Saturday, July 5, 2008

Is Etsy Worth It?

My friend, business partner, and Glass Haven owner Julia Benson-Slaughter asked this question at her blog, Art of the Firebird. It's a valid question. For a site as large and as old as Etsy is, it has some troubling aspects. These fall into several areas: a certain lack of respect for sellers and buyers, an ongoing lack of business tools for sellers, and a complete inability to manage its image. Of course, all of these are related to a certain degree, and they all add up to a lack of professionalism.

The lack of respect is for me the most problematic part of the Etsy experience. Sellers' concerns are generally ignored; instead of fixing long-standing issues, the site spends time on how-to articles of dubious quality. (The idea of a hammock and doing "Urban intervention" is great, but for the love of Mike, please show people how to make a hammock correctly, using appropriate materials. Your grandmother's sewing machine (WHAT an ageist comment, by the way!) is not sturdy enough to sew the fabric you will need to make a lasting hammock, nor is clothesline a remotely possible option for the supports.)

The worst, though, is its cavalier disregard for dishonesty. As the site relies on the community for policing, numerous blatant resellers and copyright violators flourish on Etsy. The issue that brought the whole mess to my attention was the case of Ulljasbeads, who was blatantly purchasing other lampworkers' beads on EBAY and then selling them as her own creations on ETSY. I know personally several of the lampworkers involved in this issue, and they are not usually ones to cry fraud or to be habitually unpleasant --- these are good, honest, pleasant people. Etsy, however, when faced with unequivocal proof of Ullja's behavior, including screenshots of the EBAY auctions and the Etsy listings, did not close her shop or pull her listings--instead, they edited her posts to remove the word "handmade," (compare to the screenshot in the previous link), violating their own policies about resellers and being knowing parties to fraud. Although they have now closed her shop, it took widespread news and complaints for them to do it. Right there they lost my respect, as they showed that they are more willing to gain listing fees and FV fees rather than stand by their rules or protect other sellers, buyers, or the image of Etsy. They have lost others' too ... witness Loco's Etsy Admin Alien Bead.

A lack of respect for sellers and buyers also informs Etsy's lack of business tools for sellers. Site stats, the ability to pre-schedule listings, the unwillingness to talk about the harder side of business on the fora, and most of all the reliance on sellers' time to market their shops --- all show a lack of respect for the sellers AND the buyers, as well as being a pain for the general business person. I would like to be able to budget my time better--to spend my workweek on, well, WORK, rather than breaking concentration or spending time to list every day. While doing listings in a lump, saving their urls, and only finishing them on the day that I list them is a useful workaround, we should not have to do that. Site stats would be useful, and having constant views (now fixed, but after how many months of complaints?). Etsy's willingness to allow NPBs to leave negative feedback for sellers is a problem, and the persistent issue of non-payment is also troubling. Why can't Etsy have a dedicated integrated shopping cart? It is not that difficult. Why doesn't ETSY at least publish a timeline for specific site improvements (aka basic tools) and then stick to it as best programming snafus will allow? And for the listing fees we pay, I expect better marketing.

Marketing brings up the issue of Etsy's image. Etsy began as a venue for the small crafter, but it has grown like Topsy. Despite this, Etsy's administration has not kept pace. Etsy's trade show booths scream a lack of professionalism. Etsy has a name for being a flea market, a garage sale, rather than a serious crafting venue. If that's what ETSY wants ... fine; it's Rob and Maria's site, after all. But that image undermines its pledge of the "handmade life." While I have defended Etsy's choice to market itself that way, I do feel the pain of those who want or need a higher-end image, and increasingly I find myself joining their position. Etsy doesn't have to kick out the rainbows-and-kittens crowd, but it needs to promote its higher end and fine art shops as well as its cute kitchen crafts ... and booths like those linked to above do NOT help.

So: I find myself wondering--is ETSY worth it? Despite its problems, it has built up a helpful community. WE answer questions, police the site, help newcomers, and continue to remain, paying our fees while we do quite a lot of the work. Yet the community alone cannot compensate for ETSY's other problems. For me to get to the point of being fed up with a site is rare. I would make a very bad Etsy Bitch, because I tend to view things pretty charitably and not complain overly much. But although they began roughly, and several on the fora cross over the line between genuine complaint and mockery, the Bitches make some very fair and valid points. Maybe it's time to find other venues and see whether there is anything better --- or if they are all roughly the same. If so, perhaps it's time to spend money on my own website and do my own marketing. It can't take any more time than I am spending now.

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