So, we tried the Etsy, Artfire, deviantART and other things over the past couple of years and here’s what we thought of the experience. As always your mileage may vary but, again this is our experience with such sites. When you build your online presence on someone else’s site the relationship is always more to the benefit of the someone else than it is to you.
You invest a lot of time in making your arts and crafts or what ever it is you do that makes your business yours. You take great pictures, write good descriptions, fill in all of the tags and go out there on the net to promote, promote, promote your shop and drive people in. But what happens when people get in there? In a lot of cases, if you look around, the site you have set up shop on does everything they can to pull that traffic you have been driving in to other shops on the same site. Sites that are based on a per sale commission are worse about this than flat rate ones but the key thing here is they make their money if a sale is made on their site and it doesn’t matter to them if it’s your sale or someone else’s sale so while people are looking at your item or your profile they are seeing other people’s stuff.
Now don’t get me wrong. We LOVE to promote our fellow artists and craftspeople too but there is a time and place for that and your shop is YOUR shop. When they are in YOUR shop you want them looking at YOUR stuff, not someone else’s. It’s not like when you go into Mc Donald’s you see a lot of Burger King ads on the tables and stuff right? Also, you only have so much control over the presentation of your items on these mall type sites and quite frankly, most people who see shops like that look at it kind of like being set up at a flea market rather than in a stand alone shop and they value things accordingly. A stand alone website just looks, to the general public, like you are serious about your business and it’s not just a side hobby you play around with after hours or on the weekends. This is a worthwhile thing to consider.
For about the same amount of money that most folks are spending on having their items on those sites you could easily pay for a hosting service and register your own domain. I know some folks don’t feel they have the technical expertise to set up a website of their own and it seems like a daunting task but believe me, these days, it’s much easier than it was in the old days. Most web hosting companies offer an interface like cPanel or something similar and usually through it you can install WordPress to run your site. The nice thing about WordPress is there are tons and tons of great plugins and themes to customize the look, feel and functionality to pretty much whatever you want it to be. Most of these things are free but a few cost some money if you want additional functionality. The setup we are running on right now though is totally free except for our hosting costs and domain registration. The shopping cart plugin we use is called WP e-commerce and it’s just as easy to use as most of those interfaces you see on the shopping mall type sites you may be set up in. You can add your products, pictures, tags, descriptions, etc. Set it up to work with PayPal or other payment gateways and, get this, it even generates an XML file for you to feed your products straight into Google Merchant’s database.
Now, once you are set up and running you can still do all of those things you were doing before to promote your shop but instead, once you have driven the people there YOU are in control of what their eyes see instead of someone else. You can go with a theme that truly reflects who you are and what you are all about. It’s kind of like the difference between living in a home of your own in the country where you are free to build it however you like, paint it whatever color you want and park whatever kind of car you want in your driveway versus being in a Home Owner’s Association and having someone else dictate to you how you are going to live. Now, if you enjoy living in neighborhoods with Home Owner’s Associations then more power to you but we artistic types tend to be more free spirited and enjoy doing things our own way.
Anyway, that’s our two cents. Feel free to add your own below!
The Abundant Artist has a great article along this same subject that gives even more reasons to build your own website instead of someone else’s.