I got my start selling vintage on Etsy in 2008. I sold stuff online way before that (since 1999, yo!), but it was always on eBay. With eBay, you could sell "collectibles," but cute and precious vintage goods just did not find buyers there.
When Etsy launched its vintage category, I jumped in immediately. I remember the first thing I sold: a set of 6 green striped cocktail glasses, for $28, which I couldn’t even sell for $9.99 on eBay. I was like:
I sold actively on the site from 2008-2012 (820 sales!). Back in the day I never paid to promote my shop listings. I never even bothered with keyword optimization. I just listed my stuff and let the money roll in. It was basically the gold rush of macrame owls and ironic "Coolest Dad" mugs.
Today, Etsy is a different place.
I've worked with a few clients during 1-on-1 sessions who say that their previously booming Etsy businesses have seen severe drops in sales. Even with the aid of SEO and paid promotion, the site is so saturated it's hard to get your listings noticed. Remember when a treasury your shop was featured in had a chance to appear on the front page, leading to a huge boost in traffic, favorites and (usually) sales? Those days are gone, since Etsy killed the treasury feature and now presents a personally curated (read: automated) homepage experience for every user. It's not just sellers who are annoyed by the changes. Buyers, turned off by the increasingly ugly user experience, are leaving the site.
I went to the Being Boss Facebook group to see if other shop owners had had similar experiences. Chelsey Cordero, owner of Cricket Lane Studio, told me: "I've been on Etsy for three years and I feel like I get so many fewer views now than I used to. I think sales are way lower on Etsy now. I definitely get more sales on my website!"
I asked Chelsey what she'd say to people thinking about launching their own website after drops in sales on Etsy and she said:
I think it's a great idea to make the switch. If all you have is Etsy and Etsy goes bankrupt and shuts down tomorrow, you're out of luck and you've got nothing left. I wish I'd started my own website earlier!
When you launch your own site you create your own brand. And as your business grows, you no longer have to worry about policies that restrict you to a particular way of (hand) making everything.
Before you jump ship, however, you need to take care of a few things.
1. Pick an e-commerce platform for your new website
Getting your own web presence starts with picking a platform. My hands-down favorite for small businesses doing e-commerce is Shopify. Shopify offers robust e-commerce features (like the ability to create gift certificates) out-of-the-box, and has a huge ecosystem of developers and designers that specialize in e-commerce supporting it. Shopify starts at $29/month, so if you're looking to save cash up front, you might also consider Squarespace or WooCommerce.
2. Build your website yourself or hire a designer
The next big question: are you going to design and build your website yourself or hire someone to help? Shopify has lots of e-commerce website templates to choose from, though customizing them can be a bit tricky. If you plan on hiring someone to help you build and customize an online store, you should plan to spend anywhere from $2,500-10,000 to get your website up and running.
Another option: there are some developers who build free Shopify sites, but there is sometimes a long waiting list for their services.
3. Ramp up your social following
Even if Etsy is getting crowded with sellers, making it hard for you to rise to the top, the sheer volume of traffic on the Etsy website has a trickle-down effect on your shop. In other words, you're still able to make sales even if you're not spending any time building an audience or driving traffic to your site. When you leave Etsy, that all changes. It's now your sole responsibility to build traffic to your website. One of the best ways to do that? By building a robust social following that you can take with you as you migrate platforms.
I could write an entire post on what it takes to grow your social following, but if you're just getting started, two good platforms to focus on are Instagram and Pinterest. Instagram helps you build a loyal brand following and Pinterest helps drive visual search traffic to your soon-to-be-launched website.
4. Start building your email list
In e-commerce, your email list is your money-maker. It's never too early to start collecting email addresses, even if you're not planning on sending marketing emails any time soon. Etsy has strict policies in place that prohibit adding buyers to your email list without their explicit permission, so don't just add people to your list without asking. Etsy does not, however, prohibit you from asking buyers to join your list, so you could technically do that in your sales confirmations.
5. Understand how to drive traffic to your own website
When you leave Etsy, you'll be responsible for driving traffic to your website. You must understand how this process works. There are 5 types of traffic you should focus on as you migrate from Etsy:
- Search traffic: harnessing the power of SEO to drive traffic to your product listings
- Referral traffic: getting links from other websites to your website (the more popular that website, the better!)
- Social traffic: getting traffic from Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.
- Direct traffic: using your email list to build traffic to your site
- Paid traffic: traffic from paid campaigns, either search or social
You can install and use Google Analytics to gain an understanding of where traffic to your new website originates from, but you also want to create a plan to drive traffic from each channel. Don't focus on all 5 at once, but pick a channel that makes sense for you. Do you know any big-time bloggers who can write about your products? That's a great opportunity for referral traffic. Do you sell a unique item that doesn't have a lot of search competition? Try optimizing your product pages for important keywords.
6. Plan a marketing budget for your new website
Driving traffic to a newly-launched website is not easy. It takes a few years (that's right, years) to establish a web presence that results in steady traffic and reliable online sales. While you're working on establishing that presence, think about setting a modest budget for getting traffic to the site. You can do this with Google Shopping, AdWords, Facebook ads, Pinterest promoted pins, or Instagram ads. Unless you already have a ton of traffic coming from a free source (search, referral, your huge email list), you absolutely should think about a plan to acquire traffic through paid sources.
You're on your own now
Leaving Etsy is a little bit like leaving home to go to college. Now that you're on your own, you'll notice all the little things Etsy was doing for you without you noticing, and you'll have to learn to do those things on your own. You CAN do it, but it's best if you formulate a plan before making the leap.