Although I closed my Etsy shop down over two years ago, I am still frequently asked why I quit. I’ve been incredibly wary about writing this post; I’m quite vocal about what I dislike about Etsy and why I don’t always think it’s the best place to set up shop online. I don’t want friends who are Etsy sellers to be offended and this certainly isn’t an attempt to bash the marketplace. This is my personal experience; Etsy just didn’t work for me and I think it’s important we share our experiences.
I quit Etsy in December 2013. The major reason I quit was because I wanted full control over my business; I wanted to be able to fully brand my business with a well designed website, set my own shop policies, and implement a lot of functions that just aren’t available on marketplace storefronts. I also felt having an ecommerce site instead of just a storefront looks and feels more professional.
It’s a saturated marketplace
As a jewellery designer-maker, I quickly discovered how saturated Etsy’s marketplace is. That was in 2013 and the marketplace has become increasingly more crowded since then especially with the changes to the manufacturing guidelines. As Etsy grows, it becomes harder to gain exposure; the shopping experience on Etsy means customers can search for a product and pull up thousands of near identical items, which they can then compare by price to find the “best deal." There is no guarantee browsers are actually going to find your shop and view your products; you end up being in direct competition with hundreds upon thousands of other sellers and I personally experienced another shop in the UK purposefully undercutting me to make more sales. This shop also copied product designs, titles, descriptions, and tags, which was a frustrating experience and an aspect of running a business that isn't as common with ecommerce sites.
The ability to brand is heavily restricted
When you have restricted abilities to brand your storefront, it’s very difficult to differentiate yourself from all the other shops selling similar products. With Etsy, branding is incredibly restricted; aside from the very small 760x100 pixel banner, the actual product photographs themselves, and a lean ‘About’ page, there is no other way of branding your shop and making it stand out. Every storefront looks the same because the Etsy branding is all-encompassing. For me, no matter what anyone does with their Etsy storefront, they always look and feel like hobby shops. This huge lack of customisation was a real sticking point for me and one of the major reasons I decided to leave Etsy.
The SEO algorithm is completely messed up
I found Etsy’s algorithm to be impossible to work with. Etsy often changes its SEO algorithm regularly, secretly, and without disclosing exactly how it works, often taking sellers by surprise. It’s all about getting the right product title, description, and keywords/tags, and Etsy’s SEO algorithms works differently to the way other search engines do - it’s a whole other set of rules. Even if you do get everything just right you’re really just boosting Etsy’s presence online when you could be doing all that hard work for your own website. Etsy shops rank lower in Google searches; search rankings are largely determined by the volume and strength of the backlinks pointing to your website, when you build backlinks to Etsy you’re only strengthening their position, not your own. I wanted to rank high on Google for specific keywords and the only way I could do this properly was to drive traffic towards my own website.
Listing fees and sales commissions get expensive
Etsy’s listing and sales fees seem, on the surface, super cheap and they are when you’re just starting out. The set-up cost on Etsy is minimal, but when you start selling a high-volume of items, those fees start to rack up resulting in a large chunk being taken out of your profit. I wanted to make my business profitable, which meant getting rid of unnecessary fees that hit my bottomline.
There is always a new “flavour of the month"
Etsy appears to play favourites with specific sellers and their shops. I don’t want to get too involved in this but it’s clear from watching the front page treasuries and the Etsy blogs that certain sellers are promoted a lot more than others. It makes sense, Etsy wants to make as much money as possible, but this kind of behaviour doesn’t really provide a level playing field for its sellers and as a jewellery designer, I found it difficult to stand out amongst Etsy’s US favourites.
Etsy controls everything
Etsy has complete control over everything. There are horror stories of Etsy closing down shops and although that isn’t something I think anyone should be massively worried about, it is a cold hard reminder that Etsy can take away all your hard work if it wanted to. It's rare Etsy decides to ban sellers and shut shops down without good reason but it can easily increase fees and make changes to the regulations, which can (and does) put sellers out of business. The recent changes to manufacturing regulations, for instance, hit a lot of sellers hard and no doubt resulted in some shops closing for good. Personally I wanted complete control over the future of my business, I didn’t want another company being in control of what I could sell, how I could sell it, and I definitely didn’t want to be on the receiving end of any changes that could drastically affect my income.
People think the shop is called Etsy
Lastly, I’ve never met anyone (who wasn’t a designer-maker themselves) who has bought something from Etsy and when asked where it is from been able to state the actual shop’s name. They always say, “I bought this from Etsy.” When someone buys something from my website, they know what the shop is called. Having no way to differentiate themselves from other sellers in terms of branding and having the banner of Etsy emblazoned across everything they do in the marketplace, means people are less likely to remember the shop’s name and more likely to remember Etsy as the place they bought it. Moving my shop to an ecommerce site that I owned meant my shop’s name was heard and seen, loud and clear by anyone who visited and purchased from the site.
This is my experience with Etsy and the reasons I decided to leave the marketplace, I’m not saying it’s the right decision for everyone. I know a lot of successful Etsy sellers who have made it their jobs and I do think it somewhat depends on what you’re selling (illustrators and artists - anyone selling a very unique product - have a very good success rate.) But I do think Etsy sellers are at a major disadvantage if they don’t have their own an ecommerce site. For a lot of designer-makers, Etsy isn’t always the best or even the easiest choice; it’s important as individuals we make our own decisions and learn from them. I learned Etsy just wasn’t right for me.