The Business of Handmade

Joining Big Cartel

Today I decided to open another online store.  After flirting with Volusion and a few other platforms, I decided to try Big Cartel. Setting up shop was very easy and they make it easy to look quite stylish.

Here’s the link:

Big Cartel charges a flat monthly fee and does not take a percentage of your sales.  It is really the anti-Etsy, and that’s partly why I chose it.

The Big Cartel denizens are all individual creative people or small creative companies.  You won’t find the thousands and thousands of listings for mass-produced Chinese junk jewelry or counterfeit Disney products that jam up Etsy.  They have a directory, but no inter-shop marketing or social networking.  You control the look and contents of your shop.

Importantly, Big Cartel’s bottom line is the same as the sellers’ who set up shop there.  Big Cartel makes money when sellers choose to continue using their product; obviously, sellers won’t stay if the Big Cartel site doesn’t meet their needs.  The only way Big Cartel can succeed is by making its sellers happy.

Unfortunately, Etsy and its sellers do not share the same bottom line.  Sure, Etsy gets part of its revenue from a percentage of the sales price of items sold by Etsy shopkeepers, so the more the sellers succeed, the more Etsy earns.  But Etsy also receives revenue from fees paid by sellers independent of any sales.

There’s the listing fee, a mere .20 cents per item, which is conceptually the equivalent to Big Cartel’s monthly plan fees of $9.99 (to list 25 items) to $29.99 (to list 300 items).   To compare actual costs, Big Cartel’s $29.99 monthly fee translates to 150 new listings and/or renewals per month on Etsy.  Many Etsy sellers, myself included, renew a handful of items every day in order to keep our shop competitive with other sellers in the various product categories.  I easily spend a dollar a day on renewals, so Big Cartel’s flat fee seems roughly equivalent.

But Etsy also earns revenue from advertising within the Etsy site.  As sellers become desperate for sales, they are more likely to pay to participate in the new “search ads” program and to buy category “showcase” spots.  Unfortunately, neither search ads or showcases have generated many actual sales.

Etsy relies on individual sellers to bring traffic into the Etsy site, but Etsy has made it increasingly difficult for sellers to keep the traffic they bring in their individual shops.  Individual shops are peppered with “trap doors” – links that lead a shopper out of the store.  Potential buyers are given the option to click on a link to the shop owner’s favorite items, a link to ‘circles’ she’s in, and a link to people who ‘admire’ the shop. They can click on the shop owner’s profile, which also includes ‘treasuries’ she’s created of items from other stores.  All of these links lead out of the seller’s store.  Trap doors are *not* in a seller’s best interest, particularly if she has invested heavily in external advertising to bring new shoppers to the site.


2 thoughts on “Joining Big Cartel

  1. This is a great post. Always love hearing about experience with Etsy and Big Cartel. I spend most my time helping people on Big Cartel but get asked so much about why to choose one platform over another. I think you provided some great comparisons and identified some big concerns with using Etsy as you grow. Most people won’t think about how Etsy puts so many other links in your store that lead away from your products.

    Good luck with selling on Big Cartel.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post. I am trying to make a decision about setting up an online shop. I have been leaning towards Big Cartel. You have made so very valid points.

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