Most homeschooling books make a big deal out of the resourcefulness of homeschoolers and make it appear that we are all earning money hand over fist from cottage industries where we sell the things we make. We are a resourceful bunch. That is true. And most of us are crafty out of necessity. We improvise our supplies and materials. But I’m not so sure that any of us are actually selling a great deal in cottage industries. So to answer a question posed to me (“Where do I sell my crafty stuff?”), here’s what I know.
Etsy is a marketplace to sell your crafts. You sign up, post a crafty thing for sale, and wait for people to come. There are several problems with Etsy. Let’s discuss them one at a time.
- Payment method doesn’t always work and then you’re dealing with an angry customer and have to go directly through PayPal and hope the buyer will to0.
- Etsy is an eBay company and all the nightmares that go with eBay will follow your account in Etsy. That goes double for PayPal.
- There are way too many Chinese sellers selling baubles for 25 cents for the item you’re selling for $25 to be noticed with any sincerity. Even then you are competing against a great number of people who relist their items over and over again.
- Listing and selling fees. They mount quickly and they come directly from your bank account when you least expect it.
- There is a site on the internet (I won’t list it here but you can find it will little effort) where irate eBay sellers who also sell on Etsy (and are competing against you to sell their wares) will post your name, address, phone number, and email online. They will list you as a “bad buyer” although you are a seller. I guess that makes it look more legitimate? Anyway, there’s nothing worse than having your family’s privacy usurped. It’s a dishonest way to get rid of the competition, but I’ve heard nothing but nightmares from people who have sold on eBay or Etsy.
- If your products do sell, others will copy you immediately and offer deep discounts so your business goes away.
- You will get onto obnoxious mailing lists.
- You will get scammed, most often from other countries like Australia. They often claim they never receive items and then get a refund. You are out the item and the money. Etsy staff know this but it still happens all the time. Then your crafty item shows up under another seller’s name, copied right down to the glue.
- Search feature doesn’t work well. It’s hard to be found amidst so many other crafters on Etsy and the search feature is horrible. If anyone finds your items it will be a small miracle.
At one point all of my children have attempted to sell something on Etsy. They were all very disappointed. It was a lesson I would rather they had not learned that way. There is a great deal of dishonesty in online marketplaces but this is one of the worst. When you are teaching values to your children at home, you also have to limit their exposure to truly dishonest people like you find on eBay and Etsy. There is time enough for them to learn how ruthless others can be, but not while they’re young and impressionable.
DeviantArt is a marketplace where artists post their artwork and sell it directly to you through a company that prints and ships and handles payments. I (and my children) have no experience selling through DeviantArt. It appears to be lucrative for the sellers, but I don’t see that many people actually buying the artwork. In my community of homeschoolers (and family) I couldn’t find a single person who had purchased from DeviantArt.
I wanted to see what the prints looked like (quality, sizes available, prices, shipping, etc) so I placed an order for four pieces that I thought were very cute. I let each of my kids pick one. Here are the problems I encountered.
- Account never created. I went through two screens to enter information so that an account would automatically be made when I placed my order. That way I could go back and check on my purchase history and track orders. It never created one. So hang onto that email with your order after you place it because it’s the only proof you have that you purchased anything.
- Package never delivered. I opted for priority mail. I didn’t want my order sitting in a postal truck in the damp winter. Where it doesn’t snow, it rains, and in all places but the southwestern U.S. it’s very damp which ruins any paper products quickly. It was “lost” in the mail and never delivered. I repeatedly sent print screen photos of the post office tracking to DeviantArt but if you don’t have an account it goes into a huge slush pile.
- No Customer Service. Granted I don’t have an account (they messed that up too) so I am given a “browser” status rather than “customer”, but no one at DeviantArt has answered any of my contact form inquiries about my order.
- Artists have no control over orders. Once an artist places his/her artwork online they have no control. People will download the images and copy the artist’s work. People will order prints (the way I did) and have a bad experience which for some people translates to a bad experience with the artist (fortunately I don’t blame the artist for the storefront).
- Amateur status. There are some truly gifted artists on DeviantArt with artwork that should be seen in a gallery. But their profile on DeviantArt puts them at an amateur status among other artist communities. I’m not an artist so I don’t understand why, but the professional artists I’ve spoken with cringed at the idea of posting their work on DeviantArt.
- Misconceptions about what kind of artwork is sold on DeviantArt. It is not all fan art or graphic novel artwork. They have fine art as well.
- Location. I think one of the offputting things about their website is that it appears they are outside of the United States until after you’ve placed an order and learn they are in Norcross, Georgia. International fees shouldn’t be appearing when you access the site from a U.S. IP address.
- Other poor website functionality. I found a great deal of broken links and broken images on their site. That made me very nervous about placing an order. It also made it very hard to scroll through the gallery of work for one artist. I kept getting bounced all over the place. I almost didn’t place an order for this reason.
If DeviantArt fixed their website problems and responded to emails, I might be inclined to suggest them as a place to sell artwork. It doesn’t appear that’s going to happen anytime soon, however, so I wouldn’t put my child’s artwork there. In the art industry, your name is part of your work. If someone has a bad experience and that gets attached to your child’s name it won’t go away for years, possibly decades. It’s not worth fumbling through.
Amazon now has a professional seller package that costs $39.99 per month. Supposedly you can sell anything that is new, including your own crafts. They don’t tell you until after you’ve purchased one of these accounts that you need to purchase a UPC code for every one of the items you’re selling. That can get expensive. Here’s a list of problems selling on Amazon.
- Too many items for sale. Amazon has the largest online marketplace. That means more products. When hundreds of thousands of Chinese sellers popped up virtually overnight I was surprised. I guess I assumed it was only U.S. sellers. I was wrong. There are now thousands of sellers who are located in China and they don’t always say they are. So your little crafty item will be competing with millions of other products that are dirt cheap. That’s hard to do.
- Hefty selling fees. Amazon boasts that it doesn’t charge listing fees like eBay. But their selling fees are close to 30%.
- UPC codes required. Every product listed on Amazon is attached to a hidden UPC code. They don’t post them in public because they want an extra hurdle for sellers to jump through to post items for sale. If you are selling hand crafted items, you will need to purchase a UPC for each item. Google that online and try not to jump out of your seat. They are expensive to purchase unless you purchase them in bulk.
- Every category requires approval. Even after you’ve purchased a UPC code, you may not be able to sell your item on Amazon. You will have to get approval to sell in any category. This requires back and forth emails over several months, professional photos of the items, a separate website where you have them listed for sale, and a lot of extra hidden costs that they never tell you about. Most people sign up to sell on Amazon to avoid having their own website, but Amazon requires it. I’ve heard of people getting around this, but that comes from dishonest eBay sellers who game the system. I don’t want to encourage anyone to cheat like that.
- Once you list an item for sale, other sellers approved to sell in that category will list your same item for sale. This is one of those hidden features of Amazon that internet marketers sell for tens of thousands of dollars in packages entitled “Make millions online”. About half of the sellers on Amazon have zero inventory. They list your item for sale at a higher price. When someone purchases from them, they turn around and order it from you and list the buyer’s name and address along with their credit card. This is called drop shipping and it’s really common on Amazon. You never really know who you’re buying from. Once you list your item with your photos and the UPC you bought and paid for you will lose complete control over the product in Amazon’s database. This is the most disturbing thing about selling on Amazon, at least to me. If you purchased the UPC code the product listing and all sales should be yours. Not on Amazon. I believe this is why they make you purchase a UPC code, creating a universal product. And I worry that they are somehow usurping your copyright.
- “Fulfilled by Amazon” sellers get preference in every possible way. Amazon started a seller fulfillment center just over a year ago. Sellers have their products shipped directly to Amazon and Prime customers (who pay $79 a year to get two-day shipping) can have their order shipped for free. This is a huge incentive to have Amazon fulfill your orders. This also carries its own entire new set of problems including damaged merchandise, excessive returns, lots of negative feedback, and excessive drop shipping orders.
- Forced low shipping rates. Amazon assigns shipping costs, not you. Few buyers realize this about Amazon. If you are able to comply with the many requirements to choose your own shipping rate (photos, listings on a separate website with weight, receipts showing shipping costs, etc), you will still have to worry about someone else selling under your listing. When that happens, it usually recalibrates the shipping cost and you’re back to square one. If you have many products this will eat up your time.
Direct Website Sales
I hope that by reading this post you realize that my little family has actually had experience in selling online. Most of it has been negative. With your own website you can control every part of the buying experience for the buyer. You can also control every part of the selling experience because you are the seller. There are two problems with this type of selling and here they are.
- Getting customers. There are a lot of ways to lure customers away from Amazon or Google marketplace. (a) Sell a free e-book on Amazon where you get links back to your site. (b) List a few items on eBay at outrageous prices so they never sell. They each have a link to your website in the listing so people will go to your website to see if it’s cheaper. And it should be (in case you didn’t know that.) (c) Run a blog where you discuss everything about the industry you’re selling in and have lots of links back to your products for sale.
- Running an e-commerce website. It will take about a year to be up and running your own e-commerce website and handling all the pieces that that entails. (a) You’ll need a payment facilitator. Most people choose PayPal or Google Checkout. And there are a lot of people who are boycotting both payment methods. The other choice is a merchant account. Google it; they can be really cheap and a pleasant alternative to using PayPal or Google Checkout. (b) You’ll need a webmaster unless you plan on doing software updates, product listings, and image uploads yourself. It’s much cheaper to do it yourself and I highly recommend that you do. (c) You’ll need someone to handle orders and to streamline this process. Our family had been selling products hit or miss for over two years before we realized the beauty in using online shipping through USPS.com. Pick up several priority mail flat rate boxes from the post office (they are free). Keep them in a closet somewhere with your shipping supplies. When you receive an order, print the shipping label and pay for shipping directly on USPS’s site. Package it without weighing it and drop it off at the Post Office. That’s it. Shipping can become the most tedious part of the sales process if you are constantly weighing things.
There is a population growth problem in case you hadn’t noticed. Now that there are free markets, China has taken over most of the U.S. online marketplaces. They live in dormitories where they make no money so spending their entire day making items they sell for pennies is no problem. It’s a step up from their normal life. They will be your competition, not the other homeschooler next door.