R.I. woman leads global effort to organize Etsy sellers

WESTERLY – After leading a weeklong, global strike against Etsy Inc., Rhode Island designer Kristi Cassidy is continuing to organize against site policies that sellers say have made the platform unsustainable for independent artists and makers.

Cassidy, who makes and sells gothic wedding dresses and steampunk costumes through her online shop Auralynne ignited the effort against the e-commerce giant, prompting nearly 29,000 sellers to shut down their Etsy shops from April 11-18, and more than 83,000 signatures on a petition opposing several Etsy policies.

The next step, Cassidy said, is “forming the equivalent of a union for Etsy sellers.”

Over the past few years, sellers say that changes to Etsy’s business model have shifted to favor mass-market resellers, harming the independent artists and makers who built the site’s reputation.

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Cassidy joined Etsy in 2006, and for a long time most of her experiences with the site went smoothly.

But about four years ago, that began to change. Etsy raised its transaction fee for sellers, and by the following year, “I started to notice that the more work I put into my Etsy shop, the less I got out of it,” Cassidy said.

Later changes intensified this frustration. The site tacked on additional fees for products purchased through automatically implemented off-site ads and other features further disadvantage sellers who make products to order by rewarding shops that offer free, fast shipping and use automated replies, Cassidy said.

The increased fees have forced sellers to up their prices, she said, adding, “You’re pretty much forced to pass on Etsy’s greed to your customers.” 

When Cassidy shared her concerns on an Etsy-focused Reddit community after a fee change announced in February, she found that many other sellers felt the same way. Another user started a separate subreddit dedicated to the strike and soon Cassidy was at the forefront of an effort joined by Etsy sellers from around the world.

While the strike attracted significant attention, Cassidy said Etsy has yet to address the sellers’ demands.

In a statement from Etsy provided by Katie Boshart, the company considers its sellers’ success “a top priority,” and that the new fee structure will help users grow their businesses.

“We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies,” the statement said.

Etsy hosts 5.3 million sellers, according to the Boshart.

While discontent with the website has been growing for years, sellers have had few other options, Cassidy said.

Etsy has “a de facto monopoly on the handmade market,” she added. “You kind of have to play the game because it’s the only game in town.” 

As a result, Cassidy plans to continue operating her Etsy shop now that the strike has concluded. But she also has a standalone website and is hopeful that the strike will serve as a piece of a larger movement to diversify e-commerce platforms and put more power into the hands of independent artists and makers. 

She has also noticed a shift to solidarity among sellers that she says is essential to creating this change.

“If Etsy knows we are organized and trying to fight any future changes they make to the platform, then we are much stronger together than we are alone,” Cassidy said. “The fact that we exist, alone, is going to make Etsy think twice before screwing us over. We’ve shown we can mobilize and we can get a lot of attention.” 

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.