Shopify vs Etsy: Why You Need Your Own Store

Browsing through Etsy has long been a guilty pleasure of mine – I had a weakness for handmade accessories and homeware even before the platform existed, so naturally as soon as I discovered it, I was hooked. Of course, I’m assuming everyone knows already what Etsy is; so just in case you’ve somehow managed to escape it (as a creative entrepreneur I’m not sure that’s even possible), think Ebay, but for handcrafted goods. That’s what attracts a lot of creatives to it originally, as it offers a ready-made channel for them to turn their passions into their business.

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As well as enjoying it as a consumer, I’ve also met a lot of Etsy store owners through my web design work. Recently I was chatting with a group of them about the relative merits of Etsy vs. having an online store.

It was a real eye-opener for me; I’d never really thought about it in terms of a discussion like that, because the answer has always seemed self-evident to me. Etsy is great if you want to test out your products, and see if your handmade items will sell, but if you’re serious about your business, then of course you should have a dedicated website for it.

But it was a fun chat nevertheless because it forced me to analyse why I thought like this, and explain my reasoning to those women who saw investing in a website as just an unnecessary expense and worse, a massive drain on their time in order to run it – time that could be spent on marketing their Etsy store for example.

So, without further ado, here’s why I think you need your own store, even if you’re not quite ready to leave Etsy behind altogether.

Your Etsy Store is Not a Website

That might sound obvious to some of you, but a lot of those new to online business thought of their Etsy store as being basically the same as if they’d set up their own ecommerce shop.

After all, it had their name on it, their logo, their products, and although they had no control over the overall store appearance, that disadvantage was outweighed by the fact that it was very quick and easy to set up their products for selling – not to mention much cheaper than the alternatives.

But Etsy is a marketplace. It’s not a website platform, like Shopify.

No one except store owners and web designers search for Shopify online – because as shoppers, we’re not buying from Shopify. We’re buying from the individual brands who have created their websites on Shopify, brands that have full control over their online stores, from the look right through to the functionality.

This means as shoppers, we’re much more likely to return to those specific brands (so long as we had a good shopping experience the first time of course!) – because we can actually remember them.

Not so with Etsy. Customers actually search for the marketplace by name. I know I’ve purchased from Etsy in the past – but I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the individual stores I’ve purchased from.

Etsy Strips You of Your Uniqueness

Ok, so you can’t really make your store stand out through its appearance on Etsy, but surely differentiating yourself through your products will be simple, right? After, you made them yourself, and while there might be similar items out there, there’s nothing exactly like the products you make.

This handmade leather bracelet is something my sisters actually bought for me after I’d saved it to Pinterest a few years ago. I’ve worn it almost every day since, yet when a friend asks where I got it from, I’ll always answer “Etsy” – not the store name (because I don’t know it!)

The problem is, if a friend decides to go ahead and purchase something similar for themselves, and types in “handmade leather bracelet”, they’ll get over 130,000 results.

So regardless of the fact that a lot of the products on Etsy are handmade, and technically one of a kind, when placed in the context of literally hundreds of thousands of other “unique” products, that part of their appeal doesn’t hold as much sway.

Etsy Will Cut Into Your Profits

Since you’re not going to be able to set yourself apart from your competition through either shopping experience or the products themselves, that leaves you treading on very thin ice, by trying to compete on price.

That might be ok if you were in the business of selling mass-produced items and have other ways to reduce costs – but as you’re aware, most Etsy store owners sell handmade goods. There’s not just the cost of the materials for them to consider, but also the time they spent crafting their goods.

These are both fixed costs, meaning that if store owners are forced to lower their prices in order to sell on Etsy, they are directly eating into their own profit margins. Not only is that a problem in the short term, but they also permanently undervalue their own work by doing so – once I see a particular item sold for $25.00, for example, I’m unlikely to be willing to pay $40.00 for it, even if I really like it – because it’s no longer worth $40.00 in my mind.

And that’s not the only way Etsy can cut into your profits – the fees, while seemingly small, actually cut into a sizeable chunk of revenue over time. There’s a $0.20 flat fee for every item listed on Etsy. Then if that item sells, Etsy will take a further 3.5% of the sale price. That doesn’t even cover your checkout fees, which can be a further 3% or more.

You pay fees for an ecommerce platform like Shopify too of course, except that once your sales reach a certain volume, the fees work out much lower than Etsy’s – it can work out a lot cheaper in the long run to pay Shopify’s $299 flat monthly rate with no listings fees and much lower checkout rates, than to continue giving Etsy 6.5% of every single sale you make.

Etsy Drives Up Competition – And You Help It

With Etsy, any traffic or following you build up you are directing to Etsy’s site, not your own. Sure, you can buy a custom domain name and point it to your Etsy store (something I highly recommend doing by the way) but at the end of the day, you can’t market yourself without also promoting Etsy in the process.

Why does that matter? Well, the thing is, the larger Etsy grows, and the more customers it attracts, the more store owners will flood to the site also. Meaning that as Etsy grows, so does your competition.

And unlike a dedicated website, there’s nothing you can do to stop visitors to your store browsing your competitor’s stores too. And there’s the rub: Etsy doesn’t care if you make the sale, or one of your competitors does. Etsy cares that Etsy makes the sale.

So while your success is also Etsy’s, that doesn’t mean Etsy is going to prioritise your business over its own. For as long as your business has its roots in a third-party marketplace like Etsy, you are in danger of having it swept away through fee increases or other changes to the platform.

Etsy vs. Having Your Own Store

Sure, you could argue that building your store on Shopify leaves you with the same issue if they suddenly increase fees or introduce sweeping platform changes. Except of course, that your audience and following don’t know or even care whether your store is on Shopify or another ecommerce platform (so long as it is easy for them to use!)

All they see is your shop, meaning that so long as you have your own store, you are in control of your business. If you have to switch platforms you can do so without sacrificing all your efforts to build a following. If you want to try out different sales tactics you can do so without being hampered by limited marketplace options.

Finally and perhaps most importantly is the fact that you can have both. If your store is already doing well on Etsy, that’s great! You’ve shown that your products can and do sell – so now stop wasting your time and resources promoting someone else’s business. By all means continue to sell there, but in the meantime you should be investing in a dedicated store, so you can start promoting that instead and growing your own business, not just Etsy’s.