Is it worth the time of putting together a website?

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Posted almost daily in the Etsy forums is the question whether it’s worth the time and effort to create your own website in addition to selling on Etsy. Most often this question is posed in connection to slow sales on Etsy and the website is being viewed as a logical alternative or addition that will help a seller realize their sales goals. The unfortunate answer to this question is far from a resounding yes or no and will require each seller to carefully consider their personal goals.

 

Bootstrapping

One of the first considerations should be analysing the budget before taking the plunge into a new website. On Etsy, anyone can list 100 items for $0.20 an item or $20.00 every quarter. Launching a business on less than $100.00 might have been once been impossible, but thanks to venues such as Etsy, Amazon, and Ebay, $100 and a little time on social media, could provide the magic that sets the gears in motion. This is not to say that starting on Shopify or creating a WordPress site will not lead to success, but for sure the start up costs will be much greater than $100.00. For the sake of bootstrapping on a minimal budget, venue based platforms offer extremely inexpensive entry points.

The venue based system brings the advantage of selling on commission into the equation where selling on a stand-alone website requires greater upfront costs thereby strangling the tight start-up budget to divert funds away from creating products to supporting a selling infrastructure.

Time

Perhaps the most limited and precious resource facing sellers is simply time. Success most often hinges on maximizing the return on time investments more than any other factor which is why I strongly recommend calculating profit and income on an hourly scale. In our first year, we looked at the gross numbers, uncorked the wine, and unleashed a furious celebration, however at the end of the year, we soon discovered our pay rate was flirting with just $20.00 an hour. Luckily, we had other incomes sources to balance out dismal performance in online marketing.

Two important considerations are:

  • Do your products sell themselves or do you have to market?
  • Are you getting paid for your marketing efforts in your hourly?

On Etsy, our guitar picks were selling themselves with a base level of about 15-20 units per day, meaning we could simply produce and move our product without marketing on Etsy, while our own stand-alone website saw about 1 sale a week. To increase our sales on our NiciArt website, we started marketing through social media, but failed to calculate the time spent marketing into our pricing which lowered our hourly earnings.

Bootstrapping a stand-alone website is indeed possible with Google’s Pay per Click Adwords and Google Shopping, however the learning curve is extremely steep and considerable time is required to master Adwords. Unfortunately, sellers aren’t getting paid for learning, so the level of expertise could be a deciding factor between choosing a venue or an e-commerce platform.

Audience

Shoppers visiting Etsy are generally familiar with the website and are either browsing or shopping for boutique-ish products, whereas creating a stand-alone website means investing time and effort to target a specific audience. Akin to opening a boutique directly adjacent to I-95 with the argument, “hey the traffic is great,” simply creating a website without an audience is a sure path to watching traffic jams or cars speeding by with few visitors. Why open a shop along I95? Either the merchant intends on servicing travellers with food and gas or is looking for easy access for clients already familiar with the business.

Complaints and negative publicity aside, Etsy is a well-known and established brand with a certain degree of trust. If I was browsing the internet and came across NiciArt, my first question would be “who the ‘f’ is Nici?” Should credit cards companies not offer buyer protection, I would be very hesitant to purchase from an unknown website vs. Etsy. Establishing trust requires time, reviews, joining professional groups such as the Chamber of Commerce or Artist Guild, offering free returns and exchanges, having telephone support, and working extra hard to convince shoppers that a site is safe.

Etsy limiting growth and the downside risk

As quickly as Etsy accelerates growth and can convert that $100.00 into a thriving business, this particular venue does not scale with your business and will eventually limit your growth potential with their de-clumping, links out of the shop, and “spread the wealth” strategy. The shift away from a commission based service to relying on more predictable seller services as their main revenue source marks a turning point away from marketing performance. In other words, Etsy is far less interested in earning a commission from sales and is instead focused on reselling their internal traffic through Promoted Listings. The net result is a quasi-cap or upper limit on potential sales. By limiting successful sellers from search domination and placing all shops on equal footing, stronger sellers with a strong social media presence and marketing expertise are either driven away from the venue entirely or become less motivated to promote their Etsy Shops and turn to e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Square Space, or Volusion to serve outside marketing efforts. The downside risks become stagnation, mediocre products, and loss of interest or talent as de-motivation is a slippery slope to a brain-drain. Whether these downside risks will out weigh the upside potential in earnings, will most likely become clearer in Q1 and Q2 in 2017.  If the company meets earning’s expectations in Q1 and Q2, increased investing could generate revenue for advertising and site wide improvements, where the sellers might be indirect beneficiaries of Etsy’s success.

The Etsy Method has always been throw enough darts and you’ll eventually hit a bulls-eye, but now that markets host fierce competitions for a limited buyer pool, that sacred bulls-eye is a moving target, where one seller introduces a unique product and next week thousands of copy-cats are replicating the unicorn product, thus forcing innovative sellers into a never ending game of rolling out new products. Etsy administration also subscribe to the Etsy Method with Wholesale, Pattern, Promoted Listings, Manufacturing, and Google Advertising. My concern as an Etsy seller is marketplace performance with Etsy’s long-term sustainability a distant second, while Etsy’s primary concern is obviously their earnings yet somewhere down the list must be a strategy for seller retention. With overlapping interests, there should be a common ground where Etsy can shift back to marketplace performance in order to preserve seller loyalty and success in a healthier symbiosis between admin and sellers.

Is it worth the time of putting together a website? If a full-time Etsy seller has the time, budget, enough expertise, and would like a hedge against the downside risks of being purely an Etsy seller, then putting together a website could prove to be a smart business choice. Without the time, budget, and expertise, a website might be nothing more than a diversion of resources away from a fledging Etsy shop which could lead a seller to be on extremely rocky footing with two underperforming mediocre shops and no real business plan.