Saturday, November 7, 2009

I'm Putting Etsy on Notice.

I'm going to steer this blog toward the dark side for a moment, I hope you don't mind. The more I progress into the adulthood, the more I realize that I am a naive idealist. I grew up in a small town and I'm gullible. I believe people will be honest. I'm typically not skeptical of anything or anyone, and when the curtain is pulled back and the inner workings exposed, I'm always shocked and angry. Such is the case with Etsy.

When I first joined Etsy, I pictured a perfect network and community-- thousands of people in thousands of living rooms and studios around the world, making handmade items. Vintage sellers as people who are pulled toward finds, toward old things with stories. Maybe I have an overactive imagination, or am just a really visual thinker, but this is what I picture when I visit a shop, when I think of the site. In my mind's eye I see Etsy exactly as they want me to, with little cartoon drawings of bears knitting scarves and birds and featured sellers who make careers out of work they're passionate about.

I see this:

This is not the truth. Etsy has a seedy underbelly of users who are exploiting the site and its traffic of handmade and vintage customers. They're selling items as vintage that are most definitely not. They're selling cheap fishnet stockings and calling them 'craft supplies'. They're selling Olive Garden gifts cards and "vintage" plates from Anthropologie. They're buying cheap clothes on wholesale made in Asia and calling it a handmade sweater. This is exactly what Etsy isn't about, right? Mass production, imported bear figurines and Forever 21 sweaters are not what I signed up for. This is the figurehead of the handmade movement for all intents and purposes, and its becoming a dumping ground and a sham. I had no idea. I was gullible.

So you'd think that this isn't Etsy's fault, that people are hosting garage sales in their shops with items that are neither handmade, vintage, or supplies. That people are misrepresenting what they're selling. But Etsy is responsible. If they make these rules, they need to follow them. They need to enforce their own standards. They're not.

I would never had started selling on Etsy had it been billed as a place for online garage sales and mass produced garbage. Last I checked, that's what eBay is for. My work is inexpensive, but that's not the kind of venue I want it in. I pay for Etsy's services with the understanding that they will provide the kind of place they promised.

I know its a free market-- that if I don't like the fact that Etsy is ignoring their own rules that I can go to many of the various sites popping up that provide identical services to sellers. The problem is that I'm already highly invested in Etsy. My merchandise bags and business cards are all stamped with my shop address on Etsy. I have regulars who buy from my shop, and I have a history of positive feedback that makes future buyers confident that they can trust me. To go elsewhere at this point would be very expensive.

So I wonder what Etsy's problem is, and there are two possible answers. The first possibility is that they simply don't have the staff to investigate or remove items that are inappropriate or flagged. I take issue with this reason because I continue to hear that Etsy is experiencing record traffic and profits. Its obvious the site is growing and will continue to grow-- and they should be able to hire the workforce to manage it, and keep up with its mission.

The second possibility is that these items and sellers, no matter how inappropriate, are good for Etsy's bottom line. Listings, whether legit or not, earn Etsy 20 cents. The sale of an item makes Etsy a commission no matter what that item is. Maybe they are turning a bit of a blind eye toward these items.

I do know that this stinks, either way. I feel like a bit of an idiot for buying into the image Etsy is offering. I know that if people have to wade through a sea of garbage to find my work that they won't bother. I know that if Etsy can't get it together they're going to get a reputation as a worthless place to try and find anything handmade. Everyone who invested in Etsy, in its mission, will be out of luck.

It seems like they have a limited amount of time in which to turn this ship around before it all starts moving south. I hope they do.


Tiffany said...

I feel the same way about this issue on etsy...Not only that, but they've been putting this stuff on the FP! Give me a break. I'm an artist, and I spend a lot of time making my work. Why is this mass produced crap being tolerated on a 'handmade' site? I agree that it's just about the money. Which is a shame...

Meaghan said...

This is a really phenomenal post - what really resonated with me is the fact that I, too, feel duped! It's really unfortunate that there are people clogging up the site, that Etsy has established NO customer service department/team, and that rules are being generated without anyone being held accountable. Thanks for writing this!

Annie B said...

Great post. I don't think it's naive to want a company that calls themselves honest & real to uphold honesty and realness. "Handmade" is etsy's core value, and if they lose that, they aren't etsy any more.

Marcy said...

Thanks so much for the comments, guys. Its good to know that I'm not the only one feeling a little disenchanted and stuck. I have never been really entrenched in the Etsy community like a lot of sellers have, and always thought they were complaining somewhat unjustly because Etsy seems to work for me just fine-- but the more I see this sort of thing happening, the more I realize that it is impacting everyone who takes the time to sell work on the site in one way or another. Hopefully things will change before Etsy (and all of its sellers) get a bad name.

Anonymous said...

This really is a serious problem, and I feel like crud when I find out something I admired is a rip-off, too. Is this something where I'll walk away? Not yet - I'm not really satisfied with alternative marketplaces. Right now I'm just going with the "be more awesome than that" plan (or trying to be) and hoping for the best.

tinaseamonster said...

buy a url and redirect it to where ever you want your shop to be. it is better and smarter branding and allows you to go anywhere.

Marcy said...

The Perfumer: I know-- I tried ArtFire for a hot minute and they put my print on sale somehow and I didn't make as much... and we all know that the traffic situation is far different... and at the end of the day, I think Etsy is a lot easier to use than these other sites.

Tinaseamonster: I'm not 100% sure I know what you're saying because I'm not super web savvy-- are you saying that someone types in my shop name and I arrange to have it immediately redirect to my web site? I didn't even know I could do that! From what I understand, redirecting buyers is a violation of Etsy's Terms of Use because it's considered fee avoidance. I don't know if that's the kind of redirecting they're referencing in that rule, though. Then again, if Etsy doesn't really mind if anyone is following its Terms of Use, then maybe this is an idea to consider.