Dear Etsy…What are you thinking?!?


The waters over at Etsy have been roiling for a while. Since its new CEO, Chad Dickerson, came aboard, sellers have been angry and confused about the vagueness of the site’s current mission. The company has not done a good job of clarifying whether “handmade” items are still the priority of the site. Thanks to this and thanks also to inevitable economic forces, Etsy has been flooded with mass-produced items, making it harder and harder to be found and turning away its original fans (I’m convinced).

This week, Etsy finally clarified its new policies. It was as we feared. The site is now available to a different kind of seller – the seller of manufactured and mass-produced goods.

Specifically, these are the new guidelines in a nutshell:

1. Sellers are able to hire others to help them complete the work (with no apparent limit.)

2. Sellers can use shipment and fulfillment services.

3. Sellers may use a manufacturer to execute their designs. In other words, they can outsource the creation of their goods.

To be fair, these policy changes will also come with greater and badly needed transparency. All shops who take advantage must apply for review by 2014 and they must list all of their processes on their shop’s “About” page. Apparently, the only thing Etsy will continue to police is re-selling (buying items wholesale and selling them). But this also means that sweatshops may operate on Etsy with no consequences. You can read Dickerson’s own statement about the changes here.

He makes the point, and I think it’s a fair one, that sellers have often outgrown Etsy’s former restrictions and were unable to hire help or outsource parts of their operation. However,  I believe such success means the seller needs to graduate to a new platform. Etsy could even create said platform, but keep it separate from the small, independent crafters who are still working out of their living room.

This does not affect me the way it affects a small-time jewelry maker or knitter. There will always be a market for original art. On the other hand, though, I have felt the changes at Etsy in my sales this year (or lack thereof). The trend leads me to believe that Etsy’s original supporters and fans are feeling just as shut out as the small-time sellers do. Both my husband and my mother have expressed frustration with all the trinkets they have to wade through to find what they are looking for nowadays.

There must be a way to preserve quality, maintain Etsy’s original character, and grow (responsibly) all at the same time, right?

At any rate, I thought I’d share the message I sent Etsy expressing my concerns. If you care about the future of the largest and most diverse handmade site on the web, perhaps you should pipe up, too:

Hello there,
I am disappointed by Etsy’s new guidelines and I’m deeply concerned with the direction in which Etsy is headed.
I joined Etsy to sell my artwork in 2011 and I quickly fell in love with the site. I loved that it was devoted to small, independent artists and crafters. When you bought something on Etsy, you knew that it was coming from someone who made it with their own hands, just as if you were at a craft fair or local art gallery. This was the appeal of Etsy and this is how it earned its reputation and its followership.
I recently took an online business course in which the old axiom that you must “grow or die” was seriously questioned. Rather, businesses should seek to grow only insofar as they continue to fill a special niche and adhere to their original values. Staying true to oneself is advice Etsy gives to sellers all the time. Why isn’t it following its own recommendation?
Simply put, if someone creates a design and has someone else make it or outsources it to a manufacturer, that is not a handmade item. A person can buy such mass produced goods anywhere… why should they go to Etsy?
I am sympathetic with sellers who have grown too big for Etsy and need to expand their operation. However, I do think they need a different platform once they have graduate to that level. (And give the rest of us a chance to grow, too).
My suggestion: Etsy could create a separate site for such sellers. That way, people like my mom and friends and myself – who really want to find small, independent artists to support – can still come to Etsy. That is, we can come to Etsy and not have to wade through a sea of trinkets, junk, and manufactured items. It is the growing tide of such items that are beginning to turn Etsy’s original supporters and fans away. I’ve seen it in the precipitous drop in sales in my shop this year, which is very disheartening.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to provide feedback on this important issue. I really hope it is considered for the good of us all.
Heather McCaw Kerley

11 thoughts on “Dear Etsy…What are you thinking?!?

  1. Sales have fallen off for me too…over the past few months. When I shopped for wallets I had to really search for an actual handmade good…
    Really sad about the policy change and I think your suggestion is a good one…

  2. You make a very good point about having a separate platform for these “big” sellers. Etsy can expand and keep its original integrity to small handmade sellers.

    I also like your point about buyers being upset with these changes. If our buyers don’t trust the site anymore, that effects everyone of us!

    A sad day in Etsy history when these changes were announced!

  3. I agree with the two platform idea it hasn’t happened lately but there have been times I have had to wade threw several pages pf plastic clocks to find mine,
    it is hard enough to be found as it is some times big sellers can bury your shop very deep, Favorites and treasury may well become more important to the small shops

  4. This is an interesting post. When I first read Etsy’s policy changes it sounded like a good idea, because it allows small businesses to grow. But I like your idea about a different platform. I am interested to see how things develop with these new changes! Thanks for sharing you letter to Etsy!

  5. I agree whole-heartedly with you. Once a crafter has a large enough demand to require multiple employees, they need to be on a different platform, or their own website. Your letter brought up all of my concerns. I understand the desire to capitalize, but you shouldn’t do so by abandoning the original purpose and hurting the people you initially set out to help!

  6. I just wonder if you actually got respond from Chad? I was watching it during the life and was so confused about policies change … I don’t even know where to go from here:(

    1. Yes, Lana. I did receive a response from Etsy Support. Most of the email was formulaic, but they say they would pass on the idea of having two separate platforms. I don’t think it is necessarily wrong for Etsy to grow and expand into other areas. I just think they need to preserve the core values that have made it great and protect those sellers who are still devoted to handmade. Not to mention the buyers, who are now unable to find the truly handmade amidst a sea of other products.

      Here is a little more of the response I received:

      “Given how important this topic is to us, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain not only the reasons for this shift in our guidelines, but why it can be beneficial to your business, no matter the size.

      “First, a little background: our former policies were, without a doubt, restrictive and confusing for makers in the Etsy community. We’ve asked our members about their goals and a resounding number want to grow, whether that means running a shop with a group of makers, using an outside manufacturer, or simply taking advantage of shipping services. In all those cases our policies were limiting, if not downright harmful, to our sellers’ businesses.

      “Our new policies, on the other hand, are designed to support the diverse goals of our growing community — from the individual looking to start her business, to the full-time seller hiring staff, to the artist who needs to partner with a manufacturer to bring his or her creations to life. Because every Etsy shop has an individual as the maker behind it, we know growth can mean many different things, and we value and support businesses of different sizes and with different goals.”

  7. I totally agree with you. As a handmade enthusiast (not a maker myself … that talent must jump a generation?) I was really disappointed to see this news. I loved etsy because I could purchase handmade goods and handmade goods only. That means someone took time out of their day to make my product by themselves. They came up with the concept. They drew up the plans. And most importantly they loved every second of what they were doing.

    I’m happy to hear about other outlets out there, like aftcra (which is super new to the scene, but it’s committed to only Handmade goods), cargoh and zibbet. Looks like I’ll be doing my holiday shopping at one of these lucky outlets!

    1. I don’t think Etsy understands that this is frustrating to buyers like yourself, just as it frustrates sellers.There are folks out there who want to buy things one person’s hands have touched and to see the creativity, ingenuity, and skill of that maker in the special things they create. Handmade is an important antidote to the bland, mass-produced, consumption-based world we live in. Etsy was supposed to be the alternative to that. I would encourage you to continue to support those Etsians you know and trust and are doing transparently handmade work, but good luck to you in exploring those other platforms!

  8. when i found your post, i nearly cried. you said everything my heart and mind had been thinking. this, specifically: ‘I recently took an online business course in which the old axiom that you must “grow or die” was seriously questioned. Rather, businesses should seek to grow only insofar as they continue to fill a special niche and adhere to their original values. Staying true to oneself is advice Etsy gives to sellers all the time. Why isn’t it following its own recommendation?’
    thank you for writing this, and speaking for so many of us.

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