Prepping for Q4

Holy crap I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I blogged on this site. So much has happened since then, I’m not sure where to start. I still have a Shopify store that’s growing. I also have my existing Etsy stores that have been around many years.  There’s so much that goes into running a store, as a small biz owner you end up wearing many hats. Design, product photography, marketing, order fulfillment and customer service. It’s sounds simple but there’s so much involved with each area.

Even though it gets very crazy I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. I wouldn’t go back to POD like Red Bubble, Society 6 and Zazzle.  I LOVE having my own independent store.

We’re about to head into September, which the retail world refers to as Q4. It’s where a big chunk of sales happen, and if you prepare now you can reap the benefits. Time look back at last year’s Q4 and review what went well. And what didn’t.

If this is your first Q4, my advice is to build up your email list. Why? Advertising costs are much higher than other times of the year. If you run Facebook ads, you’ll be competing against other businesses for slots. That drives the price up. Compare that with an email list.  In terms of dollars, it costs almost nothing to send an email to your subscribers.

The next consideration: Black Friday sale? Cyber Monday sale? Or none of the above? If your margins are fairly thin you may not be able to afford a sale. But that also means you may be underpricing your products.  If you can build more of a cushion between base cost and sales price, you will have room to have a periodic sale. Especially during a time of year where people are looking for holiday deals. And if you don’t use that extra cushion for sale discounts, that money could go towards advertising.

Of all the advertising mediums I’ve used, Facebook by far is the most effective. If you’ve never run an ad check out Facebook Blueprint.  There are dozens of courses to walk you through each step of the way.  And no I don’t recommend blowing a thousand bucks for a course. Just start with Facebook Blueprint.  Most everything you need to learn can be done for free.

Aside from Facebook, what are some other ways to advertise?

  1. Locally. Arts and craft fairs, various festivals and concerts. There are many events which accept vendors.
  2. Other social media such as Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat. The key to being successful on these platforms is knowing who your customers are. What age bracket are they in? Younger people hang out on Instagram and Snapchat. The older folks are on Facebook. Do some research if you don’t know who your customers are.
  3. Google Shopping. I’ve never used it though I plan to learn this holiday season. So unfortunately I can’t recommend much in this area. But it is a way to reach customers.
  4. Fulfillment by Amazon. It may be too late to sign up for Amazon, they close the gates before the Q4 rush begins. But it may be worth your while to ship products to Amazon’s warehouse and sell in their marketplace.

So I just threw a few ideas out there for reaching customers. You may have others that aren’t mentioned, you’re always welcome to share them in the comments. I do read them all (after I have sifted through all the spam lol).

If this is your first Q4 don’t get your expectations too high. Think of it as your trial run, you get to learn from it. You might be wildly successful. Or you might find it frustrating. We’ve all been there, believe me. Just do the best you can, give it your all. And do be too hard on yourself if you don’t live up to expectations. We all learn and grow, especially in the eCommerce space.

I think that’s it for now, I already threw a lot of information out there. Maybe TMI.

What are your plans for Q4? Chime in below and share your thoughts!

 

 

 

Don’t Let Summer Slow Your Sales Down

Summer can be a slow time for retail. People spend less time on their phones and computers and more time outdoors and away for vacation. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until September before the sales pick up again.  Here are some ideas to keep your sales going.

Blog articles. Think about what your customers are doing for the summer. They may be taking vacations to the beach or Disney. They may have backyard or pool parties.  And definitely lots of barbecues. It’s a good opportunity to write blog articles in relation to these activities. Like if you sell kids items for instance. You could write an article about slumber party ideas, then mention some of your products. Cozy pillows and blankets would be great for these sleepovers.

Fourth of July. Now is the time to promote any Independence or Patriotic theme products you have. Keep in mind that it’s just as easy to buy a 4th of July t-shirt at the grocery store, so your designs will have to be unique and cannot be found anywhere else.

Christmas in July.  The first I heard about it was when I was in the hospital to delivery my baby (on July 25th of course). The ward was decorated for the holidays and there was a party taking place.

I believe the concept of Christmas in July originated in Australia, where it can be hot and humid in December and quite the opposite in the summer. It has since grown to become a big retail promotion. And it’s a good opportunity to drum up the excitement of the holidays and promote your products. People love Christmas, and believe it or not some shop for it year-round! You don’t necessarily have to have holiday theme products. But customers will expect sales like they see in November and December. You don’t have to follow suit, sometimes it can be a race to the bottom. Maybe you can have a sale on one particular item. Or maybe you can create a design that incorporates the holidays and summer. Something fun and a conversation piece.

Back to School. When August rolls around people start thinking ahead to the next school year. Good items to promote including clothing, backpacks and notebooks.

Start building up to the holidays. Summer is a great time to build your email lists, to work on branding and creating awareness for your business. It’s also a great time to engage your customers and get to know them. Find out what they like, what they get excited about. It’ll help you come up with some good products when the holidays roll around.

It’s also a good time to plan and get organized. It’s never too early to develop a timeline of order deadlines and turnaround times. Think about what promotions you want to run. The holidays get really crazy, the more you prep now hopefully the more smoothly things will go.

It’s also a good time to reflect on last year’s holiday season – what went well and what didn’t.  What products sold and what didn’t.  What were some big customers service issues?  And once you think through all these, what changes will you make this year?

Personally for me, I was disappointed in some of the fulfillment companies. I had lengthy delays in processing times, some customers didn’t receive their order in a timely manner. Then some customers received products damaged in shipment. Or the fulfillment company did a rush job and produced a poor quality product. It was frustrating. And I understand these things happen during the holidays.  But these problems led me to search for companies that I could trust with product quality and customer service.

I know this is short list, Have any other ideas?  Chime in the comments below and feel free to share your thoughts.

POD or Etsy or Shopify? Which is better?

Graphic designer at work. Color swatch samples.

If you’ve been selling through Print on Demand Sites such as Zazzle or Cafepress, you know that making sales on those sites is no easy task. And if you have been in the POD world long enough, you’ve probably seen conversations surrounding Etsy and Shopify. How are they different from a POD? And are they worth looking into?

 

Let’s start with Etsy. It’s a place for independent creatives to sell their work. And it has an active marketplace with over 28 million buyers.

You can open a store and list your products for sale. There is a nominal charge for listing and for selling an item.

Advantages of Etsy:

  • Access to an established marketplace. There is no need to build a customer base and drive traffic, Etsy gets a steady stream of customers.
  • Control over product images. Since you will be posting your own images, you have control over how big they are and what photos to use.
  • Analytics. Etsy reports show you how a customer found your listing. It shows what search terms were used, if they came from another site such as Pinterest. There’s a lot of good information that you can use for your store.
  • Your products show up on Google. When you create a listing, it also shows up on Google shopping. No further effort on your part.
  • Pinterest loves Etsy. Look up any products on Pinterest, I guarantee you’ll see Etsy listings at the top.
  • Etsy doesn’t fool around with image theft. If you are caught they will shut you down. Instantly.

Disadvantages of Etsy:

  • Ever-changing rules. At first Etsy was strictly for handmade items. Then they started allowing outside manufacturers, provided that you still had a creative hand in the process. This opened the gates for a multitude of sellers to come in. Which also created more competition.
  • Inconsistent sales. If you visit the Etsy forums, you’ll see sellers complain about their sales drying up. This seems to happen when Etsy implements a major change. It’s like these changes have an effect on its search algorithm and how listings appear in their marketplace. So you’ll see many thread discussions about the sudden decline in sales with no recovery in sight.

So those are some of the pros and cons of selling on Etsy. There is one thing I didn’t mention and that is order fulfillment and customer service. When you sell on Etsy those additional responsibilities are added to your plate. Some may see that as a Pro and enjoy interacting with customers and ensuring the product quality is high. Others who enjoy the anonymity of a POD may see it as a negative and don’t want to have any interaction with a customer.

So that’s Etsy in a nutshell. What about Shopify?

Shopify is a platform which allows you to open your own independent store. There are similar platforms such as Woocommerce, Square Space and Big Commerce.

Why use Shopify?

Shopify makes it very easy to start your own store. You can literally get it done in a day. It’s very well organized for workflow.

Pros:

  • Customer Support. They are available round the clock for any questions or issues that come up. Their support is top notch.
  • Readymade templates. They have a wide variety of store templates to give your store a professional look.
  • Seamless integration with apps. You can instantly connect your store to an order fulfillment company with an app. For example, Gooten provides order fulfillment for products such as t-shirts, mugs, pillows and blankets. Once you connect your Shopify store with the Gooten app, you can upload your designs onto products and post them for sale in your store.

The seamless integration with order fulfillment companies is a BIG plus. It enables you to have your own personal POD.

The other advantage of Shopify?

Profit. The common retail price for t-shirts is $21.99. With your Shopify store, your cost will be between $8-12 depending on what brand you use. So for every shirt you can make between $10-14 for each sale. Let me repeat that. You will make between $10-14. On each shirt.

Now I know as a seller on a POD you will not make that kind of money. Maybe a few bucks if the customer didn’t get it on sale. But there is no way you’ll make ten bucks!

It’s eye opening to see what the base prices are for various products. And even more eye opening to realize how much you can make when you SELL ON YOUR OWN.

Need more convincing?

Okay. Let’s take leggings. Zazzle uses Art of Where (AOW) for order fulfillment. If you use the lowest royalty of 5% the retail price approximately $60. Your cut will be $3.

Guess what? AOW also connects to Shopify. When a customer places an order through your Shopify store it’ll be sent to AOW for fulfillment. Your product cost? $35. So if you use the same retail price as Zazzle, we’re talking a profit of $15.

Now I know I haven’t factored in shipping and other costs such as credit card processing. But even then then you’ll still make a lot more when you SELL ON YOUR OWN.

You may be thinking, I don’t want the hassle of running a store. I just want to upload my art and designs and let someone else handle the rest. It’s just too complicated to figure out all the details that go into running a store.

I totally get that. It’s what drew me to Zazzle in the first place. And I don’t want to dissuade you from using a POD. But I urgently advise you not to keep all your eggs in one basket. You’ll hear this over and over again in my blog posts.

I’ve been with Zazzle for eleven years now. In that span of time I have seen many changes. Remember the volume bonus plan? What about the Market Optimization? ZRank? Reducing the number of tags from forty to ten?

My point with all this is that you have LITTLE CONTROL when you sell on a POD. You are subject to their rules and any changes to it. You are just a guest in their home. You have little control about when and if your products show up in the marketplace. You have little control if someone decides to scrape your images and sell them on Amazon. You have little control over the return policy. Heck, you have little control when the website isn’t working!

So my advice is to stay with the POD sites. But do me a favor and give Etsy or Shopify a try. I guarantee it will help you look at POD in a different way.

You might be also thinking, Shopify costs $29 a month and that’s just too expensive. Having a POD store on Zazzle or Red Bubble is free.

Well, not really. You make less on royalties. Much less. Believe me, Red Bubble is charging you for having a store on their website. It may not be in the form of a monthly fee. It’s factored into the royalty amount they pay you.

I could go on and on about why you should start your own independent store. And why you need to stop sitting on the sidelines. But I’ll stop here. I know I covered a lot of information in this post. Congratulations if you made it this far. What are your thoughts? Any questions? Let me know in the comments below.

If you’d like to give Shopify a try message me. I can help you get set up with a free trial period and answer any questions.

Leggings

If you have an online store, you might be interested in adding All-Over-Print Leggings to your product offerings. They seem to be very popular and eye catching with colorful patterns. But are they worth putting into your store? Do they sell?

I presented these questions to some Facebook ecommerce groups. No one seemed to know the answer so I took the next step – adding them to my store. Here are the results of my findings, hopefully it’ll help you determine if leggings would work for your store.

I placed test orders with three drop ship companies: Art of Where, The Printful and Galloree. In general, their leggings are made from a combination of polyester and spandex.  Each company’s formulation is shown below:

The formulations affect the elasticity or feel of the fabric. When I say elasticity, I’m talking about how stretchy it is. Or how forgiving it will be if you’re trying to squeeze yourself into a pair. You’ll want to take these into consideration when deciding on which fulfillment company to go with.

Here’s a quick run-down on each company:

 

Art of Where

Based in Montreal Canada, Art of Where (AOW) mills its own fabric. It took nearly a year to come up with the combination of polyester and fabric that they use for their leggings. The result is a premium fabric that produces beautiful leggings.

Pros:

  • Their fabric is very high quality, it feels soft and stretchy. It also has a nice thickness.
  • They offer branding options including custom labels, artist cards and stickers. You can create custom information branded with your store name, and Art of Where adds them to your dropship and wholesale orders.
  • Their mockups have several options for backgrounds.
  • Integration with Shopify and Big Cartel

Cons

  • Price.  Their dropship price is $35.
  • No discounts on shipping. They charge $5.50 for each pair of leggings no matter how many are ordered.
  • Extra credit card charges. When I received my credit card statement, I was shocked to see a foreign transaction fee charged for each order! Granted it was only 3%, but it doubled my credit card processing costs.
  • Painfully slow turnaround. Art of Where openly discloses a 5-10 business day processing. But in the day and age of Prime Two-Day shipping, it feels incredibly slow.

 

The Printful (affiliate)

Based in California, The Printful also offers all-over-print leggings. There isn’t any information about where their material is sourced.

Pros:

  • Their base price is lower than Art of Where ($29.99)
  • Faster turnaround with 2-7 Business Days for processing
  • They offer a discount on shipping when more than one set of leggings is ordered.
  • Integration with a wide variety of platforms including Shopify, WooCommerce and Big Commerce

Cons:

  • Product quality. If you didn’t order from Art of Where you wouldn’t know any better. But when I compare Printful’s leggings to Art of Where, hands down AOW feels more silky and is pleasant to touch. Of course Printful’s leggings have a lower base price, so it’s a trade-off you’ll need to consider.
  • If you want your own branding such as stickers, business cards, and flyers to be included with your products, The Printful refers to these as pack-ins. You have to mail your own over to them . They ask that you to send enough for one month’s worth of orders. I list it as a con because it’s just more work on your part. Is it really hard to print out paper or stickers and add it to the order?

 

Based in North Carolina, Galloree offers an all-over-print legging with a base price of $32. So its pricing is positioned between The Printful and Art of Where. There is no information on where their material is sourced.

Pros:

  • Quality. They use less spandex than The Printful, which gives it more of the silky feel that Art of Where leggings have.
  • Shipping. They charge a flat rate of $5.

Cons:

  • No integration with other platforms. Though they did announce they will have one with Shopify in February 2017.
  • They say to expect up to two weeks for delivery. While turnaround can be slow, my test order arrived in a little over a week.
  • The leggings seem to run a bit smaller than Art of Where.

Final Conclusion: After all the test orders and analysis, what was my final decision? Art of Where. Even though they are the most expensive and have slow turnaround times, I’m a stickler for quality. My business reputation rides on it. Once Galloree launches their Shopify app I will give them a try again. But for now I want to go with what I feel is best for my customers. I am charging a premium for these leggings. And if I compare them to a popular brand like Lularoe that goes for $25 a pair, I have to make sure my leggings are top-notch.

The next question: Do they sell? Because of the retail price they aren’t my best selling item.  Art of Where has a suggested retail price of $55. Mine are not that high. If I could find a way to bring the costs down then they would be regular sellers.  As it stands people are accustomed to seeing leggings at a much lower retail price.

Last question: Are they worth putting in your store?  I personally think so. There are a zillion Shopify or Big Commerce stores and it helps to stand out from the pack. Your designs or art might also look fabulous on leggings, it might be a must-have design that people are willing to pay money for. So I definitely recommend trying some designs out and testing them with Facebook ads to get feedback.

What do you think of what I’ve said above? Comment below and share your thoughts!

 

 

 

Writing Product Descriptions that Sell

My mother-in-law wanted to sell an old sapphire ring. She wasn’t sure of its value, so we looked through Etsy for similar rings. One listing in particular caught my eye.  After reading its product description I wanted to buy it. The ring was described in a way that stirred up something inside me. I WANTED THAT RING. I had to have it. And I wasn’t even shopping with the intent of buying one. That product description created an emotional connection that moved me to action.

The scenario I described above shows how a product description can turn a shopper into a customer. Consider them the final point in the conversion funnel. You went through the trouble to market and advertise your work. You got the customers attention and they clicked on a link to visit your site. Now it’s time to close the deal with a motivating description.

Many of us use the standard product descriptions provided by a fulfillment company.  This is especially true of t-shirts. These are usually brief, bland, uncompelling, and result in duplicate content.

How to improve on this?

  • Entice your web visitor with headlines. Since I hail from Zazzle land, let’s use them an example. If you shop for women’s shirts, you’ll be greeted with this headline:

  • The landing page says “Wear Your Personality” and “Customize your wardrobe for a truly unique style!”  It commands your attention right? Short one-liners such as these can draw a shopper in.
  • Tell a story. You want the shopper to imagine using the product and enjoying it. The example below is from Paper Source.  For their Bee Kind Valentine Kit, they use puns to describe it in a way that is fun and stirs the imagination.Use humor when appropriate. Emily McDowell is popular for her tongue-in-check messages on greeting cards. She also has other products such as this gift bag:

Where to start?

Writers use the Who, What, Why, When, Why and How method for telling their story. You can use this method as well. Some questions to consider when developing a product description:

  • Who is the product for? Who is the targeted customer?
  • Why would someone use this product?
  • Where would someone use this product?
  • When should someone use this product?
  • How does it work?
  • Does it solve a problem?
  • How does it help the customer?

Other ways to boost product descriptions:

Social Proof. Let’s talk about this for a minute. The phrase is thrown around quite often in the ecommerce industry. But what is it and how does it help?

Social proof is evidence that increases a visitors confidence in your site.  It’s usually some sort of metric, like number of Facebook likes, number of YouTube subscribers, or number of times a product page has been favorited or shared.

Customer testimonies or product reviews can also provide social proof. And if your item was featured in a popular magazine or show? Even better. I saw an example of this when I was looking at a product page on Zazzle. I’ve highlighted it in yellow, it says “As seen on NBC’s Today Show”.

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I will confess I have a long way to go in creating stellar product descriptions. I’m a designer and not a writer. This stuff is hard work. Perhaps too much. Can’t a product or design just sell itself?

There are plenty of sites that use that approach, and it works. But if you are in a highly competitive market and trying to differentiate yourself from the pack, revamping your product descriptions might do the trick.

So let me ask you, what’s your approach to writing product descriptions for your ecommerce store? Care to share any bits of wisdom? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

The Current Landscape of POD

I share often about selling independently and encourage other Zazzle designers to do the same. Along the way I encounter a number of reactions. It’s usually a combination of feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do, or how to take that first step. I totally get that. As Zazzle designers we get to have fun making designs and uploading them to products. Zazzle handles the rest – marketing, payment processing and order fulfillment, customer service issues.

It’s what I refer to as “set and forget“, a source of passive income where you post products for sale with the hope that somehow, someway it’ll sell. We get excited when we look at our earnings history report. Somehow among the billions of products the customer managed to find ours. And they liked it enough to order!

Seeing the Zazzle Royalty History validates us as the artist and designer. So we make more designs and hope to make more sales. We might even share products on Pinterest or other social media, hoping it’ll lead to more sales. The process becomes a comfort zone that is hard to break away from, especially when the formula works. It’s like earning money while you sleep.

passive-income

But what happens when the formula stops working?

You go to the Zazzle forum and discuss the matter with other designers. Then you go back with a new approach. If that doesn’t work you start looking into other PODs. You might have written off Cafepress when they angered designers and there was a mass exodus. But now that Zazzle isn’t doing as well, you are starting to reconsider. You may have opened accounts with Red Bubble, Society 6, Fine Art America and Amazon Merch. After all, you are only licensing your work to Zazzle and are free to license elsewhere. Why not spread our work around and try to gain more exposure to customers?

The truth is, POD is struggling. If you don’t believe me look up Cafepress’ earning releases. They’ve been on the decline quarter after quarter. Cafepress is a good indicator of what is happening with POD.

What is causing the decline?  Others see an opportunity within the eCommerce space and want a piece of the pie. And apparently there are a lot of people who like pie. Teespring rose up to compete against Zazzle with t-shirts. With their laser-targeted marketing they reached customers on Facebook in a way that Zazzle didn’t.

Then came other fulfillment services like the Amazon’s Merch program. I think the original intent was for bands to sell their merch, hence the name. But others saw an opportunity. After all, where else can you sell a shirt for $20 and make $6? It has since become a platform for selling shirts covering every conceivable niche you can think of.

t-shirt-1524677_640

Now we’re seeing the popularity of shopping cart platforms such as Shopify, Big Commerce and Volusion. With a few clicks you can open your own store, no software knowledge required. No need to spend thousands of dollars on a web designer.  It’s instant, affordable and there are apps to help you reach customers. There are even apps to connect your store to companies who will print your products. Heck, they’ll even ship the order to the customer for you.

shopifybigcommerce

And here is the kicker – many store owners don’t know a thing about design. They have never used Illustrator or Photoshop.  And they don’t need to. They do their market research by going to Zazzle or Cafepress. They’ll look at what the best selling designs are. Then they hire an overseas designer on Fiverr to create an inspired version of the design.  And the cost is very affordable, somewhere between $15-50 for a good design.  To see a real life example of this scenario, read this story on CNBC.

Once the store owner has the design they can upload it to products for sale in their store.  Then it’s time to run Facebook ads, a proven marketplace for reaching customers. After some targeting and retargeting, store owners figure out a formula for reaching customers. The sales start pouring into the store.

ecommerce-1706105_640

What does this all mean for us as POD designers? We get less of the pie, a lot less. Thousands of online stores have sprung up. Shopify boasts of having over 300k stores. And that’s just Shopify, we haven’t even tallied the other platforms. Everyone and their mom is starting a t-shirt or dropshipping business. It’s like an online gold rush.

The best-selling shirt you had on Zazzle no longer sells. Maybe it’s now out of style. But maybe if you are in a popular niche, someone has taken a liking to your design made an “inspired” design from it. And now they are selling it in their Shopify store and watching the sales come through. More for them, less for you.

Your decline in sales could also mean that someone is ripping your design. When I refer to ripping I’m talking about taking an image from the internet, pixel for pixel. Then using that image to make a counterfeit product for sale. In the past couple years the problem has spiraled wildly out of control. Thieves have discovered an easy money-making scheme with these knock-offs, especially when they sell on #1 site Amazon.com.  A recent CBNC article highlights this problem.

What can you do?

I don’t mean to scare you, but I do want you to face up to the reality of the situation. I’m here to tell you what Zazzle will not tell you. The POD space has become wildly competitive. You have to bring your A-game if you want to succeed in this space.

There are many things you can do. You may not want to open a Shopify store, and that’s ok. Not everyone has the time or inclination to deal with customers. Or problems that come up with the order fulfillment process. Or the administrative aspects of running a business.

You can still have your Zazzle store.  But staying there will mean that you need to help customers find you, especially if Zazzle is not promoting your storeThis includes

  • Having your own independent affiliate website
  • Understanding who your customers are and how to reach them
  • Understanding and applying SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to your product listings

The last one is crucial. According to Wikipedia, SEO is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural” or “organic “results.

SEO deserves its own post, or better yet an entire website. Search Engineland would be a great example, they have a lot of good information.

Here are some other things you can do to bolster your store. Believe it or not, Shopify and Etsy have a lot of good free resources. Let’s start with Etsy, their Sellers Handbook has valuable information. And it’s very comprehensive with categories such as

  • Photography. How-to’s and best practices for representing your brand and products
  • Getting found. The Ins and Outs of SEO and connecting with buyers
  • Shipping. Tips and tricks to save you money and time when fulfilling your orders

Shopify is even more comprehensive, when you go to their website click on Resources:

shopify-resources-01

So while you may not be ready to open an Etsy or Shopify store, you can read and learn all you can about selling online. And it’s free!

I know as Zazzle designers we love our forums. Guess what? Etsy and Shopify has them too. Forums are a great way to connect with other shop owners and ask questions.

If you decide to take the plunge, use my affiliate link to open an Etsy store.  You will receive forty free listings to get your started.

Or you can forge ahead with a Shopify store. My affiliate link provides a 14 day trial store. You can also extend the trial by two more weeks by sending a request to Shopify’s customer service.

So what do you think about what I’ve said above? Comment below and let me know your thoughts!

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Tell You

I visited the Zazzle forums today. I don’t get to visit as much anymore and it was nice to see familiar names. I do feel sad though when I see what is going on with other designers.

I wish I could tell you that if you open your own store:

  1. You won’t need Royalty Reform. When you have your own store, you decide the prices for your products and how much profit you get. You decide how much you want to discount your products and when you want to have a sale. No need to plead with Zazzle for more money.
  2. You don’t have to complain about the referral system and feel like you’re getting short-changed. You get ALL the profit and don’t have to worry if a sale was third party.
  3. You won’t need to worry about your designs being screen captured. When you have your own store you control how large those images are, and what kinds of images to display. And you won’t have your images in a marketplace that is cherry-picked by counterfeit thieves.
  4. You won’t need to complain about Zazzle being slow and frustrating. Or that the site was down on Cyber Monday. When you have a Shopify store they rarely have any down times.
  5. You won’t need to complain about logging in and dealing with the recaptcha.
  6. You won’t have other designers’ products cross-promoted on your product pages. You know, the section that says “Other Designs You Might Also Like”. It’s good for Zazzle, but no so good for you.
  7. You don’t have to deal with emails from Content Management, removing your listing for reasons that at times are inane. The latest controversy being “Mama Bear” which by the way has not been approved by the Trademark Office. Do I also need to remind you of the “Pi” fiasco?
  8. You control shipping costs. If a customer in Canada wants to buy something, you can charge them a reasonable amount. A ten dollar ornament should not cost thirty bucks after it’s all said and done.
  9. You don’t have to jump through numerous hoops to be seen in the marketplace. ZRank being the most recent example. Before that is was some sort of market optimization thing. When you have your own store, ALL your products will be visible to customers.
  10. You don’t have to do a promotion exchange with other designers. I hate to say this, but repinning other people’s products doesn’t help them much on Pinterest anyway. You have to search hard to find any Zazzle pin. Go ahead and give it a try. Search for “baby shower invitations” or “funny shirts”. You will have to scroll through tons of pins to even see one Zazzle pin. Why? Pinterest views it as spammy and unless you pay to promote, you will not be seen. There are some exceptions, but for the most part Zazzle pins are invisible. Same for Facebook, posting a product won’t be seen by many.

I didn’t intend for this to be a top ten list, but you get my point right? We have to kiss the glory days of Zazzle goodbye. There is no more Volume Bonus Plan. There is no more holiday windfall like prior years.  We can yearn for the old days, but those days are gone and not coming back. POD is a tough competitive environment. We have to adapt and change along with it.

What is there to lose when you open your own store? You can get your toes wet with an Etsy store. With my affiliate link, you receive forty free listings when you open a new store.

Or you can dive into uncharted waters with a Shopify store. My affiliate link provides a 14 day trial store. You can also extend the trial by two more weeks by sending a request to Shopify’s customer service.

You don’t have a lot to lose when you try stepping out on your own. Just take a short break from Zazzle, it’ll still be there when you go back. Give it a few months, I promise you it’ll be a game changer. If anything, the newfound knowledge will help you with your Zazzle stores if you decide to return to them.

Did I miss anything in my top ten list? Got anything to add? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Branching out from Zazzle – Next Steps

I know a few designers that are interested in branching out from Zazzle. They wonder what the next logical step would be? Well, it depends on a number of things.  Let me first throw out five questions:

  1. Would you like to make 3-6 times what you are making on Zazzle royalties? For example, the average t-shirt sells for between $25-30 on Zazzle. If there isn’t a sale you’ll make a few bucks per shirt. If you sell independently you can sell that same shirt for $20 with a cost of $10.  If you do the math the profit is $10 per shirt.
  2. Would you like to paid daily or weekly? Yes that’s right! Instead of waiting for that monthly mid-month payment from Zazzle, you can be paid more frequently.
  3. Would you like to set your own return policy? Zazzle’s policy has been “if you don’t love it then we’ll take it back”. It’s great for customers, not so great for designers. Especially if it’s a large order or is returned six months later.
  4. Would you like to sell products that Zazzle does not have? What if you could sell your designs on an all-over-print apron? The ones that Zazzle has only have a small design space. Or what if you wanted to sell pillow covers? Zazzle currently only sells the kind with an insert. If you are an invitation designer – what about foil printing? Zazzle had promised to introduce it, but as of November 2016 we have not seen it.
  5. If your images have been stolen from Zazzle – would you like to have more control over your images? A couple years ago thieves started stealing images from Zazzle. They then used these images to print on pillows and other products. Then to add insult to injury they listed them on Amazon for sale. That’s the short story. It doesn’t even begin to describe the heartache it’s caused many designers.

If you answered YES to these questions, then you’re ready to branch out and find other avenues of income. While there are many advantages to using the Zazzle platform, there are also limitations. But the most important reason to branch out – don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

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That simply means that you shouldn’t put your entire livelihood in the hands of one place. Especially when the landscape is constantly changing.  If you have been with Zazzle for a number of years, you have seen many changes take place. There was at one point a Volume Bonus plan. If a sale was not referred/third party, you earned a bonus for the sale. Then in the last couple years they introduced ZRank which would decide your fate in Zazzle’s marketplace. And don’t get me started on image theft and Amazon. I briefly alluded to it above.

Those are just a few examples, if I think a little harder I could come up with more changes. But you get my point right? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, put them in many baskets. Stock investors refer to this as diversification. You reduce your risk when you branch out and find other sources of income.

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So what is a Zazzle designer to do? There are many possibilities including signing up with other PODs. But you run into the same scenario and other challenges:

  • Aside from Cafepress, the other PODs are smaller and don’t have as big a reach as Zazzle. Royalties are not going to be as frequent. They don’t have the same marketing and advertising budget as Zazzle.
  • You are subject to the PODs rules and limitations including when you get paid, return policy, etc.
  • Image protection is not high on their priority list.

So what’s left? Blazing your own trail.

Webstores and shopping cart systems have made huge advances in the past few years.  Would you believe me if I told you that you could have a store like Zazzle, sell the same products and make more money?

It’s true! Really. There are many websites that offer the opportunity to host your own store.  Shopify is one of the most popular sites.  There are other contenders such as Big Commerce, Square and Volusion. I tried them all and will cover them in another blog post. But at the end of the day, I decided on Shopify. (affiliate link)

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Why?

Drop-shipping and order fulfillment.  It’s easy to connect your Shopify store to a fulfillment company. The seamless integration makes it easy for a customer to place an order through your store, and then have that order sent automatically to a fulfillment company. You don’t have to touch a thing. You don’t have to buy and store inventory. You don’t have to print anything. You don’t even need to ship anything out! We call this drop shipping. And I would say most of the products that are sold on Zazzle are available through these fulfillment companies. For example, there is a company called Gooten that can connect you to these dropshipping companies. Sign up for a free account and look at their product lists and pricing.  It’ll give you a feel for what kind of money you can make. When you have a Shopify store you can connect it to Gooten for order fulfillment.

If you sign up for a Shopify account you can get a 14 day trial. And I will let you in on a secret: you can extend that trial by two weeks. So a Shopify trial can last for a month. But you really only need one day. You can get a basic store up and running very quickly. It doesn’t hurt to give it a try.

I will confess that when I first opened a Shopify account I felt lost. I had no idea where to start, it was all a big jumble. I could not make sense of it all. So then I tried out other websites such as Volusion and Big Commerce. I even spent a year learning OpenCart – a free open source shopping cart that you install on your website. I really love Opencart. But it doesn’t offer seamless integration with dropshipping companies. All my orders had to be submitted manually to a dropship company. And it was a big pain in the but!

As I write this we are in the middle of the holiday shopping season. I don’t know how your Zazzle sales are. They might be amazing. But they might also be disappointing. If that’s the case I encourage you to consider Shopify. If you feel unsure about it, I am planning to make a series of videos and blog posts to help you get started. But in the meantime, open that Shopify store. Play around with it and develop an understanding of how it works. Then ask me questions, ask me anything. If there is anything I love about you Zazzle designers, it’s the community of support. I’m going to keep the tradition going. If you need someone to help you get started, I’m your gal.

Converting Shoppers into Customers

Online shopping website on laptop screen with female hands typing

My prior post was about window dressing your store for the holidays and bringing visitors. Today we’ll talk about conversions –  turning shoppers into buyers.  This is a tough one and there is no easy formula. Generally for every hundred visitors just a few will actually buy.  There are many factors that can sway a customer, let’s go through a typical scenario and look at things from a customer perspective.

A customer sees your post on the Internet and clicks on it.  If they trust your website, they feel comfortable buying from it.  The operative word is trust. People are wary about giving their credit card  and personal information to a website, especially one they are unfamiliar with. So make sure your site has SSL (Secure Socket Layer) to give customers piece of mind about handing over their personal information. Shopify automatically comes with it as well as Etsy, it’s denoted by the lock symbol next to the website address.

Internet address protected showing on lcd screen.

If you do not have SSL installed for your store, small business blogger Steve Chou has a good tutorial on how to do it.

Other “trust badges” can help a customer feel secure about shopping your webstore. If you have a Shopify store there is an app called Trust.  I use the basic free one. It displays a Google map with my address, Satisfaction Guaranteed Return Policy and SSL Certificate information.

Label Quality,satisfaction,service

Once the customer feels a sense of trust they can look at your product page more closely. They look at items such as

  1. Price
  2. Product description
  3. Shipping costs
  4. How long it will take reach me?
  5. Refund policy
  6. Where the business is located
  7. Contact info if there are questions

Once they see this information they then decide whether to add the item to the cart. So make sure you’ve addressed all these areas, if something is missing a customer will not go looking for it. They’ll simply close the window and move on.

Create a Call to Action. Create a sense of urgency to nudge buyers towards the checkout. If you look at Zazzle’s site, they always have a promotion on their home page. And it’s available for a “limited time only” or “expires on a certain date”. Sometimes they’ll send an email with a one-day sale which requires you to act right away. These types of deals can motivate a customer to buy. If something is “Limited Edition” that can also be motivating to a customer.

Recover abandoned carts. A good percentage of shoppers add a product to their cart but will not check out.  We call this an abandoned cart. If you have a Shopify store there are many apps that can help with recovering abandoned carts. It’s usually a follow-up email reminding a customer that they have an item waiting in their cart.  I offer a small discount and it usually encourages the customer to complete their check out.

So what if you’ve done all of the above and you’re still not getting sales?

Troubleshoot. A customer may not be motivated to buy from your website, there are many contributing factors including:

  • Website design
  • Product design
  • Price (especially in comparison to competitor products)
  • Shipping costs
  • Turnaround and turnaournd times
  • Refund policies

What’s a store owner to do?

Ask for help. There are many Facebook groups, especially for Shopify store owners. Ask them to give you constructive criticism on your products and website. I belong to a lot of them and will list a few of my favorites below. I like these groups because there are experienced sellers who are veterans and have good experience with marketing and advertising. They are also active groups with many people contributing to thread discussions.

Shopify Store Pros

Shopify Entrepreneurs

Cener Shopify Mastermind

One word of caution about these Facebook groups. Some of them may be set up by someone who has a course to sell. They may claim to help you achieve six-figure sales quickly. Like that old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! The Cener group I mentioned above has valuable information by Justin Cener. He does have a course to sell and it’s priced at $500. I know it sounds like a lot, but if you will find Shopify courses that cost thousands of dollars. I don’t recommend any of them if you are starting out. Join Justin Center’s free mastermind group, he has a lot of video tutorials to get you started. When you are ready though Justin is the real deal and very affordable.

Another word of caution. If you are doing well with your store DON’T SHARE IT with any groups. There are around 20k people in these groups, you don’t know who is going to copy your designs and steal your work. Only share your store if it’s a flop and you need help with improving it.

One more suggestion if you are not getting sales – test your designs and products. Post it on your Facebook business page. Run an ad, maybe $5 for three days and ask if people would be willing to order. If it goes viral then you’re on to something. If you get little response, time to go back and reevaluate. Time to move and find a winning product. Research and find products that customers are passionate about.

Undoubtedly converting shoppers into customers is the biggest hurdle to overcome when you’ve launched your store.  You will make mistakes and there will be failures. There will be times of anguish and heartache. I am a living testament to that! But learn from your mistakes and move on, use your new-found wisdom to build a better store. Keep persevering and you will find success.  You will be so excited about that first sale. It will motive you to seek out more. And once you figure out a formula you’ll feel it was worth the struggle.

If you haven’t open a Shopify store I encourage you to give it a try. My affiliate link provides a 14 day trial which can be extended by another two weeks. It will be overwhelming at first and that’s ok. But once you familiarize yourself with their system you’ll be amazed. Let me know if you have questions by commenting below!

 

 

 

Boosting Your Holiday Sales

Is your store ready for the holiday season?

Hopefully by now you have products in your shop and are ready to promote them. Ideally you want to come up with a game plan in the spring and start creating designs. But if you didn’t do that, not to worry!  I have young kids, one of them special needs, so I don’t have a lot of time for design. In fact my summers are spent taking care of the kids.  But once they go back to school I hit the ground running. From September on I am focused on holiday designs.

Here are some tips for boosting your holiday sales.

  • Update your store with a holiday theme. Create a holiday look that invites customers to shop. It might mean updating your store banner with a photo of holiday products. Or updating your logo to add snowflakes. If you have an independent site it might mean playing around with the store’s theme colors. To see what I’m talking about, let’s look at an example:

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Personalization Mall is ready for the holidays!  Let’s look at each element:

  • The logo. I know this is their normal logo and not just a holiday thing, but look at how something as simple as ribbon can be artfully displayed around the name.
  • Candy cane at the top. A simple design element adds a festive touch.
  • The slider image.  Amazing product photography with stockings hanging from the fireplace, then an envelope that tells customers “Holiday Wishes are Delivered” and “Shop Christmas”.
  • Gift categories. They make it so easy for customers to shop with these gift categories!

You may not be able to create similar elements for your store, but it gives you ideas for what you can do. In fact I recommend you look around. Check out other online retailers and see how their home page is set up.  Use their stores as inspiration for sprucing up your own shop.

Once you have your store dressed up for the holidays, it’s time to bring visitors to your store (aka traffic). Unfortunately they don’t automatically show up and start browsing your site. You have to let them know you exist!

Hands down social media is the best way to reach customers for your online shop. I recommend you use one or two and not spread yourself thin. But there’s a problem with using them – you either have to pay for ads or building up a following. Let’s look at a couple platforms.

  • Facebook. It’s easy to set up a business page for your store and create posts. Unfortunately those posts won’t been seen unless you pay for ads. Yes that means shelling out money, but it can really boost your sales. There is a learning curve and you will lose money while you are figuring it out. But once you have it down you can sell pretty much anything.
  • Instagram.  I love Instagram and its visual platform. It’s easy to be seen by potential customers and I’ve gotten easy sales from it. But it takes time to build up your page and followers.

What to do with the holidays around the corner? There is one social platform where you can target customers without spending money on ads. And that’s Pinterest. But you can’t just pin any image to Pinterest. It’s all about how you present your products.

Let me illustrate for you. If I go to Pinterest and I search “Christmas cards”, these are the results:

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This is just a snippet, but as you see the photos are top notch. The one on the far left is what you call a long or vertical pin. Let’s focus on that for a minute, here is a close up of the pin:

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Notice that the long pin takes up almost as much space as the pins next to it.  Very eye-catching right? Vertical pins like these are very effective in getting your products seen.

If I scroll down the page I also see this one:

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See how the invitations are beautifully presented? If you take the time to create vertical pins for your product, you will stand out in the sea of online products.

How to create ad mockups like these? If you have Photoshop it’s easy. But if you don’t have it there are a couple other ways. You can buy scene generators and layer your product on top. Creative Market has a lot of excellent ones, including this holiday scene creator: (affiliate link)

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Here is an example of the scene creator with an invitation:

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If you are a Zazzle designer there is also a free tool created by Colleen Michele.

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Click on this link to access her tool. Note you will need to have a Zazzle store with products in order to use this tool.

You first start by creating a collection of your Zazzle products. Then you insert the collection link and press that pink button! Here are some of the mockups I’ve created with her amazing tool.

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The examples above show two columns of Zazzle products. But with her tool you can create one column and have yourself a vertical pin. You also have the choice of backgrounds and adding simple elements. In the Ballerina mockup above I added flowers and jewels. Once your mockup is finalized you can pin directly to Pinterest or download to your computer.

One final thought about marketing on Pinterest. Blog posts can be effective in reaching customers. In the example above, when I search “Christmas cards” on Pinterest a few blog posts come up at the top of the results. If we revisit the vertical post above, note that it is an article about making your own Christmas cards. I’ll repost the image below:

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If you click the vertical pin, it’ll bring you to the Snowman Crafts website and you’ll see a slideshow of DIY ideas. There isn’t a whole lot of text, it’s mostly visual.

 

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One thing I want to point out and you probably noticed it – there are 25k shares!  Not bad for one blog post right? AMAZING.

So as you can see from the example above, having a blog and creating posts can bring visitors. And it’s even more important if you primarily use a POD like Zazzle or Cafepress.  If you search Pinterest you will be hard-pressed to see a Zazzle pin at the top of the results. Pinterest views these pins as spammy, you won’t see them unless you pay to promote.

You’re better off placing your Zazzle products on a blog and then pinning that blog to Pinterest.

So there you have it, a few ideas on bringing visitors to your store. But how to convert those visitors into buying customers? That’ll be the next blog post!