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Established business wants to add e-commerce.

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I had a community member reach out last night asking me about websites and e-commerce. I asked @dondonshe’d be willing to let me post it as a thread publicly so we can all help her. We haven’t had a building a website thread in a while, and there have been some technology changes since the last one I think. 

For some background, Donna has an existing business in the UK, and relies on an assortment of commissions, classes and in person sales. Her website has been serviceable up to this point, but is in need of an update. The pandemic has inspired her to add a more concise web shop. She wants to try listing some things to see what will happen.  She’s built the existing website herself using Afinity, and I can link to it because I would not consider her current setup to be a functioning web shop. I’ll have to break the link when she gets her shop going to stay within terms of use :).  petersonpotterystudio.co.uk

In part, she wrote to me:

I also made an Etsy account/Shop but am reluctant to put anything on as I want to be able to bypass the paypal who takes their cut as well as Etsy taking theirs - which obviously bumps up the prices. Another reason I am reluctant is apparently you (as the seller) have to do a lot and I mean a lot of promotion etc. I know I am sounding tight lol as I re- read this to myself but if you can point me in the right direction I'd  be so grateful.

It is almost impossible to contact anyone on Etsy to ask - there seems to be lots of admin people on there but no one specific to steer  newbie...


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28 minutes ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

I want to be able to bypass the paypal who takes their cut as well as Etsy taking theirs - which obviously bumps up the prices.

There are going to be costs associated with any e-commerce system. Credit cards, web site, etc. Whatever you do, you either eat the costs or you increase your prices to compensate. Most people won't notice or care about a 5% increase to cover the cost of doing business. And if Etsy brings you more customers than having your own web site for sales, then it's more than worth it.

I use Weebly, and it works well for me. However I think the hardest part of selling online is not building a web site, but rather getting people to find it. My web site is my least busy method for selling pots, but I also don't put a lot of effort into it since I have lots of other revenue streams. So I'm not the best person to give advice there.

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I have friends who sell pots thru Etsy and they said last week that the platform is Not what it used to be sales wise. That market has been diffused they said. 

If you go it alone with your own CC I would expect 5-7% in fees thru a processor .

Thats all I have on advice as I'm not a web sales guy-I only sell to existing customers mostly wilh my web page which is not a sales site.

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First, I want to address a little bit of mindset. Any web selling situation is going to involve an investment of time to build an audience, and a little bit of money to get going. You will pay fees with whichever platform you wind up using. It is worth mathing it out to see which one will be the most cost effective for your level of sales, AND the level of sales you hope to eventually reach.  You wouldn’t expect a big return out of a weekend show that you only paid nothing to attend, and only put out a handful of pots on a folding table with a wrinkly tablecloth.  By the same token, you need to pay fees to sell online, and to invest some time polishing things to make it pay off. It does not have to cost the earth. Literally, my household budget for Timmie’s runs*is more than I pay for email and hosting and platform fees in a month. This does not include any payment processing or commission fees, as those don’t get charged unless I make a sale.

Also, whichever platform you go with, you will need to nurture an audience somehow. The days of Etsy magically bringing you traffic are long over, and sales don’t roll in from social media if you don’t build a community there either. This part will likely take you longer than you want it to.

One of the things Donna talked about in her message to me was that she wasn’t really sure what she expected to happen with her web shop. I suggest that anyone beginning online should set themselves an arbitrary (but reasonable) monthly sales goal, so that you have something to work towards. If you just want to try it out without a real destination in mind, it won’t go anywhere. I know, because I’ve done just that.  You need to have an idea of how you want to go about getting your products in front of people, you need to build and nurture an audience, and you need to communicate with those people.


Edited to add: I have more thoughts, but I’ll be adding them in a bit at a time.

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Since its alreadt established-why not just add a shopping cart and go from there -weebly and all the major servers have this as an option these days.

Not much to think about really if its already an established business-They just need to start telling their customers about the e-part

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If you have a look at her website, it’s on an older platform. I don’t know that an e-commerce plug in is available for that, so that means either redoing her website and using a new platform to do it, or it means opening an Etsy shop. Which means comparing the options. 

Lots of us around here tend to be fans of Weebly, because it’s really easy and intuitive to build an information-only website, and you don’t need much support to be able to do it. In the last 2 years Square, another forum favourite product, acquired Weebly so they could expand into e-commerce. So for lots of us, it seems like a no- brainer just to add Square to your Weebly site and start selling. Which is what I did, and I found out the transfer wasn’t as smooth as it might have been. Weebly successfully made a highly intuitive, beginner-proof drag and drop website builder that really doesn’t need customer service because it’s that easy to use.

Consequently, they don’t offer much of it.

This becomes an issue when you want to add a web shop, or even if you open a new Square website. As it turns out, there’s a couple of key pieces of information missing from their written manual, so at some point most people will need to talk to a human. Square and Weebly have ostensibly merged, but the two companies are still very distinct divisions under one umbrella. The customer service for Square (think anything having to do with inventory control or card processing) is top notch. Everyone I talked to there has been universally delightful, and they’re supported by their company.  If you need website related information (think trying to figure out shipping integrations or incorporating a third party email app) you get transferred to the Weebly division. The service I received from the Weebly side ranged between polite but new to the job, to borderline hostile and dismissive. Even if you open a brand new Square site, you will still  have to talk to the Weebly division if you need website related help.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d have just paid the money for the Shopify site from the get-go.  Their entry level of e-commerce shop has very similar if slightly better features that the top end Square tier, is roughly the same price, and there’s no payment/tech help division of service. 

On the subject of Etsy, I tend to go back and forth a bit. Its pros include ease of use and low monetary investment needed to enter. It’s a good training ground on how to build things like listings with good images and descriptions. The software is up to date and secure. It has good prompts that encourage you to figure out what you want your shop policies to be, and it is a search engine, which means it has the potential to bring you traffic that you might not have otherwise seen. And, despite the level of internet griping about it, Etsy is fairly cost effective for lower volumes of sales. I would suggest though that Donna (and anyone really) should use Etsy’s native payment processing, rather than third party payment processors like Square or PayPal. You have to pay Etsy’s processing fees anyways, why add the additional ones? 

Cons mostly involve the negatives around not owning your web shop, and those are mostly long term problems. Etsy ultimately owns your web shop. You can’t easily get customers to opt in to your email list, you are beholden to their customer complaint system, and any marketing efforts or SEO benefits you get from web traffic go to Etsy, not your business. They can and do change search engine priority frequently and without notice. I have niggling issues with the fact that they now apply an additional fee on top of the shipping, but I know some who do get value from the platform, and consider it the cost of doing business. Also, do not take business advice from the Etsy seller’s forum. Not everyone wants the same thing out of their shop, and the other sellers tend to give advice based on their situation, not yours. Some people do find specific communities to be helpful though.

Something to remember with Etsy: you are not obliged to offer sales or coupons or buy ads if they don’t work for your business. They make a lot of tools available to sellers because there is a wide variety of wants and needs, and some take the ever present promotion of those tools to mean that they need to use them all. You don’t. I do encourage potters to examine including some or all of their shipping into their online list price though. Customers do get put off by shipping costs, but we can’t just eat it and do “free” shipping.


If I was in Donna’s position, I would either keep my website and create a clear and easy link to an Etsy shop, or rebuild the whole thing on Shopify, depending on what she chooses for sales goals. Etsy, for all its faults, doesn’t glitch much, and generally does what you tell it to. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to build an Etsy and fine tune how e-commerce is going to work in her business, and then plan to transfer to a Shopify account when her sales through that venue grow a bit. Most e-commerce websites make it as easy as they can to import any of your listings and other information from Etsy to their platforms, so you don’t have to duplicate a lot of work.

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Hey, quite a lot to chew over here! - Thank you all for the advice so far.  I am certainly going to leave my old website up Callie as it serves as a presence and local people know it now. Thanks Mark C for the shopping cart suggestion,  I'll have a word with the web host and ask what's involved etc to make that happen...

 I've had no end of trouble trying to make a 'shop' on Facebook after making a business page but that's another story - It's been months and I still cannot get access to it let alone login to see my personal page. Apparently it's a gray account? 

I will certainly look into  Weebly and Shopify  thank u (Neilestrick)- it feels more reassuring when recommendations comes from trusted friends, rather than reading all these reviews which are probably and more often than not  - 'paid to write'

again thanks and hope others take something from this too.




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Just to echo what Callie said, building an audience is just as important as building a webstore. More important, really, because the internet is oversaturated with pottery webstores now. @dondon if you have an established local following, you are way ahead in this process. Make sure to market the webstore to this crowd.  They are probably eager to have a way to buy your work while the pandemic is going on. The internet may supply some new customers, but don’t rely on that. Focus your attention on the customers you already know. 

My personal choice is to have a Weebly website and a Square store. I started using both before they merged. Yes, they are not well integrated yet, so I treat them as separate platforms. I like the Square store because it is the cheapest option (only pay for payment processing and nothing else). And I am taking full responsibility to drive traffic there, so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay anybody to help me find customers. I am using the mailing list that I collected over many years doing art festivals and craft shows. Within that audience I have plenty of customers for my online sales. 

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I find pretty much everything on Facebook to be a navigation nightmare. I used them in the past to run ads, and trying to find my ad management page was impossible unless I bookmarked it and went straight to it.

Etsy, for all its faults, is really easy to use, and functions well. It won't drive people to your items, but it's easy to link to your store form your main web site.

IMO, any system that is easy to use is worth paying a little extra for. As a one-person small business, my time is worth more than anything. At various times over the years I have paid slightly higher prices for credit card processing, phone service, web site hosting, etc. because they were easy to use. Having to be on the phone with customer service for hours at a time every couple of months negates any savings.

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FWIW, I have been using the Square store for about a year, and haven’t needed any tech support. The last time I used it (about a week ago), I found they had improved the interface a lot. It took a lot fewer mouse clicks to load up the store with items. The selling and payment processes work fast and smoothly. I haven’t had a single issue with that aspect of the store. 

I hate the facebook interface too. So cumbersome and often nonsensical. 

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