Etsy still rules the artists market, for a good reason

For the past month, I’ve been exploring the possibility of starting to offer AmmonArt jewelry in the Amazon’s relatively unknown “Handmade” section. It’s been a long and painful journey.

Amazon has clearly not put much thought or resources in the Handmade section, choosing to focus on the more revenue producing mass market. The Handmade is just a tepid effort to make inroads on the Etsy success. Here’s the comparison of the two platforms:

Etsy


Setting up your store:
It took about 10 minutes to sign up and set up a store. Adding individual listings is a smooth, easy and intuitive process that takes about 5 minutes per listing. Changes are immediate.

If you’re offering more than one piece in the same listing, or offer, for example, a pendant with or without chain with a different price, variations are very easy to create, and (and this is brilliant) you can attach specific images to variations so the buyer is very clear on what they’re getting – when they choose something from the variation dropdown, the main image changes to a specific one you assigned to it.

Your store is constantly working to create more business for you – all reviews are visible forever, you can set the store to display sold pieces which show up in a separate section, and for only a moderate $10/month, you can upgrade it to a Plus version for a more snazzy layout. As a bonus, “Plus” shop option comes with a number of free listings/month which pretty much offsets the cost of the subscription.

Dashboard interface: Clear and simple, it shows the data most important to the seller as soon as you log in, moderate and clearly marked number of links. It allows me to see all new sales and traffic to the store at a glance, and jump to store and listings management in one click.

Marketing tools: The traffic to the store, orders over time and popularity of individual listings are all easy to see and reorder in a number of useful ways. Internal Etsy advertising you can buy shows the amount spent and the number of orders it produced. Traffic is broken down by sources, so you can easily see which of your marketing channels is working the best. You can also add a Google analytics pixel, to use the powerful Google Analytics tools for the more in depth reports. (Etsy ads are a great, cost effective way to drum up more business, by the way.)

Order handling: New orders pop up on the dashboard as soon as they happen, and the Sell on Etsy phone app notifies you for a quick turnaround as well. We love that ring! 🙂 You can print the discounted mailing labels and the package insert on the spot, and the Etsy global shipping fulfilment center makes it simple and cost effective to ship around the world. Tracking is included, and the buyer is able to follow the shipping process continuously. Informed buyer is a happy buyer!

Money: Proceeds of any sales are sent automatically to your bank account within 7 days from shipping, and you can even request an earlier payout. Listings are charged at $.20/month, and the cut Etsy takes from your sale is a very reasonable 8% approximately (down to 5% + $.25 if buyer buys with PayPal, with PayPal taking additional 3% + $.30 or so). This is the lowest rate on the market.

Customer support: I honestly don’t know how good the Etsy customer support is, as in the entire time AmmonArt was on Etsy I didn’t have a single reason to call them. I found clear and in depth documentation for the few questions I had quickly and easily.

An Etsy store page

Amazon

Setting up: It took three weeks just to get approved to sell in the Handmade section. First application was turned down for unknown reasons, and the appeal took two weeks of complaints and almost daily calls and support tickets until the Handmade department even deigned to look at it. Once it was accepted, it took another 24 hours for the appropriate tools to become active – a little fact that was not mentioned, and had necessitated another call for support to find out. When it finally went through and was accepted, the listings setup turned out to be a complicated and buggy process. The whole interface has a strong 1990s flavor.

Some major annoyances –

  • All main images have to have a white background. This means hours of additional image editing, and poor visibility for white or light colored objects. Forget about creating attractive, eye catching images designed to drive interest of a casual browser.
  • Changes and new listings are not immediately visible. It takes anywhere between 15 minutes and half a day to see if the changes you made to the listings “took”. It’s mind boggling, aggravating and something I’ve never seen in any other back end of any other interface I’ve seen on the Internet. Hey Amazon, ever heard of turning off caching to logged in users of certain type? Get a couple more servers and do it, its a basic. You’ve got the money. (Yes, I’m a web developer in my other life.)
  • There are no paragraphs?? Really? In the item description, all the paragraphs are stripped away in the Handmade section. While in the regular Amazon listings you’re able to use basic html code to create the breaks, this doesn’t work here. In programming terms, this is literally a five minute fix. As a result, your descriptions are almost unreadable and look terrible.
  • “Customizations”, what Amazon calls variations, are not intuitive, and there’s no way to connect them to item images in the Handmade section. Good luck to your buyer making the right choice if you have more than one version of an item!

Dashboard interface: The main part of the dashboard is taken by Amazon articles, upsells and the useless stuff such as polls. The information you actually need is in a thin strip near the top of the page, or buried in one of the many, many menu items above. The menu items are not named in a user friendly way, and you sometimes find that you arrived to the same spot by clicking on two or more of the differently named menu links, while other important items are really, really hard to find. The available items don’t adjust based on what type of seller access you have – you’re staring at many things you’ll never need, such as “Store” interface (rub it in, Amazon).

Money: Amazon doesn’t charge per listing in the Handmade section, but the cut is a hefty 15%. Money is marked for you only once the work is shipped and it’s sent every two weeks on top of it, which is a major complication for artists who offer customized work.

Customer support: In a slick marketing move, Amazon has made it super easy for sellers to reach a live person through their phone app. Unfortunately, the pleasant support people you’ll talk with know very little about any out-of-basics issues you might have and can do even less. They’re especially powerless regarding the Handmade section which is apparently a separate hard to reach department that moves in mysterious ways. For example, when I filed the appeal after my account was refused access to Handmade section, I was told that no one knows when they’ll look at the appeal and make a decision, as they’re a different department and they don’t give out that information.

As the Handmade section has a fairly different interface and look than the rest of Amazon, there’s little documentation and what there is is difficult to find, and it seems that only a few support people know anything about it, you have a choice of looking up info on Google or bullying your way on phone through various departments until you land the mythical Handmade department. Once you’re there, customer support is efficient and knowledgeable – they’re just protected by multiple layers of bland, friendly and fairly inefficient phone operators.

I don’t have much information about order handling and shipping because I just got up on Amazon, but based on one sale, I can report the following –

Order handling: Once I noticed I had a sale (notice arrived in the email, Amazon seller app didn’t post a notification on  my phone), I was able to buy a mailing label from Amazon at approximately the same discount as on Etsy. Printing the label was a pain – I have 1/2 page sticky labels paper for packages, but Amazon insists on putting the package insert on the same page with the label, so this is 1 ruined label and an extra printing on normal paper for the insert.

Money: For the order shipped on November 26th, I was just able to request the money (Dec. 8th). So, 2 week turnaround, and I had to request the money manually. Etsy sends the payments to your bank account weekly, and it’s available as soon as the package is shipped, so this is another strike for Amazon.

Overall, if you’re an artist or artisan, stick to Etsy.

An Amazon “product” page

Cart

Removing Item