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Etsy sellers debate race's effect on sales

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Let’s say you’re buying handmade wristwarmers on Etsy. You’ll probably be looking for a product that looks comfortable, is affordable, and comes in your favorite color.

But unconsciously, Freakonomics blogger Steven D. Levitt wrote in a June 2010 post, you would be looking at the hand model’s race as well. In online transactions, he reported, black sellers get 13 percent fewer responses than their white counterparts.

Today, this study sparked a lively discussion in Etsy’s Business Topics forums. Sellers wanted to know: "Does the race of the person modeling their wares affect business?"

Karia, the crafter behind Kouture Crochet, first brought up the topic. This Etsian has a special interest in determining whether race affects sales. Her wife, who is African American, models all her crocheted wares from wristwarmers to ties. However, Karia isn’t sure this will continue.

“I think I'm going to buy me some wood model hands,” she wrote.

Tori, who sells handmade clutches at Toriska and does not use models, tried to discourage her from this decision.

“Your shop has always stood out to me because your wife just is so happy and vibrant,” she wrote.

Bits, who doesn’t use models at her BagChemistry shop, told Karia her target market likely has come to prefer products modeled by her wife. However, she does think the site's operations have a target audience in mind:

“I don’t think you should buy a wooden hand model. Unless your goal is to be featured on Etsy's front page. Then you and all of your items should be beige.”

The seller concluded her comment with a smiley emoticon, suggesting it may have been tongue-in-cheek. 

According to the most recent results of a Quantcast analysis of Etsy shoppers in 2009, the typical user is “an educated white female with no children, who makes less than $60,000/year.”

Etsy confirmed that it does not track racial demographics. Its Featured Seller archive demonstrates a preference for showcasing white, female sellers. Out of the past 30 featured sellers, three were not white. This may be why Bits suggested being “beige” helps sellers get featured. 

Not one of the 200 sellers on the forum thread said they had encountered overt racism on Etsy. However, that’s not to say they couldn’t sympathize with the article. As Deb of Paper Creations by Deb put it:

“As a mixed race, tattooed lesbian I'd have to say, ‘totally not surprised at this.’”