Updated: For Artists, Comparing Etsy and Zazzle

About a year ago I wrote a post on my own experiences selling my original illustrations and cards on two online platforms, Etsy and Zazzle. It is a post that gets hits almost every day from readers – I presume, mostly artists like me. Then Zazzle changed their policies for the worse, and I deleted my account there. Now Etsy is also changing its policies, also for the worse for small business artists, so I’m updating this post to explain the new unfortunate wrinkle in Etsy’s policies.

Here is my initial post’s review of the two platforms:

My experience of ‘opening a shop on Etsy’ to display my Eagle Scout congratulations cards has been a very good one so far.  I would recommend Etsy to other artists, and I’ll explain why for me it is a better fit than another popular platform for selling product art, Zazzle.

At Zazzle you can also open a ‘shop’ page, but a big difference is that Zazzle actually does the production work on your items – whether you wish to sell your art printed on cards, t-shirts, mugs, etc.  So when someone orders your Zazzle item, it ships directly from Zazzle and you don’t see the finished product – therefore you cannot judge the quality of the print job. Because Zazzle does the heavy lifting of production and distribution, you, the artist, receive a very small percentage of the asking price.

With Etsy the artist herself has to have the products made and in stock, so she gets to monitor and approve the print quality – I like this aspect better even though it means I have to do the production myself. (I have a terrific printing partner in Cortineo Creative, here in my hometown of Doylestown.) When a buyer orders my cards, I receive the full asking price that I list on my shop page. Etsy also estimates, from a form I filled out on the dimensions & weight of my product, what the postage will be on the package, and that is added onto my asking price so the buyer pays that postage as well. Etsy provides a customized shipping label and packing slip that I can print out and put on the package; when Etsy deposits my earnings, they deduct the cost of the postage from my total earnings, since the buyer initially paid that postage cost to me.

The tradeoff in payment between the two is this: I can list my products on Zazzle for free; with Etsy there is a charge for each item in my shop. The charge is 20 cents per item per quarter of a year. So I do pay 80 cents per year for each individual card on Etsy – so far this seems like a good tradeoff, since I am being paid the full price of my cards. Another disparity is, Zazzle has a threshold you must pass before they will send you your earnings – I believe it is $50 – and it takes a number of sales to accrue that amount since you are making a small percentage of the payment on each purchase.  Etsy, on the other hand, deposits your earnings into your associated bank account once a week.

One other detail, on Zazzle, there is an option to allow your buying customers to ‘customize’ the item they are purchasing.  These custom changes range from changing the color of the t-shirt and ink color, to adding their own words to your design. While this may be attractive to buyers who want the item for a very specific purpose, as an artist I hesitate to let others adjust and modify my designs. I have complete control with my Etsy products since I do the production. On Etsy, if I offer one item in two or three different colors or other characteristics, I CAN list the variations as an ‘option’ under the main description of the product – but again, I myself have to maintain ALL the varieties of the options in stock, so I can fulfill orders quickly when they come in.

Also important, is, I have done no advertising at all – until this post – to promote my cards on Etsy and yet I’ve made a number of sales, and have received great reviews from my customers, without even soliciting reviews.

Update 01/03/19: When I learned about 2 other options with payment for Zazzle:

  1. Under your payment settings and the PayPal option at the top (in very small print) it says
    Note: For PayPal there is a minimum threshold of $50 to be paid automatically. If you have less than $50 balance after one month of sales, we will hold your funds for future use, or you may request a PayPal payment for a $2.50 fee. Payment will be made within 45 days.
  2.  And if you are purchasing an item from another Zazzle store, you may use your account’s  “Cleared Earnings” against the cost of the item you are purchasing, sort of like a store credit.

So those are two ways to ‘use’ your Zazzle earnings, other than waiting for a check when you reach the threshold.

Update 04/17/19: When Zazzle made an unfortunate change

I have now deleted my Zazzle store, mainly because they announced “accounts that have been non-contributing (that is, haven’t either (1) published a public product, or (2) had a Referral Sale attributed to that account) for the previous 15 month period will be charged a “Non-Contributing Account Fee.”  I don’t make enough through Zazzle to incur another fee, so I’ve cancelled

Etsy now has announced as follows: “Starting on July 30, 2019, items that ship free and shops that guarantee free shipping to buyers in the US on orders $35 and above will get priority placement in US search results. Shoppers in the US will primarily see items that ship free and shops that offer free shipping on orders of $35 in the top, most visible rows of search. We’ll also begin to prioritize these items wherever Etsy advertises in the US—in email marketing, social media, and television ads.”

Why am I very unhappy with Etsy’s policy change? Consider that currently Etsy takes 3.5% off the top of the selling price (which does not including the shipping fee) of each sale I make – this is their fee, which is a fair commission for the service they provide. If I bundle my shipping fee into my product cost (which would almost double the selling price of my cards) and offer ‘free shipping,’ obviously Etsy will make a bigger commission on each of my sales. 

So Etsy wants to make more money off my sales – that’s not a crime, but this is the wrong way to do it. Right now when my customers are about to make a purchase they see exactly what I charge for my items and exactly what they’ll pay in postage, and that kind of transparency is ideal for seller/buyer relationships. I would prefer Etsy be honest and just increase its commission percentage instead of squeezing small artisanal businesses to behave like Amazon, with ‘Free Shipping” as one of their big selling points. Etsy’s brand has never been ‘discount rates’, it has been ‘unique and handcrafted items’ which most buyers accept usually comes with a shipping fee.

Many other Etsy sellers have complained about the difficulty of estimating how much to bundle into their prices, to accommodate selling fees that vary wildly across the US, depending on whether the buyer is in an easily accessible city or out in a rural delivery address. If you notice some Etsy prices jumping up soon, but offering “free shipping,” you’ll know they are bundling in the shipping cost to get a better location on their search pages.

With my narrow margins I can’t afford to absorb shipping costs for my cards. If I bundle my shipping into my product price, my prices will look absurdly high and I’ll certainly lose customers. And if I don’t, my products will be buried under lots of pages of ‘free shipping’ sellers. It’s a lose-lose for me and other sellers who like to be up-front with their customers.

Etsy really has been an excellent platform, but this change is really a step down for the buyer-customer relationship. For now I am keeping my AchillesPortfolio products and prices the same and customers can clearly see what their shipping cost will be before they click to finalize their order, though I might be more difficult to find on the site.