Etsy sellers never have a boring day. Usually customers are the source of the fun, but it seems like more and more Etsy itself is trying extra hard to keep sellers on their toes. The end of May 2017 came with two curveballs, one sellers knew about already (mandatory Direct Checkout) and the other a fun surprise (the Recommended Items Experiment). Once again we find ourselves consulting the Etsy tea leaves and asking the same question: who does Etsy really think its customers are, buyers or sellers?

Direct Checkout or Else

Etsy Sellers have been expecting Etsy to require Direct Checkout for a while. First it became a requirement for all new accounts, and then it was presented as the “preferred” payment method though Sellers could still offer stand-alone PayPal if they were already using it (which was a good thing in February and Summer 2016 when Etsy Direct Checkout went down).

But in early 2017 Etsy made it official: all Sellers would be required to switch to Etsy Direct Checkout in May. Etsy made good on their promise when they suspended en masse all shops that hadn’t switched on May 31st. Estimates of the number of shops suspended range from hundreds to many thousands.

Why did so many Etsy Sellers not switch to Direct Checkout and get their shops suspended? Perhaps they didn’t believe that Etsy would actually follow through. Or maybe they said that enough was enough, and let Etsy do what they had already decided to do—shut down their shop. Maybe it was just inconceivable that Etsy would meddle in “their” shop like that. Unfortunately it looks like Etsy is just getting started.

Getting Cozy with your Competition: Etsy’s Recommended Items Experiment

In a post with the faintly Orwellian title “Building a Great Customer Experience”, Etsy announced some more changes coming. Mixed in with new sale and promotion tools and improvements to search was this gem:

[We are beginning] a test that displays recommended items on some listing pages depending on the source of traffic. During the experiment, which begins later this week, your items may appear on listing pages in other shops, giving you more exposure on and more chances to be discovered by shoppers.

Of course, if your items may appear in other shops, other people’s listings may also appear in your shop.

Etsy users who had already seen Etsy’s Recommended Items Experiment applied to their own shops posted screen shots of Recommended Items on item pages and on shop pages. What Etsy is doing is coming in to your shop and putting up posters advertising your competition.

Etsy wants to be the Name that Buyers Remember

The trend that we’ve been seeing for a while now is an erosion of shop identities in favor of putting all shops and items under the umbrella of the Etsy brand. Etsy only makes money when items are sold, so it makes sense that their number one focus is on getting more Buyers.

A lot of the things that Etsy does to attract Buyers help Sellers too—but more often they help Sellers as a whole, rather than individual shops. Etsy’s Recommended Items Experiment might lead to more sales overall, but some shops will be winners, and others losers. Etsy’s primary customers are its Buyers, not its Sellers.

How Your Business can Succeed with Etsy’s Recommended Items Experiment

Shops that invest in standout photography, search-optimized listing names and descriptions, and standout customer service are more likely to survive Etsy’s new direction. But the best insurance strategy is diversity. If you are going to put in all of that effort, why not apply it to a shop that you are in control of, where there’s nobody else to surprise you with new features or changes in policy.

If you have big plans for your business over the long term, you should own the platform your shop runs on, not renting space on someone else’s. That way, if and when it comes time for you and Etsy to part ways you’ll be in the position to keep your business moving onward and upwards instead of having to start over again. Don’t let Etsy define the conditions of your business’ success—that power belongs in your hands alone.

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