By guest blogger Nikolas Allen
What better time than the holidays to sell your art to an audience who’s got gift-buying on the brain? The shopping season officially kicked off with the one-two punch of Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, and in 2013 online spending reached a record high.
“This year, Cyber Monday marked a shift in shopping preferences,” reported USA Today, “as smartphones and tablets drove nearly a third of the overall traffic.” So what does this mean for artists? Two things:
1) Artists wanting to maximize selling opportunities should embrace e-commerce.
2) Your e-commerce website needs to be mobile-friendly.
6 e-commerce solutions to choose from:
1. Going Mobile – There are two points I want to make about mobile. First, mobile shopping is gaining traction so customers need to be able to easily view, browse and shop your site on a mobile device. Your site should be “responsive,” which means it adjusts to whatever screen it’s viewed on. Creating a responsive, mobile-friendly site ensures you won’t alienate a growing segment of your audience.
Secondly, mobile payment apps allow you to accept credit cards in offline environments, which is mandatory. I’m a huge fan of Square. This miniature credit card swiper plugs into your smartphone and allows you to accept payments on the go.
Other mobile payment apps have been popping up such as Flint and Dwolla, and even PayPal and Chase Bank have introduced their own mobile card swipers. But for my money, Square is definitely the one to beat.
2. Social Commerce – Typically, sales are made on social channels by driving traffic back to your website. However, social commerce means adding a shopping cart to your social platforms, enabling people to purchase items without leaving the site.
This can be a little tricky, even for power-retailers such as Gap, J.C. Penney, and Nordstrom. In 2011, several companies opened shops on Facebook that barely lasted a year. Retailers quickly realized that Facebook was more a social destination than a shopping destination.
For those willing to try their own hand at social commerce, Ecwid is a great choice. Two years ago, there were several more options, but since social commerce never took off, most of them have disappeared.
3. Online Galleries & Shops – Perhaps the easiest solution is setting up shop on an existing online gallery with shopping cart capabilities. You can showcase and sell your work without worrying about technical maintenance that comes with building your own website. Another benefit is that all the artists involved drive traffic to the site so the responsibility does not fall solely on you. Yes, you still need to work it, but your art has the potential to be discovered by residual traffic coming from other sources.
For fine artists, some great options are Fine Art America, Saatchi Online and UGallery. For crafters and makers, Etsy is a popular option, and those wanting to sell gift items and art merchandise should check out Zazzle and Cafe Press. For the most complete listing anywhere of places to sell your art or craft online, check out Artsy Shark’s 235+ Places Artists Can Sell Online.
4. All-In-One Solutions – This option allows artists to create a beautiful standalone web presence without becoming their own IT department. For a monthly fee, you set up a gallery complete with hosting, domain, shopping, and other art marketing resources, plus support is available as needed. While you do have to populate the site with content, you’re not responsible for maintaining the technical end.
5. WordPress Plug-Ins – For those wanting to get a little more hands-on, WordPress is a great, user-friendly web platform with a plethora of beautiful portfolio templates available. To enable e-commerce, you can add a shopping cart plugin. This option requires a little tech-savvy, because you must piecemeal the whole package together including your domain name, hosting plan, and any additional plugin functions.
Two popular plugins are WP eCommerce and WooCommerce, which allow you to create clean, streamlined shopping carts – when they work properly. I’m currently setting up WooCommerce for a client and have been pulling my hair out in frustration attempting to add a simple functionality regarding incremental shipping costs. If you don’t enjoy technical troubleshooting, this is not the option for you.
6. Outsourcing – The final option is to hire an outside company to build and maintain your website, which can be costly, but also comforting to know that your site is in professional hands. Canadian abstract artist Matt LeBlanc chose this route after realizing he didn’t enjoy being his own webmaster.
“I’ve decided to hire a reputable company to build and maintain my website,” he says, “I would definitely recommend a shopping cart option if you can afford it – it’s almost as costly as getting your site done! But, it’s extremely easy to use. I have noticed over the years that a lot of my clients will actually contact me before using the cart option. That tells me that I could live without it. But, I strongly believe it’s a great feature and I wouldn’t go without it now.”
Regardless of which e-commerce options you choose, you will still be responsible for providing your own content, assets or files that will populate the site.
“Just make sure you have great pictures, great descriptions and your price point,” says LeBlanc. “It drives me nuts when I see a website without the price. Consumers are shopping. If they don’t see a price, they’ll just leave. Make it simple for them.”
In most cases you’ll also be responsible for fulfillment, or packing up your art and shipping it out to your buyers. With that in mind, you may wish to set up a mailing station at your home or studio and become friendly with your local post office, shipping or delivery company.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when deciding whether or not to embrace e-commerce for your art business. But, just like any business, the business of art requires lots of hard work outside of the studio. Taking advantage of the available e-commerce tools allows any artist to create a powerful online presence for showcasing and selling their work to a massive audience. And for these artists, every Monday can be Cyber Monday.
Nikolas Allen is a contemporary Pop artist with a background in advertising, music and video production. He is passionate about art and marketing and wrote his first book, “Death To The Starving Artist – Art Marketing Strategies for a Killer Creative Career” to help ambitious artists reach a wider audience. To learn more about the book, visit Death to the Starving Artist.