There’s often a point where relying solely on a third-party marketplace to run your business can introduce a few hurdles. Etsy offers an excellent way to start selling quickly and reach buyers where they’re already browsing. But there may be a time when you wonder, “Is selling on Etsy worth it?”
How do you know when it’s time to move on? Four business owners found that, in order to grow, they needed to take more ownership over how they reach their customers. Fortunately, it wasn’t an either/or situation—and many were able to complement their existing Etsy business with a custom online store built with Shopify.
1. Old World Kitchen
Family-run Old World Kitchen originally chose Etsy as its marketplace of choice. Prior to Etsy, Old World Kitchen found ecommerce daunting. The venture is a true maker company and its business manager, Loran Polder, had limited online marketing knowledge.
“There’s a huge amount of distraction on Etsy. It’s more like strolling through a crafts fair.” —Loran Polder, Business Manager of Old World Kitchen
The family had no experience with SEO, meaning organically acquiring customers was like fighting an uphill battle. Polder credits Etsy, with its marketplace of customers already looking for the products the retailer sold, with making their business possible. Loran Polder, Business Manager of Old World Kitchen, says, “There’s a huge amount of distraction on Etsy. It’s more like strolling through a crafts fair and just going from booth to booth rather than intentionally driving up to a brick-and-mortar store.”
However, the time came for Old World Kitchen to scale. The progression away from Etsy was natural. The small business built online profiles outside of Etsy (primarily Instagram), which helped define the brand and increased its reach. Its target market changed as it focused on luxury kitchen utensils.
Then Old World Kitchen moved to a Shopify-built online store. Now, it’s in complete control of the products it sells, who it sells to, and how it sells. “We were just absolutely blown away, because our conversion rate went up so much,” Loran said just after the switch. “We knew we were doing something right.”
“Etsy wasn’t the first time I’d sold online, but it was the first time everything was mine and mine alone,” says Lorena Haldeman, the owner of HaldeCraft. “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.”
As the business grew, so did Lorena’s challenges. Lorena was adding new items to her Etsy store regularly. But the marketplace forced her to pick one single category for each new item. The result? Lorena says, “The more products I added, the harder it was making categories on Etsy that helped people find what they wanted.”
“Customers shouldn’t have to browse through pages trying to find a specific thing, and a well-designed shop should feel very intuitive.” —Lorena Haldeman, owner of HaldeCraft
Lorena moved HaldeCraft over to its own Shopify store. There, she was in complete control of how she displayed products—and more importantly, of the categories she created.
“Customers shouldn’t have to browse through pages trying to find a specific thing, and a well-designed shop should feel very intuitive,” Lorena adds. “It should be very easy to find exactly what you’re looking for.” Lorena feels that positive customer experiences can be carried over too, no matter what platform you’re on.
“There are plenty of ways that Etsy makes things personal that you can take with you to grow on Shopify,” she says. “Did you handwrite ‘Thanks, I hope you like this!’ on your packing slips when you were on Etsy? Keep doing that with Shopify.”
3. Brooklyn Candle Studio
Brooklyn Candle Studio sells eco-friendly soy candles. Etsy was the business’s first online home after its founder, Tamara Main, threw up an Etsy store thinking, “I wonder if I can sell these candles online where no one can smell them.”
“It was probably about six months after I opened an Etsy shop, I got this big order for $4,000 worth of candles. I was like, ‘This is more than my monthly paycheck! I could totally do this, because I can make these candles in four days!’” —Tamara Main, owner and founder of Brooklyn Candle Studio
To her surprise, her candles became popular on the marketplace. Etsy featured Brooklyn Candle Studio’s products in a few of its emails, and retail stores were asking to stock the products in brick-and-mortar locations. Tamara remembers a turning point. “It was probably about six months after I opened an Etsy shop, I got this big order for $4,000 worth of candles,” she says. “I was like, ‘This is more than my monthly paycheck! I could totally do this, because I can make these candles in four days!’”
Soon, Tamara wanted Brooklyn Candle Studio to grow beyond the limitations of Etsy, so she opened a Shopify store to go alongside her Etsy listings. Her new online store was the retailer’s vehicle to grow—especially since she had more control over customers and how to contact them.
Tamara explains, “What led me to Shopify is it enabled me to import hundreds of discount codes without having to add them in one by one. There was an app for that called Bulk Discounts, which was huge, so all I had to do was upload an Excel spreadsheet.”
4. Popov Leather
Popov Leather is a bespoke leather goods manufacturer based in Nelson, British Columbia. It had humble beginnings on Etsy, relying on the marketplace as its sole revenue driver for the first 18 months. It worked: its founder, Ryan Popoff, learned to game the algorithm.
“On Etsy, you have to stand out from the crowd,” he says. “Very early on, we were looking at how other people were presenting themselves and images, and a lot of it was the white background, like Amazon, whatever the standard is. And so I was like, ‘How do I stand out from this?’”
“Maybe if I became a little bit more serious about this and actually started to learn about things like SEO, proper product photography, product copy, all that sort of stuff, and launched a third-party web, like my own website on Shopify, maybe I could grow this thing.” –Ryan Popoff, founder of Popov Leather
Ryan continues: “I put a background in our photo and I felt like that increased our presence in the search listings, so people would see all these standard images and then ours would just pop out, so people would now actually click on it.”
Eighteen months later, the retailer opened a custom Shopify store. Ryan recalls, “Maybe if I became a little bit more serious about this and actually started to learn about things like SEO, proper product photography, product copy, all that sort of stuff, and launched a third-party web, like my own website on Shopify, maybe I could grow this thing.”
When should Etsy sellers add an online store?
There are upsides to selling on Etsy. Sellers can take advantage of the millions of potential customers already using the marketplace to buy products like theirs.
But there comes a time when sellers begin asking themselves, “Is it worth it to continue selling on Etsy?” Etsy isn’t always the best vehicle to sell online products. Often, it can be more beneficial for business owners to look for an alternative to go alongside their Etsy storefront—or to replace it entirely. Let’s take a look at why.
Gain full control
Since Etsy is a marketplace, you’re ultimately selling on its website, which means you have to play by its rules. This inherently limits the way you build and present your brand. “The main downside to selling on Etsy is that the driver’s seat belongs to someone else. I don’t have as much control over customer service, marketing, and shop design, for example, as I do on my own site,” says Dawn LaFontaine, founder of Cat in the Box.
Plus, like any sales channel owned by a third party, selling exclusively on Etsy leaves your small business exposed to policy and algorithm changes—all without warning.
Moving your Etsy storefront over to an owned platform, like a Shopify store, gives you full control over your website, brand, and online business. The appearance of your store, any special offers you’re giving to customers, and the way you present your products is all under your control.
Bring your brand to sales channels
Etsy is one marketplace or sales channel to reach your customers, but there are many more. Having a central “headquarters” for your business—via an online store—makes it much easier to sell on multiple channels to reach new customers.
Let’s say you’re running a small business that sells handmade gift cards. Etsy seems like the perfect platform for you to sell your products, right? But there’s a downside: you know potential customers hang out at the local monthly craft fair. Focusing only on Etsy means you miss out on those local customers.
Even if you set up shop at the fair, taking cash for your stock or directing customers toward your Etsy store isn’t the most effective solution. Asking shoppers to remember your Etsy store URL and visit it later is an uphill battle.
A commerce platform like Shopify, however, helps you capture those shoppers wherever they are, whenever you’re selling. People can visit your online store and buy items whenever. Point-of-sale (POS) systems allow you to take card payment from customers at the fair. Either way, you’re always open for business.
Resell, wholesale, curate, manufacture
Grow your brand beyond the limitations of Etsy by creating your own online store. Your own storefront = your own decisions.
Bring on other curated brands if you miss the small business community of selling on Etsy. Add wholesale pricing to reach a new type of customer—one with bigger deal values and the distribution network to get your products in front of new audiences. Or move your production to a manufacturing facility if you’re serious about scaling your business.
Either way, an online store never limits your business development decisions. Grow when you want, how you want.
Etsy’s customer base isn’t a perfect match for your product
We’ve already touched on the idea that Etsy isn’t the perfect match for all small businesses.
Take Artemis Design Co., for example. Its founder, Milicent Armstrong, found her product price points didn’t work well with Etsy’s marketplace. While the products were worth the price, customers using the marketplace weren’t used to spending that much money on a single item, impacting the business’s conversion rates—and therefore, its position in Etsy search results.
Grow through more advanced marketing channels
Email marketing, SEO, retargeting, social media—all of these are challenging to do on Etsy. And yet all of these approaches are highly profitable ways to acquire customers at scale.
There’s another problem: any customers you drive to Etsy are not yours to keep. Etsy’s goal is to sell any product, not just those sold by the seller behind a product page. Customers will also see recommended products from other sellers beneath your listing. It’s an opportunity to drive those people away from making a sale and to give their money to a competitor instead.
How to migrate your products from Etsy
Do you need to expand your horizons beyond Etsy? Whether you’re rapidly outgrowing the marketplace or looking for more control over the products you sell online, you don’t have to start from scratch and recreate your product pages on a new platform. You can import your existing Etsy store into Shopify.
💡 Note: The following instructions use Easy Import, but there are several other Etsy import and integration apps in the Shopify App Store.
- From your Etsy Shop dashboard, under Shop Settings, click Options.
- Select the Download Data tab.
- Click Download CSV.
- After you sign up for Shopify, get the Easy Import - Etsy Migration from the Shopify App Store.
- Within Shopify, find Easy Import under Apps.
- Upload your CSV file and follow instructions to import your products. You can assign them to collections during this step.
- Preview your products before importing. The process will import your product titles, descriptions, variants, and prices.
- Go to Product in Shopify to edit other information manually and add product photos.
The best part? Opening a Shopify store automatically gives you access to Shop Pay. It’s a payment method where your customers can save their information to check out effortlessly in just a few clicks. Your store will also appear in their Shop feed, encouraging them to come back and purchase again—win-win.
Etsy is a launchpad for small business
There’s no doubt that Etsy is a great place to make money selling handmade items. But what looks like an appealing opportunity to reach potential customers using the marketplace is not without a few compromises.
Selling on Etsy comes with limitations. Founders are constantly playing the algorithm to reach customers. There’s little to no customization for your storefront. And its fee schedule takes a cut out of every product sold. What you get in return, of course, is access to buyers already browsing on Etsy.
Opening your own online store removes those barriers and gives you full ownership. You can either migrate over completely or continue to sell on both Etsy and Shopify. Either way, with a Shopify store, you have complete control over what you sell and how.
So while Etsy is an accessible launchpad for makers to start their business, you’ll probably need much more in order to take flight. After you’ve established yourself and know you want to grow your brand on your terms, selling on Etsy is no longer worth it.
Ready to create your first business? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.
Is selling on Etsy worth it FAQ
What are some downsides of staying on Etsy?
Etsy is the brand your customers are engaging with, so you won’t be able to differentiate yourself from a competitor, except by price. Etsy owns your customers and the relationship you have with them. If you want an ongoing relationship with your customers, in the form of a newsletter, chatbot, etc., Etsy doesn’t support that dynamic. If you want to sell items that aren’t vintage or handmade, you can’t use Etsy. Etsy's rules and regulations apply to all vendors on the platform, so you won’t be able to support any custom needs or options that might grow your business.
When do you know it’s time to start your own storefront?
It depends on what level of maturity your business is at. Ask yourself a few questions to establish when moving to or adding another commerce platform might be appropriate.
- Do you enjoy marketing and building your own brand? Do you want to own the relationship you have with your customers and want to directly market to them?
- Do you have an omnichannel strategy when selling your products? Are you selling via Instagram, at craft fairs, and do you offer both retail and wholesale orders?
- Are you ready to grow your business beyond a side hustle?
If you answer yes to most of these questions, you’re ready to start your own storefront on Shopify.
How do you migrate off Etsy? Do I have to start from scratch?
You don’t have to start from scratch and recreate your product pages on a new platform. You can import your existing Etsy store into Shopify. After you sign up for Shopify, get the Easy Import - Etsy Migration from the Shopify App Store.