Swaggering Scallywags (or, How to Swag: CafePress vs Zazzle vs RedBubble)

keep_calm_and_wear_a_toga_sweatshirtI’m chuffed to formally launch the Egretia Swag Store! We bring many of Felix’s best moments from across the gulf of time and space, and ship around the globe. Check it out, and get yourself something nice and fishy for Saturnalia!

For those of you who are about to go swaggering down the swag path (or just curious), I thought I’d summarise my experiences in setting up shop across RedBubble, Zazzle, and CafePress.

It’s a lengthy post, but don’t worry — there’s a quick summary for each, plus an overall verdict at the bottom.

RedBubble

I’ve first set up a shop on RedBubble. They looked fresh, swanky, and easy enough to work with. The process of registering a shop, uploading a design, and making it available across a range of products was easy as. (Just ‘easy as’, no ‘as something‘; it’s an Aussie slang thingie.)

I uploaded a few more designs and things were going smoothly… until  two days later when my account was suspended. There was no notification, no email, no warning. One day I tried to login and all I got was a cryptic message that the account was suspected as a robot spammer. There was an extra note to look in their knowledge board, because apparently that happens a lot.

So I dug around in the KB and filled out the request form. Crickets…

After a week, I looked around on the internet, and apparently that has happened to a lot of people. I mean a lot. RB has a tendency to auto-suspend accounts, and then completely ignore support emails (claims about a 4-hour response time notwithstanding).

Then suddenly! An email from RB, that my account has been reinstated. I logged on — but my store staff was gone. I emailed them out of curiosity, but never got a reply. At some point I checked, and I think the products reappeared — but not my store controls.

Would you work with a company that deals with its users like that, and might disappear on you from one day to the next?

Verdict: No RedBubble for you.

Zazzle

Zazzle was my next stop, their name notwithstanding (sounds like a cross between the Hebrew name for Hell and vajazzle). Registering, setting up shop, putting up the first designs were all easy enough. The interface to set up the images and layout of designs on products is pretty good, and allows you flexibility in creating your products.

One confusing thing, is that you don’t create items to sell — you create items as if you’re about to order a custom one, and then click “sell this” instead of “buy”. And therein start the problems.

The “sell this” may sounds like a great idea when you design a product for yourself and then send it to the marketplace for others to find and buy. Y’know, kind of like putting your book on Amazon. We all know how that works, without advertising. For effective merchandising, though, especially if you have a brand to promote (like your book series), it’s better to have a shop with all your products on display in one place. But then, adding a single product at a time gets annoying — there is no easy way to add the same design across multiple products in one go. (To be fair, unless you restrict it, customers can change the basic product — e.g. from men’s shirt to women’s hoodie — but they still can’t get it on, say, a mug unless you create one).

The back-end shop interface feels tacked on. The site keeps flipping to the basic user (buyer) interface, and sometimes it’s not clear where you’re adding a product — in the ‘general’ marketplace or in your store. In general, their offering in terms of managing a “shop” is rather poor. The next problem is that items take up to 24 hours to appear in your shop. And collections take even longer. It’s really annoying when you build something, and have to wait days till customers can see your products. (I had to occasionally poke their support — which, invariably, replied with “have you waited 24 hours?” Yes, I did, thank you very much. That has been 5 days ago, and I’m still waiting.)

On the plus side, they do have an in-built affiliate program. When you create a product specifically for someone, you are given a link to it that you can immediately share. (And the extra cents from the sale might mean I can get a double-shot espresso, not just my regular mini coffee).

Verdict: If you’re you’ve got a couple of designs and want to test the waters, Zazzle may be an easy-to-work-with option. Set them up, send them to your audience, and see if there is enough interest to make it into something bigger.

You can use the general marketplace (where they appear in results when someone searches up a term on the front page), or set up a store of your own (which allows you to put in your own graphics as headers, and group all your items together).

CafePress

I’ve actually started with CafePress before Zazzle, left it, and only gone back after Zazzle annoyed me. As someone who’s a software product manager by day, I design and pay close attention to user experience. And CafePress… well, the user experience as a store owner on their site made my eyes bleed.

The site design is archaic, every action requires a full page load, the jump between selections and actions is non-intuitive, and the product designer is sub-par in comparison to the two above.

However, and this is why my main shop front is on CafePress, once you get used to how things are structured and operate, the back-end store controls give you maximum control over setting the shop to your liking. I was able to organise, built the web pages for product displays, control pricing and margins, and generally work with the designs to my satisfaction.

Note that while CafePress has an affiliate program (run through CJ Affiliates), these links do not apply to stores (only for products in the general marketplace).

Verdict: If you’re serious about setting a shop (rather than just a couple of designs) and are not afraid of some Photoshopping and HTML coding, CafePress — for all their arcane user interface — is an excellent option.

Over-all Summary

Unless you just jumped straight here, you probably figured that I have a shop both on CafePress and on Zazzle. CP is the main one, but since they blocked a couple of designs (notably the one with Samuel L Jackson quoting Cicero, Pulp-Fiction style, which still makes me laugh), and since I already had a shop on Zazzle, I just kept both.

In both cases, it helps to know the basics of graphic and web design. I am not a pro in either, but even with modest skills and a few evenings spent avoiding the TV I was able to set up a nifty product range.

I think that comparable products tend to be slightly more expensive on Zazzle than on CafePress, though it could be the result of translation to AU$ plus shipping costs. Since both continually give out promo codes and shipping costs vary, I leave it up to prospective buyers to decide where to buy.

When building the range of products I am playing to my strength (getting funny quotes out of Felix, and laying them out well on each product variant), and looking to see how this takes off. If there is demand, I’ll expand the designs and push more options. If not, well — Felix is waiting by my typewriter, ready to dictate the next volume in his memoirs.


Hope you found the above useful. I’d love to know if and how you expand the reach of your writings via merchandising. If you have comments or questions, please leave them below or contact me directly.

For those of you who do check out the shops, I’d love it if you took an extra 60 seconds to answer this 5-questions survey. It’s your chance to flog me back to writing Felix’s memoirs!

You should also join the mailing-list, because — in an attempt to not actually make any money from this — I’ll be raffling signed copies of my books in the next newsletter amongst every 10 people who buy any of the products.

Now go get yourself some swag!

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