Etsy’s Reseller Debacle: Handmade Site Features Questionable GoodsBy: Amanda Crum - April 30, 2012
Since 2005, Etsy has been the place to go for handmade crafts and vintage goodies; strictly an online destination, it’s home to about 800,000 sellers who offer up everything from jewelry to children’s clothing to furniture. Anyone with handmade items to sell can open a shop on the site and become an entrepreneur, and as a seller myself, I can attest to the success one can have if the shop is carefully tended to.
Part of the site’s rules of operation, according to their homepage, is that anything sold in a shop must be either A. Handmade (by you) B. Vintage (20 years old or more) or C. Supplies. They specifically point out the things that are not allowed, which include items handmade by someone other than yourself, illegal items, or anything that doesn’t fit into the above categories. But despite these steadfast rules, there are still shops that offer goods which were made by someone else, and sometimes they slip through the cracks.
Are you an Etsy seller? Feel free to let your voice be heard in the comments section.
Because Etsy is a relatively small company compared to the amount of business they do, it’s difficult for them to police the entire site to weed out the sellers who aren’t abiding by the rules; when they do find one that’s been flagged, however, the site managers send the shop proprietor an email asking detailed questions about their processes. If they don’t get the right answers, the shop gets shut down. It happened to Lisa Jacobs of New Zealand, who has a jewelry shop on the site. She says they shut her down after learning she was using a third-party vendor to fulfill orders, and only agreed to re-open it after she amended her shipping policy, which included sending out the items directly from her home and adding a week onto shipping time.
The past year has seen a doubling of Etsy’s efforts to sniff out the sellers who are less than honest about the provenance of their items; they now have a staff of 16 who are solely dedicated to finding those shops and researching items they think are suspicious. Most of them are experts in a particular category, which makes it easier for Etsy to “ask the right questions” of the sellers, according to Kruti Patel Goyal, who is the director of Etsy’s policing groups.
But despite their efforts, there are still what some would consider to be huge oversights on the part of the craft site, such as a recent issue which was brought to my attention by a fellow seller.
Etsy has a section called “Featured Seller” which includes an in-depth interview with a particular shop’s owner and a feature about their goods on Etsy’s blog. It’s considered a big deal to be included in this group, and the site claims that only the highest standards of quality handmade wares are considered. However, they recently featured a shop called Ecologica Malibu, which offers furniture made from reclaimed wood, and the shop has been called into question regarding it’s “handmade” claim.
The woman behind the shop, Mariana Schechter, says she uses raw materials for her furniture and has a small team of people helping her put them together:
“I get my “rescued” wood from several islands in Indonesia, sourced from old houses and canoes, or ships like jangadas. I pay for the wood and hire someone to reclaim it for me. Sometimes my clients will ask for a particular traditional assembly process, like using wooden nails. In those cases we’ll hire someone in Indonesia to send us some pieces partially assembled, but we always add substantially to any finished piece, like through a refinishing process. We only do these pre-assembled custom orders for people who ask. Most of what I sell on Etsy is not made-to-order.”
This is the “Rio” chair, from Ecologica Malibu’s shop:
And this is a chair from a store called All From Boats, a wholesaler who counts Bali Ha’i Imports as a dealer. Bali Ha’i, incidentally, has the same address as Ecologica Malibu, and this same furniture is available on sites like Overstock.com.
There are many, many, many more examples like this one outlined on Regretsy. By all accounts, it seems like Ecologica Malibu is a reseller, which is completely against everything Etsy stands for.
Etsy sellers are smart, capable people. Once they put two and two together, a backlash ensued against Etsy and Ecologica Malibu, resulting in a stream of comments on the blog that have since been taken down. An effort to contact a representative of the site has gone unanswered thus far, but editor Juliet Gorman amended the Featured Seller blog post about Mariana to include an acknowledgement of the situation.
“At Etsy, we believe strongly in transparency, and we should have done more in this case to live up to that value. As editors, we should have ensured that relevant details about the people and processes behind Ecologica Malibu came through clearly in this interview. In that regard, we failed and we apologize.
We know you expect to see the best of Etsy in the Featured Seller series, and so our Marketplace Integrity team reviews every shop prior to selection. Based on information Mariana provided us, we were confident that Ecologica Malibu fit our criteria. Our policies on member privacy prevent us from disclosing details of Mariana’s sourcing and business relationships; each seller on Etsy benefits from this protection of privacy. However, we can assure readers that we’ve thoroughly investigated all the questions raised publicly over the last two days with Mariana, including sales on other websites and related business entities. Mariana has documented that the furniture sold on Etsy through their shop is constructed in their Malibu studio from raw materials sourced in Indonesia.”
Apparently this isn’t a lone incident; a Facebook page has been created called “Calling Out Etsy Resellers” which lists post after post of questionable shops on the site. The page has garnered some attention in recent weeks since the Ecologica Malibu incident and some Etsy shopkeepers are posting about their intent to shut down their accounts in light of the event.
The seller who contacted me about this issue says she has built a very successful online business with Etsy, and situations such as these only work to hurt her reputation and credibility; no doubt there are thousands of others who feel the same way. And while it’s only an example of one case, this brings back to mind the story of Lisa Jacobs, whose shop was swiftly shut down for a misunderstood rule about third-party shipping vendors. Is Etsy focusing on the right people for their crackdown on sellers?
Please tell us what you think in the comments section.