A Picture of a Fool

In the beginning of 2019, I drew this picture.

Dream Big... And believe in yourself

In my imagination, I was that girl sitting on the moon.

I had all these ideas, and I was so excited to start sharing them with the world. There was even a very practical reason why I felt so hopeful about the future. My youngest child was finally in school and out of my hair every weekday! I was convinced that 2019 would be my best year ever.

And Etsy would help me get there, with the buyers they were bringing to me with the extra 1.5% they had been taking out of my sales. I didn’t realize they had switched to using my money to bring sellers, not buyers, to make themselves more money.

But there were things on the Etsy platform that made me start having doubts. In July of 2019, they started trying to force everyone to offer free shipping on all orders over $35.

Etsy had been recommending that sellers offer free shipping for a long time. They told us it would increase our conversion rate – or the percentage of the people that find our shops that decide to make a sale. I had listened to Etsy’s advice early in January 2018 – despite the fact that back then, it caused me to pay them a bit extra in fees.

My conversion rate dropped in 2018, but I hadn’t done the math on that yet. It hadn’t occurred to me to start checking the math on the things Etsy recommended to me.

The push for free shipping didn’t affect me since I was already offering free shipping, but it really bothered me. For a handmade item, $35 isn’t much. In fact, including shipping, this is a $35 handmade item:

Yes, you’ll find a ton of sellers selling handmade for cheaper on Etsy, but in most cases, that’s because that seller hasn’t had a busy enough month yet to calculate how much they actually earn per hour in their shop. We base our prices on the hourly wage we would like to earn, but how much we actually earn depends on how much time it takes us to do all the tasks that we can’t get paid for.

On a busy month, that’s about half the time you spend running a handmade business. On a slow month, it can be 75% of your time. The point is – you have to figure all that other time into your pricing or you’ll make more per hour at your local fast food place. For a handmade item, $35 should correspond to only about 20-25 minutes crafting time. And it’s hard to come up with a great sellable design that takes that little time to make.

By putting the free shipping price that laughably low, Etsy gave me serious doubts that they had a clue what it’s like to run an artisan business.

And I noticed some other things. I would proofread one of my listings after publishing, and there would be this section on it titled “You may also like…” that featured a bunch of items from other sellers.

I may have been part of a test group and not seeing what everyone else was seeing, but at one point, this “You may also like” section was so prominently featured on one of my listings that it felt like the purpose of that listing was to convince buyers to buy something else.

And I saw the same thing on listings from my sister, except worse. She makes jewelry, so the “you may also like” section was full of pieces I recognized as made-in-China.

It occurred to me that if a corporation like Etsy wanted to make a lot of money, that would be a very good strategy. Use the people that make the truly unique items…

…to bring buyers to the platform, and then do your best to sell those buyers cheap items imported from sweatshops that other sellers are passing off as handmade.

Was Etsy doing this to myself and my sister? Possibly. Through 2019, each hour that we spent trying to grow our Etsy shops had diminishing returns.

And we did try. In both our shops, social media referrals are up. In both our shops, views from Etsy search and “Other Etsy pages” are down.

Initially I planned to hang that picture of the girl on the moon on the wall of the studio I hope to have some day. I’ll probably give it away instead. It’s hard to look at that picture today. The girl doesn’t look like a creative, brilliant artist to me anymore.

She looks like a fool.

This post is part of a series telling the story behind the 2022 Etsy Strike. Click here to start at the beginning.

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