Selling Your Art Online: Out with Etsy and In With Shopify

Are you thinking about opening your own online art shop, or are already online and not sure if you're on the right platform anymore? I did a lot of research about which online platform would be best for selling art before opening my online shop in late 2023. I want to share with you the most important take-aways from my hours and hours of time down the rabbit hole so you don't have to recreate this wheel. Let's start from the beginning. 

At first, I looked at all possible options for selling art online. They can be categorized into 3 groups: 


  1. Sell on an online art marketplace (like Redbubble, Society6, or Etsy);
  2. Manage your own website; or 
  3. Use a 3rd party to design and manage your shop for you (like ArtStoreFronts). 
The third option was cost prohibitive for most people, including me (thousands of dollars), so I looked closer at an online marketplace vs. my own website. Quickly, it became apparent that Etsy was the top marketplace competitor. We don't have enough time here, but essentially, artists get drowned out in all the noise of other artists in places like Redbubble and Society6, and often lose a lot of their profits to transaction fees. We'll learn below that Etsy is actually no different.  
Managing my own website was also a very viable option with web builders like Shopify and SquareSpace that have e-commerce functionality. After lots of research about building my own website with sale functionality, I settled on Shopify as the top contender. It was Etsy vs. Shopify. 

Here are the 5 critical reasons I chose to build my own website with Shopify rather than market on Etsy, and you should too.

1. Competition. Etsy was originally setup for small, handmade art businesses. However, as early as 2021, and certainly by early 2023, Etsy got greedy and allowed large manufacturing re-sellers to take over. Small artists couldn’t compete in searches anymore. Worse, even if someone does click on your art, Etsy will show the viewer similar items on your product and shop page, likely redirecting that potential buyer and stealing business from you. On your own shop page! 

Sound unfair and like you'd be swimming upstream the whole time? I thought so too. If you have to drive your own marketing and get people to go to your Etsy page for your products, you shouldn’t have to compete and potentially lose those sales to other artists. 

Conversely, with Shopify, you own and design your own store. You direct buyers to it and they don’t see competing artists' products. Even better, Shopify takes a smaller cut of your profit than Etsy.

2. Cost. Etsy might appear cheaper, but it's not as soon as you start selling 2 or more prints per month. 

Etsy has a lot of transaction fees. For you math lovers - Etsy charges 20 cents every 4 months for every product you publish, whether it sells or not. Then it charges a 6.5% transaction fee plus a 3.5% payment processing fee plus 25 cents per transaction. If your buyer is paying with a different currency, there’s also a 2.5% conversion fee. If you're selling a $20 print, this adds up to $2.95, or almost 15% of your sale! 

This rate can climb to 25% if Etsy charges you a mandatory Ad fee for a buyer clicking on an ad Etsy put up and you didn't even agree to. And you still have to factor in the cost to make, print, and ship this item. Your profit margin just disappeared.

On the other hand, Shopify has a fixed monthly rate based on your plan. $5 for the Starter Plan to connect to your social media platforms, and $39 per month for the Basic Plan with a website. Transaction fees are different for each plan.

For the Starter Plan, it’s 5% plus 30 cents per transaction. No hidden fees. On a $20 print, that’s $1.30. You’d have to sell only 2 $20 prints per month to do better with the $5 monthly fee than selling on Etsy.

For Shopify’s Basic Plan, the transaction fee is 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction. No hidden fees. On a $20 print, that’s 88 cents. You’d have to sell 14 $20 prints per month to do better with the $39 monthly Shopify fee than on Etsy... or you could sell one nice $280 original per month. However, the features you get with Shopify are still worth the extra cost, which we'll touch on later. 

If you are starting a side hustle or are on a very tight budget, I recommend that you start with the Shopify Starter Plan and grow from there. It supports all of your sales through social media. If you want a solid business foundation and have some more startup cash, try the Basic Plan or even a higher tier plan. This will require just a little extra up front money to buy a website URL, but it's pennies in comparison to normal business costs. You can learn more about business naming and URLs here. Either way, if you're committed to selling your art, Shopify will save you money in the long run... and headaches. 

3. Customer Service. I'll admit, I tried to register as an Etsy seller in the beginning. I thought I'd try both Etsy and Shopify, leverage both, and re-evaluate over time. However, Etsy’s customer service was truly awful. I was on and off their platform in 14 days. I spent 2 weeks trying to get them to accept my federal EIN (employee identification number). They have no number to call, no messaging apps, and I had to painstakingly wait 48-72 hours for email responses that didn't actually address my questions. 

Eventually, after the 9th person (not joking) a support agent finally said it was an engineering problem. They’d send it to one of their IT engineers and “have no expected date for a resolution.” Ultimately, I wasn’t a priority to Etsy. 

Shopify’s customer’s service is the opposite. Shopify has the option to get a phone call for your issue, a 24-7 live chat option, and answers emails within 24 hours. They have excellent customer service. Alone, this peace of mind and support would incentivize me to pay more for Shopify's platform. When thinking long-term, it's important to envision all of the pitfalls ahead and trust the team that's going to help you rectify them. Shopify has my vote. 

Maybe you're already sold on Shopify, but I thought it was important to add two more important points here.  

4. Brand Recognition. Brand recognition is critical if you want to start to grow a following for your art and develop a truly reliable income stream over time. Etsy has developed strong brand recognition for itself. However, it is a vast marketplace with lots of options and garners little brand recognition for its artists. It's like going into Target and pulling an item off the shelf and walking out. You remember Target's brand, but do you remember the brand of the item you bought? Probably not. 

Sending people directly to your own site helps you to stand out. When people go to your site, they remember you, maybe even share your site with their friends, and you grow brand recognition over time. You aren't just one brand on a shelf of many. This is the best strategy if you want to sell art well into the future, and that also requires building relationships with your community.

5. Build lasting relationships with your buyers. While social media is a great place to build relationships with your buyer pool, it is not a stable ecosystem for your shop. Social media platforms are owned and operated by people like Mark Zuckerberg, who can decide at any time that they want to change the rules of the platform. You can lose your entire community in an instant if this happens. If you're relying solely on social media to build your business, you're building it on rented land.

Having an email list, rather, is like owning the land your business is built upon. It's yours. 

Unfortunately, you can't build your email list with Etsy. Etsy gets your customers' email addresses, but you don't. That's not true with Shopify. Shopify directly facilitates gathering emails from your community, and then you can continue to grow your relationship with them over the life of your business. It is much less effort to sell art to someone who's already bought from you than to sell to someone who hasn't. You want to save your customer's emails. 

Email lists are the most critical tool you have as an artist. You can learn more about developing your email list here

In summary: 

  1. If you have to do your own marketing, you might as well drive people to your own site and reduce your competition.
  2. Believe in yourself and your growth and pay a little more per month for a better platform.
  3. You are the one bringing in sales. You deserve to be a priority.
  4. You will grow more brand recognition over time with your own site. 
  5. You want to focus on long-term relationships with your buyers by collecting emails.
Want to know more about opening your own online art shop? I've meticulously researched every step for the best and fastest strategy to start selling art online. Be the first to get my free guide that walks you through every step, from choosing a business name to making your first sale. It comes out in mid-February. Sign up below.
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Cheers for now, and don't forget to do something for you today! 
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