Online Craft Sales
Your Own Site or a Third Party Site?

If you're considering including online craft sales as part of your business strategy, you'll need to determine whether you'll sell on your own site or on a third party site, or perhaps you'll use some combination of both approaches.

A third party site is a site that is owned by someone else, not you. You pay fees, usually a set listing fee and/or a percentage of the price of anything you sell on that site, to set up an online storefront on a third party site. Examples of third party sites are Etsy, eBay and ArtFire. You own site, of course, is owned and controlled by you.

While it was never a central focus of my business, I have a bit of experience with online craft sales on some third party sites. I've also sold on my own site. My bias/preference is toward selling on my own site. My feeling is that either way, you'll need to put time and effort into promoting your online craft sales site, so you might as well spend that time and effort building your own business (i.e. your own site) which you control fully instead of building someone else's business, which you cannot control.

To help you come to your own conclusions about what is best for your business, here are some considerations regarding each option for online craft sales:

Selling Crafts on Your Own Site

 

Selling Crafts on a Third Party Site

Costs

 

Setting up your own online craft business can be fairly inexpensive. While you can spend a lot of money on building and promoting a site, it's not necessary. There are plenty of excellent, cost effective resources for building and promoting a website.

Depending on the resources you use, creating your own site can be done for not much more than you'd pay in fees if you were quite active on some (not all) third party sites. I can run my own site on less than about $65.00 per month, and that's allowing for some extras that are helpful time savers, but not essential to my business. I could get costs down to 25 to 30 dollars per month if I wanted to forego some of the timesavers I use.

 

The costs involved in selling on third party sites vary widely from site to site. Etsy, for example, charges a very modest listing fee and then a sales fee (a percentage of the sale price) when you sell an item. It's initially low risk, and less expensive than building your own site, but if you start making a lot of online craft sales on a third party site, you might eventually end up having higher fees.

Other sites, like eBay have higher listing fees, which can quickly and easily match the cost of having your own website.

Support

 

You may feel isolated building a site on your own. A lot of web hosting companies don't provide much help, and there's a lot of bad advice to wade through online. However, if you choose an excellent company to work with, you will have access to good personalized support and encouragement.

I use SiteSell to build my own site, and I have never felt isolated at all. They have excellent resources, a supportive forum and extremely helpful support staff.

 

Many third party sites have active forums for people who sell on those sites. Etsy, for example has a very active and supportive forum where you can find advice and encouragement from other professional crafters who sell on that site.

Site Design

 

There's a sharper learning curve involved in learning to design and build your own site in a way that is cost effective and creates an image that fits with your products. If you're not already experienced in designing websites, you'll need to invest time learning how to do those things, or invest some money in having someone design the site for you.

 

You should be able to set up your store for online craft sales more quickly on a third party site without too much of a learning curve. Usually there are simple forms and templates that you can use to set up your store. You will need to spend time creating images (for example, a logo if you don't already have one) and text that encourage people to buy from your store, but in general, store setup is usually quite simple on third party sites.

Image and Branding

 

Once you know how, you can create any type of look and feel you like on your site. Sometimes a simple change in the placement of an item or the phrasing of your text can make a huge difference in your sales. When you have your own site for online craft sales, you are free to experiment and make any changes you like to test different facets of your site and see what works best for you and your customers.

 

The templates and forms used to set up third party sites may make initial store setup simple, but they also limit your ability to change the look and feel of your store. If you don't like the site design or the search function on a site, you'll need to find ways to work within the site's parameters because you won't be able to change them.

Also, you'll need to consider how well your items fit with the overall image of the site. For example, many people note that a site like eBay is far from ideal for online craft sales. When people think of eBay, they often think bargain basement prices, not high-end, high-quality handmade items. If your products don't fit with the overall tone of the site, you may struggle to find customers there.

Promotion

 

You'll need to spend time promoting your own site in order to get traffic to your site. Getting your site to rank well with search engines is the route to free traffic, but it takes some investment of time - writing content, getting backlinks, etc. There's time invested on the front end, but once you get traffic coming in to your site, it can really snowball and requires less time to promote the site.

 

You'll need to invest time learning how to best market your store and your items on each third party site you use and then implement those promotional strategies. Usually that means (among other things) posting new items frequently and networking online to create backlinks to your store, perhaps creating newsletters to build a relationship with your customers and promoting your site offline. You'd do all of that for your own site, so with a third party site, you'll end up spending a lot of time promoting a site that ultimately is not your own.

Competition

 

Once people find your site, there's no other competition. You'll be the only person selling items on your own site, so you won't have to compete with other vendors to get your customers' attention and make a sale.

 

While it's true that third party sites already have traffic coming to the sites in general, there are plenty of sellers on those sites who are all competing for the same customers. You'll need to spend time promoting your third party store, and typically you'll need to constantly post new items in your store in order to get traffic to your store.

Control

 

You control the rules, policies, focus and direction of your own site. You can create your site in whatever way is most beneficial to your business.

One approach some professional craft artists use when they want to use a third party site without giving over too much control of their business to that site is to buy their own URL for their craft business and then link to their third party store from that URL. That way, you can promote your own web address in any promotional literature you create for your business, and when customers get to that address, they'll be able to click through to your Etsy (or other third party) store. If you ever decide to leave the third party site to sell exclusively on your own site, you won't have lost the momentum you built promoting your store because you will have promoted your own URL, not someone else's site.

 

On a third party site, someone else controls the site policies. If you rely heavily on a third party site for your online craft sales, you will leave a significant part of your business outside of your control. For example, a while back, eBay made some changes to their policies on selling items that are downloaded, which made it more difficult to sell digital downloads at a profit on eBay. If your craft business involved creating great graphics which people could purchase and download for their own projects, and you sold on eBay, that policy change could really hurt your business or force you to make significant changes to your business.

When someone else (the third party site) owns your online traffic, your craft business is vulnerable to any policy changes they make on their site.

Selling crafts on a third party site can be a way to try online craft sales, particularly if you don't want to or are not able to invest much time learning to create your own site from scratch. If you're going to go this route, I'd suggest buying your own URL for your craft business and creating a simple, attractive, one page online introduction to your business that links to your store on the third party site that you use. Use your own URL any time you're promoting your online craft store, and you won't get locked into selling on someone else's site, and you won't spend time promoting a business that is not your own.

If online craft sales will be a significant part of your business, I'd recommend owning your own site and selling from that site. It will involve more of an initial investment of time, but both approaches to online craft sales require time and effort if you're going to be successful. You'll be spending time creating and promoting your online store whether it's on your own site or a third party site, so why spend time promoting someone else's business instead of your own business which you fully own and control?

Click here for (in my opinion) the best resource for building your own website.

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Lisa

If you want to turn your passion for crafts into a business, this site is for you. Read more here...