Dropshipping has become an attractive business option for entrepreneurs. In 2017, dropshipping was responsible for around 23 percent of online sales, according to Forrester Research. That amounts to around $85.1 billion.
Additionally, eCommerce is growing by about 17 percent every year, while many experts expect to see the business model grow exponentially in tandem with the industry as a fulfillment model.
One of the more popular options for dropshipping entrepreneurs is to utilize print on demand (POD) services.This business process allows businesses to design their merchandise while keeping overheads low.
That’s because the merchandise is not printed until an order has been received. Only then is the customized POD product sent out to the customer. This allows for companies to create small quantities while cutting down on the price of storage space.
POD services are used by artists, bands, entrepreneurs, and other types of industrial companies to make money while keeping their overhead low.
There are a number of companies that offer print on demand services. We’re going to delve into three of the more popular options to help you decide which one suits you and your needs best.
First, a little history.
Zazzle is an American company founded in 2005 by Robert, Bobby, and Jeffrey Beaver. This POD company allows designers and customers to make their own products through independent manufacturers or use images from a list of participating companies.
Based in Redwood City, California, the company claims to have over 300 million unique products listed on its website.
Famed Google investors John Doerr and Ram Shriram believed in the company enough to invest an initial $16 million in July 2005. TechCrunch recognized the company as the “best business model” in 2007.
Additionally, in 2010, Zazzle was considered one of the “Hottest Silicon Valley Companies” by Lead411.
Society6, meanwhile, was founded in 2009, in part, by cofounder Justin Wills. Since 2013, the company has operated as a subsidiary of Leaf Group Ltd.
Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, this print on demand company has an estimated annual revenue of $5 million, 824.5 thousand fans on Facebook, and 82.6 thousand followers on Twitter.
Unlike its counterparts, Redbubble was not founded in the United States. Instead, the company first opened its doors in 2006 in Melbourne, Australia.
Martin Hosking, Peter Styles and Paul Vanzella started the firm after raising $2 million in investor capital.
Redbubble now maintains additional offices in San Francisco and Berlin. Free membership is provided to any artist who maintains the copyrights of their own work, regulates their own prices, and decides which products may display their images.
The company went public on the Australian stock exchange in May 2016. Redbubble acquired US competitor TeePublic in October 2018 for $57.7 million Australian Dollars.
Now that we have a better understanding of where the companies originated, let’s dig a little deeper into how they operate.
Signing up for Zazzle is completely free. That means there’s no weekly, monthly, or yearly fees that could potentially cut into your bottom line.
However, it is important to note one distinction: Zazzle offers different pricing schemes depending on whether you are a Maker, Designer, or Associate. The company collects 30 percent of the net sale for each product that Makers sell to their customers.
Designers and Associates, meanwhile, can make use of the platform for free. Designers can even earn royalty payments, while Associates make money through referral bonuses from various product postings.
While Zazzle does not offer a complete pricing list or document for each of their products, you can still sign up for an account and check out what the individual pricing is for each product from the “Create a Product” feature.
When it comes to pricing with Society6, users are given a fair amount of variety.
Ultimately, whatever amount of money you make through your art is completely dependent on what type of product it’s printed on. In general, smaller items will provide less payout when compared to large items.
In the majority of instances, Society6 will set the price for whichever type of product that they’re selling. Essentially, your commission is set at 10 percent, regardless of the product you are selling.
The high end of the spectrum for user earnings – the sale of a metal print – will yield around $16. Compare that to what you earn from putting your art on a mug – around $1.50 – and you’ll see there can be quite a large disparity.
However, there are many POD products to choose from, and they each have their own set price set by Society6.
The one area where Society6 gives artists the freedom to set their own price is with their prints.
It should also be noted that Society6 charges a minimal $1 fee to set up an account.
Redbubble allows users to determine their own profit margins. The company charges only for the base price of the selected merchandise and anything extra that you decide to charge goes directly into your wallet.
So, if an item costs $10 to manufacture and you decide to sell it for $20, that gives you a $10 profit.
Redbubble steals the show here. Its pricing allows enough room for artists to make a fair share of profit on a reasonable margin.
Zazzle gains a lot of legitimacy from its list of clients. DC Comics, Disney, and more, offer their officially licensed merchandise through the platform, which should give you an idea of how well-respected this company is as well as the quality of their products.
The company offers a range of POD products through its platform. Indeed, it might be easier to say what you CAN’T find on its catalog of customizable items.
The company offers clothing, phone cases, and a plethora of other options to satisfy the need for potentially any item.
The company’s categories include:
- Clothing & Accessories
- Invitations & Cards
- Home & Living
- Baby & Kids
You can choose as many items as you like to add your image to and start selling. Some of Redbubble’s unique offerings include calendars, stickers, mini skirts, tote bags, canvas prints, dresses, scarves, and the aforementioned metal prints.
Society6 boasts the same generic items as its competition – t-shirts, tote bags, baseball hats, and more. But the company also offers a bevy of additional items that make it stand out.
Things like shower curtains, clocks, and cards allow you to put your brand or artwork on various unique products to help your business stand apart from the crowd.
The company has received praise for things like tapestries, mugs, and beach towels. Some users online have been critical of the quality of their custom t-shirts and hoodies.
Redbubble, in turn, offers the usual products like men’s wear, women’s wear, and various other apparel. This POD company also offers stickers, device cases, wall art, stationary, home decor, and more.
Each category contains subcategories that give way to the more unique offerings provided by Redbubble. For example, within the Wall Art category you can find canvas prints, photo prints, and more.
The company has received repeated praise for the high quality of its products, while the printing process has been repeatedly hailed as well compared to many of the company’s top competitors.
Whether you’re putting Dali-esque images onto wall clocks, Picasso-ready prints onto wall tapestries, or putting the next Mona Lisa onto a beach towel, diversity is key.
Giving your customers a diverse array of products to choose from can only benefit your bottom line. After all, it is the perfect way to make sure everyone that visits your store is happy.
Each of these POD services offers something unique in their own right. Ultimately, if you’re making your choice based on product availability, you’re going to have to do a little research and see which one has the items you’re looking for.
There is a close call here between Zazzle and Redbubble. But, ultimately we give the winner to Zazzle. The reason for this is because it has continually represented some of the biggest brands globally. Quality and class speaks here.
Zazzle’s biggest integration comes with WooCommerce, the popular WordPress ecommerce platform. Additionally, the service integrates with Shopify, which means the service is available throughout all of the major ecommerce interfaces.
Zazzle also integrates with FastSpring and BQool.
The fact that it offers these integrations is fortunate, because creating a store on Zazzle has been criticized for being somewhat difficult for new users. The backend user interface is sometimes considered confusing.
For example, the options to create a new product design or to create a new store are difficult to find. The learning curve is fairly steep with this company and it can take a while before you develop a knack for creating and cultivating your own collection through Zazzle’s interface.
However, the backend of the platform is fairly difficult for an average user. Creating a store on Zazzle or uploading designs can be a bit difficult for a new user.
The entire backend user interface is confusing. The options to create a product design or creating a new store are hidden. It takes quite a bit of time before you get the hang of creating your own collection on the website.
So, as a seller, you get to tackle the confusing back-end user interface and learn the ropes before you feel comfortable with it.
Society6 changed its storefront near the beginning of 2018.
Society6 allows for easy updating of the appearance of your site. For example, the page allows you to set up your store through the Edit Your Shop button located at the top of the home page.
This gives you the ability to edit some of the basic shop settings and appearances. Through the Shop Settings tab you can determine what people see when they visit your homepage.
Redbubble’s integrations are non-existent. That’s because the service exists as its own platform.
So, while users may not be able to integrate with ecommerce giants like WooCommerce or Shopify, they may notice an increased amount of control over their store.
The drawback is that if you already have your own Shopify store, you may not want to go setting up an entirely new and separate marketplace. But if you’re looking to get your work online as easily and quickly as possible, this might be the route.
However, as a result of Redbubble’s platform, you can’t brand your store in any way, making sure your store looks just like everyone else’s.
Instead, the platform uses simplicity as its main selling point. After setting up your account, you’re simply asked to upload your custom artwork, place it into the product of your choosing, and start promoting the work.
The winner in this Redbubble vs Zazzle vs Society6 category goes to Society6. Each of the POD platforms offers unique services. For instance, Zazzle provides integration, but its platform is confusing; Society6 has a smooth user interface and some integration capacity; Redbubble is in its own bubble does not offer any integration. Nevertheless, Society6 has managed to combine both features somehow.
Zazzle doesn’t offer much in the way of analytics. Fortunately, the lone tool it does provide is one of the most powerful tools available.
Zazzle users have the ability to look at their store data through Google Analytics. This is an extremely powerful tool that can help entrepreneurs determine the most effective way to market their products.
At the current time, Society6 does not offer its users any access to analytics.
This is a big hit against the company, given that many entrepreneurs rely on analytics to help research their target markets, what to sell, and, most importantly, determine the efficacy of their marketing campaigns.
The fact that Society6 does not offer any analytics to speak of will likely scare away many dropshippers.
Redbubble’s analytics tools go much further than Society6’s (which isn’t hard to do, at this point). With Redbubble’s tools you can see how your products fare against others and who exactly is choosing to click the “Buy” button.
The company also offers the option to integrate your Google Analytics account, allowing you to really dig into the various metrics available to you.
We give it to Redbubble in this Society6 vs Zazzle vs Redbubble category. Its internal analytics feature and the ability to integrate Google Analytics definitely gives it an edge.
Zazzle offers its customers a dedicated support team to help users navigate any problems they may encounter while using the platform.
There are three different routes any answer seeker can take to reach the customer support team.
Send them an email with your questions, which they promise to reply to within 24 hours; you can try the online chat option, which often promises faster results; or you can call the support team.
The final option tends to provide the fastest route to solving your problem.
On top of that, Zazzle provides an extensive help center that will likely have the answer to whatever question you may have. You will find this help center divided into three sections: sellers, designers, and makers.
Each of these sections offers an extensive FAQ list relevant to the particular type of user. And if you can’t find the answer to your query there, you can always call the support team.
For some time, Society6 had a number of bad reviews of its customer support system. Fortunately, the company seems to be turning that all around.
Digging through reviews of the company online, you’ll see a number of very satisfied customers.
Not only has Society6 completely turned around any bad perceptions its customer services may have had in the past, it seems to now be surpassing expectations.
Take a look at one example we found:
“I ordered a quilt with the likeness of Alfred Hitchcock, done as a black on white line drawing that resembles a finger print.
I was confused about shipping and contacted Society6 on FB and they got back to me within a couple minutes.
Then when I got the quilt—holy Hitchcock, it is INSANELY cool. Everyone who sees it has to pick their jaw up off the ground. So, great service, outrageously amazing product!”
Ultimately, it seems as though Society6 has realized that its customer support staff is an important part of the business and has acted accordingly to fix whatever problems existed before.
This goes a long way to creating a trusting relationship between users and the company, and it should be seen as a good sign for any potential dropshippers who may have to deal with their POD provider a lot.
For its part, Redbubble has received frequent praise for its customer support team.
The company has guaranteed that someone from its team of professionals will respond within four hours of receiving the inquiry.
All users need to do is submit a request through Redbubble’s “Contact Us” page and someone from the support team will be in touch.
In addition, Redbubble provides a live chat feature through its website which allows users with urgent questions to get a quick response.
Zazzle takes it all in this Zazzle vs Society6 vs Redbubble category. It offers its users prominent ways of resolving their issues. No other print on demand company in this comparison does such.
Aside from these three POD platforms being direct competitors, they also have other services operating within the same industry that compete against them.
The competition has become so stiff, that the slightest margin can lead to noticeable differences in major metrics. A slight price difference, report system, delivery period, or even a factor as simple as product packaging, can make all the difference between revenue and monthly store visits.
To become customers’ number one choice, these competing platforms devise different means and packages to become the most attractive destination.
From some of the comparisons we have done above, we can see that some of these platforms offer free registrations for new artists, others seek to entice artists by giving them the free hand to design their stores, while others go to the extent of enabling third-party platform integration, while at the same time, some do not allow integration at all.
Not to mention, some of their POD competitors use ads credit, user interface, live analytics, sleeky user interface, real-time reporting, and even the ability for buyers to make customized touch and changes before their purchases are printed and sent over…just name it. It’s all about being competitive and appealing to new users.
Now, let me show you some of the competitors for Society6, Zazzle, and Redbubble.
Some of Zazzle’s competitors include:
- Amazon Merch
Some notable Society6 competitors are:
- Fine Art America
For Redbubble, some of its top competitors include:
In all, the competition is a healthy one, and it will continually make each of the custom print platforms find better ways to please customers, retain them and even earn their loyalty going forward.
It is a win-win for all, but ultimately, customers are king. Repeated business will continue to be the driving force of innovation in the print on demand industry.
All three of these POD companies offer a unique opportunity to make money.
Whether you’re an independent artist trying to get your work out into the world, an entrepreneur with a keen eye for design, an internet hustler looking for a legitimate income stream, or an SEO god, each of these provides some of the important tools you’ll need to get your business up and running.
That said, in our opinion, Redbubble ekes out the competition in this race.
Between the platform’s ease-of-use, the vast selection of unique products, and its exceptional customer service, Redbubble really provides users the opportunity to build and grow their businesses.
Redbubble has built a positive reputation within the dropshipping community and as far as we’re concerned, it is a well-deserved one.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.