This is the podcast episode I wish I had during a really tough time in my art journey. I’m peeling back the curtain on today’s episode and sharing the low moments I’ve had dealing with a bad review on Etsy and trying to appease unhappy customers. Thankfully, it is rare that I have to deal with an unhappy customer. Unfortunately, they happen from time to time, even if you’re doing your best to make everyone happy. I thought I was doing all the right things, and I still got a bad review when I was new to selling my art. It almost tanked my Etsy store and I felt like quitting art all together. Thankfully, I bounced back from it and learned a lot in the process. Today’s episode is for anyone who has ever dealt with a bad review or may deal with one in the future. If you’re putting yourself out there, these things happen from time to time. It’s how you respond to them that matter!
Whether you’re selling your art on Etsy or anywhere else online, I think this is a good episode to listen to. We talk about a few things you can do to prevent bad reviews in the first place and you can learn what to do if you ever are dealing with a bad review yourself.
Hello, and welcome back to the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I’m Lauren Kristine, your host. Man, today, we are talking about how to deal with a bad review, or an unhappy customer. If you’re new to selling your art, you might need this episode. If not today, maybe someday in the future. Essentially, I’m putting this episode out because it’s the episode that I wish I had back in December 2020. I’m getting a little vulnerable on today’s episode and talking about that month that made me want to quit our all together. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but I know that someone does. So that’s why we’re doing this today.
First, I do want to make a quick little advertisement for the episodes that I released at the beginning of June, the two episodes on how to loosen up your painting. That’s episode 27 and 28. It was a two part series on how to loosen up in your painting. And I thought those two episodes were totally awesome. Maybe it’s just a summer slowdown, but I think a few listeners out there skipped over those two episodes, just judging by the analytics that I’m seeing on my side. So if that’s you and you skipped those two episodes, I encourage you to go back and give them a listen. I talk all about how to loosen up your painting and I share 12 different techniques and ideas to try. Whether or not you’re really trying to loosen up or you just want to experiment with your style, I think those are some great things to explore. I absolutely love a lot of the tips that I give, especially the one in Episode 28. So give that a listen, if you’re at all interested, just a quick little plug.
I know it’s summer and the routine changes for a lot of folks, are you painting as much as you want to? I am not. But I’m hoping that will change once I get through a busy season with my coaching business. So if you’re in a similar state, maybe the kids are home for summer and it’s throwing things off a little bit. Or maybe it’s just the summer heat that’s changing your routine. Give yourself some space and some kindness as we transition into this new season. Sometimes creativity needs little breaks too. You can’t suffocate something and expect it to thrive. So just embrace whatever season you’re in this summer. I just wanted to throw that in there. I know I haven’t been painting as much as I wanted to in the last week or two. And I’m feeling so drawn to it. But I had to first record this podcast for all of you, my friends out there.
Alright, let’s get back on track: Dealing with a Bad Review. Now, truthfully, I’ve wanted to make this podcast episode for a long time. Just because when I think back on my art journey, this particular piece that I sold it, it just like really stung. And this Review has stuck with me as one of the lowest points on my artistic journey. And look, it’s a lot more fun on the podcast to talk about happy topics. And I don’t want to be a downer. But I think that we’re all going to deal with unhappy customers or bad reviews at some point in our arts career if we’re selling our art. So I figured I’d share what to do, how I thought about it. Especially on Etsy kind of what your options are specifically. But that applies to any sales platform as well. And then of course, how to bounce back after a bad Review because that’s the most important part is just keep on going. Just keep on going. Keep that persistence.
Alright, so here it goes with my story. So, it’s Fall of 2020 and I at the time was very focused on Etsy and building up my presence on Etsy. There was a lot to learn about getting started. I know I’ve talked about that on a few podcast episodes to date, because I learned a lot about the Etsy world. I’ve since shifted my focus a bit in terms of where I sell my art. But at that time, I was very invested in Etsy, I was learning the ropes, making listings. I don’t know, as you know, it’s just a very complicated world inside Etsy, come to find out.
So just to take you back to that point, like I was spending so much time getting every listing, right, working on the search engine optimization of each listing, getting my photography, perfect, listing items to highlight all the great parts of my art and mocking up how it could look in someone’s home and different conditions and room styles. So I made my first couple sales on Etsy, to pure strangers, and I was so excited, like, I was just screaming from the roof excited. And I still remember those first sales and how good it felt to get my art out into the world.
You know, my first sale on Etsy went perfectly, no issues at all. My second sale was even better, it was a very happy buyer and they left just the cutest little Review. I was so so happy. You know, I thought I was doing everything right and doing everything that I was supposed to do. I had done a lot of research, I took a lot of care in making my listings accurate, and making them look inviting. I carefully packed and shipped the artwork to make sure there was no damage, there were no issues in, you know, shipping, I insured a lot of those first paintings just because I really wanted to make sure they got to their destination. I was doing it all. I was also putting inside of each purchase a handwritten note, which is a great idea, by the way, you should definitely do it. But not just a thank you note. But I also was putting in that message. You know, here’s my personal contact information. If you have any issues at all, with your purchase, please reach out to me and I’d be happy to make it right. And I also put on there, you know, and if you are happy, like I’d love and appreciate a Review.
So, you know, I got to a point and I think it was my third sale ever on Etsy that really shook me up. It was a holiday themed painting around Christmas time. And I love this painting. I thought it was amazing. It was a Christmas tree and a starry night is so beautiful. Okay. Oh, so I sent it off. I got no outreach from the buyer at all. A few days passed and then out of the blue, seemingly, they left a very unhappy Review.
The short story is that they claimed my photo was inaccurate and that the background color on the painting was darker blue than they thought it would be. I mean, they put an unhappy emoji on there and everything. I was so upset. I mean, I was crushed. You know, it, wasn’t just you know that one painting. It wasn’t just that one review. It was then you zoom out and I looked at my Etsy shop, I looked at the banner of my Etsy shop and I looked at every single listing, it leads with the name of your shop and then the average of all of your reviews. And since I only had two reviews at the time, this bad Review was obviously very heavily weighted into that average. And I was not a five star shop anymore. I went down to a three star Etsy shop, which is not very good.
As a result, my listing performance tanked, and my visitor count to my Etsy shop declined very, very suddenly. And it turned out the algorithm just was not showing my items to as many buyers and as many shoppers on Etsy and I think buyer confidence dropped a lot just because I had very few reviews and one of them was long, and it was bad. I was so upset.
I still stand by the photo of my art I looked back at it today as I was prepping for this episode, and my painting was exactly how I pictured it. It was a deep blue night sky, it was a painting of nighttime, the sky was dark blue, it was how it was pictured. But this buyer didn’t see it like that. They did not like it when they received it, apparently.
And ultimately, I just came to a place of peace, recognizing that probably nothing would have made them happy. Maybe they had a bad day, maybe they just were expecting something else it wasn’t. It just didn’t live up to whatever expectation they had. But probably nothing would have made them happy is where where I ended up. But that didn’t change the impact. It was a Review, a bad Review that I now had to live with. And not just for a short time, but for a long time. Because these reviews stick with you, they stay on your page forever.
So, of course, knowing me, when I’m in a bad situation, the first thing that I do is start doing research. I did a lot of things I did a lot of reading and I looked out there for what to do when you get a bad Review. There’s not a lot of information out there. So that’s why I’m putting this podcast out. But according to Etsy, I had a few different options.
First, in my dreams, I could somehow get the Review taken down. And that’s not how it works. You can’t really have reviews taken down unless they clearly violate a community standard of Etsy. So that one was quickly thrown out of the window. Nothing on this Review was out of bounds or inappropriate or harassment. So, you know, it was there to stay, unfortunately.
I had the option of doing nothing. My return policy clearly stated no refunds. And frankly, it was a very inexpensive piece. I had just gotten started, I was selling my paintings for very, very inexpensive prices, because I just wanted to get them out in the world. So you know, there was the option of not doing anything since that was my policy.
Etsy help articles suggested either responding privately, via a private message to see if the buyer will change their mind somehow. Maybe you offer them a refund, maybe you ask them to ship your piece back. A few different options exist there, but you’re just hoping that they will change their mind and put, you know, put an update to the Review or delete the Review altogether.
Your second option there with Etsy is you can respond publicly to the Review with a statement. That way every future customer who comes to your page and looks at your reviews, when they see your one two or three star rating they can, they’ll also see your message next to it sort of explaining what happened or talking directly to that buyer or to future buyers about that situation.
It’s important to note one of the things I learned about Etsy in this process is that once you respond to a Review publicly, and you post a response, the buyer will no longer be able to edit their original Review or rating, even if you delete your response. So if you respond publicly, that’s locking it in. If you got a one star Review, even if you refund the buyer, and you go through the whole process and you do everything to make them happy. That Review is there permanently once you respond to that Review. It’s there forever, you can delete your response, but that buyers response is not going anywhere. The buyer cannot delete it in any way. Okay.
So for me, I do not recommend locking in that rating if there’s any chance you can find resolution. However, it’s also important to note you only have 100 days to respond from the date the buyer last edited their Review. So I do think I had every intention of publicly responding, but I actually missed that 100 day window. I didn’t want to lock in their low rating so I didn’t want to respond right away, even though of course, that’s was my knee jerk reaction, like, let’s get that out there, let’s get my side of the story out there, you know. So had to had to press pause on that. But you don’t want to press pause for too long.
If you do want to put a response out there, you only have 100 days. And if you do post a response publicly, you want to put a lot of thought into what that says, what your tone is, what you say, obviously, that’s very situation dependent based on what the buyer said, you have the option maybe of posting, you know how you resolved it or something like that. But it just gets tricky once you respond publicly. It’s there, it’s stuck. So any other resolution tactics you take, it doesn’t really matter, that Review is stuck there. And this sucks, like this policy is terrible. I have a feeling. I don’t know this for sure. But I have a feeling that it’s probably there because of how Etsy was built. From a technology computer science standpoint. It’s just like one of those funny loopholes about the code. And that’s just how it works. And they haven’t taken the time to change that. Or maybe they can’t change it, I don’t know.
So moving right along. On the positive side, only the reviews were received in the last 12 month period. So the most recent 12 month period are averaged for your star rating. So while it sucked to get this bad Review, I also knew that it would not be forever that it would be a part of the banner of my shop. That star rating under my name, that resets and every 12 months it’s going away. So if you get a bad Review, it’s only going to be averaged into your ranking for 12 months. So yeah, that’s not forever. But 12 months was a long time to me, because I had just started selling on Etsy in the first place. I was so upset, I can’t even tell you. I messaged other artists on Instagram, asking them for advice. Some were gracious enough to respond to me. Honestly, I think that’s what kept me going because I was so low, but getting their help thinking about this was very helpful. So with their knowledge, and you know, some of their encouragement, I did some game theory thinking some what are my next steps strategizing, what were all the possibilities.
Option one, I could do a refund. However, there’s a big catch here. Even if I were to refund this unhappy buyer and give them their money back, they still may not be happy. And they still might not go into the Etsy system to update their Review or delete their Review. I decided that that outcome would be the worst and suck the most. Because I’d lose my painting, I’d lose my money from the sale, I’d have a penalty for refunding them. And then I’d still have the scar of a bad Review. After all of that is said and done, and I bend over backwards. That’s the worst outcome for me is what I decided.
Obviously there’s a there’s a possibility that out of the goodness of their heart, they go back in and delete the Review. But frankly, I didn’t want to bet on that. It’s it takes a special kind of person to want to make things right with you after they’re mad. Once someone gets mad, it’s hard sometimes to come back from that in my experience.
Okay, so option two: I could offer to do a return if they paid for return shipping, which kind of leaves me in a moderately bad spot. I still probably have a bad Review, unless they feel so kind as to change it after making it right with them. But in that scenario, I do at least get my painting back, which I could enjoy myself or I could resell to someone else.
So option three: I could also just do nothing, and just suck up the bad Review and just take it and move on with my life, onwards and upwards. So do remember, as I was thinking about when I was weighing my options, I sent them a card offering to make things, right if there were any issues at all with their purchase, and this buyer did not reach out to my email, they did not reach out to my email, they did not send me a text message, I left them my phone number, they did not call me. I gave them all the ways to contact me. I mean, they also could have sent me a message on Etsy. They did not do any of those things, they decided they were going to go out and air the dirty laundry publicly in a very long winded and mean way. So I decided it was unlikely that with this person, I would even be able to find resolution.
If they wanted to resolve it, I think they probably would have emailed me or messaged me on Etsy privately, or asked to return it or asked how I could make it right in their Review. And they didn’t do any of those things. So, you know, I felt like I did my part, I clearly stated to them: if there were any issues to write me, and I’ll take care of it. And they didn’t take that option.
So, you know, sometimes I just think people forget that there’s a person on the other end of the screens and devices. You know, I was a new Etsy seller, I was just trying to get my art into the world. It was a beautiful piece, and I spent a lot of time on it. If this was a one off piece, I think, you know, maybe I could see where this buyer was coming from. But I made this piece in multiples I made maybe, you know, I think like seven or eight of them, and I sold them. And the series was super popular over the holidays, I got a ton of happy, happy customers, and happy reviews for the same style piece that I made on the same exact day with the same exact paints and the same exact colors. So all of those people were happy with the background color, except for this one Grinch. I’m just a person. I’m not a mega corporation. So it sucked. And I felt it personally.
My Etsy shop was scarred publicly for all to see. So, you know, I decided I was going to suck it up. And this person was unlikely to reach resolution with me. And I just wanted to move onwards, move upwards, and not get dragged down into all this negativity and get pulled into a showdown over whether the Blue was too dark in the background, or whether my photo was accurate. Or maybe it was their computer that just showed the colors a little differently. Ever since then I have added a little sentence at the bottom of my listings saying, all computer screens and devices are different, and they show colors a little differently. So I just I put that little disclaimer on all of my pieces. Now. I’m just probably overreacting from this one Review. But, you know, I just decided I was gonna move on, move up. And it was just something that I had to overcome.
You’re gonna get unhappy customers every now and then. That is just math. I’m just an artist doing my best. You’re just an artist doing my doing your best. This isn’t going to happen a lot if you do your job well, but I do think it’s inevitable. You can’t please everyone, even if you’re doing everything right. As I thought I was doing everything, right. And I really tried. But this whole experience was just something I had to overcome and bounce back from.
Look, if this buyer had reached out to me privately to take care of this, I would have bent over backwards for them. And if they had asked in their Review, you know, is there a way we could make this right? I absolutely would bend over backwards trying to make things right. I would have taken the loss or have them ship it back to me in a heartbeat. But the thought of doing all of that and then still leaving me with an negative unhappy Review? Like that would be the worst of all. So well ultimately I just decided I was going to optimize for kind of the best of all bad scenarios.
So, you’re gonna have some happy people and then you’re gonna have some Grinches. That’s just how it goes. But how did I overcome this? Okay? What I did after the Review, and the tanking of my Etsy store rating was to slowly work on rebuilding. And it took a little while. But what I started to do was I learned about placing Etsy ads. And I knew if the algorithm was not going to prioritize my art, I had to get it out in front of eyeballs. So I started placing Etsy ads, and you can do Etsy ads on within Etsy, it’s very easy to set up very easy to get started. And I did a very low dollar amount per day, it was, I don’t know, $1 – $2 a day. A very, very small amount. But they actually ended up helping quite a bit in terms of getting more activity on my page, getting more likes, and getting some sales. So I did that.
I also kept working on the search engine optimization of my items, which is super important. I have a whole episode about Etsy SEO, if you go back to previous episodes. I also branched out to other sales platforms, I started using social media to sell. And I also did more in person selling and selling with my friends and family. So really, this whole thing forced me to branch out and try new things and push myself and use other platforms, which now I’m very happy that I did that.
I would not want to relive this experience. But sure, I guess I came out stronger because of it. But I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s it wasn’t a hard experience, because it was really hard when I was really new to selling. So if you are ever in this position, I know how it feels, and it sucks. It really, really does. So if you’ve ever been there, I hear you, I absolutely hear you and I feel for you. And just remember what’s important is how you bounce back.
So let me tell you about another experience I’ve had a few months later, I did a commission for someone on Etsy again. At the end of the commission process when I was wrapping up, they started complaining about the later progress photos I had provided. At some point in the process, it took a turn. In the beginning stages, they were happy with the progress photos I sent. And towards the end, they were starting to get hesitant and saying the pieces weren’t exactly what they were envisioning.
Look, even though it was a commission for two 16 by 20s, which at the time was a big commission. For me, it was really exciting. I just let it go. I was definitely influenced by my previous bad Review experience and that whole ordeal. In in those months that had passed in between that bad Review and this commission, I had successfully rebuilt my Etsy presence. I had gotten a lot of other positive reviews to counter the bad one. And let me tell you, I was not about to let another bad Review sneak in there. If this buyer was not happy with the progress photos, I didn’t want to risk it. I tried to get it to match their vision. But again, they were hesitant and started having cold feet a little bit that I could sense and I did not want to risk it. It just wasn’t worth it to me because I’d worked so hard to slowly rebuild and slowly get sales and then beg all my customers to leave positive reviews to again counteract that bad one and give it less of a weighting in my overall average. So some people just can’t be satisfied.
I walked away. I said “thank you very much. I’m very happy for the opportunity, but I want you to be happy and I want you to go find an artist who can match your vision exactly. So I will be refunding your money and not completing this order. Thank you very much.” And I am still so glad I walked away from that order. That resolution was better than sending that those two pieces and maybe having an unhappy customer on my hands. And that would have been a bigger piece, I mean, two big pieces – like that’s a lot in shipping costs. That was, it just would have been exponentially even more difficult, I think than my original painting that I got the bad Review on it was either an eight by 10 or an 11 by 14 at the max. You know, 16 by 20s cost way more to ship. And that’s just way harder. So, you know, I’m actually looking out in the corner of my eye, because here in the room that I use as my studio, where I live, I actually still have these two 16 by 20s up on my wall. So they are here. Ah, you know, they, they sometimes remind me of this bad Review or deal. But, you know, I think they’re beautiful pieces and one day they will find the right home. But that was a way better way to deal with it, I think then the potential outcome of having an unhappy customer.
So that leads me to four pieces of advice I have for you. And one is if you have a hesitant buyer, or you are doing a commission, and they are waffling or not sold on it, they don’t love it, just walk away! It is not worth taking their money and giving yourself a headache. My philosophy is that your art deserves to be somewhere with an owner that will love it. You know, you don’t want someone who’s unsure about it, or unhappy, and leaves you a nastygram surprise. If there’s any way to keep a bad Review from being posted, do it. Even if it’s avoiding the sale in the first place and just not taking their money. Some money is just not worth it.
Number two, send a note in every package with your contact information, telling the buyer if they have any questions or issues with their order to reach out to you personally. I think that is still the best way to potentially head off a conflict or a problem like the one that I faced with my holiday painting. Yeah, they didn’t take me up on my offer. But I still made that offer. And I think that’s important. And there probably will be someone in the future who does take me up on that offer. And we can sidestep this whole bad Review thing in the first place. So I do believe in sending that note. Keep doing that. Keep doing that.
All right, advice number three: Be reasonable. Try to make it right. If you think it will make things better. You have to decide if you’re dealing with someone who can be placated who is going to meet you halfway. Is this a reasonable person who wants to find a resolution with you work toward it, and maybe update the Review to reflect the change? If that’s the case, then be reasonable.
And last, but certainly not least, bad reviews are not forever. You will probably get one at some point for something that’s out of your control. I have a friend who once got a one star Review on Etsy because US Postal Service was slow to deliver their art. The buyer was the one who selected the slowest and cheapest shipping option. So why is that the artist’s fault? Why did the artists get a one star rating? That has got to be the most frustrating of all reviews, but you know what? They’re going to happen? You have to keep going. You have to forget the haters, forget the bad energy.
So much of this art game is all about persistence and perseverance. There are hard days, but the messages from happy collectors make it all worthwhile. And the fact that your art is out there, brightening someone’s day makes the headache worthwhile. So bounce back! Remember why you love making art in the first place. If you get plagued by a bad Review or multiple bad reviews, just take a second, take a breath. Go look for reminders that people love your art. I know they’re out there, maybe take a scroll back through your social media, look at emails from past buyers, past reviews, comments from friends, or comments from your family. There are people out there that do appreciate what you do, appreciate what you make, and love how much you pour your heart into it. And part of getting an art business started getting an art side hustle started is finding those people, the ones who get it.
Keep hustling! Every Review, you do get lessens the impact of a bad Review. And later on, you know, I really did every Etsy sale that I made from that point, I gave impassioned pleas to my buyers asking them to please give me Review, and telling them how much it would help me and why it would help me. And thankfully, some listened. And I got my store back up to five stars. Obviously now it’s been more than a year since that bad reviews listed and it’s in the rearview mirror. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck when it happens. And I’m sure it’s gonna happen to me again.
So, I’ll end on this note of also telling you that, by the way, only a very small portion of people ever leave reviews in the first place. As someone who wants to support small business, I learned how important reviews are firsthand through my art selling journey. I don’t, I don’t think I fully internalize the power of a Review until I was on the receiving end. So reviews are a really easy way to support an artist or support any small business after a purchase. So I just wanted to make that little, little note to say how important reviews are.
And I’ve had customers on Etsy and other platforms send me private messages saying how happy they are and how much they love their art. When I asked them to leave a Review on Etsy publicly, I get crickets, and they don’t post it. That’s tough. That’s tough. So just a reminder out there, how much reviews really help with the algorithms. And even if you’re just eating at a restaurant, leave a Yelp Review. The restaurant owner, I’m sure appreciates it just as much as an artist does. So I encourage all of you to do the same.
And by the way, isn’t that a perfect lead in for me to please ask you to leave me a five star Review on this podcast. You can now leave me a Review on Spotify, it’s very easy, you just click five stars. That’s all you have to do. It takes literally one second. And you can still Review me on Apple Podcasts. And leave me a little note on that Review. There’s a special button, you click where you write a Review. And you can add a note with it. Not just the five stars, but I’ll take your five stars as well. That would be much appreciated. Reviews really do make all the difference.
Alright, this episode ended up way longer than I thought it would be. I just have so many thoughts on the topic. And I think it’s because that experience left quite a scar. And it’s something that I remember really vividly. And I think we’re all going to go through it at some point. So this is just a little time capsule I’m putting out there for you. If you ever deal with this, come back to this episode. Recognize that you are not alone. It’s very normal. And some people just will never be happy. And that’s just the way it is. And you just got to keep going. That is the secret to life. Just keep going.
All right, thank you so much, my friends. Until next time, Happy Creating! You can find me on Instagram at LaurenKristineArt or send me a message at LaurenKristine firstname.lastname@example.org If you want to get in touch. Until next time!
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