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Etsy Changes Search Algorithm to Factor Seller Location

Etsy sellers are questioning the company’s decision to use seller location in search ranking in two international markets. Etsy announced Friday, “In order to create a better local shopping experience, we’ve been testing an updated search ranking to make locally-made items for buyers in the United Kingdom and Australia more prominent.”

As sites like Etsy and eBay know, any change to search by a marketplace can be controversial – especially when there is a whiff of what some could see as favoritism. Here’s a look at some of the reaction from sellers, followed by a Q&A with Etsy spokesperson Nikki Summer to learn more about the changes and the reasons for them.

Sellers raised a number of issues in discussions on the Etsy boards. One UK seller wrote, “Oh I can’t believe this, I’ve only had 9 views all day and they are from the UK. The Christmas rush is definately going to pass me by. I may as well give up and rely on Folksy if I just want UK interest.”

Others say buyers had always had the opportunity to filter search results and don’t like the fact that shoppers can’t go back to searching the way they had previously.

A seller wrote, “Australian and UK customers are being force fed skewed results. We are not being shown the full range of items, ranked on how relevant they are, but are shown less relevant products just because they are located in our country.”

And in this thread, some sellers were skeptical that Etsy was using seller location only in the UK and Australia, while others said they believed Etsy would eventually roll out the changes in the US, which is a major source of sales for international sellers.

Several sellers pointed to a transcript of a presentation by Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson to Wall Street analysts in August. In it, Dickerson said Etsy’s international GMS as a percentage of total GMS was down this year, in part due to “headwinds created by the strong US dollar” – but, he said, “we also think we can improve our performance by continuing to invest in the strategies that have led to early successes.”

He said Etsy had seen recent improvement in the UK due to additional localization efforts. “We believe these activities attract sellers to Etsy, stimulate the local marketplace by connecting local sellers to buyers and expand Etsy’s brand awareness.”

Etsy spokesperson Nikki Summer answered some questions about the change on Monday.

EcommerceBytes: Some US sellers think it’s unfair and that their fees should be reduced because of reduced exposure to UK/Australian shoppers. Some users think it should be up to the shopper to decide whether to exclude (or reduce exposure to) items from overseas sellers. Wondering how Etsy would respond?

Nikki Summer: The goal with a number of our search relevancy changes, including this one, is to get the right buyer to the right listing. By talking to members and looking at the results of our tests, we learned that buyers in the UK and Australia have a preference for local items – long shipping times, customs charges and exchange rates are incentives for buying domestically. For eligible searches, we’re showing them more local items because we want to get them to the right listing, faster. It’s important to note that we’re looking at this from country to country. No market is the same, and we want to do what’s best for buyers and sellers in each one.

This particular change takes all of this into account when deciding which items to show buyers, in which order. To be clear, we aren’t removing non-UK or Australia items from the results, we’re just adding location into the math.

EcommerceBytes: I notice there seems to be some confusion about how this works. The change is to default search in those two countries, correct? Can sellers in those countries choose an option to sort results the “old” way? (If so, how, and if not, why not?)

Nikki Summer: Yes, this slightly changes the ranking of results of a normal search query made within the UK and Australia. We talked to buyers in the UK and Australia, and many of them told us that they like purchasing from sellers based in their own countries because they find it to be more convenient and less expensive. Specifically, they cited faster shipping, lower shipping fees and a lack of customs charges as incentives for buying domestically. We hope that, by making domestic shops more prominent in the results when sellers in the UK and Australia search for items, we will encourage more local sales and improve the buyer experience in those countries. There is no option to revert to the previous search.

EcommerceBytes: Some sellers say geographic changes to search have already hurt them (incl. sellers from U.S.) If there’s anything you think would be helpful to know to clear up common questions/misperceptions, please let me know.

Nikki Summer: The biggest misconception seems to be from sellers who believe searches are changing globally. Search results are only affected for users within Australia and UK. Searches in the US, for instance, will not have their results altered, and we don’t have plans to do this. With any changes we make to search, we’re always trying to get the right buyer to the right item.

This change doesn’t remove items from search, but simply makes items offered in the UK and Australia slightly more prominent in search results for visitors within these countries, in addition to results from shops based in other countries.

EcommerceBytes: I guess I would also ask if there are reasons Etsy is doing this, such as tax collection or shipping challenges?

Nikki Summer: Buyers are still able to see items and buy from sellers outside their countries. We want to make it a bit easier for them to see relevant, local items in search results, in addition to results from shops in other countries.

Many buyers who have purchased from sellers outside their own country are very happy with beautiful work from all over the world. We want this to continue. What we do hear from Australian and UK buyers time and again is that they do want a mix of both local and global items from which to get inspiration and from which to buy. In order to get the right balance of global and local items for our UK and Australian buyers, we have to get search to work a little bit harder to surface local items in those countries. This is helps to ensure that the relevant local items have a fair shot in a sea of global listings.

EcommerceBytes: Has Etsy tested this, the timing comes as holiday shopping is ramping up.

Nikki Summer: Yes, we’ve tested this and we’ve seen positive results that make us comfortable making this change ahead of the holidays.

You can find the full announcement on the Etsy website, and see what others have to say on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

Comment on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

Ina Steiner on EmailIna Steiner on LinkedinIna Steiner on Twitter
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.