Saturday, October 27, 2012

Falling In And Out of Love: ArtFire

Sometimes companies disappoint me or offer products I don't care for.  No big deal, right?  I just don't purchase from them or, if a friend asks, I'll give them my honest opinion about the company/product and let them make their own decision.  I'm not one of those people who feels the need to blog negatively about companies I don't personally care for.  However, I do speak out when when I get exceptionally bad customer service or, in this case, when I've urged others to use a company or product in the past, but no longer use it myself.

Sorry, ArtFire, we gave you every
chance we possibly could have
After three years of selling my art, prints and jewelry through the online marketplace ArtFire.com, I plan on moving my online shop I moved to skelekitty.com (the details are updated at the bottom of this post). Despite past posts supporting ArtFire as a great place for sellers of fine art and handmade items, I no longer endorse them.  I initially recommended them because they offered a great product at an affordable price with incredible customer service.  While the price is still right at a flat $12.95 per month, the service and product have suffered greatly in the last year.

The Good:  On the whole, the ArtFire staff have been responsive to each individual glitch, and resolved each one in a timely manner.

The Bad:  ArtFire's own business practices are what cause the glitches in the first place: specifically, for over a year they have been rolling out live changes on weekends (Fridays) without beta testing first.  They also regularly make these changes without proper advance notification to sellers.  Unless you're spending all of your time in the forums instead of actually painting/working, you don't know about a change until you've had problems for a few days and the announcement e-mail of their "improvement" hits your in box.

The Ugly:  One of the Corporate Rejects sales was a complete nightmare when we unwittingly chose a date that happened to coincide with a major shopping cart rebuild. We were NOT amused, I can tell you that much.  I have personally asked ArtFire on at least five occasions over the last year to use a test environment before going live, and to notify sellers before changes happen, but I've had no luck.  I was willing to overlook the annoyance factor for a while, but in the past few months, I've received an increasing number of e-mails from my customers that  a) they can't find something through a keyword search (the keyword is there, but the item doesn't show up in a search), b) coupons aren't working (because items have 'fallen out of' categories to which the coupons apply) or c) they discover an item 'doesn't ship to the U.S.' (you've got me on that one - I regularly update my shipping and use preset profiles to ensure this NEVER happens).  When I could no longer get someone on the phone and then started getting whiffs of "blame the seller for problems" in email responses about a week ago, my mind was made up.

Several of my friends and colleagues have left or are leaving ArtFire for similar reasons.  This week, after months of conversation with the other Corporate Rejects and her colleagues, Brooke Van Gory Designs has announced her return to Etsy.  She plans to keep her ArtFire shop open until she is completely moved and has a month with no sales, then she'll be closing it down permanently.  ArtFire shut her shop down without her permission and refused her the sales records from 2012.  How professional!

Assuming ArtFire isn't going to magically improve in the next two months (it hasn't over the last 12), I'll be leaving in January or thereabouts.  Now I begin the search for a new eCommerce provider [SEE THE UPDATE BELOW for information on who I chose!]  I have been doing a great deal of research and see that I have many options.  Right now, I don't know where I will be moving.  Here are some places I *won't* be going:
  1. I won't be returning to Etsy for my primary online shop.  There are several reasons for that, but it's primarily because I don't like their fee structure (I have hundreds of individual items) and I never benefited from their traffic (though a lot of my friends who offer handmade/non-art items do).
  2. I won't be using BigCartel or Storenvy.  While they are both excellent options, all of their payments are required to go through PayPal and I prefer to give my customers options.
  3. I won't be using eBay or Amazon because ... well, they're eBay and Amazon.
What I'm looking for:
  1. A flat monthly fee or a site with no listing fees (I'm OK with % fees on actual sales, but not for listings)
  2. Ability to accept various modes of payment (I currently have PayPal, Square and ProPay accounts to accept credit cards)
  3. No sign-up required to shop
  4. Ability to integrate with my own website and blog
  5. Unique/personalized URL (skelekitty.com, which I own) is a BIG plus
  6. Seamless transition for my customers
I'm not happy to pull my endorsement of ArtFire after all this time.  I still think the original business model was a good one and am sad that the reality didn't work out.  I'll keep you all updated on the process of the move.  In the meantime, my site skelekitty.com will bring you to my shop, wherever it is.

2013 UPDATE:  

I chose Goodsie.com.  The new shop opened on 1/2/13 and you can find it online at http://goodsie.com/store/skelekitty or, of course, plain ol' easy to remember skelekitty.com.

Why I chose Goodsie: their fee structure and features matched my needs best - as a matter of fact, they provide services that match all 6 of the requirements I listed above.  My good friend Mo of Madd Style Cosmetics opened her new shop this year on BigCartel and is very happy with their service; likewise another company I do business with recommends 3DCart, so I trust those are good companies as well - it's all about matching your needs with the services offered/cost.   



BEFORE YOU COMMENT: All comments, as usual, require approval, so please do not bash or add your "horror story" in the comments - I prefer that this not become a bunch of crafters arguing over ArtFire vs. Etsy, yet again.  If you want to talk about that stuff, I invite you to post on your own blog.  If you have some substantive and constructive information for everyone on eCommerce solutions or options (not just what service you use, but what they offer and why you recommend them), feel free to comment.  Content is king.