Review: Where to Sell Online? - Comparing Etsy, StorEnvy and Big Cartel

By | 4:21 PM
shopping online, selling art, sell, Online Marketplace
Image by Rexhep-bunjaku [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

Many artists begin selling online with their Etsy shop.  At its start in 2005, Etsy was the ideal place for those that have handmade items to sell who do not wish to be lost in the massive listings of eBay. And so a brand was built so strong that when you hear someone say, “I set up an Etsy” or ask “Do you sell on Etsy?” there is no need to explain what an Etsy is.  With its master-brand status it really begs the question of why so many indie artists are now using other online store-hosting sites which have come along more recently.  In this review I will go over information on the ones I have knowledge of, yet there may be a few online store sites that went undetected on my radar. Please feel free to fill me in in the comments if you would like to share.

Here are the other sites I know about. StorEnvy was founded in 2009 as a marketplace and store builder rolled into one. The other alternative-to-Etsy site I have researched is Big Cartel which has a fair following of artists selling online. Here I will offer comparisons for your consideration. Many creatives only have the time and energy to run and promote one online store for their personal inventory, so it is highly important to find out which one is the best fit.  

Every platform has positives and negatives, so you should be thoughtful about what you really need before deciding where to anchor your shop - whether it be your only shop or your main shop.  In the artist community, the Etsy brand has taken on more of a place for crafters reputation. So if you feel like you are more of a crafter, Etsy is very popular in the crafting community as it is regarded as a go-to for crafts, crafting supplies and even vintage reproductions and collectibles. It is still a bastion for budding artists who are within the first several years creating art to sell. As an artist or designer you will certainly find yourself in good company on StorEnvy.  Templates on StorEnvy have a polished look that goes well with fine art by established artists.  Often artists start out on Etsy, but as they grow and become more professional they turn to either Big Cartel or StorEnvy.

Pricing – a big factor for a little business

Etsy has a system which most that have had the experience of selling on eBay will be familiar with.  There is a $0.20 fee per listing and they take 3.5% of the sale price.  This works with a per-item listing basis and you are allowed unlimited listings.  StorEnvy does not take a commission on purchases done through a direct-link.  If your customer finds a listing through the marketplace on StorEnvy, expect them to take a 10% commission!  Big Cartel does not take a percentage of the final sale. Big Cartel gives sellers five free listings, which is fine if you never have more than five pieces to offer at a time.  Other than the five-for-free set-up, Big Cartel offers a tiered-pricing plan of $9.99/month for 25 listings or $19.99 per month for 100 listings. Here is where StorEnvy seriously outshines the competition – up to 100 listings are free.  There are no upfront fees like Etsy and you do not have to pay more for improved selling tools as you would with Big Cartel’s better stat tracker and shop editor, for example. Listings on Etsy expire after three months and listings on Big Cartel depend on your continued payment of monthly subscription dues.  StorEnvy allows all your listings to last until you take them down or delete your store. Basic listing on StorEnvy is FREE. Beyond 100 listings there is a subscription fee. 

Big Cartel and StorEnvy will allow a custom domain for $4.99/month. Etsy lets sellers change their usernames, which are the same as store-URLs. Setting itself apart from the others, StorEnvy has a “super discounts” plan option for $2.99/month which gives sellers the ability to set up buy-one-get-one-free sales.

When you are considering options with your cash flow keep in mind that there are additional costs incurred when you use PayPal which is required on all three sites.  This can really add up quickly combined with the site fees - and when you are a sole proprietor making all your work by hand, that is no small consideration. 

Design – customizing your online shop

If you know how to work with html you can use it to make changes to the appearance of your Big Cartel shop.  The layout of an Etsy shop does not allow for any changes and you are not able to add non-Etsy links except for Facebook and Twitter. StorEnvy has a basic template with html and css editing enabled. Designer templates are also available if you would rather pay someone else to work out a design for you or make improvements on the one you have.

Community – who else is here?

Etsy has a great sense of community.  If you look at Big Cartel you will see that only a few big name sellers are promoted. Big Cartel claims to be “for artists” while Etsy is for “all things handmade” so it makes sense Big Cartel has a bit more of an elitist front. The type of people that shop on Big Cartel is of a narrower demographic than Etsy by far. Etsy has a forum where sellers can participate and a blog that gives news and advice to crafters. Big Cartel lacks a way for people to mark favorites to revisit later. StorEnvy has continued to make strides to improve their community and there is a favorites system, including categories you can put your listing into for browsing.

With Big Cartel you’re going to find only the store at your link, solitary like an island. On StorEnvy if you use the link to your custom store that is all your visitors will see. If your store is searched for on the main site the top navigation on StorEnvy will allow people to browse other sellers’ stores if they look for them, but it is not encouraged. On Etsy, despite the benefits there, you will still find yourself mixed in with competitors, supply sellers, vintage and even Regretsy features - yes, even though the official Regretsy page is gone the legend lives on within Etsy itself.

Traffic – how will buyers find you?

Since Etsy is more community-oriented there is generally more internal traffic. People will actually go to Etsy to search for things and it is also well-integrated with Google. Big Cartel is generally non-existent to search engines.  You will have to promote a Big Cartel store heavily to get people to go there.  StorEnvy has some search result traffic but it seems to be stronger if you share within the sellers’ community there, so it is good to participate as much as you are able. Since StorEnvy does not draw enough attention for there to be a great deal of low quality items listed, this strengthens the reputation of the site and those that are on it. The biggest benefit of Etsy is that it is very well known so that potential customers have a high comfort level associated with the site.


Another note about the level of confidence customers have regards feedback. Etsy and StorEnvy have feedback reporting systems similar to the one on eBay: positive, neutral and negative. There is no feedback ratings system on Big Cartel.  New sellers may desire feedback to assuage wary potential customers and therefore start out on Etsy or StorEnvy for that reason. Remember that a feedback system does not actually protect buyers, but PayPal does, and the use of PayPal is required on all three sites.

Rating the user interface

Each one of these sites has a very different internal dashboard for the sellers to use. Etsy gives a detailed interface with a listing process of five steps. Big Cartel’s one-page listing process is simple but lacking some features. StorEnvy has good detail in their dash, however, that can be overwhelming when you have a lot of pieces listed leading you to have to do more scrolling down the seller page. 

When it comes to sales and shipping systems Big Cartel drags behind. Etsy and StorEnvy allow you to save multiple shipping profiles yet with Big Cartel you are limited to only one. Sold items on Etsy are sorted onto a page where you can mark an item when it has been shipped, so that customers can check up on their own items. With Big Cartel what you get is only a link to the PayPal receipt which will lead a seller to repeatedly log on to their PayPal for each sale. StorEnvy puts the sold item on a new page that is private from the customers. 

Within Etsy there is a customer service feature where you can easily communicate with buyers and even other sellers via an internal inbox. StorEnvy provides a contact form between the seller and buyer, and does not require the customer to register for StorEnvy to use it unlike Etsy. Big Cartel users will need to utilize direct email with the possibility of getting intercepted by a spam filter. 

Big Cartel does allow sellers to easily mark something as “sold out” or “coming soon,” as opposed to the tedious process on Etsy of deactivating or deleting a listing which causes the “favorites” on that item to also disappear. You can also mark items “on sale” on Big Cartel. You are able to put “sold out” or “on sale” on StorEnvy and listings can be created ahead of time and save it it hidden from public view, or with an image that has a "Coming Soon" notice, a feature lacking on Etsy. All three of these sites allow sellers to have discount code offers.  StorEnvy charges $5/month to create discount codes, yet you can put any item "On Sale" for no charge, which puts a banner in the corner of the item's image to announce its reduced price status.

In my opinion if you are selling supplies, crafts or vintage or are just starting out you will find yourself at home on Etsy. Traffic brought in by other shops there and Etsy itself will ultimately benefit you so long as you keep up with your shop and set reasonable price points. If you are an artist or designer creating limited runs, one of a kind, or more unique items that will generate traffic from your own fan base, StorEnvy is probably where you will be happiest for the least cost. If you have a very limited inventory and are in high demand, Big Cartel might just be for you. Hopefully this article has helped with comparing features helping you narrow down your options.

To continue reading to learn how to shape and promote your artwork online, I suggest this article: 8 Essential Keys to Transform Creativity Into Online Success.

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Thank you for this! It made my decision easier.

Rebecca said...

I am glad to have helped! I am also researching Fine Art America, it seems they do prints and allow originals to be sold commission free. May be another review in the making.

Fifth and Maiden said...

Two things - storenvy is now charging 10% for every transaction through their marketplace, as you gleened over. This is crazy high, eBay shenanigans! They allow you to remove yourself from their marketplace now and just have your custom store, thereby putting marketing and traffic driving in your hands, like Big Cartel. Wouldnt I rather opt for the marketplace removal on storenvy and market the custom store myself on biz cards/instagram/in person, and then open a second store on Etsy, get active in those better-established communities for internal traffic, and pay that (now much lower) 3%+.20 fee? Storenvy now offers Stripe, an alternative to PayPal, which makes the checkout process even smoother for the customer. However they still take a 3%+.30 fee and not sure it'd available on purchases through the custom store.

Anna Mallin said...

I know a lot of crafters and artists who successfully sell their works through Instagram. It's easy, free, so why not? Especially since there's now an option to connect Instagram to service called that will create an e-shop from your instapictures (for free) with PayPal Buy Now button which makes selling even easier. The only thing is that you'll have to do the marketing & promotion in social networks and across the web, but it will pay off as you won't have to share the profit.

Rebecca said...

Good information! Thanks for sharing this. I think if you get a following first, moving to Big Cartel or StorEnvy and doing your own marketing is a good idea. Nothing is better than a hand-to-hand transaction though!

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