Friday, September 29, 2023

Etsy Strike Organizers Form The Indie Sellers Guild To Help Merchants

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When a group of Etsy sellers announced in March that they were temporarily closing their stores to protest changes to the platform, organizers made a promise: The strike was just the first step.

Now, after the weeklong strike and minor concessions by Etsy, the organizers have the Indie Sellers Guilda nonprofit that they hope will act as an advocacy organization for anyone selling handmade, vintage, and craft goods online.

“We model ourselves as much as possible after a union, with the same goals as a more traditional union and other organized labor movements,” said Chiarra Lohr, the guild’s interim secretary-treasurer who has also worked on organizing the guild and drafting guidelines. the statutes. “We’re very bottom-up, member-driven — we don’t have a board of directors that makes the decisions and sends them down.”

The guild, that officially launched on September 5, wants to build on the momentum of this spring’s strike, which organizers say some 30,000 stores signed to support. That number is just a fraction of the more than 5 million sellers on Etsy, but benefited from long-standing frustrations sellers felt while doing business on the platform, including a lack of seller support, an influx of drop shippers, and rising transaction costs.

Etsy dominates the market for handmade and craft goods online, and many sellers have been on the platform for a decade or more. For many sellers, there is also a sense of loyalty that survives from Etsy’s early days, when the company positioned itself as a benevolent option for online shopping and selling. But as Etsy has changed its platform policy, overhauled its business structure and prioritized growth, some sellers have tried to push back. The guild, the organizers say, will be a means of connecting sellers so that they can advocate for themselves in a coordinated and public way.

“We prefer to work with platforms. We want Etsy to succeed in a way that also helps sellers succeed — that’s the goal,” says Lohr. “We’re not trying to be hostile right away, but sellers have long run out of recourse.”

Many of the guild organizers supported the strike in March or were outspoken supporters of it. Lohr, who sold on Etsy before health problems and COVID halted the operation, learned about the strike through media coverage and decided to get involved in the formation of the guild.

The guild’s initial priorities are the same as the demands made during the strike, which include reducing platform fees, enforcing policies against resellers, and allowing sellers to opt out of a mandatory advertising program. Lohr emphasizes that the Sellers Guild is not a union recognized by the National Labor Relations Board – members cannot negotiate a contract with platforms because they are not employees. But just as a union asks members what things matter to them, the guild plans to talk to sellers after the official launch to understand what changes they’d like to see.

Lohr says strike and guild organizers have not received communications from Etsy, though the company acknowledged the strike in media reports and during a conversation with investors in May, proverb the strike had no “material impact” on sales. Etsy has at least partially responded to one demand from the strike when it overhauled parts of the Star Seller program those merchants said it was more difficult to provide good customer service. Etsy did not respond to a request for comment on the guild’s formation or the strike.

The Guild is open to all active sellers of handmade, vintage, and craft goods, including shops on platforms other than Etsy. Membership criteria are based on Etsy definition of handmade, and resellers and dropshippers are prohibited, says Lohr – a rule it exists on Etsy, but that some sellers are complaining is poorly enforced. To join the guild, stores must submit behind-the-scenes photos to prove they play a part in the manufacturing or management process, which is then reviewed by a membership verification team.

“You have to have done something to make it unique in some way,” Lohr says. “If you find a sticker design and print it on demand, it doesn’t count because you didn’t add anything of your own to the process.”

Two thousand people have joined the guild so far, including allies – a broad category that includes idle salespeople, supporters of the strike or customers. Ally members can access resources and community spaces such as a Discord channel, but cannot vote on guild affairs or run for officer positions.

What qualifies as handmade — and thus who qualifies for guild membership — is something the ISG’s interim team expects the guild may need to tweak as it grows. If there are disagreements or uncertainties within the verification team about a seller’s suitability, the application goes to a vote in the council, a small group of sellers elected by the guild.

Aside from the nuance in member eligibility, some potential guild members are both a trader on platforms and an employer; not every Etsy seller is a sole proprietor. Etsy’s rules allow sellers to outsource manufacturing or other activities — such as hiring garment workers to sew masks — as long as the store is transparent about the labor it uses to make products. Lohr says most of the salespeople in the guild so far are just one person, but organizers expect the issue of production aid to come up in the future.

“One thing we would like to do is help salespeople who employ people do that and do that in a way that also supports the person who works for them,” Lohr says.

During and after the seller strike, some Etsy sellers frustrated with the platform looked for other ways to sell their products, such as building their own site or listing on other marketplaces. Unsurprisingly, building a new platform for creators was a suggestion organizers often heard, but Lohr says it’s not that simple — for merchants dealing in handmade, curated vintage, and craft goods, Etsy is where the customers are overwhelmingly to be. That dominance is a major reason why the guild hopes to advocate for and work directly with the platform.

“When people think, ‘Oh, I can buy anything and get it here quickly,’ they think of Amazon. When people think, ‘I want something handmade or vintage,’ they think of Etsy,” Lohr says. plenty of other platforms to sell on, but there is no comparable marketplace yet.”

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