Square vs. Etsy: Which is Best for Artists and Crafters?
Artists and crafters are a unique subsection of merchants, in my experience. And I say this as someone who has worked an artist table at conventions and other events for a few years. Running a business of this type deserves a special sort of consideration: if you are an artist or a crafter, you handle not just the sales, marketing, accounting, and other day-to-day tasks (like order fulfillment), but also the manufacturing! Some artists work on their business full time, while for others, it’s a second (or even third) job, but it is always 100% a labor of love.
But even a labor of love needs the right tools! While artists and crafters are essentially running retail businesses, many of the crucial components of a retail business — a solid POS, affordable retail hardware like receipt printers, and advanced inventory software — don’t always apply. Instead, mobility, flexibility, and affordability are most important. Omni-channel commerce, the ability to sell seamlessly in person and online, is often the best solution, because many people sell online as well as traveling around to events. And if you make your own products (2-D art, 3-D art, knitting/crochet, paper crafts, jewelry, for starters), there are two standouts in this category: Square and Etsy.
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Square (see our review) is well known in the arts community because it made accepting credit card payments via a smartphone feasible for the masses, allowing almost anyone to run a business anywhere you could get cell signal or Wi-Fi. More than 2 million merchants of all sizes use Square.
Etsy is the first marketplace that’s truly friendly to artists and other creators. It’s hugely popular with consumers, too, who know they can find tons of vintage and one-of-a-kind creations (not to mention their craft supplies) all in one place. Etsy boasts 1.6 million sellers.
Nowadays, both offer that oh-so-important omni-channel experience — though with a very different feel to each. Square’s biggest draw is the sheer abundance of features it offers, but not all of them are something artisans can or will use, at least not until their business grows a bit. Etsy’s biggest draw is its visibility — the guaranteed traffic to your online shop. It also offers other tools and partnerships to help merchants grow their business.
If you’re just getting started with your art or crafts business, or you’re looking to take it to the next level, Etsy and Square should be at the top of your list for ways to do so. But which is the better option? That depends on a lot of factors.
1. Do you sell (or plan to sell) mostly online and only occasionally in person? Mostly in person and occasionally online? Both? Do you want to change that ratio at all? Some artists and craftspeople sell very well online, while others have much more success at events. Selling online can provide extra money in between events.
2. How much freedom do you want in selling online? If you want to be able to build an entirely custom website, Etsy is likely not a good fit for you. Square has its limitations as well, but they are far fewer. As far as websites go, convenience (and a built-in audience) will always cost you more.
3. How large are your average purchases? If you have a large average ticket size, you might want to consider investing in an EMV reader. EMV is the official name for the chip cards that have been cropping up more often of late. Rather than relying on the magnetic strip (magstripe) on the back of cards, EMV readers encrypts information from the tiny computer chips embedded on the front of the cards. It’s a more secure method of data transmission and also makes it more difficult to counterfeit cards.
That’s important because in October 2015, there was a massive liability shift in terms of who’s responsible for processing any fraudulent cards. Now, any merchant who swipes a chip card that turns out to be fraudulent is responsible for the cost of the transaction. There are a couple of caveats: this doesn’t directly affect eCommerce, and it doesn’t apply to cards that don’t have the EMV chip.
NFC, or near-field communication, is what powers contactless payment methods such as Apple Pay and Android Pay. While it’s not necessary to accept NFC payments (they’re still very much a new thing), if your audience tends to be younger and tech-savvy, it’s not a bad idea to be ahead of the adoption curve (if you have the funds for it).
Generally speaking, artists are at a lower risk for fraud than other retail businesses, especially those who have a lower ticket volume. That doesn’t mean you should assume you’re immune to fraud, but it shouldn’t haunt your thoughts if you don’t have the cash for an EMV-friendly reader right away. (It’s worth noting that Etsy doesn’t offer an EMV reader at all.)
Both Square and Etsy have shortcomings, as well as serious advantages. One issue is that both use aggregate payment processing, which translates to greater account instability. But the same, the convenience of automatic inventory counts and minimal work to create an online shop should not be overlooked.
Let’s take a look at the key elements of Square and Etsy — the mobile apps, the online stores, and the costs — to see how they stack up against each other.
Square vs. Etsy: Mobile Apps
Etsy started as an online sales platform only. Eventually it introduced its own mobile app, called Sell on Etsy. It is partly a dashboard for managing your online sales, and partly an app for taking payments in person.
Square’s app is called Square Register, and it’s honestly the most robust mobile POS (mPOS) app out there right now. It is available for both Android and iOS. However, unlike Etsy, the Register app is almost exclusively for in-person sales. eCommerce sales are mostly controlled through the browser-based dashboard.
Square Register App Features:
You may not ever need all of the features Square has to offer, but it has some great ones:
- Custom Sales Tax: While I wish Square would get around to an auto-detect feature that can pick up sales tax rates based on GPS location, it is still nice that you can toggle sales tax on and off and save multiple tax profiles in the app. You can also set or disable tax for specific items as needed.
- Item variants and add-ons: Great especially if you have several color options for the same basic item.
- Record cash and check transactions: Keep all your transactions in one place, which is helpful especially if you are using Square’s inventory option. No fee for either of these options.
- Inventory sync: if you sell online and have inventory management enabled, the system will automatically adjust your inventory count when you sell an item. So if you sell out at an event, no one can purchase that item from your online store. That’s a useful feature if you only have a limited run of products, or maybe even just a single item. Most mPOS providers allow you to create items and run sales reports for what sold, but they don’t keep track of your inventory like Square does, which can be a very big deal.
- Invoicing: Do you take custom orders and commissions? Square lets you send invoices directly from within the Register app (or through the online dashboard). The invoice is free to send, and there’s no charge beyond the transaction fee, which is deducted from the total invoice once it’s paid.
- Apply Discounts: You can apply a percentage discount to one or all items, or apply a dollar-amount discount to the entire purchase. This applies to orders before tax is applied.
- Email/SMS receipts: Send digital receipts at your customer’s request.
- Custom purchase amounts: If you don’t use Square’s inventory feature or item listings, you can still just ring up individual purchases by just the amount.
- Full and partial refunds: Send full or partial refunds from within the app or the online dashboard.
- Offline mode: Process credit cards even when you can’t get Wi-Fi or cellular signal. Of course, you eat the cost for any transactions that are declined, so use this feature at your own risk. Still, it’s very useful, especially if you’re at a venue where it’s difficult to get signal.
- Item and category creation: You can create and manage your items in the app using both Android and iOS devices.
Some of Square’s more advanced features (such as the ability to scan item bar codes) are only available in the app if you’re using an iPad. However, most of these are more focused on retail stores, so you likely don’t need them as an artist. Also, you have full control over everything if you log into your Square account in a web browser and head to the dashboard.
Overall, though, the Register app is simple to use and very intuitive. You shouldn’t have much trouble finding your way around it even if the technology is entirely new to you. Remember that you don’t have control over eCommerce sales from within the app. You need the dashboard for that.
Something else I like is that Square keeps a comprehensive list of devices with known issues. This is very helpful because Square offers multiple credit card readers, and not all of them work with every device.
Speaking of hardware: the basic magstripe reader is still free from Square if you order online (or you can get a credit for purchasing it in-store). You can get an EMV/magstripe reader for $29, and the EMV/NFC readers start at $49. Check out our unboxing of the Square chip reader here.
Sell on Etsy App Features:
While Square Register is largely for processing payments and most eCommerce matters must be handled through a web browser, the Sell on Etsy app is much more comprehensive. Available for Android and iOS, It allows you to run your online store and sell in person without having to log into the online dashboard.
Here’s a breakdown of features:
- Alerts: Get a notification when someone makes a purchase or favorites your shop on Etsy.
- Conversations: Communicate with your customers through the app.
- Shop stats: Check your reviews and other Etsy shop details
- Order management: Mark online orders as ship and add tracking details, process refunds (full refunds only), add notes to transactions, and more.
- Create listings: You can add items to your online store via the mobile app.
- Inventory sync: You can sell items from your online store and Etsy will automatically adjust your inventory counts.
- Email Receipts: No SMS option, but if the email is linked to an Etsy user ID, the transaction will appear in their purchase history.
- Record cash transactions: No fee for this, obviously.
- Quick Sale: If you don’t want to bother with items and keeping track of your Etsy inventory, or you have items for sale that aren’t in your Etsy shop, you can use the quick sale feature to enter an item name and amount. The nice thing is this won’t incur any listing fees (we’ll come back to this in a bit).
- Discounts: Apply a percentage or dollar amount off the entire purchase. The percentage deduction is taken off the total purchase, including taxes.
- Sales tax: Again, an auto-detect for sales tax would be great here. You can set multiple tax profiles and modify taxes on individual items.
It’s worth noting that to use the in-person sales feature, you must have Etsy’s Direct Checkout enabled. There’s also no dedicated iPad app. Etsy recommends, if you’re using an iPad, to enable the 2x zoom so the app takes of the entirety of the screen.
Talking with other artists, their experience is that the Etsy app is a bit clunkier for in-person sales. This may be because the in-person sales feature is buried within the menu, not the first thing you see. At the same time, the mobile app is for more than just processing payments — it is a genuine tool for managing your business on the go. I think it’s safe to assume Etsy thinks you’ll sell more online than in person.
Something I do want to point out is that while Etsy’s card reader is free, it’s just a basic magstripe device. It doesn’t support EMV or NFC payments, and Etsy says it has no plans to introduce an EMV reader at this time. This isn’t quite as terrible as it seems because Etsy is the one accepting the liability for processing any transactions, not you. But it’s still a bit disappointing to see that Etsy isn’t interested in keeping pace with the rest of the payments industry.
Overall, it’s fair to say both of these are pretty robust apps that will serve you well. What you’re looking for in an online store is likely going to be the deciding factor.
Square vs. Etsy: Online Stores
Square really has come a long ways as far as eCommerce is concerned. Its online store is completely free to use, though it can seem a bit limited compared to some of the more comprehensive options out there. You can also integrate Square’s payment processing with some other eCommerce providers (BigCommerce, Weebly and Ecwid). If you can navigate code or have a programmer friend handy, you can even use Square’s API to integrate the payment processing into another eCommerce solution.
Etsy, on the other hand, is a marketplace like eBay and Amazon. That means many sellers on Etsy will have their listings appear next to one another when users search for a product. This is both good and bad, really: One the one hand, marketplaces draw far more traffic than an individual site that’s just starting out. On the other, it puts you at the mercy of the marketplace, which means you could find your shop closed down with little to no warning or recourse.
Let’s see how these two companies compare as far as eCommerce goes:
Square Online Store Features:
If you use Square’s store, here’s what you need to know. You get all of the following:
- Free hosting
- Free domain (the default is squareup.com/store/your-store-name, but you can edit the URL)
- The option to purchase a new domain or use an existing one
- Alternative payment/pickup options (including in-store pickup).
- Invoicing support from Square dashboard
- Inventory management: If you enable inventory management you can keep track of what is sold through online and in person. There are also some more comprehensive inventory features such as supplier management.
- The option to integrate with BigCommerce, Weebly and Ecwid, or use Square’s API to integrate with another shopping cart.
One thing to note is that there’s no real custom order option or integrated communications channel with Square’s stores. You can handle custom orders through product variants or add-ons, or just use Square’s integrated invoicing system. For communication, consider investing in a business email (Google can give you an email to match your domain for $5/month).
Square’s online store option is somewhat limited as far as design options go, but they are at least mobile-friendly, responsive templates. You can create different sections to organize your products by relevant categories, as well. In some ways, the simplicity is an advantage because you have less to worry about.
The only costs you pay are per each transaction, much as with the mPOS app. If you opt for another shopping cart instead of Square’s story, you’ll have to pay whatever fees they charge, too. if you have something already set up, you can just switch to Square for payment processing by integrating the API.
Square will also let you control the status for your shop in two ways: you can set the store as visible or offline, and indicate whether you are accepting orders or not. (Think of it as a “Vacation” mode.)
Etsy Shop Features:
You don’t have much in the way of customization for your Etsy shop, and that’s because as a marketplace Etsy has to create a consistent look. But that means you don’t have to spend a lot of time tweaking things.
Here’s what you get with Etsy:
- Free hosting
- Free custom Etsy URL
- Custom orders option
- Invoicing through PayPal
- Mail and “other” payment methods supported.
- Discounted shipping rates when purchased through Etsy
- Advertising through promoted listings (for an additional cost)
Etsy has an easy-to-use feature for accepting custom orders. With a couple clicks, you can enable this option for your customers. “Conversations” is Etsy’s equivalent of a messaging system, where customers can reach out to you about your products and their orders.
Something relatively new to Etsy’s suite of services is Pattern, which allows you to sell on your own custom website while all of your inventory is linked to your Etsy shop. Management of both is centralized through Etsy and you pay the same costs as you would on Etsy — plus an additional $15/month.
Like Square, Pattern gives you a limited selection of responsive themes to choose from. However, you can modify color palette, font, and other small aspects of your site. which gives you some creative control that you don’t get with Square.
Honestly, the fact that Etsy felt the need to branch out into payments processing and give sellers an option to run eCommerce stores on their own domains is a pretty powerful indicator of where the entire industry is going (hint: it’s heading toward omni-channel).
I need to stress this: Your own site should definitely be a long-term goal. It will give you much more freedom and stability, and generally costs less than selling through a marketplace, especially as your sales volume picks up. But Etsy will definitely help you get started and make some online sales, and possibly draw in people who otherwise wouldn’t even know where to find you. And there’s certainly no reason you can’t run your own online shop (through Pattern, Square or another service) and sell on Etsy at the same time.
Square vs. Etsy: Costs
Card-processing costs can make or break a business, and here at MerchantMaverick we firmly believe no merchant should pay more for processing than they have to. I’m happy to say that Square and Etsy are both very transparent about their pricing, and their actual card processing rates are competitive among aggregate processors. But, there’s one niggling matter…which is Etsy’s transaction fees.
Square made a name for itself with its simple, flat-rate processing. There are no monthly subscription fees for using Square itself — just pay a small fee per every transaction. The Square Register app is totally free as well. This is what your rates will look like:
- Swiped transactions: 2.75%
- Keyed transactions: 3.5% + $0.15
- eCommerce transactions: 2.9% + $0.30
- Invoicing: 2.9% + $0.30 (or 3.5% + $0.15 for cards kept on file)
You can add on monthly subscriptions for addition services, but apart from email marketing, most are targeted pretty heavily at retail stores (loyalty program, timekeeping and payroll, etc).
I like Square’s payment scheme. Its rates are pretty competitive for an aggregate processor (the only way to get lower rates with a comparable value is to get a merchant account). I’m genuinely shocked that Square doesn’t charge more for its POS app, because it easily could.
Etsy offers you several payment methods, which can be a bit complicated. There are two main options:
Direct Checkout allows you to accept credit and debit cards, PayPal, Etsy gift cards and Apple Pay. You pay Etsy’s rates and all of your funds (even PayPal transactions) go into your Etsy account, which will then deposit them into your bank account.
It’s worth noting that some sellers are unhappy about the integrated PayPal option, mostly because it takes longer to get your money.
PayPal allows you to accept credit and debit cards as well as payments from a bank account…so long as your customer has a PayPal account. The funds go into your personal/business PayPal account. Etsy doesn’t allow sellers to enable payments through both Direct Checkout and your personal PayPal.
If you need to, you can set your business up to take orders by mail. You can also set up custom orders and invoicing via PayPal, though the invoicing feature isn’t seamlessly integrated with Etsy.
Fees are as follows:
- Swiped transactions: 2.75%
- Keyed transactions: 3% + $0.25
- eCommerce (Direct Checkout): 3% + $0.25
- eCommerce (PayPal): 2.9% + $0.30
- Online transaction fee: 3.5%*
- Item listing fee: $0.20**
*All items sold on your Etsy shop or through Pattern are subject to a transaction fee, but in-person sales are exempt.
**Listings are active for 4 months. If you have multiple quantities of an item, you’ll pay the initial $0.20, plus an additional $0.20 for every item after the first that sells. When you sell an item in your shop in person, you’re also charged the listing fee — but not for quick sale items, which aren’t listed in your online shop.
Time to Receive Funds:
Square deposits funds in your bank account on a rolling basis, typically within 1-2 business days. You can check out more about Square’s deposit schedule here. You can also initiate an instant deposit for 1% of the transaction value and have your money within minutes.
Etsy takes a bit longer to get your money, at least if you use Direct Checkout. For the first 90 days, transactions take 3 business days before they are available in your account (after that point they are available the next day). Funds are automatically disbursed on Mondays, but you can can initiate a transfer to your bank account Tuesdays-Fridays. After that, it takes an average of 3-5 days for the funds to appear in your bank account.
There’s no question that Square is the more affordable option. You’ll pay double on Etsy thanks to that transaction fee (which is still less than what you could end up paying on Handmade at Amazon or even eBay). You’ll also get your funds more quickly, unless you choose to only accept PayPal on Etsy — in which case you will have your money in your PayPal account almost instantly, and can spend it anywhere so long as you have a PayPal debit card.
Square vs. Etsy: Other Concerns
There are other considerations beyond just cost. We’ve already talked about the features and services available, but what about the other stuff, the intangibles that neither company really spells out? What about value-added tools and services that don’t fit neatly into another category?
Visibility: Etsy is a known marketplace, with thousands of visitors daily. Unless you’re a marketing genius with an established name, having your own website just isn’t going to bring you that kind of traffic. Of course, you have to deal with the competition from other sellers, whose products will appear next to your own in the search results. With Square, you don’t have that competition, but you’re also not going to get that kind of traffic. However, since you don’t have to pay for hosting or anything beyond the actual transactions, you can spend some time (and maybe even money) building your reputation and putting your website out where anyone can find it.
Stability: Square does have a reputation for holding funds. There’s no way around that. However, artists and crafters generally seem less affected by Square’s trigger-happy risk department. I’d guess it’s because most transactions are relatively low-volume, but there’s no official word on that. Still, the most likely thing to trigger an account hold or termination is processing an unusually large transaction.
Etsy is a marketplace, and you are subject to its rules. If you break them, or if Etsy thinks you’ve broken them, it will shut your store down the same way Square implements holds. Do a bit of Googling (try “Etsy shop shut down”) and you’ll see this happens, if not regularly, at least with enough frequency to note. If you create fan-art based on popular media, know that some very large companies regularly search Etsy and other marketplaces to issue cease-and-desists. Copyright infringement (even in a nebulous area such as fanart) is just one of the reasons your shop could be shut down.
However, it’s difficult to draw apples-to-apples comparisons between the two because while Etsy is exclusively for artists, crafters, and other small niche retailers, Square serves merchants in a huge variety of industries. This is the risk you run with aggregate payment processors and marketplaces. A merchant account will give you more stability, but is generally not suitable for small, low-volume businesses. Don’t let it keep you up at night, but do have a backup plan.
Customer Support: Things happen. Sometimes you’re going to have questions. Sometimes customers file chargebacks and disputes. That’s why customer service is there.
Square’s support system is based primarily on a very detailed knowledge base and a user forum. You should find most of the answers to your questions there. For more complex issues, there’s phone support. But first you need to obtain a passcode to be able to call in at all. There’s also a dispute management system in case a customer files a chargeback. Square will request documentation. In a handful of circumstances you may be eligible for chargeback protection — which means you won’t pay for the chargeback even if the case isn’t resolved in your favor.
Etsy has a similar setup. There’s both a community forum and teams where like-minded sellers can collaborate and community. There’s also a phone support option, but you submit a request and receive a callback (Etsy says within 30 minutes). There’s also a dispute resolution system for conflicts between buyers and sellers.
The question is whether the support offered is of any use. And that’s not an easy answer. A bit more Google searching and you will find no shortage of complaints against Square and Etsy, and their customer service (or lack thereof, as the case may be). Some are from disgruntled sellers. Some are from disgruntled customers. In short, your experience may vary. Some people have no problem at all; some have lots of trouble.
Marketing Tools: I’ve mentioned before that Square offers several marketing and business tools. Artists and craftspeople likely won’t get much benefit out of them, except the email marketing tool, which starts at $15/month.
Etsy has taken a different approach. There are no email marketing tools (though it allows you to post an email signup link on your shop). Instead, consumers can use Etsy Local to find events featuring Etsy sellers. It also offers an option for you to sell your goods wholesale through Etsy, and to pair with large manufacturers to scale your business.
Mass production on Etsy is a contentious matter — as you might expect on a platform started for independent craftspeople. But if you find these options worthwhile for your business, you should pursue them. If not, there are many, many other platforms and tools out there for you to grow your business.
Final Verdict: Should You Use Square or Etsy?
The right payment processor and online store provider is really a matter of personal preference.
With Etsy, you get access to a huge marketplace with people who are actively searching for products each day, but you pay for the convenience, literally. You’ll pay more than double what you would with Etsy. You can even run your own website with a custom URL…for an additional monthly cost on top of your fees. Still, for business that is just starting out, being visible to customers is a serious concern, and Etsy definitely delivers in that category. The Sell on Etsy app lets you manage every aspect of your business on the go instead of dealing with a browser interface, and you can take payments from within the app.
On the other hand, if you sell primarily in person (at conventions, craft fairs, pop-up sales, etc.) square is in your favor. Square Register is a powerful POS app that even has an offline mode so you can accept credit cards literally anywhere, any time. If you use Square’s online store, you’ll pay less in processing fees per transaction than you would on Etsy, and worry less about competition.
Both have their risks, because they aggregate payments and Etsy is also a marketplace that makes its own rules about what is acceptable for sellers. You aren’t guaranteed stability, but both services are generally friendly to artists and craftspeople. You pay only as you make sales unless you opt for any additional expenses, which means there’s no upfront investment beyond the costs to make your products.
And honestly? There’s nothing that says you can’t use both Etsy and Square! If you prefer Square’s mobile app to Etsy’s but want the traffic that Etsy provides, go for it. If you want to sell on Etsy and Square, that’s absolutely possible! What matters most is that you weigh all the benefits and disadvantages and find a solution that will help you manage and grow your business.
Got questions? Have an opinion about the Etsy vs. Square debate? Leave us a comment and let us know — we love to hear from you!