Some of Etsy's sellers are concerned over the website's use of AI, which they say harms independent sellers. Dana Gibbs has the story.
GIBBS: As the holiday shopping season approaches this fall, people looking for an extra special gift for their friends and family may pay a visit to the handmade and vintage e-commerce giant Etsy. But even though the site is known for its intricately crafted handmade goods, sellers are sounding the alarm on Etsy’s recent and troubling use of AI.
GIBBS: This trend of seller pushback started at the end of August, when seller Starla Moore of Handmade Alpha Academy coined the movement “#KeepEtsyHuman.” She says the idea is to bring attention to what she calls Etsy’s stray away from authenticity in its user experience, the very thing that made the platform attractive to makers and buyers.
GIBBS: Mattie Boyd, a member of the board of directors and a founding member of the Indie Sellers Guild (also known as ISG) says sellers are not happy with Etsy’s customer service and platform regulation bots, which she claims are doing more harm than good. She also commends Moore on starting the movement.
BOYD: “I think anytime somebody wants to stand up and make a change like that, or try to get their voice heard at Etsy, is a hugely positive development and we're 100% in support of it,” Boyd said.
GIBBS: The ISG believes that the explosion of AI on Etsy is a direct contradiction of the platform’s original motto: Keep Commerce Human.
GIBBS: And Boyd says that her organization is making sure the Etsy sellers are protected, especially when issues arise with the company.
BOYD: “We've been able to come out with recommendations for individuals who have come up against these issues on how best to go about dealing with it based on their circumstances. There's steps that you can take on Etsy to safeguard your right to, for example, during litigation, bring a lawsuit against Etsy.”
BOYD: “We also recently had some contact with the US Senate Commerce Committee relating to a bill that would help regulate online sales platforms where people can say that something is made in the US but it's in fact made in a sweatshop overseas. One of the sponsors of that bill contacted the ISG and was able to use some of the research that we've been doing to inform the drafting of that bill,” she added.
GIBBS: Meanwhile, the #KeepEtsyHuman movement has rehashed not-so-pleasant memories for some Etsy sellers.
GIBBS: Amy Coe owns the digital asset shop SnarkHeart, and she recalls Etsy’s AI shutting her down for using the word “Baltic” to describe the pattern of one of her products
GIBBS: Others have had trouble with AI removing products that reference their color as amber due to an incident that banned amber teething necklaces in 2019.
GIBBS: And seller Collen Mitchell remembers being threatened by Etsy for claiming one of her products was FDA-approved, even though the statement was true. So after Etsy’s AI deactivated that product listings, Mitchell abandoned the platform.
GIBBS: The list of seller complaints goes on. Here’s Boyd again.
BOYD: “So many sellers and buyers have gotten together, and our voice is loud enough that it just becomes too difficult for Etsy to ignore.”
GIBBS: So far, that’s proving to be true. Just a few days after #KeepEtsyHuman started up, Etsy took two new measures to keep resellers and fee burdens at bay–one measure targets resellers directly, that stating that “listing images must be of the item itself, not a rendering or stock photo” and an initiative called Share & Save, which gives sellers 4% back on their Etsy sales. But Boyd says that can’t be the end of the discussion.
BOYD: “We want Etsy to sit down with its sellers and just open up a channel of communication, which is not something that they’ve been willing to do so far” …“The reality is the interest of sellers and buyers on the platform versus the interests of the owners of the platform have really, over the past few years started to diverge a lot. When sellers and buyers don't have any representation, and Etsy Incorporated makes its decisions, it's not surprising who gets the short end of the stick.”
GIBBS: Ultimately, Boyd says that starting a dialogue will make Etsy a better place for both its corporate team, its sellers, and maybe even its holiday shoppers.
GIBBS: With WFUV news, I’m Dana Gibbs.