Etsy’s New Guidelines: Reaction? Action!

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A month ago I wrote a post here called “Selling on Etsy“, basically trying to cover some of the basic advantages and challenges of having a shop there. Soon after that post, Etsy announced new guidelines that have pretty much rocked our virtual world. This post seeks to address what these guidelines might mean for those of us who sell there.

TAFA has over 500 members now and more than half of us have shops on Etsy. Some of us have been there almost since the beginning and others have jumped in more recently. Most TAFA members have a physical product to sell, while others are more conceptual or offer a service that is connected to the handmade textile and fiber art niche. Our mission seeks to help all of our members reach wider markets and as part of that, offering technical assistance and improving business skills is front and central to how we communicate as a group. All of TAFA’s members must have a web presence in order to join. This means that if we have a product to sell, most of us need a shopping cart system which we can use to get our products out to the world. Basically, we have two options: run a self-hosted site or become a part of of a marketplace. Selling through a marketplace offers many advantages, of which having site traffic is the most important. Etsy, as a marketplace, has been the darling of the online handmade community for many reasons:

  • The listing process is fairly easy.
  • Fees are reasonable.
  • It’s now the largest market after eBay and Amazon.
  • It has invested a great deal into providing business tutorials and support.

Most importantly, Etsy has been built by a loyal following of both sellers and buyers who have subscribed to the “Handmade Revolution”, envisioning a world where handmade products have value in terms of the materials used, labor, and authorship. This goes hand in hand with many of the other movements that seek to green the world, from organic food production to recycling.

So, Etsy has seemed like a good fit for TAFA members and we now have a sizable destination there with over 4,000 products, from supplies to high end art quilts and weavings. This shows you our quilts there, 267 of them:

quilts

The New Guidelines

Etsy’s new guidelines point to three main principles: Authorship, Responsibility and Transparency. Then, they spell it out with the following statements:

  • The size of your shop is up to you.

    Hire help if you need it or collaborate, even from different locations. Everyone who helps you make handmade items should be listed on your shop’s About page.

  • You can use shipping and fulfillment services.

    If it’s right for your business you can let someone else handle these logistics. Keep in mind that shop owners are ultimately responsible for buyers’ customer service experience.

  • Manufacturers can help you produce your designs.

    Sellers create their handmade items in many different ways. Partnering with an outside business is okay, but we’ll require you to be honest about how your items are made.

Why are people upset?

There has been a problem with re-selling on Etsy for years and these new policies will make it even harder for artists selling on Etsy to get seen on the site. Re-sellers are forbidden, even under the new guidelines on Etsy, yet they are rampant on there. A re-seller is anyone who buys a new product from someone else in order to re-sell it. Sellers are allowed to offer their own work, vintage (over 20 years old) and supplies on Etsy. An example of a re-seller is someone buying new clothing that looks handmade, is artsy and fun, but it’s made in China, sold as handmade for a fraction of what actual designers could charge. An example might be these Thai Fisherman Pants selling for $10:

Thai fisherman pants

The differences in currencies and economies make it hard to know whether something is actually being made in a factory or not, but from my experience with fair trade groups, a $10 pair of pants triggers alarms in my mind: someone is not getting a fair wage….

The new guidelines means that anyone can now design a pair of pants, have it made in another country, sell it on Etsy and use the Handmade category. Martha Stewart could sell her products on Etsy, if she shows Authorship, Responsibility and Transparency. So, the cost of goods is one reason people are really upset.

Etsy staff have responded to questions and to the panic and have set up a Most Frequently Asked Questions page, addressing some of the top issues. They are setting a new approval system in place where sellers using “manufactured” processes (factories, etc), must apply and then state how their things are made in their About page. They believe that they will be able to enforce this, but the site is already over run with commercially made products that have nothing to do with the handmade culture. Does this fit with your idea of a handmade product?

usb cables on etsy

Re-defining Handmade

Etsy is basically trying to re-define handmade. There is nothing wrong with supporting designers, but they are separating the production process from the product, and that is central to what a handmade product is. All products have a designer. Anything found in Walmart or created in sweat shops was thought up (or copied) by someone. If Etsy had created a separate designer category, perhaps there would have been more acceptance towards these new guidelines. But, in my view, these new guidelines actually penalize the heart of the organization: the artist and crafters who create their own products. The other two categories, Supplies and Vintage seem to be able to continue on with business as usual even though there are many violators in both of those areas as well. The vintage section is loaded with thrift store stuff that is less than 20 years old.

Even though the word handmade is no longer found in Etsy’s mission statement, the tagline on its search result is: Buy and sell handmade or vintage items, art and supplies on Etsy, the world’s most vibrant handmade marketplace.  Their About page states:

Etsy is a marketplace where people around the world connect to buy and sell unique goods. Our mission is to re-imagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.Etsy

“Commerce” can mean anything!  “Unique”? These vagaries just blow open so many holes and dilute what has been a somewhat defined marketplace for the handmade crowd. There is genuine angst and feelings of betrayel throughout the Etsy community as they see a great idea, a home to many, basically appear to sell out to what can be readily found at any box store.

Traffic and Search

I’ve spent a lot of time pouring over comments and threads on other forums, trying to understand what this might mean for our TAFA members. The biggest question I have for myself is, “Do I continue to encourage our members to open shop or even stay on at Etsy?” We could just say, “Ok, so it’s no longer a handmade destination and things are going to really start looking like eBay over there. If we just accept that, we can still benefit from all of the traffic that is there, right? Hmmm….  it doesn’t look like it.

I sold on eBay for 9 years, then I joined Etsy in its second year, maintained both shops for about a year and finally closed my eBay shop because I found it hard to maintain two places and identified more with Etsy’s culture. I did well on Etsy in those early years. My shop was visible and I’ve sold over 1,600 products there. The first barrier to finding my shop on search there happened when they changed Search to default to handmade. Although I also make my own things, the bulk of what I offer are handmade supplies and vintage textiles, along with other vintage things like stereoview cards. I don’t even remember when that happened, but there was a huge uproar as we pay the same fees for all three types of products and all of a sudden, didn’t have the same access.

Then, we were told to change our listings as the first three words in the title would carry the most weight in search results. It takes hours to make these kinds of changes, but I did them. Suddenly, a year ago in November, traffic almost completely stopped to my shop. I thought it was just because I spend most of my time and energy on TAFA, that I was to blame, etc. But, other TAFA members noticed it, too. Now, in preparing for this post, I saw many references to Etsy diverting traffic from handmade products to the re-seller ones because they are more profitable. !!! ????  It doesn’t really make sense to me, because you would think that selling an artist made pair of pants for $120 would be more efficient than having to sell 12 fisherman pants for $10 each. Accusations were also made about Etsy staff playing with search algorithms and results creating chaotic results. Apparently, they are now inserting their own tags (test phase) which is landing products into irrelevant categories. There is nothing more frustrating for a potential buyer than having to weed through pages of irrelevant search results to find what they are looking for. Chad Dickerson, Etsy’s CEO, made my eyebrows curl in this interview when he jokingly talked about how Etsy engineers are all hackers and enjoy throwing wrenches into the system to see what happens.

To make things even more confusing, Google has recently changed how search works, launching Hummingbird, it’s latest search algorithm. In a nutshell, it makes keywords irrelevant and content king. I’ve installed an SEO plugin for this site which operates on this same principle and you get a green button on the back end if you have done everything right. I think I’ve gotten one green button so far. Intelligent search tries to assess the meaning of the content and then generate results that interpret that as closely as possible. There is a lot of talk about this on Etsy’s forums because apparently Hummingbird is causing Etsy shops to disappear from search results. This thread talks about possible reasons and emphasizes understanding how to tailor shop listings to both Google and Etsy search results. Another thread talks about how there seems to be favoritism in search results as the same sellers show up first, even if they have the same tags and listing titles as others who are not showing up. Apparently, both Google and Etsy now have formulas that also weigh in how much that product shows up elsewhere (pinterest, facebook, etc.). Social media promotion adds to the product’s relevancy.

It sounds like you basically have to have a master’s degree in Geekhood to figure out how to get found now. If that is the case, then maybe there is no real benefit from being in a huge marketplace like Etsy.

TAFA's handmade jewelry on Etsy

Mutings and Shop Closures

The other complaint I saw everywhere had to do with frustrations in how Etsy staff handle forum threads, adversity and shops. I mentioned this in the other post and will not go into it much here, but just want to throw it into the soup as a measure of what needs to be thought about. When I first joined Etsy, the forum was a vast community where tons of knowledge was shared openly among members. There was also dissent, complaining, and whining, but the majority were seriously focused on how to best use the technical resources that were available. I learned loads over there. Most of those forums were closed down a couple of years ago and Etsy moved to a “Team” structure. If you had a common topic, create a team and explore it there. Originally, Teams were designed to bring products together based on common ground (type of product, materials used, location, etc.). So, the Forums lost their unity and the Teams became diluted. Comments on many of the articles on the New Guidelines referenced many sellers on Etsy who have been muted for life (!) because they have been critical of Etsy policies. Shop closures have been reported. These actions encourage a culture of instability and fear. We actually moved our Team Forum off Etsy because several of our members expressed that they did not feel comfortable expressing themselves somewhere where Etsy staff could read what they said.

Reaction? Action!

In order to understand better how our members were feeling about what they saw happening on Etsy, I asked them to write a couple of sentences responding to these words: Reaction? Action? How do you feel about this and what are you going to do about it? I’m keeping their identities private (just in case….).


Reaction: I’m not surprised that Etsy has moved in this direction – it seems that maybe they couldn’t monitor the shops well enough and so they are just giving in.

Action: I have been following all the discussions about the change to Etsy and it just confirms for me that having my own store on my own website is the best direction for me. I am in the process of having my website redesigned and it will include a shopping cart and I’ll begin promoting that rather than Etsy. I may keep a presence at Etsy just to direct people to my website, but I’m not sure about that yet. My sales at Etsy have always been sporadic (as has my listings there) so I’m not concerned with losing sales there. I really need to figure out how many sites I should have my work listed on and how many I am able to promote – I’m leaning towards only promoting my website.


Reaction: Curious and observing how this develops. It has been going in this direction for some time now, but having it officially in print makes it more concrete.

Action: I’m actually seeing some positivity in this, in the sense that it’s making me explore additional venues. Just logging into TAFA is a huge bonus (we are not alone), and as an artist I get inspired by the huge amount of talent and voices represented here.


Reaction: disappointed. How will buyers know what they are getting? The handmade ethos is what took Etsy into the black. Sad that everything is about only $$$.

Action: I have resurrected my Big Cartel site and I am setting up a website that will use it as my shopping cart. Although I will keep my main shop on Etsy for now but it will not be my focus. My 2nd shop will be closed.


Reaction: Disappointed with Etsy that handmade is no longer a focus.  I think that they could still carve out a handmade section.

Action:  For now I will keep my quilts on Etsy and a few quilt patterns.  I can quickly move all of my quilts to my own store if I see a need to do that.  I would have trouble recommending Etsy to anyone looking for handmade unless they check out the seller or have purchased from them before.


Reaction: interested to see what develops

Action: I’m going to continue with my plan which was and is to revitalize my Etsy shop as it is mostly static.

My thoughts are that Etsy is an easy to use website that I can use as my shopping cart. In the beginning I tried to do all the things that are recommended to get attention/sales on Etsy and have concluded that I don’t want to waste my time in that way. It’s my job to drive customers to my website and my shopping cart which for now is ETSY. I would prefer that ETSY truly represent the handmade community, but unless ETSY develops an unsavory reputation with the buying community I am okay staying there.


Reaction: Sad and disappointed, yet not completely surprised. I have been on Etsy since 2007 and have seen the new in-coming blood chip away at the original version and goal of  Etsy, bit by bit. However, I am trying to stay positive and keep an open mind to possibilities, (that had not yet occurred to me) coming clearer into focus.

Action: For now, staying on Etsy and viewing it as an affordable and simple to manage shopping cart, keeping in mind that it is MY sole responsibility to promote items and drive traffic to my shop. My blog and Pinterest are currently the primary tools in doing this. Along with TAFA, I have also joined two more handmade focused teams on Etsy, that both use treasuries, to help gain exposure. My sales are stagnate, but favorites have greatly increased, which means those items are listed in more Etsy members feeds, causing a ripple effect in possible views, hopefully resulting in eventual sales.

I am also keeping my radar up, watching to see which on-line selling sites might eventually take the place of what Etsy use to be. I am not moving to a new site yet, but eventually see this happening.


Reaction: I don’t see that it will effect me very much as I use Etsy as a convenient problem free selling platform and drive most of my own traffic there from my blog, Facebook and Pinterest. My shop is mostly empty as what I put in the shop usually sells straight away. I do keep a knitting pattern there and may add more patterns over time.

Action: none. I have been experimenting with other selling platforms such as Hyena cart and Indie cart which allow for a variety of selling methods such as lottery style draws, auctions and buy now, they also allow me to preview a doll before the selling date. I do however really like the book keeping tools on Etsy and I like being a part of that community, having it as a legitimate, well known and trusted selling  base to link to from my other places on the web.


Reaction:  After I read the new guidelines I didn’t see where too much had changed, so I shrugged it off.  Then I started reading the forums on Etsy and all the complaints and claims of Etsy filling up with Ebay sellers, then I started to wonder.  Time will tell, I guess.  My shop is my hobby so I don’t obsess over these things.

Action:  Absolutely nothing.  Here’s why: You make your own sales and create your own traffic.  If you concern yourselves with what others are doing you will drive yourself crazy.   If you think your items will be harder to find in a search then don’t rely on search.  Use your own wits and ideas to get the customers to your shop.  If you put in the effort, you will get your rewards.  If your items don’t stand out from the crowd,  your sales will reflect that so don’t blame Etsy.

My mantra is “cream rises” and so it shall.


Reaction: Saddened & disappointed with the changes in Etsy. I have a very small shop and am not dependent on it. I feel fortunate to have the venue. I haven’t been very focused on the selling aspect until fairly recently. I have found though, that it’s the one place where (on the web), I’ve been at all successful. It’s where I’ve found my best and repeat customers. I am paying attention to these discussions and checking out links, looking at other places…researching and wondering.

Action: For the time being I’m likely to continue with Etsy. I’ll have to re-think if I see things change even further.


Reaction: Disappointment, but know that things were heading this way already. It certainly was a very good concept and obviously did not make enough $ for them.

Action: Wait, watch and see how things play out….there might be MORE traffic for me on Etsy because there is more searching going on. I’ve just made another sale last night. I am also tagging ”made by artist” and ”Made in USA” and ”original design” and ”one of a kind” as well as making sure that I have ”tafa team” on every item….before I had ”TAFA” but not necessarily using ’team’. I plan to stay on Etsy for now and see if people search for HAND MADE or some such tag….my sales might actually go up! What’s most important is that I will continue here on TAFA. I have always used Etsy as my cash register, and, since I cannot provide that for myself currently, I will continue for now….


Our rebels: like any other group, we have members who don’t follow the rules. :)  These are comments from those who didn’t use the Reaction/Action format:

I don’t depend on the shop for my livelihood but I do have annual sales goals for my shop, which, I am very sure I will not achieve this year. But, this is not new. Every time Etsy makes a change, we lose control of our shop a little more. Although Etsy brings a lot of traffic, the chances of anybody finding a particular shop is totally random.

For a while, it seemed Facebook could be used to promote our shops. But, with FB is pursuit of that elusive ad revenues, it too has become quite unfriendly and opaque to business owners.

What I am considering is adding a paypal button on my blog. I do have a fairly active blog and I feel that it is one venue that is totally in my control and I have a good understanding of how to generate traffic to the blog. My only concern is  whether it will be safe from hacking.


We’ve been on Etsy since 2007, but only really pushed to stock our shop there for the last three years, since we closed our brick and mortar shop. It’s been a good primary income until about 3 months ago when sales completely dropped off. Many other vintage rug dealers here in Turkey have added shops selling at not even 10% over cost, which is exactly what happened at ebay when I was one of the first selling suzanis 15 years ago. I do have a decent following with interior designers since we do custom work, and I refuse to drop pricing much, but do find myself offering more discounts to attract business. Pinterest has become the biggest driver of traffic to Etsy, followed by our site; Facebook is far less helpful. I’m currently pushing to develop other home decor, and will be gathering a group of artisans from Turkey and Eastern Europe together, using our own websites and contacts to sell wholesale and retail. I’ll keep the Etsy shop, but don’t see it as the business resource it once was, more as a marketing tool. I too think they’ve just given up trying to police shops since so many have been selling manufactured good for years.


I sell my bead patterns there, but I am no longer making new ones. I am just trying to get rid of the ones that I still have. I won’t move that shop.

I’m now making art quilts and have a shop on Etsy, but when my sale periods run out in November, I will be closing it and selling on my own website and some other venues.

I also am making designer pillows with a friend/partner.  We will be selling mostly through interior designers, I hope.

I am also a writer and editor and make most of my income from those skills. Those customers have to come first, and my other work has to happen around that work, for now anyway.


Think of Etsy as a business incubator, providing infrastructure for shops to grow.  Shops start out small.  Most die off,  Some remain small.  And others grow as they change in response to market demand.  I think that Etsy’s trend toward permitting more manufacturing to help the growing shops is inevitable.

In response, some shops may disappear from Etsy, but there will probably be a huge influx of other shops.

Shops will soon be required to have About pages disclosing how they receive production assistance.  In addition to their being a way for you to “tell your story,” they provide an incredible way for Etsy to gather data, to understand the whole process of market dynamics … how businesses grow in response to consumer demand.

Etsy can use this data for resource allocation, as it understands it revenue streams.

It might also identify what I will loosely term shop “size.” It’s for more complex than that, and a multi-dimensional metric will be needed to quantify it.  But conceptually, think of shops ranging from small to large … or from using slow hand processes to efficient manufacturing processes.  If it wants, it can then provide customers with a way to choose what kind of shops they want to look at, from small to medium to huge.

My guess is that this will happen, eventually.

How does this affect us, being mostly at the small end of things?  We could leave.  That doesn’t make much sense, because Etsy provides an excellent selling platform.  We can drive business to our shops from other places.  Good idea.  And we can continue to market on Etsy.  A customer choosing to look for stuff from a huge shop will never find our items.  But if a customer is interested in stuff from a tiny shop and we are clever in our own marketing, he might.


I have been on Etsy since 2006 and sales on there have dipped year on year and increased on other avenues. Whilst it is easy to set-up an attractive and easy to use store I wonder if all the effort that goes in there is not better spent on my own website. Seeing as it requires just as much effort, I might as well spend it on a platform I have complete control.

I guess it is different for everyone. We all have out unique experiences. My instinct tells me to spend less time on Etsy.


As you can see, most who shared are watching, thinking, evaluating. Meanwhile, there is a seller flight happening on Etsy. This has happened before. Something major shifts loyalties, people get fed up and leave en masse. Where are they going?

Zibbet

Two Australian guys are benefiting from the Etsy Exodus. With five staff, Zibbet’s site crashed as over 6,000 new shops opened up there in the last month, most coming from Etsy. Zibbet is no Etsy. It’s an ugly little place, but it has that same commitment to handmade (supplies and vintage are also allowed) and reports around the web extol how wonderful these guys are, participating in discussions, brainstorming with sellers, one big happy family. They are seeking funding to beautify the site and if they can do that, they will be more able to attract the higher end crowd. So far, in searching around there, it seems pretty crafty, with low end, easy to make crafts. From the beginning, Etsy was able to attract eye candy. It used to be an amazingly beautiful place to find handmade ART and high crafts. They are still there, just buried beneath usb cords and cell phone covers.

Will Zibbet succeed? Or, will they sell out once they get big enough? We have seen many markets come and go over the past two decades. What we do know is that there is definitely a niche market out there looking for a new home. Let’s hope that Zibbet can grow into something wonderful.

What about eBay?

I heard rumors of an eBay invasion, moving on over to Etsy en masse because of the new guidelines, so I went over to their forums and poked around a bit.  I was surprised to find a sorrowful and disappointed discussion about the new guidelines. The basic thread was that eBay also has been going through changes that affect search results for the little guy, that it wants to be the next Amazon, and that now Etsy wants to be the next eBay. They seemed truly sad to see the handmade mission take a dive.

What about this invasion?  I don’t know. I got tired. Does it really matter?

Action!

What to do? What to do? Like the others, I am watching, reading, trying to inform myself and will do nothing. The timing, just before our busiest season, is awful. I would like to see our TAFA Team members give our search results on Etsy a big push, driving traffic there. If people are looking for handmade textiles and fiber art, we have wonderful things! I am hoping that Etsy will see the sense in making some revisions and carving out a place for the handmade community, separating it from their new designer target. I would like to see them crack down on re-sellers, to improve search, to allow free speech, and to step into a leadership role that truly speaks out for a better world. We’ll see how it all falls into place as things settle, morph, change and become clear.

handmade supplies on etsy

More Reading

Google search results on Etsy search algorithms

Daily Dot review on Etsy’s new guidelines

Conditions of factory workers in China (toys)

General article on working conditions in China

More on Hummingbird Search

What About You?

Reaction?

Action?

Avatar of Rachel Biel

I’ve been working with the arts and craft world in many capacities since 1988. Handmade textiles have been my core focus since launching TAFA in 2010.

My hope is to contribute to the economic development potential the arts bring to the world, along with the intrinsic beauty shown in the work. May the world become a friendlier place for artists and nature!

Arrived in Kentucky after a childhood in Brazil, college in Minnesota and 20 years in Chicago. It’s been a ride!

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Comments

  1. Jade

    November 12, 2013

    Why be rude about how Zibbet looks? Lots of ugly things on etsy and that includes their front page. Too many simple crafty quilts that anyone could make.

    • Avatar of Rachel Biel

      Rachel Biel

      November 12, 2013

      Hi, Jade. I don’t think that my subjective opinion that Zibbet is an ugly site is being rude. They acknowledge that and are working on a new site design, correct? After I wrote this post over here, I did end up joining Zibbet and made some suggestions on how they could improve their home page and some navigation in the short term, until the new site launches. My comments were pounced on with abandon. Allowing blurry, poorly cropped images on the home page is an immediate deterrent for potential shoppers. Anyway, I do think the site is outdated and ugly and that even though there are many handmade things there, I don’t see them as the kinds of things that will attract a high end market. I once did a craft fair outside of Chicago without really knowing what to expect and ended up in a festival filled with booths selling clothes for decorative goose lawn ornaments. I was in the wrong place, for sure! I’m happy when people make anything, but that doesn’t mean that all handmade things are alike or have the same market.

      I tried to interact on Zibbet, but find that there is a tone of hysteria and anti-etsy protectiveness that is just too emotional for me. I set up shop there because I was nervous that Etsy might close my shop as I have been vocally critical against what is going on there. Etsy had that same hysteria against eBay in its early days. Right now, my focus is on how to drive people to our TAFA members whether they are on Etsy, have their own shops or work on commission, etc. If we end up having a TAFA presence on Zibbet, I’ll be there with them, too. To be clear, I hope that Zibbet succeeds and does become a leading marketplace for handmade sellers. We need that! But, I also hope that it calms down and that the community there matures in how it receives newbies. I don’t think any of us is necessarily loyal to any one platform but rather that we would like to be somewhere where we can be found and have a fair chance of selling our wares. Etsy seems to making this difficult by manipulating search and Zibbet doesn’t have a large enough audience yet to attract the higher end buyers that TAFA members need. So, we’ll just see what happens over time.

  2. Laura

    November 7, 2013

    I really appreciate this super-thorough review of the current state of Etsy and the handmade community as a whole. I like to sit back and watch the reactions as well, partially because I know that when the dust settles things are rarely as bad as they seem. I also like to embrace change when I can muster the emotional energy. Instead of feeling like a victim, I prefer to ask “what can I do now?” That’s why I really loved your Reaction/Action bit. Because it’s about what we are going to do now that the situation is here, not about moaning and whining because something isn’t the way we want it to be. I mean, unless moaning and whining is going to change things – then, by all means.

    • Avatar of Rachel Biel

      Rachel Biel

      November 7, 2013

      Thanks, Laura. I had hoped to show a variety of views and was happy that that’s how it came out. I’ve tried to be really objective about this, but I think there are serious concerns and that people’s moaning and groaning shows real angst about what to do. I’ve invested years in building links to my Etsy shop and all of us who have done this, do not take closing shop lightly. All of the time, energy and money invested in building a place there has a real cost and value. The biggest thing that concerns me is all the reports out there of shop closings without notice of those people who are speaking out. Given that, what makes the most sense is to invest in setting up a self-hosted site when possible and continue to invest future efforts in that and then use the shop on Etsy as an ad or hook to bring people over to the new platform. I don’t recommend closing shop unless people just can no longer stomach endorsing Etsy’s policies.

  3. Avatar of Kate Barsotti

    Kate Barsotti

    October 25, 2013

    I appreciate all the hard work, honesty, and analysis that went into this article and comments.

  4. Ann Ridge

    October 20, 2013

    Dear Rachel

    Dear Rachel.
    Thanks so much to you for such an in depth report and sharing all the reviews, plus an accolade to all the other people for their input. I’ve only had a shop on Etsy a relatively short time, a couple of months with only one reaction, requesting a discount, a day ago so it was distressing to read some of the above. So my experience is limited on this site and presently I will do a wait and see. It will then be back to revamping my website with the expense and time of going it alone to be taken into consideration as I did not depend on sales income before. I’ve tried using the Spanish eBay and another local general site to sell non textile well made second hand items with zero sales success.

  5. Avatar of Rachel Biel

    Rachel Biel

    October 19, 2013

    Great insights, Barbara! Much of this we should talk about in our TAFA forums and do some brainstorming. One thing you could do is to import your Etsy listings to a different platform and see how it works, still leaving your Etsy shop up. There are so many options out there and most of them accept imports from Etsy or rss feeds.

    Yes, there is a lot of discontent out there, but the people who are asking you questions are probably the people who you want knocking at your door. Embrace that and welcome them, because they are the ones looking for relationships. I think that the negative feedback is a good wake-up call for Etsy. When I was bopping around, looking for reactions to the new guidelines, I saw most of the mainstream news media just reporting on it without really processing it. The comments were extensive and most were furious. If people don’t speak up, the trash will win for sure. Etsy needs to see that both its core base of sellers and buyers place great value on handmade and ethically made products. Hopefully, they will see that this is a bad move and amend it somehow.

    No, I didn’t know about the mswandas campaign. Excellent! I know that TAFA needs to be in many places and we need to mobilize members to become ambassadors out there. I just can’t do it all myself. We’ll talk more about all of this on the forums, OK? But, thanks so much for sharing. I have a lot to learn from you on tagging, SEO and other things.

  6. Avatar of Barbara Grafstrom

    Barbara Grafstrom

    October 19, 2013

    Rachel I love your analogy about organics. Many average consumers have no idea about most things. We get wholesale inquiries from people saying they deal in handmade and fairtrade. One look at their shop and I see mass produced mislabeled things, listed as vintage, hemp handmade, it is cheap market crap produced with polyester a couple of months ago. This worries me with the Etsy changes, consumers will not really know what is handmade. On the other hand we screwed up big time. Etsy took off so well for us we put too much of our time into that venue at the expense of our own real estate. Now we are feeling the big slump in sales over there, just when we have invested a huge amount of money and time in product expansion. We are still getting good views, it is the sales that are worrying. There is so much negative talk outside of Etsy. actual Etsy sellers giving 1 star reviews to the site and blasting them publicly saying its full of resellers and factory made junk. People are writing and asking about our process,we all know that if 1 is saying it at least 20 more are not and just walking away. I am truly worried for our holiday season.
    I tried to put a post in the Etsy forum about public praise private criticism, most did not react well. “We have a right to say…. ”
    I think the Tafamarket is great however I am now wondering about ours pointing to our Etsy shop. If there are concerns about that venue as a whole. Our website traffic is just not there yet and we have now found the platform to be lacking in its ability to easily post to many social sites because it is a separate app within the platform we have little control over it. Back to the drawing board. Originally we thought this would wait for after holidays, but with what we are seeing on Etsy we may not be able to wait. We need a massive push to our site or a new high marketplace traffic site.
    Regarding our discussion about Alexa,com I understand what you are saying about attracting the right crowd of buyers. I look heavily at the demographics of a site. I posted a comment back to you the other day, my internet was wonky and I don’t see it here. I know my demographic and when Alexa shows, browsing from home, little education, high percentage of US only visitors etc this is not good for us. So no it is not just global rank that matters.
    Cheap goods are everywhere, but there is a growing market for well made, conscientious products. It is hard to find the audience but it is out there. Has anyone seen the “Do you know who made your clothes” campaign? http://www.mswandas.co.uk/2013/10/15/watch-does-mothercare/ I know Tafa is not marketed as an eco sustainable platform as such however maybe this could be an added thought?
    Barbara

  7. Avatar of Rachel Biel

    Rachel Biel

    October 19, 2013

    Thanks, Beverly! :)

    Leisa, sure it’s all connected, in a bird’s eye view of human behavior and what our priorities are in this country and elsewhere. The bottom line with re-sellers on Etsy, markets for handmade products, and who we have in office (government) is all about supply and demand. We, as a people, choose to buy crap over handmade. I was just at Walmart (shame, shame) and bought a pair of slippers for $13, yes, from China. I am just as guilty as anybody else (who shops there or buys these things) of voting with my dollars for cheap stuff. What I really want costs $100 and is a good shoe, but I can’t afford it right now. (Will look on eBay!) So, we can be appalled and point fingers, but it’s very hard to be a purist and really “live simply so that others may simply live.” Actually, that doesn’t even apply because most of the handmade stuff is not anything that we really “need”. For the soul, maybe, but not for survival. We depend on people who have disposable income to keep those wheels turning.

    I was talking to a fair trade friend the other day who has struggled with online sales. Most of her support has come from her local community, from events, where they share, tell the story, etc. Locally, everybody who is interested has bought one for themselves and two as gifts and that market is tapped out. I have always felt that this passion I have for the handmade lifestyle has this big Catch 22, where we fuel the production of stuff we don’t need and become a part of that big consumer cycle. Yet, the way I was raised, you buy one $300 sweater (or a few over time) that will last a lifetime instead of four every winter which will only last one or two seasons. This is the big difference, creating things of value that will last or get handed down.

    As far as Etsy is concerned in this whole scenario, it’s not their fault that people choose to buy junk. If the buyers boycotted the re-sellers, they would be gone in no time. Instead, those re-sellers have thousands of sales and can’t keep them stocked fast enough. So, really it’s our culture that is to blame. Where Etsy is failing is in its leadership role as a voice for handmade as well as the partnership it has sought and received from that same community. Changing how people buy and what they support comes through education and engagement and Etsy has the power to help with that. An example would be if they had started a market for organic food, cooking tools and cool old farming equipment. They get the whole organic crowd behind them, but start letting commercially grown food in, slowly at first and then enabling and even promoting it. Finally, they allow ddt to be sold on the site, not to be used on YOUR food, just over in the ditches or away from the garden.

  8. Avatar of Diane McGregor

    Diane McGregor

    October 19, 2013

    Great summary Rachel. Thanks for all of your hard work putting this together.

  9. Beverly

    October 19, 2013

    Great indepth post! Many on etsy seem just to be waiting until after the holidays to make a move (among much speculation that the timing was intentional for this guidelines change). The real wild card is whether buyers will be willing to accept the new “factory made” = “handmade” redefinition at etsy; it seems unlikely that those who place a premium on handmade goods will be okay with this.

    Zibbet does have a very long way to go, but they are shutting down resellers quickly when reported. Right now, as far as venues are concerned, there aren’t a lot of viable alternatives so those who feel strongly about this are giving them a shot.

    • Leisa Rich

      October 19, 2013

      I am wondering if there is a connection to be forced between the present Lisa Congdon (and other Etsy etc. sellers) – Cody Foster debacle – and Etsy’s policies/handmade lip service? In addition, I seem to see a correlation to this: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/16/opinion/rothkopf-five-reasons-washington/index.html

      As in, what the heck is wrong with us STILL, how can we fix what is broken, how can we uphold honesty, integrity and bring back, “we, the people”? Does everyone get what I am getting at? These systems are all interconnected…

  10. Connie Rose

    October 19, 2013

    Hi Rachel — thanks for the indepth report about this. I knew some of it already, but not the most egregious parts. I “vacationed” my Etsy shop a couple years ago — and actually just closed it altogether while I was reading your post.
    It’s unconscionable what’s become of Etsy. It’s even difficult to buy there these days with their cockamamie search engine.
    It’s really too bad — especially for all the folks who’ve been selling there. My sales dropped off dramatically after a couple good years, which is why I eventually removed everything from my shop…and now I’ve closed it because I can’t conceive of becoming an Etsy seller ever again.
    If ever I want to sell online (in lieu of using my Sales Blog), I’d go with Big Cartel. At this point I’d rather pay a few bucks a month than have to deal with what happens to sites that are virtually-free — and Etsy is just that with its low transaction fees — and eventually have no regard for the backbone of their original success.
    Hugs to you.

    • Avatar of Rachel Biel

      Rachel Biel

      October 19, 2013

      Actually, Etsy fees can add up pretty quickly in a busy shop. My thinking is that if the fees add up to less than $30/month, it’s a good value. But, if it goes over that, then it’s time to think of “graduating” and having a self-hosted site. If someone is doing well there, it doesn’t hurt to maintain a presence, but if it’s a dead zone, then there are other options to consider.

  11. Leisa Rich

    October 19, 2013

    Thanks to Rachel for being so thorough and to the rest of you for weighing in. I have just reloaded my Etsy store after letting it lag for many months. I am not sure what direction I will take there, as I am trying to sell what I have due to the fact that I am thinking of entirely ceasing making small items for body and home. Until then, I need to be more savvy! Thanks so much.

  12. Avatar of Rachel Biel

    Rachel Biel

    October 19, 2013

    How cool for them! I didn’t see any complaints about Etsy staff not being paid, so I assume the Dublin staff should be fine, too. Probably a mostly great place to work.

  13. Avatar of Tia O'Connor

    Tia O'Connor

    October 19, 2013

    I don’t know if this is common knowledge or not – Etsy have recently opened their European HQ in Dublin. “167 new jobs created”, as the local papers put it. I think all these newly hired people need to be paid.

  14. Avatar of Rachel Biel

    Rachel Biel

    October 18, 2013

    Interesting about the Alexa ratings. However, sometimes it’s ok to not be number 1 in rankings like this, but to be high in that niche that will buy handmade. Views does not equal sales, especially if the site is perceived as a cheap junkyard. I believe that Etsy is still perceived as a handmade marketplace, but if they flood their products with cheap, factory made things, they will lose the customer base that would buy from us.

    And, if Zibbet succeeds in bringing in that crowd, then even if their rankings are lower, they will be the right crowd. We’ll have to see.

    I think that the anger that people are expressing comes isn’t coming from this one change, but from a long history of changes that do not build up seller confidence. Think of all the time and energy you have invested in your shop. Sure, you can download your listings to a csv file (which you should do just in case something ever happens) and then upload them to another site, but then there is all the marketing, all of the links out there pointing to your shop. Changing venues does not come as an easy, light decision. Well, if someone only has 20 items in their shop, no big deal. But, for heavy marketers like you, it is a huge investment.

    We also have a government shut down in this country which will have major economic repercussions. I, too, have been trying to figure out how to engage the younger, emerging markets that have an interest in what we do, but I think there are still a lot of language barriers. You would probably have a better sense of that.

    I always enjoy your feedback, always learn something new, so thank you, Barbara!

  15. Barbara

    October 18, 2013

    I have been watching this whole situation quite carefully. Our views are up on Etsy, sales are almost stagnant against last year, with a much higher # of listings. We were pushing for 500 Etsy listings by this months end. We just met yesterday and discussed a rethinking on that. We have unfortunately found our long researched website platform to be unable to easily share on most social platforms:( Back to the drawing board as our plan was to really push our own real estate.
    I think the biggest issue I have with the new Etsy guidelines is that they have gone so far as to allow drop shipping from another location. That to me signifies a complete disregard for handmade. If the seller is not even seeing their product (that was designed and then outsourced for manufacture) before it goes to the customer…..
    I think being on a community marketplace is important to our mix of venues, someplace that has a high volume of views. Where that might be now, I don’t know.
    I use alexa.com to analyze websites and their traffic this is Etsy’s rank today
    Global Rank
    Global rank 145
    Rank in United States 42

    Ebay
    Global Rank 21
    Rank in United States 8

    Zibbet
    Global Rank
    Global rank 44,148
    Rank in United States 7,895
    That is a huge difference. Currently we are looking for more global exposure as I do believe the current US situation is not healthy and better results can be found in other areas of the world. You can see on alexa what countries a sites traffic come from.
    I also believe that Etsy sellers are shooting themselves in the foot. I have seen many places on the net where the sellers are giving Etsy very bad reviews because they are angry at the changes. These are sites where ecommerce platforms are rated! Not rated for sellers, but as shopping platforms. I do get frustrated with the unprofessional mindset of many sellers on Etsy.
    I am trying to push Tafa Market on our social venues as much as possible, tumblr, pinterest, indulgy, fancy etc. We are a small group here in the scheme of things so I feel we all still need a large community marketplace in our bag of tricks. Open to all suggestions.
    Barbara

  16. Avatar of Delight Worthyn

    Delight Worthyn

    October 18, 2013

    I also have a good feeling about our market.It is a work in progress Rachel.Things take time.

  17. Avatar of Debra Dorgan

    Debra Dorgan

    October 18, 2013

    Thanks for the interesting, long post Rachel. It all leads to watching and waiting and hopefully learning some new marketing skills along the way. I actually have a good feeling about the new TAFA marketplace, even though I cannot yet afford to be on there. It already looks fab with beautiful handmade pieces for sale. Well done to everybody :-)

    • Avatar of Rachel Biel

      Rachel Biel

      October 18, 2013

      Thanks, Debra! Yes, the Market is a nice solution in terms of having a place where we can promote TAFA shops, whether they are on Etsy or elsewhere. We’ve had some big problems getting it to sync with bigcommerce which is a disappointment, but we’re hoping the developer will fix it.

  18. Avatar of Ellen Agger

    Ellen Agger

    October 18, 2013

    Rachel, you are stellar with this thoughtful review. And thanks for including many TAFA members’ reactions. Things are constantly changing online. Just as you figure out a strategy, the landscape changes. We’ll see how it all develops. I’ve applied to expand my Etsy shop offerings from TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles beyond supplies, although I added more supplies today. I have no idea how long it will take to get approved (or not) to list only TAMMACHAT-designed and Thai/Lao artisan partner-made textiles. I added a note in my application about the uneven treatment of shops, as Etsy shut us down in the past, although I saw many resellers (and liars about the provenance). I couldn’t resist speaking my mind and if that gets me no approval, so be it. Our shop was reinstated to carry supplies only. https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/tammachat

    • Avatar of Rachel Biel

      Rachel Biel

      October 18, 2013

      I’ve always wished they had a fair trade zone… They could do so much to help fair traders get visibility!

      • Avatar of Ellen Agger

        Ellen Agger

        October 18, 2013

        But fair trade is a quick tag to add to your business and so many don’t actually practice it. Like our local organic farmers who are not certified, I’m OK with that if I learn to know and trust the claims of the fair trade businesses I consider buying from. Difficult when you’re buying online. That’s why TAMMACHAT concentrates on telling the stories about the artisans in our blog and on our website.

        • Avatar of Rachel Biel

          Rachel Biel

          October 18, 2013

          Right. It would only work if there was a vetting in process. These kinds of issues are going to be tough with any site that allows shops to open without some kind of approval process. Maybe Zibbet will get flooded with the same types of resellers, too. How would they be able to cope with only 5 staff?

          The other thing with Etsy is that many of the staff are not really knowledgeable about the handmade products we represent. Many are very young with maybe some exposure to the indie culture in New York, but most of their staff is now made up of “engineers” (the hackers). They just set up an Appeal’s process and the guy they put in charge of it, Noah, looks like a super nice guy and everything, but I did some searching and his background is in music, not in product development: https://www.etsy.com/blog/news/2013/an-appeals-process-for-etsy-sellers/ This is an important job that deals with shops that have been closed down or other customer and seller complaints. It seems to me that hiring someone who has a long history in the handmade and merchandising world, would be much better equipped to handle something like this…

  19. Hagar Arnon Elbaz

    October 18, 2013

    Have a look at this way of reaction. I am not an American citizen but many of you are:

    …I wrote in my application that I have experience as an advocate. I’m not one to sit idly by if there is action that can be taken. While most of my advocacy has been on behalf of my daughter who has Type 1 Diabetes and other young people like her, what I’ve learned can be applied here.

    I composed a long letter detailing the “handmade” issue in the New Guidelines and submitted it in a complaint form to the NYS Attorney General’s office. Since Etsy is headquartered in Brooklyn, they have to comply with NYS business laws. You do not have to be a resident of New York State to file a complaint. If Attorney General Schneiderman finds Etsy in violation of both NYS & Federal business laws, it will be escalated to the federal level when the FTC reopens. I posted the link below in the New Guidelines forum, but will be surprised if it isn’t deleted by the moderators.

    http://www.ag.ny.gov/internet-bureau-online-tip-form

    Now is the time for solidarity! We are right in our belief that the definition of the word Handmade does not include factories, sweatshops, or outsourcing. It simply means handmade. And the general public’s definition is the same as ours. Etsy’s attempt to redefine a common word to suit their interests is blatantly deceptive marketing. If the Attorney General’s office is suddenly inundated with these forms, they will sit up and take notice, while a single voice may be ignored. All the better if the other handmade groups would like to add their voices to ours.

    If you’d like, I can share my comments, so you can see what I wrote. I used the “tip” rather than the “complaint” form to simplify, as the “complaint” form required dates and info that many of us do not have quick access to.

    Never Surrender!
    Renee
    artemis.rb@gmail.com

    • Avatar of Rachel Biel

      Rachel Biel

      October 18, 2013

      Wow, that is so interesting, Hagar. I just did a quick search (on google) and found a bunch of threads on this. One on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/teams/7722/discussions/discuss/13100587/page/1

      Here is the FTC law regarding jewelry:

      § 23.3
      Misuse of the terms “hand-made,” “hand-polished,” etc.
      (a) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-made or hand-wrought unless the entire shaping and forming of such product from raw materials and its finishing and decoration were accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the construction, shape, design, and finish of each part of each individual product.

      Note to paragraph (a): As used herein, “raw materials” include bulk sheet, strip, wire, and similar items that have not been cut, shaped, or formed into jewelry parts, semi-finished parts, or blanks.

      (b) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-forged, hand-engraved, hand-finished, or hand-polished, or has been otherwise hand-processed, unless the operation described was accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the type, amount, and effect of such operation on each part of each individual product.

      And, here is a link to reports on Etsy (some are good) on the Consumer Affairs site: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/online/etsy.html

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  1. TAFA Takes Proactive Approach to Changes Within the Handmade Market | RUSEtsy11-20-13

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