Etsy’s Star Seller Dumpster Fire

Remember that time in mid 2021 when we kept seeing photos like this out of California?

Photo by Ross Stone on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but it felt like the harbinger of the apocalypse to me.

It was right in the height of the worst of the fires that I got an email from Etsy letting me know about yet another change to the platform.

I was excited — for a little bit. At first glance, it seemed like they might finally be answering our prayers.

You see, Etsy has this reseller problem. We don’t mean vintage sellers, or people outsourcing production of things they’ve at least designed themselves. We mean people that buy things made in sweatshops, and pass them off as handmade to unsuspecting buyers.

It’s horrible for us. Imagine handcrafting all of your items, and having to compete in prices with a bunch of liars pretending factory-produced products are handmade.

It’s horrible for the platform. The subreddit r/Etsy is full of reports from buyers who feel like fools after being tricked by one of these sellers.

Those people don’t come back to Etsy again. That hurts all of us.

We’ve been trying to get Etsy to enforce their own terms for years now, but the problem just keeps getting worse and worse. It was featured in a BBC Watchdog special recently. BBC did addend that Etsy removed those resellers after the show came out.

But I’d like to addend, if it takes a BBC Watchdog special to get 4 resellers removed from the platform, we are in trouble!

At first glance, the Star Seller Program looked like a way to help legit handmade shops and unique vintage shops shine. It said it would highlight great customer service, and my customer service is utterly stellar.

Then I looked into how it actually works.

The Star Seller Program is a dumpster fire.

You’re judged on three metrics to qualify. First, star ratings. You need 95% 5 star ratings in your shop. Eighteen out of nineteen 5 star ratings, and you’ll qualify. 


If you receive a glowing 4 star review, it counts the same against your total as a one star review.

The second metric you’re judged on is message response rate. You must respond to 95% of all messages within 24 hours. There is no way to set off-hours on the weekend, and have that 24 hour counter start when you return on Monday. If you want a weekend off, you have to set an automated reply. I hate to do that. Autoreplies are so impersonal and robotic.

The way the program is designed, you could just set an auto reply, keep renewing it, never respond to any messages, and still qualify.

The third metric you’re judged on is on-time shipping and tracking. You must ship 95% of your orders on time, and with tracking. For many sellers, that means no more shipping stickers and tiny letter-class items cheaply. And can you see how that requirement would be a distinct advantage to anyone who doesn’t offer made-to-order items, and a distinct disadvantage to those who do?

The Star Seller program was announced on July 28, 2021, and would go live on September 1st. We had a little over a month to prepare for a program in which we would be judged for our last three months of activity.

I couldn’t qualify for it until November 1st. My shop, with thousands of customers regularly telling me things like I’m their “fairy hatmother” and that they felt the most beautiful they ever felt in their life while wearing my designs, could not qualify.

This happened because of aspects of my shop that are unique to handmade sellers who make items to order.

The star ratings I qualified for, no problem. Over a thousand ratings in the life of my shop. I’ve never received lower than a 4 star, and I can count 4 stars on one hand, and have fingers left over.

My message response rate was abysmal. Around 60% I believe. Part of this is because my customers often find me on the weekend and I respond on Monday. Another part of this is because of the way the Etsy platform is designed. I make a lot of things that match each other.

For instance, just in the photos above: fascinator, hat, red overskirt, black lace underskirt, bustle petticoat, garter shorts (holding up the stockings at left), stockings (I make those by upcycling tights so that they come in plus sizes), shrug, and gloves.

On every listing on Etsy, there is a nice big “message” button to contact the seller. Anytime someone pushes this button, a new message thread will open. It’s common for someone to get so excited about discovering my items, that they open up to 6 message threads asking me questions about different things.

Before the Star Seller Program, I would just respond to all 6 questions in a single message thread. After the Star Seller Program, I guess I’m supposed to respond to all of them individually?

“Hi! I’ve responded to your message elsewhere. Thanks!”

“Hi! I’ve responded elsewhere, sorry to spam you. Thanks!”

“Hi! I’ve responded elsewhere, I’m really sorry, Etsy forces me to do this.”

“Hi! I’ve responded elsewhere, and I promise I’m not a robot. Could someone please send that memo to Etsy?”

“Hi, I’m so sorry. I should just give up on being a Star Seller on the Etsy platform, since it forces me to do things like this…”

No, I haven’t done anything like that. I’ve been silent about all these changes, except to friends and family. I don’t know why, but I thought my customers wouldn’t support me if I spoke out. I’m so grateful to have been so wrong about that.

The first time it happened after the Star Seller announcement, I clicked the button to sort all those additional messages into spam. I needed a way to mark messages as “not needing a response” and from my research, it seemed like the spam folder would work that way.

Then I felt horribly guilty, because it wasn’t spam, it was beautiful excited messages from a beautiful excited person who was happy to have found me.

And I’m still not sure if that customer was notified when I did that. I thought they weren’t, but I also haven’t been able to find definitive info on the subject. That haunts me a bit.

The other thing that I could not qualify for is the on time shipping and tracking metric. It’s common for people to purchase things in-stock in my shop, and ask me to make a different size. I run a backlog of sewing orders, so this takes 4–6 weeks to do, and the customer is perfectly happy with this timeframe for a made-to-order treasure.

Etsy, however, only lets me change the shipping date 21 days out in the future on an order, and I can only change the date once.

Perfectly happy customers with delayed shipping dates on orders, due to those orders being made just for them, caused me to not qualify as an Etsy “Star Seller”.

I am a Star Seller. I don’t care what Etsy says. I was so angry at that point, that that is when I made the decision to fight back. To start some kind of collective action against Etsy.

I didn’t for two reasons. One, the orange-sky photos coming out of California insisted to me that the world was ending. I was tired.

Two, I knew that Star Seller was a bad thing to fight over. It’s hard to explain how it’s so damaging to those of us with really unique businesses. There’s a reason why this article is so much longer than others in this series!

But I also knew Etsy wasn’t finished. I knew there would be another change.

I knew it wouldn’t be long until they made yet another decision that hurts us, but helps their bottom line.

Next time, Etsy. The next time you hurt me, I will fight back.

Update: Etsy made changes to the Star Seller program shortly after the Etsy Strike. Some of the things I talk about in this blog post are no longer true. The program still disadvantages made-to-order and small sellers, and it still forces a poor work-life balance on makers like me, but today, it’s not quite as much of a dumpster fire as it was for the first year after its inception.

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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