Off Topic: Why Etsy just ruined my day.

September 12, 2010 in Blog

I’d intended to post book-related things today, but something’s come up that’s royally pissed me off, and I’m afraid this is going to be the place where I vent.

As some of you know, my wife, Erica, also sells handmade items through Etsy.com. Well, I should use the past tense here, and say “sold,” but I’ll get to that in a minute. There’s a bit of background here that I feel I have to divulge. It’s personal, it’s not something I would normally discuss here, but I feel it’s warranted. I’m not writing it for the sake of sympathy, but for the sake of understanding and context, and to explain why this is such a big deal.

Several years ago my wife was diagnosed with fibromyalgia (or FMS). The symptoms of this are far-reaching and debilitating. I’m hardly versed in medical terminology when it comes to aptly discussing its effects (there are others I know who are far more qualified), but what I can describe is an outsider’s perspective on this horrible affliction. My wife probably gets 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night. When she does sleep, it’s light and disturbed. She lives every day with a constant fatigue punctuated with joint and muscle pain. She has a hard time walking long distances, or sitting in a single position for long periods of time (like long car rides). If she’s sitting down, it takes her a moment to stand up.

As you can imagine, this makes everyday functions difficult for her. It hasn’t been easy for either one of us, adjusting to this, but over the years we’ve grown to accept that it isn’t going away, and have adapted as best we can. Her limitations have made it difficult for her to find a job. After she was laid off in 2008 from her design job, she fell into a bit of a depression. She was saddened that she could not contribute financially to our household. So, it was at my suggestion that she turn her hobby of sewing and jewelry-making into a source of income. Even if she only made a small amount doing it, it would alleviate some of the burden.

She started her Etsy account last fall. To her surprise, people loved her stuff, and she decided to pursue it. I can’t properly tell you how much of a change it made for her. The feedback and the sales she received for her handmade items pulled her out of that depression. Finally, after almost a year of unemployment, Erica found something she could do to make money without being inhibited by her FMS.

The point of explaining this to you is to establish one thing: My wife depends on this. She loves doing it, it makes her happy, and one of my responsibilities as her husband is to make sure she is happy.

Something she learned very early on was the sheer amount of people who troll that site, looking to scam sellers for their items. Example: Customer buys product. Seller sends product. Customer receives product, then files complaint with Paypal stating non-receipt of product, and threatens to leave negative feedback on seller’s account if they do not issue refund. Things like this happen all the time. To their credit, Etsy has a thing called “Kiss and Make Up” which allows a seller to negotiate the removal or change of negative feedback once an issue has been resolved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work, as Etsy has nothing to do with it – it’s between the seller and the buyer.

It happened to her very early on, and got so bad that, at one point, she almost gave up on it. I encouraged her to start over, to start a new shop. And so “Clever Little Thing” became “Clever Little Things.” She became involved in the community, made some friends, accumulated a large group of followers. She changed her store policies so that refunds would only be issued once items were returned (something she admits she should’ve done from the beginning). Erica found her footing, and continued to work on her shop every single day. Even when I asked her to take a day off, she wouldn’t. I’d find her drafting patterns in her notebook.

Erica toils in her shop every single day. It’s her calling, you might say, with her design work taking a backseat. She enjoys doing the handmade stuff far more, and I support her in this, because it makes her happy.

So . . .  What happened is, one of her customers ordered several items. Erica received payment, packaged and shipped them, just like she always does. A tracking # is assigned to the shipment. The items were delivered several days after shipment. Everything seemed normal–except her customer decided to file a dispute with PayPal (which they lost, because PayPal also had the shipment tracking #). I should point out that this isn’t always the case. There are customers who reach out to the seller first before filing any complaints or leaving negative feedback (which would be the sensible thing to do). Shit does happen with the mail, and in cases like this, Erica has sent out replacements (and sometimes even extra items) free of charge as compensation for the trouble.

When the customer saw that both PayPal and Etsy had sided with Erica, the customer then went through and placed negative feedback on every single item purchased, for a total of eight negative hits. This brought Erica’s seller rating % down below Etsy’s minimum threshold, which led to them freezing her accounts. There were many emails sent to Etsy, inquiring about the freeze, and so on. Today, she received an update from Etsy. Everything is resolved, as far as they are concerned. They sided with Erica on the matter. However, they won’t remove the freezes from her accounts until she brings her seller rating back up.

There are only two ways to do this: Use “Kiss and Make Up” to kindly ask buyers who’ve left negative feedback to either remove or it change it to positive; or, to sell more items and receive positive feedback to outweigh the negative and bring up her sellers average.

To reiterate: even though Etsy acknowledges Erica did nothing wrong, they are refusing to reinstate her accounts because of negative feedback left by a scammer.

This is a catch-22 dictated by Etsy’s Draconian policy. She could use the Kiss and Make Up option, to kindly ask the customer to remove the negative feedback, but the odds of that happening are very slim (the customer sent Erica some rather rude emails). Or, she could sell more items–oh wait. She can’t do that, because Etsy’s frozen her accounts, and won’t reverse it unless she brings up her seller rating. And so the cycle repeats.

I’m venting here because I know what the shop means to my wife. She works her ass off for that shop, for her customers, and takes pride in what she does. She needs this shop.  To see it brought to a halt because of one person’s ill will, and one company’s asinine policy, is absolutely infuriating.

Starting today, I’m making it my mission to drive as much business away from Etsy as I can. I don’t care if I’m just one guy taking on a giant. I will see to it my story is heard, in whatever way I can.

/end rant

TK