It has been about a year since I launched my online store in December of 2011. I think I have enough information now to write about it in the context of The Hourly Earnings Project. Weirdly, right up until I sat down to calculate this, I had no idea how this would turn out. All the work and all the income was spread out in bits and pieces over 13 months, I really didn't have any sense of how well the store was doing.
I chose BigCartel to build the store and shopping cart. I know that Etsy is a far more popular venue, but BigCartel fits my needs much better. I like that BigCartel offers a low-end free version, and that their not-free versions charge a flat monthly fee, rather than taking small percentages of my listings and sales like Etsy. I like the simplicity of that. I also like that BigCartel allows me to design my store to look like my own brand.
But here's the real meat of why I chose BigCartel over Etsy ... I really wasn't all that comfortable (and still am not) about selling a pot to a customer who hasn't seen it in person. I had a frustrating experience a few years ago when I tried to help a customer buy a pot via email. Although I had given her the dimensions of the pot in inches, once she received it she thought it was too small, and wanted to return it. This made me realize how many factors need to be communicated, and that it's not easy across the internet. The idea that the pots I sell online might not meet the customer's expectations is not ok with me.
Therefore, I wasn't interested in the customer base that Etsy could deliver to my store. My store is targeted only to my existing customers, who would like to purchase something when I am in between shows. The only people who receive any advertisements about the store are subscribers to my mailing list and Facebook fans. And my Store Policies page says:
"All sales are final. No returns or exchanges. I'd much rather sell you pottery in person at one of my shows, or have you visit one of my gallery partners, where you can thoroughly appreciate and inspect all of the qualities of handmade pottery before deciding to buy. But I understand that modern times require me to sell online as well. I ask you please do not make purchases from this store unless you are really sure."
Now that I've explained that my intentions for my online store are probably different from most artist's stores, let's get to the Hourly Earnings calculation. Here are the tasks that I counted when I timed myself:
• All of the same "making pots" tasks that I counted for the other Hourly Earnings calculations
• Building the online store
• Updating the online store
• Packing and shipping the orders
Before too long, I was able to pack/ship/account for an order of one pot in less than 15 minutes. For orders with multiple pots, it would take a little longer, but never more than 30 minutes. It seemed like a lot of work for selling one or two pots at a time, compared to the sales volume of wholesaling and art festivals. Was it? Keep reading.
I added up the gross sales of the pottery plus the shipping fees I collected. From that, I subtracted the following expenses:
• Shipping costs
• Paypal fees
• BigCartel fees
• Clay used
• Shipping boxes used
Just like all the other Hourly Earnings calculations, I did not subtract expenses that I could not quantify, such as packing materials, glazes, equipment use and maintenance, and utilities.
I made $31.60 per hour with the online store.
In other words, the online store yielded an Hourly Earnings figure in the same range as retail art festivals. In that sense, I am pleased. The time that I spent on this was not a waste of time. But in terms of the overall importance to my pottery business, here's another perspective: my gross sales from the online store over 13 months was less than I typically make at one weekend art festival. Also, out of the 13 months that the store existed, it was empty for 6 of those months, because I was busy with shows and wanted to have all of my inventory at the shows.
So I've decided that it is worth continuing. Overall, it yielded as much income as a somewhat-below-average art festival, and the time and effort required was a good match for the yield.
But I am going to make some changes going forward, now that I have some clearer bearings about how it works, and where it ranks on my priorities. I am going to downgrade my BigCartel account from the $9.99/month plan to the low-end free version. BigCartel allows me to upgrade and downgrade my account on a month-to-month basis, which is another reason why I chose them. I think that I only need the free version from now on. This means I will only be able to list five items for sale at a time. I'm willing to live with that. I will try to keep the store stocked all the time, not just when I'm in-between shows. And in the banner announcement that greets visitors to the store, I'll instruct customers to contact me if they are looking for a specific item they saw at a show. That's one thing that's not going to change, I'm still only targeting my existing customers who have already seen my pots in person. And finally, just during the month of December, I will upgrade my BigCartel account again, so I can list a whole bunch of items for the holiday shopping crowd. I'll leave open the possibility that I'll do that for one or two other months of the year, but for now the plan is to only do that in December. After all, more than two-thirds of my online sales so far were made during the last two Decembers.
Here is the bar chart from the Ceramics Monthly article that shows all of the Hourly Earnings calculations, only now I've added another bar for the online store.