Ever since its launch in 2005, Etsy has helped countless artisans quit their day jobs and become permanent “stay at home entrepreneurs.” With template stores and instant access to millions of customers, the website makes it easy for individual handmade sellers to sharpen their entrepreneurial teeth, all within a community that’s far more close knit and supportive than bigger selling sites like eBay.
But as the site has expanded, it’s gotten increasingly difficult for sellers to stand out, and many of the most successful sellers eventually make the leap to their own domain, which they run either solely or in conjunction with their Etsy store.
So which is better: Etsy or your own domain? Let’s take a good look at some of the pros and cons of both.
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Etsy – Pros
1. Lots of Traffic and Brand Recognition
There’s no doubt about it: Etsy gets a ton of traffic, breaking even and in some cases even beating major retailers like Nordstrom. The site’s great reputation and brand recognition have a lot to do with that, as many customers head to the site as their first stop for handmade goods. The Etsy names brings with it a lot of trust on both the seller and customer side, which makes the whole selling and buying process less intimidating for everyone involved.
Note that I said handmade goods here and not “any good at all” as you would find on a site like eBay. That specialty focus helps sellers access millions of customers who are already interested in the types of crafts they sell, without having to entice them into their product category.
2. Easy to Use Seller’s Platform
Setting up a store on Etsy is pretty simple. That’s important for the first time seller, who’s probably more of an expert in crafting than on web design. It’s even easier with a good guide to Etsy in hand, which will take you from the account sign up process to setting up and marketing your store. Other than choosing your store name and banner, stores are just about ready to go without much work from you at all. And along with the actual displays themselves, you’ll get freight tracking, feedback tools, payment processing and even some basic Google Analytics so you can see what products and marketing campaigns are really doing well. It really is ready to go “out of the box.”
3. Helpful Community
One of the nicest and most unique things about Etsy is its forum boards, which attract a passionate and vibrant community. Having trouble figuring out how to run a promotion? Looking for some marketing tips, feedback on one of your products or just a place to gripe? There’s a forum and a community waiting for you. In the vast world of the internet, having a community that’s rooting for you can make all the difference in your success.
4. Allows for Digital Products
For some perplexing reason, many online marketplaces don’t allow the selling of digital products. This is unfortunate, as digital downloads are a great way to develop somewhat passive income, as you can create a single product and then allow for multiple downloads. Etsy, however, has recently launched a digital download feature, and the community seems to have embraced it wholeheartedly. Your digital downloads could include everything from a standalone product to something that complements one of your own wares, like a guide for creating your own sock puppets.
Etsy – Cons
You know what we said before about that huge community? Well, as the site grows, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for many sellers to stand out next to their competitors. Matters aren’t helped any by how easy it is for visitors who’ve met you in person to find themselves distracted and browsing another page while they’re there, thereby negating all of your hard networking work. With more competitors comes price competition, and so more and more sellers on a site that was once all about handmade quality are increasingly having to slash rates and produce higher volumes.
Etsy charges $.20 cents per item listed and an additional 3.5% on sold items after that. Given Etsy’s large platform, the cost is well worth it for new sellers, as they’d have a lot more trouble selling anything at all completely their own. However, as sellers have more success and gain their own following, the cost and benefit balance of fees versus platform ubiquity may no longer be worth it, especially if they prevent an entrepreneur from experimenting with new creative products.
3. Difficulty Building a Personal Brand
Sure, it’s great that so many customers know to turn to Etsy for handmade goods, but that means many of them either think they’re buying directly from the site or they just don’t remember the seller. When you hear sentences like, “Oh, I bought this off of Etsy,” that’s a sign that the marketplace is overshadowing the retailer. Imagine, for example, how worried The Gap would be if a customer claimed to have gotten her jeans from the “Highgate Mall” and couldn’t for the life of her remember the store that was the site of her purchase.
Etsy may let you customize your banner and store name, but that’s about it. Accordingly, many Etsy shops look pretty much the same. There’s no place for a color schemes or repeated logo displays. Nor are there really many opportunities for search optimization or that all important email list building, which forms the heart of so many of today’s best marketing strategies. Sure, you can put a sign-up list in your About page, but as any professional marketer knows, you’ve got to repeat those calls to action and sign-up opportunities throughout your store in order for them to have any real effect.
4. Dependence on a Third Party
Last but not least (especially for creative entrepreneurs, who tend to be more independently minded), selling only on Etsy means relying entirely on a third party. The site has the right to change their selling policies, fees and design at any time, meaning you might wake up one day to find your shop is suddenly no longer optimized for sales. Even worse, your shop can be randomly shut down, and there’s not always a lot you can do about it. That’s not a big deal when you’re just selling an occasional item here and there; another entirely when your entire income depends on the site.
There are often also claims of favoritism on forum boards, with some sellers more frequently featured and asked to participate in highly profitable new Etsy ventures, like Etsy Wholesale and Etsy pages, both of which link select sellers to high profile brands. As a result, many sellers feel neglected and buried as the site expands.
Your Own Domain – Pros
1. Site Customization Means Better Branding and Selling
By far one of the best things about creating a store on your own domain is the customization. Unlike on Etsy, you’ll have total control over your look and feel, as well as how customers move along the path to purchase. Don’t like your site’s feedback system? Change it. Want to more prominently display your social media buttons or to integrate your blog onto the main page? Do it. From layout to color schemes, you’ll have total say over your branding.
The same goes for your marketing efforts. With your own domain, you can do some basic A/B testing to see where your Call to Action buttons are best placed. You’ll also be able to prominently feature any promotions on your site. And from the site structure to post tags, you’ll have far more opportunities to get found with SEO.
If you’ve already got your own domain but sell on Etsy, integrating a store on your own site will decrease the amount of back and forth customers have to do, thereby increasing the likelihood that you’ll actually make the sale. Customers, after all, don’t like clicking more than a couple of times, so the less convoluted your selling system, the better.
Ideally, these benefits together will help you build a better email list and social media following, which will help you really get started with a strong content marketing plan. They should also help you more directly build relationships with customers, so that there’s no brand confusion. Customers will say that the bought the item from you, not from Etsy.
2. Fewer Customer Distractions
On your own domain, your competitor won’t be one click away. Send customers to your site, whether through in-person or online marketing, and they’ll focus solely on your brand, your products, and well, you.
3. Lower Fees
Most of the eCommerce platforms you’ll plug into your site charge much lower fees than Etsy, if any at all. Though you’ll have to do more work both to set up the site and market your products, lower fees means higher rewards for all that you do.
4. More Respect in the Media
While just about anyone can create an Etsy shop, it takes time, effort and commitment to create your own store. This shows media outlets that you’re serious about what you’re doing, that your product or brand is worth covering and that you’re prepared to handle an uptick in orders should that coverage bring you an influx of customers.
Your Own Domain – Cons
1. More Difficult to Get Traffic
Launching your own site means that you truly are alone (at least at first). For first time sellers who have yet to develop a following and don’t know much about marketing, this can be a huge hurdle to overcome. It can also be a big road block for successful Etsy sellers who make the leap to their own domain without a dedicated and sustained marketing efforts to keep their followers informed. Etsy may be flooded with sellers, but the internet at large is even more so, and it’s easy to get lost.
2. Less of a Community
Sure, there’s an internet community for just about everything, but it can be much more difficult to find a likeminded set of independent sellers outside of Etsy. This means losing out on support, helpful tips and troubleshooting, as well as any concept of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” This can be tough for nervous first time sellers, and can feel like a big loss for those who have switched away from Etsy after using the site for years.
3. Not as Easy to Get Started
Building your own platform and customizing your own marketing features is nice and all, but it’s not nearly as easy as just filling out a few forms, uploading photos and setting a price. Whether you work with a web developer or you go for a WordPress template, setting up your own domain is the opposite of that “out of the box” solution. The store section of your site in particular can be difficult to build, as it requires both a fulfillment and payment infrastructure.
However, there are a number of ways to make the whole process a little simpler. WordPress, for example, offers any number of templates that are well-suited for stores, not to mention a host of plugins and widgets to aid your selling and marketing processes. From there, it’s relatively simple to plug in a selling platform like Amazon Webstore, which will help you craft the customer experience, simplify payment, and even place your products in the webstore as well as on your site (should you so desire). While other platforms like Shopify are also quite possible, one of the best things about the Amazon Webstore is that you’ll be joining your platform to a major retailer’s, much like you would on Etsy, without sacrificing the ability to sell on your own, well-branded platform. This Amazon Webstore resource center will help you get started.
So, which is better: Etsy or your own domain? The answer is, well…there is no simple answer. Etsy will be better for some sellers during some phases of their business while a domain will be better for other sellers during different phases of their businesses. If you’ve got the time and energy to launch, maintain and market both an Etsy store and a store on your own domain, it’s kind of a false dichotomy anyway. Why not benefit from multiple solutions?
Good luck on whichever paths you choose!