Step into Carousel + Folk in south Minneapolis and you’ll find select vintage clothing, furniture, macramé plant hangers, candles and wool rugs — a style co-owner Lindsey Cason describes as “ ’70s boho that mixes in some ’80s.”
For seven years, though, her business existed only on Etsy.
Cason was part of a wave of crafters, quirky artisans and vintage thrifters who joined forces more than a decade ago to launch a revolution on Etsy, the global online marketplace for “unique and creative goods.”
Now she and others are walking away to forge a new path — back to brick-and-mortar stores.
Founded in 2005 by three college friends in a Brooklyn loft, Etsy was known for its tight-knit community and quality goods, but that all changed when it went corporate, say disenchanted sellers. Facing new competition from the likes of Amazon’s Handmade platform, the company went public with a stock offering in 2015.
“When that happened, all of the algorithms changed and the fees changed,” Cason said.
While Etsy maintains that its mission is to “keep commerce human,” it has increased fees to its 2.6 million active sellers, including a 20-cent-per-item listing fee, a 3% “payment processing fee” and a 5% transaction fee for each sale.
Last July, the platform also started pushing sellers to offer free U.S. shipping on orders over $35. If they don’t, they’re ranked lower by the site’s search algorithm, which can have a catastrophic effect on sales. Sellers who want higher visibility can opt for Etsy Plus — for an extra $10 a month.
“Those fees were adding up so drastically that it didn’t make sense for us,” Cason said. “I don’t foresee selling vintage as a super-lucrative business on there anymore.
“If it was clothing, yes, absolutely, because you could wrap it up in a little bag and send it off. But with larger, heavy pieces, they’re really pushing the mind-set of Amazon, and they really want all of their sellers to ship for free. I just can’t do that. It just isn’t profitable.”
Having a physical shop now gives Cason a showroom, and enough space to sell furniture. But the biggest perk, she says, is interacting with customers face-to-face instead of through a screen.
Local shoppers come first
Jamie Hewitt Budnick and Ashley Hewitt Lemke, twin sisters and co-owners of Arlee Park in south Minneapolis, found themselves in a similar situation.
In 2016, they launched an Etsy site for Arlee Park and held pop-ups in the Twin Cities. A year later, they settled into a brick-and-mortar location in Minneapolis’ Keewaydin neighborhood, selling secondhand vintage and curated goods with a “high desert vibe.”
Budnick still maintains an Etsy presence to sell items that don’t sell in-store or on Arlee Park’s own website, but says she only logs on once per day.
“Etsy’s changed a lot,” she said. “In order for your listings to be seen with their algorithm, you have to offer free shipping. Otherwise, you can incorporate free shipping into the price, but that’s also upping the price of the item. Depending on people’s mind-sets ... it might deter them.”
Beyond that, Etsy used to hold sellers to a higher standard, laments Jessie Witte, owner of AudreyRose Vintage, who has sold vintage clothing and goods on the site since 2010.
“It’s sad, because when I started a decade ago, it used to be a very self-policed website,” Witte said. “If you found someone trying to sell something vintage that was not, you could report them. I really feel like that’s just not the case anymore. There’s just so many people selling boutique stuff that’s not vintage or handmade, and nobody cares.”
Witte started running AudreyRose Vintage two years ago out of a studio in the Northrup King Building in northeast Minneapolis after a decade on Etsy. She still uses Etsy to reach buyers around the world, but puts her local customers first. To avoid running afoul of Etsy’s algorithm, Witte factors shipping cost into her prices.
All three shop owners have turned to other methods to promote their businesses. They sell vintage items through Instagram’s story feature, which allows users to post an image for 24 hours before it disappears.
Carousel + Folk and Arlee Park also have their own web stores, giving them control over shipping charges.
In an era where Amazon rules retail, Etsy is trying to keep up. But that can come at a price.
“Etsy used to be such a cool marketplace, where you knew it was vintage or handmade,” Witte said. “There was no in-between. But I feel like all good things must come to an end at some point.”
Liv Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.