Is Etsy Worth it Anymore? A Comparison to Shopify...
A very long time ago I wrote a blog entitled “Can You Live off Etsy?” It was one of my first blogs, and back then one of my most widely read ones too. But Etsy has gone through a lot of changes since we started there, and so have we. Soon you will be able to buy most of our product on Shopify as well as Etsy, use our new filtering functions to better find what you are looking for and match gems against our custom offerings. We will have our own page organization and templates so that each place you visit on our site, you see our brand reflected, and so you won't get it mixed up with someone else’s shop – a common occurrence these days.
So what’s different about Etsy 10 years later that makes us feel as if it’s no longer enough to just have an Etsy shop? Here are our most important observations but we would love to hear your thoughts on the subject!
MONEY (Yes, that’s the most important topic because we are, after all, a business and this is my sole source of income!)
- Taxes: All marketplaces (such as eBay, Amazon, and Etsy) are required to collect sales tax for most US states as well as Australia and the EU. Individual sellers only collect for their state because anything else would be a logistical nightmare. Buyers are obligated to file Use Tax instead, but we cannot and do not oversee this. Now that Etsy is charging all these taxes, people request us every week, if not every 2 or 3 days, to be billed outside of Etsy. We are mirroring our product on Shopify so that we can do that easily.
- Fees: Etsy always had fees but it used to be 3% and now it is 6.5% of the sales amount per transaction. This doesn’t include listing fees and ad fees; the latter are automatically deducted from any sale where the buyer also clicked on a Google ad for our shop within 30 days of purchase. This goes for any kind of sale, even if it’s a payment plan or custom listing - it doesn’t matter as Google simply charges because you clicked. In Shopify it’s up to us to choose to buy our own Google ads or not, whereas in Etsy ad participation cannot be turned off. Etsy does have the advantage that it refunds all fees when orders are returned or cancelled, meaning they also eat the non-refundable PayPal and Credit Card fees of 3-4%. That is nice if you have a lot of returns, but we hardly have any!
DESIGN FREEDOM, BRAND AWARENESS
- Brand awareness: On Etsy, the brand is Etsy, not any shop on Etsy, and this shows on every page. We have no ability to change page layout or organization to reflect our brand except with the banner and the small avatar icon. We can also choose how to sort our items but the rest is fixed.
- Blog Placement: There’s no place for the blog, nor can we link to it. You may have noticed that on Etsy, you can link to your website on the about page, but you cannot enter links anywhere else. This is so that buyers cannot so easily navigate away from Etsy and end up spending their money elsewhere.
- Variations, filters: On Etsy we can add two listing variations (such as ring size or color). But filters (such as price filters) are always applicable for the entire site on the search page, you cannot add filters inside the shop. You can use the search function but if you don’t search in the subsection of our shop, you will be presented with listings that have nothing to do with us. We get questions about the items we have every other day because buyers cannot find what they are looking for in our shop. In Shopify, you will be able to filter for colors or price, for all floral or scroll designs, and if you want to know which designs take a 4mm center stone, the search function will kick out a list.
- Suppression of listing information in the app: This change in Etsy is the bane of our existence. Ever since the listing description has been put all the way at the bottom of the listing page (past shipping) in the app we get almost daily questions about the very details we put there: how big is the stone, how many gems are included in the purchase, is it treated etc. Our descriptions answer all those questions and in the past, buyers rarely asked because these descriptions were easy to see. Answering these questions with cut/paste is a LOT of work.
I know, you might say that people also don’t read, but this is not the main problem here: when we copy the listing description into a convo or email for convenience, or repeat the details, people often apologize for not seeing them sooner. In other words we are teaching them how to navigate the app and that shouldn’t be down to us. It discourages buyers! Perhaps the description details are not all that relevant when you make a small purchase but when you are about to spend a few hundred dollars, you want all the details you can get, especially regarding origin and treatment! For us, having to answer all those questions is time consuming and it is completely unnecessary because we already put all that information down! In Shopify, by contrast, everything is easy to see. We don’t even have to design that part, the product information is simply more up front.
Finally, let’s open the biggest can of worms - The Others – by which I mean the other sellers on Etsy.
- Much of the competition sucks. Now, believe me, I love shopping on Etsy and there are a lot of wonderful Etsy shops, including shops that have gems and custom jewelry that I would highly recommend, such as Brett Kosnar whose stones I love working with. But then there’s all the rest. When we first started to get questions like “is your stuff real?” or “is there a certificate of authenticity for this $1.50 ruby?” or “how do I know what you sell is legit?” in around 2021, I really got offended and often gave snippy responses. We never got questions like that before, so I thought: what are we doing wrong? Then I found reviews for other shops like this:
Well, it turns out I was asking the wrong question. The question was really this: how did our environment change? And once I started to do Etsy searches with the tags we use (“rare Grandidierite” for instance), I saw the problem. Some shops (but more than you'd like!) just flat out lie about their product: 6 Carat Grandidierite, natural from Madagascar, for $119.99. Huh?
As one reviewer put it very aptly: “Should have listened to my voice telling me if it’s too good to be true…..” (this is directly lifted from a review on Etsy). I saw one buyer asking “why are they even on Etsy?” in a review as the shop was of such low quality. So it's no wonder I have to distinguish myself from the rest. I hadn’t thought about the company I keep, and how it affects the way I am viewed. (Sidebar. Sometimes other shops also steal your photos, like this one here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/Luckystargem?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=1313325610
Yes, one should consider the “buts.” Etsy does a lot of advertising, and this brings us new buyers, no doubt. It provides way more advertising than we could purchase on our own. Isn’t that worth it? Depends. First of all, we are also bringing buyers to Etsy when we are found based on recommendations, and these buyers may buy other products, not just ours. Secondly one has to ask: Are new Etsy buyers the right kind of buyers for CRD? Do they turn into repeat buyers, for instance? Etsy tells us where our buyers came from, i.e. from Instagram, or an Etsy search. But it does not tell us which of these traffic sources are our biggest source of revenue (i.e. Instagram or Etsy search). I would need to know that to know if I am bringing business to Etsy or Etsy is bringing business to me.
What we do know is that Etsy prioritizes items over $35 that ship free, in all searches. Luckily, we do not sell heavy things so we can often pay for the shipping. But sellers of furniture or heavy objects who need to charge for shipping are at a disadvantage.
Another potential issue is that Etsy provides seller badges to highlight shops that ship quickly, which is a drawback for what Etsy is known for: customization. To get the star seller badge, you have to ship all items within your listed deadline. Easy right? No. If you buy a stone that says it ships in 1-2 days, but then tell us to hold shipping because it goes into a custom order, our shipment will be considered late. We can change the shipping date, but only ONCE, and only for 3 weeks out. This is not enough. For custom jewelry, we can change the shipping profile but this is limited to 6 weeks and will then apply even if you are buying a gem that you want shipped right away, thereby confusing buyers. There are shops on Etsy that manufacture furniture from scratch, and they take 6 months. They will be flagged as shipping everything late, even though they do not; they ship exactly as advertised.
Alternatively, an Etsy shop can get a bad review because it is marking items as shipped that have not yet gone out in the mail, sometimes they do this by making and then cancelling the label after they have lifted the required tracking number and copied it over into Etsy. Such as this review here, for which I cannot fault the shop but would rather have faulted Etsy itself (but you cannot leave a review for Etsy, can you?):
What's going wrong? In a nutshell, it's that Etsy wants to be like Amazon but there's a problem with being like Amazon in that Amazon does not aim to support service-oriented businesses. In Etsy, engaging with the shop owner was always front and center, because its original aim was creating hand made custom products. This is in conflict with free and quick shipping and their current one-size-fits-all business model. Perhaps Etsy is not the right place for luxury anymore.
What do you think?