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

By Arianne Cohen

April 23, 2021

Etsy more than doubled its revenue last year, in what its CEO called “a transformative year.” What, you ask, did everyone buy on Etsy?

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.

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.