online store and retail

Pros and cons of ArtFire and other handmade online marketplaces

In the last few years and following a high-profile  IPO in April 2015, Etsy has entered the popular imagination as a quainter alternative to Amazon. However, instead of books, music, and various household items from large corporations, Etsy features products that are usually handmade by the sellers. Offerings include everything from handmade jewelry to paper goods to clothing — basically, it’s the go-to market place to find Christmas gifts for your friends who already have just about everything.

However, even before its boost in popularity with the IPO, many small-scale and new artisans complained that the site had become oversaturated with sellers. If you find yourself among those would-be Etsy shopowners who are wary of using the site — or you’re a former Etsy customer who is looking to support smaller businesses, you’re in luck.

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Etsy is no longer the only online marketplace available to artists and artisans.

If you’re in search of an alternative online retail space where you can sell your handmade items or you’re a buyer in search of the perfect gift — like crocheted socks or bespoke greeting cards — look no further. Here we’ll explore several alternatives to Etsy that offer unique benefits for artists and craftspeople looking to sell their creations


First on the list of Etsy alternatives is If the name is familiar, it’s likely because ArtFire’s profile increased after a change to Etsy’s “Do’s and Don’ts” that seemed to open up Etsy’s platform to the sale of mass-produced goods. While Etsy has since specified that sellers must be transparent about how goods are made, it was an action that scared some low-volume sellers and drove them to search for new places to sell their wares. ArtFire was where many of them ended up.

Founded in 2008 by John Jacobs, is one of the most popular Etsy alternatives available. It’s popularity is largely due to its easy-to-understand pricing, as well as its active user community — both online and in real life. In fact, with headquarters located in the Tucson Arts District, ArtFire actually partners with the local community to offer a creative destination that supports artists and other local small businesses in the area.

That emphasis on community continues into the online space, as ArtFire also places a strong emphasis on categorizing sellers by type and size. Like Etsy shopowners, ArtFire sellers are split into different categories (Handmade or Design, for example).

However, while Etsy only breaks its sellers into three main categories — handmade, vintage, or craft supplies — ArtFire has an added filter that allows buyers to shop stores based on the size of the merchant. For instance, larger stores are found in the “Supply” or “Commercial” categories, and kept out of the handicraft-specific sections. As a result, ArtFire can truly be a boon for both the buyers who are looking to support small businesses, and the small scale sellers themselves.

In addition to its emphasis on helping small business owners, the site is known for its stellar customer service, as well as assisting sellers with marketing strategies, such as social media marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). ArtFire even has a toll-free number  sellers can call and talk to a human representative.

Finally, in contrast to Etsy, ArtFire customers don’t have to set up an account to buy items. Instead, they only need to input credit card and shipping information, which is one less barrier for sellers when it comes to making a sale.

While Etsy’s pricing  is uniform across the board — charging a listing fee of 20 cents for each product listing that is active for only four months and a 5% commission fee for every sale — ArtFire provides several pay tiers. This allows small-scale artisans to choose the plan that’s right for them based on their production output and sales volume.

For instance, at the entry level, a seller can choose a commission-only account , which allows for 24 active product listings at one time, and costs 9% per sale (including shipping and processing fees). For a $10 monthly fee, sellers pay a lower commission rate (6%) for 500 listings. The $20 monthly plan offers a 3% commission rate and 1,000 listings.

Big Cartel

Next on the list of online marketplaces designed for artisans is Big Cartel, which bills itself as an “easy online store for artists and makers.” Founded in 2005, the site is especially geared toward artists and designers, with a particular emphasis on t-shirts, art, clothing, graphic prints, and jewelry.

Just like on Etsy, as a maker or creator on Big Cartel, you can set up your own store on the platform, and you can even choose from a variety of free themes to customize your shop. In line with its emphasis on design, the site boasts a clean, modern user interface that’s easy on the eyes — while the clearly elaborated pricing structure is easy to understand.

In fact, you can start a free trial with up to five products for free to make sure the site is the right fit for your business. Then, if you do decide to sell your wares, there are no listing fees. Instead sellers sign up to use the site in one of three tiers:

  • Platinum: $9.99 per month to list 25 products
  • Diamond: $19.99 per month to list 100 products
  • Titanium: $29.99 per month to list 300 products

The simple pricing makes it easy to customize the tier to your level of product output, and allows you to grow over time. As an added bonus, Big Cartel even offers more advanced online marketing and ecommerce functionality, such as Google Analytics tracking, as well as the ability to track your inventory and offer discounts and promos.

Next, we arrive at In contrast to ArtFire and Etsy, this site doesn’t charge commission fees, period. Instead — similar to Big Cartel — charges a one-time registration fee of $25 and a monthly subscription fee based on each seller’s number of products. Its current fee structure looks like this:

  • $5 per month for up to 50 items
  • $10 for up to 100 items
  • $15 for unlimited items

Beyond those subscription fees, doesn’t charge any listing fees or commissions on sales. However, sellers do have to follow a strict set of rules.

As the site focuses on fine art and crafts, one of its stipulations is that it doesn’t allow for the sale of art supplies, mass-produced items, or vintage products the way Etsy does. Instead, its restrictions dictate that each item must be handmade, that it cannot be a food or beverage, that the seller has to be its creator, and that the product must be brand new.

Sellers need to upload high-quality photographs of every item, and continually reviews its members online stores to ensure all listings are for high quality products that conform to its regulations.

In part, this vigilance is necessary because the site’s customer base is in the market for specific crafts, like handmade birthday cards or finger puppets, that might be hard to find elsewhere.

Amazon Handmade

Amazon is probably not a brand that immediately comes to mind when you think about handmade artisan goods. Usually, consumers associate Amazon with relatively inexpensive mass produced items that get to you quickly and conveniently.

In fact, it’s probably exactly the opposite of what most artists would consider the maker movement to be about. That said, since it launched, even the most militant makers have come to consider Amazon Handmade a legitimate and viable alternative to Etsy.

While it may not have the same artsy caché as Etsy or ArtFire, Amazon Handmade does have something you’ll need if you want to grow your business: reach. After all, there’s no denying that Amazon is one of the first places consumers go to buy, well, anything.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that Amazon Handmade is not a stand-alone site, and as such, your handmade products will face heavy competition from cheaper, mass-produced items. Additionally, the cost is significantly higher than the other platforms discussed above. Amazon Handmade sellers pay a $40 per month membership fee to list their items, as well as a 15% commission fee for each transaction.

Obviously, selling through a household name comes at a price, which may mean it’s not the best choice if you’re just starting out or only run your small business part-time with a low volume of product sales. However, if you want to scale your business beyond the limitations of the more niche creator sites, Amazon Handmade could be a great option for the evolution of your company.

Choose the best marketplace for your business

As many new online marketplaces have arisen in recent years, small business owners now have a variety of choices when it comes to how and where they decide to sell their goods. With a myriad of options available, it’s now possible to choose the platform that best fits your needs — both demographically and financially.

In fact, each of the platforms above provides access to its own particular niche audience for your handmade and vintage items, as well as different pricing and fee structures that can be customized to fit your sales and production volumes.

There are now more opportunities than ever to open your own online store, become a successful entrepreneur, and be the master of your destiny. So whether you choose to go with one (or a few) of the marketplaces listed above to showcase your unique product, know that opportunities await — so you better get crafting.

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