Hidden Costs

Every artist deserves to be paid for work of the heart and hands. No artist should have to hear “I’ll offer you half that because it’s the end of the day,” or “I can get something just like that and a lot cheaper at Wal-Mart.” That’s just insulting.

Artists are sometimes afraid to ask for the full price, so they begin to add small extra charges to their work. This week I had a transaction that got tarnished by those charges when it didn’t need to.

mousetrapI ordered an item on Etsy that said that the writing shown was simply an example and you could have anything you wanted engraved on the piece. Great. I asked for the words I wanted. Oh, well, that would be extra, because it was custom work. I had also mentioned that I did not need the included chain. The price remained the same.

If I used a credit card, it was one price. But I prefer PayPal, as it protects my credit card numbers. Oh, well, that would be a few dollars more.

And, well, shipping would be extra, too. I understand that. Distance makes a difference. But this was something else. I could get it “regular” mail, with no tracking number. It’s an overseas shipment, so a tracking order is really important. “Regular” mail, it turns out, will take four weeks. I could get it in two weeks for double the shipping amount. And in one week for four times the shipping amount.

And then there was a packing charge, an automatic one for all items shipped overseas. Surprise!


It’s not honest to keep shifting shipping and handling charges. They should be simple for the client to understand.

When the transaction started, I liked the artist and the designs and was willing to pay for quality work. I would have happily paid a higher price. But inching up the price in ways that were not mentioned bothered me. It made me start to doubt the quality of the work, although it had nothing to do with quality.

It had to do with integrity and honesty. Inching up a price doesn’t feel like integrity. Hiding the price to make the reader click through three more pages of advertising doesn’t feel honest.

If you are worried about your prices, change them. Being honest with your prices and posting them where they can be seen is a sure way for your clients to know what you charge. If they can’t afford it, they will not contact you. If they do, and ask you to lower your prices, you can say that your prices are firm. But adding 30 percent to the price of a piece in tiny increments seems, somehow, unworthy of an artist.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and writing instructor.



10 thoughts on “Hidden Costs

  1. You were much nicer than I would have been. I would have abandoned the order and done without. I’m glad you worked it out and perhaps helped the seller to be more straight forward with her store.

  2. This is so true. I like to buy art and many other things from websites, but if you don’t post your prices, you have lost a sale. The same thing is true at art festivals. If you think that putting me in the position of having to ask will increase the chance that I will buy, you are wrong. It damages your image with me and I will move on, there are other sites and other booths where I can spend my money.

    And about etsy, I had a delightful experience this week, an impulsive purchase made because a pendant spoke to me and the price was good. During checkout I discovered it would be sent from overseas and briefly worried that the shipping would be high before discovering it was actually free. At that moment, I knew I would become a repeat customer. The artist has a choice about what kind of buying experience they want to offer.

    • That’s a great story, all of it. If you don’t post your prices, I immediately assume I can’t afford them and walk on. I had a great purchase experience on Etsy, with a purse designer from Malaysia. I worried for a second, but was amazed at the experience–the purse arrived in five days, custom made, and she sent me emails all along to document the process. That’s an artist who knows how to get repeat business!

    • We had several “conversations” (that’s what Etsy calls emails on the site) and reached an agreement. The artist has interesting work, but she is hurting her business with complicated practices. I helped her smooth out some of her transaction confusion, showing her how people will abandon the site if they feel they are being pushed into spending more. While some issues are cultural, what you pay for what you get is really an issue about her art. And that wasn’t a great way to represent herself. We both ended the transaction with good results.

  3. Oh, Quinn. Etsy sellers aren’t allowed to charge you more for using Paypal, and I *really* hope you report them for that. If your seller is printing shipping online (as most of us are now) there are tracking #s on all international packages. You were also lied to about shipping times on international packages – even 1st class international shouldn’t take more than 10 days to 2 weeks unless something goes awry. And don’t even get me going on handling charges. Aaarrrggghhh! I certainly hope this wasn’t your first/last experience with etsy.

    • I’ve had many good experiences with Etsy, and this one will end well, too. This actually wasn’t about me, this was a warning for artists to be careful about how they use and post (or don’t post) pricing. How you present yourself and your art has to be consistent with an entire image.

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s