Is Selling on Etsy Worth it ?

This blog post is a guide about whether you should sell on Etsy or not. It’s not a one size fits all situation but the general answer is leaning more and more towards a big NO. This is especially true for new sellers, beginner artists and small businesses. I wrote this piece in July 2019 and I update it regularly to keep it up to speed on the various developments. So first thing first, a note on updates and revisions.

Is selling your art on Etsy worth it in 2022 ? Probably not.

Updates and revisions about Etsy’s strategy

February 2020

I wrote this article in French back in July 2019, when Etsy just about forced everyone into free shipping. Now they are just going to take 15% more out of every sale. So, this piece about selling on Etsy was due for a translation.

March 2022

A lot of Etsy sellers are going on strike April 11th. They will be closing their store for a day or more. If people are willing to pass on income by closing a store they are often heavily relying upon, it says something about the dire situation Etsy puts them in. As a reminder, about 6 weeks ago, I got an email from Etsy telling me, in substance, that since they made more money than ever, they decided to increase their cut on everything by 30 %. Which is absolutely uncalled for and quite upsetting given their previous announcements. Since the strike was advertised, their stock has slightly gone downward. But all in all, the Etsy’s value on the stock market has more than doubled in 2 years, mostly thanks to their agressive strategy and the pandemics which favored all online businesses.

In April of 2022, CBC asked me about the Etsy strike, you can read the whole piece here.

Pros and cons of selling on Etsy

It’s been a few months (at the time of the first version of this article) now since I started selling ceramic figurines . I started my tiny business by selling on my Etsy store, a well known marketplace originally developed for artists and handmade stuff. I had a previous experience from the platforms debuts – at the time I sold illustrations and it was okay. A few years later, I changed my mind about the marketplace.

So, Should YOU be selling your art on Etsy ? I don’t think so and here’s a full review of my experience as an Esty seller – with details and numbers. Disclaimer : this is my own opinion, if you like Etsy and don’t mind its perks, go for it. For me though, it’s too expensive and detrimental to artists and small businesses in general.

ceramic jackalopes
Handmade Ceramic Jackalopes for a custom ceramics order

Selling your art on Etsy is expensive

It sure doesn’t look like it when you just look at the fees. It’s only $0.20 per listing. But it’s $0.20 per item, for 3 month, even if it doesn’t sell. You will spend quite some time writing about your items, making pictures, finding the right words, tags, categories, prices, shipping fees (well, no, strike that, you’re now basically forbidden from adding shipping fees, it has to be included in your price).

And then – if you’re not an web expert and you don’t know anything about, say, search engine optimisation or just basic marketing – you’ll have a basic product page in one language (hopefully in english) without any keyword focus.

If you’re new on Etsy, there is absolutely no way you’ll ever land on the first page of the search or categories. None. And don’t even start me on Google results – Full dislosure : I used to be a SEO expert (search engine optimization), so I know quite a bit about that.

Etsy will get traffic from you for free, and sell you their traffic at a price.

What will you do, now that you have all these beautiful product pages and nobody from Etsy is seeing them ? You’ll talk to your community and tell them to shop on your Etsy page. That’s the most logical, natural thing to do. Moreover, that’s what Etsy wants you to do. They have no intention of doing this job for you. So you will send dozens, hundreds, thousands of people to Etsy and for free. You will not benefit from this unless Etsy benefits from it. Etsy will never reward you for all the trafic that it gets from you.

You will have no analytics about the traffic that comes from you and most of the numbers provided by Etsy are really basic.

etsy's stats
From january to july, here’s what the traffic looked like on my Etsy shop. 50% came from my social media, Etsy app and direct are probably mobile visits from my tweets – and promoted listings are paid ads. Other is mostly my website. I’m providing for most of the traffic here.

Once a fan of yours is on your Etsy page, they may add your products to their basket and maybe you’ll make a sale, or ten, and it’s nice. But what about your community shopping on another seller, a cheaper artist ? It’s a marketplace so it seems legit that people are free to buy what they want, that’s ok. But keep in mind that Etsy is no longer the makers place it once was. It’s now full of copycats and a lot of the sellers that present themselves as makers are just regular factories or dropshipping places. You’ll now find dozens of cheap materials providers from China on Etsy – more on that later.

Etsy’s statistics by Etsy and no-one else

In October of 2019 I went back to my Etsy stats and noticed a change in the stats : it clearly stated that I brought 80% of the visits to my shop. 20% came from Etsy. Once again, I paid for the 98 people Etsy brought to me through ads, but Etsy never paid me for the +2000 people I brought to their website and probably bought a thing or two beside my ceramic animals.

Etsy visits
80% of the traffic comes from my community

One goal Etsy has is that you buy ads. Which I did. And doing that your $0.20 listing will become more like a $5 – 20 listing – depending on the number of clicks on your product. The ads work with bids, nobody knows who’s bidding on the same keywords, as far as I know, Etsy could bid on its own keywords and setting a basic price because as soon as I tried and bid on even the strangest keywords they quickly went to $1 or $1.5 per click. It’s per click and not per sale : if 30 people click and you don’t sell your item, you just lost $30.

Selling on Etsy with paid ads : nope

Over the last 12 months, here’s how my paid ads went

  • Impressions (my items appeared on the screens) : 12179
  • Clicks : 89
  • Fees : 45.60 $
  • Order : 1
  • Revenue : 29 $
Selling on Etsy : ads

What Etsy Ads look like

So, here we go, no need to be a maths expert here, I just lost money. One could argue that my ceramics are not that great and stuff and maybe they aren’t. But the business model is just not working for artists here. It’s just a one way thing.

While I gained a bigger following on social media like instagram and twitter, on the other hand, Etsy was being super quiet. It gained about 148 people, while twitter went up +2000 and instagram + 1000.

Interface Etsy

148 “fans” in about 6 months

Selling Art on Etsy : the cheap downward spiral

If you are just beginning selling your art online, you’ll be spending time building a lot of things besides your products. One of the big questions will be : how to price your art ? Is it too cheap, too expensive ? Well, let’s check what other ask for a similar piece of art – that would be a good way to start. Or would it ? If you’re looking at the price set for similar things, you better make sure you really are looking at similar work conditions, materials quality and even taxes.

A worldwide platform vs. your local small business

When comparing prices on Etsy, most of us will be mislead. If everyone on Etsy was a maker or an artist, it would be somewhat fair – even if, depending on where you live, you might charge more or less for exactly the same work. And even that might be balanced by shipping fees, that we do not have the right to put on anymore. But then, what about the countless companies or wholesale businesses that are selling on Etsy – making it seem like they’re a one man or woman operation ? You will have to charge more than they do for a similar product if you’re to survive as a small business owner.

Selling on Etsy = Driving your customers directly towards competition

Selling on Etsy means you will be in direct competition with your peers (that’s ok) but also with bigger companies that may or may not play by the rules. Etsy will treat them as if they were makers, and by doing so, it is not the makers marketplace it claimed to be in the beginning. I will not even talk about dropshipping and such, but if you see incredibly cheap materials, it’s not something handmade.

I hate to link to them but if you look into the craft supplies and tools part of Etsy, it’s just wholesale from Asia and other part of the world. It’s exploitation and it will involve things you will not – cannot – agree with, including child labor for semi-precious gemstones from Madagascar and pollution from metal factories. All these come at a cheap price in $ but what about the human and environmental costs here ? Is this what we are selling ?

Etsy will have YOU offer free shipping

With all this said, the latest updates in Etsy’s condition are unacceptable for most of us. The first one is free shipping is now mandatory. Sure, you technically have a choice. You can charge for shipping but if you do, your products will not show into the search results. Not that they already showed much – because Etsy wants you to buy ads. But punishing sellers that show upfront shipping fees by not showing their products at all is quite unfair.

I already included the shipping fees in my prices, because of marketing and laziness mostly, but you should have a choice. Mandatory invisible shipping is unfair, invisible shipping fees aren’t fair at all. For people selling low priced items, it will have a negative impact.
Update about shipping fees : I’ve decided to stop making shipping fees invisible because it’s unfair. Yes it will put off some customers but that’s just not something I want to be part of from now on. I wrote a bit about why in the shipping information page.

licorne porcelaine

Etsy will get 15% of your sales

As of April 2020, Etsy will now just get 15% of your sales. It will be mandatory for the shops that make more than $10,000 per year. That’s just $1000 a month so it’s targeting shops that are small and trying to get bigger. When you hit the $10,000 mark, you’ll be included in their ads automatically. When you sell something, if the sale comes from Etsy’s ads, 15% of the money will just go to them.

Nice, ok, they advertised and sold the product and they get a bigger share, ok. BUT they can get this share for 30 days after advertising. It means that if someones sees your product, let’s say from your social media, and then they get remarketing from Etsy on any other website within 30 days, the sale is considered theirs. When you know how remarketing campaigns and cookies work, this is unacceptable.

Also, keep in mind that if you are under the $10,000 threshold, you will be automatically enrolled in this program and you will have to opt out.

valeur actions etsy
Etsy stock value after the release of this new conditions – surprised ?

Selling on Etsy : fees breakdown

This is before the April 2022 increase, so keep in mind that the Etsy fees + mandatory ad fees add quite a bit to their cut.

Now back to pricing and fees. Once you set your prices, compared them to others then divided these by two, removed the shipping fees, added 15% … and you went back and forth a dozen times, how much is there left to pay for your hard work ? Is the platform worth what money and traffic you will pay ? A simple answer would be : no. But let’s break down a sample sale.

For my first sale, I had low prices, because I thought it was the way to go. Like almost everybody I know, I clearly underpriced my work. One of my adorable customer, thank you again, orders 2 ceramic animals, $35 each + $12 shipping fees. That’s $82.

  • Total : $82
    • Etsy Sale Fee : $3.12
    • Etsy Listing Fee 1 : $0.20
    • Etsy Listing Fee 2 : $0.20
    • Etsy commission on product 1 : $1.54
    • Etsy commission on product 2 : $1.54
    • Etsy process fees : $0.60
    • QST : $0.73
    • Shipping QST : $0.53
    • Shipping fees : $9
  • Left : $64.54
    • – material + shipping box, paper etc.
    • – 4 hours of work
    • – studio space renting fees
    • – time spent writing / photographing / editing / promoting the listing

If I just look at the hourly rate without thinking of the supplies and rent, that’s less than $10 per hour. For me, selling on Etsy is clearly not sustainable. Meanwhile Etsy just made $7.2.

Etsy fees for one order

I did not charge enough, sure, but the breakdown shows just how Etsy is too expensive.

So Bye Etsy, Hello online shop

In the beginning, Etsy promoted small businesses, artists and makers. But today, they are just letting their clients pull the bulk of the weight and they make profit off of us. They also participate in lowering the market prices for unique and handcrafted goods by putting us all in competition with big companies. If you spend as much time putting together your own platform, you will make more money for yourself. You’ll be independent and you will not feed big companies with your hard earned clients, community, web trafic and money. All this has value and it’s yours. Share it if you will with artists, friends, avoid capitalistic a**holes 😀

It’s not easy but in my opinion, anyone can put a WordPress site together, or you could also team up with other artists. Anyways, I hope this was clear enough ^^

Alternatives to Selling on Etsy

I’m often asked what people could do and which alternatives to Selling on Etsy there are and once again, it depends on a number of factors. I’m quite fluent in websites so I use WordPress on an independent hosting service. That calls for a bit of technical skills and knowledge. If you don’t want to dive into that kind of stuff, Shopify, Squarespace or Bigcartel all seem reliable. Don’t forget that Ko-Fi also offers a simple and efficient platform.

If you feel like you’re stuck with Etsy for a variety of reasons, you can also have a side shop and try to have people transition to that new store. It’s quite easy to do. You could offer your flagship product on Etsy and all of the other products on the other store etc. There are loads of solutions available. Etsy is not all powerful – it is but a business. And like all businesses, it needs you in order to make money ^^

I wrote a piece about how to build your own e-commerce website when you’re a small business or an artist.

Feel free to follow me on social media or read the blog for more small business marketing advices or just pretty art !