I've written about the downsides of selling on marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon Handmade before. As a review, there's the issue of overseas manufacturing infiltrating and, quite frankly, saturating the Etsy platform. And then there's the risk to the seller of tracking sales data on Amazon Handmade.
Sellers all over the world have started to warn each other about what you're really giving up when you create an Etsy or Amazon Handmade account. I've seen the forums, Facebook comments and message boards...
But even if you're not worried about your product being ripped off, or you feel you can hold your own against the competition, there's something else to consider:
The risk of driving traffic to a platform that isn't your own.
>> Sites like Etsy and Amazon are meant to aid product discovery. So, if you're working hard to gain attention and drive traffic through social media, online ads and email marketing, then you're likely wasting time and money.
Working to drive your own traffic to an Etsy or Amazon Handmade shop means you'll likely lose the majority of that traffic within seconds of getting potential customers there.
Etsy, especially, is very good at getting shoppers to click around as they explore other items that may increase the number of products added to the cart. This means that the customers you have worked so hard to send there, are likely going to buy from one of the other 1.5 million sellers on the platform.
>> You're not building your own brand. If the traffic you've sent to Etsy or Amazon does happen to result in a sale, it's the Etsy or Amazon "brand" that the customer associates with your product. When their friends ask, "Where did you buy that?" their answer will likely be, "I got it off Etsy [or] Amazon." Your brand, which you've (hopefully) worked hard to create, is immediately diluted by a company that is already a household name.
>> As soon as you list your product and business name as a seller on Amazon or Etsy, you sign away your search engine optimization and Google rankings. Amazon dominates the top search rankings and Etsy isn't far behind.
Even if you cancel your account, your Amazon or Etsy listing will always show up above your own website. This is something to carefully consider if you own a stand-alone eCommerce store that gets substantial traffic -- or if you ever plan on creating your own online store. (More on that later.)
>> Both Amazon and Etsy can choose to change the Terms of Service at any time. They can raise fees, decide to let cheaper, mass-manufactured products into the marketplace (as Etsy has already done), and change their search algorithms as you watch your page views plummet. You have zero control over what happens to your store, your customers and your sales.
So what should you do?
If you have an Etsy or Amazon Handmade site, I'm not necessarily saying to abandon ship. By all means, continue to make sales from the built-in community of buyers.
But, you must have your own website.
If you're serious about building an actual business, and not just entertaining a hobby, then there's no excuse to not have your own eCommerce store. For a nominal fee, it has become very simple to setup a Shopify store in a day or create a basic online shop through SquareSpace.
If you do want to remain on a marketplace platform, then you can create a free website on Zibbet built specifically for artists and makers. You'll get exposure in their marketplace, but also have your own customizable standalone store, creating the best of both worlds.
Things like SEO, branding, and Terms of Service can be easy to overlook when you're first starting out. It can't be emphasized enough, though, that a sustainable and long-lasting business is built on repeat customers and brand loyalty.
Create longevity through a unique user experience that you have full control over. This is the same user experience that you want your customers coming back to when they're looking to buy what you're selling.
The last thing you want is for a customer to receive your product in the mail and think to herself:
"Hm, I wonder what else can I buy on Etsy?"
Shannon Whitehead is the founder of Factory45. She works with independent designers to launch clothing companies that are sustainably and ethically-made in the USA.