Is Selling on Etsy Worth it? Pros and Cons

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

Every artist and crafter eventually gets asked the same question, ‘Do you sell on Etsy?’ It’s understandable, Etsy is a global marketplace dedicated to selling handmade and creative goods, so is selling on Etsy worth it? Before I committed my time to the task, I decided to find out.

Selling on Etsy is worth it because it’s the easiest way to set up an eCommerce store dedicated to handmade arts and crafts and vintage goods. Etsy is quick to set up and learn. It’s a low-cost, low-risk sales platform that rewards volume sellers with low prices, and 5-star reviews.

Let’s start by covering how you sell on Etsy and then explain the problems you will face.

Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links I earn from qualifying purchases and sometimes earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. I am an Amazon Associate among others. I only recommend trusted sites.

How Do You Start Selling on Etsy?

It’s important to realize that it’s not enough to open an Etsy store. Etsy is a search engine and you must ensure that your Etsy listings are optimized for the platform. If you ignore the basics nothing will ever work.

Successful Etsy sellers do the following:

  • Use keywords in your shop names, shop sections, product titles, and descriptions
  • Create your own product images
  • Use original mockups if possible, avoid free or generic imagery
  • Write unique product descriptions for each item

In order to generate sales you need good reviews and that’s where your friends and family come in. Ask them to buy a product and leave a 5-star review, then reimburse them.

You will have to pay the Etsy fees but it’s a small price to pay to get the ball rolling.

How Do You Make Money Selling Art on Etsy?

To make money you need traffic, to get the traffic you need listings. It’s not good enough to list a dozen of your finest pieces. No one will find you. You need 100’s of listings, each one with unique tags, titles, and descriptions.

It’s a tedious business but you must resist the urge to copy and paste identical descriptions. Each new listing is another chance of getting found by the search engine and you can’t afford to get lazy.

UPDATE: Now there is ChatGPT. Put in the command and let AI do the donkey work for you, why not?

Forget about original art and crafts, we are talking about reproductions or downloadable files. Your business is not scalable without reproductions. You make one original and sell it multiple times.

I read this post if you want to know:

You need as many listings as possible to get found by the Etsy search engine. The more listings you have, the higher your chances of being found in the search results, and consequently, of making sales.

Check these posts out to make an informed decision:

You will discover that only a small proportion of your inventory ever sells well. That’s the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule. Essentially that means you will gain 80% of your profits from only 20% of your work.

Your best-selling items will attract the bulk of your customers and that in turn, will introduce them to your other listings. This, in turn, will help your less popular listings to rank higher and generate more sales. It’s a virtuous circle.

How to Sell Printable Art on Etsy With Sandra Di

Selling on Etsy Pros and Cons

The Advantages of Selling on Etsy Include:

  • It’s quick and easy to set up an online shop
  • The costs are very low
  • It’s easy to maintain
  • The Etsy marketplace has a built-in audience
  • It’s a cheap way to test unique products

The Disadvantages of Selling on Etsy Include:

  • The Competition is Very High
  • Marketing Yourself is Essential
  • Other Sellers Will Copy Your Ideas with similar items
  • You Can’t Easily make an Email list
  • It’s Not Easy to Brand Yourself

Read this post too: 15 Ways to Protect Your Artwork From Being Copied

You have to weigh things up depending on where you are with your online business business. If you are at the beginning and want to get started as quickly as possible, Etsy is the perfect answer.

Etsy is an online marketplace with its own search engines and there’s no reason why you can’t see results quickly and for very little money. That’s not the case with your own website.

A website is far easier to build yourself these days, you don’t need developers, but you do need time. It’s a steep learning curve and it’s not free. A domain will cost about $12 per year – and cheap hosting will cost about $100 per year – GreenGeeks

GreenGeeks Web Hosting Landing page for ethical art blogs
GreenGeeks – Carbon Neutral

But it doesn’t stop there because there are premium themes, plugins, and email marketing platforms that all cost money. Yes, there are free versions of most things but they come with limited functions.

And websites need maintenance. You must take care of the site, keep it up and running, back it up, repair glitches, set up payment options, keep it optimized for performance, and the list goes on.

Etsy is a great way to start a small business while you assess the long-term benefits of running your own website.

How Do Artists Sell on Etsy?

Very few artists will have an enormous catalog of images, the key is to repurpose the same images in different formats. 

For example, let’s say you have 10 images. Each print can be offered in 5 different sizes. That’s 50 listings. Then each of those might be offered in 3 different colors. That’s 150 listings!

Learn how to make and sell print-on-demand products on Domestika

Print on demand for creatives. A Domestika course about designing and selling your own products
There are more classes on my Art Marketing Page

Why stop there? Now each of those 10 images can potentially be printed on different products. Many artists offer their work via Printful, which fully integrates with Etsy, and they offer all kinds of alternative products.

You’re not limited to art prints, you can offer t-shirts, puzzles, phone cases, mugs, you name it, the list goes on. You can have hundreds of listings before you know it. This is what top sellers do.

But do you want your art on these products? Well, that’s a different question and only you can decide what to do. I think it’s safe to say that Etsy buyers are not looking for high art.

Read this one: Is Printful Worth it? Print on Demand Review

N.B. You will need an image editor to play around with your files. I have an old version of Photoshop Elements, but there are alternatives. I also use Canva and to adjust my images. Between the two, I get most jobs done. If not, there is always to outsource quick jobs

I use Canva mainly for typesetting, graphics, and design, especially for social media, and Pixlr to adjust and fine-tune my artwork,

Canva has a new feature: Can You Draw on Canva? Is The New Draw App Any Good?

Canva is free to use with a paid option if you need specialist tools. The reason I upgraded to Canva Pro was to access the stock photos, use all the elements, and get the background remover. 

N.B. Update: Pixlr is no longer completely free. It has a very minimal daily download limit. The paid plan is $0.75 per month.

That’s an overview of how to sell your art on Etsy. Of course, there is more to it, you have to promote your listings on social media platforms and even consider buying Etsy ads. It’s only when people visit your store and actually buy something that Etsy starts to promote your listings to new people searching for your keywords.

You can also check out these:

Sounds straightforward, but it isn’t. There are no guarantees. Art is subjective and public tastes are fickle, but there are some trends and themes that work better than others.

Cute, quirky, funny, and cartoon domestic animals sell very well both as cheap prints and downloads. Pets are universally popular, especially dogs.

There is always a market for collectibles. Think about iconic subjects. I’m a wildlife artist, so I sell charismatic animals like elephants, giraffes, and big cats.

Get a head start with these: 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers (Use These Subjects to Make Money)

Color will always outsell black and white and 10″ x 8″ images seem to attract the most attention.

Your images must fit into readily available off-the-shelf frames. The whole idea is to make life easy for your potential buyers

Read this post for a detailed guide: What Size Art Sells Best? Frames and Apertures – FREE Chart

Is it Hard to Sell on Etsy?

So is selling on Etsy worth it? Well, it can work if you are willing to play the game. Etsy encourages volume sales at low prices. It’s a marketplace, not a gallery. You must post hundreds of listings with the right keywords on the right products. That’s a tough call.

If you really want to succeed you have to follow the trends and be ready to adapt to changing tastes and fashions.

For example, if I was more commercially minded, and I’m obviously not, I would draw/paint sloths and get them printed. They are popular now. A few years back, people were potty about meerkats, and more recently I began noticing flamingos on everything.

If you can spot a trend and catch the wave you have a greater chance of making sales. In short, you must follow the popular keywords and create art and crafts around them.

Real professionals will use paid keyword research tools such as Marmalead to find Etsy keywords with high volume and the lowest competition. That’s another $19 per month.

Can you chase keywords and create art and crafts around them? Bottom line – You can’t do as you please and expect sales

Can You Build a Brand on Etsy?

You can build a brand and a following within the Etsy platform, but you must be aware that the last thing Etsy wants you to do, is to redirect your custom away from their site.

Etsy is a business and it cares for its own profit margins, not yours, and that means everything must remain in-house. Your customers are not yours at all, they are Etsy customers.

When someone visits your shop and buys your product, in my case a print, they are buying it on Etsy. You may have a fantastic range and a beautiful store, but you don’t own the space.

You’re not a truly independent retailer, you’re merely a tenant with permission to list your products at Etsy’s discretion. That’s very different.

They make the rules and you have to go along with them, with no right of appeal. Fairness and ethics, don’t come into it.

Etsy owns your traffic and customer base, but why does that matter? It matters because repeat trade and returning customers are the bedrock of a retail business.

Your mailing list IS your business. Every small business owner will tell you about the importance of repeat trade. Your best customers are your existing customers. That’s why you must retain their contact details.

You cannot email your buyer out of the blue, you have to do it legally. You can’t just add them to your mailing list just because they bought something. You can, however, send a thank you email confirming the sale with a link to your website, and encourage them to sign up.

It all has to be done manually and if you have multiple sales that will get tricky.

What you can’t do on Etsy is chase a cart abandonment. E-commerce sites can track the customers who abort the sale and offer a discount. You can’t do this on Etsy and that will lose you potential sales.

Essentially, you don’t have control of your business.

Your brand is built on a house of cards, one change in policy, or an algorithm update can destroy small businesses overnight. It happened to me on eBay.

It’s a risk you must take into account. In other words, building your business solely around a 3rd party e-commerce platform such as Etsy is unwise. It’s wiser to have other outlets and spread the risk.

The Problem With Free Shipping on Etsy

Now let me explain how I got shafted by eBay. It’s relevant because Etsy has jumped on the same bandwagon.

I was doing pretty well selling my art prints on eBay. I adapted to every change eBay imposed and although the sales dipped after each update, it was still worth my while. It was a lucrative side hustle.

The killer blow occurred when I was forced to offer free shipping. Now on the face of it, what’s the problem? All I had to do was include the shipping fees in the price, right?

Sure, and eBay forced me to pay a commission on the final value fee that included my shipping costs. If I didn’t agree to their conditions and offered separate postal rates my rankings would suffer.

Fewer sales or pay-up, what choice did I have?

But that was not the only issue that screwed up my business plan. I offered a discounted shipping deal. I could send multiple prints in one package at the same rate. This was a great deal and persuaded many of my customers to buy more than one print at a time.

Free postage scuppered that offer and my sales suffered as a result.

When eBay insisted that I had to send my art prints within 24 hours, and not the 48-hour offer I’d been running successfully for 10 years, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

100% positive feedback with great customer service and selling to thousands of happy customers meant nothing.

Etsy now insists on free postage with the same ultimatum. Well, what do you know? They went for maximizing their profits over serving the best interest of their sellers. Funny that.

These posts are useful:

I’m not naive, Etsy knows that overall, they benefit from higher conversion rates if customers are offered free shipping. They have also calculated the extra income they generate taking a small slice of their seller’s postage costs.

It doesn’t matter to them that their sellers do not benefit. So what?

If selling prints has become harder, how are artists going to sell their original art with any confidence? Packaging is not a minor issue when it comes to sending original art in the post.

Framing sizes and weights vary, and so do the packaging costs. Shipping art is a nightmare.

You can easily add $100 for shipping and you have to give Etsy their undeserved cut of that!

Etsy Fees For Artists and Crafters

Again they seem to be modest enough at first. As I write this your listing fees are 20 cents per item, and that lasts 4 months. Then you pay a 6.5% final transaction fee and a 3-4% payment processing fee.

It all sounds innocent enough but I’ve just discovered another fee.

Etsy runs off-site ads and if you make a sale as a result of their ad, you’ll be charged another 15% fee on top. That’s 15%, including the shipping costs remember. Now if that customer loves your product and returns to make another purchase within 30 days, you lose another 15% commission.

Ok, that’s fair enough, they advertised your work and that’s the price you pay. You would never have had the sales otherwise so why complain?

Here’s why.

Etsy can track you and your customers and place ads to entice them to your Etsy shop. Every time they succeed you lose 15% of the sale.

It doesn’t matter that you have built your own following elsewhere, on other platforms, they can place an ad in front of them in the hope that your customers can be stolen.

UPDATE: And now they have stated that anyone with a turnover of $10,000 or over (not profit – turnover) will be charged 12% for offline marketing whether they like it or not.

Doesn’t sound so good now does it?

And do you think these fees will ever come down? Who can compete with such a huge platform? No, they will only go up.

Etsy has an affiliate program. This post will interest you: 45 Affiliate Programs for Artists: Mega Guide (2023)

Is Selling on Etsy Only for America?

Etsy is worldwide, but it’s important to understand the limitations of selling your items overseas. Posting to and from America can be prohibitively expensive. The prices have skyrocketed.

Initially, this was the result of the Trump Administration withdrawing from the UN’s UPU (Universal Postal Union). They struck a deal that allowed the US to set its own postal rates for accepting overseas mail.

The result was a 48% hike in prices, and that was on top of the extra costs of flying mail to the US during Covid (and now the Ukraine war). No doubt other countries have returned the favor.

It means that many sellers no longer find it viable to export their products to the States. This affects American sellers less because their internal market is so huge.

If most of your potential customers are in America and you are elsewhere, you have a competitive disadvantage.

This new post will interest you: Selling Digital Downloads on Etsy: Best Guide

Etsy Overview by William Lee

I came across William Lee recently. His background is in corporate finance and he’s a numbers man. He brakes down the figures and reveals the truth for most Etsy sellers.

These are the key takeaways if you haven’t got time to watch his video.

  • Background: Etsy is an American e-commerce company founded in 2005 that became public in 2015.
  • Market Size:
    • Over 460 million visits in February 2023.
    • Gross merchandise sales: $11.8 billion in 2022.
    • Revenue: $2.6 billion in 2022.
    • Valuation: $13.5 billion in 2022.
  • Users:
    • 89.4 million buyers.
    • 5.4 million active sellers.
    • Over 100 million items listed.
  • Print-on-demand: About 26% of the 2022 sales on the Etsy platform were from made-to-order merchandise.
  • International Presence: In 2022, 45% of Etsy sellers were located outside the U.S. and 45% of sales involved international transactions.

5 Insights on Selling on Etsy:

  1. YouTube Hype: Many YouTubers promote Etsy as a promising platform. However, while some sellers thrive, many sell little or nothing. The gross merchandise sales per active seller in 2022 was only $2,169.
  2. Time Investment: While setting up on Etsy is easy, achieving consistent sales demands time. To gain traction, sellers might need to list hundreds of high-quality items due to competition and the unpredictability of what sells.
  3. Fees:
    • Listing fee: $0.20 per item for four months.
    • Transaction fee: 6.5% + a payment processing fee of 3% + $0.25.
    • Potential Etsy advertising fee: 15% if a sale occurs from an off-site ad.
    • Possible VAT fees for international sales.
  4. Sales Tax: Etsy handles sales tax for most states. However, if you use a supplier, you might need a resale certificate to avoid paying sales tax when purchasing from them. This involves registering with the state and occasionally filing zero sales tax returns.
  5. Profit vs. Sales: It’s crucial to differentiate between sales and profit. Example: If you sell $5,000 worth of products in a year with a 20% profit margin, your profit is $1,000. If you spent 100 hours listing products, that’s $10/hour, not accounting for other potential time investments.

Is Selling on Etsy Worth it? Final Thoughts

Sobering stuff. It’s not a lost cause, but I think you will agree that selling on Etsy, or any other 3rd party e-commerce platform is not secure. Great as a sideline, but precarious as a full-time job

Etsy is a great place to start an online store and a relatively easy way to sell art prints, printables, small gifts, and ephemera. It’s not a good place to sell original artwork.

Treat Etsy as just another outlet and don’t invest all your time, energy, and money on Etsy alone. If you do, then do it with your eyes open.

Spread your bets and build your own website with a mailing list. In the long run, it will pay off.

lion portrait pencil drawing by wildlife artist Kevin Hayler
‘Head of the Family’ by Kevin Hayler

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The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, I’m Kevin Hayler
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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