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Etsy, Squarespace, and Shopify

This week’s episode of The Vertical is all about the benefits and downsides of different ecommerce platforms. Founder Sydney White dives into her personal experience with platforms Etsy, Squarespace, and Shopify. We shared some background on each platform and the pros and cons of each when running a business.

Watch the full episode here.



  • Vertical Ledge started out on Etsy. Sydney was selling at a market and wanted a better looking stand than what was available at the time. The goal was for her products and her booth to stand out. With the help of her husband and co-founder Andrey, they were able to design their original and first stand, the plain. To Sydney’s surprise, people would stop at her booth and ask her where she got her display- so she decided to start selling it on Etsy to see what could happen. 

    Why does everyone lean towards Etsy at first? 

    • Etsy is convenient because it doesn’t require any background on setting up a website- Etsy is the host and all you have to do is plug in your information. It’s also the most well-known platform for handmade markets. When Etsy was founded, one of the founders Rob Kalin “put more energy into helping the crafter community and promoting the lifestyle of buying handmade goods than he did into making Etsy a viable business.”

      Why did it work?

      • It worked well at first because it gave Vertical Ledge a platform to sell their products. It attracted the ideal audience they were trying to reach.

        Why did it stop working?

        • By the end of 2020, Sydney realized she was paying over 5K in Etsy fees. Etsy advertises their fees to be deceptively low- but all the additional fees add up. There are transaction fees, shipping fees, and advertising fees that are mandatory. In recent years, Etsy has been putting more strain on merchants and in effect driving micro businesses out of business. 

          When did we realize it was time to pivot? 

          • Around this time, Sydney realized that most of the traffic brought to her Etsy page was coming from pinterest. So, not only was she paying mandatory advertising fees, she was essentially bringing traffic to Etsy when it should have been the other way around. You can read about that process here.
            •  Etsy is not practical for the long-term in running a business. The fees add up and go as high as 25%, making a profit gets tricky. Here is an example of what Etsy fees can look like.
              •  It’s also nearly impossible to build customer loyalty on Etsy- when people buy your product- they remember they bought it on Etsy and not from YOU. Etsy was created to host handmade artisans and promote buying handmade goods. But, now more than ever, we are seeing a gray area in what “handmade” really means.
                •  More and more mass produced products are showing up on Etsy. Their prices are much lower than someone who is running their own business. So not only are you competing in crowded niches, you are also competing against cheaper mass-produced versions of your product. Why is this? Etsy used to foster a company culture of merchant-first, but after their most recent corporate takeover, the emphasis has shifted to making the bottom line. 



                  • After realizing just how much Vertical Ledge was spending on Etsy fees, founder Sydney White made the shift over to Squarespace. Squarespace was created with design at the forefront of its mission. Anthony Casalena built the first version of Squarespace because he wanted a better personal website for himself. Casalena wanted a website that reflected his identity with its design- the clunky websites available during that time just weren’t doing it- he never thought it would be a business. Squarespace has mastered sleek, modern, and customizable website templates. 

                  Why did it work?

                  • The first thing Sydney found in using Squarespace to build a website for Vertical Ledge was that it was extremely user-friendly. It was easy for her to DIY it and not to mention- affordable. It was simple to edit, add, and rearrange things as needed for the website once the template was chosen. 

                    Why SS and not Shopify?

                    • Sydney considered Shopify when making the transition from Etsy, but it seemed too complicated at the time. Shopify has hundreds and thousands of integrations and third party apps that were too daunting. Squarespace was a fast transition that gave Vertical Ledge a clean website with a modern vibe and aesthetic. 

                      Why did it stop working?

                      •  Eventually as Vertical Ledge continued to grow, it was clear that Squarespace was missing some key features. Squarespace is a website builder first, with e-commerce added on. It wasn’t exactly designed for selling. It was getting harder and harder to manage and categorize all the SKUs and create clean upselling options on Squarespace. 
                        • There was also no way to receive reviews or build in a loyalty program. Vertical Ledge was receiving daily customer service Emails requesting clarification on products. This is where Sydney started to see the need for third party integrations and apps to make selling more efficient and the customer experience ideal. Squarespace was becoming increasingly difficult to use when managing a business that is growing and trying to scale. 


                          Background and history 

                          • Shopify started out in the early 2000s as an online snowboard shop. The founders just wanted a platform to sell snowboards they loved. When creating their online store, they quickly found how difficult it was to set up an easy to use online shop. For merchants and customers alike. Ecommerce was still new at this time, so there were little to no options available. As a result, Shopify has revolutionized selling online. You can read more about Shopify here.

                            Process of transitioning 

                            • Sydney decided that at the current rate of growth for Vertical Ledge, the best thing to do was to move over to Shopify. This is where Basis from the Wonder Jam comes in. They are a team of professionals that set up websites. It was an investment for Vertical Ledge, one worth making.
                            • Now, you don’t HAVE to hire someone to build your Shopify website. You CAN do it yourself. But out of three things: time, energy, and money, Sydney could only choose two. There were just too many SKUs at this point for a quick transition and Sydney did not have the time to build out a new website AND learn all the app integrations simultaneously. 

                              Why is it working?

                              • There are SO many features to the new website that have been a game changer for Vertical Ledge. Sydney has grown to understand and incorporate many of the app integrations. There is now the “Shop by Solution” tab, the product quiz, “Shop the look” integration, the loyalty program, and the option for reviews. There is also a more robust blog experience now with the ability to link products on the page. We’ve also been loving the integration of the Pinterest feed as well as product bundling.

                                What are we struggling with the app as of now?

                                • The biggest challenge in running the new website is incorporating new apps. Shopify does rely heavily on third-party apps which can add up to be pretty expensive. It is a learning curve, but we’ve been loving what all these apps have done for the customer experience. We want to give you the best possible experience when exploring the website. 

                                  Shopify apps we use and love so far

                                    • BACK IN STOCK
                                      • Waitlist for items that are out of stock with analytics 
                                      • Starts at $9.99- $39.99/mo
                                    • Junip 
                                      • Product reviews and analytics 
                                      • Starts at $19 a month- $74 a month
                                    • Smile Rewards 
                                      • Most common one 
                                      • Can get really expensive 
                                      • Free trial
                                    • ReBuy 
                                      • Back end upselling tool 
                                      • Allows for last chance purchases 
                                      • Bundling 
                                      • Starts at $99-$499
                                    • Perfect Product Finder 
                                      • Product recommendation quiz 
                                      • Free


                                  We hope you enjoyed this episode and encourage you to leave any feedback in the comments section. Next week’s episode will be all about visual merchandising, so please join us on Wednesday at 2pm. We will also be doing a poll Tuesday on Instagram to get some of your perspective, we want YOU to be part of the conversation.

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