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Striking Etsy sellers are shutting shop to protest higher fees

Strike organiser Kristi Cassidy has said that forming a union is the next step.

81 per cent of Etsy sellers identified as women in 2020, and the platform is often viewed as a safe space for marginalised creators Image: Annie Spratt / Unsplash

Thousands of Etsy sellers across the world have pulled down their virtual shutters to protest the website’s fee increases, rolled out this week despite the company making record profits for the past two years. 

From April 11, Etsy increased the fees it charges vendors by almost a third – from 5 per cent to 6.5 per cent – justifying the move as necessary to pay for investment in “marketing, seller tools, and creating world-class customer experiences.”

Managing to avoid the supply chain issues that plagued many retailers during the pandemic, Etsy reported spectacular profits. The company gained approximately 10 million new buyers in the last three months of 2021, and ended the year with “$1.1 billion in cash and cash equivalents”.

But rather than passing on the company’s financial success to its 5.3 million sellers, it’s their incomes that will be taking a hit. 

Those participating in the digital strike have put their Etsy stores in vacation mode, meaning that purchases are not available. Many have updated their shop description with information about the strike, and are using the opportunity to highlight that their products can also be purchased on Patreon, Ko-fi, or by contacting them directly on social media.

Strikers are also asking people who shop on Etsy to boycott the website for the duration of the strike, which will finish on Sunday April 18. 

Strike organiser, Kristi Cassidy from Rhode Island in the US, has called the move “nothing short of pandemic profiteering”, telling The Guardian that more than 22,500 Etsy sellers have joined the strike. 

Joseph Fells, a South London based freelance creative who sells hand painted t-shirts and other crafts on his Etsy shop, has joined the strike to protest the fees and general Amazonification of the digital marketplace.

“I just want them to stop treating Etsy like it’s Amazon and think raising fees when they’ve made record profits thanks to us through the pandemic is corporate greed,” he told the Big Issue. 

Fells believes that Etsy’s success is based on the uniqueness of the largely hand-made crafts produced by independent creators and designers, “but Etsy is now flooded with mass produced rubbish like every other marketplace website.” These mass producers might be more able to afford the 1.5 per cent increase in fees, he said, but the difference to creatives who might only make a few sales a week is much greater. 

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“If Etsy go on like they are, they will reach a point where what was once unique about the marketplace for buyers is now gone and it just becomes overpriced eBay, Amazon or even Wish. Buyers will stop returning. We don’t want that and Etsy definitely don’t. We want Etsy to grow,” he continued. 

Fells also highlighted that while a new 6.5 per cent fee might not sound so bad, this is on top of the four per cent fee charged for using Etsy’s payment service, plus a £0.20 payment processing fee, so total fees are now at least 10.5 per cent. 

Thousands of people have signed a petition addressed to Josh Silverman, chief executive of Etsy, asking him to reverse the fee increase.

And it appears that those  inside Etsy are noticing a shift in the company’s focus. Rob Kalin, who founded Etsy in 2005, tweeted his support for the strike, writing: “I support @EtsyStrike. This is getting ridiculous. Time to build a better marketplace for handmade goods?” Kalin stepped down as chief executive of the company in 2011, with new management announcing it was looking forward to scaling up the company.

“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,” an Etsy spokesperson told The Big Issue. 

Concerns have been raised by sellers on Twitter and Reddit that the company might punish sellers who participate in the strike. The Big Issue asked Esty whether it would levy any punitive measures for sellers who put their shop in vacation mode or promote the strike and its aims via their shop, however the company declined to comment on this point. 

With the success of Amazon employees in Rhode Island organising the first Amazon Labor Union, Cassidy has said that the next step for the campaign is for sellers to unionise, she told Fox Business.

In trying to form a union, Cassidy says that she and other sellers are  trying “simply to get Etsy to listen to us and turn Etsy back into the platform that … helped us all grow our businesses so well.”

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