By day, Brittany Wisner works in financial services in Minneapolis. But in the hours where she’s accountable only to herself, she focuses on making bold, lightweight earrings made out of polymer clay, which she sells on her Etsy store, Courage and Clay. She would love to work on her jewelry full time.
But the biggest obstacle to her entrepreneurial success right now isn’t a lack of customers or creativity. It is an unexpected turn in the fortunes of the U.S. Postal Service.
“I am extremely concerned,” Wisner, 31, said. “Efficient delivery is one of the most valued qualities of a small business. If a customer’s package isn’t delivered relatively quickly, they’re not going to take that out on USPS, they will take it out on the business.”
President Trump has long wanted to dismantle and privatize USPS, and his administration has recently enacted measures that have hampered mail delivery, including banning employees from working overtime or making extra trips to deliver mail, as reported by The Washington Post.
Wisner has already seen the trickle-down effects of mail disruptions due to the coronavirus and the recent slowdowns. While she hasn’t received any lower ratings due to delayed delivery yet, she says some of her counterparts have. Lower reviews can affect your visibility on the platform, she says.
She’s worried about how she would deal with increased shipping costs if the Postal Service does indeed go private to compete with FedEx and UPS. “I’d be concerned about my ability to turn a profit if shipping costs were raised. And if I were to increase my shipping costs to recoup, I’d be concerned that wouldn’t be perceived well with my customers,” Wisner said.
She’s not alone. If shipping delays continue or costs go up, the changes could threaten the livelihoods of Etsy store owners, who are mostly women.
The Brooklyn-based virtual marketplace is considered an online destination for unique and artisan goods. It’s dominated by women — who constitute 83 percent of Etsy sellers, company spokeswoman Marissa Tarabocchia said. Of the platform’s 3.1 million active sellers, more than 90 percent are one-person businesses and 95 percent operate their business out of their homes.
The Postal Service, with its low rates and door-to-door service, makes it possible for these microbusinesses to work. It’s a key lifeline for women, especially those who may be limited in their options, are disabled or who live in a rural area. It provides the ability to maintain a livelihood or bring in extra income.
There are also women who have flocked to the platform recently to make ends meet after facing reduced hours or lost jobs because of the pandemic.
But changes in the Postal Service Service as we know it would be devastating to Etsy businesses and their customers.
“The vast majority of U.S. Etsy sellers — 91 percent — rely on USPS to deliver their packages to consumers. USPS is particularly important for our sellers who live in rural communities, where USPS may be the only carrier available to them,” Etsy chief executive Josh Silverman wrote in a July 22 letter to Congress.
Megan Pepin, a mail carrier in the Boston metropolitan area said all of the packages she picked up by midday Tuesday were from women-owned Etsy stores. That’s typical for her route.
“These people leave it on their doorstep and I take it and I get it shipped out. They don’t have to get it weighed or leave home or find a UPS or FedEx drop off. You can imagine how [privatization] would affect disabled people. Or people who have kids or reasons to not want to leave the house,” Pepin said.
Private carriers also use the Postal Service to deliver mail to “the last mile” on rural routes. “If there’s a town of 300 people, there’s not enough business for FedEx to get out there,” Pepin said.
Ximena Monte recently started her own Etsy shop selling hand-painted pouches, tote bags and enamel pins from her home in the Bronx. The 26-year-old’s ambition is to work on her creative projects full time, but until then, she’ll continue working as a receptionist at a dog day-care center in Manhattan.
Most of her pouches sell for $21. It costs her about $3 to ship one pouch via USPS.
If shipping prices go up, Monte doesn’t think her customers would pay more. And she can’t afford to absorb an increase in shipping costs herself.
“I would definitely not be able to continue at all,” Monte said. “Absolutely not.”