Etsy’s New Guidelines: Reaction? Action!
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:
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:
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?
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:
[quote author=”Etsy” image=”” w=”” h=”” image_align=””]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.[/quote]
“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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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