Understanding Free Shipping and Discounting on Etsy

Creative Entrepreneurship


Let’s talk about something I hear all of the time. I probably hear it 9 to 10 times a week about Etsy’s behavior. There are multiple manifestations, but the general sentiment is: “Etsy is pushing me to do things I don’t want to do / can’t do.”

Sellers frequently come to me and say things, or ask things, about how Etsy works as a system and also, how Etsy behaves as a business. Specifically, right now, the questions tend to be about or related to free shipping. It’s a big thing at the moment. (Maybe you’ve noticed?!)

I am going to call it Etsy’s ‘behavior’, for lack of a better word.

Many sellers feel they are being pushed very hard to provide free shipping to American buyers. On top of that, they think there’s no possible way that they can make Etsy work without offering free shipping. So they are like, on the verge of quitting.

Current Etsy Issue: Free Shipping

Every year, there is a new hot button issue. About a year or so ago, the big thing was discounting. If you sell on Etsy already, you likely are aware that around any sort of Holiday, even smaller holidays like Labor Day, Etsy will begin pushing the idea of a site-wide sale event. Etsy will put a little alert on your dashboard, and send you an email to encourage you to run a sale. That was the big issue a while back. People felt like Etsy was continually asking them to discount their products.

Right now, free shipping is the thing and back a while ago, discounting and running sales were the big thing. In either case: sellers feel that Etsy is continually asking them for something they simply don’t want to do or cannot make work.

It sounds like this:

“Etsy wants me to run sales all the time.”
“Etsy wants me to discount all the time.”
“Etsy doesn’t value handmade products.”
“Etsy wants me to run free shipping.”
“Etsy wants me to do A B C and X Y and Z, insert whatever grievance people have.”

Etsy Doesn’t Care If You Offer Free Shipping (Or Run Sales)

The thing that sellers miss is that it’s not so much that Etsy cares whether you run a sale or not, or if you offer free shipping. Etsy has done an incredibly good job of convincing you that they do. Because this is their thing right now. But in the end, they don’t actually care whether you run sales or offer free shipping.

What Etsy is actually doing is promoting the tools that they’ve developed for their sellers.

It’s hard for people who are newer on the platform to understand this because you don’t have the whole history of these tools coming to be.

For those of you who weren’t around for it, or if you simply missed it: back in the day, even as recently as about three or four years ago, this is precisely what sellers asked for.

There used to be no options other than coupons. You were not able to run sales in your Etsy shop the way you are now. The only options you had were discount codes and… actually, that’s basically it! And your discount code was just a free for all. (No minimum orders, etc.)

Sellers wanted to have more control over coupons, sales, and other promotions. People ASKED Etsy for more functionality in this area. It was all over the place, “Etsy! PUH-LEASE, please give us more robust couponing tools and sales features and promotional tools!”

And guess what? Etsy did it!

Now, we find ourselves in a place where sellers, new and old, are complaining about Etsy encouraging sellers to try out or otherwise utilize the tools they built by request.

Etsy Promotes Tools Not Strategies

Etsy’s job is to build up tools to help you be a successful eCommerce seller. They are an eCommerce platform. It is their job to provide this eCommerce platform. It is NOT their job to provide a strategy for your specific business.

When sellers complain about these things or feel disgruntled or turned off by Etsy’s behavior of promoting sales… they aren’t seeing the whole picture. Etsy isn’t pushing the idea of discounting your product as much as they are encouraging you to use the tool that they built. Certainly, they aren’t promoting the idea of discounting of your product any more than sellers showed themselves to WANT to discount their products.

It’s less “hey, sell yourself short” and more “hey, please use these tools that we developed.”

And in some cases, they are promoting “This is how you would use these tools.”

So yeah, they are building out content (emails, alerts, promotional events) that encourage you “to do it that way.” But it’s really not so much that they care whether you run a sale or not. It’s like, “We built this tool, now we want you to use it.”

As a product seller yourself, I think you can understand that. Anybody who spends any amount of time developing something wants people to engage with it and use it.

What Etsy Sellers Are Doing Vs. What They Should Be Doing

Sellers have concluded that Etsy is now fostering an environment where handmade isn’t valued or appropriately understood. And that is a harmful and distracting concept. Sellers have decided to focus on Etsy’s behavior instead of their own.

The real problem here is the behavior of the sellers on the platform.

Many sellers are looking at things too one-dimensionally. This is only to their detriment.

Sellers aren’t asking the right questions. They’re just responding to what they believe Etsy is saying to them. They’re not looking at it deep enough to ask the right questions.

Instead of people getting upset about Etsy promoting sales and discounts and coupons, what sellers should be doing is asking themselves, ‘how can I make this work for me?’ and ‘does this work for me?’ or, ‘At what point would this work for me?’ … perhaps, ‘To what extent should I use this tool, if at all?’

Those are the questions that sellers should be asking. Sellers asking themselves these questions would, for starters, reduce the amount of frustration associated with seeing these messages come through from Etsy. Next, it would provide the seller with more control over their Etsy experience and their brand experience on Etsy.

So, no. Etsy is not some big bad bully, stomping all over the little guy that just wants sellers to discount themselves until the cows come home. (I understand that it FEELS like they are, but that is just excellent marketing on their part to get sellers to use the tools they built.)

Sellers asked for these tools. To this day, people would still be asking for those tools if they didn’t exist because it IS annoying only to be able to run a coupon without any parameters. It IS annoying not to be able to run a sale on a specific section or selection of products.

If they didn’t exist, people would still be asking for those tools. More than that, I believe sellers would be frustrated with Etsy’s inability to grow and change what they offer.

When Etsy alerts you of free shipping options and site-wide sale events, they are saying, “here are the tools we gave you. Now you decide what to do with them.”

If you are an Etsy seller who has felt put off by the Etsy behavior explained in this article, you should begin to ask yourself better questions in response! You’ll have a better experience. Obviously, the answers to those questions are really going to come down to you, and that is the beauty of it.

There are so many Etsy dumpster fire threads on the internet that it’s mind-boggling to me. People regularly forget what Etsy’s role is in this whole thing, and how powerful of a tool it still currently absolutely, one million percent is. Sellers regularly forget how Etsy paved the way for so many brands to become successful or have relevancy on and off Etsy in general.

So whether you are running sales or not, you can understand that these tools for doing so have improved dramatically over the years. And THAT is a good thing: you wouldn’t want to sell on a platform that never evolved. Trust me. I can guarantee you that if Etsy had never developed new tools for promotions and sales, sellers would be even more upset about that than they are about Etsy promoting the use of those tools now.

This is not an Etsy behavioral issue. This is an issue with how sellers react to and interpret Etsy.

Worth noting: Etsy is not one size fits all.

It would be so simple for me to get on here and tell you ‘four quick hacks to triple your Etsy sales in 30 days’ and it would be complete BS because that’s not how it works. That isn’t real.

Etsy is a platform, and how you personally interact with it for your brand is what matters, and that’s what I mean when I talk about identifying the opportunities of Etsy.

Free shipping is an opportunity on Etsy.
Running sales sometimes is an opportunity on Etsy.

But you only need to play into the opportunities that suit your business.

Maybe free shipping is not an opportunity for you. But there are probably opportunities for you that other people can’t take advantage. Do you know what they are?

Selling on Etsy is about identifying all of the opportunities and choosing the ones that work for you. And playing into them as you see fit.

I absolutely love the fact that I could go and run whatever kind of sale I want in my Etsy shop – that doesn’t mean I have to do it all of the time. It just means I know when that would serve me, and I’ve identified that that is an opportunity for me on Etsy. Then, I can decide when I pull that lever to take advantage of.

Etsy doesn’t have to be ALL IN or ALL OUT. Take what you need as you need it, find the opportunities, and identify the ones that work for you and then play into them. And make it work for you.

I really hope that if this resonates with you, you’ll share it with someone else who maybe will benefit from it. I really appreciate you having an open mind to sit here and think this through with me.

I really honestly believe that the ‘problem with Etsy’ is that sellers just don’t ask the right questions about it and don’t understand it for what it is. Instead of seeing Etsy as what you’d ideally want it to be, start understanding it for what it is (a very powerful tool as it stands!)

If you are an Etsy seller who sees a disconnect between what Etsy is and how to make it work for you, that’s where I come in to help you bridge that gap.

Start with this free video series. No opt-in necessary, just click over to begin!

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Oh, hi! Welcome to The Merriweather Council. I’m Danielle and I am a maker in business and mentor to other makers in business. I teach you how to turn your crafty tendencies into profits!

Oh, I’m also really into crafts, boy bands + iced coffee. Email me anytime to say hello or send cute Backstreet Boy videos or dog pictures .. or whatever! danielle (at) merriweathercouncil.com Thanks for stopping by.

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