When Tricia Robinson first came to Etsy in 2013, it was to help save her cat’s life.
“My cat got really sick and I was getting vet bills through the roof and couldn’t afford to pay them,” Robinson said. “So I created an illustration that was inspired by him and sold it.”
It was then that Robinson realized she could use the platform to sell more of her work and make a living from it.
But after receiving her first payment from Etsy, the Montreal artist says she was struck by the difference between her sales and the amount that was deposited into her account. It was then that she paid attention to all the costs Etsy charges sellers on the platform.
At first, she was okay with that.
“It’s kind of become like, okay, well, I’m making money as an artist. I have access to this online marketplace. It’s pretty cool for the most part,” a- she declared.
Etsy was founded in 2005, providing an online marketplace for artists and crafters to sell handmade and vintage items as well as craft supplies. The website has attracted millions of buyers and sellers and provided a platform for artists to become entrepreneurs.
But over the years, Robinson says she began to see her margins shrink as Etsy’s grew. A policy introduced in 2019 encouraged sellers to offer free shipping on purchases over US$35 by promising to optimize these stores for US shoppers. Robinson initially refused to participate, but eventually relented when he saw his sales in the United States disappear.
Offering free shipping took away at least half of her profit margin, she said. That’s when things started to go downhill on Robinson’s platform.
“[Etsy] was this really awesome market that celebrated small, artisanal and local businesses,” Robinson said. “But they’re not like that anymore.
Now Robinson is one of thousands of sellers who said they planned to boycott the site from April 11-18 after the site announced it would raise its transaction fees by 5-6.5%.
Fee hike sparks petition
This comes after Etsy’s strong fourth quarter results beat expectations.
The announcement led Kristi Cassidy, a seamstress from Westerly, Rhode Island, to launch a petition after posting on Reddit calling for an Etsy sellers union. Cassidy told CBC News that more than 11,000 vendors plan to join the boycott.
“The message was basically asking when would this end because it’s only getting worse and I don’t think it’s going to end unless we do something about it,” she said.
The petition also lists other demands, including the ability for sellers to opt out of offsite advertising, which drives sales for which Etsy charges sellers more.
In Cassidy’s case, she says Etsy charged her $100 for a dress sale from an off-site ad.
In a statement, an Etsy spokesperson said the increased fees will help increase their investments in marketing, customer support and removal of listings that violate company policies.
“Our revised fee structure will allow us to increase our investments in each of these key areas so that we can better serve our community,” the statement said.
Company faces pressure from shareholders to boost profits, expert says
Etsy has always had an open and honest relationship with its sellers, says University of British Columbia professor David Clough.
However, Clough says he’s grown uptight over the years.
“Since 2018, they’ve increased their fees twice, suggesting they may be trying to make a profit at the expense of their market sellers,” he said.
Etsy became a publicly traded company in 2015, which makes it susceptible to shareholder pressure.
With more than five million sellers on the site and 90 million customers, Clough says the increased transaction fees are a new way for the company to boost its bottom line.
“As they have expanded their user base, it becomes more difficult to grow their revenue by adding more users, so that forces them to look for other sources of revenue.”
Etsy’s fees are consistently lower than e-commerce competitors like Amazon, which charges 8-15% on top of other fees.
Still, continuing to raise fees could jeopardize Etsy’s reputation because they stray further from the company’s original values that allowed small businesses to make money, he says.
As for the boycott’s potential effect on Etsy, Clough says it could create momentum for more dialogue between the company and sellers as a collective entity.
“If they’re faced with a pushback from sellers for this increase, it makes them think twice about raising fees down the line,” he said.
Cassidy says she has not been in communication with Etsy about the petition and the boycott.
And while she isn’t counting on Etsy to reverse her fee hike, she says she’s excited to build a community of sellers who want to advocate for better compensation and company policies.
“The things we could do together seem limitless,” she said.