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How will selling on Etsy change for you now that the Star Seller program has launched? Well, hello there, I’m Etsy Coach Pam Duthie. I’ve been covering this on my YouTube channel since we first got word of this new program about six weeks ago. And believe me, I have been hearing from lots of fellow Etsy sellers on this topic ever since. So, now that we’re two weeks into it, how’s it going?
I’ll have a quick update for you, along with some tips. I’ll report on the results of tests I’ve done in my own shop. And I’ll pass along some answers to questions we’ve had over the past six weeks. Finally, I’ll close with my advice about selling on Etsy now, and in the coming months.
But first, let’s cover the basics for those of you lucky enough to have spent the summer somewhere far, far beyond the internet’s reach. If you know nothing about this, go log into your Etsy shop and look at your Shop Manager. Over on the left side menu, halfway down, you’ll see a new icon. Click that. You’ll get a page with up to five* widgets, each with a metric.
- Message response rate / target: 95% or more
- 5-star ratings / target: 95% or more
- On-time shipping & tracking / target: 95% or more
- Orders / minimum: 10
- Sales / minimum: GBP £200**
* Some of you will see fewer widgets. Those who’ve qualified for the required number of orders and/or sales won’t see those widgets.
** This will be stated in your currency if you’re in the US, UK, EU, Canada or Australia; everyone else will see it in US dollars.
What we know so far about Etsy’s Star Seller program
The Star Seller program went live on September 1st. Metrics will be tallied on the first of every month based on the previous three months’ performance. Therefore, this first month was based on how our shops performed in June, July, and August. Announcing it as they did on July 28th made it tricky for many of us to get our September Star Seller badge. For two of the three months, none of us could work toward it.
However, so far, it’s not worth your worry if you missed out. So far, it displays much like the badges that say, “This is a great shop for gifts! XX buyers have made XX purchases for gifts in the past XX months and left XX five-star reviews!” Although in addition to your shop, the Star Seller badge also appears on each Star Seller listing.
So, I’m not saying it isn’t nice to have! Let’s go over some of the Star Seller criteria. Although Etsy may change them without notice, this is what they are at present.
Message response rate
For message response rate, they want 95% of your responses to be within 24 hours of receiving the message. Now mind you: that is for any new message. In other words, just the first message in any convo thread. That top one is the only one you need to respond to quickly.
There is one catch though! If a customer chooses to initiate several separate messages, i.e., separate convo threads? (You know, how they do sometimes, sigh.) In that case, you will need to respond to the first message of each thread within 24 hours. So, don’t go by the first message per customer per order. Rather, the rule would be the first convo per new thread is what you need to answer within 24 hours.
Etsy has also told us that if you mark a message as spam, then not replying won’t count against you. I’ve tested this for my YouTube channel followers. So many Etsy sellers were freaking out that they’ve had spam they didn’t mark it as spam. And I confirmed it: you can go back and retroactively mark it as spam. I did this on some of mine. I marked messages as far back as June as spam. And doing so removed them from hitting my ratings. When this program first came out, I had a 50% response rate and now that’s climbed nicely.
(But the messages you mark as spam must actually be spam; more about gaming the system in a bit.)
And just before the Star Seller program rollout, Etsy announced this welcome news. We’ll soon be able to download a CSV file with details about our message response rate. That way, we can see which messages are being counted as late. (And presumably, dispute any counted in error.)
Tip! Set up auto-reply!
Etsy is advising us that you can set up an auto-reply if you’re going to be away for anything up to five days. (Here at the end under Resources, I’ll link instructions for how to do that.) If you’re going to be away for longer than five days, Etsy suggests you go on to vacation mode.
But if you’d rather avoid vacation mode, no worries. Etsy only says you’ve got to answer within the first 24 hours. Etsy doesn’t specify how comprehensive your reply must be. So, if you’re going away longer than five days, just set aside a few minutes every day to dash off quick responses. Provided you’ve got reliable internet access, you should be okay.
Remember: to satisfy this metric you need answer only the initial message of any convo thread within 24 hours. That way if, say, you sold something to another Etsy seller, you two won’t get trapped in an infinite loop of “‘Thank you!’ ‘No, thank you!’”
Certainly, once you’ve answered a customer’s first question, thereafter, just deal with them normally. Don’t go out of your way to make sure you always have the last word.
The next criterion is having 95% of your reviews at 5 stars. As for what happens if a customer gives you one star when they meant five stars? Or what if they give you a three-star rating then revise it to five later? As of the time of writing (9/14/21), we don’t know yet what happens for changed reviews.
And Etsy has always said we shouldn’t be penalized for a shipping carrier’s poor performance. What if a customer gives you a low rating because the item was late even though you shipped on time? We don’t yet know how these circumstances will be handled.
But I would advise one important thing to do here. If you’re aiming for the Star Seller badge, make sure your processing time is generous. If you’re shipping international, pad it with weeks extra. That way, Etsy doesn’t assume your item got there faster than a speeding bullet. You know, how a bot spits out a message prompting the customer to leave a review? Because all too often, when their item hasn’t arrived yet and customers get that message, they freak out. They assume something’s gone wrong. And worse, they think we’re responsible. So of course, they leave a bad review about being bugged for feedback before their item even came. And who can blame them? How are customers supposed to know it’s not us? That instead it’s Etsy failing to calculate that accurately? So, until Etsy figures that out, it’s best to pad your processing time.
On-time shipping & tracking
The one that’s most controversial for me is 95% on-time shipping. Especially the tracking requirement. We’ve since found out that many of us have just two choices. Either pay to add tracking and manually upload the numbers to orders afterwards. Or use Etsy shipping labels! So, yes it does seem to be a bit of a con to get us all to use Etsy shipping labels. The good news is shipping labels are now being accepted in UK post offices. (They weren’t at first.) The bad news is for these small UK post offices. They make no money when Etsy labels are used instead of buying directly from them.
What about digital downloads?
We’ve been told instant digital downloads don’t count towards this metric. Now, there was considerable speculation about this before launch. I think some Etsy support staffers may have said digital download shops are ineligible to get the Star Seller badge. If so, they were mistaken. Or maybe just misunderstood.
Regardless, Etsy does specifically say that instant digital downloads won’t impact this metric. Here’s one quote from the Seller Handbook:
Make sure you choose the digital property when you list your digital item, and not physical. Physical items require a tracking number or a shipping label purchased on Etsy. If you list a digital item as physical, orders for this listing will negatively impact your Star Seller shipping metric, since the orders will never be physically shipped.
If I exclusively sell digital items, will I be eligible for the Star Seller program?
Yes, if you sell only digital items, you’re still eligible for the Star Seller program. When you view your Star Seller dashboard you won’t see an on-time shipping & tracking score, but you’ll still be considered based on other metrics.
From the Etsy Seller Handbook article, How to Add Files to a Digital Listing
However, that does not say they don’t count at all. Rather, that they don’t factor into the calculations which determine Star-Seller status for this one metric. That is, a digital item won’t impact your On-time shipping & tracking score. If your shop is all digital, your score will be calculated on other metrics.
More about tracking
Also: in some countries* if your item costs less than around 12 euros, then you’re exempt from having to use tracking or Etsy labels. For such low-cost items you’re not going to be penalized in countries where the cost of tracking well exceeds the price of the item. So, like digital items, those items ought not to factor into this metric.
* US sellers, note that for on-time tracking and shipping, you do need either tracking or Etsy labels. And there is no exemption for low price. (See Resources for a link.)
Now I’ve gone back and updated some of the tracking numbers for a few of my listings. Within the UK, we get automatic tracking numbers, but I don’t usually fill them in because by the time I get home from the Post Office and fill them, the customers usually already have their item.
But just for this, I retroactively went back and filled them in. If you do this with yours, note that they do say it can take up to 24 hours for your metrics to update. However, when I did the same for messages, marking spam messages as spam, they updated fine. And so did adding tracking numbers well after the fact.
In-person pickup and custom digital items
As well, there seem to be issues with what they’re going to do about in-person pickup and custom digital items. For the latter, refer to that same Handbook page I mentioned earlier. Here’s the relevant advice, quoted below. I’ve also linked it under Resources.
What if I want to offer a digital item that is custom?
We recommend uploading a “placeholder” file. The placeholder file can be an example image or instructions to submit certain information. You can then collect any important information needed for the order using the Note to Seller or your buyer can send you a message directly. Read more about how a buyer can request a custom item.
When you have the final file ready, you can send it to the buyer separately through Messages, email, or a third-party hosting site. The buyer will still be able to download the original file, so just be clear in your listing that you’ll be sending the actual file later.
From the Etsy Seller Handbook article, How to Add Files to a Digital Listing
Finally, a bit more good news. Before rollout, Etsy announced that any second label associated with an order (e.g., a return or replacement label) would no longer factor in sellers’ on-time shipping and tracking calculation.
Orders and Sales
As for these final two metrics, most people won’t see them in their Star Seller dashboard if they’ve already satisfied the limits. In those rolling three months previous, you’ve got to have had 10 or more orders.
The Sales section calculates the sales you’ve made in the review period. It won’t include shipping, or any additional taxes collected. The items sold must meet certain thresholds within the review period.
- USD $300
- GBP £200
- EUR €250
- CAD $350
- AUD $350
All other currencies: $300 USD
And like Orders, if you’ve already met the sales criteria for the period, you won’t even see this section in your dashboard. Note that cancelled orders won’t count towards these two metrics. (Nor will they count towards your on-time shipping for that matter.) And new sellers aren’t eligible until 90 days after their first Etsy order.
Now, about those Star Seller bragging rights …
One very important thing. Etsy tells us that those who earn the Star Seller badge cannot use this badge off-Etsy. Or anywhere apart from where they’re letting you share it through Etsy. You certainly can’t print it out on your business card. You can’t shout about it on your social media unless they provide a button with which to share it.
And the simple basic rule to grasp here is this: Etsy can remove your Star Seller badge at any time. Even if you meet all the criteria. If you’re doing other things wrong, then Etsy can decide to remove you. For any reason, and they don’t even have to tell you why. They can just take your badge away.
Furthermore, Etsy can change the rules or metrics or targets at any time. And by the sound of things, they are leaving it open for further changes or even retiring this system altogether.
Certainly, they have rolled things out in the past and backpedaled on them. (Remember that promise of getting a boost in search in exchange for offering free shipping?) So, this initiative might go away just as quietly. I don’t know, but if I had to say? I think it’s probably here to stay.
But it’s probably not as big a deal as you think
The lack of a Star Seller badge should not penalize you. Etsy says it won’t affect how you’re ranking in the search. (The cynical might add: “not yet.”) So at least for now, it shouldn’t make a negative impact on how well you are selling on Etsy.
And now a word for those cynics among you. Although Etsy says they’re not planning to change your ranking because of it, I know there is concern among you. Something to keep in mind if you are worried is this. If it’s difficult to qualify for Star Seller in your niche, then it’s difficult for everybody else in your niche, too. So, if the day ever comes when having the badge does impact search placement? You won’t be adversely affected as long as most of your competitors also lack the badge.
Example: Let’s say you sell custom cosplay costumes. They take lots of time to make, so you only accept one or two commissions a month. You aren’t likely to ever sell 10 in any 3-month period. Therefore, you won’t qualify for Star Seller. But! Your direct competitors won’t either. Which is why you needn’t worry. Because even if having a star ever does get factored into search ranking? The lack of one will impact everyone in your niche the same.
Selling on Etsy now
What we all need to do is skim through Etsy’s Q&A with staff about the Star Seller program (linked below). And keep an eye on the Etsy forums. And your other favorite Etsy seller communities.
Of course, eRank has its own community on Facebook. It’s private, strictly for eRank members who have Etsy shops. Being shielded from the eyes of outsiders makes it a safe place to ask questions and share experiences with your peers.
And I will be keeping you updated on my YouTube channel. I’ve already done a half dozen videos on the Star Seller program. In fact, I just finished one on sellers who already had and then lost the badge!
Meanwhile, some tips
The chief takeaway I’m hoping you get from this article is this. If you haven’t yet qualified for Star Seller? If you think you never will? Please: do not freak out! Do not let this discourage you! This is the very time of the year we should all be building our shops back up. We need to focus on being ready for the holiday shoppers. So, don’t let this whole Star Seller brouhaha demotivate you.
And definitely don’t bend over backwards to try and get a badge. Especially since we don’t even know whether having one helps you with selling on Etsy. And don’t be that guy who set up a new Etsy account and new email just to flood his Etsy shop with one-line convos he could answer with an auto-reply. Because Etsy will not be pleased. In fact, manipulating the system is the kind of thing that could well cost Star Sellers their badge.
Conversely, if all you need to do to qualify is minimal? If you just need to mark some old spam convos as such? Or dedicate a coffee break each day to answering customer emails? That’s not a huge hardship. Go for it.
See you around!
- This blog post is based on one of the videos I did on my YouTube channel; you can watch that one here. The whole Star Seller playlist
- Etsy Seller Handbook, “How to become a Star Seller” article; about On-time shipping and tracking: US Sellers
- Etsy Seller Handbook, Setting up auto-reply (scroll down the page to “How to set up auto-reply”)
- Etsy Seller Handmade, Digital Items and Star Seller, from the Etsy Seller Handbook article, How to Add Files to a Digital Listing
- Q&A with Etsy staff: Star Seller
- And here’s eRank’s private Facebook community. If you haven’t yet, join us! We stream live Q&A’s there weekly.