Ever noticed how hard it is to sell just one widget on Etsy?
Something’s seriously wrong, and it ain’t you or your widget.
Copyright © 2018 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
This is a multi-part story. It contains many hyperlinks to detailed source information, so I encourage you to do the deep dive. And please read my other Etsy posts:
Part 2: Selling on Etsy — The Long, Rattling Death March
Part 3: Etsy — Elevating Douchebaggery to New and Dizzying Heights!
Part 4: Etsy Clobbers Sellers Again
Part 5: A Comprehensive List of Etsy Fees
Part 6: Etsy Posts Q1 Earnings and Kills Someone
Just Like Soylent Green. Etsy Is People!
Etsy (according to Etsy) is “a universe of special, extraordinary items … a place where creativity lives and thrives because it’s powered by people.” Sure, okay. Whatever.
In reality it’s not so much a creativity universe as a pirate party. Etsy is a 14-year-old New York-based ecommerce company with annual gross merchandise sales of $3.9 billion and an $8.04 billion market cap that operates out of an Irish shell corporation, pays no US income taxes, has no published street address, and until March 2019 had no published phone numbers or customer service department.
Etsy calls itself a marketplace, even though it has no b&m presence except back offices, no warehouses, and no fulfillment capability. That’s provided entirely by independent sellers whom Etsy micromanages to death and fleeces mercilessly.
That includes robbery. On February 15, 2019, Etsy took millions of dollars in unauthorized withdrawals from thousands of sellers’ checking and credit card accounts. Sellers couldn’t transfer money from their Etsy accounts to their banks. Etsy won’t say how many people were affected, but it was at least 2,100, who were relieved of at least $22.7 million. One seller estimated the actual figures were much higher: “Our Etsy payment account logs are so convoluted and cumbersome, I would be willing to bet a majority of Etsy sellers don’t even notice unless it was a really large amount of money.”
As a largely unregulated entity, Etsy can steal freely with little oversight or interference. A disappointed stock trader explained on Reddit how Etsy arrived here: “They don’t really have any assets [Etsy rents cloud storage and office space] or inventories to fall back on, other than some intellectual properties; they don’t actually have anything of value other than a cash flow and a web domain.”
In other words, Etsy sells the same thing to both sellers and investors: magic beans.
A Scam by Any Other Name…
The truth is, Etsy doesn’t care if you never sell anything. More than half its revenue comes from services sold to sellers (not commissions from their sales) who pay extra for nothing. For a rundown on that, read A Comprehensive List of Etsy Fees.
Etsy’s business model is sort of like if eBay and Facebook had a monstrous baby. If you’re an Etsy seller, you’re the product. And a frog being slowly boiled to death.
I know from experience. Before using Etsy I used eBay. I sold my old platform shoes and Meemaw’s tiaras there easily, mostly to West Coasters, and everything was fine. Until 2011. Suddenly every listing ended without bids or sales; my regular customers told me they couldn’t find them. It was entirely due to eBay hiding small sellers to make more room for Chinese mass marketers. In other words, assholery.
I was paying more in fees than I made in sales, so I moved my junk drawer over to Etsy. Everything was fine. Until 2015. Etsy went public and fired founding CEO Rob Kalin, a carpenter who lived in his wood shop with three cats and actually knew something about ecommerce. Kalin was replaced with Yahoo alum Chad Dickerson, who didn’t. Things got very weird very fast. Dickerson was replaced in 2017 with eBay alum Josh Silverman. That’s when the deja vu started.
My listing visibility was restricted to Midwestern and Gulf states with low per-capita incomes and shoddy broadband infrastructure. My sales were limited to three days per month except every October, November, and December, which I hear is when people do their holiday shopping, but I sold nothing. The polite terms for this are localization and rolling blackouts. (Collectively known as throttling.) And every time a superstorm clobbered the electricity and cell towers of a million Southerners or Midwesterners, I reliably had zero sales.
A seller whose shop goes dark every day keeps a throttling log. She said: “I have nothing going on in my activity feed for hours and hours at a time. [Sometimes there’s a notice stating I] cannot retrieve my activity at that time, leading me again to believe my store is actually going offline for periods of time and is not visible to potential customers. I had a friend say yesterday that she had recommended my store to someone and they looked for me but could not find me.”
From Etsy’s forum:
😩 “I am having now a huge 10-hour gap in my activity feed daily, for nearly a week. It seems that from midnight till mid-afternoon I have no favourites.”
😩 “I have been seeing these for months. I have activity in the early hours of the morning, and all day it is dead until around 4:00 pm when I start seeing activity again. My views, favourites and sales have dropped dramatically in the last 4 or 5 weeks.”
😩 “Dead from midnight until 4 pm. Looks like I have an 8-hour window to get sales on Etsy. I’m getting shut out the other 16.”
😩 “Seems someone flipped a switch and turned the shop to some kind of trickle mode. Large gaps in activity as shown on the dashboard, views down between 1/2 and 2/3, sales nonexistent.”
Seller Luminita of Monticello, NY told Consumer Affairs: “Etsy lets buyers view my shop only on the weekends! Etsy lets mass produced items flood the market and I have not had any sale since 2017.”
Another seller told eCommercebytes that after every sale, Etsy hides his shop from search until USPS scans the tracking for his shipments. “Suddenly my sales go back on again. Like literally within an hour I get 1-2 sales. I’ve been following it closely for the last 6 months. I know that’s not how it works, unless you are somehow manipulating something.” Manipulation is SOP for Etsy sellers now.
A European seller described how Etsy hides whole countries: “I see for months now a big decline of visitors from the USA (Google Analytics). I ship within 1 day, so if a visitor from the USA clicks on ‘ships within 1 day’ (not deliver!) all sellers outside the USA disappear in search, even if they ship in 1 day! Most of my sales were from the USA, not anymore. Etsy is manipulating search so much that it is almost impossible for us to do something about it these days.”
It’s also probably true, as many observers speculate, that Etsy turns on and off the different servers where sellers’ shops are located, probably to avoid paying for enough bandwidth to support all its traffic all the time. EBay has done exactly that for years. (Not for nothing, but eBay was Etsy’s current CEO’s previous employer.)
A 20-year Oracle software engineer theorizesd your shop’s invisibility is due to Etsy’s data migration to Google cloud: “Etsy is paying for space on Google cloud servers. … This can get very expensive and it is doubtful that Etsy has all of its data ‘hosted’ within the LIVE Google cloud all the time. The only plausible explanation is that Etsy is rotating data in and out of the Google cloud servers. In other words, a shop is not ‘live’ on Etsy (Google Cloud) 100% of the time, but rather swapped in and out at various times on a rotating basis, likely based on an Etsy in-house methodology. … PL’s [paid ads], Etsy Plus, reviews, sales, etc., are likely all contributing factors.”
Etsy admits using a type of programming called sharding, in which data are mirrored and swapped in and out of work areas to improve economies of scale. In other words, a software workaround for companies too cheap to invest in enough infrastructure to handle their traffic and operations.
Why 65% of Etsy Sellers Make Less Than $100 Per Year
Despite extra fees you paid to get seen and how hard you work at marketing, have your sales stopped dead?
Part of the reason is that in 2018 hurricanes and wildfires in the US caused $36 billion worth of damage; in 2019 800,000 government employees worked for a month without pay and millions of Americans didn’t get tax refunds they’d anticipated thanks to the US Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa were underwater in March because of floods. Job layoffs in the first quarter of 2019 were the highest in a decade. Forbes reported 7 million Americans are three months behind on car loan payments. I’ll tell you right now, those people ain’t shopping for scented slime.
Add to that the drove of Etsy leavers who bailed after the February 2019 shakedown. It’s not just sellers. Etsy blocked buyers’ purchases and PayPal access, they were double billed, and they ran for the exits.
And here’s another reason your sales stopped: Your listings are buried in search by drop shippers and Asian resellers who overload the site with mass-produced, keyword-packed fake vintage, fake handmade, fake designer items, and fake gemstones — a clear violation of Etsy policies that Etsy ignores, because trainloads of cash.
Fun Fact! After Etsy allowed mass-produced junk to skunk up the joint, its number of active sellers increased from 1.5 million in 2015 to 2.1 million in 2018. That’s a 30% increase in drop shippers and foreign sweatshop trash peddlers in three years! Good grief.
More Fun! A published list of the 11 most profitable Etsy shops in 2018 consists entirely of sellers of Chinese garbage that buyers can stick to other garbage to make more garbage.
A class action lawsuit filed immediately after the 2015 IPO alleged Etsy defrauded investors by not disclosing that “more than 5 percent of all merchandise for sale on Etsy’s website may be either counterfeit or constitute trademark or copyright infringement,” which management knew and did nothing to stop. Fortune and The Motley Fool both ranked Etsy the worst IPO of 2015.
Etsy ignored a 2015 strike by 3,500 sellers who closed their stores temporarily in protest of the mass merchandise glut, and the stock fraud lawsuit was dismissed in 2018. Now Chinese mass-produced junk receives preferred search placement, thanks partially to extremely low shipping charges — low because the US government subsidizes them — that US sellers can’t compete with. Your cost to mail a small first class package across town? $3.50. Cost to mail the same package to you from China? 10¢.
Chinese vendors freely sell millions of dollars of commercial merchandise in the US without license because China doesn’t recognize foreign trademarks or copyrights, and aren’t subject to injunctions. US sellers, no such luck. One was kicked off Etsy for selling $20 worth of cupcakes with NFL logos. She told me: “I was hit with nine infringements at once by this NFL lawyer and they shut down my shop.” Etsy confiscated $1,000 she earned from unrelated sales. “Their policy is to keep your money for six months, there is no appeal, and according to their terms of service you can’t even talk about it.”
If there’s one thing Etsy knows, it’s infringement. The company’s been sued for patent, copyright, and trademark pilfering more than 12 times in the past decade.
Its 2017 “Impact Report” to investors contains some sanctimonious bloviating about how Etsy closed 4,494 shops for repeat IP infringement.
There’s no mention of the 50,000+ shops closed because their sellers refused to opt into Etsy’s managed payments processing system (the mechanism of the February 2019 theft). In 2018 Etsy suspended 260,000 shops in one week to strongarm them into accepting managed payments.
Fun Fact! On May 25, 2019, there were 86,570 Game of Thrones listings, 153,577 Star Wars listings, and 39,069 Marvel’s Avengers listings on Etsy. Because, you know, some IP infringements are less fringy than others.
How Not to Design a Search Engine
Another reason your sales tanked is The Turd Jewel of The New Etsy — its notoriously lousy search engine. This ever-changing AI catastrophe is the poster child for torture.
Etsy’s AI decides what shoppers want, taking the work out of searching for anything specific! It rewrites or ignores their search requests. They’re forced to plow through hundreds or thousands of irrelevant listings. The things they want often don’t appear in specific categories where they’re listed, or only appear in a general top-level search of all 60 million Etsy listings. The first pages of search returns are monopolized by one or two sellers selling stuff you don’t want.
Fun Fact! Despite how much Etsy harps on the importance of precision SEO and how much time I spent refining mine, the following search terms inexplicably resulted in views of my shop for listings that didn’t exist: “hotei,” “elizabeth, il,” “french crowned eagle,” “lapland boots,” “ultra chic designer dress made in italy,” “contact paper,” “yeezy boost 350 turtle dove,” “utah 1897 jubilee,” “vintage roaris,” “muni,” “cartigan men,” “jack purvell,” “peoria architectural salvage,” “shamanic clothing,” “bictorian picture frame.” Thanks for the quality traffic, Etsy.
Wait, what? You say just search Etsy using Boolean operators, the way you can on eBay and Amazon? BWAHAHAHAHAHA!
Fun Fact! In 2016 Etsy bought a whole AI company for $32.5 million, Blackbird Technologies, to mastermind this train wreck.
For about a year, Etsy wouldn’t let me search for Tohki shirts. Etsy changed my search to “Tahki” shirt (whatever that is), wouldn’t let me correct it, reported there were no results for Tahki shirt (because of course not), and provided me with three million+ results for just “shirt.” Below are six Tohki shirts on Etsy that were unfindable as such through search.
It’s one thing for AI to autocorrect a typo like “Tohki shit” to “Tohki shirt.” It’s quite another for it to change search terms to be utterly random and useless and refuse the searcher any options.
Hey! Do you sell vintage on Etsy?
Good luck with that. In a November 2018 podcast interview, CEO Silverman said Etsy would be excluding vintage from its marketing drive because shoppers aren’t naturally inclined to shop for vintage goods on Etsy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
At the February 2019 quarterly earnings call he said, “Buyers coming in in certain categories are likely to be higher valued than buyers coming in in another category, and candidly, we incorporate some of that into our analytics.” Meaning they squeeze vintage out of their search algorithm on purpose.
Silverman was right about one thing: What you want is probably sold on Etsy but you’ll never find it. Especially vintage. Buyers don’t buy what they can’t find.
The Etsy Penalty Box
Another feature of Etsy’s specialized search involves rank based on incomprehensibly stupid seller penalties. Were your listings rewarded a Best Seller badge? Congratulations! They will be purged from search.
● Sale Event SNAFU. Etsy humps sellers to death to participate in Sale Events, without informing them their titles must include the words SALE and the category (supply, gift, vintage, etc.) to be included in search results and marketing promotions. A requirement, incidentally, that obliges sellers to change all their listing titles manually, and then change them back after the sale ends because Etsy’s bulk editing tool sucks.
● Vacation Mode Hell. If you put your shop in vacation mode for a couple of days because of, say, a hurricane or a massive stroke, Etsy buries your listings in search and sometimes they never come back.
● Shipping Price Tarpit. Etsy bullies sellers into offering free or ridiculously low shipping prices, and torpedoes those who can’t with relegation in search.
● Good Citizen Score. Trying to figure this out made my head explode. Etsy scores you secretly on how nice you’re judged to be by people you never met. Helpfully, Etsy forums allow people to “like” each others’ posts and @ each other. Scoring is based on strangers’ feelings about your shipping charges, how much you trash talk Etsy in forums, and how often competitors report your listings for (nonexistent) violations to get you kicked off Etsy.
● Customer Review Score. Fewer than five stars triggers search relegation. Someone once left me a full-stop negative review on eBay with the comment “Very pleased!” Couldn’t get it corrected or deleted. Can’t fix stupid. Happens all the time on Etsy.
● Buyer Remorse Pothole. Etsy loves reporting sales to shareholders. Returns, not so much. Etsy thinks penalizing cancelled sales with search relegation will teach sellers a lesson. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
● DMCA Boondoggle. Do you sell things of your own design covered by registered copyrights? Are others copying and selling them without your permission? If you ask Etsy to take down their listings, and the other seller files a counterclaim, it generates a strike against your shop no matter how much proof you have, and Etsy may remove your listings.
● Self-Help Bitchslap. Sellers report their shop lights were turned out in retaliation for contacting Etsy customer service about problems they’re having with Etsy.
● Guest Gaff. Sellers have noticed an uptick in guest purchases, which they like. What they don’t like is not getting reviews because guests can’t leave feedback. Reviews affect search rank. Said one seller: “So you are getting lots of orders but no reviews. Etsy sees it. They lower your ‘score’ because you don’t get enough responses from your customers.”
● Expired Renewal Prison. Tons of battlefield reports in Etsy’s forum suggest that renewing expired listings carries search penalties (as opposed to rewriting and posting them as new listings, a huge drain on sellers’ time). Also, see The Tragedy Seesaw (below).
What does the expired renewal penalty look like? This: Two sellers with expired listings I wanted to buy told me the listings were currently live and available in their shops. BUT THEY WERE NEITHER LIVE NOR AVAILABLE. NOT TO ME, THE BUYER. Not in their shops, not in search.
Fun Test! Sometimes I looked at my shop without signing in. Some days, some listings weren’t there. One day half my listings weren’t there. One day my shop was there but had somehow become British, making my listings invisible in USA-only and fastest-shipping-time searches. Other days my shop wasn’t there at all.
Etsy’s throttling system is identical to eBay’s, which has a longer history of observer analysis. An eBay seller told eCommercebytes: “Approximately 10% of my inventory is shown 30% of the time. Visibility is enhanced when you constantly list new stuff, or you only list multi-quantity items you can build a positive sales history for. This positive history bumps your visibility in search. There is no opportunity to build any kind of transferrable sales history that will boost your visibility” of one-of-a-kind items. “When the seller base grows faster than the buyer base, the only way to [increase monthly fees paid by sellers] is to manipulate the visibility of items. It is very easy to see when you model it mathematically.”
How reprehensible is it to take sellers’ fees and then launch their listings into a black hole?
Etsy is extremely proud of its new deeply personalized search debacle. Besides illogically recasting searches and penalizing most listings into oblivion, it factors every searcher’s past activity, too. That includes stuff they only searched to determine market value of something they wanted to sell, things they’ll never buy again (divorce announcements, dead pet headstones), and accidental searches involving typos.
Etsy search further ranks results by these criteria:
💩 Listing quality (whatever that means)
● How many times a listing has been viewed (begging the question: How is anyone supposed to view a listing that’s hidden because it hasn’t had enough views?)
● How many times a listing has sold
Fun Fact! Many sellers deploy bots that boost their listings in search by repeatedly buying them. The seller marks self-bought sales as shipped, the items rank higher in search because they’re “popular,” and all it costs is the 5% commission (cheaper than PPC visibility).
Etsy search returns thousands of unwanted listings on endless pages that stall out while Etsy reviews ALL your favorites and recent views to determine what you’ll see instead of what you meant, and barfs out helpful recommendations to buy your own listings. Each page takes 10+ seconds to load and only shows 48 items that aren’t ads you’re sick of seeing over and over.
Fun Fact! Etsy admitted 83% of search purchases come from first-page clicks. The average number of Etsy page views per visitor is 5.98. Shoppers give up by the sixth page, so if your listings don’t appear there you’re totally screwed. Etsy calls this Best-in-Class Search and Discovery.
Etsy wastes terabytes of server space tracking and recording every user’s search and purchase history and every listings’ arbitrarily computed “value,” click counts, and sales to produce search results that take forever to load with items so staggeringly irrelevant, it’s unfathomable how they even got there.
Fun Fact! Every Etsy search has a limit of 250 pages of results. So if there are more than 12,000 returns in any search (“shirts,” anyone?) nobody’s gonna see the last 2,988,000.
More Fun! Etsy boasts that 1 in 3 searches have more than 10,000 results. Like that’s a good thing.
I’m not suggesting you get your Insert Finger Here t-shirt in a twist because you can’t trawl three million listings. I’m saying 96% of Etsy listings are systematically hidden, no matter how aggressively you narrow your search.
Fun Fact! 54% of my own views didn’t even originate from Etsy. Most came from browser searches, social media, and bookmarks. I didn’t do enough outside marketing to account for it, it just happened. That’s a truly sad statement about how much Etsy search sucks.
More Fun Fact! 7% of my sales were to “guests” — unregistered buyers unburdened by watch lists or recorded behavior histories to warp their shopping search, who probably wouldn’t have found my listings had they registered.
The upshot: Purely by design, unbought/unfound listings linger on Etsy for months and years. Some have been there so long, they salute when I scroll past.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
It hardly seems possible, but reinventing search isn’t Etsy’s most ludicrous achievement. THAT would be its inability to find competent programmers or ecommerce professionals in New York City. (Etsy has applied for 124 H1B visas for guest workers since 2016.) Well, that, and how far it goes to steal money.
True Stalker Fact! Etsy was sued in 2011 for using undeletable tracking cookies that collect sensitive seller information. The plaintiffs claimed Etsy violated the Electronics Communications Privacy Act and antitrust laws, and their personal property was trespassed.
Fun Bot Facts! It’s widely suspected that Etsy has hitbots that click on promoted listings to trigger PPC fees. Coincidentally, just before periodic financial reports are due, Etsy deactivates title hoverability in search results, forcing shoppers to click listings just to read more than “AMAZING RARE FANTASTIC…” in thumbnails — clicks that Promoted Listings subscribers have to pay Etsy for. Sellers use hitbots, too, to deplete the PPC advertising payout budgets of their competitors. Otherwise known as click fraud.
A preponderance of Etsy’s programming exists to pry cash from panicky sellers whose desperation Etsy engineered by preventing them from selling anything. To fool sellers into believing there’s enough interest in their wares so they won’t leave, Etsy utilizes fake shoppers, fake listing activity, and fake stats.
● Fake Shoppers.
💩 Etsy knows sellers check shopping carts when deciding whether to renew listings. It’s amazing how many expiring listings suddenly appear in carts! Check back after renewing them, though, and behold the miracle of the empty cart!
💩 Etsy puts apocryphal notices in listings that they’re “in 20 people’s carts!”
💩 Etsy members keep reminder lists of items they like and might buy later. Watcher numbers influence sellers’ decisions to renew listings, so Etsy has an army of bot watchers who never purge their lists. Also, Etsy won’t allow anyone to delete expired listings from watch lists, to keep watch numbers from declining and encourage sellers to renew.
● Fake Admirers. Soon-to-expire listings enjoy feverish last-minute favoriting by Etsiers with humongous numbers of favorites. Seriously, when do you think was the last time someone with 515,658 favorites looked at any of them? Last year some guy with 74,257 favorites favorited everything in my shop that was expiring that month. He bought nothing, ever.
A Festival of Fake Accounts!
Botfest Fun Facts! Etsy is swarming with hitbots deployed by sellers that automatically search, follow, and favorite thousands of shops and listings. There’s even a f∪cking Chrome extension called Heart Exchanger that automates seller trolling. One theory is that sellers whose items you favorite (and their followers) will look at your shop and favorite, follow, and buy your listings in return. A thread on Reddit, however, explains hitbots actually help your competition by lowering your conversion rate via increased traffic/activity but no sales. “If you have 10,000 favorites and no sales, Etsy might not want to keep showing people something that tens of thousands of people refuse to actually buy.”
Etsy sellers have noticed other strange patterns, too, like three of their listings being favorited by hoards of people within an hour, many of whose names start with the same three letters, and sales in one day from three different buyers with the same name.
Fun Fact! Regional clusters of activity don’t mean someone liked your exploding golf balls so much they told all their neighbors and they liked them, too. It’s just seller manipulation.
● Nuisance Traffic. A vast army of diddlers constantly shambles around the site, mucking with live listings: independent app developers testing their programs; freelance bug hunters who Etsy pays if they find vulnerabilities; outside testers testing new features like Facebook integration; and 318 Etsy staff engineers testing multiple experiments on live listings at any given time. Fun Fact! Etsy says “ ” which an Etsy engineer explains means “60 to 70 times” and Etsy’s investor advisory explains means “every 30 minutes.”
Horrifying Programming Fact! Etsy gives an annual award to the engineer who broke the site in the most spectacular way.
Walking Dead Fact! Tire-kicker zombies were invented by Google, and lots of crap Etsy traffic comes from there.
● Fake Consumer Reviews. A ViewPoints reviewer claims there are Etsy staffers whose job duties include posting fake positive reviews on review websites. Sitejabber reportedly has “scammers [paid $5] by Etsy to deceive others.” Reddit is reportedly full of bulldogs that attack mean talk about Etsy: “Etsy employs hundreds of people to crush anything you say.” Fun Fact! Amazon got busted by the FTC for pimping paid reviews.
● Fake Stats. See “Where Metrics Go to Die,” below.
Where Metrics Go to Die®
Hey, need a good laugh? I recommend Etsy’s Seller Dashboard. Or as I call it, Etsy’s Random Number Generator. It’s a hoot watching your views and visits stats roll … backward. Overnight views, start of the day? 51! Views at the end of the same day? 35! Huzzah!
One day my stats reported a 24-hour total of 188 “listing views.” They also reported that only 66 individual listings had had views, one each. WTF were the 122 other “listing views” of?
In October 2018 Etsy introduced “Search Analytics,” which reports hits and sales originating from search. Users reported their numbers bore no correlation to reality. The reviews were brutal. “Search Analytics says I have had 3 views from search, normal stats says 41.” “Mine says I had zero sales in September, but I had like 23?” “Search Analytics numbers don’t make sense.” Sellers were horrified to learn that only a fraction of a percent of their sales resulted from Etsy search. More disturbing is that Etsy would even want them to know.
Before the February 2019 heist I was already so alarmed by how Etsy operated that I let all the listings in my 5-star shop expire. After the heist I deleted them from Etsy’s database to prevent Etsy from magically auto-renewing them. My shop views of nothing for the following month: 106. WTF?!
It’s like if some jackass told you, “I invented a revolutionary new machine that can power whole cities!” and when his back is turned, you look inside and it’s a bunch of hamsters running on wheels.
A Feature Not a Bug
Etsy constantly issues buzzword-interlarded pronouncements about its innovative algorithms and marketing, but never explains how they work.
That’s because most Etsy algorithms exist to benefit quantity resellers of mass-produced junk and suppress sellers who are more valuable as renewers of listings that don’t sell.
As for Etsy’s innovative marketing, this pretty much sums it up:
💩 Cheap Twitter promos that hijack Etsy sellers’ own personal Twitter marketing.
💩 Uninspired TV spots consisting of Etsy’s logo and a couple of words like “Buy something.”
💩 Cheesy AdWords blurbs on other ecommerce platforms. The one below appeared on eCrater.com.
💩 Hey! Do you like stickers? Who doesn’t! Etsy sells advertising to sellers so they can print out Etsy promo stickers their own damn self. The super clever message: Keep Commerce Human. As one forum wit put it, “Keeping commerce human, but no phone support or any way to ever contact a live person. LOL”
💩 The new ratf∪ck Etsy shtick that partners sellers with Pinterest. Signing up allows Pinterest to create, change, and delete sellers’ listings in their Etsy shops, and change their personal data, shipping addresses, profiles, and avatars on Etsy.
💩 Annoying AF action prods. Visitors without ad blockers enjoy a yuge popup on every page poking them to hurry up and buy something, while helpfully hiding the search box from them.
💩 Dishonorable Mention: Etsy placed “You May Also Like” ads (i.e., other sellers’ listings) and popups — ad-blocker-proof flash ads — on your listings, reducing your shop to real estate where Etsy parks other peoples’ paid advertising.
Given all that, it seems reasonable to ask: Really? THIS is the innovation Etsy keeps blathering about? Surely there’s something else?
Short answer: Yes, yes, yes, and it’s not what you think.
I used to be a programmer. I have theories. Here ya go:
1) Pinboard Zombie — Etsy encourages visitors to use the venue as a pinboard, like Pinterest and Instagram, allowing lurkers who never buy anything to watch and follow each others’ items. Why? It amplifies desperation in sellers who think: “Ooh, must renew this expiring listing because Pinboard Zombies likey!” or “Yes, must remind Pinboard Zombie this item is in its cart!” Etsy loves those 20¢ renewals, and also prods sellers to motivate undecided shoppers with discount coupons and email reminders about abandoned carts and watched items — for a fee of 10¢ per notification! That sound you hear is thousands of sellers with thousands of listings, sobbing.
Fun Fact! According to Etsy’s own report, in 2017 it had 54 million registered users, including 1.9 million sellers and 33.4 million buyers. Which leaves 18.7 million users who aren’t doing anyone any good.
2) The Tragedy Seesaw — A search ranking system based on unsold listings. I know how stupid that sounds, but keep reading,
If you’re an Etsy seller, your eternal shame is a backlog of unsold listings. Each one represents a potential windfall to Etsy, and your expired/inactive backlog can easily be aggregated into a computation to herd you like cattle into fee extortion purgatory. Here’s how:
Etsy can determine your amount of search visibility based on your greater value as a seller with sales (more commission dollars) or a relister of duds (more renewal fee dollars). Etsy boosts or suppresses your sales via search rigging, depending on which scenario is more remunerative to Etsy.
Anyway, the normal seller response to non-performing expired listings is renewal. You might not renew your stinkers right away or all at once, but statistically you’ll give some a second chance no matter what. Your backlog that’s deadweight to you is a gold mine to Etsy, who loves those renewal fees you pay over and over out of sheer desperation. Your worth is calculated on your potential value as a relister of non-performers versus a mover of brisk sellers, and Etsy ranks your listings in search to reinforce the winner.
The bigger your inactive/expired backlog, the more potential income you represent as a relister, and the farther your live listings get shoved toward the ass end of search to ensure that.
The Tragedy Seesaw requires a critical tipping point to work. It’s determined by your ratio of dormant listings to live ones, which defines your greater value as a frequent seller or serial relister. What’s the ratio?
Fun Test! At one point I had twice as many dead listings as live ones and no sales for weeks, so I deleted half my deadwood – and suddenly started getting views again, which had flatlined prior to that. And then, five sales. (Six, if you include a hoser who immediately canceled, probably to cash out an Etsy Gift Card. See “Teams,” below.)
So my best guess is that approximately a 1:1 ratio of live to inactive listings will keep the live ones in the search percentile that gets seen. Never retain more dormant listings than active ones. If you feel compelled to keep flogging a dead thing, DON’T RELIST IT. Remake it and post it as a new listing. New listings reportedly start out further back in search results but move up gradually, which beats the hell out of never. If losing a boatload of uninterested watchers makes you squeamish, save the old listing as a backup and relist it as new anyway, as a test.
My experience says this: Don’t fret about the beloved watchers you’re dumping. Those deadbeats ain’t buying squat, no matter how many last chances you give them. Definitely delete listings you don’t need, especially the ones with negligible watcher counts, or stratospheric watcher counts but no sales. They’re just holding you back.
Fun Fact! For three years I had a desirable vintage collectible listed, the only one of its kind on Etsy. It expired with 131 watchers. Not one ever put it in their cart. That’s because half were bots, and the rest were successfully brainwashed into believing there’s no hurry to buy anything on Etsy. No hurry at all. Watchers who don’t pull the trigger on listings after years of watching them are maybe not your ideal customers.
3) The Misery Treadmill — I noticed that the more I bought on Etsy, the less I sold. If this is a thing and not an anomaly, here’s what it means: Etsy can also rig your search visibility based on your greater value as a seller or buyer. I’m absolutely certain I was algorithmically reclassified from Seller to Buyer when my big-ticket clothing purchases represented more value in fees than my bargain tchotchke sales.
Q: What kind of idiots write code that, if you suddenly embark on a shopping spree, trips a switch that darkens your own shop?
A: The kind of idiots who don’t want your spree disrupted by you packing and shipping lower-priced items than the ones you’re buying.
Sellers complain endlessly in Etsy’s forum that their listings have disappeared from their shops or never appear at all in search, even when they enter exact listing titles in the search box. What I just described can totally cause that.
FYI: I haven’t seen the Misery Treadmill or Tragedy Seesaw discussed elsewhere, probably because of NDAs and the media shitstorm and theft-of-services lawsuits that would ensue if people knew. BTW, the Treadmill and Seesaw would be EXTREMELY PROFITABLE AND DEADNUTS EASY TO PROGRAM. Also totally illegal.
A Solution In Search of a Problem
Etsy’s boilerplate reply to sellers whose sales it destroyed is always the same: Use the downtime we force on you to revise all your listing titles, change all your SEO tags, redo all your photos, and list more.
Bait-and-switch is an Etsy trademark. Etsy relentlessly changes things that don’t need changing — tab locations, operational menus, favorites tallies, photo requirements, SEO rules, social media buttons — which never improve the site. In 2017 a screen layout change truncated listing descriptions longer than 1,100 words, obliging sellers to rewrite them to fit. In 2019 Etsy moved descriptions to a sidebar, then deleted them altogether, then replaced them with SEO tags that redirected shoppers to other sellers’ listings when clicked. In 2018 photo frames were changed from rectangular to square and then back again, obliging sellers to recrop and reload their product images. Why deliberately make sellers struggle with their shops and bots and stats and interminable other issues that, in the end, are unresolvable?
Because Etsy thinks that while sellers are trapped there, endlessly looking for things Etsy moved and waiting for their redone photos to upload and cursing Etsy’s horrific user interface, maybe they’ll buy something! THERE IS NO OTHER POSSIBLE BENEFIT to having 7.3 million sellers tying up bandwidth 24/7, endlessly tweaking titles and tags and photos on 60 million listings in an effort to move product. That’s why Etsy converted its forum — the one sellers use to get help because Etsy customer service can’t be bothered — into an Instagram-like social media extravaganza complete with Direct Messaging, which was immediately hijacked by phishers and spammers who bombard participants with scam emails. And if sellers do start buying while wasting their time on the site, Etsy doesn’t want them interrupted by the unnecessarily labor-intensive task of selling their own stuff.
This seller nailed it in Etsy’s forum: “I am merely one old lady trying to make ends meet with only so many hours and energy to do it. I understand that Etsy has profit first and foremost, they are going to make inane and nonproductive changes at the drop of a hat, and I have worked hard to accommodate all of these whimsical changes but I can’t work with the fact that they are unable to do it well or with even a minor standard of proficiency.”
Another seller said, “Etsy has become so unstable (both changes and functionality) that I find it hard to devote the time to change nearly 1,200 listings here.” Here’s why:
This: The new format forces commenters to post in a limited number of unnavigable Happy Happy Fun Time categories. One angry comment: “Good Lord, who wants to search this mess?” Another: “[When the financial backers] ousted the last group of executives including the CEO, they cited 20 problems people in the forum were complaining about. This format keeps everything tucked neatly away.” And this: “They changed the forums so they could stifle negative posts and opinions about the site.” Another called it a money grab: “They’ve driven everyone nuts with very little support, basically just the forums. Now … they offer support in a paid-for package. By golly, that’s absolutely brilliant.” Forum Bonus: It takes forever to load on desktops and the mobile app. For three months the new forum had no translator, not even a bad one like the old forum, assuring non-English speakers were shut out.
Noting the many recent critical site-wide malfunctions concurrent with the forum update, a programmer with 40 years’ experience in process engineering said: “The implementation of a new Forum package should not impact commerce workflows. But without a thorough impact analysis, and with all the kludgy changes Etsy has been making … what I am seeing [is] serious failures in a detailed understanding of workflows and processes.”
Another poster said this: “An executive can be advised by the engineering team that changing something (payments + shift to cloud) can introduce all kinds of bugs and they say do it anyway, because the stock will pop or profits will go up and it will make that executive millions. Where you have … an executive [ie, Silverman, who] makes $400,000 a year in salary and $20 million from stock, I don’t know if this is fixable. I don’t see a real incentive for them to do better.”
Nasdaq My Ass
Etsy stock trades on Nasdaq because it’s ostensibly a tech developer, but also claims it’s an ecommerce marketplace. A marketplace that games the stock market the same way it manipulates seller behavior — with artificially inflated counts, fake stats, fictional industry achievements, and cooked financial reports.
After twelve years of Etsy’s doublespeak, the Wall Street Journal verbalized the stock market’s frustration with it in 2017, noting Etsy “is now under pressure to stop spending like a tech startup and start acting like a retailer.”
Etsy didn’t get the memo. Two years later it’s still that obnoxious blowhard in every office who reboots porn-clogged desktops. Ergo, Etsy’s incessant self-aggrandizing squawking about its intelligence.
As artificial intelligence designs go, Etsy’s sucks. Its AI comprises its sorry excuse for a search engine, its useless mobile apps, and a scam called Teams:
1) Etsy’s vaunted search engine is legendarily awful. The shopping search blows worse every day. The mailbox search doesn’t work at all. Neither does the forums search or search within purchased items. People Search is a disastrous intrusion that allows strangers to view members’ private contact info and see their purchase histories of boob cookies and smiley-face merkins.
2) Etsy’s big-whup mobile apps. Introduced in 2014 and still shitty. They’re easy to hack. The selling app interrupts your business activities with ads and marketing advice and crashes constantly. The shopping app is so bad it doesn’t even show product descriptions, variations, or photos and actually prevents shoppers from buying and won’t let them leave 5-star reviews when they do. The photo loader doesn’t work. The More+ button and DMs don’t work. The iPhone version lets hackers hijack your account. Checkout is frequently broken. Shocker: Even though it has more visitors than the desktop website, the mobile app’s visit-to-purchase conversion ratio is lower.
3) Teams. Teams are staff, seller groups, and gig workers (who earn an average $40 per month). They’re three different things, but Etsy calls everything a Team for lack of sharper business acumen. Some have big Ts and some have little ones. The term “Teams” in EtsyWorld can mean department personnel, or non-employee seller support groups or freelancers. Some of the non-employee groups provide business advice to each other, buy from or spam each other, and discuss their cats. Some are troublemakers who, among other mischief, favor countless listings in return for rewards, to help Etsy manipulate seller behavior. Etsy has 11,400 teams with 7.3 million members. Here’s what they do:
💩 Teams have competitions to see who can fave the most listings. (Remember my admirer with 515,658 favorites? Duh.) They win prizes. What kinda prizes, yo?
● Discounts on purchases!
● Etsy Gift Cards! They use them to buy something on Etsy, cancel it, and get a cash refund. 5% of my sales resulted in immediate cancellations by assholes looking to cash out gift cards. Yay teams!
💩 Teams drive traffic to Etsy via social media in what amounts to free advertising that Etsy over-relied on after suspending ad buying in 2017. When Facebook lost half its traffic due to the 2016 Cambridge Analytica scandal/2017 fake news deluge/2018 hacks/private data fire sale and Instagram’s imminent demise, those four billion visitors shifted to YouTube. Now Etsy badgers sellers to vlog on YouTube about the virtues of Etsy.
“We’re proud of the fact that a substantial majority of our traffic today does come to us for free,” Etsy’s CEO said in February 2019.
💩 Teams abuse sellers. Bullied Etsy seller Mekunove told Complaints Board: “If you are a minority of any ethnicity and make no efforts to conceal such, be very prepared for targeting and profiling. You will have your shop shut down while you are on vacation, items deleted without an explanation, and harassing emails without provocation.”
Alex, a TrustPilot reviewer, claims many Etsy shop shutdowns are the work of team members who have their own shops and, being Etsy employees with access, are super aggressive about eliminating competition. Seller Christy Collichio told Complaints Board that after 7,000 sales her shop was abruptly shut down without explanation. The only communication she received was this email message: “Sync your 5 star reviews with your web site. You’ve earned them!”
Teams Extortion Bonus! Some teams charge membership fees.
To Serve Man — It’s a Cookbook!
Can we talk about the mastodon in the room now? There are easier ways to steal money. So WTF is Etsy doing?
Etsy reported $81.8 million net income in 2017. From 1.9 million sellers. That’s $43 annual net income per seller. Etsy’s profit in 2018: 3.3%. Why build a sprawling, insane Rube Goldberg contraption that ranks 60 million listings by criteria sellers can’t control and then hides most of them from buyers, to get $43?
Answer: stupidity, cluelessness, incompetence, cruelty, and unreported cash. So Etsy, is you is or is you ain’t a retailer? When you figure it out, let us know.
Punch through all that bullshit and it becomes obvious to even the most tech-challenged crafter or junk dealer that it shouldn’t take years to sell the same widget on Etsy that sold in a week on eBay or Amazon.
According to Wired, in 2015 Etsy was “the fifth most-visited marketplace site in the US, after Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Best Buy.” Note the operative term here is “most-visited.” Not “most transactional.”
The National Retail Federation’s Top 100 Retailers of 2018 didn’t even include Etsy.
Shocker! In 2017 Etsy laid off 230 workers (22% of its staff) and stopped buying ads so the newly installed CEO and board chair could afford new furniture. Ever since, something’s always fakakta at Etsy. Login and checkout are frequently broken. A security issue in 2018 forced Etsy members to sign in through Facebook or confront five blurry captcha pages. Then came the February 2019 robbery.
A far better use of what little staff Etsy has left would be to enable sellers to block customers who defraud or harass them, because after 13 years there’s still no way to do that or call Etsy for help. Got a problem with your Etsy bill? Neener neener! Etsy customer service is the internet equivalent of when your dog sticks his head in a bucket and thinks no one can see him.
Rolling blackouts, list throttling, broken search, dumb buy suggestions, fake buyers, fake AI, phony services… Is it really impossible to profit by just, I don’t know, LETTING 33.4 MILLION PEOPLE BUY WHAT THEY CAME TO FIND?
That there’s some sick, twisted shit, my friends.
If Etsy cheated you in a demonstrable way, FFS please report it.
Here are some places to start:
● All US states and territories have data breach notification laws that Etsy violated. Check for your laws here. Tell your state’s attorney general to investigate. You can find your AG’s contact info here.
● Etsy violated the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. PCI DSS is an organization that polices credit card fraud by monitoring businesses that transmit, process, or store cardholder data. Etsy is required to comply with PCI DSS regs. Contact PCI DSS here.
● Etsy violated a US Securities and Exchange Commission regulation (Corporate Finance Disclosure Guidance Topic No. 2) requiring publicly traded companies to report breaches to shareholders. Report Etsy to the SEC here.
● Etsy violated the Fair Credit Billing Act when it let thieves steal your credentials, and took money from you that you didn’t owe in February 2019 and then dragged its ass about giving it back. You can report Etsy to the US Federal Trade Commission by going here or calling 1-877-382-4357.
● Don’t forget the FBI’s IC3 Internet Crime Complaint Center! Etsy committed multiple federal felonies, including:
😩 18 USC Sections 1956 and 1957 — Money laundering (unlawful financial transactions)
😩 18 USC Section 1030 — Fraud and related activity in connection with computers (unlawful access, intentional transmission of malware, password trafficking, extortion involving computers)
Here’s the address for Etsy that you won’t find on Etsy’s website:
Josh Silverman, CEO
117 Adams Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
718 855-7955 corporate
800 328-5933 customer support
844 659-3879 customer support
844 336-1040 customer support
844 387-9910 customer support
+61 1800-951-925 Australia customer support
+44 808-164-9593 United Kingdom customer support
Actually, a whole lot more is wrong with Etsy. Please read my other posts on this subject:
● Selling on Etsy: The Long, Rattling Death March — how Etsy rips you off
● Etsy Clobbers Sellers Again — Etsy’s takeover by cyberthieves
● Etsy — Elevating Douchebaggery to New and Dizzying Heights — follow the money
● A Comprehensive List of Etsy Fees — fee-related Etsy scams
● Etsy Posts Q1 Earnings and Kills Someone — how Etsy hid the February seller theft and got sued for a wrongful death
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