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You’ll never guess what everyone bought on Etsy during the pandemic

Masks were a gateway drug for the e-commerce platform in 2020. Many buyers came back for non-mask purchases later.

You’ll never guess what everyone bought on Etsy during the pandemic
[Photo: Jacek Pobłocki/Unsplash]
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Etsy more than doubled its revenue last year, in what its CEO called “a transformative year.” What, you ask, did everyone buy on Etsy?

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Masks. They bought masks. This week Etsy CEO Josh Silverman let a few sales numbers slip on a podcast, including that customers bought $743 million worth of masks in 9 months. “Masks were not a thing before April 2, 2020. If someone was searching for a mask, they were looking for a Halloween mask or face cream.” Now they’re looking for a fabric tone that flatters their eyes, or a “breathable” (i.e., completely non-protective) mask.

These numbers are astounding given that most masks cost around $5 each, meaning that Etsy sold enough masks to outfit a substantial portion of the U.S. population. So many masks that its 2020 earnings report refers to “non-mask product categories” and “mask adjacent items.” (Memo to Etsy: Are you referring to bread yeast? Xanax?) The same report giddily notes in a big font that “50% of the 3M mask-only buyers in Q3 returned in Q4 for a non-mask purchase.” So masks were a gateway drug to all the other things people bought:

  • $3.2 billion in housewares and home furnishings (up 118% from 2019)
  • $1.6 billion in jewelry and accessories (up 57% from 2019)
  • $1.2 billion in craft supplies (up 102%)
  • $1 billion in apparel (up 60%)

So people bought items to prettify their homes and bodies—which no one else saw for a year. The above figures, by the way, exclude masks, presumably because a forward-thinking finance person realized that including mask numbers would make 2021 year-over-year sales figures look like a death spiral.

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Mask sales are floating down to sane levels: 14% of sales in the second quarter, 11% in the third quarter, and 4% in the fourth quarter. Silverman is delicately suggesting that Etsy’s soaring revenues might stop soaring: “Etsy’s growth in 2021 is likely to decelerate off last year’s high levels.” Well, yes. You can only sell nearly $1 billion in masks once. Now it’s back to face creams and Halloween.