Big Cartel vs Etsy vs Storenvy
I have, as of the moment of this writing, an inactive Big Cartel shop, an inactive Storenvy store, and one active (and one deactivated) Etsy shops. My first Etsy shop was started in 2006, my Big Cartel shop January 2010, and my Storenvy shop in June 2010. I feel like I know all these platforms well enough to be able to compare them thoughtfully; there are really benefits and drawbacks to all of them, so you should think of your needs and weigh them carefully when deciding where to set up shop. I’m coming at this from the perspective of both an artist and a crafter so I feel like I can gauge the needs of both fairly well. Also, of course, feel free to weigh in via comments and/or ask any questions you like.
If you are feeling impatient and need a snack-sized version of the voluminous text below here you are: crafts, vintage, and supplies belong on Etsy, higher-end art and design go on Big Cartel, and Storenvy can be used however you please. If you love details, like me, read on for a list of some major factors to keep in mind when choosing where to set up shop, and the reasoning behind them.
Updated July 2017: Etsy Payments section has been added under Costs and Fees.
Cost and Fees
Etsy has a pay-as-you-go system of $0.20 per listing and 3.5% of the sale price fee (with unlimited listings), whereas Big Cartel has a plan system with tiered pricing (free for 5 listings, $9.99 per month for 25 listings, $19.99 per month for 100 listings), and Storenvy is completely free. With Etsy you get everything up front while, with Big Cartel, you get more frills as you pay (better stat tracking, shop editing, etc), and Storenvy is free. Listings on Etsy last 3 months, while listings on Big Cartel last for however long you keep up your monthly subscription to BC, and listings on Storenvy stay until you delete you shop. However, while you can tweak the css and html of your Big Cartel shop you can never, ever touch the layout of your Etsy shop or link to anything that isn’t an Etsy link. (Update: Two years after posting this article you can now link Facebook and Twitter.) Storenvy only had one basic template for years and now has another, equally basic one, but you can edit the html and css really heavily to completely customize it. Have a blog, mailing list, portfolio site? Etsy doesn’t give a fart in the wind about it. Also, for small items (less than $2) $0.20 is a nice chunk of money you have to add to your material cost. On Etsy I had to price my zines for more than I was comfortable with asking for them just to compensate for the one-two punch of Etsy and Paypal fees. $3 for a zine and you know what my profit is? $1. To give you a practical example of fees, my average monthly Etsy bill for 2009 was $68 and I maintained a maximum of 250 listings; had I exclusively sold through Big Cartel last year and had the same amount of traffic I would have saved $580, no sum to sneeze at, but that brings us to … Storenvy, where my fee would have been $0.
Note: As of Summer 2017 Etsy has changed their fee structure. You are now required to give them your banking information and their “Etsy payment” system is automatically accepted. While that means you can still accept Paypal, I would say that maybe 1 of every 5 sales of mine has actually gone to Paypal, with all others going through Etsy payments. Etsy payments then deposits directly into your bank account on a schedule that you select (daily if you hit the minimum, weekly, or monthly). Your monthly Etsy payment comes out of this balance as well, I have yet to figure out how to pay it any other way since the Paypal option is grayed out. If you have no bank account you are no longer welcome to sell on Etsy. This is US only at the moment, but they are planning on rolling it out worldwide. I suspect this is because Paypal was getting so much money from Etsy transactions, and they wanted a piece of the pie, so they just took it off our plates. This is the reason I closed one of my two Etsy shops, the other is slowly being retired.
On the community front Etsy destroys Big Cartel; BC promotes a tiny number of shops and really only really showcases the big names and best sellers. It keeps the image legit, which I respect, because Big Cartel is supposed to be “for artists” while Etsy is for “all things handmade” (different demographics). Etsy promotes a limited number of their favorite sellers and you see the same people getting love over and love again, which has embittered a lot of Etsy sellers, but a larger number of people on the whole get a promo bump from Etsy. Etsy also takes out advertising in magazines, has a forum where sellers can embarrass themselves, and has a blog that posts a lot of very helpful business tips and craft news. Etsy also has something Big Cartel sadly does not, a way to mark items as your favorites so you can come back for them at a later date. Storenvy has a kind of watered down community, where you can search it, but it’s not that great. They are working on it though and also have a favorites system, they also have categories you can put your listing into and browse though, but I’ve never used it. People can favorite your shop on Etsy and Storenvy, but there’s no way they can mark it on Big Cartel. This also relates to …
Since Etsy is more community-oriented (you search all of Etsy for items, for example) you get a lot of traffic from Etsy in general and Etsy is well-integrated with Google. You used to be featured momentarily on the Etsy front page when you listed a new items but now there’s a Pinterest-esque overhaul so that isn’t going to happen anymore. Etsy also hosts member-curated Treasuries and pay-for-play Gift Guides, but they’re both useless traffic-wise (I’m being frank, they are, and I speak from experience). Big Cartel, on the other hand, is 100% bring-your-own traffic. Then again if you feel like you do BYO traffic then you certainly don’t need other people accidentally wandering off to the competition, now do you? Theoretically you can get walk through traffic from Storenvy, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. That being said Jon Crawford (the Storenvy founder) tweeted me to inform me that 12% of sales on Storenvy are via through traffic, how about them apples? I have to say I do get regular shop favorites and occasional sales on Storenvy without promoting it at all, they surely deserve credit for those sales. One thing worth noting: people search Etsy for items to use in their publications, since first writing this I had two magazine publications just from editors searching Etsy.
The way each shop looks from the inside is completely different. Etsy has a very detailed dashboard and a listing process. They recently updated it in a way I don’t like, where it’s all giant pictures, because everything had to be giant pictures. Where is my list? I know what my listings are Etsy. Big Cartel keeps it simple with a one page listing process (which I love), but loses out on some features. Storenvy has a detailed dash but can be overwhelming, especially if you have a lot of listings (scroll, scroll, scroll). Years later this is still an issue. The major downside to the BC setup is your sales/shipping systems. Etsy and Storenvy allow you to store shipping profiles (I use about 6 regularly) whereas BC allows you to store all of 1. When items are sold Etsy puts them on a new page where you can check off if an item has been shipped, that way your customers can check up on their items on their own. With BC you get a link to the Paypal receipt and that’s it, and one of my major pet peeves is logging into Paypal 7,000,000 times (or even more than once) a day. Storenvy puts them on a new page, but the customers have no way of checking up on them. I have missed a few sales (ie: not noticed them) and gotten some very nice people very angry. It’s not 100% Storenvy’s fault, but they didn’t help. Also, with Etsy there is a “conversation” system that’s basically an Etsy-hosted inbox where you can easily communicate with buyers and other sellers, with BC you need to send an email directly, and hope it doesn’t get caught by a spam filter. Storenvy gives your customers a contact form, so it’s kind of in between, but your customers don’t need to register for Storenvy to talk to you, unlike Etsy, which I like. You can customize the html of your Storenvy store, but the statement that they offer “complete” customization is a flagrant lie. If you actually know anything about css and html, toying around with their customization pages will let you know that your access is actually rather limited.
Big Cartel, Storenvy, and Etsy all have completely different tones; on Etsy you’re going to find a lot of … well, trash quite frankly, mixed in with the gems, and a lot of overpriced “vintage treasures” (barfing noise). However, Etsy is so well known that there is a high comfort level associated with them. With Big Cartel you’re going to find exactly what you expected, the store you were linked to. Storenvy is in between, people can find competitors work if they look for it, but they probably won’t. For all the good it brings, on Etsy you will be always be mixed in with vintage, competitors, supply sellers, and Regretsy (now defunct) features, while on Big Cartel you are an island. Storenvy doesn’t attract enough attention for there to be a lot of junk on it, which is nice.
Big Cartel also understands that you sell things on not-BC at times, so you can easily mark something as “sold out” or “coming soon,” whereas on Etsy you have to deactivate/delete that listing and loose all the “favorites” on that item you worked so hard to get, along with your twenty cent listing fee, of course. You
can’t can finally mark things as “sold out,” “on sale,” or “coming soon,” on Storenvy, and you can make listings ahead of time and save them, something Etsy really needs to have. You can make a draft item on Etsy, but if you want to relist an item, edit, then save that for later, that ain’t happening. You can also mark things as “on sale” on BC and offer discount codes; Etsy sellers have been screaming for discount codes for ages but no dice. Edit! It’s been years but Etsy looks like it might be taking steps toward to “on sale” option. Edit again! Finally Etsy offers discount codes, about time! Storenvy also allows for discount codes to be programmed in, nice.
The major difference in “tone” is also illustrated through the feedback system; Big Cartel and
Storenvy don’t have one. If you go to, let’s say, Urban Outfitters online, do you see a feedback rating? No, but that’s because UO is a legitimate store and you expect when you order something from them that it will arrive at your home. Etsy, on the other hand, has a feedback system like ebay (positive, neutral, which is seen as negative, and negative). I prefer a lack of feedback system because I’ve been around for years, if I sell something to you it will show up, but for new shops feedback might assuage the fears of concerned potentially customers. I’ve also had a few customers leave neutrals just because they got what they expected, no more, no less. Also, remember that a feedback system in no way protects buyers, Paypal does, and you use Paypal to pay on all three sites.
In my opinion if you are selling supplies, crafts (be honest with yourself), or vintage you will find a happy home on Etsy, the traffic brought in by other shops and Etsy itself will ultimately benefit you if you have a nicely put together shop and a reasonable price point. If you are an artist and designer and do limited runs, one of a kind, or more unique items that generate traffic from your own fan base, Storenvy is probably where you will be happiest. Like BC, Storenvy now allows you to have a custom domain for $4.99 a month and has added something called “super discounts” for $2.99 a month which allows you to program buy-one-get-one free sales, which puts it apart from BC and Etsy. Though, finally, Etsy now allows you to change your username (which is also your store URL).
After about 6 months I’m posting a follow up. I have added in Storenvy to the review, which I’m really impressed with, and I must confess that my sales were abysmal with Big Cartel so I’ve shut it down. It was 100% not worth the money for me. I’m keeping an Etsy shop just because of the opportunities that it lends (see magazine publications above), but if you aren’t just starting out, if you bring in your own traffic, no matter what you make/sell, I’m going to recommend Storenvy. It’s FREE for christsakes and the options blow the other places out of the water. The major downside is that the stats tracking seems really jacked up, but if you aren’t just starting out you probably don’t need to know accurate view counts on individual items. It’s also missing Etsy’s community and BC’s domain option, but those are minor problems. I’ve also been told Storenvy is working on more accurate stats and on domain mapping, which I’m super excited about. In the end you need to figure out what works best for you, and best of luck to you all.
*** Post Updates ***
2012: Two years after the original post (say what?) I have added a few more updates just to keep in line with the progress of each of the store fronts. Thank you all for all your questions and comments!
2015: FIVE YEARS LATER!!! I can’t believe it’s still helpful, thank you all for your support, I updated and tweaked the article again. You all rock for coming here, I hope it helped and was worth your time!
2017: Seven years later thank you all for the love, I have just updated this post again.
Feel free to ask/leave questions/comments below!