4 min read

Lessons from the first issue of The 418

Lessons from the first issue of The 418

It's been about a month since Christina and I published our first issue of The 418 zine (check it out here if you haven't already!) and now that I've had a little bit of time to sit and reflect on how things went, I wanted to share some of the challenges that we encountered so others can learn from our experiences.

Challenge 1: Figuring out the e-commerce platform to use based on fees, features, and platform restrictions 🛒

It's easier than ever to start selling things online but I also found it to be an overwhelming experience to figure out where we should be selling.

There are many different e-commerce platforms out there, and while they all have some feature sets in common, the most noticeable differences between them mainly centred around whether you are selling digital or physical products.

Given we were selling both, this posed a particular challenge as there were some restrictions on the types of products one could sell on certain platforms.

For example, Lemon Squeezy was an appealing option as it operated as a Merchant of Record, but it had to be removed as an option for us because it only supports the sale of digital products (physical products are restricted).

In addition, the fees changed from platform to platform and could include some or a combination of the following (and this is not an extensive list):

  • Card/transaction fees (such as 2.9% + 0.30 cents of every purchase)
  • Platform fees (e.g.: Shopify charges $38 CAD a month for their basic plan)
  • Listing fees (e.g.: Etsy charges 0.20 USD on every listing you have in your store, as well as a 'renewal' listing fee (still 0.20 USD) when you sell more than a single item on that listing)
  • Processing fees (which are somehow different than the transaction fee? Etsy is one vendor that applies these)
  • Flat fees on every purchase (e.g.: Gumroad charges 10% on every sale)
  • Currency conversion (this seems to apply when you sell products in a different currency than the one your bank account is in. At least this is how it works on Etsy)

Challenge 2: Shipping 🚢

Christina and I wanted to try and keep costs down as much as possible to ensure that the zine was at an accessible price point.

After deciding to use Etsy to host our store, we took a look at the estimated shipping costs that would have to be added to every purchase.

Because Etsy pushes for shipping that includes a tracking number (understandably because it makes life a lot easier for most products), the estimated costs for domestic mail alone (Canada) was about as much as the zine itself. If the buyer was international, it got even more eye-wateringly expensive.

We ultimately opted to send the zine through standard letter mail, but unbeknownst to us, this led us to a new discovery:

Etsy really doesn't like it when you don't add tracking.

After about a week or two, we got an email from Etsy letting us know that they were putting a temporary reserve on our payment account because we weren't dispatching our orders with tracking numbers. To remove the reserve, we had to either dispatch our orders with a valid tracking number or wait 45 days, whichever came first.

Given our livelihoods aren't tied to this it's not the end of the world for us to wait the 45 days, but in case something like this would impact you - you've now been warned.

Challenge 3: Spam ❌

I kid you not, within minutes of the listings going live, my inbox was flooded with spam messages from scammers posing as Etsy staff.

I think I got about 10 messages where the user avatar used the Etsy logo and they were saying that our ability to accept orders had been suspended which is obviously a little stressful for someone trying to get started with their first Etsy launch.

PSA: There's a 'Messages from Etsy' section on the 'messages' page. If the message didn't come through there, it's not from Etsy.

One scammer even went so far as to tell me that the 'Messages from Etsy' section (see callout above) was a new feature that wasn't working correctly and that they were legitimately an Etsy support member.

I continued to get multiple emails an hour for the first day and was starting to consider trying to contact Etsy support myself to see what could be done because it was getting ridiculous, but fortunately, it eased up and is now a manageable problem.

Given the timing of the spam messages and the stress of setting up a new store and launching a product for the first time on a platform I was still getting familiar with, I could see this tactic being somewhat successful and people falling victim to the scam when they're otherwise wise to these sorts of things.

As some advice in this area I'd suggest learning how the e-commerce platform of your choice communicates with its users so that if you receive messages like these when you launch a product, you don't get that "stomach to the floor" feeling I did when I got those first couple of spam emails.

On to the next issue!

Despite those challenges, I'm really happy with how things went. With the initial learning and growing pains now out of the way, I'm excited to turn my entire focus towards building the 2nd issue rather than having to worry as much about the platform side of things.

Enjoy this post? Subscribe to be notified when I publish new content!