Sunday, January 08, 2012

Artfire: A dollar and a dream?

What is Artfire you ask?  Well, up until a few monthss ago I would have said a selling platform for handmade, vintage, supplies and commercial resellers.  A fairly nice place that has some pretty cool tools, great educational discussions in the forums and lots of help on things like taking photographs, writing good listing descriptions and Search Engine Optimization.

Now? It's a bug filled selling platform whose seller populations went from 80,000 to 15,000 in just a few short months, and they are losing sellers daily.  That's a lot of sellers to lose, don't you think?  First, in August of 2011, they kicked off over 40,000 basic sellers.  Basic accounts were free for sellers, with limited tools but unlimited listings.  The idea to increase from a dozen listings to unlimited was to bring traffic to the site.  The more things you have out there on google and other search engines people use to find things, the better the chances of them finding something listed on Artfire and thereby bringing a prospective customer to the site.

Except in April when Google changed their algorithms and started to punish websites with a lot of ads and duplicate content, they decided they'd better do something about all those basic shops that were full of ads (to generate some revenue since they weren't paying anything for their studio) and mostly empty, unattended or full of stuff sellers had listed primarily on other venues.  The decision was to get rid of them.  Ostensibly, the premise behind the free basic studios was to get people to upgrade.  Artfire had offered several special deals for discounted 'for life' rates that never seemed to generate a whole lot of interest.  Except among the sellers they already had.  I had signed up at an $11.95 per month rate and when the $5.95 locked in for life special came along I snapped that up.  So did a lot of people who were paying more for their shops.  Not exactly a money maker there.

Now, fast forward.  So 40,000 + sellers are kicked off and another 20,000+ some sellers leave for whatever reason and now you have a grand total of 15,000 sellers left.  And Tony the COO announces that due to a high number of complaints and shop closures (2500 consumer complaints and 800 shop closures) they have decided to offer an 'assurance plan' for prospective buyers.  Sounds pretty reasonable, right?  they figure it will convert all those nervous shoppers who look but don't buy and along with this program they'll also promote this program with ads to make shoppers aware of it.  The premise behind it is the success of Zappos and Amazon with their liberal return policies.  Except, hello, Artfie isn't Zappos or Amazon.  Mostly in the most obvious of ways, Zappos isn't a handmade marketplace, and they have no 3rd party sellers.  Amazon, while they have 3rd party sellers you hardly notice that because it looks like you're buying from Amazon.  And they have their own payment processor whereas Artfire doesn't.  They have a 3rd party payment processor and then sellers can take additional methods like Paypal or Amazon or Google checkout or checks or money orders.  None of the payments go through Artfire at all.

Then you get to the part where when you read the fine print, you realize that the shopper is going to have to go through the seller first to resolve any complaint, and then through the payment processor before Artfire will take over and issue that refund.  guess what folks?  And, there will be exceptions to the rules as well.  That's been in place forever already, it's nothing new.  As a matter of fact, most sellers will work with you to your satisfaction because they stand behind their business and their product and they want you to come back.

Ok, so where does the dollar come in you ask?  Well, they want the sellers to fund this program. It's going to cost an additional dollar per month.  The variable rate sellers will see an automatic increase in their monthly rate come February.  Those who are locked in at a fixed rate will have the chance to opt out, but along with that comes penalties.  First, the ads that draw in buyers will go to pages with just the sellers that offer this guarantee.  They won't realize that their default for search is automatically excluding anyone who doesn't pay into this scam.  I mean scheme.  I mean program.  Then, to make sure they catch the ones coming in from the front pages, they'll have a radio button to filter their search which will be their default until they choose to end using that filter.  Pretty sneaky, eh? 

Now, some of you are thinking, 'hmmmm...all this fuss over a dollar a month?'  the answer to that is 'no, not actually'.  What most don't know is what goes on behind closed doors. The private discussions regarding the working out of the final details and the overall implication of what this really means for their sellers.  It's not simply a dollar a month more, its that Artfire is now placing itself in the midst of every seller's transactions.  If they feel the customer deserves a refund, despite the seller's policies against them, or even if Paypal sides with the seller and doesn't feel a refund is warranted, in their effort to keep the customer, Artfire will offer an appeasement refund.  Great for the customer, not so great for the seller.  In addition, the seller will gain a black mark against them for adhering to their own policies! So many black marks and you're closed down.  You can effectively be closed down because of sticking to your policies!!

Now, as if this wasn't bad enough, the forums have become a battleground.  There was a lot of opposition to this program, by sellers with legitimate concerns.  But their opposition was thwarting Tony from proceeding toward finalizing the details so this program is ready to roll out by February, so in an effort to quell the dissention, he started banning/muting paying sellers from participating in the forums discussing it.  He refused to answer questions that were asked regarding the figures he threw out as justification for this program.  Sellers wanted to know the breakdown of the 2500 complaints they received.  The site has been so buggy since August, checkout problems, cart issues, listings disappearing, corrupt picture files, in house messages not going through so communication between seller and buyer is spotty at best and a host of other problems which have been mostly denied as an Artfire problem, but rather they are browser issues, computer issues, plain old user error (as in your customers are too stupid to know how to add things to their cart or check out).  Many sellers were getting emails from prospective customers that they were having multiple issues and unable to complete their purchases.  And Artfire blew them off.

There is a group of sellers called Mavens that allegedly are used to test new features and give feedback on usability issues and such.  Most of them do a fine job and are wonderful sellers.  But a select group of the same sellers have made it their mission to squelch anyone who has a problem or issue with Artfire.  They gang up en masse to berate, mock, swear at and demean anyone who doesn't toe the party line.  And it got worse after the warnings, mutings and bannings started, yet, they were allowed to continue while their victims, one by one, got their forum privileges taken away and their shops closed down without notice.  Now that they are virtually untouchable, they have run rampant on the forums bullying and spreading their vitriol and it hit a fever pitch 2 nights ago to the point where Artfire took the whole site down.

So, the dollar and a dream has turned into a nightmare for many.  Many who held out hope for venue in which to sell their products with a friendly community environment, where it used to be fostered and bragged about as a community where the staff listened and interacted with the seller base has turned into a place where sellers have to tread carefully or risk being muted or booted.  The uncertainty has turned the forums into a place where this small group of mavens have the run of the place, untouched by the rules the rest have to abide by.

While I wouldn't advise anyone to not sell on a site just because of the forums, it's a good measure to see how the sellers are treated by the administration because it will touch on how they treat you as a seller in other areas.  The trust has been damaged, irreparably for many.  Too many of the promises made have gone unfulfilled and there is just too much double talk and double standards.  Add to that, something drastic has changed on Artfire since August, along with the aesthetic site changes, there has been a drastic decrease in traffic and sales for many, many sellers.

I've downgraded my shop and it will be closed by the end of January.  That is, if Artfire doesn't see fit to close it earlier.  Between the bugs, the forums and the lack of sales and traffic, it's just not a viable selling venue for me any longer.  And by the looks of things, it's not a viable selling site for many others either because sellers are jumping ship in droves.  Just in the last few days that I've gone back and reopened my Etsy shop, and started a Team, I've had over 60 sellers join.  A few will still be on Artfire because they've invested too much time and effort into their shop there to just up and leave, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they're all working on plan B so that they can eventually leave.

There are still some great sellers on Artfire, so I wouldn't ever tell someone not to shop there, but I'd advise you to check and see if they sell anywhere else.  And if you want to open a shop there, do so with extreme caution, because the changes that they've mentioned that are on the horizon will be geared toward the commercial discount mentality akin to Kmart's blue light specials where you'll need to offer deep discounts to bring in traffic.  And if you choose not to participate, you can bet your visibility will be diminished in one way or another.

Search out selling platforms carefully, read the fine print and if you're not sure, hang out in the forums and read and observe and watch for the signs.

Much success to all, wherever you sell!

It has been brought to my attention that I am spreading misinformation regarding my assessment of the site (Artfire) closing down the whole site due to the chaos in the forums.  Let's look at the facts, shall we?  Every notice in the announcement section of the forums has scheduled maintenance that has the same time for every session, that would be 11pm MST.  Now, I wasn't looking at my clock at the time the site went down because frankly, the site goes down for unscheduled maintenance all the time.  But there is your first clue, when they take the site down, it doesn't say "unscheduled maintenance" it is "scheduled maintenance".  From my best recollection it was at approx 7 or 8pm MST and went offline for approx 1 hour.  It came back afterward for approx 1 hour and then went off again for the scheduled maintenance that was announced.  I am merely drawing logical conclusion from the timeline of events, if anyone has proof that I am not accurate in my assessment, I'll be happy to retract my statements.


Beth Picard said...

I think you covered all the points very well and listed perfectly all the reasons I have closed my shop there and will never go back!

Diane said...

Ecellent post Windy

Babs said...

Well written article.

I am so done with ArtFire. The assurance program was just the tip of the iceberg for me. And it's sad, really, because when I started there (not so long ago) it looked like the perfect place for my business to flourish.

Tali said...

Excellent post Lori, you outlined the and explained the situation very well!

Sharyn said...

Well said! I've been at my wits end with the site for a while now with all the glitches and slow page loads, cart problems, disappearing photos, that they do not address, and now this assurance program are the last straw for me. Not to mention that they do not allow people to voice an opinion against it without the threat of muting and booting from the forums but they will allow some people who are supposed to be mavens and mentors to spew vile words at other members. Truly a sign that ArtFire is run by people with unprofessional behavior.

PickleValentine VintageBeads said...

This a very fair and balanced post, Windy. ArtFire, unfortunately, has gone downhill both in terms of quality and customer service. Ask a question, point out a problem and you may find yourself smeared all over the forums or muted and booted.

As far as the assurance plan, I have one word. Ridiculous.

Timepassages said...

The forums are a matter all their own. A free for all, so it seems for mavens, ( people chosen by Tony, that are supposed to help new sellers) That statement is another ploy to get you as a seller, to think they really want you to make sales. Mavens are simply Tonys favorites, thats right, just like Etsy, and the main goal of the mavens, well just to cause as much trouble as they possibly can. This is done, by one maven very skillfully, she simply tells other sellers to "Fuck Off", or leave, just pack your bags and get off Artfire! Then she skillyfully laughs about it. Think I am making this up? Just sign up for your free trial, and read the forums. A vast magority, are now blocked form buyers so they cannot see the rude and child like behavior, of one certain maven, who goes by catfluff. Coolstraps, is also another who will bash you, cuss you out, and treat you like a lesser form of life.

This week alone, 5 sellers have left, there is NO sales period, and they will tell you, change your pictures, improve and revise your listing until you become so frustrated you will want to pull your hair out. And none of it will do a bit of good. If you dare to disagree, with one of the "favorites", you will be chastised, and called names, accused of being a scammer, a bad seller, and just plain stupid. And if you think they will not shut down your postings on the forums, or close your shop without warning, like etsy, I am telling you, that they will, and do. I have seen may sellers muted on the forums, if you dare to stand up to a maven, shops are closed without warning, just like etsy. In some respect, this is worse than etsy, just due to the abuse that goes on in the forms. The site is a run away train, and it will crash someday, thanks to Tony and the mavens, or as artfire sellers call them, the "artfire cheerleaders". It has to be one of the worst sites I have ever sold on, and that includes ebay and etsy. Don't waste your time or money, to feed this abuse machine.....

Yasir Ab said...

I have been a seller on Artfire for over two years. In my own opinion, Artfire is really good online venue for selling handmade, vintage and supplies. I’m also using on other hand, they also getting me good sales..