‘They don’t care’: Etsy sellers striking against fee hikes, policy changes

Thousands of Etsy sellers are on strike for the week to protest a hike in transaction fees. Dilshad Burman speaks with an organizer and local sellers about why they say they're increasingly disappointed with the platform's policies.

By Dilshad Burman

Thousands of Etsy sellers have taken to the virtual picket lines this week as the online marketplace increased its transaction fees for the second time in four years.

The hike sees fees on each sale jump by 30 per cent, from 5 per cent to 6.5 per cent. It comes amid record profits for the company, with consolidated gross merchandise sales totaling $4.2 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Sellers are participating in a worldwide strike by putting their shops in vacation mode and encouraging their customers to boycott Etsy from April 11 to 18. A petition by strike organizers has garnered more than 75,000 signatures, with sellers and customers alike expressing their disappointment with the platform.

“Everyone’s saying that it’s just pennies and that it’s only 1.5 percent and you should just increase your prices. But if we increase our prices, we’re passing those prices onto the customer,” said Seattle-based strike organizer Lori Peterson. “So I have to eat the price increase basically, because otherwise I’ll risk losing customers.”

What do Etsy sellers want?

Many Etsy sellers say the fee hike is the latest in a long list of issues that has made the marketplace a losing proposition for small businesses and independent creators — the communities the company says it supports.

The petition points out that Etsy started out with a vision of “keeping commerce human” by “democratizing access to entrepreneurship.” As such, many groups that were unable to thrive in traditional retail due to long standing systemic issues make up a sizeable portion of Etsy’s sellers, including women, LGBTQ2S+ people, people of colour and neurodivergent people. Many feel it is no longer that welcoming space.

“The platform dynamic has really changed,” says collage artist Selina Yung, who has been selling on her Etsy shop Clever Clipping for four years. “It’s not really about supporting small business anymore. You see competitors that are clearly not small batch run small shops — they are more manufacturing companies. Also the algorithm — how they rank people is different now. It’s not about diversity anymore and the focus is no longer supporting diversity as well as small shops, but more on the big sharks.”

Along with cancelling the fee increase, cracking down on such resellers is among the demands in the strike petition. It asks for Etsy to come up with a comprehensive plan on how to tackle the issue and make it transparent to ensure accountability.

Offsite ads are another common grievance among sellers.

If an Etsy shops sells an item thanks to a customer clicking on an ad served to them off the Etsy website, the company takes 12 to 15 per cent of the sale.

“But you don’t have a choice in whether or not you want to participate [in offsite ads],” explains Peterson. “You would have to raise all your prices 12 to 15 per cent to cover all of those offsite ad fees and that would hurt your other customers who are buying through the site.”

The petition asks for the choice to opt out of such promotions and control over which of their listings are advertised off site.

Peterson adds that sellers are also penalized for having what it considers too many unfulfilled orders.

“If they think that you’re not doing well enough as a business because you have too many open orders, their automated system takes down shops or sets shops into 50 to 90 day holds [and] they won’t pay out for 45 or 90 days,” she explained. “Then you have no recourse but to contact customer support and good luck getting response.”

In the petition, organizers say “people are waiting months to appeal computer-made decisions that stop them from accessing their own earnings, or running their business entirely … Etsy can’t bill itself as a folksy, handmade utopia while AI bots terrorize sellers whose livelihood depends on reaching buyers on the platform.”

In addition, a big bone of contention is the company’s “star seller program” that Peterson calls a “classist system.”

She says in order to be part of the program sellers have to do “unreasonable things like being available for customer questions 24 hours a day” and offer free shipping.

“It’s a level of customer support that they don’t even give to us, but we’re expected to be [this level of] customer support for our customers,” she said.

Vikki Schembri opened her shop Gaudy Grandma on Etsy two years ago and says she feels the company’s marketing and business values are mimicking those of platforms like Amazon that small businesses cannot keep up with.

“Shipping costs a lot of money. It’s very hard to bury those costs, especially shipping within Canada — you’re at least charging $15 and for me, taking that from my profits, that’s a lot to ask,” she said.

In a statement, Etsy addressed only the fee increase and said it would be beneficial for sellers.

“Our sellers’ success is a top priority for Etsy. We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies,” said the company. “We are committed to providing great value for our 5.3 million sellers so they are able to grow their businesses while keeping Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.”

On strike or striking out on their own

Yung says when she started selling her art, Etsy was her sole selling platform. Over the course of four years she has branched out and has her own website, but many sellers have no other avenues.

“Some business owners are purely running through Etsy right now and those are the people that are suffering. Some people are running their stores, not because they’re not supporting this petition, but because they have no choice. So the number of stores that are on vacation does not fully represent how big this group is and how important this movement is,” she said, adding that she is striking in solidarity.

Artist Aimi Tran is in a similar position and has put her shop InkbyMi on vacation mode for the week.

“Those shops who are selling full time on Etsy, they can’t put their shop on hold … because they can’t afford to lose these potential sales. And once you put your shop on vacation mode, Etsy actually drastically reduces a shop’s visibility,” she said. “[Etsy] isn’t my primary income. I run a small business on the side and I do have a full-time day job. I know I am really privileged to be able to be in this sort of position, so I’m joining the strike because I’d like to stand up and support those who aren’t able to take part in the strike.”

Rebecca Moutoussidis is a crochet artist and among those who depends entirely on her Etsy shop Daisy and Dime for her livelihood. She says she supports the strike but has no choice but to keep her shop open.

“I’m very frustrated with … what they’ve been letting their marketplace become. It genuinely just feels like another Amazon at this point,” she said. “I’m really not happy and I wish I could participate in [the strike] … it’s just a very frustrating position to be put in,” she said.

Moutoussidis added that she is heartened by the support from other sellers.

“There is that sense of like ‘we’re all in this together’. I feel like as a community, as a whole, everybody’s got each other’s back, so it has been really heartwarming to see a lot of people speaking up and saying ‘I will be on strike for those who can’t be’. I’m very proud of our community for coming together,” she said.

Schembri on the other hand feels this latest fee hike and the resultant strike has provided the catalyst she needed to leave the platform for good.

“Leaving Etsy has been on my mind for a while because when you look at how much you sold versus how much money is coming out of your business to go to Etsy, the numbers can be really, really surprising,” she said. “My participation in the Etsy strike — it’s been the straw that breaks the camel’s back for me leaving Etsy.”

Schembri feels she has not been on the platform long enough to feel emotionally invested. She says while she understands it is not possible for everyone, sellers should take this as an opportunity to explore other options and platforms.

“I feel like people need to not take it personally and see it as a service. Is it serving me? No? Leave it,” she said. “I think that’s actually the most powerful thing that we can do as small business … if they’re showing over and over that they don’t care, the best thing you can do is to leave.”

Schembri adds that she is uncertain if the strike will lead to any sort of positive change. Her hope is that more sellers show their dissatisfaction by leaving the platform.

“I don’t think they care enough about who’s on their platform and how they feel. The warm fuzzies of small business have left the Etsy platform. And I think people who are looking for that should leave the platform too.”

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