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Where to Sell Your Art Online

Creating art is a journey. So is selling it. Even the most talented artists can struggle to sell their work on their own. Unfortunately, there’s no single path or guaranteed step-by-step approach to sell your art online as an artist. We wish there was. The good news is that the digital age has created unprecedented opportunities to reach potential buyers directly through online art marketplaces like Etsy and Artrepreneur or your personal website.  However, to capitalize on this access to sell your art online, you need to understand the differences between personal stores and larger online marketplaces. This article will help you ask the right questions and have the tools you need to determine the pros and cons of both.

Online Art Marketplaces vs. Personal Store

There are two primary ways to sell your art online: through a personal store, usually on a personal or company website, or in an online art marketplace, where you are one of many artists selling artwork. At first glance, most artists would probably prefer selling from their own store since there is no competition and they would have full control over how their site looks and feels. Plus, there are no commissions on sales, so artists can keep all the profits. However, there are also downsides for you when selling through your own store that doesn’t exist when selling through an online art marketplace. Here are a few things to consider before deciding to use an online art marketplace, a personal website, or both when selling your art online.

Development Time and Costs

Building a personal site can be costly and take significant development time to get up and running properly. While website platforms, like Shopify, have made creating personal or company websites a lot easier, that doesn’t mean building one is easy. If you have the necessary skills you can build the site yourself, otherwise, you may need to hire a web developer. Online art marketplaces may be more competitive than a personal store but are easier to manage while attracting more potential buyers and collectors. The average web developer hourly rate is around $80 but those rates can vary wildly.

sell your art online
Online art marketplaces may be more competitive than a personal store but are easier to manage while attracting more potential buyers.

On the bright side, you won’t need to hire a developer from your local area as website development can easily be done remotely. Many developers will also charge a monthly maintenance fee to maintain and update your store. Future changes may also require paying the developer additional fees. If you do hire a developer, be sure that the process for adding and removing art is simple and can be done by you without the help of the developer. An online marketplace, on the other hand, will get your artwork out for sale faster. The process is usually simple with minimal setup fees, if any, and doesn’t require the need for a developer. Uploading or removing artwork and changing the artwork details is pretty straightforward. However, you won’t have much control over the look and feel. As well, some online art marketplaces only allow works over a certain price and may have high sales commissions, increasing the costs of membership over time. However,  those costs must be weighed against the access to a larger market of potential buyers and collectors.

e-Commerce Features

There are several robust e-commerce solutions for personal stores. Connecting to a secure merchant account, such as Stripe, so that buyers can pay with a credit card, allowing customer account logins and guest checkout, one-click refunds, inventory and order management, email templates, and customer notifications, are just a few of the features that customers expect from an online store. The breadth of features depends upon the platform. WooCommerce for WordPress is one of the most feature-filled e-commerce solutions with dozens of add-ins that can enhance the user experience and make it easier for you to manage sales and connect with customers. However, while having an abundance of features, WooCommerce will be more difficult to deploy than a simpler platform, like SquareSpace, with longer development times and cost. Shopify is a favorite for many artists because it has a variety of features and is relatively simple to build and maintain. However, its simplicity also means that there are limited options compared to WordPress.

An online art marketplace is generally simpler with a limited number of features as compared to a personal store but for many artists, simpler features are sufficient to sell their work. Many advanced features, such as inventory management or tax reporting, are only important when selling hundreds of items. An online art marketplace will be a more streamlined experience for both the artist and the customer. Plus, the shorter development and maintenance time required when using an art marketplace to sell your artwork will leave you free to create new artwork, not paperwork. In a personal store, you are solely responsible to ensure that all parts of the buyer’s transaction are carried out properly, including any returns or refunds. As you will see later, you will also need to create legal documents, such as contracts. These are usually built into the sales process of an online art marketplace.

Before deciding on which platforms are best for you, make a list of features from each site and mark ones that you feel are critical, nice-to-have, or are not needed to sell your art online. Consider the amount of art you expect to initially add to the store, how much additional inventory you will be adding regularly, and how many pieces you expect to sell each month. If an online art marketplace or personal store solution doesn’t have what you need, you can cross it off your list. Then evaluate the nice-to-have features against the pricing and complexity of getting your store up and running to finalize a list of sites that you will use. There is no reason you cannot build your own website and add your work to multiple online art marketplaces. However, it still pays to spend some time looking at the features so you can select the ones that are best for your needs. Watch how escrow.com helps protect buyer and seller transactions.

Protecting Your Sale with Escrow

Given the proliferation of scammers on the internet, potential buyers are often wary when making purchases from personal websites. After all, a buyer doesn’t know that you are who you say you are, that your site is legitimate and safe, or that you are the true owner of the works being displayed in your online gallery. Buyers are more comfortable when they know the seller is a verified business, such as an art gallery, or the purchase is being made through an established online marketplace. The buyer wants to know that their purchase is secure and, should an item arrive damaged or not at all, the process for returns and reimbursement is hassle-free. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to overcome this obstacle in a personal store, unless the buyer knows and trusts you.

On the other hand, online art marketplaces are business entities that are perceived as being less risky since they are larger in scale and have the processes in place to deal with purchasing issues from its customers. However, an online art marketplace doesn’t store the artists’ original work. It’s up to the seller to pack and ship. To give a buyer confidence that their purchase is secure online art marketplaces typically place a buyer’s funds into an escrow account until the transaction is complete and the buyer is satisfied.

You might be familiar with escrow if you have ever purchased an item on eBay. With escrow, a neutral third party who doesn’t care whether the buyer or seller comes out ahead (such as the online art marketplace) holds the funds in a specially designated bank account (the escrow account). Not until both parties agree that the transaction is complete and are satisfied with the outcome are the funds released to the seller. If problems arise, the buyer can refuse acceptance of the artwork and their funds will be returned without any hassles. Escrow limits the buyer’s risk making it more likely that they will make a purchase. Your personal store probably won’t have an escrow option. Using PayPal and a quality credit card merchant can make the transaction more secure. However, the refund process is more laborious than with escrow. Each online marketplace will have a different policy for when, and under what circumstances, a buyer can deny acceptance so be sure you clearly understand how the entire transaction process works before investing the time to add your work to the marketplace.

sell art online escrow
The escrow process helps protect buyer and seller transactions when you sell your art online.

Managing Multiple Platforms

Deciding on where to show and sell your art online depends on your goals, both artistically and financially, and how much of your resources – time and money – you want to spend.  Selecting the right platform that best fits your needs is only one of many factors to consider when selling your art online, and each factor affects the others. For example, do you want to earn your living entirely from online sales?  Is it one of many revenue channels you have, or are you hoping for some extra cash once in a while? Based on your financial goals, how much of your resources can you afford to spend? The more you sell your work, the more resources you will spend on creating it to maintain an adequate sellable inventory.  The more you want to earn from online sales, the more you have to manage and successfully execute your marketing strategies across multiple platforms. The more work you sell, the more you have to fulfill purchases, satisfy buyers and account for your sales. Successfully selling art online, if done yourself, could lessen the time you have available to actually create it. These are just some of the additional factors that you will have to consider.

The more platforms that sell your work online, the greater the chances it can be seen and purchased by potential buyers. However, managing your art on several platforms means you’ll be spending more resources to make sure every aspect of your work is represented with the highest quality.  When you say across multiple platforms, you must be consistent with your branding. This means all work having the same titles, descriptions, and prices.  Selling your art on too many online platforms makes it harder to coordinate any changes over time.  Updates to an image of your work to make it look better changes the titles, and changes in the number of works available for sale etc, will have to be done for every site you’re selling on, which is fine, but just harder.  So, it’s best to at least enter titles, descriptions, and prices right the first time, or limit the number of online places to a manageable level.
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Once you understand the basic concepts of selling your art online, it’s up to you to figure out and choose how you will apply them based on your unique creative career goals, resources, and capacity.

What are your experiences selling your art online? Which platforms or features do you prefer? How does having your own personal store impact how you sell your art online? Share your feedback!

About the author

Jenifer Simon

Jenifer Simon's mantra is 'Art Always in All Ways." She is Artrepreneur's Director of Business and Content Development and editor of Art Business Journal. She's dedicated her career to helping artists sustain their creative careers and holds an M.A. in Arts Administration from Columbia University and B.S. in Studio Art and Art History from Skidmore College.

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