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Etsy sellers will go on strike in April and want customers to boycott

Etsy sellers will go on strike in April and want customers to boycott 

In February, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman had good news to share with investors: sales and revenue were at an all-time high, sending Etsy stock soaring. At the same time, Silverman had less welcome news for sellers, delivered via email: transaction fees were going up, from 5 percent to 6.5 percent, or a 30 percent increase, beginning April 11th.

For Kristi Cassidy, an active seller on Etsy since 2007, the fee increase was the last straw. Cassidy, who sells gothic Victorian costumes and accessories, had a happy first decade on the platform. She was able to reach a customer base eager to buy handmade products, and she grew her business selling made-to-order and custom pieces. But for the last few years, changes at Etsy that she feels hurt sellers were piling up — rising fees, mandatory marketing programs, and an influx of drop shippers — and the marketplace no longer felt like somewhere where artisan products and hand-picked vintage items were prioritized.

Shortly after hearing of the fee increase, Cassidy headed to the Etsy sellers subreddit, which was flooded with comments about the news, and wrote a post.

“I wonder,” Cassidy wrote, “What would happen if on April 11, so many sellers put their shops on vacation mode that Etsy starts shitting bricks.”

Now, Cassidy and other Etsy sellers are planning to do just that: on April 11th, thousands of Etsy shops have committed to going into vacation mode, suspending sales for a little over a week in protest of recent changes on the platform. They’re also asking shoppers to refrain from buying on Etsy, and a campaign in support of the strike has received over 15,000 signatures in just over a week. More than 5,000 sellers have signed on to strike, Cassidy says, and shop owners are welcome to go offline for the full period or even a day — whatever they can afford to do. Cassidy hopes that this strike, no matter how big, will be the beginning of more organizing within seller communities.

“The strike is just action number one,” she says. “What we want to really do for the future is form a solidarity support movement — peer support, artisans supporting each other.”

Customer support for the action has been overwhelming, Cassidy says, and shoppers understand why sellers are shutting down. Many comments on the petition come from buyers, who say they shop on Etsy to support independent creators and businesses and would gladly take their business elsewhere if sellers can’t make a living.

Changes at the expense of sellers have made some shop owners feel like their success on the platform is tenuous.

“I just feel that I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop,” says D., a longtime crafts seller on Etsy who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation. “I am mindful every day that they could shut me down, and I would be without an income, and there would be nothing I could do about it.”

The campaign’s list of demands centers largely on controversial policy changes Etsy has made since 2017, when corporate shake-ups — including layoffs and a new CEO — seemed to set the tone for a new chapter of the company. Some of the demands relate to fees, like canceling the most recent round of increases and allowing large sellers to opt out of a mandatory advertising program loathed by merchants for the steep costs associated with it.

Other demands hint at concerns longtime Etsy sellers have expressed over the direction the company is going in and the types of products for sale on the platform. Etsy changed its rules in 2013 to allow sellers to outsource production, and sellers have complained the site is now filled with mass-produced, print-on-demand products. Striking sellers and supporters ask for a comprehensive plan to “crack down” on resellers.

Resellers on Etsy were the subject of a past seller strike in 2012, when 3,500 sellers planned to close shop to protest the handling of an internal investigation into a storefront allegedly selling mass-produced furniture, forbidden at the time.

The Star Seller program, introduced last year, is also a target of ire. Sellers receive a badge if they maintain certain customer metrics, like a 24-hour response time, consistent five-star ratings, and fast shipping. But some sellers say it amounts to micromanaging every transaction to the detriment of customer service, putting undue pressure on small businesses to operate like a corporation. Cassidy says the requirements to stay in good standing aren’t always possible for her — for example, a custom order could take longer to make than ship time, even with an extension, allows for.

“Rather than making us mad at buyers who leave glowing 4-Star reviews, or making us feel that we can no longer offer letter class shipping on items like cards and stickers, Etsy should leave us to individually do the best we can for each and every customer in each and every situation,” the petition reads.

Etsy has defended the most recent fee increase as a good thing for 5.3 million sellers. In announcing the planned increase, Silverman said Etsy had “demonstrated [its] ability to make improvements that directly translate into more sales for our sellers,” pointing to record sales per seller in 2021.

Kelly Clausen, head of corporate communications at Etsy, echoed that sentiment, saying the company is committed to helping sellers grow their businesses. Clausen says sellers want the company to expand marketing services and customer support and to remove listings that violate Etsy policy.

“Our revised fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in each of these key areas so that we can better serve our community and keep Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace,” Clausen says.

Longtime Etsy sellers who decry the recent changes often long for a version of the company that no longer exists. Before going public, Etsy had B Corp certification, a designation for companies that meet high social and environmental standards that sellers often reference. The company gave up its B Corp status shortly after going public in 2015. In 2017, former Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson was fired and replaced by Silverman, who focused on growth and boosting sales on the platform. Record sales and revenue in 2021 suggest the pivot has been good for the company.

But even as Etsy touts its successes, sellers worry about their future. D., the crafting supplies seller, says the majority of their income comes from Etsy sales, but the email notice of fee hikes starting on April 11th prompted them to reconsider their presence on the platform.

“My preference would be to get off Etsy completely,” D. says. “And after getting that email from [Etsy CEO Josh Silverman], I gave myself a year to do just that.”

On top of transaction fees, sellers like D. must pay a flat listing fee, payment processing fees, and other service fees, including a 12 percent advertising commission each time a customer comes to D.’s shop and makes a purchase from an ad placed by Etsy — a program anyone making more than $10,000 a year is required to join. Just this year, D. paid more than 16 percent of their total sales in fees to Etsy, according to their data.

And while the portion of Etsy shops going into vacation mode on April 11th is so far just a tiny sliver of total storefronts, sellers say they’ve reached a breaking point.

“I can’t really afford it,” D. says of the eight-day-long strike. “But I’m just that fed up.”

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