Fun Times on Etsy

During the past 24 hours, I’ve received three separate Etsy orders (each for one inexpensive item) that appear to be from spambots. The email addresses associated with the accounts are strings of random characters, as are the mailing addresses they provided.

I canceled and refunded each order with a short message to the “buyer” stating that I can’t mail anything to a nonexistent address. I also blocked the users for good measure. I then sent a support request to Etsy for each order to report the account and notify them of suspicious activity.

I feel like I’ve done my due diligence, but I couldn’t find any other accounts of sellers receiving orders from spambots. What I did find were reports of all sorts of other scams and misbehavior on the platform.

Based on an hour of research, most of which was spent browsing through various forums, I learned that there are two main types of scams targeted at sellers. The first involves the sale of small items (generally crafting supplies, such as individual beads) for the purpose of stealing the tracking numbers. In other words, the buyer will use the tracking number you provided to “ship” an order they received and have no intention of fulfilling. The second involves high-quantity sales shipping to freight distributors (generally in Florida or California), which will forward the merchandise to another merchant who will then resell it. “Scams” might not be the right word for these transactions, which seem to be associated with overseas merchants from a certain country, but there’s still something fishy going on.

I also learned that the knitting community on Etsy has a lot of drama. It’s apparently not uncommon for someone to buy a digital pattern and then offer it for sale at a cheaper price on their own store, for instance. It’s also not unheard of for someone to make something directly from a pattern they bought and then sell it at a premium without contacting or crediting the original artist. On top of that, there are people who will spend actual money to hurt another seller by purchasing a lot of inexpensive items and then using those orders to bomb the store with bad reviews and formal complaints. Even crazier, some people will order a ridiculous quantity of a custom-made listing (which generally don’t have inventory limits), knowing that the seller will cancel the order and that they will be able to use the cancellation as an excuse to report the store to Etsy.

Along the way, I read a few horror stories about art and crafting commissions gone horribly awry. With two truly bizarre exceptions, every commission I’ve done has been as smooth as silk, and I was shocked by the behavior I read about. To summarize, many people seem to expect that, because they’ve paid the initial commission fee, an artist must devote endless hours to making a long series of requested changes to their work. People also seem to expect that, after this work is done, they can reject the finished piece and ask for a full refund.

In the cases involving individual people (as opposed to overseas businesses), the story generally included a lengthy lead-up in which the buyer raised all sorts of red flags in their conversations with the seller. I think there’s a lot of pressure on people selling their creative work to be “nice” and “accommodating,” and I think this pressure influences them to tolerate strange interactions with people who make them uncomfortable.

The take-away point from all of this is not that Etsy is broken (which is a different conversation altogether), but rather that setting clear boundaries is good professional behavior. The standard American customer service mentality that “the customer is always right” only makes sense as a social contract if both parties enter into it in good faith. If the customer is unbalanced, however, that level of accommodation is toxic, and sellers – especially young women selling their creative work – need to feel empowered to cut off communication and step away from bad transactions.