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Artisan makers vs. Etsy: why the once-loved platform is being boycotted

More than 14,000 Etsy shops are on pause after the platform increased transaction services fees.

Some Etsy sellers are putting a pause on their online shops, but one popular B.C. seller sees much deeper problems than a service fee increase.

When Janis Ledwell-Hunt started her popular Ladysmith-based Etsy shop UnfetteredCo. four years ago, she had no business experience or formal training but was drawn to the user-friendliness and the launchpad for new entrepreneurs.

After a quick setup at home, “orders for my handmade macrame creations just kept piling up and my business grew steadily and organically,” says Ledwell-Hunt.

Once seen as a creative upstart, Etsy has recently been making headlines for what many see as a slight on the small artisans the platform is supposed to champion. A transaction service fee increase from 5 to 6.5% (effective this month) has dismayed sellers who feel they are being squeezed by a multitude of hidden fees, especially as the company saw record-breaking profits in 2021.

For Ledwell-Hunt, it’s not so much the fee increase but the way Etsy’s tone has shifted from a space for small business people (over 80% of whom are women) to a growth-driven corporation appealing to shareholders. Etsy went public in 2015 on the New York Stock Exchange.

“I don’t find 6.5% an unfair cut," says Ledwell-Hunt. "As a business owner, I need to know my margins, operating costs, and bottom lines. However, Etsy’s introduction of a fee increase is nothing if not tone deaf. This is a time when inflation is soaring, global tensions are high, and folks are struggling to put a roof over their heads and gas in their vehicles. Is this really the right time? A fee increase will never be met with applause from Etsy sellers. But, right now, it feels especially adversarial.” 

Out of the U.S., a petition to cancel the fee has garnered over 45,000 signatures. The petition demands not just a cancellation of the fee increase but that Etsy curbs resellers (shops that are selling mass-produced items that are not handmade, unique or vintage), allow sellers to opt out of advertising, and fix internal customer service issues.

Abolishing the “star seller” program is also mentioned in the petition, as dozens of posts on Etsy community forums discuss the downside of the program, mainly that it “micromanages” interactions between sellers and customers, creating a punitive metric as anything less than a five-star review from a customer can seriously affect a shop’s rating.

UnfetteredCo. is an Etsy “star seller,” but the expectations small sellers are expected to meet are not reflected by Etsy’s values, says Ledwell-Hunt.

“As business owners, we’ve got to sync our practices with customers’ expectations if we’re to sustain a business at all," she says. "The star stellar program isn’t the problem; the problem is that Etsy’s own metric for what constitutes a star seller is a benchmark it doesn’t even come close to hitting itself."

Along with the petition is a call for a boycott, with some shops putting their “away” sign on for the next week. Ledwell-Hunt recognizes the necessity for change but is not taking a self-imposed break.

“Etsy isn’t my employer. Etsy is an e-commerce platform I pay to house my business virtually. If Etsy’s actual employees were striking because of human rights violations in their workplace, I’d be there for a strike — with bells on” she says.

“But this isn’t what’s happening. Etsy sellers are encouraging one another to sabotage their own small businesses in a protest of solidarity that I don’t think will sway Etsy’s course because Etsy’s course is in line with how corporations proceed in late capitalism," says Ledwell-Hunt. "The question of how to effectuate meaningful changes to this inhumane system is a very good one. But it’s going to take a lot more than Etsy to sign up for this project.” 

Currently, up to 14,000 shops are on pause. Whether this is enough to change Etsy’s strategic growth plan and consider the points of the petition remains to be seen.