Popular online marketplace Etsy has introduced new guidelines for sellers addressing how items listed on the site can be made, who can take part in making them, and how they can be shipped.
Like other popular online marketplaces, Etsy has seen its fair share of controversy and backlash from sellers. As far back as a year and a half ago, we were talking about seller complaints about the site featuring goods that didn't quite seem to fit the "handmade" promise made by the site.
Etsy, however, says it isn't here "to be the creativity police".
One thing is not changing. Reselling is not allowed. You can't buy something from someone else, and sell it without making any changes. This has been a problem on the site for sometime, and Etsy continues to battle it.
Corinne Haxton Pvlovic leads the company's Trust and Safety team. Etsy's team that makes sure sellers comply with company policies report to her.
"Some of the issues around reselling have grown from communications problems on Etsy’s part," she says. "From the beginning, Etsy actively encouraged community members to flag sellers and items that appear to be breaking our rules. As our policies grew more lengthy and complex, it was harder to understand how Etsy defined handmade and exactly how marketplace rules were being enforced."
"This situation frustrated many Etsy members," she adds. "When they took the trouble to flag shops that appeared to flout Etsy’s rules and saw no action taken, their trust in us was damaged. Going forward, we want to be clear: identifying problems in the marketplace is our responsibility. We’re not expecting members to do that work for us."
Other common issues some have expressed are when the same item photos show up in other online marketplaces with different policies, or in multiple Etsy shops, or when the same type of item shows up in multiple Etsy shops. With regards to photos appearing in other marketplaces, Etsy doesn't demand exclusivity for listings, so the same items might simply be for sale elsewhere. Or people may be using Etsy sellers' photos without permission.
In the case of listing photos showing up in multiple Etsy shops, the company says it's often the same seller running all the shops, which can influence search results unfairly. The company is looking into ways to correct this.
Regarding the same type of item showing up in multiple Etsy shops, Pvlovic says, "This is the hardest issue. Trendy items that are simple to make, like bubble necklaces or iPhone cases, can challenge our personal definitions of handmade, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed on Etsy. Etsy is a unjuried marketplace, and sellers choose what types of items to make for their shops and how they present those items. Many sellers choose to sell popular items for an understandable reason — because they sell. We don’t remove items unless they violate our policies, and our policies don’t ask sellers to meet any set of aesthetic criteria. Our role is to keep the marketplace safe and trustworthy; we aren’t here to be the creativity police."
New guidelines allow sellers to hire additional employees and work with outside manufacturers. Sellers can hire any help they need and collaborate from different locations, use shipping or fulfillment services, and/or work with outside manufacturers to help produce their designs.
Sellers will be required to answer questions about why they choose manufacturers, and the manufacturers and others who help make listed items will be required to be listed on the seller's About page.
"Etsy sellers are at the heart of a growing revolution," a spokesperson for Etsy tells WebProNews. "More and more people around the world are interested in supporting local, mindful, independent businesses. Buyers increasingly want to know where their goods come from and how they are made."
"At the same time, makers have access to an ever-growing array of methods to create their items, everything from laser cutters and CNC routers, to manufacturers who do small runs of high-quality items," the spokesperson adds. "Artists are integrating these new technologies with some of the oldest hand-making processes in the world in surprising ways. Makers are banding together to collaborate, sharing workshops and tools, and building their own production facilities."
Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson talked about the new guidelines further in a blog post.
"When Etsy started, we relied on one word to carry all our values out into the world: handmade," he wrote. "Almost immediately, that was a problem. Many of us felt we knew handmade when we saw it, but that was hard to put into enforceable policy. What kind of tools could you use? How many hands could shape the product? Could you use mass-produced components to put together something original? As Etsy wrestled with defining exactly what handmade meant, and what was and wasn’t allowed, our DOs and DON’Ts ballooned from about 4,000 to 14,000 words. Inside the company, we struggled to see our way out of this bind without compromising what we felt kept Etsy special."
"Meanwhile, sellers told us again and again that our policies were confusing, that how we enforced them was unclear, and that as a result, they felt anxious and worried about their Etsy shops and unable to reach for their goals. Some sellers chose to work punishing hours to maintain a one-person shop, thinking that if they hired help, they would get kicked off the site. Some sellers quietly began to bend the rules, hoping that no one would really notice. Some sellers simply left, because they felt Etsy’s policies were too intrusive and restrictive. We think this is tragic."
Enter the new guidelines. How will sellers react? Dickerson says he knows they will raise new questions for many members of the community, but ultimately thinks the changes give more control to sellers. He says they realized that handmade could never be defined as a single method or process, but have decided that authorship, responsibility and transparency mean trust, which is essentially what it's all about.
"We know defining handmade as authorship, responsibility and transparency may not match your personal definition, but these are the values we see Etsy sellers living every day," he wrote. "They capture what sets Etsy apart, and they create a clear framework for giving more opportunity to sellers."
Are you an Etsy seller? Buyer? How does all of this sit with you? Is Etsy making the right policy changes?