Is this the year you plan on opening your first online jewelry store?  Or maybe it's time to scale up your micro-business and explore new avenues? Whatever your situation, there isn't a single one-size-fits-all online venue which suits everyone. It will depend on your goals and your needs. So here are some options for you to consider.  These do not constitute a comprehensive list. So please share in the comments if you have a favorite not mentioned here.

Be Clear and Honest about What You Want

  • what kind of site suits you at this point in your micro-business life
  • how much time and effort you are willing to devote
  • how much you are prepared to spend 
  • how capable you are with the behind-the-scenes things you need to do in setting up the site and using it
  • whether you want to be able to customize your store a great deal or are happy with a given template

I have divided the site options into 3 main categories.  The companies mentioned all operate on a global scale, most are based in the US.

I've included current global Alexa rankings which are measures of their traffic or popularity. The smaller the number, the higher ranked they are.

Every site has their own pros and cons, too many to cover for this post. So do some research and check them out thoroughly to see if any are a good fit for you.

Portfolio Based

Portfolio based sites simply showcase your work. There are no shopping carts. Artists and artisans share information about themselves, their contact information, artist statements  and show galleries of their best work.  Potential customers could then contact them to ask about purchasing and perhaps commissioning work.

You could set up a simple website from scratch but this is quite a task. even with help and it will cost you if you have to pay for help. There is also a cost to host your website as well the fee to secure your domain name. Then there is the cost of maintenance and upgrades.Having your own truly independent site puts the onus of SEO (search engine optimization) entirely on you whereas some marketplaces like Etsy do assist in that area. Consider other alternatives if going it alone is not palatable.

Website Builders
If your budget is limited, consider free, easy to use, website builders like Weebly  (Alexa : 227) or Wix ( Alexa : 377).  Yola  (32,745) is another option.  They offer simple templates as a starting point and for a small fee, change to a custom domain if you do not want others to see the company name in the URL. If you wish later on to integrate shopping carts, one cost effective way is to simply link to an existing store like Etsy. Both Weebly and Wix also provide shopping carts for additional fees.

Photo Sharing 
Other alternatives of portfolio based sites are the photo sharing ones especially if you take great photos.  Flickr (Alexa : 343) is a favorite of many polymer clay artists. In recent years, Flickr has been overshadowed by Instagram (Alexa : 15).  I've seen many artists and artisans share their email address and perhaps their online store link in the Instagram profile info at the top to help potential customers (or bloggers like me who might be wowed and are willing to write a feature. advertising).

Some people also use blogs which are dynamic versions of websites to feature their work.  You could also integrate Paypal or Shopify Buy buttons (see below) there.  Popular blogging sites include Google Blogger, and Tumblr.  Of these is the one many people struggle with as it is not as easy to learn to use.

Some people also use Facebook (Alexa : 3) to engage with potential customers. A very visual social media site means you are able to share images which are then assigned to photo albums. If a follower adores your designs, they could share with others and the potential of viral promotion is there.   You can also advertise through Facebook which has an enormous advantage as you are able to market to very specific audiences. This is indeed a powerful site. Not everyone is on Facebook but this juggernaut is literally too big to ignore (see top Facebook stats here).

A Facebook Page dedicated to your business should be set up which is preferably different from your personal profile.  Some small businesses operate under their owner names so this situation is a little tricky. If you use your personal profile like a business page then you will be constrained on how much personal stuff you want to share with non-family and friends!

Having a separate Facebook page means you can set up a Facebook Store. You can link your existing store easily to your page as I have done.  Click on my Facebook page -on the left, select Etsy store. Other powerful ecommerce store builders like Shopify (more below) also link to Facebook but with much more user control and options.

Craft Marketplaces

Craft marketplaces are online versions of craft malls.  Some of those featured here offer predominantly but not always exclusively handmade finished goods. See my 2012 post on A Day in Jewelry Selling on Etsy which shows you the relative proportions back then.

Many are not curated unlike some art jewelry sites so anyone can set up shop there. They are  good places to start if you've never opened an online store before as they are generally easy and quick to use. Plus you do not have to pay to host a website as it will be kept and maintained by these marketplaces. There is some customization - no coding experience is needed - but they will be limited.

Other criteria to look out for are whether the sites offer apps, seller tools, statistics, customer service and other services.

Etsy (Alexa : 189) is still the best known craft marketplace with huge traffic volumes and large numbers of sellers. The dissatisfaction with eBay, an auction site, led to its launch in 2005. Sellers pay $0.20 per listing for 4 months and a 3.5% transaction fee for items sold. The outlay for a seller with a small inventory is thus lower and might suit some over other marketplaces which have a monthly fee.

Some of the advantages of Etsy over its smaller rivals are the additional things they can offer on their platform like ads (promoted listings) and services like shipping labels. If being able to offer coupons is important to you, then factor that in.

In recent years, Etsy have broadened their handmade criteria in an effort to keep successful designers and attract others by allowing them to hire people or say use 3D printers to help with production. Many long time sellers are not pleased with the more than one pair of hands or  this "handmade in spirit" approach. But remember, Etsy is also a business and they face competition from other sites.

Many sellers get their start on Etsy and then move on to their own sites. So to keep them, Etsy now offers Pattern (at $15/month) for sellers who want a standalone store with their own domain name without having to upload the listings twice over.  The templates are simple and easy to use but what you can do with them is very limited.

Pattern offers what smaller craft marketplaces like Zibbet (Alexa : 118,136 , based in Australia) and Storenvy (Alexa : 7723) have already been doing - a choice between a custom store of your own as well as the option to also compete in their global marketplaces.

There are many alternatives to Etsy as you can see, they do not have the kind of traffic Etsy has.  That is not so say you shouldn't use those sites. Some may be more appropriate in terms of target audiences. For example, Dawanda (Alexa : 4407, based in Germany) focuses on Europeans. Or you might value their core principles for handmade more. Or prefer the communities there.

In terms of popularity, the Google Trends comparative results show that Etsy and Dawanda dominate in Google searches. Click the image below to view a larger one. (The spikes show interest in these marketplaces just before Christmas).

Fees range a great deal, so pay attention to the fine print! Zibbet is attractive because their basic shop 's flat fee of $4-5 per month for up to 50 listings and with no listing or transaction fees. On the flip side, they have far lower traffic numbers than Etsy. Storenvy do charge a transaction fee for personal stores but if you sell something in their global marketplace, they will take more - 10%.  Artfire (Alexa : 52,750) has changed their policies a lot over recent years.  The basic shop is now 23 cents per listing with a 9% transaction fee. (Alexa : 8) is the second largest online retailer in the world so the market potential is huge. Its newish Handmade at Amazon store within a store requires that designers apply to ensure products are handmade. Shoppers can search for and find such goods using handmade in the search term. If not, jewelry items will still turn up among other non-handmade ones.

Listings are free but Amazon will charge a commission of 12% of the item price. There is also a $39.99 monthly charge for these professional seller accounts. Their back end software is not easy to use and too daunting for most beginners. See what it is like here.  So this marketplace is best suited for experienced sellers looking to expand their market. Some handmade craft sellers there are known to still use Etsy for custom orders.

ECommerce on Steroids

Want to get a really professional site going with all the tools needed to help you get your business running smoothly and grow?  Then you'll need ecommerce website builders on steroids! They host for you and help out in many ways.

One of the fastest rising, powerful and easy to use is  Shopify (Alexa : 411, based in Canada).  It's used by small craft owners like the wire crochet or ISK designer, Yael of  Yoola Design and also by much bigger companies.

What you have is a lot of customization and integration which the smaller marketplaces just can't and don't offer.  There are many polished templates (some free, some paid) to choose from - with access to the HTML and CSS of your store so you can do more. You could hire someone to help you tweak one you like - it will be far less costly than starting from scratch.

They also have a huge number of apps and tools which you can add to improve the functionality of your store as you need them. For example, you can add a blog as well as notify your customers of upcoming sales or new products with their MailChimp email marketing app (for newsletters). You can also use Shopify to sell at craft shows using a free reader (like Square). Monitoring inventory is also there.

The integration of a Shopify store with Facebook is excellent as you can alter the visuals to your liking - in comparison, the Etsy app for Facebook is inflexible. What is more, this article shows how Shopify can also help you create a Facebook Buy Button where customers buy directly from their feeds! No need to leave Facebook at all.  They also offer similar buyable buttons for direct selling on Pinterest and Twitter.

A basic Shopify shop costs $29/month with transaction fees (see pricing structure). There is a cheaper option if you already have a website of your own that you are happy with.  But you'd like to use Shopify to sell through Facebook, even Messenger, sell at craft shows via credit card reader or embed a buy button (like Paypal) in your website, their Shopify Lite costs just $9 per month. You can sell an unlimited number of products through that.  Remember unlike their main Shopify, Shopify Lite does not give you a functional online store - just access to some of their e-commerce features.

Shopify seller support is 24/7.  This is critical for businesses. Such support could be less forthcoming with smaller sites. I've seen Etsy forums with complaints of slow responses to requests for help when something goes wrong.

You can also look at other alternatives such as  Big Cartel (Alexa : 2945) and  BigCommerce (Alexa : 4025). These offer similar sort of services but with some differences. But from the traffic data, Shopify is clearly more popular and interest continues to rise as shown in this comparative Google Trends result below (click image to see larger). It shows the results for google searches for Shopify, BigCartel and BigCommerce.

Note that due to the speed of technological changes and changing trends and policies as well as your own shifting priorities, selling sites like these need to be reviewed from time to time.

And remember, no matter which option you choose, great photographs and social media promotion are very, very important.

I do receive a small fee for any products and services purchased through affiliate links. I am now affiliated with Shopify. This goes towards the support of this blog and to provide resource information to readers. The opinions expressed are solely my own. They would be the same whether or not I receive any compensation.

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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