Are Etsy’s new ads platform and focus on free shipping having an effect? Let’s look at the Q3 2019 financial report released on October 30.

In the last few months, Etsy has made a lot of changes. It integrated its ad platform, put more emphasis on free shipping and rolled out new search algorithms. Etsy’s financials for the third quarter of 2019 were on track, making it seem like the big bets are working.

“We are just beginning to see the impact of these initiatives, which we believe further our competitive advantages and will have a more meaningful contribution to our results in 2020 and beyond,” CEO Josh Silverman said in a press release.

And sellers who aren’t totally on board with the changes? You will learn to love them.

“We think that is absolutely the right thing to do for the business into the long-term health of the brand and therefore for all of our sellers,” Silverman said regarding the push for free shipping.

“And in order to do that, we have a set of carrots and sticks at our disposal to encourage sellers to adopt that.” One stick is not showing items not eligible for free shipping on the first page of search results.

Etsy Ads

​Combining the Promoted Listings tool with Google Shopping into the new Etsy Ads platform has gotten blowback from sellers, but Etsy reports it hasn’t seen a drop in use or in overall budgets. “Sellers are largely taking a wait-and-see approach, and we want to make sure that we’re sensitive and respectful to that,” Silverman said on the earnings call.

Etsy’s Services revenue, which includes ad spend, shipping labels and Etsy Plus, totaled $56 million in Q3, up 48% from the same period of 2018. Etsy thinks sellers are playing it too safe with their budgets. “Our data indicates that many sellers are already earning very strong returns for each dollar invested, and yet their budgets are too low,” he said.

But on the whole, Silverman said he believes overall reaction from sellers has been “pretty good, and I hope I don’t miss signal that.”

Etsy confirmed that it has pulled back on buying its own Google Shopping ads in order to encourage sellers to buy them instead.

Image by PortlandLeather on Etsy.

Free shipping

The push for free shipping has shown some successful results: In July just 24% of items offered free shipping to the U.S., and at the end of September that number was 62%. Silverman attributed an increase in purchases per visit to the free shipping initiative, even among habitual buyers. “People who know us and love us the most are the people that are having the most positive reaction to free shipping,” he said.

The percentage of gross merchandise sales eligible for free shipping in the U.S. more than doubled to 81% since June, Chief Financial Officer Rachel Glaser said. “The initial impact of free shipping has resulted in lower prices for buyers,” she said. That’s great for buyers, but is it hurting sellers?

Etsy is aware of the complaints from sellers about free shipping, especially from those who ship internationally, sell heavy items or mostly offer products under $35.

“We see that sellers are absorbing more of the shipping price than we expected … rather than passing those costs along the buyers,” Silverman said on the earnings call.

Tests of the free shipping tools showed sellers moving about 84% of the postage costs into the item price. But in practice, sellers have been shifting only about 60% of shipping costs, which means a weaker bottom line for makers.

To combat losses like that, last week Etsy debuted a smart pricing tool for U.S. sellers that it plans to replicate for international sellers in 2020.

Search updates

The new Etsy search algorithms have “a deeper understanding of the relationship between items, attributes and users,” giving shoppers more personalized results based on their interests and tastes.

And, of course, the search results are prioritizing free shipping offers within the U.S. About 60% of items are listed as eligible for free shipping, but that means “40% of items are not given first-page placement, even if our search algorithms might have previously ranked them higher,” Glaser said, which leads to lower sales, which is bad for sellers and for Etsy’s bottom line. “We’ve pushed some of the really good search results off to a second page or further and that causes a decrease in conversion.”

But she said they will continue to play with the “cocktail of ingredients” that create the best search results. Or rather for sellers, perfect their assortment of carrots and sticks.

What’s next?

“We’re often asked how much more runway Etsy has to grow,” Silverman said on the earnings call. He pointed to the product development team, which in 2016 ran 200 experiments per year. In 2019, they’ve been running 100 tests per month, with just 6% more staff. These “experiments” refer to behind-the-scenes tweaks to the Etsy platform to help drive sales.

Also on the to-do list is building trust with buyers. Etsy reports “significantly higher” conversion rates for items with multiple reviews as compared to listings with no reviews. But currently only about 15% of purchases on Etsy result in a review. So reviews are getting more real estate on product pages, with helpful reviews (with longer text and photos) highlighted, and Etsy is testing ways to encourage more customers to leave reviews.

The financials

Gross merchandise sales were up 30.1% in the third quarter of 2019 from the same period last year, and revenue was up 31.6%, Etsy said in its quarterly financial report.

Gross merchandise sales (GMS), referring to the value of all of the products sold via Etsy’s marketplace, surpassed $1.2 billion in the third quarter of 2019, from $902 million in the second quarter of 2018.

Revenue, the money Etsy earned from its commissions on those sales plus services such as ads, was $197.9 million in the third quarter of 2019, up from the $150 million it earned in Q3 2018. (This includes, for the first time, revenue from Reverb, the music gear marketplace Etsy absorbed in August.) For the whole 2019 fiscal year, Etsy now projects 34% to 35% growth in revenue from 2018, an adjustment up from 32% to 34% growth it projected in August.

The fourth quarter is, of course, the most important of the fiscal year. Etsy is boosting its TV advertising spending, and the second season of NBC’s “Making It” with Etsy trends expert Dayna Isom Johnson begins Dec. 2.

Grace Dobush

Grace Dobush


Grace Dobush is a Berlin-based freelance journalist and the author of the Crafty Superstar business guides. Grace has written about business and creative entrepreneurship for publications including Fortune, Wired, Quartz, Handelsblatt and The Washington Post. 

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