Print On Demand (POD) - From Start to Finish - The Truth!
As a crafter, you may have heard about the easier way of creating and selling your products, called Print On Demand or POD. Since I closed my vinyl store, I have been looking at ways to expand what I do. I love creating but I don't have the money to carry all the stock that is required to open my own store. This is where the POD system comes in very handy. My friend and I decided we were going to open an online store together. Between the two of us, we began to do our research. Research is always key! You can't say something isn't as it says if you don't do the research. The way I operate on almost everything in my life when I begin something new is to research and plan everything.
So to YouTube, we went. We watched the videos and they all spoke of the best things about POD, which ones to avoid and which are better. The videos spoke of the best blanks to use and how it is a great no hassle way of selling products. At times some of the videographers would mention something that wasn't great about using POD. Those things were usually something like, Etsy sellers don't like POD businesses and will report you and they would suggest using a stand-alone website, like Shopify.
Platform and POD Selection
I began looking at different print providers. The best for product and delivery costs we found was Printify. We even looked at one which was a Canadian-based company, however, the prices were much higher, especially the shipping costs. Having operated my vinyl store, the one thing I learned there was that people don't want to pay a lot for products AND that they truly HATE paying high shipping costs. They prefer flat-rate shipping or free shipping if they spend a certain amount of money. With Print on Demand, it is very difficult to offer low prices AND Low shipping.
For the platform we would use, we decided to start with what I already knew and what was most often suggested by those on YouTube. which was Shopify.
Now this is important, so listen closely, please. In NO way am I saying any of these companies are horrible. In NO way am I saying not to use them. In NO way am I saying that you shouldn't do Print on Demand. What I am trying to help with is this. I am trying to provide all of the information that we tried to look for BEFORE opening our store and putting all the time and money into it. I simply want people to see what hidden costs are contributed to it and how the system truly works. Let's get into that part of it then!
With Shopify, the creation of the site is very straightforward. They take you through step by step. I think I compared Shopify and Wix in a blog once to Cricut and Silhouette. One is very basic in its use, very plug-and-play, while the other has a bit of a learning curve but provides a greater ability to do things.
I also think it helped that when I opened my first store on Shopify, I had someone who helped me design it and taught me different things.
There is an app you are able to download on most website providers which will allow you to install your POD to your site. This was very helpful. It made it so all that we needed to do was choose WHAT products we wanted to see and WHAT designs we would use. Why is this ALWAYS the hardest part of any project we do?
It took me about two weeks to create our designs and another two weeks of loading them onto the site. Oh, and I believe there was also a month that I was involved in other projects, so I wasn't able to focus on this project as much as I would have liked. Two months from start to finish or one month if this is the only thing you are working on. Not bad really.
Steps to creating your inventory:
Once you have installed your print supplier on your site, you can choose which product you want to add from their catalogue.
Choose the company which will fulfill the orders for this design. You will see a list of companies with their name, rating, item cost, shipping costs, sizing options and color options as well. We tried to stay consistent when we chose which to use. All our shirts were from the same company. We figured this would cut down on shipping costs. (However, it didn't in the end.)
Now it is time to design your item. This part is very easy and straightforward. Upload, place within borders they have and view how it looks.
When uploading the image is done, your next step is to give it the name your customers will see on your site, where you want it to be found on your site and the cost. They provide suggested costs for you. Now keep in mind that while it says it will convert to your platform's currency IT DOES NOT! You will need to figure this out on your own. My suggestion would also be to add shipping to the cost of the product. I will explain more below.
That is all you do to create your inventory. Simple, right? Yes! We did that and sat back. We advertised and then thought we would order some products for ourselves to see the full experience for our customers. I think you should always do this, especially when the people actually fulfilling your orders are not you. We are so glad we did! So many things we didn't know that we truly did try to find out beforehand but couldn't. Hence the reason for this blog!
***Again know that this blog is NOT to make you NOT choose this form of selling OR to tell you NOT to use these sites. It is to let you know how the whole process works so that you don't make the same mistakes we did. ***
I placed an order through our website here on the Shopify site we created. I placed the order, paid with my Visa and then my part as a customer was done. All I needed to do was sit back and wait for my product to arrive.
From the seller's end is where we noticed the issues. They were nothing a buyer would notice but everything only a seller would notice! WE ACTUALLY LOST MONEY! The order cost me $80.64. Attached is a copy of what I purchased and the charge from Prinifify. Keep in mind the image will show that their charge to us was $70.24 but that is in USD. What was charged to my Visa through them was however $95.43 CAD. A loss of $14.79!
I also added an image of what a product looks like on the website after it is created. It shows the original pricing from when the design was created. The price that we believed would be converted to CDN dollars. If you look at the second image it shows that we were charged the total of each of the four units I purchased for shipping, yet were only charged less than $15 through Shopify for shipping as a customer. When you are creating your store it says to allow Shopify to set the rates and because shipping is a pain in the ass on the best of days I did this.
Again I can't stress enough, we realize that mistakes occurred however I am writing this to let you know so you don't make the SAME mistakes and do things differently.
I contacted Printify to speak about a few things. They were quick to get back, within a day, and were as helpful as they could be. The main question I had for them was about the shipping issue. They informed me that I needed to download the Printify Shipping Calculator. I tried to do this and was not able to. I started to google how to get this and found myself on Reddit. I was not the only person to have this issue. Long story short, the consensus was that I would need to sign up for the Premium account and I was on the basic account, which I paid monthly or sign up for a yearly subscription plan for the basic. Now keep in mind, when I researched both platforms, it was never stated you needed one plan over the other. I did not want to commit to a yearly plan because if after 3 months the store was not doing well, we were going to evaluate the situation and make some longer-term decisions.
I messaged Shopify about the situation as well. I asked how much it was for the Shipping Calculator App and was told that I would need to upgrade my membership. Please also note that because I have since closed my Shopify store I am no longer able to see the messages they sent so because of this I am unable to show this conversation. I would also like to say that if this was the case, Shopify should have indicated when describing their plans that in the event of doing a POD system, you would need a yearly membership or a premium membership in order to access some of the features. I am a person who likes transparency and does NOT like things that are hidden. If you want people to use your products and services then just be open about everything.
The other option I could do that Prinify suggested, was to provide a flat-rate shipping option. To do this, however, we would need to increase the prices of the products.
Let's look at what Increasing the amount to cover a $15 flat rate option would be
***All prices are listed in USD except the Conversion Rate. This rate is based on what the rate would be when this article was written on August 11, 2023. The Web Fee Sale Rates are the credit card fees from Shopify. These rates are standard on all platforms however they vary slightly. Shopify's Rates at the time of this article are 2.9% + 30 cents CAD on each sale. ***
Web Fee Sale Rates
Total Expenses after Conversion Rate & Fee
Now I know you are looking at the shipping cost for the mug and thinking it is higher than the actual cost of the mug. However, the extra cost for that is the very thick styrofoam they ship it in. They make every precaution to have it in one piece when it arrives to the customer. This I was impressed with! When you look at the chart and see that with the USD to CAD conversion, we would need to charge $22.35 per T-Shirt and $22.57 per Mug to just cover the cost to make, ship and cover the credit fees. However, let's say the conversion rate is higher on the day the order is placed, I would suggest increasing those prices by about $1 to cover that. Basically, the profit from each order would be the flat rate shipping cost of $15. Not bad but not great either when you factor in the additional monthly costs you need to account for.
To another chart to help us with that.
Cost of Expense
Web Platform (in our case it was Shopify)
Design Sites like Canva and Design Bundles
$40 (this is an estimate - as they all vary, however, DB is $13.43 for the cheapest and Canva is $16)
Total amount to clear each month
The one thing to note is that unless you are hand drawing your designs you will need an editor of some kind. The cheapest monthly editor I found was Canva (although if you are tech-savvy enough you could also use Inkscape for free) and you will need designs as well. There are a few websites that you could use and Design Bundles is one that has commercial and POd memberships with them. The price I listed for Design bundles is the cheapest one available and only offers 10 plus credits.
If you are going to go on the easiest route in pricing your items by simply using the cost plus shipping plus credit fee and the conversion, charging only a flat rate of $15, you will make $15 off of each order. With this amount to clear monthly costs, you would need to have 6 orders to almost break even. (You would be $1 off based on the above approximate calculations) You would 7 orders minimum to begin making any money.
We closed our Shopify store for the moment so that we could regroup and decide what we wanted to do. At the time we had a lot of other projects on the go as well and we didn't have the time to sit down with it and figure things out. The funny thing is, writing this blog helped me figure out costs and things like that, which is not only helpful for me but also for you.
I think that the POD system for an online store is possible if you keep in mind what I mentioned about pricing. I also believe that you need to keep in mind though that when you are selling items, and this doesn't only apply to POD, be unique. Find a product or a design that isn't used by others. Find something that solves a problem no one knew they had and fill it. When deciding on the pricing for a product think to yourself, 'Would I or those I know pay for this product'?
I hope that after reading this article you have a better understanding of HOW it works and what you need to factor in when designing and pricing your items. I know that eventually, we may reconsider reopening our store, possibly on a different platform, however, it is not something we have totally said no to.
Have an amazing day!