I wrote last year about an experience I had on Amazon with a seller trying to game the review system by offering cash prizes to people who left only five-star reviews. Well, now I have had the opposite experience: a seller on Etsy who has not used reward, but punishment.

I ordered a crafting stamp from her earlier this year, and it was fine. It turned out that the stamp was a little big and unwieldy for me. I am not the best crafter in the world, and I am not blaming her for this. But when Etsy prompted me to leave a review, I left only three stars. I complimented heron her speedy shipping and great customer service, mentioned that the stamp had been a bit big for me but oh well, and that was that.

So yesterday, I was doing a little Etsy browse and she had some new stuff. I remembered the speedy shipping and cute packaging, and the stamp I had ordered before—while not perfect for my needs, as it turned out, but whatever—was very well-made. So I ordered another one.

An hour later, I got an email from the seller that she was refusing the sale. As the email explained, in charmingly effortful English:

“We’re thinking customer’s satisfaction is very important. It is difficult to sell a similar product to the customer who is not satisfied with goods. It’s very regrettable, but we can’t sell goods to you again. We are thinking we’d like to cancel to order your this time. We’re to cancel etsy and paypal, and the price you paid returns to you completely.”

Whoa. I am not sure where to start on this one. If I leave less than a five-star review, I get banned from the store? What is the point of a review then?

That it seemed, was the clincher. I did a little research on this, and the only form of ‘review extortion’ Etsy specifically gets concerned about is a seller who tries to bribe you to change your review. Absent that, they can choose to do business—or not to do it—with whomever they please.

And it seems that Etsy sellers have this pathological obsession with the five-star review which borders on the manic. I found a thread on Etsy’s support forum from a customer who had a banning similar to mine, and it goes on for eleven pages. Some tidbits of interest:

“There does seem to be a general opinion amongst Etsy sellers that anything under 5 stars is a “bad” review…”

“I personally get slightly offended and anxious at 4 star reviews. I try not to, but my business is my life and livelihood. (I work 60+ hours a week on it…) So I can sort of understand her reacting the way she did.”

“I have to say that I would personally be hurt by anything less than 5 stars. If a buyer left me 4 stars, I wouldn’t raise the issue with him/her, but I would feel that my hard work was not appreciated.”

“I think a seller who performs all the things they “promised to perform” should get 5 stars. A 4 star review means I think the seller did something less than what they promised me ~ like they over stated the actual condition ~ or they failed to ship it right away. Giving a rating less than 5 stars pulls their ENTIRE RATING down and affects their public image…”

It seems there is a huge disconnect here between what buyers think feedback is for, and what sellers think it is for. Sellers (at least, on Etsy) seem to think the feedback exists to give their store a mark of reputability—like, proper stores all have shiny bright stars, and lesser stores don’t have all five stars. Buyers seem to perceive it more as an actual feedback tool.

I always ask myself, before I leave a comment, what I would have wanted to know as a buyer making that buying decision. For example, if someone is too afraid to leave a review to mention that a book has typos, they will not be able to warn away people like me who really care about that. Similarly, if you say in your review that there are typos, and I was a person who did not care about that, this comment would not affect my decision to buy or not. Etsy does force you to leave a comment; you can’t just star and run!

To me, the bottom line is that if I truly had been dissatisfied, I would not have ordered again. So this seller should have been happy for the repeat business. Instead, they have ensured I will never buy from them again. That is too bad; my one three-star stamp notwithstanding, they did make some nice things. But I can’t deal with The Crazy, and I will take my money elsewhere.

Still, as a policy decision—I think Etsy should intervene on this. This is review extortion, and should not be permitted.


  1. So I’m not sure why you didn’t give a higher review? It was fast and came in cute packaging. It seems like your only complaint was that it was a little big for you (that appeared to be a personal preference).

    I’m not sure how this isn’t a 4 (or 4.5) star review. From the little description you gave the product was probably average or higher and met the description (at least 3 or more stars). Cute packaging and fast shipping seems like it’s worth a bit more.

    I’m NOT saying that this makes it a valid reason to not ship to you, I’m just wondering.

    I only ask because I think reviews are interesting sometimes, I’ve seen:
    1 Star) Got crushed during shipping, company replaced fast. I don’t see how that is the seller’s fault unless they’re using cheap boxes or a crappy shipping company.

    3 Stars) Best picture I’ve ever seen and the price was amazing but it doesn’t fit in the cabinet that I wanted to fit it in. Again, how is that the product’s fault.

    1 Star) This app doesn’t do __________. But the description says specifically that it doesn’t do __________.

    Okay, the examples are a little extreme, but you can find these all the time.

  2. Gary- I was reviewing the product, not the seller as a person, that’s why. And according to Etsy’s own gudineline, a five-star review is ‘loved it’ (which I didn’t), a four-star review is ‘liked it’ (which again, did not apply) and a three-star review is ‘it was okay’ (which, for me, it was). I liked it enough that I was interested in checking out the seller’s other stuff. But I didn’t ‘love’ it and I am under no obligation to give a five-star review. The idea that I am somehow obliged to do so, or else the seller will punish me is galling.

  3. This strikes me as utterly ludicrous. When I’m shopping for a product, the first thing I do is look at 2 and 3-star reviews to see what the reviewer didn’t like about it. Frequently, what bothers them does not bother me. The number of stars in a review is not as useful as the content of the review. If I see a book with 50000 5 star reviews, it does not tell me I’ll like it, it tells me vampires are stalking teenage girls.

  4. Joanna,

    Totally agree with you on no obligation to give a 5.

    You had specifically mentioned the shipping and the wrapping so to me that all sounded good so I didn’t understand. But if you’re only supposed to rate the product, that makes more sense.

    I’m not sure what Etsy does, but eBay really pushes you to get 4 and 5-star ratings and if you don’t it’s bad for you (I’m trying to remember how convoluted the whole thing was) I’m wondering if she was trying to work within the constraints of the selling system (by avoiding another 3 star rating).

    *** More than you probably want to know about some of the way ratings worked at bay ***

    I used to use eBay a lot and I’m trying to recall the details. Ebay has 1 to 5-star rating for shipping costs (in addition to other ratings), I remember one month I got three low ratings (3 stars) on shipping cost these were all for the same purchaser for three different items and the shipping items were fixed (it wasn’t “we will calculate it later”). It was a year before I could get that off of my record, in the mean time I was penalized* and couldn’t list more than a certain number of items per month and every month they shaved off a few more items per month that I could sell**. I either had to wait the year, or sell a certain number of items, but since my number listed went down every month, I sold less. Eventually it was (close to) impossible to get to the number I needed to sell even if I sold most items. Just because of the three 3-star reviews.

    It was such a trickle-down effect I didn’t even notice it for the first three or four months. At most I was only selling a few dozen items a month, decluttering the house and getting rid of my old comic collection. It was incredibly frustrating, I called several times and got nowhere.

    *penalized = they weren’t technically penalizing me, they were giving benefits to people with the 4 and 5 star reviews which is where I was previously.

    ** declining numbers per month = The numbers went down, because the first month I had the previous 11 months plus the bad month (the next month was 10 months plus the bad month, plus 1 decreased month and so on).

  5. Etsy sellers do get fanatical about their reviews – I bought ceramic tiles labeled as ‘coasters’ once and received two-inch square tiles. I rated them 3 stars because they were nice quality but certainly not coasters, and ended up in a several week-long battle with the seller, who got very nasty about asking me to take down the review. As if one criticism is going to sink the whole venture, sheesh!

  6. No. Just no. First of all, you ARE reviewing the seller AND the product. Etsians aren’t artsy fartsy part time crafters, they are serious about their BUSINESS and you just down scored their BUSINESS over an issue that isn’t their fault. If you spent 50 hours a week making 4 ft x 4 ft blankets, and you sold those blankets, only to randomly have a customer down playing your product because the blankets were 4 ft x 4 ft. How is this the sellers fault? Etsy is over-run by buyers who don’t bother to read the description and then dock the seller points on quality because they didn’t want to read the description. The Etsy seller has a right not to offer your further service, because people who will complain will complain about ANYTHING. When reviewing, if YOU had a problem with something, but it was something that was most likely stated in the description, then by all means put it in the review, but don’t dock stars over a product that was sent exactly as described.

      • Not to mention as a seller I’ve had more than one buyer try to use the ratings system to blackmail me into offering them a discount to leave a good review. Even though I’ve fulfilled by sales contract with them as described and promised. Maybe Etsy does need to review their ratings system but it isn’t just that our hard earned businesses suffer in the interim. And make no mistake about those ratings do matter to buyers, and to Etsy!

    • So much this. I’ve gotten horrible reviews from people simply because they didn’t pay attention to the size listed in the description. That’s absolutely not fair to the seller for someone to dock stars because they didn’t read the listing.

    • The seller did exactly as I would have done to you. You obviously liked the item because you chose to purchase from them again. Etsy sellers care about their ratings because they are not wholesalers, every product they ship is handmade. Who knows what rating you would give them next time because YOU didnt read.

  7. Was the size listed in the description? Did you read the description? Was the quality good? Did you receive good service? You’d buy from them again, so obviously you werent too upset with the product. When you review a shop, you review both the service and the shop itself. A 3 star review really is quite bad in the eyes of sellers, who strive for 5 stars. If the quality was good, the service was good, and you’d buy from them again, why punish the seller with a bad review because the stamp was big? Did you perhaps consider contacting the shop prior to leaving your review to see if there was anything they could do? Most sellers want happy customers and are happy to work with them if they aren’t happy with the product.

    Honestly, I’d probably decline your repeat sale too, in fear that you’d leave another bad review.

  8. I would have done exactly the same thing as this seller. If the item is created as described, it deserves 5 stars. Just because you don’t know how to work said item, doesn’t mean its anything less than perfect. Why would I want to sell you something I am already sure you are not going to love and hence give me another poor review?

  9. Reviews do matter. I totally side with the seller! There was nothing wrong with the quality or service, just the size. 1. did you read the listing thoroughly? 2. why leave a 3 star review? if the size wasn’t right, communicate to the seller and work it out.

    I always look at store ratings to decide if I will buy with that store. Your flippant review surely hurt the sellers sales. I give your article a one star review!!!!

  10. Even though this is an old thread, it has reminded me why I no longer leave reviews. If something is as promised, or works as promised, then it’s a solid 3: I liked it, recommend it, and would buy from this seller/writer again. Now, if it exceeds the sellers promise, and/or my expectations, then I’d possibly give it a 4-star review. However, to me there are very few things in life that are “5-star” – meaning I loved it immensely, it exceeded exceptions, was even better than the seller promised, and I highly recommend said product to others. This whole thing of demanding 5-star reviews smacks of the same thinking that all kids must win, even the losers.

    • Actually MrsMac, a three star review on Etsy indicates “it’s okay.” For a seller to have great customer service, ship on time, and provide a product that was as advertised; should deserve more than ‘it’s okay.’ The stamp being ‘a little too big’ sounds like an oversight on the buyers part. Buyers need to be accountable for reading thoroughly what they are purchasing. A three is not a product I would recommend. I don’t think it’s honest or fair for a buyer to leave feedback that reflects less then the product and service they received. If a product is delivered to me as advertised, on a time schedule promised, then that is a 5 star review. They delivered on their promise. I don’t need to ‘love it immensely’ or have it ‘exceed my expectations.’

      I don’t think every seller deserves a 5 star review every time, I just think people should give reviews that honestly reflect the product and service; not oversights of buyers.

  11. Personally I don’t get why people freak out if they don’t get a 5 star review. There are hundreds of thousands of products out there with less than stellar views. I have never let that stop me from purchasing an item if I wanted it. I will check out lower reviews and decided if they are even relevant or not. I would have gladly sold you another one.

  12. I wish Etsy’s reviews worked more like Amazon or Ebay, where you could review shipping speed, product, seller communication, etc individually. I think that this would make all reviews more “fair” across the board. Then (for example) I could look at a shop’s reviews and see that the product is perhaps amazing, but the seller sucks at shipping in time… Reviews are a big deal in the Etsy world to both buyers and sellers, but are many times misleading…

  13. It’s incredibly frustrating as a seller to receive a review 3 stars or less for a buyer NOT reading the description properly. I received a 1 star review for my earrings being “made of plastic” but in my title and description and materials I clearly stated that the earrings were plastic painted to look like metal. This is what makes me angry. I spend so much time not only making the product but writing the description so buyers clearly understand what it is they want to buy. I shouldn’t receive a bad review for a product as described because they couldn’t take the time to read.
    On the other hand I wouldnt turn away a sale because they left a bad review. Maybe just message them privately with stated dimensions and materials to ensure they understand what they are buying this time around.
    It sounds like you didn’t read the description and didn’t realize that you couldn’t comfortably use the stamp. That is on you. Not the seller/product. If the product is as described, promptly shipped with cute packaging, then you could have given a higher star review (because it was as described) and left a comment which you gave your small criticism (too big for my hands to maneuver). The problem with etsy is that buyers hardly leave reviews. So every review we receive has a lot more weight on stars. I’ve sold over 200 orders but only have 30 reviews. So a 1 star rating weighs a lot more in the overall raking of my store because people like some said above, just don’t leave reviews.

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