If you've been following along for the past few weeks, you may have noticed a switch in the way I'm doing online business. Out with the Etsy, in with a random shop that looks like a blog. Yes, I know. It's a bit different than "normal." But hopefully, if you've purchased something or even just browsed you have found it realitively clear & user-friendly.
This is the deal : I started my Etsy shop almost five years ago. Since then I have sold all sorts of product, including, notecards, letterpress prints, letterpress cards, mixed paper books, art journal kits, mini book kits, paper packs, custom stationary, posters, custom posters, photo prints, word art prints, hardbound journals, postcards and probably more. I have loved the experience and have learned so much about making product, photography product, pricing, stocking and shipping. Etsy has been a wonderful site to learn on and host through. (In the past year or so, they have made some rad changes including adding coupon codes and it's become easier to list & share products.)
I first decided to take some of my online business off Etsy a few years ago when I started offering online workshops. I choose not to list the classes in my Etsy shop because I knew 99% of the interested students were going to come right from my own blog (meaning the fact that the classes were "searchable" on Etsy would generate very few extra sales). I used Paypal to create "buy now" buttons, wrote up all the class details and sold directly through a page on my blog. That worked out really well and I saved a bundle on fees. (Etsy charges $.20 to list one item - regardless of if it sells - and then takes 3.5% of each sale.)
This worked out really well, though there were minor issues. Once someone signed up for a class, we both got the standard "paypal payment processed" email, but I still had to send an seperate email directly to the student with class information and other details. And of course, with Paypal, there is always a fee for sellers. I currently pay 2.9% of US transactions and 3.9% of international + $.30 per transaction. I don't mind the Paypal fees though. Paypal makes my life infinately easier by providing a secure checkout and I love that most Internet shoppers are familar and comfortable with the platform. Transaction fees are the cost of doing business.
A few years later, I had a few retired workshops in my pocket and I decided to offer old classes in PDF form. There was a bit of a hold-up here because the files were huge and not easy to send over email. Plus I didn't want to worry about sending them out in a timely matter (what if I was traveling?). So after some research, I created an account with e.junkie. For $15 a month, e.junkie lets me use up to 250MB of storage and create details for 40 products. The storage space means that when someone buys a workshop PDF they are emailed a link that allows them to download the file immediately. (It's a win/win : no waiting for the customer, no extra work for me.)
E.junkie is not a shopping site on it's own (which means you have to use their buttons on another site) but it does provide you with a shopping cart, calcuates shipping and sales tax and makes it easy to customize purchase landing pages and "thank you" emails. You can see some of their "add to cart" buttons at work here. With e.junkie, I still use Paypal to complete all transations.
Above is a sample of what the "cart" for the workshop PDFs looks like.
Once I became familiar with e.junkie, I started using it as my selling tool for my current blog workshops. When a student signs up for a class, they get an instant and automatic email with all class details. I get an email that says they signed up. Simple, simple.
- I didn't want to pay Etsy fees. (For fun I did the math, and so far I have saved almost $500 by not hosting the stamps through Etsy.)
- Like with the online workshops, I knew I would be driving most of the traffic to them myself.
- I wanted to test out a completely seperate venture.
I first considered bigcartel.com which seems to be super easy to use and customizable. Plus they don't have transaction fees, just monthly rates based on how many products you want to list. To me, that sounds totally reasonable BUT, I was already paying $15 to e.junkie (because as mentioned above, I love that they host files and let customers automatically download) and so it made sense to just stick with them and host entirely on my own.
So I created a simple blog. Yep, just a blog. I know Typepad like the back of my hand, so doing the coding and getting things just so on there was so much easier (for me) than learning a new platform. And so far, I have been so pleased with it. Pleased enough that when it came time to offer the summer books, I created an additional blog (that thankfully shares a shopping cart with the stamps). This has worked out very well and I had quite a few "cross-shop" sales.
I'll be the first to admit that it's not the simpliest set up of all time. One of my goals for this year is to design and code a working online shop at elisejoy.com, the domain I currently own that is in need of many, many updates. I am excited for something different and a new challenge. I have no plans to branch back into prints or anything custom, but I will use the shop on elisejoy.com to practice more web design and sell current products like online workshop PDFs & seasonal books. Plus, of course, stamps. This round was so succesful (thank you!!), that I am hoping to make them a re-occuring thing. I am planning on a fall line and then another spring line in 2013.
So how is that for long winded?! For me, it has been a lot of trial and error. It has been a lot of diving in with two feet and making adjustments as I go. There is nothing quite like learning a new system and working out all the kinks (except for maybe the feeling of your first sale!) and it's been a good ride.
I am more than happy to answer any and all questions in the comments. This is a HUGE topic and so many people have scratched it more articulately before me. I don't know everything about anything and so please keep in mind these are all just my opinions. I can only share my own experiences. I would, however, like to share this awesome post comparing Big Cartel & Etsy, from Maggie of Gussy Sews. I read it awhile back, before I was familiar with Big Cartel, and was totally blown away. And I also have to note that Etsy is still the first place I go to search for a great card to send to Paul on deployment or a fantastic fabric pattern to recover the couches.
Every shop system has it's benefits. You just have to find the right fit for you. Do not let the enormity of it hold you back from setting up your little Internet corner.
Update from May 2016 : Over the past few years I have continued to make changes to my business and currently use (and love!) Big Cartel as my hosting site for Get To Work Book . Shopping cart sites have improved so much and I'm finding this so user-friendly.
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