Thousands of Etsy sellers strike over company's fee and policy changes

·6 min read

Thousands of Etsy sellers put their shops on vacation mode Monday to protest a number of the e-commerce company’s policies, effectively going on strike until April 18 with the goal of forming a union to negotiate with management.

“The zoomed-out view of the situation is just people losing their ability to make an income doing something creative,” Kristi Cassidy, the strike’s organizer and an Etsy seller since 2006, told USA TODAY.

Over 17,000 sellers put their shops on pause Monday in a move that is a culmination of weeks of organizing over grievances involving changes to sellers the company has rolled out in the last four years.

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Most recently, in a report to investors, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman announced the company was increasing its seller transaction fee from 5% to 6.5%, effective Monday. The fee is a percentage of the total order amount that Etsy charges, according to The Verge.

“We expect to invest most of the incremental revenue from this fee increase in marketing, seller tools and creating world-class customer experiences,” the company said in the report.

The fee increase comes amid all-time high pandemic gains for the company, according to the petition Cassidy organized.

While she had been upset about other changes, the fee struck Cassidy’s last nerve. So she published “We need an Etsy sellers union” on the Etsy Sellers subreddit about two months ago.

Frustrated peers agreed with her idea. Sellers started organizing on Reddit, created a Discord server and website to help one another collaborate, and Cassidy published a petition in support of the campaign that had over 45,000 signatures as of Monday.

The organizers delivered a letter to Silverman Monday morning listing their demands, which include ending the fee increase, cracking down on resellers, eliminating a seller reward program and other issues involving offsite ads and support tickets.

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In an email statement to USA TODAY, an Etsy spokesperson remarked sellers’ success is a “top priority” and said the increased fee would create resources to allocate toward sellers' pain points: “The new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support and removing listings that don't meet our policies.”

Etsy making 'change after change'

Cassidy, 39, a homemaker who crafts custom Victorian wedding dresses and costumes, said she’s noticed Etsy make “change after change,” shifting away from the company’s original focus on helping creatives make a viable income. Given the company’s changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s lost over two-thirds of her income since 2019. Etsy makes up about 90% of her income, and while she’s able to survive despite the changes, she knows that option isn’t possible for all sellers.

Kristi Cassidy, 39, of Westerly, Rhode Island, is the Etsy sellers strike organizer.
Kristi Cassidy, 39, of Westerly, Rhode Island, is the Etsy sellers strike organizer.

One of the most frustrating changes, she said, is Etsy’s Star Seller program, which was announced in July 2021 as a way to “reward shops that consistently offer excellent customer experience.”

But the metrics that allow someone to qualify for the program are more easily met by sellers who aren’t hand-making their items, Cassidy said, punishing sellers like her who make one-of-a-kind or made-to-order products.

Star sellers qualify partly out of their ability to ship orders on time, but Cassidy said it's common for a customer to purchase something and then ask for it to be customized. This extends a seller’s service time, but they’re punished for taking longer to make a unique item.

“These are not things buyers expect from independent shops, these are things they expect from Amazon,” London-based seller Joseph Fellstold USA TODAY. Fells has been on Etsy for over 10 years and hand paints t-shirts, designs enamel pins and illustrates art prints in his store Bleached Bones.

Fells noted that Etsy isn’t clear how not achieving Star Seller affects sales. And last year one of his stores was put on a payment reserve for 90 days because their copyright system made a mistake. In that time, he still had to pay for his materials despite not making an income keep his business open.

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Cassidy said other grievances include shutting down resellers, people who sell mass-produced goods that they have not designed themselves.

"Sellers are having to compete with those [resell] prices ... buyers will buy those items and then they'll see it posted on Amazon for like half the price," she said. "It's horribly damaging to the platform because those buyers don't come back."

Computer-driven decisions also hurt Etsy sellers, Cassidy said, adding that sellers should have an easy path through Esty's support system to avoid holds on their shops that cut people from their income.

The Etsy spokesperson said part of the earnings from the fee increase would be allocated toward technology to mitigate these kinds of issues.

It's not possible for all sellers to strike by walking away from their businesses for a week, Cassidy said, because each seller has a different situation.

Adding $1,000 to Etsy listings

Courtney Gamble, who runs a shop called MessQueen New York on Etsy, handmakes bright spandex from her apartment in Brooklyn. She decided to strike by adding $1,000 to each of her Etsy listings, which typically are priced below $90. Her shop announcement directs people to her official website where they will get 15% off their entire order for the duration of the strike.

Gamble has been on Etsy since 2010 and said her shop has been "at the bottom of the pile" ever since she forgot her Department of State registration number while out of town and Etsy automatically put her store on vacation mode. Now she spends resources trying to get her shop back to where it used to be, renewing her most popular listings, adding listings for new styles and upping money spent on her daily ad budget so that customers are more likely to find her.

Courtney Gamble is on strike with fellow Etsy sellers.
Courtney Gamble is on strike with fellow Etsy sellers.

"It's all a game," she said. "They constantly change the algorithm ... But every time we renew or add a listing, Etsy gets 20 cents from us. So it works in their favor to put successful shops at the bottom of the pile because they know we will put in money to raise our rank and get back to where we were."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Etsy sellers strike: Shops close to protest policies, fee increases