Monday, November 25, 2013

The Etsy Alternative

Like many who are trying/have tried to sell online, one of the first places I tried was Etsy,  in fact, I actually have three sellers accounts on Etsy (one for handmade jewelry, one for handmade supplies, and one for vintage jewelry).  I maintained my Etsy store for three years, but never had any sales there.  As mentioned in my previous blog post, there are now a lot of problems with Etsy, and one of the main ones that I was facing was that the site is simply too large and there are just far too many on there that were also selling jewelry.  So, I tried other sites.  In addition to Etsy, I tried The Maille Market (a site specifically for chainmaille artists), Artfire, Bonanza, E-bay, Handmade Artists, and, most recently, my stand-alone website.

I believe a lot of people start selling their work on Etsy, in part, because they are not aware of the other options available to them, but a lot of people (sellers and buyers) have heard of Etsy. In reality though, there are actually many more options out there besides just Etsy. What I would like to do with this article is make people aware of some of the other options that are available.  Where possible, I will try and give both the pros and cons of these sites.

Artfire:

One of the first Etsy alternatives to come along was Artfire. Artfire, in a large part, started because the listing fees on Etsy were getting difficult for many sellers. The site started well, unfortunately, Artfire has begun to have some of the same problems as Etsy.  While it does not have any listing fees, it does have a monthly fee of (normally) $20 or (when on sale) $12.95, and those fees, again, add up quickly and can be rather painful if you are not having regular sales.  Another problem with Artfire is that it, like Etsy, is having an issue with resellers and commercial/manufactured items.  Like, Etsy, there are still a lot of great handmade artists to be found on Artfire, but they are being drowned out by an increasing number of nonhandmade stores.

Bonanza:

There is really not a lot of good that I know of that I can say about Bonanza.  The site others both a paid and free account, but it is not (and never has been) a site for only handmade work.  The site is rather large in terms of the number of sellers/listings on the website, but in terms of traffic it is pretty slow from what I've seen.  For me anyway, Bonanza just turned out to be a waste of time.

The Maille Market:

If you make chainmaille, The Maille Market is another website that you could consider selling on.  I had a store there for years and I did actually get some sales. They were very few (two to be exact), but it was more than I had on Etsy.  The problem I found with The Maille Market is that the web-administrator never seems to update the website at all. Also, the site is not very well known and so does not get a whole lot of traffic.  Another issue with The Maille Market is that if you make/sell chainmaille, do you really want to open a store that is comprised solely of others who make the exact same thing? Yes, it might sound great to be on such a specialty site, however, when you have too many sellers of a similar product in the exact same place then, more often than not, no one does very well.

E-Bay:

While E-bay gets a lot of traffic, it really is not the best place for selling artist-made work.  I know of a few that have done fairly well selling on E-bay, but, by-and-large, most of those shopping on E-bay are looking for a bargain and are not likely to be looking to purchase handmade pieces at what the seller needs to ask for it.

Handmade Artists:

Of the marketplace style websites that I have tried,  I have to say that Handmade Artists is the best of them.  The site is only for handmade items and the owners of the site are very determined to keep it that way.  The owners themselves are Etsy exiles and so are very familiar with the problems of that site and do not want to see it happen on theirs. There is a small monthly fee of $5, or a yearly fee of $50.  Handmade Artists is the only site that I know of where the owners actually help to promote, not just the website, but each of the store listings.  While, as with anywhere, it is the responsibility of the artist themselves to market/promote their store the owners of Handmade Artists do try to help out as well, and there are many opportunities available on the forum that are there to help promote each other's work.  The one downside to Handmade Artists is simply that the site is still young and so the traffic it gets as compared to Etsy or Artfire is, for now, smaller. However, the site is growing and I highly doubt that that will be any sort of lingering issue.  In fact, my listings on HA receive more views than when those same items were listed on Etsy!  Also, while HA will continue to grow, the site will never have the issue that Etsy has in terms of being too large as the owners have a target number of sellers in mind that after that has been reached no new stores will be added unless a store is closed and a space becomes available. I have had a store on HA since the beginning, and it is the only one of my stores (besides my actual website) that I have kept.  While my store there is not bursting with sales (I have had two thus far), I remain confidant that, as Etsy continues to have sellers leave, that HA will continue to grow and that the sales will come. And for anyone looking for a marketplace style website to sell their handmade arts/crafts, this is the one that I would recommend.

Zibbet:

Another marketplace style website that has popped up recently is Zibbet.  Now I have not tried this site personally so my knowledge of it is limited, however, this is also supposed to be a handmade only website and may be one for people to look into.

Ezebee:

While I have not used it myself, I do know of people who have stores for their handmade arts/crafts on Ezebee.  However, if you are considering this site you may want to keep in mind that it is not exclusively for handmade, also, I am not sure how well known the site is or what sort of traffic it gets.

These are just a few of the marketplace style websites that are available as alternatives to Etsy.  Some of them, however, are much better options than others.

Another option that should be considered is starting a stand-alone website.  Often, this thought can be rather overwhelming at first, but it needn't be.  While you could go the harder route of coding a website from scratch, or the, often, expensive route of hiring a professional web/graphic designer to make the site for you, there are other easier and more affordable options out there.

Weebly:

One option is to create a website via Weebly.  They have a range of plans from free to $25 a month, making them a relatively affordable option. The sites are created using templates that Weebly supplies and so they are fairly easy to set-up.  However, I know of some that use Weebly and they have had issues with setting up shopping carts and with setting shipping rates.  And while they may offer free websites, which are doubtless a tempting offer, you should keep in mind that they (Weebly) have to be paid somehow for their services and if you aren't paying for it then that likely means that they are going to be paid via ads (either banner ads or pop-up ads) and the presence of which never makes a good impression on potential customers.

Wix:

Wix is another 'free' website building company that is pretty similar to Weebly. They advertise their services as being completely free, however, they are a business and so have to be getting paid somehow, and if you aren't the one paying than someone else is.  This, just like the free option offer by Weebly, will likely be through either ugly banner ads or those annoying pop-up ads that everyone hates, and if you want your site to look professional you do not want ads on your website.

Artspan:

Artspan is, as the name suggests, specifically for artists that need their own website.  The sites are created using customizable templates making the websites easy to design. They have multiple packages ranging from $14.95-$19.95 a month, with some of these plans allowing for the option of having your own domain name. If you choose a plan that allows for your own domain name, however, you must purchase the domain name separately either from Artspan ($15.89 per year) or through another domain name service. 

Fine Art Studios Online (FASO):

Another option similar to Artspan is Fine Art Studios Online, or simply, FASO.  Most of their sites are created using the provided templates, however, with they three top-tier packages for $50 per hour they also offer website customization.  FASO offers five different plans (two beginner level plans, and three full-featured plans): Intro Plan - $8 per month; Intro+ Plan - $15; Basic Plan - $24; Gold Plan - $28; and Platinum Plan - $40.  There are a lot of different perks that some of these plans offer, but FASO is by far one of the most expensive template-built options available.  Also, personally, I tend to find that many of their websites look too much the same and to be rather boring.

Indiemade:

For myself, I chose to go with Indiemade and am very happy I did.  Indiemade is, again, built using well-designed, semi-customizable templates, and are especially for independent artists. The owner of the company is an artist and so knows what artists need in a website.  They have four different packages ranging from $5.95-$19.95 per month with some of them allowing for the purchase of a domain name (must be purchased separately from a domain name service).  Indiemade doesn't have all the bells-and-whistles that FASO offers, but they are much more affordable and I haven't found myself wanting the extra perks of FASO.  I started my Indiemade site in January of this year and since the launch of my website I have already had 10 sales.

There are other build-it-yourself template-based website companies out there besides the ones I've listed here, but these are a few of the main ones that you will hear about.

There are still those that are doing quite well on Etsy and there likely always will be, however, as Etsy allows more and more manufactured products on the site more stores will leave.  The question then is, as these stores close up and start over somewhere else, how long will it be before the buyers do so as well?

However, regardless of whether you choose to stay on/go with Etsy, a different marketplace style website, or your own website you need to remember that this is not a case of  'if you build it they will come.'  You will still need to pour a lot of effort into marketing, promoting, branding, and advertising in order to see your store do well.

Good luck, and I hope these two blog articles will be of help in finding the place that's right for you!

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