Print on demand dropshipping

Starting your own online store can seem like a huge undertaking. Where do you even start? There are so many moving parts, from design to printing and order fulfilment; not to mention customer service and the e-commerce side of things. It can feel like you’re spinning all the plates. However, with print on demand dropshipping services available, you can design, print, and ship all from the same place. Or rather, you can use a print on demand dropshipping service to do it for you.

Print on demand and dropshipping are two separate services. We’ll look at what they are and what they do individually in a moment. Including how they make certain aspects of running an online store easier. However, the real value is in using a collective print on demand dropshipping approach to streamline things even further.

What is print on demand?

Print on demand (POD) is a technology that does what it says on the tin. Instead of printing in advance, items remain unprinted until an order is placed. The service is used by people wanting to sell their own custom designs on products like t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags.

Traditionally, you would need to place a bulk order with the printing service; before you’d made any sales. Then, you would have to have somewhere to store those pre-printed items and hope that someone would buy them. Before all of that, though, you’d have had to source the blank items too. There are a lot of upfront costs and risks involved in this way of operating.  

Printing on demand minimises or even eliminates a lot of these risks, making it a ‘safer’ way to start your own business.

What products can be printed on demand?

Almost any item that you can think of can be printed on demand. For example, 2020 saw an explosion in terms of online search for face masks. But the festival season and the start of the school year are responsible for an upsurge in searches for bum bags and backpacks. 

Some of the most popular include:

  • T shirts
  • Phone cases
  • Hats
  • Stickers
  • All-over print hoodies. These are hoodies with a design across the entire garment, rather than just a motif on the front or back.
  • Mugs
  • Tote bags

See some more on-trend items for 2021 in this article from Orbelo.

It can be tempting to offer everything. However, too much choice can be a friction point in a customer’s buying journey. In fact, it could have a negative impact on sales. Combat this by doing research into what will appeal most to your target audience. Do the same in terms of colours for things like t shirts. For example, research the most popular t shirt colours and only offer five choices.

What is dropshipping?

Dropshipping is where someone else fulfills orders and ships them to customers on your behalf. The business selling the items to the end customer doesn’t physically have the products in stock. Instead, orders are forwarded to a fulfillment centre to package and ship out to customers.

The ‘traditional’ dropshipping method involves working with a third party seller and listing their items in your online store. You list the item for a slightly higher price as this is where your profit comes from. Once someone makes a purchase, you then buy the item from the original seller who then ships that directly to your customer. This has evolved into the AliExpress approach. There are millions of products listed on AliExpress which you can look through and curate for your online store.

What is print on demand dropshipping?

Print on demand dropshipping is order fulfillment specifically for POD items. 

Print on demand dropshipping sites

There are a growing number of print on demand sites which are expanding their services to include dropshipping too. On top of that, some POD sites also have built in design tools which mean that you can design onsite, rather than designing elsewhere and then uploading to the POD site. Below are some examples of the different print on demand dropshipping businesses out there.

Printify

As the name suggests, Printify is able to integrate smoothly with Shopify, meaning that you can streamline your business. They have over 300 products available to choose for printing; the opportunities are pretty much endless. Printify works with print providers around the world to find the ‘best’ options for your order fulfillment needs. You can order samples from these print providers to make sure that the quality is the best match for your business. This is great for testing merch and ideas. 

Printful

Printful is one of the most well-known print on demand platforms around. This is probably due to its compatibility with major platforms such as Shopify and Etsy. It also has a network of fulfilment centres across the world, meaning that your audience could be global. Because of this, products are usually ready to ship within a few days. Obviously this is important when choosing a POD service because it’s something that reflects on your brand. 

Speaking of your brand, Printful lets you add custom tags to your products. This really helps to establish your business as a ‘real thing’. Not all print on demand dropshipping services will offer this so if it’s important to you, make sure you check first.

Prodigi

Another platform which claims to simplify print on demand dropshipping due to their global dropshipping network. Similarly to the services above, Prodigi sources blank products ready for printing, as well as then printing and fulfilling orders.

Prodigi offers integration with Shopify so it’s easy to link your store and send orders through. Alternatively, you can also directly access some of the world’s best print on demand partners with Prodigi’s print API.

Teespring

One of the most interesting things about Teespring is its integration partners, such as YouTube, Twitch, and Discord. This makes it perfect for YouTubers, vloggers, and streamers who want to sell merchandise to their followers. Alternatively, you can build a store onsite and signpost your fans to it, using social media.

Gelato

Sustainability is a key element of Gelato’s operation. Really, it’s a key part of the print on demand model in general. In theory, only printing items once they’ve been sold means there’s less going to landfill. 

In their 2020 Sustainability report, Gelato found that “83% of all orders were fulfilled in the same market as the customer”. This means global delivery times, shipping distances, and carbon missions are all reduced which is good for your business, your customers, and the world.

Pros and cons of print on demand dropshipping

Benefits of print on demand dropshipping

  • A cost effective option for any online shop wanting to increase its product offering and sales without large investments in stock, hardware, or people.
  • Lower risk to running your own business. Because you don’t have to hold inventory or bulk print, it’s easier to change when things aren’t working. You can test your designs and ideas by adding or removing products in minutes.
  • As soon as your designs are ready, you can put them on a product and update your online store. You don’t have to mess around with inventory levels because there is no inventory.
  • Order fulfilment from packing to shipping is taken care of. As soon as an order is placed, the print on demand dropshipping service will ensure that the product reaches your customer.
  • Depending on the POD service you use, customer service needs such as Returns may also be taken care of for you. Again, it depends which elements of the business you want to be hands on with.

Disadvantages of print on demand dropshipping

  • Let’s start with an obvious one. But you have less control over the entire order fulfillment process than if you did it yourself. However, if you use a POD service that you trust, this isn’t a bad thing.
  • You may not get to use personalised or branded packaging. For example, some POD services only offer white label packaging. However, others will use your branding, so check first if this is something that’s important to you.
  • If there are any issues with an order, it could reflect badly on your brand as the customer ordered from you. However, this can easily be fixed through good customer service and communication.
  • Although POD eliminates the necessity of buying in bulk, it does mean that your costs per item may be higher. This could mean lower margins. However, it’s likely that the convenience of print on demand dropshipping for running an online business is worth it.

How to start your own print on demand dropshipping business

Find your niche

The first stage of any online business should be to do your research. There are lots of areas to look into. For example, who is your target market? What products are they most likely to buy? Even if your visuals are great, if they’re printed on the ‘wrong’ items, they’re unlikely to sell. Research your target audience’s buying behaviour when they shop online. What are they looking for and what methods do they use to find it? This is where you need to think about buyer personas and research relevant keywords.

It’s also a great excuse to check out your competition. Competitor analysis involves looking at people who are doing the same thing that you want to do and seeing how well they do it. What merch are they selling? How much is it selling for? What does their brand look like and what are the designs like?

The point of all this is to find your niche; where do you fit and what can you offer that no one else can? Once you’ve found your niche, it’s time to get creative…

Design + choose your products

If you come from a creative background, this may be where you first got the idea to sell custom designs and products. Designing a motif, illustrating a character, or writing some copy to go on your products is where you get to use your existing skills.

However, if you have no previous experience in design, you can still do this part yourself. Use a tool like Canva or PlaceIt. The free versions of both come with access to templates, photos, and fonts, which you can use for printing on products. Once you’ve created your designs, make sure they are the right size for your intended products and then save or download the image files.

Alternatively, if you really don’t want to design your own products, check out a site like Fiverr. Freelancers from all kinds of creative disciplines can be hired to complete micro tasks, such as logo design or slogan-writing. These are perfect for print on demand products. If you hire a freelancer, make sure you check their licensing terms.

Set up your online storefront

Once you’ve got your designs and merch ideas ready, you need somewhere to sell them from. There are lots of options here. However, before we look at some examples, it’s important to choose something that integrates easily with a POD platform. This will streamline the process and leave you free to concentrate on other parts of your online business.

An e-commerce site is an online shop or storefront. E-commerce sites are usually set up to receive payments so that customers can easily buy things. Using an e-commerce platform to create your online storefront will streamline the buying process; rather than you having to use plugins and integrations. 

When it comes to building or housing your online store, there are a number of options. A good example is Shopify because it integrates with a number of POD services. When creating your shop you need to check its compatibility with the print on demand service you want to use. This just makes everything so much easier for you.

Product title/description

The more eyes you can bring to your site or product pages, the more chance you have of making sales. Product titles and descriptions are a fantastic way to do that. This is your opportunity to optimise your copy. If you can, add tags too. Include keywords that your research highlighted as being relevant to your target audience.

Make your product descriptions detailed so that site visitors and potential customers have everything they need to make a buying decision. Also, make sure the information is correct as this could have an impact on the amount of returns or customer service you have to manage.

Optimising product titles and descriptions for Google should help you climb the rankings. Combine this with marketing efforts and paid advertising and you’re ready.

Product photos

Normally, you’d do your own product shoots or hire a professional photography and model. However, with a print on demand dropshipping approach, you may never touch one of the products you sell. Therefore, you should use a mockup of some kind so that the customer can see what the item will look like before they buy.

Some POD services include this in their package but it can be quite basic. An alternative option is something like PlaceIt which uses in situ models. This can be good in terms of matching the models to your brand. For example, if you’re targeting teens, use models which they’ll relate to. You can always expand your imagery to include customer photos as you make sales.

Tweak things

Keep an eye on what’s happening in your store. How many visitors are you getting and what are they there to look at? Are they buying or just window shopping? What’s selling well and what isn’t? Don’t just make changes for the sake of it but you should always be analysing the data and optimising your store and products.

Print on demand dropshipping can be a one-off adventure or an ongoing side hustle. Once your business is set up, you can be as hands-on or -off as you want, depending on the POD dropshipping business you’re using. It’s a fantastic way to earn a passive income.

More ways to make money online

Print on demand dropshipping is just one example of how outsourcing order fulfillment can help you make money online. However, dropshipping can also be used to sell pretty much anything. For more side hustle ideas, check out our make money online hub.

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