Etsy loses its ‘handmade’ and ‘vintage’ labels as it takes on Temu and Amazon

Etsy has long sold items that fall into one of two categories: handmade or vintage. Now, that fairly narrow categorization is changing.

A policy update announced today creates four new classifications for items for sale on Etsy: “made by,” “designed by,” “handpicked by,” and “sourced by.” All products need to fall into one of the four to be eligible for the platform.

Vintage items — a backbone of Etsy’s offerings — will fall under “handpicked by.” Craft supplies like beads or clay are considered “sourced by.” A vase handmade by a ceramics artist would be in the “made by” category, whereas a digital illustration would be considered “designed by” the seller. These categories will be visible on Etsy product listings.

The company says that this won’t change anything in practice — things that were previously prohibited, like the reselling of items made by someone else, still won’t be allowed under the new policy.

“The consistent theme here is that items are infused with a human touch, because that’s what makes Etsy, well, Etsy,” CEO Josh Silverman said in a video message. The goal for the new categories, the company says, is to provide more details to shoppers about how an item is made and how a seller was involved in the process.

Etsy has differentiated itself from other marketplaces like Amazon or Temu, emphasizing itself as a place to find unique items made by an artisan or selected by a curator. But over the years, the company has loosened its rules around what exactly counts as “handmade.”

In 2013, the company announced it would allow sellers to use outside production help. Sellers hawking cloth masks during the covid-19 pandemic, for example, could contract garment factories to do the actual sewing, and graphic designers could use a print-on-demand service to make T-shirts with their art instead of having to screen print it themselves.

The expansion has brought a wider range of creatives onto the platform, but frustrated shop owners say it’s also opened the door for scammers and drop shippers — sellers who buy up cheap, mass-produced products and pass them off as handmade on Etsy. The increase in mass-produced items was a core complaint during the 2022 Etsy seller strike, with makers saying the company didn’t do enough to remove shops that violated the handmade policy. Etsy is also trying to fend off the rise of ultracheap online retailers like Temu, introducing new site features and a glossy Super Bowl ad to try to do so.

Keeping the human part of handmade has been Etsy’s calling card for years, and this is a crucial moment for the company. Etsy, like other online platforms, has seen synthetic AI-generated content creep into its product listings, listed as “handmade” despite obvious traces of AI tools. The introduction of new categories is a way to try to assure shoppers that they’re purchasing something created or selected by a person. It’s also a way to try to soothe the concerns of actual artisans who have long complained that they’re being pushed out: first by drop shippers and now by robots.

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