Updated: Aug 22
You have the product, you have the art, you have the idea. Now its time to take that and share it with the world and take your business to the next level - selling it. Figuring out which selling platform is the right one for you can be a daunting task. Each platform has their pros and cons and its important to know if those pros and cons will impact the growth of your business in both the short term and the long term. We can help with figuring out which platform is right for you and your small business. We are going to look at the big three selling platforms Etsy, Shopify and SQUARESPACE. Examine the good and the bad and offer our take on them, to help you quickly figure out which one will work best for you and your business goals.
Etsy is generally considered the starting point when it comes to selling online. Known for their presence across the web and dedication to handmade goods - most of their sellers are in fact makers, artisans and purveyors of handmade goods. They are generally the go to for those starting their small business. Like any platform there are both positives and negatives. That can impact your small business depending on the stage of your business you are in. Our take: For a new small business that is starting out, Etsy is a good choice, low investment and is a good place to get your feet wet in the selling online pool. A good place to learn the skills needed to operate a start up small business. However, once your business takes off it may be time to move to a different platform. Think of Etsy as a training wheels platform, once you can ride, you should invest in a bike. Read more below to find out why that is our take.
People know about Etsy, its a recognized name as a marketplace. People know it and trust in both its ethos and the products that are sold on Etsy. Etsy lends its self to a certain level of authority. If you list your products on Etsy, people might trust that more than if you had your own website. Its very likely they have an account already, have shopped on Etsy and are willing to try products from new businesses.
It is cheap and easy to start selling on Etsy. If you are someone who is dipping their toes into selling online, there isn't too much of a commitment to using Etsy. It doesn’t cost any money to open an Etsy shop, except the $0.20 fee to list an item. And then when a product sells, Etsy takes 5% of the profit. Which is not terrible in-terms of a commission and upfront fees. It is a no fuss, no muss way of getting your products online. You don’t have to worry about the cost of your own domain name or hosting a website, they offer you that though their platform. They offer a certain level of convivence for those who want to try out selling online and want to grow before making a big commitment.
Visitors are willing to pay handmade prices for handmade goods and respect that time and effort went into crafting available goods. Their customers believe in handmade and will pay accordingly for it.
Etsy is a very saturated marketplace and there is a lot of everything! If you were to search an item like candles, you would find thousands of shops that offer it and it can be very hard to be found. Its a good idea that you pad that by building a presence on social media to funnel customers and people who know you to your Etsy shop. The less unique your product, the more work you will need to do to be found on such a large and saturated market place.
Etsy requires you to have good customer service, not just good but great customer service skills. If you do not have great skills it will force you into learning them, sometimes in a very harsh way. Every time you ship an order, Etsy prompts customers to leave a review on their experience. Which can go either which way in the good and bad department. If you are small and not putting out a ton of orders you will have the time to ensure that every order that goes out is perfect and keep good communication with the customer. As times goes on and your volume of sales increases. It can be very difficult to keep up with the communication demands and manage things like outside influences - shipping delays. The review process that Etsy has for customers can be quite taxing, as most customers will go straight to writing a bad review before reaching out. Say their package arrived broken - is that your fault? Maybe not but you will be held accountable for it. Their review system can be at times very stressful for small businesses. At Etsy the customer is always right, even when they are wrong. If you are not someone who handles conflict well, this will be a problem. As a bad review, even if you have tried to make things right, will stay there forever on your shop and many sellers find it over time very stressful keeping up with making, shipping and then dealing with customers who have a bone to pick. Keep in mind most customers are wonderful but like anywhere there will be one customer you can not make happy and Etsy will always side with them and their review system leaves the seller open to more often then not unkind customers who use the review system as a way to bully a shop. If you can not focus on making sure all orders are perfect or grow too quickly. That will be reflected in the review system. If you are good at customer service, this will not be an issue. If you are not, this system will force you to learn very quick.
It will take time to get established on Etsy and really have their search system working for you. While it is never announced or proven per say. Many Etsy sellers say it took a year or more to really start seeing traction. Etsy unofficially favours established shops. The first page of search - unless you have a very unique product will be established shops. You will need to put in time, it will not happen overnight on Etsy.
You are now established and have a following and a customer base. That's when the commission on Etsy changes. Once you hit a certain amount made in a year they force you into paid ads - its not optional. Its usually around the 10k mark. If your store is making over 10K you will be automatically be entered into their paid marketing programs and there is no option to get out. This can be very costly, and usually does more to help Etsy then it does for you. At this point, many sellers move on to another platform. We will discuss that later.
Shopify is the next step in the platform ladder. Shopify is the place you go when you are ready to make more of an investment in your business. Perhaps now you are only focusing on your business and you need tools to help manage the volume or orders you put out, need help managing customers and more importantly are ready to grow your business. Our take: Shopify in our opinion is excellent for a growing small business and if you have the basics down and your comfortable managing the day to day of a small business. Shopify has the right tools to grow. Read more below to find out why that is our take.
Shopify allows you to handle both digital and physical products. They offer a free app that you can use to specify the types for your products.
Building your site is easy, they offer templates that really allow you to personalize your site to your unique brand and aesthetic. They have thousands of templates that range from free to a more substantial investment of $1000. You can change these templates at any time. So as you grow and your business needs more site functionality. It can grow with you!
They offer integrations so you can sell across platforms including Instagram and Facebook. Its easy to connect your stores across said platforms and have all of your products available everywhere. These integrations ensure that you update your website and everything else is updated as well.
The majority of us won’t want to wait in lines (unless we have to) for more than 15 minutes when shopping. Similarly, 50% of customers or more are not likely to return to a website that loads slowly or kept them waiting at checkout. Shopify offers fast performance to get customers in and out. The longer they wait and the more processes they need to go though to buy. The less likely they are to complete their sale. Shopify offers great performance so you can get them there and get them checked out very quick. So you can focus more on other aspects of your business.
Shopify does better in search rankings, because you business will with Shopify have its own web domain it really does help you build your presence and grow over the long term as a business and as a brand.
You will need an established customer base to move to this platform. the site does not drive traffic for you. You need to do that though social media, marketing and apps - they do offer apps but they cost money. If you are very very new and do not have a base to pull and funnel to the site this may not be the best option for you.
Just like any place there is a learning curve. Shopify will require that you have the basics down in your business that your coatomer service is good and you can get orders out in a timely fashion. It will require you to focus on your business as unlike Etsy it will not promote you and stay on top of you. You will have to be disciplined.
Shopify is not cheap. Period. It is a platform for when your business makes money and you are growing. For example the pricing structure is down below. This is not a low investment platform. Many businesses find that its worth the price over time as their sales and presence grow. If you do not want to spend money to build your business. This is not the correct option for you. However, you do need to spend money to make money and you decide as a business at what point you feel comfortable investing in a more long term platform for your business.
Basic Shopify – $29 /mo (transaction fee – 2% and credit card fee – 2.9% + $0.30)
Shopify – $79 /mo (transaction fee – 1% and credit card fee – 2.6% + $0.30)
Advanced Shopify – $299 /mo (transaction fee – 0.5% and credit card fee – 2.4% + $0.30)
Shopify Lite – $ 9/mo (sell on social media or website)
In our humble opinion SQUARESPACE is a more advanced type of selling platform. It focuses on aesthetics and more often then not, some of the most beautiful sites are build on their platform. This is a platform that is great for when you have a team. You have the infrastructure in place to have someone handle marketing, sales, photography etc. SQUARESPACE while sometimes overlooked, some of the biggest fashion and lifestyle brands use this platform because it offers a polished and professional look. Our take: This is the platform you go to when you have the right people do the right jobs for your business and you are looking to widen your appeal to huge audiences. This is not for beginners and not for businesses that are not very established as there are some functions they do not have. They are a platform that will give you stunning brand presence. The kind that supports a more mid to large size business. Read more below to find out why that is our take.
Squarespace allows you to upload your own design if you prefer. Their primary appeal, lies in the fact that there is a rather large selection of templates available for use that will make your site look super professional and visually appealing, in no time at all. This is good if you have a web person and a site that you had custom built for your brand. This is common for businesses to do at some point in their journey. To really capture their brand and product essence.
It is an all in one platform. You don’t have to worry about plugins, widgets, or apps when you use this builder - which you do with Shopify. Everything is built into this builder. Even your website analytics are included with the overall platform. That means there are fewer issues with troubleshooting a site because something added to it has suddenly become incompatible with a recent update.
Their customer service is very responsive. You receive 24/7 support through email tickets and live chat boxes on this platform. That saves you and your team time and they will walk you though the issue so you are prepared should you encounter the same problem in the future.
This platform relies heavily on photography and photo value. If you do not have great product photos, this site is a waste for you. While all businesses should invest in product photography at some point. This site does not just require it, it demands it. The aesthetics of the site are so focused on visuals to sell goods that it can scare away less creative business owners. If you do not have good photos, this just will not work.
There are no advanced marketing tools and no apps to do it for you. You will need someone who does your social media - or will have become very skilled at social media and marketing for this site to work for you. People simply don’t just show up to your website because you’ve published it. They need to know about it. SQUARESPACE gives you all of the basics for marketing, including the all-important share buttons, but the advanced tools are lacking at best. You do have URL redirect options, but SEO is pretty lacking and limited to basic meta structure. If you have a big customer base this will not be a problem but if you do not, it will.
It is pretty expensive for what it is in comparison to other platforms and does not always come with the bells and whistles. The truth is what it does, it does well which is providing a polished brand image and outward face for a business. The rest, functionality it falls short on which makes this a go to for established businesses with the right people handing different aspects of their job and relying on their knowledge. When you reach the point of needing a site like this, it a moot point but depending on where you are as a business it may not be right for you.
Overall, just like your business goes though stages, your platform of choice will also go though stages. You will outgrow some of them and some you may never consider. The key is to figure out what your short term and long term goals are for selling online and making an informed decision when picking a platform. These are just three platforms we have looked at, a beginner, intermediate and advanced selection if you will. We always encourage all businesses to do their research when choosing, as the right platform can have big impacts on the success of your small business.
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