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Wed Sept 2 2015 21:46:28

Is Etsy Too Lax or Too Strict over Handmade vs Resellers?

By: Ina Steiner

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A seller who runs Three Bird Nest was an Etsy success story, touted by the media as an example of how an entrepreneurial mother of three could create a million-dollar business. But as she gained publicity, Alicia Shaffer also gained notoriety among her fellow artisan sellers on Etsy.

The issue is a familiar one to anyone who sells on the marketplace known for its handmade goods where accusations of reselling are rampant.

Did Shaffer make her items? She told Fast Company in February that she imported items such as knitted legwarmers and socks from India and "We finish them here, adding lace trimmings and buttons." That outraged some fellow Etsians.

In August, Shaffer told Yahoo Makers she was leaving the site. "Things came to a head last month when Etsy suspended Three Bird Nest," according to the article. "Shaffer says it was over an Etsy customer complaint about an undelivered $20 order - a complaint, she says, that Etsy neither told her about nor gave her the chance to make right."

Shaffer called it the "final straw." "I can't wrap my head around why we've essentially been targeted by them," she says of Etsy. "I just feel that a lot of sellers are at that point where they're just really fed up and wanting to move away from that."

Yahoo Makers added Etsy's side of the story in an update:

"At Etsy, we work with our sellers to help them grow their businesses and uphold our policies, which are vital to the integrity of our marketplace. If an Etsy seller still cannot live up to her responsibilities, provide the level of customer service our buyers expect or comply with our handmade policy, we may take appropriate action. While we generally don't comment on specific sellers, Three Bird Nest was unable to demonstrate sufficient compliance with our policies."

Take a look at Thursday's Newsflash article and let us know what you think of how Etsy handled the issue and whether it's too lax or too strict when it comes to resellers on its marketplace.



Comments (29) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Is Etsy Too Lax or Too Strict over Handmade vs Resellers?   Is Etsy Too Lax or Too Strict over Handmade vs Resellers?

by: cayenna This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 01:20:26 2015

Etsy obviously promoted her shop to give her that much visibility so they obviously supported what she was selling. My sales have dropped off the face of the earth on etsy. I was a bit jealous reading this because most of us are begging for visibility and sales. Happy she could be a success. I don't see anything wrong with being creative by adding buttons and things to spruce up items so I think there should be some credit given to creativity. But to say it is handmade; I have a hard time supporting that. I'm a Metalsmith, Potter, etc and that to me is handmade. I guess we all know what we should be doing now if we want sales!

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by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 01:45:47 2015

I don't think it would be considered hand made more like hand decorated would be the case. As for China using her photos to sell knock offs that is a given. The Chinese often use American sellers ads and photos to sell their items or swindle buyers out of money. This has been brought to the attention of sellers many times on forums, etc.  

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by: Garcia This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 01:49:05 2015

You bet questions remain about the shops that sell on Etsy. The company keeps broadening its handmade definition until what you now find are new iphones, resold parts and any number of mass produced items filling its handmade section.  Complaints abound from buyers who feel duped into thinking what they see and often purchase was handmade.  

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by: cayenna This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 02:04:10 2015

Re Garcias comment; I agree, that's probably why they have changed the categories so much because now the categories basically support everything not handmade. That's why no one can find handmade items etc. And why I am not getting any sales.  

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by: corpuschristi1956 This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 07:04:32 2015

It is too bad there are no longer any websites that will allow someone to build something beautiful without crazy restrictions, micro-managing, self-made definitions of what should and should not be considered hand-made. Her idea, her money used to gather resources, her leg-work, her decision whether to recycle another item into a different item, her right to be the designer, her offering and not someone elses. Stop with the control insanity lest you rename yourself eBay.

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by: fgilles02420 This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 07:17:36 2015

I calculated once that given her yearly sales, the number of employees listed in her Etsy shop, and assuming they were all knitting full time - that each 'handknit' garment took 15 minutes to make.

Obviously that wasn't realistic. I'm guessing that Etsy was glad to have her sales and promote her as a success story until it became very obvious she was reselling imported manufactured goods, and then she had to go.

I wish that level of enforcement extended to more sellers. As lax as Etsy's rules are about what is handmade, sellers openly break even those. While there are still wonderful artists on Etsy who are truly making items by hand, it's becoming more and more difficult to find them. The search function is clogged up with so much Walmart/Alibaba junk that real handmade items are few and far between.

It's great to have your business become a success, and I wish her well, but Etsy was not the right venue for her to be selling on.

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by: Russ This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 07:43:39 2015

Etsy made the rules and they selectively enforce them at their whim.

''Vintage,'' according to their forums mention 20 years or older.  The site is overflowing with newer items, categorized as vintage by sellers.  Some of those same sellers even include images of labels on the item ... ''Made in China (c)2011'' or other violating information.

Since monetization is key for any business, Etsy will enforce their rules at their discretion.  Reports of violating items almost always fall on blind eyes and/or deaf ears.  

Hello, eBay?

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This user has validated their user name. by: The End

Thu Sep 3 08:02:01 2015

Can't eat a tattoo. Should have saved for a rainy day.

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by: DingDong This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 08:23:49 2015

I use to love this site for the handmade items.

I don't mind having "upcycled" items by the sellers. But in the case of the Three Bird Nest, if this was upcycled, most of her items had at least 75 or more items in stock. That IS not right. When I am in a good mood and do some upcycling, I may get 10 items but normally each item is original upcycled.

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by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.
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Thu Sep 3 08:31:16 2015

Our world is becoming more and more a place where if someone doesn't like a rule they will make their own spin on it and then be 'surprised' when they find they have a problem. I haven't sold on Etsy, but the only reason I would go there is to comp prices on things I sell with their sellers, specifically sewing patterns or if I was looking for something handmade that I didn't want to try to make myself. Every craft show I ever went to with my mother that I saw something I liked, she would tell me that I could make it. This is what I thought Etsy was, a giant craft show and a place for supplies for crafters. Now someone said they sell I-phones?! How can they be in any way construed as being handmade. But it is yet more of a way to see just how far someone can bend the rules.

Anyone that wants to sell on line is invited to sell on eCRATER. We don't care if something is handmade or just decorated. We would love some great million dollar sellers (we might have some already, I'm not sure). Someone with lots of sales might end up having their customers also pop in to visit other sellers as well.

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by: ignatz This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 09:07:05 2015

Since Etsy is allow the sale of machine-made junk from China, why the hell don't they grab a piece of ebay's business by setting up a separate section to allow the sale of manufactured items of any age?  

It seems horribly short-sighted of them to ruin their reputation over this cheap Chinese and Indian junk,  while not going after ebay's core business!

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Thu Sep 3 10:44:23 2015


Recently, on both eBay and Etsy I purchased Onesies (yes, that brand was included in the mix) that were customized by various sellers for baby gifts.  

I'm guessing it was in the same vein as OP example - a pre-purchased plain garment that gets gussied up by the seller.  

As a buyer, I was glad to find them - the results were well done and I appreciated their professional customization.  

I sell on BOTH eBay and Etsy and have NO problem with sellers who do this.  

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by: sundance This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 10:56:16 2015

Well, my hand mades / hand crafted will be leaving Etsy in another day or so for another site.  I do HAND knit, CROCHET, TAT and do create basic knit fabric on knitting machines.  But there's a LOT of work after the fabric comes off the machines and they are all hand crafted by me.  

I'll leave my ePatterns on Etsy until they expire, since they do generate income.  May or may not renew.  That gets pricey.  

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by: Louise This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 11:11:23 2015

It is so obvious she is reselling from China and the items already had the lace and buttons: "without having Etsy as a go-between. “We can knock out and process 40 orders in an hour, where on Etsy it takes eight hours to process that many." There are others still on Etsy doing the same thing and even putting her TBN in their Tags. Etsy turns a blind eye until the pressure on them starts and there was too much publicity on this one.

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by: comments This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 12:09:37 2015

Depending on the rules ebay is both too lax and too harsh. Unfortunately no one stops to realize that different categories have different needs and expectations. Light scuffs or wear is not acceptable on a brand new item, but on an old antique they would be expected. But currently ebay views these products in the same light with the same expectations. Likewise if someone sells a collectible buyers may expect it shipped out faster then a custom made widget.

If I buy a self inking stamp with my address on it I don't expect it to ship next day. But if I buy some toner to replace the one running out in my printer I don't expect a long wait for shipment.

IF I buy a grand piano and it has to freight ship I won't expect it to arrive in 3 days or 1 day handling time. I will realize that the logistics need to be worked out. If I buy a $10,000 comic I don't expect the seller to sit on it for a week either.

How can ebay set the same expectations for such a wide spectrum of items without any consideration to realistic differences and actual buyer expectation?

This could go on endlessly and be applied to the concept of returns and every other piece of failed policy that has come out since JD's path to destruction started.

Hope the new guy can see where is former boss destroyed the company and takes ebay a different direction. Amazonification was company suicide.

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by: VintageLady This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 12:28:02 2015

Russ said it:
''Etsy made the rules and they selectively enforce them at their whim.''
This particular case was the one that got media attention and it became too obvious even for a 5th grader (Louise was absolutely correct on this), otherwise there are countless similar cases still going unobserved, sheltered by the vastly preferential Etsy treatment of Sellers/items that appeal to their (Etsy's) age group and very young target audience. The rest of the shops and Sellers, barely get by with an accidental sale here and there, suspiciously towards the end of the month when the bills incurred from endless listing are due.
That is the essence of Etsy in a nutshell: randomness and preferential treatment.
If Etsy wants to become competitive in a real sense and be taken seriously, they will have to put their money where their mouth is and police the REAL culprits OR free themselves from their own limiting rules (they are just umbrella terms at the moment) and open the market to various sources, options and sellers...but the latter would take serious guts. It would be interesting to see how this will evolve.

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by: TMoore This user has validated their user name.
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Thu Sep 3 13:07:08 2015

I tried out Etsy in 2012 and found it wanting to begin with. The "handmade" controversy was raging even then, way before Etsy went public. My listings were buried way down in a cave under a rock between two twigs for four months before I decided the wait was not worth it. My items were all hand made by me; that is, I assembled all components, sourced the materials, etc.. When I talked about the issue of handmade I was warned by Etsy staff not to talk about it, and I saw several other arisans "permamuted" about the topic. If anything Etsy demonstrated a deep hypocrisy, enough that I pulled out and have not gone back. Now I sell everything from my own site and have enjoyed success in that my things are seen, enjoyed and puchased. That is what is truly important. So I don't think Etsy ought to be promoting itself as a "handmade" site if it will only promote mass producers.

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by: RealHandmadeGal This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 3 14:51:31 2015

If you read her feedback for the past 5-6 months, you would have found complaint after complaint. She didn’t get the boot over just one $20 issue. People complained about items still having the Made in China or Made in India tag on them. Poor sewing, inferior materials, bad sizing, non-delivery and delivery of wrong items were common complaints. She had a no-refund policy (store credit only) and for some reason, customers thought they had to adhere by this. I don’t understand why more people didn’t go directly to PayPal, their credit card company or Etsy and file for a refund. If she had been honest from the get-go about her product, she may not have incurred the wrath of real handmade sellers. Sellers of handcrafted items who complained about her were not jealous - they were upset about how she misrepresented her goods, possibly tainting other Etsy sellers. Personally I don’t give a rat’s rear what someone sells or how much money they make as long as they are honest about what they’re doing. Her business model is not for me as I prefer making limited edition, higher end items. Not cheap, made in a factory possibly under poor conditions, crap (as popular as said crap may be).

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This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Thu Sep 3 18:13:02 2015

"Handmade" can be very difficult to define. There are levels of handmade or handcrafted. Like, do you spin your own yarn or buy it? Or make your own t-shirt to sport your artwork or buy pre-made blank shirts and add your art. Etsy should try to find a way to quantify it, maybe with a certain percentage of hand work vs. a pre-made item with very little enhancement or alteration.

From what I see, I don't consider this seller's items to be handmade. Perhaps there should be a new category for such hand-decorated items. The main issue seems to be truth in advertising. I have no problem with sellers doing what TBD does, however, the products should be identified for what they truly are and not masqueraded as handmade.

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by: richknobsales This user has validated their user name.

Fri Sep 4 00:01:58 2015

Yes, there are degrees of handmade. I have friends who mine rocks and cut and polish their own cabs, and then make jewelry out of them. I prefer to buy cabs from them and "embellish" them myself with wire wraps or pendant mounts of some kind.

When most of the item is pre-made and at best you add some more pre-made to it, it's hard to draw a line. If I pick out a stone, then purchase a setting for it individually, and mount it with my own little hands - is that handmade? Is that more or less handmade than a garment embellished with trinkets made elsewhere? The issue is how much handwork needs to go into it, and then WHOSE HANDS? My personal hands or hands that I hired? That's where I think the line gets crossed.

If I buy stuff and put the final item together with my own little hands, then I think it belongs on Etsy - or ArtFire, who had a more concise definition of "handmade" - but if I hire workers to do it for me, then I have become a manufacturer.

If I have my prints pulled by a shop, but it's my original image, what is the difference in having those workers sew the junk of my choice onto the premade items of my choice?

I think we all know "handmade" when we see it but trying to nail it down in a written definition that can be applied to all circumstances just bites.

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