When you’re taking your very first steps into the world of ecommerce, there’s a lot to learn.
You might have the ‘make amazing products’ part down, but there’s no getting around the fact that your first experiences packing a shipment, helping a frustrated customer, or dreaming up a marketing campaign are all going to involve learning some new tricks. That goes for everything you’ve never done before in pursuit of growing your own online storefront.
That’s why marketplaces like Etsy hold such appeal and can be such a good fit for makers who are just considering the idea of getting their products in the hands of customers. Marketplaces by definition come with a built-in audience who are already looking for what you have to offer, and the scope of what you need to learn feels more manageable than venturing out on your own platform from day one.
As you begin to scale your business on Etsy, there might come a time when you start to get curious about running your own store, finding and connecting with your own audience, and creating a memorable brand outside of Etsy’s marketplace.
Creating your own Shopify store is one way to take that next step—but just because you’re thinking about opening a Shopify store doesn’t mean you need to shut down your Etsy operations. Growing on Etsy and Shopify provides a rare chance to actually have your cake and eat it, too. Selling on one doesn’t preclude you from selling on the other.
As with every strategic decision, choosing to sell your products on both a marketplace like Etsy and your own online store has to make sense for your business. If you’re considering it, we spoke with three store owners who have done both. Their experiences and lessons learned can help you chart a course that’s right for you.
Floral Neverland: Using marketplaces to test the market
Olivia Wang, founder of Floral Neverland, was still in school when she launched her store on Etsy. She heard about Etsy as part of her research for a class paper, and its focus on handmade goods and vintage items felt like a perfect fit based on her love of crafting. Olivia figured selling on Etsy would be a great way to earn money on the side, so she jumped in.
“I started my Etsy site in the winter of 2014,” says Olivia. “It was my first attempt at selling online.”
“Etsy was really straightforward to set up. I took some pictures of my products, uploaded them to Etsy, added a cute shop banner, wrote two paragraphs of the story behind my shop, and that was it.”
But as she graduated from university into a career in digital marketing, Olivia realized that many of the marketing skills she was learning could be better applied outside of Etsy. She began to notice that while getting started on Etsy had been a perfect introduction to the world of selling online, she wanted more flexibility to really create a brand and stand out.
“I didn’t want my shop just to be a side gig. I wanted it to be my full-time job someday,” she said. “So I decided it was the time for me to build a brand outside of Etsy, grow my own community, and tell my own stories. Although I still keep my Etsy store open, I dedicate most of the time to my Shopify store now as it generates more sales.”
"It was time for me to build a brand outside of Etsy, grow my own community, and tell my own stories."
Telling your own stories can be one of the most challenging parts of branding, especially if you’re new to ecommerce. Olivia had her digital marketing skills to help her scale, but even if your current job doesn’t include marketing, there are ways you can build a brand and get the word out about your store.
A short marketing curriculum for makers:
- How to DIY A Stunning Visual Brand (No Photoshop Required)
- 5 Brand Strategies to Uniquely Position Your Ecommerce Business Above the Competition
- The Beginner's Guide to Ecommerce SEO
- Instagram Marketing 101: Using Hashtags, Stories, and More to Grow Your Business
- How to Grow Your Ecommerce Business with Email Marketing: A Detailed Guide
“Within a year of opening my Shopify store, I built a dedicated Instagram following in line with my brand philosophy and aesthetic. I’m starting to get my brand voice heard,” says Olivia of her progress. To stress the importance of branding, she notes that the competition on Etsy can be fierce, especially when other sellers offer similar goods.
“Building brand loyalty on Etsy is hard. Most of the time, a customer’s loyalty is to Etsy, not to your brand.”
To lay the foundation for a long-term business, eventually you’re going to need to find and nurture an audience of people who are uniquely attracted to what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. That means creating your own channels to connect and acting on every opportunity to leave a lasting impression—including small touchpoints, like when someone receives their order in the mail.
In a bid to stay competitively priced with other sellers on Etsy, Olivia previously relied on shipping products in plain bubble mailers as letter mail so she could offer free shipping. However, it never delivered the experience she wanted for her customers.
“I believe that packaging is an essential part of a brand and I put time and love to my packaging,” says Olivia. “On my Shopify store, I offer a flat shipping rate to cover shipping in branded packaging materials. Now I get people writing emails to me or tagging me on Instagram, thanking me for putting a little personal touch on the packaging.”
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HaldeCraft: Creating space to grow with Shopify
When Lorena Haldeman, owner of HaldeCraft, first dove into the world of making and selling, she was able to start with a solid foundation thanks to her previous retail experience as part of a team. Along with two friends, she ran a yarn shop, but they unfortunately had to close their doors when the economy took a hit.
That’s what led Lorena to start selling on Etsy in 2010.
“Etsy wasn’t the first time I'd sold online, but it was the first time everything was mine and mine alone. I sold yarn that I hand-dyed myself and soap that I made, but my main focus was the ceramics that I'd had a lifetime of making as a hobby,” says Lorena. “That was thanks to my grandmother, who had a ceramic studio in the 50s and 60s, and taught me everything she knew as I was growing up.”
As her business grew, there were small things about Etsy that began to frustrate Lorena. Specifically, given her wide range of products, she needed additional categories to keep her store organized.
“I wanted more than ten categories, because I was branching out and making more and different ceramics, and dyeing more and different weights of yarn. The more products I added, the harder it was making categories on Etsy that helped people find what they wanted.”
On her Shopify store, she was able to create categories and subcategories that organized all of her products in a way that worked for both the store and her customers.
“Customers shouldn't have to browse through pages trying to find a specific thing, and a well-designed shop should feel very intuitive. It should be very easy to find exactly what you're looking for.”
"Customers shouldn't have to browse through pages trying to find a specific thing."
While Lorena was originally worried that building her own store would be cost-prohibitive, after running the numbers she realized it was affordable enough that she could keep both open at the same time.
“I kept both stores open until very recently—just a few weeks ago, in fact. When I started my Shopify site in 2012, I moved over all of my yarn and all of my soap, and about 75% of my ceramics. The only things I kept on Etsy were things that repeatedly sold there, especially around the holidays. While the majority of my time was spent promoting my Shopify site, I'd start beefing up the Etsy one around August, leading into the holidays.”
Lorena’s approach speaks to one of the best ways to balance running a Shopify store and selling on Etsy: pay attention to how each product is selling.
If you have a blockbuster Etsy product, it’s worth keeping your store open just to capture that traffic, not to mention the exposure to new audiences. Lorena noted that her Etsy presence, even with fewer products, ended up being a strong way to gain new customers.
“I've had a number of people come over to my Shopify site from Etsy, looking for things I no longer sold there, and they've since become repeat customers on my Shopify site.”
Crucially, Lorena also carries the appeal of supporting a small, handmade business through to her store. Etsy’s focus on handmade goods and personal connections is what makes it so appealing to customers, but with a bit of work, you can add the same feeling to your store.
“There are plenty of ways that Etsy makes things personal that you can take with you to grow on Shopify. Did you handwrite "Thanks, I hope you like this!" on your packing slips when you were on Etsy? Keep doing that with Shopify,” advises Lorena.
“One of the reasons people like shopping on Etsy is that they like the story that goes with a handmade piece. Allow repeat customers to become part of your story by answering what they say on Instagram, or Facebook. People crave connections, so connect with them! It doesn't take as much time and energy as you think it might, and the personal touch goes a long way.”
Conquest Maps: Building a multi-channel business from square one
When Ross Worden started his business, Conquest Maps, he had no business experience, no idea about the potential market, or any idea how to ship a package. What he did have was a desire to give his wife a great travel map, but he couldn’t find anything online that fit his vision.
So he made his own. When it turned out nicely, he made five more, and posted a listing on Etsy to sell them. They sold, which was all the encouragement Ross needed to keep working on Conquest Maps.
When he started to look at options to grow beyond Etsy, he evaluated a number of ecommerce platforms.
“I actually didn't land on Shopify at first,” says Ross. He initially tried two other options to build and launch his own store, but neither one was a fit with his skillset or reached the performance he wanted on the site. “It was around then that I actually had a little bit of revenue, but it was still at a time when ‘free’ was about all I wanted to afford. But I had heard good things about Shopify so I tried it out, and I was honestly pretty impressed. The support was great, it was pretty intuitive, and before I knew it, I had a site up.”
These days, Conquest Maps sells their products on multiple sales channels. If you’re wondering about the terminology, a sales channel is somewhere your customers can find and buy your products. That includes:
- Selling in a retail space
- Selling on Etsy
- Selling via a Shopify store
- Selling on Instagram
- Any other place you make your products available for sale
This multi-channel approach is why Ross continues to operate both a Shopify store and on Etsy.
“I still have both channels open, in addition to others,” says Ross. “While we always try to attract our traffic to our Shopify store over any other channel, Etsy is still a very good place to operate. This year it accounts for nearly 13% of our gross revenue, so it’s not insignificant. We’re fortunate to now have the majority of our sales coming through Shopify.”
One of the biggest reasons that Conquest Maps tries to drive people to their Shopify store is the relationships they can build with their customers.
“Etsy is a super place to start,” says Ross. “It's a great place to test things and validate product ideas, because they have a lot of traffic already on the site that is ready to buy awesome stuff, but the downside is that those customers aren't actually yours. They're Etsy's customers. When Etsy changes their algorithm, changes terms of service, or just becomes too flooded for you to show up in searches, you might find yourself in a pickle.”
"When you operate a Shopify store though, your customers are your customers."
“When you operate a Shopify store though, your customers are your customers. You can contact them and market to them how you want, as long as they’ve approved it.”
Many growing businesses expand into multiple sales channels, and Ross shared some key pieces of wisdom based on his experience doing exactly that.
“The reality is that things will always be changing in ecommerce, no matter what you do. Take advantage of the opportunities you have now and roll with the punches,” advises Ross.
“My suggestion is to operate on as many channels as is viable for you. Use the 80/20 principle: if a channel is making your business enough money to stay active there, keep at it. If one channel loses momentum, hopefully the other 2 or 3 (or more) will keep you in good shape so you can pivot as needed and adapt.”
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Future-proof your business: Own your brand and audience
Since you’ve already built a successful business on Etsy, launching a Shopify store might be the right next step for your business. Ultimately, the steps you take to grow your business are always going to be personal decisions, but Ross had it right when he said that things in ecommerce are always changing.
One of the best ways to solidify your business for the future is to create a relationship with your customers directly, on channels that allow you to tell your story, build your brand, and connect in authentic ways with the right people. That way, when algorithms change, or you bump up against limitations on a platform, you have other sales channels to rely on.
There’s work involved to create all of that from scratch, but it could be just the thing to take your business to the next level.