The Reality of Selling Art on Etsy
Updated: Jun 14, 2020
A lot of people have asked me about how to go about selling their art on Etsy - setting up an account, listing products, fees, etc. I want to give a brief account of what's it like to be an independent art seller on Etsy. I have been actively selling on my Etsy shop for the past year or so. I wouldn't say my Etsy store has blown up and I'm making sales by the minute, but I sell about 1-2 pieces a month.
I am writing this from my personal experience, and the perspective of a part time artist in India.
Sit back, this is going to be a long one! :)
Why I got Attracted to Etsy:
Etsy seemed like the only way to make my art available for international customers to buy. It's also fairly inexpensive and very easy to set up
However, the reality of selling on Etsy in my experience is as follows:
1. You have to bring people to your Etsy shop:
I often hear - "I made an Etsy store, but nothing is selling!". Yes, it won't, because Etsy will not bring you customers. You have to direct your own customers to the shop. Literally NOTHING will move from your shop, unless you bring traffic to your shop from other channels. Most of my Etsy traffic comes from my own Pinterest, Tumblr, or Instagram.
2. You have to sell in Dollars (Or the few other currencies available):
I know that just like me, most of my Instagram audience is from India. Etsy doesn’t allow me to set my shop currency to rupees, which is why I do not use it for selling within India. I use it exclusively for my sales overseas, and for Indian buyers, I use either my own website or Instagram DMs. This scatters my sales, instead of consolidating them in one place.
3. There are costs and it's important to understand them:
There is a $0.20 listing fee for anything you want to sell on Etsy, that makes the product live for 4 months. Also, a thing to note is that if you have multiple copies of a particular listing (like in the case of art prints), the listing renews each time you sell out a piece. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind. For any sale you make, Etsy takes a 5% commission. This is also applied to the shipping charges, if you charge any. On top of this, for Indian shops, Etsy doesn’t allow credit card transactions. The only way to accept payments is through PayPal. While PayPal is supposedly quite safe, they charge 2.9% + $0.30 as fees for any transaction. So straight away, you are out 7.9% +$0.5, for any sales you make on Etsy. Moreover, I have observed that the USD to INR conversion is not great. Also, keep in mind that you also pay the PayPal fees on the 5% commission that Etsy charges you. That is because, when you make a sale, initially the entire amount paid by the customer is transferred to you, and the 5% is charged to you later in your monthly Etsy bill.
While this is very low compared to how much a gallery would charge as commission (Usually 50%), you also should know that a gallery can probably sell your art for at least 10 times the price than is possible on Etsy. Getting into galleries has a complex set of barriers, so Etsy might work great in the interim, but one should be aware of all these costs, and back work a suitable price that covers all these costs plus gives you a profit.
4. You don’t know what Etsy wants its customers to look at :
Like any other social media/ e commerce website, Etsy does not reveal its algorithm, and understandably so. There are rumours that go around regularly about how to get discovered on Etsy, but most of them are just guesses. Having a low or zero shipping fee, and updating listings often (i.e. repaying the listing fee) works in your favour. All other things keep changing. Which is why I have given up trying to get “discovered organically” on Etsy. I bring people over, and use Etsy just as a channel to showcase my products, and to process the orders.
5. Etsy marketing may or may not do anything :
I have tried spending money on Etsy marketing as well, and while it brought some traffic to my otherwise inactive listings, I made a total of 1 sale from it. One thing it does is tell you what keywords people are searching for, and you can add them to your listings and improve your SEO within the platform. But I’ve learnt that spending money on it doesn’t give substantial returns. (It might have worked for some, not for me and a few other people who I've talked to about it)
6. Etsy is a ground for price wars :
The price that you put to your art is a very personal and subjective call. But on Etsy, people tend to expect cheaper prices. I may be selling a painting for $100, but there will be someone else who would want to sell a similar sized painting for $70 or $50. And I’m forced to compete with this set of cheaper products. You may not want to directly put up your art against this kind of competition, as it will eventually devalue your art. Which brings up back full circle to the fact that you need to bring people from OUTSIDE Etsy to your Etsy store. Within the platform, you are most likely to lose out to cheaper alternatives.
Why I use Etsy:
1. Online Storefront:
It gives me a dedicated online space to display my art in a beautiful and neat way. It helps me keep inventory of art that I've created, and helps me document all of my paintings in one place. If someone wants to see all the paintings I have for sale, I can easily direct them to this one page to see it all.
It takes care of the logistics of receiving payments, which automatically get transferred to my bank account, processing orders etc. and is a professional way of interacting with customers.
3. Helps Collectors find me:
It's an easy way for old customers to find my new work. It also builds up my cred as an artist, as it consolidates likes and reviews for my shop.
How I use Etsy:
I like following systems, so this is gonna sound a little too scheduled to some people, but I am a daily painter, and most weeks, I paint 2-3 paintings. I photograph all my paintings on the weekend, during the morning or afternoon in natural light against a white background. I take at least 3-4 angles of each piece and then edit them in my favourite photo editing app - Snapseed.
Over the next 2-3 days, I upload these onto Etsy as new listings. I spread them out over a few days because Etsy "likes" it when you make regular changes on your store. It shows them that the store is active - whatever that means. I then re-arrange my listings to have the best ones at the top.
I then the most important part - I post these over on to Pinterest, and Tumblr. Incidentally, Etsy analytics show that these platforms are also the source of maximum traffic for my shop.
Sometimes if the buyer contacts me before placing the order, I usually take the sale off of Etsy, if they're comfortable with that, and process it just through PayPal. This has happened for many paintings I've sold through DailyPaintWorks. That way I avoid the 5% Etsy commission, since that buyer was not really brought to me by Etsy anyway.
I also make sure the listings in my shop are arranged in a particular order, with the best ones at the top. My shop listings look like this:
Some tips on how YOU should use Etsy:
Don't think of Etsy as social media, or as something that will get you more customers. Think of Etsy as a tool to simplify the buying process for customers you bring to your art through other channels.
Don't spend on Etsy Plus or Etsy Marketing unless you are already making 20+ sales a month in your shop.
Upload good photos, preferably against a plain background. Also make sure to add a few lifestyle images so that it's easier for customers to visualize what the painting would look like displayed. It also helps them understand better the size of the painting.
Learn. SEO! - I can't stress the importance of this enough. Make sure you add keywords to your listings, titles, descriptions and tags.
DO NOT play the price war. Value your art, and put a price that makes you comfortable. I myself have only done this recently, and still sold 5 paintings after that. So yes, it doesn't really matter.
Refresh something in your shop regularly. Every few days, make sure you add a listing, or refresh an old listing. Also, regularly changing your shop description, announcements and images helps keep it fresh and active.
Focus on customer service. When you get an offer, have pleasant conversations with your buyer. Send them regular updates on their shipment. Package your art well. Make sure there's no damage in transit. Make the package pretty, and throw in a freebie if you can. I usually add a postcard of my art.
Browse through Etsy and see what your competition looks like. Buy a piece from another artist, to a) support other artists in their journey, and b) to see what the customer experience they provide is like. How is their packaging? How is their interaction with you?
Promote the heck out of your shop on every platform that you can! Take charge of the traffic, and bring people over.
Hope this was helpful and in depth. If you have any questions, or you want to share your experience of selling on Etsy, comment below. Or feel free to get in touch with me over at my Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.