Etsy’s reputation as the feel-good home of whimsical goods and small businesses is being put on blast — by Etsy sellers themselves.
On April 11, thousands of Etsy sellers, many of whom work full-time selling their merchandise on the site, plan to go on strike by putting their shops in “vacation mode” and not selling their goods for a week.
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The shop owners are protesting a number of business changes Etsy has made over the past few years that sellers say have degraded the platform and made it harder for them to run their businesses and earn a profit. Most directly, the strike is in response to a bump in the fee Etsy charges sellers: On April 11, it goes from 5 percent to 6.5 percent — a 30 percent increase — as announced in February.
“For many of us, the increase is just the final straw,” Kristi Cassidy, a leader of the strike and Etsy shop owner who makes Gothic, Victorian, and steampunk wedding dresses and costumes, said. Previously, Cassidy explained, “We’d just been too tired to fight back. A lot of [the changes] came in the middle of all the absolute horribleness that has been the last two years. But this happens, and we’re just like, OK, we’re done. We’re gonna fight.”
According to a campaign Cassidy and fellow organizers posted on Coworker.org, where signers can self-identify as Etsy sellers, over 12,000 shops will be participating. Etsy has 5.3 million sellers and took in $3.2 billion in sales in 2021, so even thousands of participants may not hurt Etsy too badly. But the campaign is evidence of a larger worker-led movement in which employees and independent contractors are trying to get their voices heard in the face of corporate power.
“Right now this is just about Etsy, but it needs to become a behemoth of a trend,” Etsy seller Harry Burger said.
Etsy announced the fee hike at the same time that it posted record profits for shareholders. The company went public in 2015, and then underwent management changes and dispensed with its B-Corp certification in 2017, which is when many sellers say the platform began to change for the worse. The contrast between the fattening coffers of Etsy corporate, and what sellers perceived as efforts to extract more money from shop owners at a time in which the cost of producing items has surged even higher, was so galling to sellers that it inspired the strike.
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In response to a request for comment on the strike, Etsy defended the fee increase as a way the company will be able to put more back into services that will ultimately help sellers.
“Sellers have consistently told us they want us to expand our efforts around marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies,” an Etsy spokesperson said over email. “Our revised fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in each of these key areas so that we can better serve our community and keep Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.”
The justification has rung hollow to many shop owners. Soon after the fee announcement, Cassidy posted a call to action in an Etsy seller’s subreddit. The title called for an “Etsy sellers union,” but the idea that sparked movement was the line in her post reading “What would happen if on April 11, so many sellers put their shops on vacation mode that Etsy starts shitting bricks?”
It turns out, some other sellers had already started an Etsy Strike subreddit. The moderator of that subreddit had to step back for personal reasons, so Cassidy became a moderator. Now, with about a dozen other organizers, the idea has become a reality.
In addition to rolling back the fee hike, other demands include:
“Crack[ing] down” on resellers, or people who sell mass-produced items on Etsy, which sellers say makes it harder for quality products to get seen.
Better seller support via an end to customer support decisions made by bots, which the petition says locks users out of their accounts without a way to appeal for months on end.
An end to Etsy’s “Star Seller program,” which requires sellers to maintain fast product turnaround times, among other customer service metrics that aren’t always reasonable for Etsy’s unique artisans. Falling short of Star Seller requirements results in less favorable treatment by Etsy’s discovery algorithm.
The ability to opt-out of Etsy’s mandatory offsite ads program. This charges sellers a 12 percent fee on all purchases made as a result of the ads, which some have described as so high that sellers end up taking a loss on items sold through these ads.
Cassidy said the demands have shocked her customers and other Etsy supporters — many of whom specifically shop on Etsy in an effort to support small businesses, and who have said they had no idea the burden was so high on Etsy sellers. The support from buyers and sellers alike has helped convince Cassidy and fellow organizers that the strike is just the beginning.
“Everyone that I’ve talked to that’s part of this right now wants to carry it forward into the future,” Cassidy said. “Definitely, the strike is not the end.”
While the demands of the strike are clearly stated in the Coworker.org campaign, each seller has their own reasons for participating, and their own stories of how Etsy’s policy changes have affected their businesses. Here’s why Etsy sellers are going on strike, in the words of the sellers themselves.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Mashable has linked to the preferred shop location provided by each seller.
Maker of cute/Kawaii pins, clothing, and accessories. Etsy seller since 2009.
I am striking in solidarity with artists/crafters/small businesses around the world because I believe that our talent, hard work, and labor deserves utmost respect. We are the producers of the actual VALUE Etsy offers, which is a market of uniquely designed and crafted items that people actually want. I feel Etsy can continue to make a tidy profit without making running our businesses harder for us.
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Personalized jewelry and accessories. Etsy seller since 2008.
I’ve rolled with a lot of changes, good and bad, over my 14+ years on Etsy. This latest fee increase wrapped up in the narrative that they are doing it for me was my breaking point. I’ve lost faith that Etsy corporate cares about anything but stock valuations.
Etsy forced me into their offsite ads program, and I have absolutely no control over when or what is advertised. They take 12% of the purchase price and I’m to simply take their word that it came from an offsite ad. I would like it, they said.
They launched their faulty Star Seller program in theory to “reward” sellers for good customer service. If you don’t qualify, you’re bombarded with lectures about what good customer service is…from Etsy, notorious for their complete lack of customer service to sellers. And a 4-star review has the same weight as a 1-star review! What kind of idiocy is that?
Add to that a complete flood of items for sale that go directly against Etsy’s rules. Hundreds of thousands of listings marked as “handmade” that are in fact purchased at a discount elsewhere and are being resold on Etsy. Why are blu-rays for sale on Etsy? The number of shops in blatant violation of Etsy’s policies that are also “Star Sellers” is infuriating.
I’m striking because Etsy needs to do better. They need to either get back on track and be the marketplace they claim to be, or be honest that their goal is to become another eBay. They can’t have it both ways, and I shouldn’t have to pay more to help fix the problems they’ve caused.
Lisa, Cryptid Comforts
Makes handcrafted Cryptozoology-themed stuffed toys. Etsy seller since 2019.
Already hand crafters are dealing with increased prices on their supplies, and supply chain shortages. Etsy should realize that we already have some stuff stacked against us right now, while they are seeing record profits. Now is not the time for them to increase seller fees. I can’t speak to what their motive is for raising fees, but it comes off as greed. Etsy needs to stand with its community instead of against us.
Harry Burger, Lightbringer Designs
Maker of custom signet rings and wax seals. Etsy seller since 2012.
What we really need from this strike is for median Sellers to have meaningful representation at the highest decision-making levels of corporate Etsy, enough to block future gouging like this or at least dictate what we want to demand in return for the increase, and hold them accountable if they don’t deliver to our satisfaction.
Jess Schweitzer, happylilcanvases
Custom prints, stickers, and other illustrations. Etsy seller since 2017.
I recently started to really break down all the various fees on each Etsy listing, and I realized how much I am actually profiting and how much I am spending on listing fees, processing fees, transaction fees, and shipping. This is even before I account for cost for materials/production! Etsy keeps raising rates for sellers and that means we have to up the cost of our products, which leads to being less of a competitor in the market. It’s unfair to take advantage of the makers to benefit those who make the profits to their wallets from our hard/creative work.
Juniper H., howdyitsjunebug
Badges, zines, and stickers. Etsy seller since Fall 2020.
I’m disabled, as are a lot of my friends who also rely on Etsy for a main source of income. Etsy micromanaging us through their Star Seller program has made it feel less like we’re able to work for ourselves, and more like we have to work for Etsy’s approval.
Anonymous, vintage clothing seller
Etsy seller since 2011.
I am striking for so very many reasons, this has been a long time coming. No one has taken stock in what we’ve been saying for far too long, and it’s gotten to this point where so many are losing their small businesses, their livelihoods.
One reason is the double speak — they continue to hide behind the banner of “we support small business” for marketing purposes while it is very clear that they uphold shareholder profits above the community that makes Etsy possible. (That email they sent congratulating all on massive profits and then saying they’re raising rates. As a reward for sellers making Etsy record-breaking profits, we get raised fees to earn them more money.) There are many, many demonstrable ways Etsy is willfully failing its small business community in favor of Wall Street profitability.
Etsy is a crumbling mess of lack of integrity toward its sellers.
Melissa Polomsky, TheArtWerks
Original art and jewelry. Etsy seller since 2008.
I just wish that they would listen to their sellers a little bit more closely. Their sellers are what made their community and turned Etsy into such a successful business that has led to such profit.
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Anonymous, vintage seller
Etsy seller since 2017, customer since the beginning of Etsy.
I’m striking, or participating in the strike in the capacity that I can, because Etsy is becoming unrecognizable. It used to be the place you’d shop for unique, handmade, and yes, vintage goods. Now it’s a virtual slog through resellers flinging wholesale goods that you can find also at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, and Alibaba. The fee hikes are a huge factor. Record profits for shareholders and corporate, but the people who made them all that money have to foot the bill so they can fulfill promises they should have already been keeping. I don’t understand this mindset!
I just want Etsy sellers to be treated with dignity. Because right now, we’re not. The Star Seller program is a virtual tether that doesn’t allow people to take 24 hours off from work. If we put our shops on vacation mode, the algorithm penalizes us, and we lose a large percentage of our engagement numbers when we come back. We literally can’t take time off without being punished for being human beings with human needs.
I want to be treated like a business owner, not a micromanaged employee.
Lizzie Campbell, Clay Disarray
Pop culture-themed clay sculptures and paintings. Etsy seller since 2013.
Over the last few months I’ve noticed I’m getting significantly less traffic from Etsy, and hardly any sales, so unless things change for the better, I’ll be forced to move my store elsewhere. As other online platforms don’t tend to have marketplaces, this means I’ll need to invest a lost more time into promoting my store, but if Etsy no longer sends traffic my way in any significant numbers, I may as well signpost my own audience to my own site, and not keep inadvertently helping Etsy’s SEO!
Ultimately, I just want Etsy’s management to take notice of what things are like on the ground for us sellers. It’s hard out here and we can’t just be expected to jump through more and more hoops, and hand over more and more money. This is simply unsustainable. We need real change to occur in both Etsy’s business practice and philosophy, and fast!