Sunday, 21 May 2017

Etsy vs Shopify vs Big Cartel vs Storenvy vs Tictail

In my last post, I discussed some changes that are happening at Etsy, arguably the world's biggest host for small handmade business owners. In this post, I take a look at some alternatives for those looking to start an online handmade business. All fees are in U.S. dollars. Please note that all fees listed do not include fees charged by money handling services such as PayPal.

$0.20 to list for 4 months
3.5% fee on sale
additional 3%-4% fee if buyer uses Etsy Payments

Vibe: Etsy hosts all sorts of shops from grannies making blankets in their spare time, to ultra-cool hipster zine distros. Many have commented that the vintage section of the site has expanded so much, the handmade items get lost in a sea of vintage. And don't forget the commercial supplies businesses posing as small sellers. Overall though, its image is broad enough to cater to just about anyone.
Pros: No limit on number of listings. Large, well-established platorm is unlikely to fold. Some of the work of marketing is already done for you. Community and forums to provide advice. Buyers can search the entire site for specific items and find your shop 'accidentally' (this can be a con too, see below!). It's a well-known name and buyers feel safer purchasing from shops hosted on a central site. Rating system ensures that sellers are legitimate (however it can be a con if you don't have any sales yet: buyers may be wary).
Cons: Shop appearance is not customisable at all (aside from banner). Types of items that can be sold are restricted to handmade, vintage and supplies. Because all sellers are on one site, buyers may be distracted away from your shop and purchase from another one. Doesn't allow links to blog, social media, or anything else at all, really. Fee structure is complicated. And now there's the extra fees which may or may not be charged with the Etsy Payments thing.

Fees: starting from $29.00 per month
no listing fee
between 1.75% and 2.9% + $0.30 fee on sale (percentage fee depends on which package the seller is using)

Vibe: Shopify caters to medium and larger online businesses. It has more of a commercial feel to it. Being fully customisable, the seller can create any kind of vibe they want.
Pros: Shop appearance can be completely customised. Allows links to social media, or whatever you like. No restriction on types of items that can be sold. Good for large numbers of listings with bulk handling. Allows a wide range of payment options.
Cons: Is too expensive for most small handmade sellers. Fee structure is even more complicated than Etsy. Onus for marketing is completely on seller. No rating system.

Fees: $9 per month
no listing fee

Pros: It's cheap!
Cons: It's not a standalone shop -- you need to already have a page set up to host the platform on, such as a Facebook page, Squarespace, or a blog. There may be more fees for maintaining this host site. There wasn't much information about it on the Shopify website.
Other Cons are similar to the main Shopify package.

Fees: free for up to 5 items; $9.99 for up to 25 items; $19.99 for up to 100 items, $29.90 for up to 300 items (per month)
no listing fees or fees on sales

Vibe: Definitely the cool kid on the scene, Big Cartel is the platform of choice for artists and zinesters.
Pros: Shop appearance can be completely customised. No restriction on types of items that can be sold. Allows links to social media, etc. Can connect to a Facebook page to allow sales directly from it. Fee structure is simple and there is no unpredictability around how much fees will be as it's a flat monthly fee (however this can be a con, too!).
Cons: Number of items that can be listed is very limited. If sales are slow or nonexistent, there is still a monthly cost to the seller to keep the shop open. Onus for marketing is completely on seller. No rating system.

free to list. no fee on sale. completely free**
up to 500 listings
fees for optional extras and apps, e.g. $5 per month for custom domain name
Commenters have reported that Storenvy charges fees to both sellers and customers in various ways. Please see the comments for further information about Storenvy fees.

Vibe: Much like Shopify and Big Cartel, sellers can completely customise their shop and create their own vibe. From my own experience though, I've seen mainly craft and fashion shops on Storenvy.
Pros: Being completely free, Storenvy and its cousin Tictail allow a seller to set up a shop without any financial outlay whatsoever. No fees mean you can charge your customer a little less. Shop appearance can be completely customised. Allows links to social media, etc. No restriction on types of items that can be sold. Number of listings allowed is very generous compared to Big Cartel.
Cons: Being completely free, many have asked, but how do they make money? Storenvy offers various add-ons and apps to enhance your shop, for a monthly fee. When I tried to find out what some of these were, I could only find a very short sample list. It all seemed a bit mysterious. It also makes me concerned that if this model isn't financially viable in the long run, they may start charging up-front fees. That's what happened with ArtFire a few years ago (remember them?) and they closed down not long after.
Other cons are similar to above.

It's completely free, except it's not. Okay, it's kind of complicated. It's completely free, except if a buyer purchases your item through the Tictail Marketplace -- sometimes. All items that you offer for sale in your shop also automatically appear in the Tictail Marketplace. (It reminds me a bit of Etsy, but cooler.) If a buyer chooses to purchase from the Marketplace site, there is a 10% commission charged on the sale -- sometimes -- it depends on the circumstances. There's a lot more I could write about that, but this post is long enough already! The page explaining this is here.
fees for optional extras and apps, e.g. $5 per month for custom domain name

Vibe: Tictail runs on basically the same model as Storenvy (except for the Marketplace thing), however, it is run out of Sweden rather than the U.S. It's newer and not as well known, but seems to be expanding rapidly. It has a cool, Euro-Scandi vibe.
Pros: Basically the same as Storenvy. Additionally, buyers may accidentally come across your items in the Tictail Marketplace, meaning you are not 100% on your own marketing-wise.
Cons: Cons are similar to above. Additionally, the Marketplace commission thing is quite confusing. With each sale, you don't know if you're going to be charged a commission fee or not, and 10% is quite high.

To be honest, I'd never even heard of either of these before I started doing this research -- and that's not a good thing. I didn't bother looking into them much further. Once glance showed me that the type of work I do wouldn't fit in at all on either of these platforms. (Plus, this post is long enough already!)

Of course, hosting your shop on any of these platforms has its dangers. The people running the site have the ultimate control over your shop, not you. Your shop can be taken down for any number of reasons with very little or no notice. The only way to ensure this doesn't happen is to purchase your own domain, which, while returning control to you, is much more costly and time-consuming to maintain.

With all of that research done, how do I choose the best platform for me? I calculated what the fees would be for each of the different platforms. Say I want to offer 25 items, about half of them fairly cheap (zines @ $5) and half a bit more expensive (art/craft @ $40-$50). I worked out what the fees would be for 4 months, as it was the easiest way to calculate around Etsy's 4-month cycle. And I assumed that I would sell everything in that four-month period (as if! But it was easier to calculate that way). Here are my results:

ETSY: between $24.25 and $46.25 (less if not all items sell; though that would be balanced out with re-listing fees. Difference is no Etsy Payments sales vs. all Etsy Payments sales)
SHOPIFY: $139.45 (less if not all items sell)
SHOPIFY LITE: $36.00 (plus possible cost of hosting site)
BIG CARTEL: $39.96
STORENVY: nothing (unless you want a domain name, shipping add-on, etc)
TICTAIL: anywhere between nothing and $55.00 (all items sold through shop vs. all items sold through Tictail Marketplace. However, I think it would be closer to nothing as my work is unlikely to have a featuring spot in the Marketplace.)

If finance was the only consideration, then the choice would be clear -- Storenvy because it is free. There are other things to think about though. It doesn't provide the automatic exposure boost of Etsy, or the cool reputation of Big Cartel and Tictail. Neither does it have the solid e-commerce foundations of Shopify, or the peace of mind provided by Etsy's rating system.

Even after all of this research, I still have no idea which platform I would pick. Some, like Maryanne Gobble Photography maintain a shop on more than one platform, depending on their needs. Once I've decided (which might take a while as I'm working 5.5 days a week again this year), I'll let you know the reasoning.

If you've read all the way to the end of this post, thank you! I'd really like to hear others' thoughts on this topic -- if you have a shop, why you chose the platform you did, and your thoughts on recent changes.


  1. I'm curious, did you ever make a decision?

    1. Hi Mattie,

      I thought about the purpose of my shop when I was deciding. I mainly wanted an online gallery to display my work, and I wasn't very bothered about making many sales. For that reason I decided to go with Tictail, as it's free and looks good.
      If I were planning on selling a lot and making some money from the shop, I would have chosen Etsy.

      Unfortunately the opening of my shop has been delayed a bit, but I will definitely announce it on my blog when it happens.
      I hope that helps and thanks for your comment!
      xx Katie.

  2. Hi!

    I'd also like to mention 'RedBubble.' They make the items for you, process any transactions, and also handles the delivery. It goes something like:
    base price (cost to make stuff) + your margin (how much you want to make) = retail price (price customers see).
    They can do prints, device/phone cases, shirts, etc. and according to them it's free to make an account. More info here:

    No, I am not sponsored or anything. I was doing my own research when I came across your very helpful article and thought you'd like to add this option to it :) good day!

    1. Thanks for that information, it's another good option!

  3. Storenvy is definitely not free- they charge 10% of the item's price (including shipping!) as a "commission fee" a mysterious additional "storenvy fee", and then they try to make you use Stripe to process credit cards, which takes off even more. My most recent sale was charged to the customer as around 19$, but I'm getting around 15.20$, and I still have to pack and ship it.
    With all the hidden fees I'm seriously considering closing shop and totally moving to Etsy

    1. Thank you for that information. Storenvy don't mention these fees upfront on their website to potential sellers! I will update my post to reflect your experience. Many thanks.

    2. They are upfront with the pricing...if the customer finds your item on the 'marketplace' aka their website they charge a 10%, but if you drive the traffic yourself you get the full they are just taking a portion for giving you a sale. I pasted the info below....

      Storenvy Marketplace

      If you choose to list your store and products in the Marketplace any sales driven by the Marketplace will be charged a 10% commission. This means if someone is browsing the Marketplace, finds and then purchases your product a commission will be applied. This commission is automatically deducted from the transaction, you will not receive an invoice for these charges.

      If you choose to use the Engage service (under the “Email” tab of your admin page) then a 10% commission fee will be charged for orders that result. Engage is optional, but a great way to increase your sales. You may find out more about Engage here.

      For more information on the 10% commission please read here.

      The Marketplace does not charge a sign-up fee, listing fee or monthly fee so enjoy!

    3. Hi Brad,
      Thank you for clarifying that for us.

    4. When you first sign up they aren't upfront about the additional "storenvy fee" they charge to the customers! I read as much as I could find before choosing to go with storenvy, but didn't even know my customers would be getting charged an extra $0.57USD to $1.93USD per order (for small transactions) until I was getting orders.

      This is seperate to the 10% marketplace commission fee as I've always chosen to have my items not show up on the marketplace and thus have never been charged the 10%.

    5. Hi, thanks for letting us know this. I'd like to quote your comment in the main post as I think this is important for people to know. (Please comment if you would rather not and I'll remove it.)
      Thanks again.

  4. Very helpful - I think Storenvy will be my first choice. Thank you :)

    1. I'm glad you found my post helpful! Good luck!