{Etsy vs. Big Cartel :: the business of handmade}

Update: Since writing this post Big Cartel has now come out with a 300-item plan. It’s $29.99 and sounds like a great alternative — some of you had mentioned that 100 items wouldn’t be enough and so you’re sticking with Etsy. Well… things have changed, and the limit is now 300.

Also — Etsy now offers coupon codes at checkout, something that used to cause Etsy sellers a lot of frustration.


Disclaimer: This post is my opinion and is based on my experiences only. Please look to this as a reference as we all have different experiences/expectations on selling handmade. What works for you may not be best for me, and vice versa. The purpose is to shed some light on both shopping cart systems. If you have questions or comments, be sure to leave a comment! We can have a discussion there, so if you leave a comment please check back for an answer {everyone is welcome to reply to a comment} :]

My background on selling handmade:

I opened my very first handmade shop in November 2008, and that was with Etsy. I started by selling jewelry. However that failed me {which I am so glad it did!} and in January of 2009 I was selling sewn accessories. In March I added my signature ruffle, and in January of 2010 I switched to Big Cartel.

My friend, Lindsey @ The Pleated Poppy helped bring me to Big Cartel. Thanks, Linds!

I believe I had over 320 sales through Etsy when I switched to Big Cartel.

What made me want to switch?

There were many, many reasons, and for me the choice was clear: If I wanted to have a successful business I needed to move to a site like Big Cartel. {I’ll elaborate on this below…}

What is the difference between Etsy and Big Cartel?

My professional experience has shown me that they are nearly night & day. Both offer “opposing” services and features, however, to me, both “opposing” services and features have their own THUMBS UP and THUMBS DOWN viewpoints. Bottom line, both are necessary for success.

Before we break them down, take a look these…

This is Etsy’s front page:

…and Big Cartel’s front page:

This is a shop banner on Etsy: {it must be this size}

…and a shop banner on Big Cartel: {can be any size}

This is a shop homepage on Etsy:

…and a shop homepage on Big Cartel:

Update >> My shop homepage looks like this:

OK, now that you have some visuals, let’s Talk Shop for reals.

Again, this is not a comprehensive list — it’s just my opinion and the features that stood out to me/I used the most:



  • offers many newsletters featuring: News, Finds, Teams, Success, and Labs. These are via email; anyone can sign-up
  • teaches you how to buy, sell, and search the site through a bajillion articles and forums
  • you can have an unlimited amount of items listed
  • allows you to “heart” (favorite) shops and items you find
  • you can list an unlimited # of items
  • has an in-system messaging system (they call it a Convo)
  • allows you to leave feedback on a buyer/seller; allows you to see how many sales a shop has had
  • has a great community for learning how to buy and/or sell {LOVE this feature!}


  • the in-system search bar can be distracting to buyers when they are shopping (they come to your shop but end up visiting and/or buying from another)
  • the shop header is micro and has pixel limitations of 760 x 100 {for a visual, see Etsy shop banner image above}
  • customers can see your sale information (what sold and the date). If you are new to selling or put your shop on “vacation mode“, you could be showing customers a low number of sales or a large gap between sales {this could leave a negative impression on a wavering customer}
  • Etsy has fees {I’ll discuss this later}
  • your shop cannot be customized aside from the header design {which has pre-set measurement} and the names of sections within your shop
  • as a buyer, you have to create an Etsy account {to buy} and a PayPal account {to pay}

Big Cartel…


  • when someone visits your shop all they see is your shop! There aren’t other shops nearby to distract the visitor
  • there are three monthly packages to pick from ($0, $10 or $20) and your bill will never exceed that number
  • you can completely customize your shop. You need to know HTML, but that can easily be learned {or you can hire someone!} Examples of this on my shop are adding buttons to my Blog or Count Up post, newsletter sign-up, custom footer content, custom styling within each page {About Me, FAQ, etc.}
  • as a buyer, you only need a PayPal account to shop a Big Cartel site
  • you’re able to design your shop to match your blog {or another website you run}
  • when you receive a message from your shop’s Contact Me page, it is delivered to your email inbox and you can reply via email. With Etsy, you receive a Convo notification in your email inbox but then have to log-in to Etsy to reply. Kinda a lot of work…
  • you can still browse their store directory to find new shops


  • The feeling of “community” is missing
  • If you aren’t able to write HTML to customize your shop, or have it hired, your shop can look a little bland or mass-produced {like an Etsy shop, where all shops look the same}
  • their home page is more like a “welcome” page — it’s completely different from Etsy {no search bar, etc.}
  • you can only list 100 items for sale

*Please note: You may find additional Pros and Cons to Etsy and/or Big Cartel. The above bullets simply state my experiences and what stood out to me the most.

For me, moving to Big Cartel was a no-brainer.

Because Etsy charges a fee to sell, there is a direct relation to how much you have to pay with the price of the item that sells {it’s 3.5% of the selling price.} That means if you sell higher-priced items, you pay more when they sell. What else does that mean? The more successful you are, the more you have to pay.

{cue whining}

And soon enough, my bills were well over $100/month and I thought, Is this worth it?! What happens when I double my daily sales?

At the time I really started to consider moving to Big Cartel, I was making consistent sales. And $100 is a lot of money! I could purchase a few ads with that amount, I could buy materials, I could hire an assistant {gasp! And I did a few weeks ago!!!!!!!!! Yeow!} — it was easy to see how I could be spending that money elsewhere and in a way that would benefit me in the long run.

Then I had a thought: I wonder how many people are visiting my shop through the help of Etsy? And you know me, Miss Independent, I clicked over to my Google Analytics page {click here to read my post on Google Analytics} and well…. There was my answer.

According to Google Analytics, over 70% of all Etsy shop traffic was from:

a.) my blog
b.) a blog I sponsor
c.) or other sites like Twitter, Facebook, or blogs hosting a Gussy button

I thought, I’m paying $100+/month to a company that is hardly “working” for me?!

But wait, don’t whip out your glaring eyes just yet…

Etsy provided me with a giant bucket of tools to help me build my shop.

All the positives I listed about Etsy above — those were giant tools that helped me build success. But clearly it was time to set up a shop on my own. I had spent months building up a community within my blog, my Etsy shop, and finally on Twitter and Facebook. Gussy was {and is} growing at such a fast rate that I thought, Gus, you need to be smart with your money!

And so I updated my business plan, got to work in Photoshop and had a new shop the very next day.

Yeah, when I get excited, I like to really “up” my productivity ;]

So what are my ending thoughts?

I strongly, strongly, strongly, strongly encourage building a community before flying solo. I really don’t think my shop would have the buzz it has today if I hadn’t started with Etsy {or another community-building website}. There are just so many great things about it Etsy!

I support Etsy — I heart it — I highly recommend it.

Everyone needs to be part of a community — even your handmade shop!

However, no one business plan is perfect {or works for everyone} and so one of my favorite quotes…

“to keep our balance, we must constantly shift”

…instantly comes to mind. It was time to shift.

Remember! Anyone can start a business, but it takes some hard-core dedication and learning to keep it running successfully.

If you have a how-to question I totally recommend you learn the answer yourself. Do some research on the web! I could make a list 2 yards long of all I learned from doing my research. Ahh, it is so invigorating! We are all so talented and can accomplish so much! I am cheering you on with encouragement! Learn this first-hand for yourself! Do it to better yourself and your business.

Some questions to ask yourself:
  • what do you want to accomplish with your business?
  • how can you get there? {break this down in as many steps as it takes}
  • how can you create buzz?
  • how much $ in fees am I spending each month?
  • where is the majority of my traffic coming from?
  • how can I increase this?

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts/questions/etc. Leave a comment! Let’s engage in a discussion!

PS. Monday starts my mini-series on business {part 1}, organization {part 2, Tuesday} and Q&A {part 3, Thursday}. Hope you’ll come back!

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