Wednesday, 28 March 2012
This is a slightly different post from my usual one dealing with the toys at www.coldhamcuddlies.etsy.com but when I read it last week, I acted immediately. As well as repeating this post from Lisa in full, I went to United Domains site as suggested and have registered a domain name for an initial one year duration. It is www.coldhamcuddlies.com. I've got it confirmed: I now have to find out what to do with it, but believe me I feel a whole lot safer knowing I have an alternative site with which to operate the ColdhamCuddlies enterprise.
Do hope all of you who read this, will mark, learn and inwardly digest it - and above all, ACT to protect yourselves. I'd hate anyone to go through what Lisa did.
" Etsy Shop Suspended! What You Need to Know
This is how it happened: About one week before my shop was deactivated, Etsy’s integrity department sent me a questionnaire which included 3 parts and about 15 questions. The person who wrote it thanked me for my time and for being part of the community. The email went on to explain that they had reason to believe I wasn’t complying with their rules. It was made clear that I needed to defend myself, but they did not state what they were accusing me of.
At the Energy Shop, my jewelry is handmade by me in my home, and I have one person working for the shop who does all of my shipping and handling from their home. I thought I was complying with all of the rules on Etsy, so I was very confident in filling out and returning the integrity report. They required receipts for my supplies, pictures of my workspace, and photos of myself and the person who works with me. I had the entire questionnaire filled out and returned practically upon receipt. The day after I returned the investigative report, I received a reply that thanked me for my response. Case closed, or so I thought.
One week later and without notice, Etsy deactivated the Energy Shop. The email stated:
“Unfortunately, your shop does not appear to qualify for the Etsy marketplace. We are a venue for independent artists to sell their own handmade goods as well as Vintage items and Craft Supplies.
As your items do not appear to meet the criteria to sell on Etsy, your shop has been deactivated.”
And that was that. I’m not going to lie, I actually wept. I had invested two years of dedicated work and tens of thousands of dollars. All of that vanished in an instant, and my site was replaced with this message on Etsy.com:
“Uh oh! A stitch has gone awry. This page is temporarily down. Please check back later.”
I replied to the suspension email as calmly as I could, begging for them to tell me what had happened. I still had no idea what I had done wrong! I frantically started searching for a phone number that I could call; I wanted to square things away as fast as possible. I found a corporate listing for Etsy’s Brooklyn office through an internet search, but it went straight to voicemail stating that they don’t respond to phone calls.
Stunned, I was forced to sit down, wait for their reply, and let sink in what had happened. To be honest, I felt betrayed! Not only had I built this successful shop on Etsy, I had brought hundreds of customers to the community. I’ve paid thousands of dollars in fees. I have ruthlessly promoted the site and the promise of success to its sellers on my blog. And with a single click of the mouse, they erased me.
Over the next 24 hours, Etsy admin replied to me, sending one excruciatingly vague piece of information at a time. They were accusing me of “drop shipping” because my shop announcement stated, “Handmade in New Zealand, shipping out of Pittsburgh.” In my integrity report, I verified that I was outside of the country at a military address, and I did make everything by hand in New Zealand and ship stock packages to Pittsburgh.
Etsy’s Do’s and Don’ts are 29 pages long and made up of 10,918 words. About halfway through those 29 pages, I found this bullet point: “Drop shipping is not permitted. All items must be shipped under the direct supervision of the seller.”
From Wikipedia: “Drop shipping is a supply chain management technique in which the retailer does not keep goods in stock, but instead transfers customer orders and shipment details to either the manufacturer or a wholesaler, who then ships the goods directly to the customer. As in retail businesses, the majority of retailers make their profit on the difference between the wholesale and retail price but some retailers earn an agreed percentage of the sales in commission, paid by the wholesaler to the retailer.”
Technically, I feel the accusation they have made against the Energy Shop could be argued–there is no outside manufacturer or wholesaler involved. However, I don’t care to ever discuss my operation with Etsy admin again, so I have decided to comply with their request and ship the stock I sell on Etsy myself. After about 24 hours down, the Energy Shop was reactivated on Etsy.com.
The point of this story is not to bash Etsy as a selling platform. This was a wake-up call for me, and I wanted to turn it into a friendly warning for you. I thought I owned my small business, but by having my only presence on Etsy, it turns out that I didn’t. Etsy owns the shops they host, and they reserve the right to manage them however they choose.
Think about it, if your shop was suddenly closed on you right now–without warning or explanation, what would you lose? How many hours invested in your listings? How many positive reviews? How much of your hard-earned credibility?
If you’re serious about your small business, you might want to see Etsy as your starter house, not your permanent home. Here are some things to consider:
Buy a Domain Name. In January, I received some advice to purchase the domain for my name and my business’ name. I took it to heart, and for $9.90, I purchased energyshopjewelry.com. When my Etsy shop was closed, I was Thankful (with a capital T) that I had a domain name handy. You can browse and buy domain names at the website, United Domains.
Keep a copy of your testimonials. If you only sell on Etsy and your site is removed, how much credibility would you lose? For the time my site was down, I had nothing to prove that I have repeatedly exceeded the expectations of thousands of customers. In fact, I looked really suspicious to the community! Where had I gone? What act of integrity had I violated?! You have worked hard to build your credibility, so keep a hard copy of your testimonials on file.
Keep a folder of item pictures. I restock (renew) previous listings often, and each time I do, I appreciate that I don’t have to take pictures and build descriptions. Those tasks take up a solid chunk of my valuable time! I’ve spent hundreds of hours on my listings and photography, when suddenly, they vanished. I shudder to think what would have happened to all of my work had Etsy admin reviewed my case differently.
Have an emergency exit strategy. Have a back-up plan, just in case. Because I want my business to expand, I had the feeling I might outgrow Etsy. I’m always willing to have a look at e-commerce sites to see what they have to offer, and I love to check out other sellers’ independently-owned websites.
The day I was suspended, I chose to set up a shop with the e-commerce host, Retailr. I signed up for a free trial and started building listings immediately.
I’m new at Retailr, but I think I’m in love. Everything I’ve been wishing for on Etsy (size and color drop-downs, more coupon options, the ability to accept credit cards, etc.) seems to be available. I was able to easily transfer my pre-purchased domain name to the new site. Not only that, I like that they keep shop owners up-to-date with new developments on their Features & Roadmap page.
I mentioned this article to Retailr and, in case you’re interested, they had this exclusive offer for Handmadeology readers:
Free 30-Day Trial, plus 50% off any plan for your first month. Use discount code: HANDMADEOLOGY
For the record, I’ve always been happy to pay the Etsy fees for hosting my shop, just as I’ve always been happy to pay the Paypal fees for collecting my money. However, the more you sell on Etsy, the more you pay. Like I said, I’ve been sending them hundreds of dollars every month, but as I’m reviewing my new business plan, my hosting fees are about to be drastically reduced.
On Retailr, I pay a flat-rate hosting fee. It’s $19 per month to list 100 items (in unlimited stock). Which means, I don’t pay individual listing fees, I don’t give anybody a cut of my sales, and nothing expires.
Finally, when my shop was suspended and I had nowhere to turn, I felt scared and powerless. I want to leave you with some resources in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation. If you need help, here are some more places to turn:
You can start by filing a case with the Better Business Bureau. They serve the community (free of charge) and can help protect you against unwarranted and unexplained actions.
If things get out of hand, or if you fear losing a serious amount of work and investment, you might consider contacting a small business attorney for representation. You can Google this and find a reputable businessperson in your area, or you can contact larger groups of lawyers who handle online commerce at affordable prices, such as:
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not leaving Etsy … yet. However, I am taking charge of my small business. In the future, I will be sure that no one can come along and hang the “Closed” sign on my website without my permission.