Etsy is an online marketplace that’s made up of millions of shops who operate independent businesses. Etsy sellers are mostly home-based small business owners, and many are solopreneurs.
Most Etsy sellers follow the Terms of Service, but like any platform, some sellers don’t.
Etsy is safe to buy from, although there are some sellers who try to sell fake items or items that don’t fall within Etsy’s policies. The majority of Etsy sellers will provide a good product, but if a problem does arise, buyers can communicate directly with the sellers, and if that doesn’t help Etsy will step in to mediate. Etsy provides both buyer and seller protection to assure that transactions are completed correctly.
Even with the protections that are in place, however, buyers can find themselves on the wrong end of a transaction.
There are sellers on every platform who don’t follow the marketplace terms of service, so it’s important to know how to spot a potentially bad seller so that you can avoid buying from them in the first place!
Table of Contents
- What can you sell on Etsy?
- What can you not sell on Etsy?
- Does Etsy sell fake stuff?
- How do I know if an Etsy seller has quality items?
- Can Etsy sellers take down reviews?
- Check social media and the About section of the Etsy shop.
- What do I do if I get scammed on Etsy?
What can you sell on Etsy?
The Etsy marketplace allows sales of handmade products, vintage products, and craft supplies. The definition of “handmade” includes items that are designed by the individual shop owner and are produced by a production partner, such as t-shirt manufacturers. Vintage items are restricted to things that are at least 20 years old, and supplies are items that are used to create a finished product.
The Etsy Terms of Service (TOS) states that all merchandise listed on Etsy needs to fall into those categories.
When sellers list items on Etsy they have to agree to the TOS, so if people sell things that fall outside those categories on Etsy, their shops are violating the TOS.
There are also rules about copyright infringement and representing yourself honestly that are designed to prevent buyer confusion.
When new sellers sign up for an Etsy shop, Etsy does some basic screening looking for copyright infringement, but in general there’s not a lot of screening of sellers past that point.
Unfortunately, that means that there are unscrupulous sellers on the platform, and while Etsy tries to shut them down, they do miss a lot of them.
It’s important for buyers to be aware of this, and to look for things that give away whether a seller is honest or not.
What can you not sell on Etsy?
The Etsy seller handbook names a number of things that violate Etsy’s terms of service, including things like pornography, tobacco and medical drugs, dangerous items, hate items, illegal items, and violent items or things that glorify violence. If one of these items is reported to Etsy from a listing, Etsy will determine whether to remove the listing or not.
Etsy as a marketplace does occasional sweeps of listings to remove items that are in violation of the TOS, but it also relies on buyers and sellers who see the listings to report them.
If you’re shopping on Etsy and you see something that violates Etsy’s terms of service, you can report the listing by scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking on “report this listing,” then following the prompts. Etsy will handle it from there.
Sometimes the listing will be removed and sometimes it won’t, but it’s Etsy’s call to make.
So how can you protect yourself against buying something that you thought was handmade, but then you see it on the shelves in Target?
There are a few ways to protect yourself from being scammed on Etsy or ANYWHERE that you shop online.
Does Etsy sell fake stuff?
There is a certain amount of fake merchandise on every platform, and Etsy is no exception. Etsy’s Terms of Service state that sellers can’t sell counterfeit or mass-market items, but some sellers ignore the rules. If a seller is caught selling fake merchandise or representing their items as handmade when they’re not, the listings can be deactivated or their shops can be shut down.
It’s important to remember that Etsy doesn’t sell anything, the individual sellers run their own businesses.
I’ve seen people complaining that Etsy ripped them off when they received something they didn’t order, but it’s actually the seller who did that.
The majority of Etsy sellers are legitimate, honest people who try to do a good job, but there are always bad apples in the barrel.
Be aware that most Etsy transactions will go smoothly, but that shopping online has its own special risks regardless of where you do it.
If you can’t see the item you’re buying before purchasing, there are still things that you can do to make sure you’re not going to get ripped off. Some of these include:
- Reading the item description thoroughly.
- Comparing pricing. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
- Checking to see if the seller has good reviews overall.
- Checking to see if there are social media profiles that are consistent with the Etsy profile.
- Check the About section in the shop to see if it has information about the items or photos of the owner.
- Reading the seller’s policies on returns and cancellations BEFORE you buy from them.
- Doing some extra detective work if necessary to verify handmade items are really handmade.
Please note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which will give me a small commission at no cost to you if you buy something when you use them.
How do I know if an Etsy seller has quality items?
There are a few ways to verify that an Etsy seller sells quality items, the most obvious being checking reviews for the shop. If many buyers complain about the same problems with their purchases, it could indicate a problem with the products. If a seller is newer and doesn’t have many reviews, you can send them a message using the convo system to ask any questions before purchasing. You can also check their About section to see if they seem to have a verified presence on social media or a website off of Etsy.
I have a Facebook group for Etsy sellers, and we screen everyone who asks to join.
We look at their Etsy shop to check for copyright violations and evidence of reselling mass manufactured good, and we also look at their About sections to make sure they’re filled out.
Something else to look for is whether the names in the seller profile are the same as the names of the people in the shop’s About section. If they’re not, something fishy could be going on.
Read the item description thoroughly before purchasing! If there’s anything unclear about the details, contact the seller for clarification.
If you don’t read the description then you might miss information that would make it more or less likely for you to buy the item.
If you’re looking for a genuine vintage item or a specific type of material (like real leather,) the description should let you know the details.
If you see words like “inspired” or “imitation” you should be able to easily determine that the item is probably a fake.
For vintage items, make sure to check the details because most vintage items will have some flaws.
If an item looks too new, especially if it’s supposed to be very old, it might be a reproduction and not authentic.
For an article about whether it’s safe to buy jewelry on Etsy, click here.
Another thing to watch out for is whether the prices seem too good to be true. If prices are too low on something that’s labelled “handmade,” it’s likely that it’s something that’s being resold as handmade but it’s really being purchased from wholesalers.
You can often figure this out by doing a search on Etsy for the same thing and seeing if the same photo comes up, because resellers generally don’t even buy the merchandise before listing it.
They’ll use the photo from the wholesaler and put that up on Etsy after a little Photoshopping (and that’s also against Etsy’s TOS.)
Here’s an example of an item that’s clearly not handmade but is being listed by multiple dropshippers as being handmade:
What happens with this type of listing is the seller will get the order, then they’ll place the order with their wholesaler, who ships the merchandise to the buyer.
If you look at the prices on these items, plus the fact that multiple shops are selling the exact same thing, it’s clear that these are not handmade.
They don’t even fit the policy of the seller designing something and having a production partner make it.
If you see this kind of thing, you can basically tell that the Etsy shop isn’t following Etsy’s Terms of Service. You might think “well so what, who cares about that?”
However, this is a “buyer beware” situation, and if a seller is willing to misrepresent their merchandise as handmade, what else are they willing to do?
There are plenty of actual handmade artisans on Etsy who DO make their own items, so find one of them and support their business by purchasing something you can’t get at the flea market!
And report the reseller shop to Etsy while you’re at it.
So yes, there are unscrupulous sellers on Etsy who are selling mass-manufactured items and trying to pass them off as handmade.
I’ve also seen some people who try to game the system by doing other things, so you should be careful about some of those tricks that scammers try to pull off.
Pro tip: Do a reverse image search by right-clicking on a photo, then selecting “search the web for image.” This will often bring up the same photo in many shops or on other places online, which shows that it’s mass-produced, not handmade.
Another thing to note about sellers’ photos is if they all look very different.
A lot of resellers use the photos directly from the wholesaler because they drop ship the items and have never actually seen them in person.
If the photos in a shop are totally different quality, or they all look very different stylistically, it could be a clue that they came from a catalog.
Most legitimate sellers tend to have a specific style that they use for their photos, so their shops will look consistent rather than random.
Next, let’s look at how you can examine reviews for signs of fakery!
Can Etsy sellers take down reviews?
As a general rule, Etsy doesn’t allow sellers to remove low reviews. Reviews that violate Etsy’s policies, or that don’t follow the guidelines set for reviews, can be reported to Etsy by sellers. However, Etsy follows the laws set by the Federal Trade Commission regarding manipulating reviews, and rarely removes them.
Sellers can hide a photo that’s left with a review if they choose to do that. Sometimes a buyer will leave a photo that the seller doesn’t want in their shop for some reason (I can think of a few) so they are able to hide the photo.
The review that it goes with can’t be hidden, though, so customers don’t need to worry about sellers manipulating reviews that legitimate buyers have left.
In most cases you can trust that the reviews on Etsy have been left by real buyers.
If you go through them and most say the same types of things, it’s likely that they’re a good representation of the seller’s customer service and product quality.
Remember that as sellers, we will probably never make everyone happy. I’ve received low reviews for things that were totally out of my control, or because the buyer purchased something and tried to use it for something it wasn’t intended for.
If you come across a low review in a sea of good ones, read that low review critically. It’s probably more about the buyer than the seller.
On the other hand, if a seller has multiple low reviews complaining about the same thing, you might want to think about those.
I’ve seen people who complained that they had read the reviews from multiple people saying how horrible and rude a seller was, but they bought from him anyway! Then they came to the reviews to add their complaints to the list when they should have seen what was going to happen to begin with.
Pro tip: when checking out a shop, check to see the date that they started on Etsy by scrolling down to the About section. Sometimes the number of sales is so high compared to when they started their shop, it’s likely that they’re buying fake sales to inflate their numbers. That, in combination with merchandise that looks mass-manufactured, is a clue that the shop might not be legit. Avoid these shops!
Check social media and the About section of the Etsy shop.
For more verification of the shop’s quality, you can check the shop’s About section and social media profiles to get a feeling for the shop’s owner and quality. If there are no social media links, it could simply mean that the shop owner hasn’t set that up, but if there are other clues in the shop that it might be sketchy, it’s something to pay attention to.
Most serious Etsy sellers will have some kind of social media for their businesses, and they’ll often have their own websites.
If a shop doesn’t have a profile picture of the owner, no social media, no policies in place, and the prices look too good to be true, you should pay attention to that.
Social media will generally have SOME photos of the shop owner making their items, or will have posts that make it clear the owner is working on the merchandise.
Pay attention to the content of the posts if you’re feeling uncertain about whether the listings are fake or not.
The About section of a shop is required to have information about everyone who works in the shop. That includes the owner, the person who comes in to pack orders, and anyone else who has a hand in running the shop.
If there are no shop owner photos at all, that’s something to pay attention too.
If the profile photo of the seller is the grey silhouette of a head, that means they haven’t uploaded a profile photo to their personal profile.
That’s something that isn’t required, but it shows attention to detail, so just add that to the “iffy” list. It might not mean much on its own, but if there are a lot of other things that are strange, it might mean something.
Pro tip: If the About section of a shop has lots of photos of expensive tools and equipment, but no photos of the owner using them, do a reverse-image search to see if they’re stock photos. A lot of scammers use photos of tools to make it look like they’re making things when they’re not, so don’t fall for it!
If everything looks good, the last step before ordering is to look over the shop’s policies.
Because Etsy sellers set their own shop policies, you might assume that you can return things when you can’t. Most custom or personalized orders are NOT eligible for returns, since they’re being made to order.
There are also other types of items that are not refundable, so make sure to check BEFORE purchasing.
If a shop doesn’t have any policies set up at all, you might want to contact the seller before purchasing, or just go to a different shop.
Without clear policies the buyer and seller protections that Etsy offers will be in limbo, so you need to make sure that you’re okay with the seller’s policies before buying.
Something that I’ve noticed is that a lot of reseller shops don’t put policies in place at all. If you come across a shop that you think looks a little suspicious based on other things, add “no policies” to the list, and draw your own conclusions.
What do I do if I get scammed on Etsy?
If you get scammed on Etsy by purchasing something that was misrepresented as handmade, or is marked as vintage when it isn’t, you can request a refund from the shop. If the shop owner isn’t cooperative, or they don’t respond at all, you can contact Etsy help.
To contact Etsy help, use this link, then follow the links that fit your situation: Etsy Help Center
You can also file a case against the shop if the items aren’t as described.
Always try to contact the shop first, because when you get Etsy involved the case might be closed in the seller’s favor. If that happens, the seller will most likely be unwilling to refund the purchase after the case is closed.
Most Etsy sellers are honest and try to represent their products and services accurately. Regardless of whether you’re shopping on Etsy or on another platform, it’s up to the buyer to investigate the shop you’re buying from to decide whether you feel comfortable purchasing or not.
There are scammers everywhere, so be careful, pay attention, and check out the information in the seller’s shop to make sure you feel comfortable before ordering.
This article looks at the confusing revenue reporting on Etsy in the stats section and other sections where you can find financial info.
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