I have been selling my jewelry on other people’s e-commerce sites (first eBay and then Etsy) for twenty years. Eek, I feel a bit embarrassed when I type that out. Though truly it was only two years ago that I came to understand why I should have my own website.
Starting Up Online
eBay was a great place for me to start as I had zero customers and no experience with e-commerce. There was a ton to learn, but at least I didn’t have to build a website and eBay brought an eager customer base. Within a few years, the handmade jewelry section on eBay became too saturated with hobbyists and non-handmade mass-produced jewelry. I felt the pinch to move along. Hobbyists and mass-produced are two entirely different creators, but both underprice their work and make it too difficult for legitimate small businesses, like me, to compete and thrive.
At that time I took two years off to finish my degree. When I returned to making jewelry I moved my shop over to Etsy. Unlike eBay, Etsy was originally for creatives, focusing only on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies. Their buyers seemed more discerning, not everyone knew about Etsy, the way eBay was known. As a creative, it felt better over there. I slowly began to learn about vintage Moroccan items and incorporate them into my shop. This gave me some flexibility to continue selling (and enjoying dealing in jewelry!) even when I didn’t have the time or materials to create jewelry.
“Watch Your Data” – I Did!
Watching my backend on Etsy, I saw that I brought most of my customers to my shop through Google and Facebook. This meant I should have an e-commerce shop instead of paying fees to Etsy to act as a platform. The data told me what was the right thing to do and fellow jewelry makers backed it up in some of the peer groups I am in, but urgh making my own website… that’s more work. I have created content for many other websites, I was taking most of my product shots, doing the shipping, and creating the jewelry. I know I sound whiny, but let’s remember that I am a single mama of many and do plenty of work. This wasn’t about laziness, it was about overwhelm. Yeah, you can build your own website if you have time, but I have chronic time management issues.
So two years ago I put my hair in a bun and hired a super-talented web designer (Yo Ayoub!) to build Brookolie.com. All the bones were in place and then I got cold feet and stayed on Etsy! But there was one thing I had not yet tried to improve my sales on Etsy – ads. Back on eBay, auctions were the natural way to advertise. On Etsy, paid ads are really the only way to get yourself at the top of search result pages. In a short time this has come to be on the top pages: meaning, there are now so many people paying for ads on Etsy that when you search for any item, the first several pages are full of items sellers paid to have eyes on. It’s an impossible algorithm for a small seller to get ahead of.
Still, still. I buckled to well-meaning, know-nothings who insisted that I just needed to do ads off of Etsy. So I tried that too. Facebook ads (and shops) cannot be routed directly to Etsy, I needed my own site to run them, which I had… but why was I running fb ads through my site and then to Etsy??? Because I had to try to do the right thing, or so I thought.
A few dear friends had thought they bought something from my Etsy shop, but turned out they had clicked on other suggested items under my items which took them to other Etsy shops. *insert facepalm or steaming nostrils* And the second-to-last straw was that I am simply not tenacious and\or techy enough to run Google ads out of a developing, African nation. Google “blocked” my attempts.
I Am Not Amazon
After losing money to Etsy ads for about six months, the final straw came. Etsy generously refunded one of my customers for a bracelet they received about a week later. This happened over the Western holidays, shipping within a normal time frame from Africa to Europe. I had zero recourse in this situation for getting my money, product, or erroneous bad reviews (which affected my rating and seller status). I was rated five stars and an eleven-year seller on Etsy, but the site ignored me. Etsy even put a 45-day hold on all my funds. So I finally stopped leaning on Etsy a couple of months ago…
No longer selling on Etsy put a big dent in my income, but wouldn’t that have also happened if I stopped using Etsy two years ago when my lovely website was first built? Being remiss seems pretty wasteful, and actually – I no longer feel overwhelmed at all. I LOVE having my own site to customize and make as great as I want.