Tuesday, April 3rd (the one where I ramble a lot about online shop comparisons)

Fresh from the HaldeKilnSo I had a bit of excitement earlier in the week, and while I don’t want to post the story online where it can be found, I do want to reassure everyone that it worked out, nobody has been injured or sued or jailed, and you would all be so proud of how professionally I conducted myself. This post is not about what happened, but about some things that may change for HaldeCraft as a result – changes I was planning on making anyway but may start to happen sooner (or should I say, with faster motivation since I have been thinking about this since before Christmas). Again, everything is fine, really – if I’m stressed out about this at all it’s because I’m also trying to dye and wind all this Star Wars inspired yarn at the same time I’m keeping my regular work schedule, and now add in a bunch of research that is time-consuming, and if I weren’t such a bonehead I’d make ceramics and soap take a back door for a month while I focus on yarn and web-site design.

One thing that was said to me this week was essentially “do this thing or I’ll report you to Etsy and have you shut down.” And while I feel that for the most part, that threat was posturing and chest-beating, Etsy doesn’t exactly have a great record of taking the side of the seller when someone is accused of, well, anything, really. Or nothing. They’re very shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later, and that worries me from the standpoint of that being my primary online outlet. I have quite a number of outstanding custom orders right now, from Star Wars yarn to yarn mugs, and if I was suspended how would I be able to access that information? Contact those customers? And from where would I get new online sales? Even if I were able to get things worked out, which many people have, what do I do in the meantime? Where do I send potential customers?

About a year ago I bought the domain for haldecraft.com. It’s not going anywhere right now; I didn’t get it hosted, I merely bought the name. And I think it’s time I did something with it. I’m not talking about leaving Etsy entirely; I get featured in way too many treasuries to want to completely up and leave that kind of free advertising. When I first started out, almost two years ago, I was looking at spending either about $50 a month on Etsy shop fees and playing by their rules, or spending about $50 a month on my own domain and shop, plus money spent on advertising. I thought that Etsy was the way to go, and I still feel that Etsy does have things to offer me — but for the last four months in a row, my fees have been in the $100 range. That’s awesome, it means I’m selling a lot – but it also means that I feel comfortable enough with my online presence to start to branch out.

So how do I branch out? I can self-host (like with this blog) or I can go with a company that does it all for me.

If I self-host, there are many WordPress ecommerce plug-ins that I can use, such as WP e-Commerce, WooCommerce, or MarketPress.

If I go with someone who will do everything for me, there are almost too many to count — yesterday I poured over Shopify, Indiemade, Craft Launch, Big Cartel, Volusion, and Big Commerce.

If I self-host, I have to do the installation myself. We all remember what fun Craig had helping me reset up this blog a few months ago, and while my hosting company is both inexpensive and WordPress friendly… I just don’t know that I want to go there again. I mean, I CAN fix things… but I don’t HAVE to fix things. Does that make sense? I am not the type of person who thinks I HAVE to be the one to install things. Especially when there are so many other companies just waiting and hoping I will pick them to host my online shop.

I’m going to get Volusion and Big Commerce out of the way first — they seemed pretty interchangeable and were the second most expensive at $40/month for 500 products. They offer pretty much everything I need, so if nothing else works out I might consider going with Big Commerce; at least in their showcase of shops who use their product I see other crafters. But they don’t have a blogging platform, so rather than have everything integrated I would be continuing to blog here but sell there — not too different from what I’m doing now.

Shopify offers pretty much everything I want; but it’s $60/month for 1000 SKUs, and that’s just a little more than I wanted to spend. They have one level down, which is half the price… but only 100 SKUs. I already have 250 items on Etsy and plan on more. My eyes are already glazing over (as I’m sure are yours) but if Shopify allowed product variations, I might consider going with them for the lowest plan. Not to mention that I’m a huge Accordion Guy fan (I hesitate to say “have a far away/unrequited crush on”, after all, my husband reads this blog), and have been ruminating about Shopify ever since he became their Tech Evangelist. Is it wrong to want to go with a company because a really cool person whom you’ve never met but have been reading the blog of for years works there…?

When I went to sleep last night I was sure that Indiemade was what I was going to go with, even though they only offer two templates and neither one of them makes me squeal in delight. Nothing that Mariana and I couldn’t sexy up, though. But this morning I was reading through their handbook and they don’t have weight-based shipping; they have shipping-cost-per-item, which is one of my top ten beefs with Etsy. That’s a deal-breaker for me; I’m not going to pull away from something that frustrates me… in order to have the same frustration.

Craft Launch, it turns out, is basically a shell covering your Etsy site. When people buy from your Craft Launch page they are redirected to the Etsy checkout system – and the items in your Craft Launch shop are the items in your Etsy shop. Yes; it’s prettier than the Etsy shop, and offers more customization as far as blogging and a calender of events. But my point is to start to pull away from Etsy.

And that leaves Big Cartel, who I admit at first I didn’t look at because the name sounds like a mafia front. It’s $30/month for 300 products, of which may contain product variations. They seem, though, to not also have blogging, and I can’t find anything about shipping. I don’t want to sign up for it and then find out it’s not weight-based shipping.

OH FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER MY EYES ARE BLEEDING. Is anyone even still reading this? I know I wouldn’t be. Unless I were also researching online shops that were good for independent artists and makers.

Gah. Writing all this out helped me come to a decision NOT AT ALL. I was hoping it would; that writing it all out would help it make sense in my head. Instead I’ve overwhelmed myself for the fourth day in a row, and my eyes are crossed, and I’m getting cranky. HOORAY. No wonder, before Christmas when I was thinking of branching out so that when all the Christmas sales came in I could send all those people a card and a discount coupon to use on my new site… no wonder I backed away from it and chewed on my hair for a while. I may do the same thing now. Ugh.

I think I need a new blog tag — “posts nobody will read because they are over 1000 words long.”


    • That’s funny, because the reason I found Craft Launch yesterday was from looking at my friend Dyeabolical‘s site. I was thinking how it seemed to have everything I wanted, but then when I went to the Craft Launch website to check their stats and prices, and saw that bit about only having what you have on Etsy, and using the Etsy checkout system, I was like… well, then, sadly… not for me.

      • Jacqueline

        CraftLaunch is specifically for Etsy sellers who also want their own site but don’t want to hassle with managing multiple inventories.

        If you have any suggestions or questions let me know! Also–if you find us through this article you can email me at jacqueline@craftlaunch.com and I’ll give you a month free in addition to our 14 day free trial period.

  1. I read it! Do I get a cookie?

    Shopify strikes me as super-sleazy, but not for any real reason I can put my finger on. And while it was a pain to set up, I was overall pretty pleased with our ZenCart experience back at the shoppe. And I really like the idea of having something that’s yours, that you have full control over.

    Foxycart seems to have good reviews as well, but I’m not specifically familiar with it.

    • HAH! I almost put somewhere in there, “by the way, if you read the whole thing, I will make you cookies!”. LOL.

      I actually got a good vibe from Shopify, but that could be because I’ve been reading Joey’s blog (hah! Joey. Like we’re on a first-name basis and all.) for a number of years and have seen how well he’s been treated as an employee, and the fun he seems to have working there.

      I don’t know about ZenCart. I’ve known a few people who have used it and the consensus seems to be “well, it’s a little buggy, but when it’s not buggy, it’s awesome!”… and do you know what I don’t want to have to do? Fuck with something. Especially over the next month, when I’m going to be pretty busy. I would rather pay just a little bit more to have someone fuck with it for me (or rather, have it be written well enough that it doesn’t NEED to be monkeyed with all the time).

  2. I read it because I’m in a similar position. My sales aren’t anywhere near as big as yours BUT I still feel like I’m spending WAY too much money on Etsy. I’d like to have a place where I can have more personal freedom and have more customized shop experiences (like better categories and such.) I already own my domain name (phoenixfiredesigns.com) and have for a long time but it was terrible old html from Front Page and it was so hard to update and work with, I couldn’t use it. I need an e-commerce system instead.

    So I was actually really curious to see what you decided because so far, I feel like I’m floundering around trying to figure out what to do with my domain shop location.

  3. Ducky

    I read the whole thing but I guess I’m a little slightly confuzzled (brain is in a funk from sickness). Shopify has blog option? Blog option is worth paying more for?
    From what I understand the problem you complain about most with Esty is not having enough room to post listings. Shipping price per item does equal dumb but if that’s the best option in all other respects maybe it would be worth it?
    (Does this comment even say anything? I give up today.)

    • Shipping price per item is incredibly, incredibly frustrating. I just had to refund someone almost $20 because Etsy charges per item, not by weight — and this happens multiple times a week. At the same time, I also just last week got shorted by $10 on shipping. It almost never works out evenly, and it’s frustrating for me to have to guess when listing an item either how many of that item they might buy, or what else they might buy with it. Some of my things are large and heavy, some are large and soft, some are small and heavy.

      I tried looking various things up on the USPS website and guessing where the farthest away from me is, but then, what if I’m sending it to the next town? It’s not OK with me that that’s OK with them. I don’t like eating the money and I refuse to send them a revised invoice because I think that’s really shitty, adding $10 to something after they’ve paid for it. And it’s very time-consuming for me to issue a refund and then also make sure that refund is entered correctly in my accounting system.

      Then I’ve even had a couple people “yell” at me (as much as you can yell, online) for issuing them a refund! Some people don’t keep money in PayPal, so for me to issue them a $3 refund… they’d rather I kept the money. But then what if someone doesn’t get a refund and wants it, and accuses me of keeping their money? Having a set fee for every item, rather than charging by weight and zone, is SHITTASTIC. That, to me, is a dealbreaker. Kind of like… starting to date someone and then finding out they’re a professional clown. No, sorry, date is over now. CHECK, PLEASE.

      So it’s not that blogging is worth paying more for; functionality is worth paying more for. I have a list of things that annoy me about Etsy, things that while they wouldn’t outright drive me away by themselves, are things that I would say “should I leave Etsy, the place I go shouldn’t have X, Y, and Z.” Such as not charging shipping by weight and zone. Or having character limits in your category titles. Or having the “mark as shipped” and “print invoice” buttons right next to each other.

      A blog would be nice — then I wouldn’t be directing people here, to read both my personal and my work (if maybe I don’t want them to get too personal). But the blog part is not the dealbreaker — after all, I’ve been doing it this way for two years and it doesn’t feel unnatural. I would like to have some place on the site, though, for an “about” or “stories” page; some place people could see pictures of my workspace and get a vague idea of my process. But mostly, it’s the ease and functionality of the site that I want.

  4. Well, I just braved the Shopify chat desk (I don’t know why I always think tech people will be snarky… maybe because I’ve been the one answering the phones, and I’ve felt snarky?) and I was wrong and right — I was wondering if product variations counted as multiple or single SKUs. As in, if I offer one type of ceramic bowl, in ten different colors, is that one SKU or ten? And it’s ten. So I shouldn’t do the $30 basic plan, because that’s 100 items. But the next up? For some reason this morning I thought it was 1000 items, but it’s 2500. Which I would most likely never ever get to, maybe. So if I go with them, which I’m leaning towards, that’s what I’ll do.

  5. Quinn

    I don’t feel I know enough to comment, other than to say that it sounds like an awful lot to mull over. I can definitely see wanting your own domain. However, Miss Monster is a vendor I adore, and she is on shopify. I met her at Dragon, and she seemed super approachable. You might be able to chat with her about her experiences. Mind you, she doesn’t sell the volume you do, which is kind of your point.

    Nevermind. I’ll go back to wishing you luck.

  6. Cronus

    I don’t think you rambled at all. I was (almost) spellbound to hear you work through your issues and pluses and minuses. Besides all the things mentioned above, what else do you need to go to the next level? Have you worked that out? Anyway, I like how you jump back and forth between the techie and crafty worlds.

    • Thanks, Cronus!

      I think what I need to go to the next level is maybe a — well, no, this is ONE thing I need but it’s not the ONLY thing; I need a new marketing/advertising strategy. One thing that’s been holding me back from advertising in a lot of places is the weird linkage on Etsy (sometimes if you change a title, the link still works… but if you sell it and restock it, old links don’t always work. They do sometimes! But not all the time!). So I’m looking forward to having a static page I can link to as far as, oh, say I want to advertise my hand lotion in BUST magazine. I’ll have an actual product category page I can link to. On Etsy I’m always having to shuffle categories around as I bring new things in, because you can only have ten categories. So I have to combine things I might not want to combine (hand lotion and massage lotion and lip balm… sure, they’re all compatible… but they’re not the SAME).

      I’m hoping that with the changes a new advertising strategy will start bubbling up in my brain, and that it’ll work, and bring in new customers, allowing me to grow.

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