HONOLULU (KHON2) — Thousands of Etsy sellers are halting their sales this week to protest a 30% increase in fees that took effect on Monday, April 11.

Etsy sellers must now pay a 6.5% commission on each transaction, up from the 5% in place since 2018. A petition has garnered nearly 80,000 signatures from Etsy buyers, sellers and employees.

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“Etsy made bank over the pandemic,” wrote protest organizer Kristi Cassidy. “In 2020, they more than doubled their gross marketplace sales. In 2021, they kept those pandemic sales gains and broke their 2020 record by $3.2 billion dollars… They followed up these record pandemic gains by turning around and sticking it to their sellers.”

Etsy is an e-commerce marketplace that’s best known for handcrafted items such as soaps and jewelry. When the pandemic hit, Etsy was one of the few companies that benefited with more people staying at home and shopping online. Vendors also took advantage of the market by selling face masks.

According to Cassidy, AI-powered bots shut down legitimate seller accounts at random, “while Etsy looks the other way on resellers who undercut authentic makers by peddling sweatshop-produced junk in clear violation of the spirit of the Etsy community.”

“Rather than rewarding the sellers whose hard work has enabled Etsy to become one of the most profitable tech companies in the world, Etsy gouges us, ignores us and patronizes us,” she continued.

In a statement sent to KHON2, an Etsy spokesperson said:

“Our sellers’ success is a top priority for Etsy. We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies. We are committed to providing great value for our 5.3 million sellers so they are able to grow their businesses while keeping Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.” 

While Honolulu seller Shereen El-Kadi is not participating in the strike, she understands the frustrations.

“Etsy has grown a lot, especially during the pandemic, when a lot of people were trying new ways to make money,” said El-Kadi. “More sellers means more profit for Etsy, and of course, more costs for upkeep on their behalf. It also means less exposure for individual sellers.”

El-Kadi said Etsy tends to bury shops that aren’t making a lot of sales, creating a cycle where you can’t make sales if you aren’t being seen, but you can’t be seen if you aren’t making a lot of sales.

“I think the fee increase, while it isn’t a large one, comes across like an additional slap in the face to a lot of sellers,” she said. “If the additional fees really do lead to the promised improvements, I believe that would help things a bit.”

El-Kadi opened her Prickly Pear Designs jewelry business in early 2018 on Etsy. In addition to doing pop-ups at events, her products are sold in a couple of local shops. (She has a craft fair coming up on Saturday, April 16, at HouseMart Ben Franklin Crafts. Click here for event updates.) 

“I’ve always wanted to own my own business. Making jewelry became a passion maybe 16 years ago, and I finally took the plunge so I could justify the expense,” she said. “I also love the idea of making a woman feel like she’s unique and like she stands out while wearing dainty, almost minimalist jewelry. It’s such a contradiction.”

As far as having any struggles with Etsy, El-Kadi said she’s been lucky. Having a good understanding of SEO and social media to help her shop succeed is also part of it. Her advice to first-time sellers?

Learn about Etsy SEO. It’s different from what you know about ‘regular’ search engine optimization,” she said. “Be active on social media. It’s a requirement in order to bring people to your shop. Being on Etsy means constant work on your shop. Plan on working on it almost every day. And most importantly, don’t copy other shops. It’s okay to gather inspiration from others, but be an individual. Customers are looking for individuality in products.

Though El-Kadi hasn’t experienced many issues with Etsy, that’s not to say there’s no room for improvements. The most important fix? The bugs on the site.

“I’ve heard of shops being shut down without warning and without notice. And without much recourse… all due to a bot or a glitch. And all of a sudden they’re back up,” said El-Kadi. “When you consider that some sellers do this for a living, it’s a scary thought that this could happen.”

El-Kadi shared that it would also be great if sellers had more support from Etsy when it comes to problems with customers.

“Again, I’ve been lucky, but I’ve heard some nightmare stories,” she said.

There’s also the inability for shops to opt out of off-site advertising once they’ve reached a sales threshold, El-Kadi added.

“This leads to something like 20% fees taken by Etsy, which is a lot for businesses that don’t mark up their products that high. And yet there’s no way to prove that the sales are actually from off-site ads. I’ve personally only had clicks from off-site ads, but I’ve never seen any of these ads,” she said.

El-Kadi said it would be great if Etsy could crack down on shops that claim to sell handmade products but are actually reselling ready-made items.

“Those items are sold cheaply and cause customers to assume that our handmade products are overpriced. I believe Etsy has promised to take care of many of the concerns shop owners have with the fee increase,” she said.

Cassidy lists her own demands here, which also include cracking down on resellers and letting all sellers opt out of offsite ads. Her first priority, of course, is to cancel the fee increase.

“As individual crafters, makers and small businesspeople, we may be easy for a giant corporation like Etsy to take advantage of,” Cassidy wrote. “But as an organized front of people, determined to use our diverse skills and boundless creativity to win ourselves a fairer deal, Etsy won’t have such an easy time shoving us around.”

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Cassidy said buyers can show support by agreeing to boycott Etsy from April 11-18.