Etsy overhauls seller guidelines, broadens idea of 'handcrafted'

Etsy, the website stocked with artisanal goods from independent merchants, revamped its seller guidelines to allow vendors to hire additional employees and work with outside manufacturers.

The changes Tuesday essentially broaden the site’s working definition of “handcrafted” -- a term that  has governed which plastic baubles or knit pillows are allowed on the online market since it was founded in 2005.

In a blog post, Etsy Chief Executive Chad Dickerson wrote that the company’s “Dos and Don’ts” section quickly ballooned from 4,000 words to 14,000 words.

Sellers found the policies to be confusing, which caused some to bend the vague rules and others to leave the community entirely, he said.

“We need to hit the reset button,” he wrote. “Etsy community members deserve clarity.”

Amid technological advances and changing attitudes toward working relationships, more Etsy sellers are starting to use laser cutters, sharing spaces with other vendors and turning to small-run manufacturers to produce items.

Dickerson called it “a growing revolution.”

The new policies also allow sellers to collaborate from different locations and use shipping or fulfillment services.

Those who choose to work with outside manufacturers must answer questions about how they were chosen, and collaborators approved by Etsy starting in January must be listed on sellers’ About pages. Reselling pre-made products is still prohibited.

“More and more people around the world are interested in supporting local, mindful, independent businesses,” Dickerson wrote. “Buyers increasingly want to know where their goods come from.”

A forum that popped up on Etsy’s site after the news showed a range of reactions from sellers. Some vowed loyalty to Etsy, while others said they would migrate to other online marketplaces such as Zibbet.

“I’m letting all of my listings expire and listing all new items at my Zibbet store,” wrote Liz Waddle from WhollyCraftola in Arkansas. “I just can’t support this definition of handmade. It’s not what I’m about.”

Bob, owner of BirchCreekLeather in Michigan, wrote that he would follow buyers.

“I will stay so long as my sales are good,” he wrote.

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