So you’re starting up an online shop and aren’t sure which storefront best suits you?This post is long in length (and information!) and will help you make the best decision for your shop.**I originally wrote this post for my former blog but since it’s my most popular one to date I have updated it and moved it here for new readers.**
Since a lot of handmade shop owners grapple with this very big decision, I decided to write a post detailing the comparisons I’ve found between Etsy, Shopify, BigCartel and Storenvy. There are more storefront websites since I originally wrote this post, but I’ll still focus on these 4 major ones. Feel free to share this post with anyone in the midst of this debate right now!
I personally have used 3 of the 4 aforementioned sites and at the end of the day have decided to host my shop through two of them: Etsy and Storenvy. A lot of magazines and websites find handmade shops via Etsy (Pregnancy & newborn magazine, Brides.com for me) and I wanted to still have that line open while also having a professional-looking storefront in my back pocket.
Keep in mind these are only my opinions!
First lets look at some screen shot comparisons then I’ll break them down below…
Screenshot of what a storefront looks like on Etsy
That 760×100 banner and icon photo are all the customization you get.
Screenshot of what a product page looks like on Etsy
Screenshot of a BigCartel shop banner//storefront.
Banner can be any size.
Screenshot of a Big Cartel Product Page
I’m not sure what kind of customization this store has, but it looks like they’ve got all their product photos set at the same size versus one large with 4 small underneath.
Another screenshot of a product page on Big Cartel
Shopify Product page
My Storenvy product page
(Notice it shows an availability bar)
First things first, your storefront is your branding and all of these but Etsy allow for complete customization. It’s tough to show examples because they really are all up to you.
Etsy allows you to upload a small banner and the rest is a cookie-cutter layout every other Etsy shop has. Think of it as a store in a mall versus a bricks and mortar boutique where you can paint the outside and put flowers in the windows. The plus side is that this makes Etsy very user-friendly for shop owners who aren’t techno savvy. The downside is an amateur look and and a forgettable shop. More on the benefits of Etsy later…
With BigCartel, Storenvy and Shopify you can customize until your heart’s content but it will require some knowledge of HTML/CSS and it can be really confusing for novice web designers.
Contact form on Storenvy
I really like the Contact form on BigCartel and Storenvy. Unlike Etsy, which uses an intranet-like communication system called “convo”s, communication through BC & Storenvy goes straight to your email inbox which streamlines your business and makes for one less log-in. Big pain in the butt if you work from your phone.
(I’m unfamiliar with Shopify’s contact method.)
In my opinion Storenvy looks like Etsy and BigCartel’s love child. It’s a bit of both. It has more customization capablities like BC but still has an owner photo, community and visible links like Etsy (should you choose to keep them). Storenvy has recently added the capability to remove those tags.
Screenshot of Storenvy product page with tags. See them above the photo?
Let’s talk about those pesky tags. Those tags above the photo link to other shops who also share those tags. Therefor, should your customer click the one that says “ring” they will be directed to other stores also selling rings. One big complaint of Etsy store owners is how easy it is to search other stores. I feel like Store Envy took this one step further by providing quick links in plain view. No bueno. Of course, you can always customize those out.
The benefit of the tags is to link you to the community, and sometimes that can garner traffic.
I actually really like Shopify layouts and I like them better than BigCartel in the way that they offer lots of FREE layouts to use that are actually really great. BUT their packages are expensive.
Now let’s look at pricing…
STORENVY (Do you see where it says “FREE”?)
Shopify is awesome. The layouts are great, even the free ones, but they’re expensive. The cheapest plan is $29 AND they charge a percentage of your sales. Whaaaaa?!
BC offers more wiggleroom for start-up companies, like a free tier. But you can only list 5 items at that rate. BC’s plans are based around how many products you want to list and how many photos you want of those products- 1, 3 or 5. The free option is great for shop owners just starting out who want to reserve their brand name early in the game without having to make a commitment. At the very beginning I started a BC account under my former brand name, WhimsyLane, just to reserve the name. I didn’t actually list a product for another year but because of the GOLD package I was able to have the “shop” waiting for me when I did decide to go with them, and my name was kept for me. I later left Big Cartel for Storenvy, but more of that later.
Etsy charges 3.5% of each sale plus 20 cents per listing.
Storenvy charges nothing. And as long as I’ve had them there’s never been a catch.
Now let’s compare…
Here a list of Pros and Cons for each site. Then below that I’ll compare them by feature.
::ETSY::PROS:1. Etsy does a lot of the legwork for you. You can get a lot of sales on Etsy just from people finding you through the search bar/tags. 2. Publications cruise Etsy for handmade products to put in their pages. I see Etsy shops in major magazines all the time. 3. Community feel. There’s a sense of guidance through Etsy since there’s a forum or team for everything and other shop owners are just a click away. 4. Customers and fellow shop owners can “Favorite” your shop and products which helps make them visible since those products and shops will show up in other user’s activity feed. Big for exposure.5. Treasuries also up your exposure. A user on Etsy can create a “treasury” list of items such as “Yellow Summer” then add a bunch of items that are yellow. If your item is one of them, anyone who sees that Treasury list will see your item.6. Etsy has a local feature that makes it easy to connect with vendors in your area. 7. Etsy has the capability to link your shop up to your Facebook page.
8. Five photos per listing.
9. Vacation mode available. You put your shop in vacation mode when you’ll be selling at an event in order to avoid double-selling of the same product.
10. Etsy is well-known in the handmade community.
11. You can “feature” certain items which showcases them at the top of your store. You can also rearrange your listings however you want.
12. Etsy offers sections on the left side of the store which makes browsing by category easy for visitors.
13. Etsy offers an app so you can easily watch your store on your phone.
14. Free coupon codes to offer your customers. You can choose free shipping, percentage discount or dollar amount discount. You can also select a minimum purchase must be reached.
15. The customer feedback rating system (1-5 stars) can be a good or bad thing depending on how your shop’s doing, but customers like the security it gives them.
CONS:1. Etsy shows everybody how many sales you’ve had. If you’re a new shop it’s obviously going to be a while before you rack up the sales. It can be a redflag to customers if your shop only has a couple sales since not all of them will compare that number against your shop’s opening date.2. Etsy also shows every item ever sold to anyone who wants to look. So as your ability and style evolves, your older (possibly less cohesive) items are forever documented.3. Because of their simple design, Etsy shops can look novice.4. The banner is all you have to show your unique branding and it’s only 760×100 pixels big. 5. Etsy’s listing process is long. It takes forever to list one item, as you have to add 13 tags to it (making products easy to find for those browsing keywords), the year it was made (who cares), who made it (again- who cares) and many other steps before you can finally list the item.6. Etsy has recently added variations to checkout, but they’re limited. For example, if you sell T-shirts, you can add color options but you can’t specify quantity for each color, which is sort of weird.7. Explanation. Sometimes you have to first explain what Etsy is to people just wanting to know about your shop. I would say “It’s on Etsy… it’s like a virtual mall with thousands of stores…” With the other storefronts it’s just your online store.8. Customers used to have to create an Etsy account to purchase from your store which was a huge roadblock for some, especially men who just want to purchase a gift, but I believe this has changed.9. Difficult to find shops with common names. Sometimes you’re the twelfth “Julie’s Jewels” so you may get buried in the pile.
10. Just like the feedback rating scale can be a good thing, a few difficult customers could also make this a bad thing. It’s a pro and a con.
In Conclusion: Etsy is a necessary stepping stone for most shop owners who want to build a customer base but probably wont be your final (or only) store. Etsy feels like a virtual mall. Some stores stay in the mall others eventually branch out- it’s up to you. Etsy is great for part-time crafters and those who are more interested in selling than branding. You may choose to venture out on your own eventually, although many also keep their Etsy store open for the exposure mentioned before.
::BIG CARTEL::PROS:1. Easy monthly plans which is great for people who sell high-priced items since you’re not being charged a percentage. 2. Free price package option.3. Fully customizable storefronts.4. Contact form is professional and is sent straight to your email inbox. No middleman to log into.5. Looks like a legitimate website.6. Because BC is fully customizable you can add whatever links/buttons/photos you want to your sidebar that link wherever you want them to go. This is a great feature for shop owners with blogs.7. BC has the ability to link your store up with Facebook so people can purchase straight from your Facebook page.8. Easy dashboard navigation. Everything is streamlined and organized.9. Listing products is quick and easy.10. Product options available. Instead of having to make a note in the seller box like on Etsy, on BC they simply select their color choice from a drop-down bar and when it’s sold out the option is no longer visable as an option.11. BC has an easy checkout system and customers can pay with Paypal or a credit card.
12. Option to have your own .com URL.
13. Maintenance mode available. Sort of like vacation mode in Etsy, maintenance mode allows you to make changes to your shop behind the scenes while a notice shows up to your visitors.
CONS:1. Customization while limitless, is confusing to novice web designers and often times the help of a professional is needed if you really want to take your shop to the next level and don’t have a lot of time to spend learning HTML and CSS.
2. Flat-rate plans can be more expensive than Etsy if your items are inexpensive.
3. BC does absolutely NO advertising for you (unlike Etsy which allows customers to search items and provides visitors with photos in the welcome page) That means your sales are 100% your own marketing efforts. Eeek.
4. No Search bar. This is a pro and a con. While a search bar can take customers from your store to another, it can also take customers to yours.
5. Drop in sales. If you are switching to BigCartel or Shopify you need to be okay with losing some sales. There is no way for people to stumble on those shops as they can with Etsy or Storenvy. This is why many choose to keep their Etsy store open simultaneously with BC.
In Conclusion: Big Cartel is great for those who have other successful ways of marketing their shop and place more importance on a professional-looking store than on direct sales.
PROS:1. FREE!2. Marketplace-type feel. So customers can find you via links and tags you give your products, similar to Etsy.3. Fully customizable storefront.
4. Your own domain available for $4.99 a month
5. Unlimited product listings- still free.
6. Has maintenance mode (or as Etsy calls it, “Vacation” Mode.)
7. Coupon code options for a small fee.
8. Free templates to choose from.
9. Store dashboard is easy to follow.
10. Contact form is streamlined just like with Big Cartel
CONS:1. Giving products tags can lead customers to other stores selling similarly-tagged items.2. Bio page is separate from actual store. Unfamiliar customers can find this confusing and an inability to find your products can hinder sales.
3. Not as much traffic as with Etsy.
4. The use of coupon codes costs a fee.
In Conclusion: Storenvy is a great option for those who want to sell from a professional storefront while keeping the community feel, without the hassle of monthly plans or percentage fees.
Kind of a no-brainer.
::SHOPIFY::**I’m not very familiar with Shopify so additional tips are welcome in the comments!**
1. Tons of free layouts
2. Customizable shop
3. Sleek, professional look.
4. Easy navigation
1. Expensive plans (Cheapest one is $29.99)
2. No free plan options means full commitment (although they do offer a free trial but I’m not sure if it requires commitment.)
3. Marketing reliant completely on shop owner.
In Conclusion: From my limited familiarity of Shopify, it’s a great option for established brands/stores whom already have the clientele. A great choice for bricks & mortar stores expanding to the internet.
Now let’s break it down in features (because this post wasn’t long enough, right?!)
Fees:Etsy- 20 cents per listing plus 3.5% of salesBigCartel- Optional price plans starting at $0.00 to $29.99StorEnvy- FREEShopify- Optional price plans starting at $29.99
Visability:Etsy- LotsBigCartel- Completely up to youStorEnvy- SomeShopify- Completely up to you
Curb Appeal: Etsy- OkayBigCartel- Great (if design savvy)StorEnvy- Great (if design savvy)Shopigy- Great (if design savvy)
I hope I was able to provide some insight into this overwhelming but inevitable choice for shop owners! If you’re thinking of opening up a shop but are on the fence… DO IT! Start out with Etsy, build a name for your brand and go from there 🙂
Feel free to email me any questions you have. I’m happy to help!
**All storefronts used in the post besides my own were screenshot from websites listing them as examples of their respective e-commerce hosts.**