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Cloth masks may be out, but Etsy’s stock is still a buy

February 25, 2022, 4:30 PM UTC

The cloth masks that most everybody donned in the first phases of COVID-19’s spread helped make Etsy a household name. The marketplace’s meteoric growth over the past two years has experienced a dip in the past few months in terms of stock value, but industry-watchers say its parent company, Etsy Inc. (Nasdaq: ETSY), is still a buy.

End-of-year and Q4 2021 results, released on Thursday, portray a second year of substantial growth. 2021 included the acquisition of two other marketplaces and the development of technology geared toward both sellers and buyers, including search engine and app improvements. The company’s guidance implies that growth will remain durable in 2022, Etsy CFO Rachel Glaser said on an earnings call. The company sees current reopening headwinds as being short-term, CEO Josh Silverman noted on the same call. 

“This is a company that gained a lot of buyers during the pandemic,” says Needham & Co. managing director of equity research Anna Andreeva. A portion of that growth can be attributed to face coverings, which many textile-goods sellers on the platform pivoted to making. Etsy reports selling millions of masks through the marketplace. Those colorful pandemic-era items represent something about the narratives that make this company a standout in the crowded online retail space, she adds. 

The impact of mask sales slowed in 2021 to about 1% of global merchandise sales, Glaser noted on the call. But the ability of Etsy’s small sellers to pivot from making dog bibs or aprons to face masks “speaks to the flexibility of the platform,” Andreeva says. The fact that consumers came flocking to the platform for masks that stood out also shows “the consumer’s desire to be differentiated from everybody else,” she adds. “The whole thing about this platform is personalization is a really big part of the story.” 

“Apparel is one of our fastest-growing categories,” Glaser noted on the call. One leading item in Q4 2021, she said: matching pajamas for the whole family.

Etsy’s valuation went up dramatically over the course of 2020 and 2021, before dropping in the past few months. Despite this, equity researchers say the stock is still a buy with a strong probability of growing significantly. They think the company’s core narratives of personalization and uniqueness, embodied in handmade goods and curated vintage pieces, give it an enduring value proposition. 

Etsy is “a big marketplace, though not the biggest,” says Sucharita Kodali, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. A $21 billion market cap as of January 2022 puts Etsy Inc., the owner, in the top 20 U.S. retailers, according to data from Forrester. 

Marketplace-specific information published by the analytics firm, based on data from August 2021, put Etsy in the top three U.S. marketplaces, behind Amazon Marketplace and eBay and directly ahead of Walmart Marketplace and Facebook Marketplace. 

But Etsy believes its value proposition differs from those other marketplaces because of its product focus. “We aren’t trying to sell you the exact same commoditized product, just two cents cheaper or two minutes faster,” said Silverman on the call.  

The challenge for the company over the next few years will be to convert a portion of those new buyers into habitual buyers, a metric the site prizes. It regularly publishes information on its shoppers in the “seller handbook,” the part of the website aimed at marketplace sellers. The story for Etsy, Andreeva says, is less about attracting new buyers and “more about driving that frequency and loyalty.” 

Presently, only about 8 million of the nearly 90 million buyers make purchases from the website at least four times a year. In its end-of-year filing, the company reported that the habitual buyer category grew by 26% year over year, while on a two-year basis the category went up by 224%. Additionally, more than 6.8 million buyers who hadn’t made an Etsy purchase in a year or more returned to the site over Q4, perhaps driven by holiday shopping.

“We continue to see buyer reactivation as a key to our long-term growth,” Glaser said.

On the other side of the equation, Etsy faces a potential seller retention issue. The marketplace announced on the same day it released Q4 results that it would be increasing seller fees by a whopping 30% from 5% to 6.5% of transactions. Most of this incremental revenue will be invested into marketing, seller tools, and “creating world-class customer experiences,” according to the CEO.

“We believe this represents a fair exchange of value between Etsy and our seller community,” Silverman said on the call.

The increase will go toward marketing and support, the CEO added in a press release. When Etsy last raised seller fees in 2018, the increase was part of a series of changes that led to small sellers leaving the platform.

A further challenge Andreeva identifies will be creating synergies with the brand’s 2021 acquisition of clothing resale marketplace Depop. Etsy bought the British company for $1.62 billion last June, paying mostly in cash. This marketplace has much higher penetration with Gen Z consumers, whereas Etsy’s average user is in their late thirties. 

In the same month, it bought competitor Elo7, known colloquially as the “Etsy of Brazil.” It also owns Reverb, a secondhand musical instrument marketplace acquired in 2019. At present, all three properties operate for the most part independently and represent less than 15% of total Etsy Inc. gross merchandise sales. “As we look ahead, our North Star is to accelerate value creation for each subsidiary,” Silverman said, acknowledging that Depop and Reverb are also experiencing reopening headwinds similar to Etsy. 

“We’re very bullish on resale,” says Andreeva. By 2023, the global resale and secondhand market is anticipated to reach $53 billion, with Etsy Inc. holding several leading companies in this area. 

The online marketplace, like others, has struggled with seller policy enforcement. A Business Insider investigation from last year identified a myriad of suspicious items, from ivory to poisonous plants, being sold on the website, and a search of the website done during reporting for this story reveals a number of products that contravene the marketplace’s stated policies.  

“The way these marketplaces seem to operate is that they let things go until somebody catches them,” says Kodali. “If that happens, then they take it down. There’s no upside for them leaving it up if there’s a risk of a lawsuit.” 

Hiring further staff for this task and using A.I. to track products and highlight problems will continue to be a priority for Etsy in 2022, Silverman said on the call, since a focus for the company now is making the shopping experience “worry-free” to drive further repeat customers.

Although Etsy’s stock is currently down, it was a Needham top pick for 2022, and Andreeva’s position on the company hasn’t changed. “I’m really positive on the platform,” she says. “I think the consumer has been very much embracing this more differentiated from department stores and supporting the local…community way to shop.” 

After prerecorded remarks, Silverman appeared briefly on the call to address the unfolding war in Ukraine. “We’re reporting our results as usual, but today is certainly anything but a normal day,” he said.

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