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Etsy: Company escaping 'race to the bottom', getting back to its artisan roots (cnbc.com)
49 points by pseudolus 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 83 comments

It is good to see the company admitting that it had joined the race to the bottom, though the cynic in me points out that they wouldn't be doing so if they were winning the race (Temu and other recent upstarts are doing rather well there).

Etsy loosened rules that limited generic sales in order to gain growth, and where the rules still have restrictions (i.e. the use of external delivery, including drop-shipping, are permitted as long as you designed the item), those restrictions are a mix of difficult to enforce (i.e. takes man-power to police) and easy to work around (drop-shipped product has a custom logo on the box, does that count if the logo is your design?).

I don't trust them at all. The good will has been exhausted by incompetent management. Someone spin up an employee owned competitor and do a seed round, I'm ready to invest. This is something the size of Let's Encrypt, Fastmail, or 37signals. Build the org, build the culture [1] [2], arrive at steady state, defend the culture and the org for longevity. Have makers (not sellers shoveling drop ship garbage, makers) be shareholders. Governance and aligned incentives.

The market is proven, and to chase valuation traps in volatile fits and starts does a disservice to all stakeholders.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=40899454

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=40894595

> drop-shipping, are permitted as long as you designed the item

Isn’t drop-shipping when a seller has the manufacturer ship an item to a buyer directly without designing it?

Usually these days, yes, though it _could_ be your design that is being made and shipped in which case that would be within Etsy's current rules.

If you buy one of my dolphin pen holders


then that's drop-shipping. In the background,


has my OBJ files in their system and they will do the 3D-printing and send it to you. My team did the design, so it is a unique item. But my team does not handle the day-to-day printing and shipping, because that would be exhausting and then we wouldn't have time to make new designs anymore.

They're not really designing the item though. They're paying a drop-shipping manufacturer to print/etch a graphic or text into a white-label item.

It's so little effort that the platform has been entirely flooded with low quality garbage.

you can hire 3rd party companies to manage your logistics. if you design a thing and then have it massed produced, you don't want to have to deal with the inventory taking over your living space. Spouses tend to get very unhappy with that. So you have a company that receives the orders and ships for you and keep the SO happy. "What can brown do for you?" type of companies

EDIT: I didn't RTFA. Ignore me.

I now officially have zero reason to shop there. I haven't for the past little while because it's mostly been dropshippers from Alibaba anyway.

Etsy had a niche, it was out-competing vintage shops, swap-meets, and markets. Now, in light of mismanagement and poor financials they decided to check notes directly compete with _the_ largest ecommerce website in the universe, and one of the largest tech companies.

I can't help but picture a board room of suits all high-fiving and cheering when an exec changes between a slide of Etsy's yearly profits to Amazon's yearly profits chanting "this is us. this is us."

> they decided to check notes directly compete with _the_ largest ecommerce website in the universe

I actually mis-read the headline that way too. They're doing the opposite - making sure they are only selling hand made items (again) and NOT competing with Amazon anymore.

No, you read it right the first time.

It's a misleading PR move pretending to move back to "hand-made" items with loopholes big enough to drive a planet through.

Thank you, I have been caught not RTFA and going on my priors.

Etsy is little better than an awkward dollar store, with occasional authentic items.

It reminds me of a museum gift shop on the decline. Full of cheap, mass produced junk that is vaguely related to the original premise with an authentic show piece in the window to remind shoppers of the theme.

So many companies have been ruined by the expectation that they must keep growing at all costs. I wish more shareholders could be happy with a company that reaches its optimal steady state without sacrificing the values that got them there, where money could be returned as dividends or buybacks.

Is that not the root issue with our entire socioeconimic infrastructure in the US?

An in-between category of products are 3d-printed items. Technically "hand-made" (in the sense that anything that you produce yourself is, even if machinery or technology is involved). Almost no one is using their own designs: they're finding models that have permissive enough licensing (many are Creative Commons Share Alike, which permits commercial production)

If Etsy was serious they’d just hire some people to just use the site and start banning drop shippers. Insane they allow T-shirt companies that do print on demand and absolutely flood it with AI designs.

They should crack down on people scraping thingiverse and printables and auto posting models.

Basically just use the site and take action. IMO it’s unusable right now. It’s temu with higher prices.

"Handpicked by a seller" describes AliExpress drop shippers. They're embracing race to the bottom with this, not escaping it.

"Designed by a seller" includes "seller-prompted AI art", too. https://www.etsy.com/seller-handbook/article/1276491338090

I don’t know if I’d consider that hand picked, but we’ll see.

As for your second point that would be almost impossible to enforce, and the line isn’t super clear. What if I generate an image and then make a depth map from that to 3D print? Or do a screen print on a shirt with it?

They define "hand-picked" as including "collections of items selected/curated by a seller".

"Here's a curated selection of my favorite dancewear I drop-ship from AliExpress" seems to fit that just fine.

Cool I hope. Be a smaller business that actually serves your niche well and own it forever Etsy.

I wouldn't get my hopes up. Seems like the language of change with ways out of actually doing change. From the article: Each product has to fall into one of four categories: made by a seller (either by hand or using automated tools), designed by a seller, handpicked by a seller, or sourced by a seller.

Easy for something mass produced to be handpicked by a seller or sourced by a seller.

> handpicked by a seller, or sourced by a seller

Yes, those are categories that shouldn't be on a site that is what Etsy claims they want to be.

I disagree. this category importantly covers funky old retro items, some of which border on antique. For example, I've sought out and bought from Etsy 1940's dishes and kitchen implements, collected by little Etsy shops that specialize in such things.

Your 1940s example is clearly "vintage" under the previous terms.

"Vintage items must be at least 20 years old" - https://web.archive.org/web/20180221040206/https://www.etsy....

Old: "Everything listed for sale on Etsy must be handmade, vintage, or a craft supply."

New: "everything listed for sale on Etsy must be made, designed, handpicked, or sourced by a seller."

They never enforced those rules. All sorts of mass production wooden items were listed in Etsy, Amazon and alibaba at the same time.

Sure. But this thread concern's JohnFen's comment "those are categories that shouldn't be on a site that is what Etsy claims they want to be" and PeterHolzwarth opposition, saying it should allow "funky old retro items, some of which border on antique", and my observation that Etsy previously claimed they allowed those retro items.

I have bought vintage on Etsy. Fine stuff. Could be labelled "vintage" with a requirement of >25y age.

Their definition is >20 years, as it happens.

My bad.

Anyway, doesn't the new change mean that it was 20 and is 0 years?

That's a legitimate market for sure, but I don't think it belongs on Etsy. The company Etsy could (and should) start up a different website for that sort of thing, and even a different site yet for the more dropshippy things. They could even cross-promote their sites with each other.

maybe they could call that different site eBay?

Not even being glib but how could any product not fall into one of those 4 categories?

That's the point. Pretty much everything can fall into one of the 4 categories. No change is necessary for that to happen - all this at a time when folks are complaining that the site is full of mass produced stuff they could order themselves.

Stolen goods maybe? Though that may qualify as 'sourcing' with a broad enough interpretation.

I would expect a stolen wallet sold on Etsy to have been hand picked by an artisinal scoundrel.

> Easy for something mass produced to be handpicked by a seller or sourced by a seller.

Being able to filter out those would be nice. I wonder what counts as made/designed though. If assembling something counts as "made" or slapping a logo on a white label product counts as "designed" then it's not much of an improvement.

A faithful interpretation of the rules to accomplish what the article says they want would be that handpicked means that the seller goes shopping at markets and chooses items to resell. Sourced means that they have an artisinal manufacturer they directly work with and they do the wholesale purchase/import and then sell on Etsy.

For example, I want some nearly unique leather shoes.

1. I find a shoemaker on Etsy who is selling their wares. 2. I find a shoe designer on Etsy 3. I find a shoe on Etsy whose seller has purchased vintage shoes from another store. 4. I find a shoe on Etsy that is from an importer who works with a shoemaker in Leon, Mexico.

Those are all what I would expect to find in an artisinal store. I could see how these could be abused to support Temu, but also how you could enforce them to remove listings that are abusive.

sourced by a seller - carefully curated from Temu?

That’s often how it works now. My wife uses Etsy as a Pinterest for Temu. She just finds the original listing and orders it direct from Temu.

It is also often the reverse: sellers on Temu (or Ali Express, or any number of other sites) selling knock-off versions of hand-crafted items spotted on Etsy and elsewhere. Heck, sometimes the knock-offs are sold on Etsy too, often using the original maker's images (I doubt the product received will be anything close to an exact match). A friend of mine doses corsetry and related clothing work and sells in part through Etsy, and occasionally has a significant problem with this.

It’s definitely a cycle. Pre-Temu/AliExpress I worked at a store that sold high end purpose made knives and low end “fantasy” knives. As soon as a factory was opened in China by a major brand the original (sans branding) would suddenly show up in the same catalog as the fantasy knives at 1/5 MSRP and an inferior knock off at 1/20th MSRP; all the high tech designer steels and plastics replaced by 440 and ABS or Micarta. It’s the way business is often done in their manufacturing economy.

I know what BS

“The platform’s new rules require all items to incorporate “a human touch” as outlined by its creativity standards”

That’s just as bad as hand crafted pizza in the frozen grocery aisle - yes at one point someone had to design this pizza, then they crank them out on a machine like everything else.

> at one point someone had to design this pizza, then they crank them out on a machine like everything else.

Yep. By that measure, every mass-produced item you can buy was "hand crafted" at some point.

This could be useful if they allow search filtering. Sometimes I may want something artisanal, other times I may not care much about the artisanal qualities and curated is good enough.

What does "curated" mean when the obvious move is to just sell whatever you find on AliExpress? I would be extremely skeptical that someone who sells "curated" products like this actually evaluates each product they're selling.

Do you really think folks are going to be honest about this?

Exactly. If a manufacturer finds that it will sell 5% more simply by labeling something "artisanal" then they will label all of their products "artisanal." How is Etsy going to know if product number 12,440,911 is artisanal or not. Like "organic," I don't even know what artisanal means anymore. They have become magic checkbox words that increase sales.

Not going to happen. You have to aim for cancerous growth or you don't exist.

Isn’t that because how we legally define success via public trading returns? It seems like privately owned businesses can avoid that ‘line must go up’ stupidity.

This isn't a mandatory feature of public markets. There are entire classes of public stocks that don't depend on perpetual growth. The most notable are dividend yielding investments. There are even stocks where the strategy is "line goes down".

Is there a legal definition? I thought it was a free market and companies will do whatever they deem necessary to "bring value to their shareholders".

For example, they used to pay dividends instead of growing indefinitely. Remember that?

You are right, ‘legal definition’ isn’t right, but the legal doctrine derives from the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling in Dodge vs Ford Motor co.

“Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., 204 Mich 459; 170 NW 668 (1919), is a case in which the Michigan Supreme Court held that Henry Ford had to operate the Ford Motor Company in the interests of its shareholders, rather than in a manner for the benefit of his employees or customers.”

This has been often sited as the beginning of ‘shareholder primacy,’ which has become parodied into the particularly stupid (if often accurate) meme of ‘line must go up.’

You could be public company that does not max returns... But any new company going public has almost certainly abandoned any morals or qualms to get that point.

Works pretty well for Valve.

I don't believe a word of it.

Show don't tell!

Somehow I doubt that Etsy is prepared for the massive reduction in revenues (and hence stock price) that this entails, and if they are then their shareholders aren't. But words are cheap.

I believe the words. Even the intent. I don't believe it'll be particularly effective though.

Color me skeptical. I gave up entirely on Etsy because it was getting legitimately hard to find handcrafted goods for sale by the artisans.

> The company on Tuesday is launching a major overhaul of the policies that govern its site to make it “crystal clear” to shoppers what products belong on Etsy

And this is a big part of why I'm skeptical. Etsy was never unclear about this. They just didn't care to enforce their policy. A major effort to "clarify" what was clear strikes me as a PR move rather than a serious effort to bring Etsy back to what it was.

But we'll see! I'd love to see Etsy come back and hope they will.

> They just didn't care to enforce their policy.

Unfortunately enforcement requires man-power. Even if you can automate a lot of the process, you still need people to deal with false positive and other disputes. Man-power costs money.

Is it about manpower? My thinking would be it’s just about revenue. Every sale a seller makes is revenue for Etsy. Kicking out sellers means less revenue.

Which is why, similarly, Amazon doesn't care about fake items being sold on their store. Every sale on their site is revenue, so no incentive to kick out any sellers. Though we’ll see how that pans out long term. I still shop on Amazon, but significantly less than in the past after too many fakes. Have moved a lot of my online shopping to HomeDepot / B&H / Walmart (no marketplace), or direct from the website of whatever the product is.

Etsy is doing badly because its leadership still doesn't understand why people want to use Etsy. If you make Etsy into Amazon, I'll use Amazon, because they're better. I used to use Etsy because it was everything Amazon wasn't: handmade, unique, and slow vs mass produced, generic, and fast.

They turned it into a fraud-ridden garbage pile years ago. It's full of drop shippers and sellers who market "handmade" items from Alibaba and Amazon at huge markups. And of course full of extremely low effort junk items like places that "personalize" something for you and then claim it's handmade even though they bought it from Walmart.

Always do a reverse image search. You'll save sometimes more than half the cost.

I've reported countless listings that say they're handmade but are clearly on Alibaba. They're totally against the rules. Nothing ever happens.

You can tell they know this is yet another shitty change because they blocked any community comments on it.

We desperately need an alternative.

The sad thing is that this has worked out well for them in the short term with significantly increased sales. It's too bad that every item is just 40 people reselling the same garbage from AliExpress and it's really hard to find the quality hand-made items now.

I remember seeing a headline like this 1-2 years ago, and etsy still mostly sucks.

This is what happens when growth is more important than sustainability.

As part of this policy shift, Etsy has also significantly struck down their adult content policies, including banning most sex toys, something that is an artisan craft and handmade in many cases (silicone casts are impressive!).


I know many creators and makers and artisans that are basically going to go out of business because Etsy's pulling the platform out from underneath them.

>Etsy does not allow items bearing sexual language or slogans that contain references to familial relationships. This includes slogans such as “Daddy’s slut” or “Choke me Mommy”.

Hahaha! But also, oh my god, why? Why do you do this, Etsy?

> We define references to familial relationships as terms that refer to parents, step-parents, children, step-children, siblings, step-siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles, and nieces or nephews.

Being this specific is silly. "Great-grandpa's slut" or anything about grandchildren would be kosher. Half-siblings, too. Oops.

Wow, that sucks. Etsy was one of the best places to get adult toys, especially more exotic ones, that didn't cost an arm and a leg. Not sure where to go instead.

Do you happen to know a disproportionate number of boutique small-batch direct-to-consumer adult toy artisans?

As a self-proclaimed furry on HN, I can name at least two or three of them, yes. They have a great time sculpting and playing with silicone and also building their brands in much the same way a startup does.

It's fun!

+1 for that! :) I've never known HN to be overrun with prudes, no one should be overly surprised about someone making a business out of making sex toys

It's a fun business, I know someone cast-making with her 3D printer, and has gained some reliable business from folks looking for custom toys (better fit for size/shape)

I was reading this and thinking why would someone need a custom fit toy car..

I wish Amazon would consider the same.

Shopify is the better Etsy imo.

The problem with Etsy is things get lost in the eBay like interface.

With Shopify, they don’t attempt to solve (and then fail at) the discovery problem - it’s just websites! The discovery problem is better solved by networks like Instagram, Pinterest, Forums, RL

I've never had a place to complain about this, but if you haven't experienced it, Etsy's platform has the most remarkably awful, bad idea/execution, ludicrously shitty method to handle accounts I have ever fucking seen and as a software dev I find it actually offensive.

If you use one account and buy everything with one account and are always signed in, you're fine.

If however you order something and use your email address but are not logged in, you get your invoice and tracking to your email address but that order does not appear in your account, and if you go to the website/app and try to use it to track your order/respond to seller messages/whatever, you can't find it there. You have to go to a different page, a link in the email, and "claim" the order with your account.

Oh, also, if you aren't logged in and use a different email, a different account is created, based on that email, and the order is... half-claimed to that account, meaning you can't claim it with your actual account unless you jump through some hoops. Otherwise you can create an account with that half account to track that one order, and there's also no way to transfer orders without contacting support.

Also, if you use PayPal and aren't logged in, they just go ahead and create an entirely new account without a password, so you reset the password to eventually track that order, and all the other issues above.

I have something like four etsy accounts now and I've never seen a website make such a dog's dinner out of something as otherwise straight forward as accounts.

Same happened to me on Gumroad. I ended up with 5 or so before I had to contact customer support to merge them all.

Instagram and Pinterest are garbage tho.

Are there actually still forums for something like this? I agree that would be a better method of discovery.

Shopify has Shop.app for discovery across sites

Yes but it’s not the primary mechanism for interacting with Shopify stores.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of almost all cufflinks on sale there: https://i.etsystatic.com/6278167/r/il/6aa62f/4648404580/il_7...

That seller glued on something that looks like an LP, other sellers glue on on other low-effort junk.

How do you curate that kind of crap out though? It almost needs some sort of evaluation process where a trained person goes in and promotes items that are thoughtful

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