.
It’s very common for artists and makers these days to have both an Etsy shop and their own ecommerce shop! This may take additional time to manage, but could be a great way of experimenting to see which works best for you, seeing as it doesn’t cost you to keep your Etsy shop open.