A viral marketing tool and a potential money-spinner. Suzanne Power looks at options and believes Spreadshirt can take over Cafepress mantle ===============
If you take away poker, dating, and naked ladies, custom merchandising is big success story of Internet. The ultimate combination of e-commerce and affiliate marketing, millions of websites around world turn to online merchandising companies - both to market their URL and to extract some cash from loyal visitors.
The key to success of industry is on-demand printing, meaning website owners don't usually incur setup costs and do not have to carry inventory.
The business model usually works like this. The webmaster signs up for free – or for a small monthly fee – at merchandising company site. Having uploaded his/her own designs – often logos, catchphrases or drawings, webmaster can then place these designs on range of products offered by merchandiser. Usually, merchandise company places a base price on each product, to which webmaster adds his/her own commission or markup. In some cases, webmaster can then create a shop which can be integrated into their own site.
The merchandising company normally handles credit-card processing, printing, shipping, and customer service while webmaster incurs slightly less arduous task of collecting and banking commissions.
Beginning to see why its so popular? Let's have a look at some of industry's big players:
The daddy of bunch. Founded in 1999 in California, Cafepress was one of first companies to exploit massive custom merchandise market. It now sells products on behalf of over 2 million website owners, mainly in USA.
For all its longevity and wide reach, Cafepress has yet to solve many of original problems that still bother its users. Despite clamour from customers, company has yet to find a way to offer black, or even dark, garments – still relying on old white and grey staples and a rather odd collection of pastels. Nor has company embraced internationalisation, and website owners outside of USA still baulk at hefty shipping charges and US Dollar pricing.
The free Cafepress service offers limited functionality to users, with only one version of each product allowed. For a monthly fee, Cafepress allows unlimited selling. However, excessive branding makes it rather difficult to integrate Cafeshop into look and feel of an existing site.