For Brontë Grimm, Etsy was meant to be a reprieve from the economic toll of the pandemic. Like so many others, Grimm, an artist based in Portland, Oregon, hit a financial low point in 2020. Being immunocompromised and a disabled person, they could no longer photograph or create paintings that involved working with models. in person. Their girlfriend couldn’t find a job either, and the couple found themselves on the verge of eviction.
Grimm turned to Etsy. They had used the designer-focused e-commerce site to sell jewelry in 2010 and decided to start a new store selling their Victorian-style jewelry designs in January 2021. This time around, however, Grimm noticed that Etsy was charging creators more fees for each item they listed and sold.
When Etsy set another fee increase for this month, it became too much for Grimm.
“They want us to act like a warehouse, because they make money that way,” Grimm, 35, told 19. “They basically expect marginalized people and small creators to behave like companies.”
This week, Grimm joined more than 17,000 frustrated Etsy sellers to protest policies they say have deviated from the company’s mission to make entrepreneurship more accessible. The company’s incentives for fast shipping and customer response rates also lead to less promotion for smaller stores on the platform, sellers said. The protesting sellers put their stores in “holiday mode” from Monday to April 18.
Seven LGBTQ+ Etsy sellers, including three with disabilities, told The 19th that rising fees and corporate pressure leave them wondering if they can continue to maintain their shops. Women make up 79% of the site’s U.S. sellers, according to a company report, and LGBTQ+ people make up 14%, roughly double national population estimates. The report does not list information for people with disabilities.
Many Etsy sellers live at the intersection of several marginalized identities. For gay and disabled people like Grimm, who face disproportionate financial hardship and discrimination in formal work environments, Etsy’s mission to reduce barriers to starting a business was particularly appealing. The site incorporates name recognition and customer trust, which sellers see as a benefit of joining the platform. Economic data is limited, but queer people, especially those of color, report higher levels of unemployment, multiple jobs, and self-employment compared to non-LGBTQ+ people. According to the National Institute of Disability, adults with disabilities experience poverty at more than twice the rate of others.
Etsy’s latest fee increase was announced in February, increasing the amount sellers pay for each transaction from 5% of their sales to 6.5%, effective Monday. In addition to transaction fees, sellers could be liable for a host of other fees, such as listing fees, processing fees, and advertising fees, all of which can amount to up to 20% of their income, the sellers said. Etsy’s offsite advertising costs are based on a particular shop’s total sales over the past year. These charges do not include additional material and labor costs. A petition that has received more than 51,000 signatures sets out five demands, one of which is for fees.
“It’s very confusing because there are so many fees,” said Sydney Sky Griffin, 25, a strike participant who had been running an Etsy shop selling skincare products for a year. “It would take me so long to try to figure out and sort out where the money was going, how much they were charging and why they were charging it.”
These small individual fees on Etsy sales can add up quickly. This month, Grimm sold a necklace for $50 just as the new transaction fees were put in place. After deducting fees plus the cost of materials and production, they made $15.45 in profit, or an hourly wage of $3.86 for their labor. Many Etsy sellers live paycheck to paycheck, and every dollar counts to meet their basic needs. Grimm’s girlfriend finally found a full-time job during the pandemic, but it doesn’t pay a living wage, they said. Etsy money helps buy groceries and toiletries.
Five of the seven Etsy LGBTQ+ sellers surveyed 19th said they rely on profits from Etsy as all or most of their income. Four out of five who depend on Etsy’s income full-time make less than $10,000 from sales. Three of the five people have a disability and noted having limited options for stable income outside of their Etsy shops, especially during the pandemic, which has been more difficult for immunocompromised people who face a higher threat from the coronavirus. .
“Being disabled, our Etsy shop is our only source of income,” said Amy Williams, 22, who started a shop on Etsy with their partner in March 2021. of our parents with regard to basic necessities. , but it’s nearly impossible to save the money we’ll need to survive in the future because of all of Etsy’s fees.
Sellers’ profits can be reduced in other ways. In 2019, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman sent a note to sellers announcing that the company would prioritize items and shops offering free shipping. Silverman encouraged sellers to adjust their prices to account for shipping.
But for many sellers, raising their prices is not an option. Buyers are unwilling to pay, especially in an Amazon-dominated e-commerce marketplace. And many Etsy sellers “see themselves as serving their community, or as different from a big business,” said Samantha Close, an assistant professor of communications at DePaul University who studies digital creative platforms like Etsy. Therefore, they find it unethical to raise prices to cover shipping costs, Close added.
“I don’t want to just charge high prices for things to the point that people can’t have them,” Griffin said. “In the community where I live, most people are generally poor and don’t have much work. It starts to get frustrating when I feel like I’m cheating on my clients.
Another point of contention is Etsy’s “Star Seller” program, intended to “reward Etsy sellers who consistently deliver an excellent customer experience,” according to the company’s website. The Star Seller badge signals to customers that a particular seller is reliable. This means that sellers must have a 95% response rate to messages within 24 hours, 95% of their orders are shipped “on time”, 95% of their sales receive 5-star reviews, and meet a minimum of 10 orders and $300 in sales. within three months.
But sellers said the program deprioritizes smaller creators who often produce items alone or with a small group. It’s also not sustainable for many disabled or neurodivergent sellers, said Juniper Harwood, 26, who has operated a store since October 2020.
Harwood and other sellers said they received minimal response from the company when they encountered difficulties. In October 2021, Etsy sent an email stating that 75% of Harwood’s revenue would be suspended. Harwood unsuccessfully attempted to get a response from the company to learn more about the reasoning behind the suspension and how long it would last.
Months later, when Etsy sent another email saying the revenue block would be lifted, “I collapsed on my kitchen floor and sobbed,” Harwood said. “It was scary and humbling to watch Etsy control my entire livelihood, for months on end and through the holiday season, no less.”
In response to the strike, Etsy said in an emailed statement that the fee increase would help the company “increase our investments in the areas described in the petition, including marketing, customer support and removal of ads that violate our policies”.
Etsy’s strike raises questions about the business model of the broader e-commerce industries, especially those that rely on female and gay labor, Close said.
LGBTQ+ people “can’t take their stores elsewhere as easily,” Close said, and they may have fewer financial alternatives to seek out for help.
LBGTQ+ vendors who spoke with The 19th said they want the company to recognize all of these factors that affect them and implement practices that support the communities that company leaders say they want to uplift. Participating in this week’s strike has come with sacrifices: lack of money for groceries or, in Grimm’s case, lack of money to buy his medicine. But sellers said they recognize Etsy’s potential to serve underrepresented groups in business, and they see the strike as an opportunity to raise awareness of an important issue.
“I think Etsy is in a really unique position, and they have a fantastic opportunity here to differentiate themselves from giants like Amazon,” Harwood said. “I think this is a watershed moment for Etsy, and I hope they listen to the people who made their platform what it is today: their sellers. Us.”