Etsy vs. creating your own e-commerce website
May 28, 2013 1:42 PM   Subscribe

I am creating an online marketplace and want to keep costs and infrastructure to a minimum, at least in the initial stages of the project. I am yet to make up my mind about whether I should use Etsy as the ecommerce platform or not.

I am thinking that if I have my shop on Etsy, all I'll need is use a widget to list the items on my blog, but then there is the downside of the fees, being just another shop on Etsy (ie. not getting any traffic to my marketplace anyway) and not getting any other benefits other than the payment gateway.

And is it a good idea to start a marketplace that will scale up inside Etsy?

Can the hive mind help weigh the pros and cons of each option? Thanks!
posted by heartofglass to Technology (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't do it yourself, you run the risk of having your store deleted at any moment, without warning.
posted by chocolate_butch at 1:50 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it handmade?

If not, is it vintage, secondhand, or previously used?

If none of those, is it a craft supply?

If none of the above is true, don't use Etsy. Seriously, I wouldn't even consider it if there is any potential for confusion on this matter. For instance the chocolate_butch's link.

If you are selling a vintage, handmade, or craft supply item, I would probably use Etsy more as a plug and play storefront than as a built-in business model.
posted by Sara C. at 1:54 PM on May 28, 2013

Since you are already planning on blogging there is really no downside to using etsy to get started on the sales side of things except the fees (provided that you actually meet etsy's TOUs as far as what is allowed to sell). You would still use your marketing dollars towards bringing people to your blog and then they can get to your shop from there. It would at least be an easy way to see if people even want to buy your items.

And I'm seeing the link chocolate butch added and while that is a risk you will be taking by handing it over to a 3rd party, I don't actually believe that is really THAT big of a risk. If you are selling items allowed to be sold on the site* then you will probably be fine. The number of people who get shut down who are legitimately following the rules is REALLY small, he just happens to be someone who was following the rules but can't prove it, which is unfortunate.

*Handmade by you, vintage (20+ years old), or craft supply. Used/second-hand doesn't qualify unless it also qualifies under one of the other three categories.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:58 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the olden days I coded an ecommerce site from scratch, because there were few alternatives; I had to figure out how to accept payments myself, handle secure data like credit cards properly, integrate in one place with one payment processor and a different processor in a different was a pain, and complicated, and potentially legally troubling, but it was the only way to do it.

Today, we do online sales through a variety of outlets that handle payments for me, and it is a huge improvement over self-payment-processing. An improvement by miles. Handling payment information and ensuring that payments actually did make it to your account while meeting the requirements of the payment processor is way more complicated than using Etsy.

Now, I suppose there's quasi-ways with PayPal cart to set up an ecommerce site using Drupal or Wordpress as the platform; less complicated, but still a bit of work to get going.

One thing about Etsy: IIRC (my wife administrers the accounts) they have some weird limits on categories and other features. Scaling up may mean just starting a second "store", but that might not be what you're looking for. Also, Etsy has some pretty strict rules on what's allowed on there, so make sure you meet their requirements and not "if you look at it this way..." as reasoning for fitting the criteria.

But, there's lots of places online to sell things: If your home-rolled ecommerce site will get its customers through Google, so will all the other online storefront websites that you've never heard of before. Do your research and see who else is out there that'll handle storefront, cart, and payments for you, and pick the one with the best reputation. My inlaws are antique dealers and pulled away from eBay; they sell on iCollect247 -- remember their national advertising campaign, see their logo in Mazda ads, hear them namedropped on sitcoms? No? -- but despite the site's low profile they get a lot of sales there, because people Google what they're looking for, they don't start at eBay or Etsy or wherever "everybody" shops today.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:58 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the other hand to what's being said above, and not i'm assuming you're making whatever you're selling here, i know someone who has done exactly this.

Etsy gives you something that's pretty hard to get unless you have a really popular blog, and even then it still gives you that. Exposure. It's a lot like listing something on ebay, you get all those search results and "similar items" and such pointing at you.

As a ground floor, getting started thing i really think it can't be beat.

What i will say though, is that my friend bailed off of etsy when after she had gotten a bit successful, she started having all kinds of problems with them. They seem(also in my experiences as a customer, but talking to sellers too) like they just don't really give that much of a crap about customer support and are trying to be all tumblr and "hands off" about that.

If you meet the requirements though, do it. You'll get a ton of traffic pointed at your page and get yourself going.
posted by emptythought at 2:01 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

For whatever it's worth: it does seem as though it's perfectly possible, in practice, to sell non-handmade, non-vintage etc. mass-produced stuff on Etsy, as long as your shop isn't actually titled "MASS-PRODUCED FACTORY-MADE IMPORTS" or similar. Regretsy used to feature this stuff more or less weekly (e.g. this ubiquitous owl) and it's long been abundantly clear that Etsy don't give a shit about it.

Sure, someone might kick up a stink and the shop might get shut down, but as chocolate_butch pointed out, that can happen even if your stuff's handmade (see also) so it's pretty much a wash. Popular wisdom seems to hold that you won't get shut down if you're selling lots, because good business for you is also good business for Etsy. And, as emptythought says, it is very good exposure.
posted by pont at 2:27 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're trialing this as an online business, Etsy is the perfect place to see if you can find a market for your goods at very low cost. There is absolutely nothing to say that if you're successful, you can't open your own ecommerce store later. The two can run side by side.

not getting any other benefits other than the payment gateway.

That's a bit like saying there's no point in listing items on Ebay when you can just sell them on your own site. Etsy has the audience. Millions of people search Etsy every day.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:09 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I shop semi-regularly on Etsy, and I've seen several Etsy sellers "graduate" to their own sites once they get popular enough. So that's certainly an option.

Not all of those sites look terribly professional, though, and I'd be hesitant to buy from some of them if I wasn't already familiar with the seller on Etsy. Etsy's not exactly slick, but it is familiar and established, and that lends a little bit of credibility.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:49 PM on May 28, 2013

It's possible to do both - that way you get the exposure of Etsy but the control of your own store. There are some very easy to use hosted carts out there - I've played around with Bigcomemrce and Shopify personally (FWIW I work in ecommerce but not for a cart/marketplace).

The major upside to Etsy is what's said above: exposure. You don't have to worry (as much) about doing your own marketing/SEO.

To be fair, you're going to pay *someone* - either your cart host, or your marketplace. Even if you DIY your own site you need to pay for the hosting space. You'll need to research the fees associated with each.
posted by radioamy at 4:56 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ugh, I am sorry to see someone suggesting it's fine to use Etsy to sell mass-produced crap. Folks who make their own stuff wish you wouldn't! If you do make your own stuff, or fall into one of the other categories, then why not give it a shot? I think jewelry is the worst category in terms of saturation. (Partly because Etsy considers an item made, for instance, from a store bought chain and store bought pendant "handmade", so the barrier to entry is... essentially nonexistent.)

I do agree with the above, no reason not to give Etsy a shot. You can leave at any time, and you'll only have lost $.20 listing fees for each item. It does take a little work, setting up and listing/updating. Brand new folks post in the forums a lot, wondering why they aren't getting sales when they've been up a whole week with barely half a page of items. Hopefully you have a unique enough product that people will find you. If not, it will be harder, but not impossible. But it does take time.
posted by Glinn at 5:24 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Shopify might be a good middle ground.
posted by rhizome at 5:31 PM on May 28, 2013

Having worked recently with Shopify a bit, I would recommend it for getting started, if not Etsy. Their started plan is cheap ($14/month) and you can post up to 25 products with that. Pretty easy to configure...
posted by thorny at 6:15 PM on May 28, 2013

Could you do some research on your target market (such as quick email interviews with interested customers) and find out what they prefer - find out what would make it easiest for them to buy your stuff? If you don't already have a bunch of known interested customers (such as blog readers), you might consider looking up "customer development" for how to find the right people and talk to them.

For example, maybe many of them already have Etsy accounts and find Etsy convenient (like me), or maybe they do almost all their online shopping on Amazon and eBay (like my mom), or maybe they love custom shopping sites with lots of beautiful styling, or maybe they don't care as long as the site has a PayPal option (like many customers of the company I work for), or maybe they hate PayPal and want other payment options (like many of the other customers of the company I work for!).
posted by dreamyshade at 6:32 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, Etsy's fees pay for additional benefits beyond payment processing and exposure in search: reliable hosting that can handle tons of traffic, translated interfaces for a bunch of languages, the ability to pay with Etsy gift cards, some amount of support for your customers, some amount of customer fraud detection, mobile apps for customers who want to browse/purchase from smartphones, a built-in way to charge sales tax, networking if your area has an Etsy Street Team, etc.

It might not be the ideal solution for you of course, just some things to consider when comparing services. (It looks like Shopify helps with handling sales tax as well, for example.)
posted by dreamyshade at 7:02 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nearly impossible to get great answers here without telling people what you are thinking of selling.

But, check out Tictail.
posted by kmennie at 7:48 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Glinn: sorry, I expressed myself poorly, and was not actually trying to suggest that OP set up yet another Alibaba-sourced industrial-scale reseller. What I meant was, given the way these blatant abuses are ignored, it's probably not worth losing too much sleep about whether you are sometimes very slightly overstepping the line in some way, like maybe you have one item in your shop that comes with an accessory that maybe wasn't 100% handmade, etc. Because yes, they might theoretically pull the plug for that, but they might also pull it for nothing at all.
posted by pont at 10:02 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have A Plan for getting traffic? If so, I recommend doing it yourself (i.e. use shopify or a wordpress plugin). If not, then (as others have pointed out) Etsy can be a good way of getting started & testing the market. The problem with the "start on Etsy then migrate to my own website when I get successful enough" approach is that any effort you spend driving traffic to your Etsy store will have to be thrown away when you want to migrate. So, if you go down this route, make sure you have an exit strategy i.e. even if you're planning on moving to your own online store in 2 years, start building up content and links on your own site now.

A con of using Etsy which is often under-appreciated, IMHO: it facilitates comparison shopping, and there are plenty of people selling there at rock-bottom prices. So it's quite easy to fall into the trap of:

Visitor comes to your site → visitor browses around and likes your stuff →visitor clicks through to your Etsy shop →visitor sees somebody else selling something similar on Etsy for half the price →visitor buys from them instead of you.
posted by primer_dimer at 5:04 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi all, thanks so much for all these great answers! Sorry I didn't explain what I am planning to sell. It is handmade objects (often sold in limited editions, exactly because they are hard to replicate) and you would not be able to find too many items that are similar around Etsy, at least at present. It would be hard to question that they are handmade though, so I don't have too many concerns about that.
posted by heartofglass at 5:43 AM on May 29, 2013

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