Etsy strike: what women and non-binary sellers are planning next

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Over the past week, thousands of Etsy sellers have gone on strike to protest fee hikes and increased demands from sellers that they say make it harder for them to do business on the site and undermine the Etsy’s mission to support the work of artists and other small-business owners.

More than 82,000 people — 29,000 of whom claim to be Etsy sellers, according to two strike organizers — have signed a petition supporting sellers’ demands for the company to reduce recently increased seller fees, among other changes proposed by the sellers. Many sellers closed their virtual shops last week, uploading banners to their pages saying they were on strike.

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A group of two women and four non-binary people organized the strike – mostly on Reddit and the messaging app Discord, where more than 600 sellers have been in constant contact, responding to media inquiries and strategizing for next steps. .

Two of the main organizers and three vendors who took part in the strike told the Washington Post that recent policy changes on the platform have transformed it from a haven for marginalized people looking to start their own businesses – including including many women, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities – in a place that replicates some of the real-world economic barriers these people face trying to earn a living wage.

“People see us as hobbyists, artisans, or just people doing something on the side. … They don’t see what’s going on here, it’s exploitation,” said Mattie Boyd, 32, one of the strike’s main organizers and a non-binary Etsy seller who said he earns an income at full time on the site selling punk-inspired T’s. -shirts and accessories for the queer and trans communities.

“People are ready to undo Etsy sellers because people don’t take us seriously, but the reality is that we depend on the platform, many of us, for a living,” they added. .

Etsy has advertised that it attracts sellers who have historically been underrepresented as entrepreneurs. Last year, Etsy’s CEO Josh Silverman appeared on CNN to discuss the high number of women selling Etsy, calling the platform “an on-ramp for women everywhere.”

A 2021 Etsy report notes that the site has more than 5.3 million active sellers worldwide, 32% of whom depend on Etsy for their income alone. According to this report, 79% of US sellers on the site are women. And 14% of Etsy sellers identify as LGBTQIA+, twice the proportion of LGBTQIA+ people in the US population.

The Etsy Report does not measure the number of sellers with disabilities, nor the intersections of seller gender and race – although it does note that 76% of Etsy sellers are white.

Etsy did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Post.

Here’s a look at what led to the strike, what sellers want to see changed on the platform, and what organizers are planning next.

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The Sellers’ motion sets out five demands, two of which relate to the Sellers’ fees.

Sellers are demanding that Etsy reverse the recent increase in transaction fees that sellers pay on every purchase, which the platform announced in February would rise from 5% to 6.5%. This increase came into effect last Monday, the first day of the strike.

For Boyd, being told about the fee hike was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” they said, adding that “it happened at a time when there were a lot of us [who] really had issues with other issues that kind of grew over the last few years.

One such boiling frustration was with off-site ads, which the platform introduced in 2020 that advertise items sold on Etsy on search engines and social media sites. If a customer clicks on one of the ads and makes a purchase from the Etsy shop within 30 days, Etsy charges the seller a minimum fee of 12% on the order. Sellers who make less than $10,000 a year on the site pay a higher fee — 15% — but they can opt out of offsite ads as well. In their petition, the sellers are asking all sellers to be able to opt out of these ads.

In addition to transaction fees and offsite advertising fees, Etsy sellers also pay a variety of other expenses, including shipping and a listing fee of 20 cents per item. Other sites’ fee structures tend to be more variable than Etsy’s: eBay allows sellers to list up to 250 items for free and charges a final seller fee that varies depending on the specific product, while Amazon charges 99 cents per listing for individual sellers, or a $39.99 monthly subscription fee for “professional” sellers with higher volumes, plus a referral fee for each item sold, which differs by product , and a closing fee of $1.80 on certain products.

For 39-year-old Rhode Island resident Kristi Cassidy, one of the strike organizers and Etsy seller since 2006 who earns extra income on the site, Etsy’s fee increases have resulted in a loss of income of about two-thirds since 2019.

“It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even earn minimum wage anymore,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy’s products — bespoke suits and wedding dresses — take her at least two weeks to make, she said. That’s why she plans to do most of her business on her own website because she can’t afford “two solid weeks to do something for less” on Etsy, she said.

Other seller frustrations presented in the petition include an allegedly slow support system for sellers who contact the platform with customer service issues; a “star seller” program that encourages fast customer responses and shipping times, which sellers say is not always achievable; and a proliferation of dealers, or “people who buy factory-made products and trick buyers into thinking they made them themselves,” Cassidy said.

The main strike organizers also sent an email outlining their demands last Monday to Silverman, the platform’s executive staff and some members of its board of directors, but they have not yet received a response, according to Boyd.

Why is Etsy so popular among women and LGBTQ sellers?

Boyd attributes the above-average rates of Etsy sellers who are female and/or identify as LGBTQ to the fact that “Etsy has really been good at lowering the bar” for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“I think it’s appealing – because some people face real hurdles in accessing capital, or whenever you need to open a physical store – to build your own website. …I think for people who don’t have that option, [Etsy] becomes even more appealing, but also important,” Boyd said.

Many women in particular said they were attracted to the flexibility and autonomy offered by Etsy, allowing them to balance paid work and childcare.

This was the case for Cassidy: she has two autistic sons, ages 14 and 9, and Etsy has allowed her to “be the flexible person [parent] who can make his own schedule” and take care of his boys as needed, she said.

For Aida Almeraz, a 37-year-old saleswoman who lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, her Etsy shop — where she’s been selling custom dog collars since 2011 — has allowed her to support her 8-year-old son as a single mother, she said.

Almeraz’s Etsy sales skyrocketed between 2014 and 2016, and she continues to earn a full-time income from the site, she said. But her sales have been steadily declining since 2019. Last year, she earned $26,000 less on the site than in 2018, according to her tax records.

Almeraz added that the constant changes to the platform over the past few years – including the introduction of the star seller program – have led to unrealistic customer expectations: “When a customer expects receive an item in three days and they don’t receive it, they’re not attacking Etsy, they’re attacking me and my business,” she said.

Etsy sellers who were on strike are still working out the details of what’s to come, according to Boyd and Cassidy. But for now, one thing is certain: they have no intention of stopping organizing even if the strike ends.

Instead, they plan to form a “solidarity organization…essentially the equivalent of a union for Etsy sellers,” Cassidy said.

“We will be, at the very least, a force Etsy will have to reckon with before they try to do things to hurt us in the future. … The stronger we get, the more they can’t keep ignoring us. “, she added.

Sellers also plan to take individual action to protest fee hikes and changes to the platform if Etsy executives don’t respond to their demands. For many, the protest will come in the form of migrating off the site — as Cassidy and Almeraz said they plan to do — or reluctantly raising the price of the products they keep on Etsy. Some sellers say they will encourage other budding entrepreneurs to stay off the site.

Hannah Forkel-Matte, 30, an Etsy seller since 2015 who earns extra income from the My Little Pony-themed sticker and accessories site, said mums regularly come to her for advice on building businesses on Etsy.

Last year, Forkel-Matte – who is based in Evansville, Ind., and has a 4-year-old daughter – started giving new advice to these mothers, she said: “If you want to start your business, I would consider doing it off of Etsy, just because I don’t know what the future holds.