Late last year I started building a new website. I wanted something that I could use as a “calling card” for showing shops or galleries my work. I did quite a bit of research trying to find the right system for me. I wanted to share some my thoughts in case any of you were also looking for a new online home.
So Many Website Options!
When I started looking for website and shopping cart options, I found the sheer number available rather daunting. Some common ones include Big Cartel, Big Commerce, IndieMade, Shopify, Squarespace, Tictail, Volusion, Weebly, Wix, WordPress. (Those are the standalone options, not the “marketplace” options like Etsy, Dawanda, Zibbet, and ArtFire.) Luckily, I was able to trim down the list of contenders quite quickly by making a list of requirements.
If you make a list of what you need in a website, you’ll find it easy to weed out a number of options quickly. Here’s my list of requirements:
- Ability to list 100-200 items. IndieMade limits the number of products to 300. If you’re a huge shop, this won’t work for you.
- No marketplace. A marketplace puts your items and ones by other folks into a big mix for customers to sort through. I’m keeping my Etsy shop as my marketplace venue; I didn’t need a second one.
- No limits on what kind of items I can list. One of the reasons I started looking for an outside shopping cart was my Unexpected Findings book. Technically, the book isn’t “handmade” so it doesn’t fit with what is allowed to be sold on Etsy. In conversation with an Etsy employee, I did learn that I could list the book as a “craft supply.” However, this won’t help if I want to list some of my other publications such as an anthology about cats.
- A range of professional, easy-to-use design templates that I could customize. IndieMade does offer this, although I’d like a bit more customization than is currently offered. For example, it bugs me that I can change the color of the fonts in the footer, but I can’t adjust the size. Those links are so tiny! I’ve had to get creative for some of the features I’ve wanted. For example, I really like having a border around my images, but the template I’ve chosen doesn’t allow that. Instead, I’ve drawn a border around the images in Photoshop so I could get the same look. Overall, I’m pleased with the template options and I do love how easy it is to switch from one to another or just rearrange the order of the header links.
- Reasonable monthly fee, plus no extra fees for each listing or transaction. IndieMade fees range from $4.95 to $19.95. This seems to be a good middle range. Squarespace, for example, lets you list 20 products for $16 per month. Big Cartel, on the other hand, offers a completely free option for listing 5 items. Etsy fees can easily add up to hundreds of dollars a month, depending upon how much you list and sell.
- Ability to use my own domain. IndieMade allows this in some of its plans.
- Built-in shipping options. I love the ease of printing shipping labels on Etsy. IndieMade does not have this; you’ll need to use PayPal or usps.com for shipping. So far, this hasn’t been a problem, but if I had a higher volume store, it might be.
- Global editing features. I sell items with similar characteristics, which makes it a pain if I have to edit each file individually. IndieMade does not have this capability. If I decide that all my earrings should use brass ear wires instead of sterling silver going forward, I’d have to open each earring listing and make this change. If you sell one-of-a-kind work, this is less likely to be a concern for you.
- International shipping options. IndieMade has this. Honestly, I wouldn’t even consider any site that only offered U.S. shipping.
- Ability to add sales tax. This was another make-or-break deal. I have to collect sales tax for Colorado sales and it has to be easy to do so. IndieMade does allow this.
- Free trial period. IndieMade has a 30-day free trial. I’d stay away from any site that does not allow you to test the software before paying any fees.
- Ability to create custom pages. IndieMade lets you make up to 15 pages, depending upon your plan. I wish this number were higher. I’ve used quite a few custom pages already and I can see that this might be the reason I’ll outgrow the site in a year or two.
- Built-in shopping cart with PayPal. Additional payment options would be nice, but PayPal was my minimum requirement. IndieMade has this.
- Adequate customer service. I have pretty low expectations for online customer service, so this was a pleasant surprise. Customer service is an area where IndieMade really shines. If you email them, they’ll respond very quickly and personally. No form letters here! Also, if you do check out the help pages, you’ll find lots of helpful advice from employees in the comments section. This is clearly a company who cares about their product and providing good service.
As you can see, IndieMade met most of my requirements. As with anything, I had to compromise on a few factors, but overall, I’m pretty happy with the system. There were even a few nice bonus surprises. For example, I just learned that my new site is mobile friendly. I never even thought to look for that. (You can test out your own site using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.) Also, during the holidays, some employees put out a call for products to promote on Twitter and other social media. That was definitely “above and beyond” what you should expect from a website platform.
It’s worth noting that IndieMade also offers quite a few features that were not important
to me, but may be to you. For example, they include a blog and an
events calendar. You can also embed video and audio files, which I
don’t have a need for at this time. You can also import your Etsy listings into IndieMade if you want to completely move over your shop.
IndieMade could be an especially great platform for writers and authors, as well as jewelry designers and other handmade artists. Most authors I know go the custom website route, which can get very expensive if you have to pay someone to make tiny updates. The technical knowledge needed to do your own website (or have someone help you) is very minimal. There are boxes to type your text inside and formatting buttons that look like those you might have used in Microsoft Word or other word processing programs. Switching templates for a new look is just a simple click of a button.