Etsy Controversy: Addressing Customers in the Social Media World

Etsy—a much-loved online marketplace for those of the crafty variety—came from simple beginnings as a young entrepreneur and crafter wanted a place to sell his handmade goods. With eBay already in the market, Etsy creator Rob Kalin wanted to create a website that looked less like a garage sale full of old junk and more like a community of crafters (a.k.a. Etsians) working together to promote their crafts.

As 2011 opened, Etsy found itself as part of a BP- and Toyota-level national controversy as Etsians and customers alike became aware that Etsy was allowing a vendor to sell controversial greeting cards through the site. As news spread of the controversial products that “clearly denigrate women and some people with disabilities,” debate grew over what types of products should and shouldn’t be sold through the online retailer.

Etsy customers immediately took to social media circles and product review pages demanding that these products be removed from the site. Those who took charge soon realized that their comments and unflattering reviews were being censored and removed by Etsy. Already accused in 2009 of censoring comments, controversy quickly grew as Etsy customers became increasingly concerned and dissatisfied.

Recently, Etsy did relay that they have changed their policies to ensure that products sold through their site do not “promote, support or glorify hatred toward or otherwise demean people based upon race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation; including items or content that promote organizations with such views.” Unfortunately, the site has yet to explain or comment on why they censor postings.

Rather than using this conflict as an opportunity to engage in direct dialogue to address concerns, Etsy chose to be complacent. Why would they so foolishly have refused to use social media to protect their company and brand? It’s a shame, since they no doubt lost loyal and potential customers—and artisans—in the process.


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