Over the past decade there has definitely been been a measurable increase in negative reviews for many Etsy sellers, although Etsy themselves have not published any such stats for the platform as a whole.

I recently chose to measure 12 years of review history in my own Etsy clipart store in order to know definitively if what I felt was happening really was. Because feelings aren't facts and the numbers don't lie!

I measured my own reviews in 3 year increments splitting the reviews into positive (4 and 5 star reviews) and negative (3 stars or less) and converting that to a percentage from the total of reviews left.

From 2011 - 2013 I had 1106 reviews and only 1 was negative - so 0.09% of my reviews were negative. The negative review impact started to increase slowly over time so that the next three year period it was up to 0.58% and the following three year period it had increased to 0.89%

For the years 2020 - 2022 my negative review percentage was up again to 1.31%. This isn't a trend I'm happy about, obviously, and while it may still seem like a small number it's not something I want to continue growing upwards.

Both my products and customer service have improved over time, so these weren't reviews that were left because I had slipped in my offerings or was providing worse service/goods. In fact, most of the reviews left were from customers who had never spoken to me and simply didn't understand what they were buying or how to use the product.

In talking to my peers about this and what they were seeing in their own shops I heard very much the same feedback, although without solid numbers to back it up. But anyone who had been selling on Etsy for 6 or more years said they felt a definite increase in customers leaving negative feedback.

I have a few thoughts on why that is. First, Etsy is attracting a much different customer today than they were 10 years ago. As the marketplace has become more mainstream we're seeing a much broader customer base and so consumer behavior is more likely to follow the patterns of e-commerce in general rather than that of a small specialty boutique shop.

We're also seeing a lot more customers shopping on Etsy who are not very familiar with the platform or how it works. First time buyers often struggle to find their way around and that can be frustrating. Etsy doesn't make the site particularly easy to navigate and buyers have complained for years about the quality of search results.

Buyers are also increasingly using their phones to shop from, which due to the smaller screen size means it's much easier to make mistakes when making a purchase. You simply don't get the full amount of info that you would on a larger screen. But Etsy hasn't been doing much to address the buyer experience on the platform, instead focusing purely on getting customers to spend.

In more recent years, negative reviews in my shop at least, started to take an odd turn where it has felt more like buyers were reviewing themselves, leaving comments on things that I could never have any influence over. Etsy started pressuring buyers to leave reviews, often pestering them to do so and the quality of reviews suggests that buyers are simply not always in the right mindset when leaving a review.

So what can Etsy sellers do to minimize negative reviews in a climate where buyers are behaving with such increasing patterns of self-centered critique?

Over the years I have had to continually work at adapting my product information, from the listing images and descriptions to product enclosures and support material such as tutorials. I always try to keep improving or tweaking things over time as trouble areas pop up. This can be very nuanced so you have think creatively at how to solve buyer interactions in your shop.

Be open and proactive with communication. Make sure your buyers find you approachable and that you are open and transparent with them from the outset. I have several nudges in my shop that encourage buyers to reach out to and I put these everywhere I can, including my responses to negative reviews.

Don't sweat the occasional negative review. It's actually to your benefit to receive these once in a while because it makes your shop look more trustworthy. A perfect review record looks fake to many buyers so striving for perfection is not necessarily a good thing.

Keep the big picture in mind. The stats I offered were solely based on reviews left, but didn't take into account how many sales I had made that went smoothly without any review at all. When you do the math that way, negative reviews against total products sold... the picture should look a whole lot better.  

And lastly, always respond to your negative reviews so that future buyers have a sense of how you handle issues when they crop up. Nothing will go perfect all the time so how you handle problems is important.