Watching white women unfurl with fury over falling Etsy sales this year has kept me fully entertained although I’m being burned in the fire simultaneously.
“Has anyone sold anything today? OMG. It’s so dead. I hate ETSY. It used to be so good. They ruined it. I’m ruined. I don’t know what to do!”
Imagine the piles of expertly dyed hair lying near the sewing machine, Cricut, or hot glue gun just ripped out from the roots. Coffee stains fresh on the crafter’s white Gildan brand t-shirt with custom glitter lettering as she repeatedly checks the sound on her iphone to make sure she didn’t miss a single cha-ching.
The howls are broadcast in Etsy Facebook groups daily. The sea of sellers claiming to not understand why their particular rainbow striped tutus and matching headbands are not in demand when they have taken the suggested ten photographs, listed all the measurements, offered free shipping, paid for expert SEO help, sprayed social media with ads, and prayed to the God of Josh Silverman (ETSY’s CEO) are completely endless.
Despite it’s original indie hippie vibe, a lot of sellers seem oblivious that ETSY is first and foremost, an American corporation with stockholders. Stockholders that don’t give a shit if your artisan straw ribbon holiday wreath costs too much to ship.
According to Jeremy Bowman in the Motley Fool article published online today, ETSY’s stock has risen 400% since the new CEO Silverman came into his position. (2 Things to Watch For in Etsy’s Upcoming Earnings Report, https://www.fool.com/investing/2019/10/27/2-things-to-watch-for-in-etsys-upcoming-earnings-r.aspx)
Indeed ETSY sellers trembled when Silverman swept the halls of ETSY firing people, changing key platform tools, raising transaction fees (the cut of what Etsy takes from each individual sale), and pushing free shipping like a bully pushing you down on the playground who says he is going to take your lunch money unless you buy him lunch.
Of course, guys like Silverman look to guys like Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos and aim for the kind of success that America continues to promise everyone if they just work hard enough, long enough, and if perhaps you are mean enough. Ya know, to kick your competitors in the face so you can break their teeth and keep them in a jar next to your bed to remind you every night of your sacrifices to be at the top and stay on that first search page of ETSY.
The problem of all this other than the gatekeeper is that ETSY began as a friendly marketplace of handmade items, unique and not factory made. Maybe it took a week or three to make something for a customer but you couldn’t buy it at Walmart or have Amazon deliver it in 24 hours from your nearby distribution center in their cute private little logo black vans. It came from an individual. Someone like you with a dream who works on their dining room table on nights or weekends while their baby sleeps.
Because Amazon has changed the way people view online shopping, ETSY saw an opportunity to rise at a time when their market share was falling by shifting their support of sellers to satisfying the ever demanding customer who wants everything yesterday at a foreign labor rate. It’s nothing short of heartbreaking.
Americans, on average, and let’s face it, most of you are completely average or incredibly far below that (looking at you red wave), have zero idea what it takes to make a product by hand, market it, sell it, restock it, answer customer’s e-mails, fill custom orders (why don’t you just fucking buy what I already have for sale?), maintain a web presence, as well as keep up with the banking, bookkeeping, and tax obligations which change almost every day.
It’s no wonder so many ETSY sellers cry legit tears over every customer’s review that dares give them less than five stars. The public is voting on your livelihood and broadcasting it across the internet.
So, let me be brutally honest. Running a small business in America is fucking annoying. And it’s hard. You pay more taxes than a corporation, if they pay any at all (Jeff Bezos), and you get far less help succeeding. The odds are against you and considering the fact that ETSY sellers are overwhelmingly female and a good portion are ethnic minorities, the struggle has always been real. The idea that all of us are making enough to buy cars and make mortgage payments is completely ridiculous and very far from the truth.
An article by Smart Money Mamas on the Side Hustle Showcase reported in 2017:
On an hourly basis, a full 50% of Etsy shop owners make less than the Federal minimum wage of $7.25. (https://smartmoneymamas.com/side-hustle-showcase-truth-behind-etsy/)
I feel this so hard as I close out year five of my business although I wasn’t foolish enough to think ETSY was the pearl in the ocean, shiny and free.
I create artisan jewelry. Not everyone wears jewelry. I’m not trendy and neither is my business. I do what I want! This is pretty much the worst thing you can do in retail. It’s never about you. The customer is everything. You must lick their shit encrusted boot as they step on your face and tell you your handmade creative work is cheap and too expensive. May I please have a discount?
If you tend to take a lot of shit personally, you’re not going to make it. Posting your feelings in an online forum won’t lift the fog of self doubt or get sympathy cha-chings.
I realized pretty early on this ETSY thing wasn’t going to be my thing. Customers overseas don’t care about my jewelry at all. I can’t offer them low enough shipping as the U.S. Postal rates have skyrocketed in the past few years. What China ships for $2.60 roughly, costs me $13 or more to ship across an ocean anywhere. No one in Europe wants a $10 pair of earrings with an additional $13 charge for shipping and a VAT fee to go through customs on top of that. It’s outrageous and it should be. It’s not economical or environmentally sound to ship things all around the globe but that’s what society expects. Most handmade sellers are not making enough product to really get a good return on that. It’s a bad business model.
I simply stopped trying to make ETSY work this year. I began consigning my work in the midwest and doing the dreaded physical and emotional labor of the craft show circuit. For those who have never done it, there is no greater joy than standing in the pouring rain as it pelts down your cheap brown Coleman tent while a woman with a cigarette in her hand tells you she is sure your jewelry is lovely but she would never spend more than $9.50 on a pair of earrings.
I was bit by mosquitos. Sunburned. Rained on. Harassed by bees. Assaulted by wind breaking my decorative frosted glass jar. Bullied by other vendors like the Granola Witch Soap Nazi. Exhausted, I showed up, 2-4 times a week in a good month. Made change. Made small talk. Absorbed the criticism. Took records. Recorded mileage. Restocked inventory. Gave out flyers. Posted on social media. Drank cold coffee. Backed my car into cement things.
The surprising thing is…I made money. A lot of money. Def not trust fund money but more than had I just bet my little jewelry farm of one on ETSY. And it allowed me to succeed at the very thing I had never been successful at on ETSY: getting repeat customers.
Which brings me back to the current moment in which the silence of ETSY, while deafening for the start of the holiday season this year, is like a fly on my face that does not bite. I will live with it.
I think that the lure of easy money via internet sales has blindsided a lot of Americans who never thought to research tax law or government regulations of business and products, but only saw dollar signs in the desert of their lives. It might work for a trash picker or over zealous FB Marketplace garage sale lover but in the handmade business, you’re selling yourself and not everyone knows you or likes you like they do Tupperware.
This is what makes us handmade sellers absolutely detest all multi level marketing and believe me, we do fucking hate you guys.
But I can’t go to bed competing with $5 Paparazzi jewelry any more than I can go up against another ETSY seller who makes similar pieces to mine. I am not them. I am me.
I am a handmade seller in Michigan. I am an urban woman living in a rural space. I am 42 years old. I am mentally disabled. I am a college graduate. I am the oldest of six children. I can only grow my business as much as I am able to. I am in control.