The Etsy strike was a long time coming

By Moises Mendez II

 
April 12, 2022

The Etsy strike was a long time coming

For Kristi Cassidy, Etsy was, at least in the beginning, a boon for her business.

Since 2006, Cassidy has used the e-commerce giant to sell her custom-order Gothic, Victorian, and Steampunk wedding dresses and costumes. As someone who makes all of her own products and has to keep up with the demands of a shop, Etsy allowed her to easily connect with customers.

But a long list of policy changes at Etsy have hurt business, according to Cassidy. Worst of all, as Etsy has reported earnings increases over the years, the company has also upped the fee it’s charging sellers. As a result, she’s lost over two-thirds of her income. “The platform has just gradually degraded over time,” she says. “They’ve made all these changes that have favored items that sell more quickly, items that sell more cheaply, or are not made to order.”

Things hit a breaking point when, in a February 2022 earnings call, Etsy announced a 30% increase in sellers’ fees (from 5% to 6.5%), which was put into effect Monday. And now Cassidy—together with tens of thousands of other Etsy sellers—is taking a stand.

An Etsy seller strike–an 18,000-plus strong collective action–went into effect Monday (the same day as the price increase). Strikers are taking one of two actions: putting their shops on “vacation mode,” which means temporarily closing for business; or deactivating all listings. Cassidy, who is one of the strike organizers, says the former option is a better one for sellers. “[Deactivating listings] doesn’t ding you in the algorithm quite as much,” she says. “If you put your shop in ‘vacation mode,’ it kind of resets your place in the Etsy search.”

Organizers are asking for customers to go on strike with them and abstain from purchasing items off the website until at least April 18. They also created a petition with over 60,000 signatures at the time of publication. In a letter to the Etsy CEO Josh Silverman, the striker organizers expressed their hope to repair the company-seller relationship. “We don’t want a long, drawn-out struggle, but our movement will only continue to grow unless these issues are addressed,” they wrote in the letter.

In an emailed statement, an Etsy spokesperson wrote, “Our sellers’ success is a top priority for Etsy. We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, 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.”

In addition to canceling the fee increase, strikers demand a crackdown on resellers, revamping the support system for sellers, and allowing sellers to opt out of costly offsite ads on sites like Facebook and Google. Cassidy says that latter point is especially important: Her products are made to order, and she’s unable to keep up with the demands of the increased number of orders via offsite ads. Offsite ads can cause sellers to absorb a a charge as high as 15% if they made less that $10,000 from Etsy in the last year, and a “discounted” 12% fee if they made more than $10,000.

Cassidy says she’s sympathetic to those who can’t participate in the strike because their livelihood is tied to the income they make via the platform. Still, she encouraged those who can’t directly participate to spread the word through social media or listings on their shop.

That’s not to say there aren’t people who rely on Etsy to pay the bills joining in the chorus of disgruntled voices. Mattie Boyd, a 32-year-old seller on Etsy whose shop consists of graphic T-shirts and patches, started focusing on making money through Etsy full time in 2020. Boyd says that the fee increase was “a slap in the face.” They understand that by going on strike, they’re losing more money than average, but they wanted to emphasize that sellers on Etsy are primarily women and minorities.

“It’s queer people, it’s trans people, it’s people of color, and it’s people who have disabilities or are neurodivergent,” they say. “There’s a face to the people it’s hurting, and it looks very different from Etsy’s board of directors and corporate structure.”

Cassidy says the strikers’ ultimate goal is to build a union for Etsy sellers. “We’re kind of in uncharted territory, so we’re not completely sure what that actually looks like,” she says, adding that the strikers have union organizers “in [their] midst.”

Update: This article has been updated to clarify the offsite ad fee structure, and to include a statement from Etsy.

 

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