Due to the recent revelations regarding EU Vat tax laws, Payhip is a relatively new player on the field of digital downloads. Store owners with a focus on digital goods, who have discontinued sales to the EU thanks to burdensome tax requirements, have this new (affordable) means by which to deliver digital content. There are no start-up or monthly fees and only a small 5% commission on each sale, and Payhip collects and remit VAT on behalf of its sellers. The tax burden is no longer yours to bear!
Their website is user friendly if you are happy with the platform provided. However, there are (limited) options for customizing the appearance of your listings if you have some familiarity with .css code. The interface is very clean and professional and there are no large banners with which to content or detract from ones personal brand. There is, however, no shopping cart and no means by which you can categorize items. If you have less than a dozen digital offerings, this may seem inconsequential, but for those with a large catalog of items, this may prove a burdensome shopping experience for customers.
Payhip does, however, promise that a shopping cart is in its near future, though dates promised keep appearing and disappearing without results. And for those with a stand alone website, the lack of categories may not be an insurmountable obstacle. The price is right and, for those who intend to become and remain VAT compliant it is, so far, the best solution I've found.
Storenvy offers something few other platforms deliver, which marked it, for me, a superior selling option. Though their audience is small, and their marketplace rarely drove traffic, the customization of stores allowed business owners an opportunity to take control of their branding via an affordable platform.
This year, Storenvy turned its attention away from their customizable platform, shifting its focus towards its lack-luster marketplace and began charging a 10% commission (plus 3% credit card processing fees) on all sales generated through a Storenvy.com search. These fees were intended to be used in marketing and site improvements, but their business plan was never disclosed to users. The shopping cart and checkout process, specifically when utilizing the custom store front (not to be confused with the checkout system associated with the marketplace) became increasingly riddled with errors regarding which support was, in my experience, entirely dismissive. Customers were easily navigated from a custom store to the marketplace via links conveniently placed during the checkout experience, thus converting custom store sales into marketplace sales, and generating a 10% commission (for those who opted in to the marketplace experience).
Storenvy also changed payment processors from PayPal to Stripe and were not entirely transparent during this transition. Though stores open prior to the implementation of Stripe were "grandfathered" in and allowed to continue their use of PayPal, many were confused by the process and ended up with funds from new transactions held in "placeholder" Stripe accounts created on their behalf (and without their permission) by Storenvy. The only way to access these payments were by creating a Stripe account or cancelling the transactions and waiting 21 days for the refunds to process. Though there are different accounts regarding the nature of the confusion encountered by many users, it was my experience that Storenvy handled the situation in an (at best) unprofessional and (at worst) underhanded manner. Stripe is now the default payment processor for new store owners who, I should note, can continue to use their customizable store fronts free of charge, and may opt out of the marketplace and its 10% commission.
Because of the unreliability of its checkout, the high commission and corresponding lack of features to justify these fees, and the slow response time and inadequacy of support, I no longer recommend this platform for business owners. However, they do offer a free, customizable store front, which might paint a pretty picture for those testing the waters of branding independent of an online marketplace.
Digital Goods Store
Another player in the digital downloads game is Digital Goods Store. This platform has a longer history than Payhip, and also handles VAT on behalf of its sellers. The difference is a higher commission of 10%. This commission includes PayPal fees, which are paid by the platform and may, on the surface, seem convenient to many but, in the end, still prove higher than those set forth by Payhip.
Their platform is elegant and clean. Creating an account, accessing the dashboard and listing new products are all easy and no fuss. The storefronts are professional but include Digital Goods Store banners, which aren't conducive to business branding, and there are no real noteworthy customizable options. There is no shopping cart, nor ability to categorize, so this platform presents the same complications of Payhip. However, they have suggested they might allow physical products in the future. Should EU Vat laws extend to physical products (which is promised as early as next year), this may be one of the only affordable options for store owners who would like to continue to sell into the EU without the burden of collecting and paying VAT tax.
Their fees are reasonable, and the platform is elegant and easy to use, but the lack of categorization and shopping cart is something to consider for those with more than a handful of products. They are currently not accepting new sign-ups while they improve their site to handle the VAT regulations, so some features discussed that were not previously in place may be implemented upon the launch of the new site.
Quite frankly, the dashboard was such a mess that I gave up attempting to navigate it before I could even successfully set my payment methods and email preferences. Store fronts lack customization with an appearance that is, at best, utilitarian. They have a ridiculous number of pricing plans and none of them include an "unlimited" option. Though it's most expensive option ($100/mo) includes 2000 products, there is still a cap on data storage. I was not impressed enough by anything this platform offered to invest more than a few hours of painful navigation.
IndieMade is a platform with the heart of an artist. Keeping in mind that this site is a platform and not a marketplace, it's an easy means by which artists can build a brand without the fuss of building a site. Though this isn't the easiest of the "all in one" site building platforms I tested, it has a beautiful, though extremely limited, selection of themes, created for their finesse and elegance. If you are looking for a "buy buy BUY" storefront, with in-your-face sales tactics, this is not the platform for you.
All IndieMade themes are customizable with color and font, though I did have some difficulty creating page elements. Because it's interface is so clean, it's sometimes impossible to find what you need! I found that, once I navigated away from my site, it was difficult to determine how, exactly, to access its dashboard and make changes to the theme.
The tiered plans are all affordable, but there is a product limit of 300, including both physical and digital goods. All plans include galleries, a blog and individual site pages, as well as a fully functioning shopping cart and store front, but the number of allowable galleries, pages and product shift between plans. Custom domain integration is available on the more expensive plans. If you have the patience to learn the interface, and have less than 300 products, this is a lovely platform to use to build a custom site, but may prove lacking for stores with a large inventory.
Squarespace is another platform (not a marketplace) with photographers and artists in mind. This all-in-one website solution features everything you need to build a web presence. The dashboard functions in much the same way as Weebly's drag-and-drop interface, but the theme selection is, I feel, too thin. However, because so many elements of the site are customizable, the lack of theme options may not be a hindrance to most, and the theme selection is comprised of elegant and professional templates. Custom domain integration is also a feature they provide.
The pricing is comparable to other all-in-one platforms and is inclusive of an unlimited tier at $24/mo. The templates are all mobile-optimized, and responsive, so each theme will resize to fit whatever device from which it is being viewed. This is prime internet real estate for photographers and artists and their images, showcasing their work in the best possible format. The templates all include a full e-commerce solution, offering checkout for physical and digital goods, though the only payment method available is via Stripe. According to their support team, PayPal integration may be on the table in the future. They also offer 24/7 support, which I found to be responsive and informative. Even utilizing their support ticket system, their responses were timely, within 24 hours every time, though usually answered in less than 6 hours.
For seasoned site builders, WordPress is the be-all, end-all of all-inclusive website options. The hosted version of WordPress comes complete with hundreds of possible, customizable themes, though the level of customization is often limited without a purchased pro template, and even then, the customization is not always easy, nor automatic, and often requires a moderate working relationship with .css and .php code.
The dashboard is not as clean as other solutions, but still easy to navigate, and the number of available free and paid plug-ins can convert most themes into individual, representative websites. The free woocommerce e-commerce solution, however, was a nightmare to set-up, was far too bloated for my needs, and tested my patience to the point that I completely dismissed it as a viable option.
Pricing depends on hosting options. Through Bluehost, the montly hosting fee was $9.99, with additional fees for SSL certifications, domain privacy and other features. Despite the hidden fees for features you'll find you need, this was still the most affordable of all the stand-alone, all-in-one options, however, was not, by any means, the easiest to use.
Weebly is the last of the all-in-one platform options I tested, and was, ultimately, my favorite. Like Squarepace, Weebly utilized a user-friendly drag-and-drop interface that allows most themes to be easily transformed to fit any personal needs. For those who prefer to avoid the extra customization, however, the number of available "out of the box" themes were plentiful.
Though the pricing put this as the most expensive all-in-one web-building option, with the most expensive plan at $29.95/mo (this fee was lowered with yearly and two year payment options), I found it came with the most customization. This plan will accommodate an unlimited number of physical and digital products while maintaining a very no-fuss checkout experience. The themes are (depending upon the plan) all-inclusive, with an unlimited number of pages, galleries or data storage. The starter and business plans include custom domain integration, either with a domain purchased via a third party or through the Weebly platform itself (which is the more expensive of the two options). The business package also offers a custom SSL ticket that keeps customers entirely within the confines of your own site. Otherwise, the shopping cart is (and it's very subtle) moved to a weebly.com SSL secure checkout.
I found that support tickets are answered timely, but they do not offer 24/7 phone or live chat support, which may not be preferable for large e-commerce websites. However, the support staff is very friendly and very eager to help. Support tickets are often followed up with other emails to make sure the service was adequate, which I appreciate.
Of the platforms detailed here, only Storenvy offers a marketplace with internal traffic, but the fees, poor support and buggy checkout experience may prove problematic for many. All other e-commerce, branding solutions presented in this article are for platforms, with a focus on branding a stand-alone web presence, and without marketplace solutions.
Though the focus of this review isn't to discuss the necessity for a stand-alone web presence, I strongly encourage these platforms over marketplace solutions, simply for the all-inclusive branding options they provide.
If you have any questions regarding the platforms I've reviewed here, or have any platforms you have had personal experience with and would like to discuss, please feel free to leave a comment!
Selling Platforms: A Review
n October 22, 2013
Etsy is, by far, the most recognizable of selling platforms, especially for handcrafted goods, though have recently changed their policies regarding content. Etsy does not charge monthly site fees, utilizing instead a $.20 listing fee and 3.5% commission, which are paid manually on a monthly basis. Listings expire every 4 months.
In the last two years, Etsy has altered their search options, and “recently listed” is no longer the default. This means, listing regularly and often for exposure no longer results in the same sales. Large shops with more disposable income often flooded the search with products constantly re-listed, while small shops were swallowed in the mass listings. However, since Etsy now invites manufactured product, the small business owner is equally likely to experience a lack of exposure. If you generate your own traffic, these changes are less likely to directly affect you, but if you generate your own traffic, there are also far more affordable solutions.
The site is pleasant in appearance, with a professional “image”. The “handpicked” featured front-page items are generally photographed and constructed well. Though this “juried” hand-pick process often relegates less established shops to the shadows, the quality images do, admittedly, draw customers to search and buy. Individual stores are not customizable. Direct downloads are available, with what appears to be little fuss. As with Artfire, there are multiple payment processing options, ideal for those who would prefer a PayPal alternative. This platform offers coupon options, maintenance and vacation mode and bulk edit.
In the forums, the staff interacts politely and professionally with consumers and shop owners, but usually with cookie cutter response, and without any real meaningful discourse.
Focus is all-inclusive!
Site fees are higher, at a promotional $12.95 per month (normally $20). There are no listings fees or commissions. Though fees were partially (and supposedly) used to “advertise this site to buyers” (and note there is no mention of advertising the seller), the sales were, for me, entirely self-procured. The logo is large, distracting and designed to create a site-centric focus (not seller-centric), and the general design of the site is uninspired, lacking a modern appeal. The focus is all-inclusive!
The site is easy to navigate, and caters to a wide range of product, styles and price ranges. The product listings are nicely designed with sections dedicated for the description, materials used, shipping and additional product information and individual shop fronts are customizable in very limited ways. Shop owners are also provided their own imbedded blog, which is a pleasant perk. It seems that, once in a shop, the “search” function defaults to search the current shop, which is also an incredible feature. Direct downloads are not, I believe, currently available. This platform offers multiple payment options, coupon options, maintenance and vacation options and bulk edit.
The forums, in my experience, bred hostility, negativity and condescension, and the staff would often reply to questions or concerns in a manner entirely unprofessional, with foul language and bullying. The forums were trolled by “top sellers” who frequently (and carefully) advertised their “SEO How-To” and “Photography” manuals, and generally promoted a feeling of spam instead of helpfulness.
Handmade Artists’ Shop
Fees are exceptionally reasonable: $5 a month or $50 a year (savings of $10). There is no limit on the number of items you can list, and listings never expire. Focus is handmade! Their website experiences glitches. Direct downloads, though available, do not always send or are not always received with reliability. Clicking “Recent Products” (featured first on the home page), “Featured Artists” or “Handmade Highlights” can often re-direct to the home page. Possibly to blame is the presence of sold items, which remain as highlights. This wouldn’t necessarily pose a problem if it was easy to access the shop via the sold listing. However, a redirect complicates a search for similar items by the same artist or owner. The site logo is pleasant and unassuming, with a focus on products and stores. The product listing side bar is not, in my opinion, well designed. The “Shop Owner” name is large, but directs to a profile instead of the shop home page. This seems redundant since “Profile” is also an option beneath the owner name, while “Store Home” is a small link above. While not problematic, exactly, if you prefer a look more streamlined, this storefront may not appeal.
The site, as a whole is easy to navigate and generally pleasant. Search categories are alphabetized and easily accessible. The forum is friendly and inviting. My experience there was one of helpfulness and encouragement. Andrew and Kimberly (owners) were, in my opinion, quick to help, address site-related concerns and were good-spirited.
With an estimated 600 shops, the products range from high end to quick and affordable gift ideas. The atmosphere fosters creativity, but may not best be suited to those who have a particular “high end” web presence or “juried” expectation in mind. There is no, from my experience, requirements as regards image or product quality, and this site suits a wide range of artists and product. There is very limited internal traffic and sales, generally speaking, result from the efforts of individual storefronts and less from the promotional efforts of the platform.
Free to join and list, sell fine art or photography prints and products on RedBubble. Upload an image and RedBubble will print, package and ship the item when a purchase is complete. They provide a base price for each type of print or product, and the seller chooses their mark-up value. Where materials and overhead were previously included in your cost of doing business, they now become obsolete via the RedBubble platform. Payment is remitted for sold items (I believe), once a month.
Though this isn’t the most affordable option for the customer, with a higher base price and seller mark-up, the products are of a lovely quality and the website represents this quality well with a very modern, portfolio web presence. The search is easy, with oodles of eye candy. Though I’m not sure if this feature still exists, account holders were also able to upload original fiction, poetry and artwork (not otherwise for sale) for comments and discussion within the RedBubble community, which remains a feature I found particularly appealing. Traffic and sales were, in my experience, entirely self-procured. This platform is better suited to those who want to “set it and forget it”.
Hate it in every possible way. Wont buy there. Wont sell there. The fees are outrageous and, as an indie or handcrafted business, it’s impossible to compete with mass production with a yard-sale mentality. The storefronts are functional, but not attractive. The checkout process is PayPal dependent and the favored option to place a “bid” (instead of the immediate gratification of a “buy now” purchase) is patience-withering and often results in paying more for a product than the product is worth. eBay is no friend to the handcrafted ideology unless that ideology also includes making no money.
Focus: Everything under the sun. Plus the sun. Made in China.
Motto: If you want to become the victim of a crime….
Regarded as the perfect alternative to Etsy, Bonanza sports 3.5% transaction fees on the first $500 plus 1.5% on any remaining transaction balance, with a $.50 minimum. Fees are paid manually once a month or automatically for every $100 of final value fees accrued within a month. Which is too complicated for my tired artist brain. Otherwise, there are no membership, monthly or listing fees.
The site has a beautiful classic look, and easy search, but is not utilized well. Storefronts are called “booths” and are fairly generic with no customizing options. Re-selling is the name of the game here, generally speaking, and If I never see another Louis Vuitton “vintage” listing, it will be too soon. The front page consists of a collection “curated” by a user, and usually consists of 20 blue items, 20 Gucci watches, or 20 babies in lion costumes. Not incredibly creative and, in my opinion, tiresome for the consumer.
Products range from cheap dollar store finds to overpriced $5000 bulk iPhone parts, and everything in between. Digital downloads are currently unavailable. Booths are equipped with “live chat” options, but sellers are rarely available. The forums proved to be unhelpful and dull with generic “ask support” responses, indicative of a lack of presence by site staff.
By far my personal favorite, and the best experience I’ve had with a selling platform, Storenvy is entirely free. No membership fees. No monthly fees. No listing fees. No final value fees. To keep this service free, features you might have enjoyed on other platforms are now “extra” services which require purchase. Though a single generic coupon option is available, “super discounts” are available with purchase. Custom domains are also available for $5 a month. As with Artfire and Etsy, a Facebook app is easy to integrate. Listing product is easy and relatively fuss-free, but basic. Direct downloads are currently only available through a third party app which, in my opinion, charge high fees for unreliable service. PayPal is the only payment option.
The site has a new “portfolio” front page, featuring editors picks. This doesn’t thrill me, and is not particularly helpful for those who rely on internal traffic. The focus is indie-centric, and the platform hosts more than 50k stores. The default search sorts by “popularity”, and I honestly haven’t discovered what determines the popularity of a listing. If you appreciate the Pinterest platform, Storenvy will definitely appeal. Storenvy “Marketplace” sales (ie site search), for me, have been fairly nonexistent, but that was never my audience. If you generate your own traffic, however, free is where it’s at.
The storefronts are completely customizable, with two available free themes, and dozens of others affordably priced by individual designers. I’m told by Adam (Director of Community) that direct downloads and more themes are on the honey-do list.
Currently, the forum has been disabled but was, admittedly, not very user-friendly to start and seemed to encourage a promotional philosophy. Less discussion, lots of self-promotion. There are a couple amazing Facebook Storenvy communities I would suggest if you like the forum interaction. Storenvy staff are very good at responding to questions or concerns, either via their contact forms or Facebook message and have, in my experience, followed up after tickets or complaints are placed and addressed.
Please note: These reviews are based only on personal experience and in no way represent a wider public opinion. Many of these experiences occurred one or more years ago and these platforms may have since improved or degraded their service. I invite each of you to test these services for yourself, and share your experiences and opinions in the comments below.
On March 18, 2013
Fabulustre, used in conjunction with a buffing wheel, gently buffs light scratches and polishes metals to a high shine. Advertisements recommend a muslin wheel and promises minimal clean-up and dust, with excellent results expected on most metal surfaces and some plastics. Though available in large and small sizes, my supply arrived in a 5″ cardboard tube (depicted), with a disposable cardboard lid which, once removed, I found impossible to re-insert. The package, however, requires no special storage requisites.
Upon arrival, the compound was surprisingly solid, a density which seemed unintentional at first, and I almost mistakenly returned the product. Never fear fellow noobs, it’s perfectly normal for your polishing compound to be hard enough to bludgeon someone to death! Or, like me, drop it and break a toe. So…. don’t drop it. And, you know, don’t bludgeon anyone.
I used a wool wheel with my Dremel, turned it on, pressed it against the surface of my compound, then to my piece, and voila! It turned a really ugly black (note the wheel depicted). BUT, it’s supposed to. The wheel, not the metal. If the metal turns black, increase your Dremel speed and you’ll see that beautiful shiny surface peek through in seconds. Take the before (top) and after (bottom) pictures provided, and the luster is immediately distinguishable. Polish works equally well on bronze, brass, copper and fine silver, though I’ve yet to test this on a silver-filled wire. A slight sheen of dust to wipe off the surface….of the metal, my glasses, the counter, the inside of my mouth (I think I sneezed dust for 45 minutes)…. and you have a beautiful piece of polished jewelry. To be fair, the dust was more likely due to the wool wheel than to the compound, so I recommend a cotton wheel for use with this product.
For the low price of $6.95, this product will last FOREVER. I can’t imagine a day in which I wont still have this same tube of Fabulustre polishing compound tucked within my supplies. A finish four months old still shines, which speaks towards the longevity of the process and the quality of the product as a whole. Though, if I’m honest, and despite its ease of use, I much prefer a nice polishing cloth and to call it a day. I find the luster of this compound artificial when used on heavily woven areas, with a look that was completely unnatural, like foil, though larger coils and bare wires were luminous. If weaving excessively, I recommend a tumbler for your polishing needs instead. Better yet, just let the metal do its thing and appreciate the beauty of its own natural processes. I’m a purist at heart.
On August 11, 2012
Liver of Sulfur is a potassium sulfide mixture used in the creative community to oxidize, prematurely, fine or sterling silver, or copper bearing metals, including bronze and brass. Though available as a water-soluble solid, the Liver of Sulfur Extended Life Gel settles well into the metal or wire working worlds, more convenient in both time and expense, than its dry versions.
Unlike solid versions, the Liver of Sulfur XL (extended life) Gel is crafted for versatility and ease of use. It’s shelf life is far more impressive than it’s dry counterpart, and less likely to degrade in light or air, thanks to its easily stored screw-top or flip-top bottles.
The odor, though pungent, is harmless when properly prepared for use in well-ventilated areas. Purchased from Monster Slayer, the gel was thick and requires mixing pre-use. If left untended, the gel begins to settle and harden in a insoluble layer so, though its potency lasts much longer than the dry versions, still requires some attention.
The gel, as purchased from Monster Slayer in 4 oz containers with screw-top lids, was easy to use, requiring a small dipstick of gel mixed with water. A gel and hot water solution results in instant antiqued gratification, with deep and complete patina. It was my experience pre-mixed solution only sustains potency for twelve hours before discard becomes inevitable.
The gel may also be heated and painted on surfaces, though I found my supply woefully inadequate in this regard. Not only was this process messy, but neither heating the surface nor the gel granted me patina of any real notable depth when painted. However, the liquid solution was entirely successful in all regards.
Having also purchased a flip-top bottle of Liver of Sulfur Gel from Beaducation, I can attest to, without hesitation, the superiority of its screw top counterparts. The flip-top bottles seemed convenient and easy for storage, but leaked if on its side. Also, drips were harder to contain with the flip-top variety (ironically), than with a screw-top container, which allows for a greater area over which you can transfer and control the gel. Also, the Beaducation gel was inferior in potency, requiring more gel in less water to attain the same level of patina as with a less gel/more water solution from Monster Slayer.
The Monster Slayer gel proved itself remarkably resilient, attaining a shelf life of more than fourteen months while maintaining the same level of potency as its first use. I can easily recommend this product and this company for a reliable source of oxidization for those willing and ready to experiment beyond the frustrations of boiled eggs.
Have fun experimenting and happy weaving!
Product Review: Silver-Filled Wire
On August 11, 2012
Silver-filled wire is marketed as a precious metal alternative, providing the results of sterling silver at a reduced cost, and has moved through the artisan community with a quiet speed, gaining popularity every day, while the price of sterling silver fluctuates at an unpredictable pace. Silver-filled wire is 10% sterling plate mechanically heat bonded to a brass or copper-alloy core, with a layer of silver a hundred times thicker than most commercial silver plated metals, allowing the artist more workability as a sterling product with greater design options. I’ve had the opportunity to use this wire for a while now, and though I find it a suitable, even preferable, alternative to an enameled copper wire, craft wire or sterling plated copper, I think it falls short of a sterling or fine silver replacement.
This is not to say I’m not happy to share this product with customers. Silver-filled wire oxidizes well with Liver of Sulfur Extended Life Gel (review soon), buffs to a nice shine and wears very well. Information about this product states it can be soldered, though I’ve not had the opportunity to test this claim. It does not ball well when torch-heated, and carries thick fire scale when attempted, due to it’s copper alloy base, so this is a design element I’ve yet to enjoy with this wire. The half-hard holds it’s shape well, provides sufficient “spring” for ear wires, and doesn’t seem to effect sensitive skin in a negative manner.
I do recommend, however, special care be taken with oxidization and subsequent buffing. If you choose to oxidize, use a low temperature heated water and Liver of Sulfur solution. Better to dip multiple times than strip your piece of its plating. A gentle hand is required when buffing. A heavy handed steel wool buffing can quickly remove plating, reveal the brass beneath and result in a brown soiled or smudged finish. Though manufacturers try to market this as a bi-metal effect great for engraving, I find it unattractive.
Overall, this wire is best suited for those who appreciate an oxidized silver look without the cost of sterling, especially when buying in bulk, or for hobbyists. But for those with dollars to spare, I recommend (and prefer) sterling or fine silver. When considering the little savings, 1/10th the silver, and given it’s inherent shortcomings, seems hardly sufficient.
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