Selling art or handmade work online? Building your own website is one choice. Third-party sites are another option, and there are pros and cons to using them.
Third party sites, such as Etsy, Facebook or other places that offer access to artists and makers, own their online space. That also means they make the rules. They can throw you off, charge fees or increase them, or require terms that you aren’t comfortable with – and leave you with little recourse.
The benefits of third-party sites are that you have a place where your images are easy to upload, and you don’t have to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel. Many times, they have high Google rankings, and their sites are easy to find. Plus, they do a lot of marketing to pull in traffic. They provide other services, like a shopping cart or your own page on their site. This makes it simple to get into the business of selling your art or handmade items, and clearly is the reason that many creative entrepreneurs start out using these sites.
However, e-commerce websites are also crowded with the work of many other artists and makers, and this means that you must find a way to stand out. You might have to spend hours every week trying to get featured on the front page of the site, or you might have to buy ads, which involves time and/or money.
You also have no control over the quality or type of the other work shown there. Some sites have a huge mix of wonderful items and not-so-wonderful items for sale. They can resemble a giant yard sale where anything goes. You must decide if that type of platform is right for you.
Many times artists feel that although they started out displaying their work on a third-party site, they have outgrown it. One of the main disadvantages is that you have no way for customers to sign up for your email updates. The host site gathers addresses from its visitors, but does not share that with you.
Other third-party websites will show your art or handmade work on your page, but have images and links to other pages in a sidebar, or near the top of the page. This encourages visitors to click away to look at products on the site which are not yours.
If you have moved beyond having a shop on a third party site, you will definitely want to make the investment in your own website.
What are the benefits of having your own website? You are, of course, the one who is completely in control. No one can close you down, tell you what you can and cannot do, or change your business model.
Fortunately, there are ways to incorporate e-commerce right into your own website, through plug-ins (on WordPress for instance), linking through to a third party site to act as your shopping cart, or using a customizable storefront like Shopify, BigCommerce or SquareMarket.
There are also website providers with templates for individual artist websites that you can easily customize, and act as a free-standing art site that is your own, and that you control. This helps minimize the cost for artists who want exposure without the big price tag that a customized site can command.
A comprehensive directory that contains listing of third party sites and artist website providers can be found here.