Tegan Tuesday: Etsy sellers are going on strike

Article edited April 15, 2022

Next week, from April 11th through the 18th, there is a seller strike on Etsy. After years of increasingly hostile policies, the new seller fee increase is a step too far. There have been a number of planned strikes over the years, but this is the first one I’ve seen that has had any real traction. Many sellers will be putting their shops on Vacation Mode, as this makes it so that sales cannot be processed, and the strikers request that people not attempt to purchase goods during that time.

For those not familiar, Etsy is a microtransaction website, much like eBay, only it does not offer the bidding set-up, and it has traditionally privileged homemade or vintage objects. Anyone who has ever made the foolish mistake of knitting in public has had at least one person tell them that they should sell their wares on Etsy. Some of those lovely strangers will get quite cranky at the lack of enthusiasm at being voluntold to monetize their hobby. Because of my ability to find easier work elsewhere, I have never been an Etsy seller. But I have been a shopper! I bought my silver and my china on Etsy, I’ve bought furs, and I’ve bought any number of sewing patterns and books. Heck, Abe and I got our wedding rings from a blacksmith’s Etsy shop — I have been a longtime Etsy customer. I haven’t bought much in years, however, for a number of reasons. Initially, as a consumer, it seemed like it was difficult to find anything. I can’t even particularly put my finger on anything specific, but about five years ago I felt that things that I should have easily found were rare, or shops that I used to love were gone. It was confusing, but ultimately didn’t impact my life, so I ignored it, and just bought less.

It turns out there there were a number of policies and decisions happening “under the hood” that were actively making it difficult for sellers to make a living. The first large decision that shaped all the rest was of course becoming publicly traded. As of April 16, 2015, Etsy, Inc (NASDAQ: ETSY) has been a publicly traded company and thus has to answer to its shareholders and drive profit up. Ever expanding upwards! And then began the price gouging and offloading of financial burden to sellers. To quote Denise Hendrick of Romantic Recollections:

In the last couple years they have raised rates and added new, mandatory fees. 15% fees on orders from ads they run and that we cannot turn off. 5% on the amount buyers pay for shipping. They strongly pressure sellers to offer free shipping and run sales. It all adds up fast. They added programs like “star seller” that add to our workload and are hard to meet, but if we don’t hit that goal we’re not listed as highly. At the same time, more and more sellers are selling mass produced junk.”

Last year (or the year before — time has no meaning since Covid) Etsy also strong-armed most sellers into offering “free” shipping. When sellers rightfully asked how that would work, Etsy’s official stance was to artificially inflate your prices to hide the shipping costs. This was also during a push to dodge any responsibility for the many, many, many shipping issues during the pandemic, and allow buyers to recoup their costs with no fault and sellers to have to eat said costs. Now the seller is out the product and the income. This fee structure is so hostile to sellers and many have either left Etsy, or use Etsy only as a way for people to find their personal website. Taylor of Dames a la Mode only lists stock pieces on Etsy and offers limited runs or customizable options on her personal site, as that is her primary selling space. In her statement of intent to strike she says:

Etsy has changed dramatically over the years, and the fee increases are endless. That’s why my stuff on Etsy costs more than my website – their fees are so high! And the worst thing is they force you to pay to promote your items outside of Etsy (I truly, truly hate this but you can’t opt out… infuriation!)

There have been so many new fees, and increased fees, and seller-hostile policies that many sellers have felt their stores are experiencing death by a thousand cuts. Many sellers feel that it’s only a matter of time before their profits do not exceed the overhead at Etsy. The reason for the strike is that with record-breaking profits from last year, Etsy is implementing a 30% seller fee increase on all sales. This is an absolutely ridiculous number. The fact that all sellers received a yearly newsletter congratulating Etsy and thanking their hard work for said profit, only to have this fee thrown in their faces is… very corporate America.

One of the most faithful voices I have heard concerning the many issues plaguing Etsy sellers is that of Sultry Vintage. She closed the Vintage end of her Etsy shop last year due to an ever-increasing hedge of fees with policies encouraging sales and slashing prices. Her recent statement about supporting the strikers went out today and I think sums up the general feeling well.

Storms a brewing. Etsy recently sent out a newsletter congratulating everyone on their record profits. They then shared the news that they’d be hiking fees. Because Etsy is a publicly traded company with a backwards minded CEO, they profit share with investors and squeeze sellers for more to hand over to shareholders.

Sellers are the sole reason Etsy exists at all.

I many not make my entire living off Etsy any longer – Etsy and its hot garbage policies since going public being a contributing factor to that – but I do solidly stand with tens of thousands of independent small businesses who do. Who built Etsy, and who are being taken to the cleaners every time their hard work pays off.

I’m asking three things. One, if you’ve ever said you support small business – mean it. Right now, refuse to shop on Etsy for the week of the 11th-18th. Shop directly with sellers if you need something or plan ahead. Two, spread the word. It’s a small ask with massive, rippling effects. Three, if you can strike for any amount of time, do. Put the message in your vacation banner as to why you’re striking. Etsy has a policy of not allowing you to inform customers that they can shop with you off etsy (hilarious), so let them know now where to find you for that week and that is a crucial moment for support and shopping alternatively, off etsy.

Etsy has decided sellers are puppets meant only to reap them profits. It’s time the corporate structure acknowledge that without its sellers, Etsy ceases to exist, and honor the labor sellers put in that makes them boatloads of money while small businesses drown.

Please spread the word and go directly to the organizers of this movement for more info @etsy.strike

It makes sense that with the absolute nightmare situation that is labor right now, strikes and unions are forming everywhere. The Etsy strike is yet another one, and I think the time is certainly ripe for this strike in particular, and labor rights in general.

Of course there is a downside. There’s always a downside. Sellers who are barely breaking even can’t afford to strike. Lauren of Wearing History is only striking on the first day, for example. She is financially unable to close for a whole week, and doesn’t have the wherewithal to maintain a site that can reach her international customer base the way Etsy can. I have thankfully seen nothing but kindness and respect to those sellers who say they are unable to strike for financial reasons. I hope that continues as we get closer to the strike, especially as the biggest impediment to strike support is wanting to also support Ukrainian sellers. Elizabeth-Iryna of Bygone Memorabilia, The Boudoir Key, and Marie Theresa and Lumieres has been one of the most vocal Ukrainian makers and offered a clear statement in opposition:

Some of you sent me the “Sellers Ask Customers to Boycott Etsy” news due to increasing fees.

Thank you for thinking of me. 🙂 Unfortunately, selling completely outside of Etsy is not possible for me at the moment. Ukrainian users of Paypal can’t use it for business. Etsy didn’t cancel any fees for Ukrainian shops. When I can, I will open my website. I also use the help of intermediary for a few, because Paypal is still unavailable for Ukrainian business.

I cannot boycott Etsy because selling e-patterns on there is my one and only source of income at the moment. Same for other Ukrainians.

Yes, Etsy is making money on us. But it helps us live, too.

And therein lies the quandary: Ukrainian makers who are trapped in Ukraine or those who are refugees in other countries have very few options for income right now, and digital resources on Etsy have been a staple. Much like the movement to rent Ukrainian AirBnBs to send funds to Ukrainians, many people have sent financial support through Etsy purchases. Strikes are always difficult and often hurt those with the most to lose. I wish the strike well, and I hope that it doesn’t severely impact those sellers relying solely on Etsy for their daily needs. I’m unfortunately pessimistic enough to suspect that it will have little-to-no impact on the decision-makers at Etsy, and Etsy will continue to function as the saying goes: I know it’s crooked, but it’s the only game in town.

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