Print-On-Demand Stores Review: CafePress

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CafePress is a type of online store known as a print-on-demand store.  What this means is that artists and photographers can upload their images to CafePress, and sell products with their designs.  Print-on-demand stores typically sell prints, home decor products, and other gifts.  These stores allow designers to sell products with their images without having to worry about maintaining inventory, handling orders, and shipping, while still being able to make money off of their designs.

This article will discuss CafePress and give information about the store for sellers (as opposed to customers).  The topics covered are products offered, uploading interface, the dashboard, royalty rates, membership fees, promotional tools and more.

About

CafePress was founded in 1999 in California, but is now based in Kentucky, in the United States. They are one of the oldest POD stores online.

Products

As of writing, CafePress offers 388 products. The types of products they offer is similar to Zazzle. There are now very few products on CafePress that cannot also be found on Zazzle. They have not added any new products since March of 2015.

Their product offering includes clothing (115 choices, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, outerwear, kids, baby, hats, undergarments and pajamas), jewelry, bags, wallets, cases, drinkware, home goods (pillows, blankets, rugs, shower curtains, etc), buttons, magnets, stickers, signs, a few choices of wall decor (very limited), greeting cards, postcards, auto, pets, and seasonal decor.

Seller Interface

Images are uploaded to the Image Basket, and the tags, titles, and descriptions are added to the images themselves. They have an add product feature that allows you to select all of the products at once, or as many or few as you want. The image file is able to be changed even after a product is published. The preview images for the products on the product pages are very tiny (about 150×150 pixels) so it is very hard to see if your image fits the product properly.

The downside is that each individual product needs its own image file. They give you the dimensions in pixels for each product, and it needs to be created in that size (or larger) on your computer and then uploaded for each individual product. This can be time consuming with almost 400 products. There is no grouping of similar products, each individual T-shirt is counted as a separate product. However, all shirts have the same size requirement (in width and height) file, so you can use the same image for all shirts. Many products with similar width:height ratios can use the same image, so it is possible to reuse images for multiple products (for example, the same image for all the clocks as well as the watches). Each product has its own page.

The interface is very buggy, and has issues that are, per CafePress customer support, being addressed.

Product Statistics

You can see sales, likes, views and comments for a particular design but only through the Image Basket, which makes this very awkward and cumbersome.   You can see statistics in your Sales reports, but are limited to only as far back as the past 90 days.

Royalty

Royalty is fixed, and also determined by how active you are in your shop. You cannot set your percentage rate. It can range from 5-10% in the marketplace (more on that in a moment).   E-commerce (such as when a CafePress product is sold through a third party like Amazon) is only 5%. You can set your royalty in your own shop but most people do not order from individual stores anymore, instead they order through the marketplace.

There is a Volume Bonus, which has the potential to give you extra income if you make more than $100 in sales every month.  However, this is only sales from your shop, not from the marketplace or third party referrals.  Since most, if not all, sales come from the marketplace now, most people will never get this bonus.

This is the only POD I have used so far that does not allow you to set your own royalty rate (they used to but discontinued that a few years ago).

Several years ago, CafePress decided to change the royalty system. At first, everyone’s rate was slashed to 10% across the board.  Then, a few years back, CafePress installed a scoring system for royalty rates.  Basically, you had to meet minimum criteria to get a certain royalty rate.  If you fell below a certain “score”, you could only get 5% royalty.  In order to maintain your “score”, you had to upload at least one design every 3 months, get one follower, keep your profile at least 80% complete, follow another designer, and logging on at least once every 3 months.

Then the final nail in the coffin was opening up a lot of their merchandise to third party sales under the guise of e-commerce.  If you opted out of e-commerce, you lost vital sales potential.  But if you decided to go that route, you only got 5% royalty on all sales through e-commerce.  These extreme changes alienated the majority of regular shopkeepers on CafePress, forcing a lot of them to leave.

UPDATE:  As of July 2017, CafePress will be abandoning its current royalty system for one that is a flat-rate based on the average of your previous royalty rates.  This is bad news for those who have not been as active in their stores, or who get a lot of third party sales, which drives the royalty rate to 5%.

Affiliate/Referral Program

CafePress does offer an affiliate program, where you can earn extra commission on each sale.  However, if requires you signing up for a third-party service through CJ Affiliate.

Membership Fees

A basic store is free, but extremely limited, since you can only have one of each product in your store, and need to open a new store for each design. Premium shops, which are recommended, is either $6.95 per month or a flat rate of $59.95 per year.  It is worth it to have a premium shop, even though customizing your own shop is not even worthwhile anymore, just to be able to have more than one design in your store.

Promotional Tools

Google analytics, share with social media.  Besides that, not many.

Storefront Layout

If you have a premium shop, you can customize your online store with CSS and HTML. You can have categories and subcategories. However, CafePress abandoned their individual shop model many years ago and is focusing on promoting the products in their marketplace and e-commerce partners. Clicking a product does not even take you to that shopkeeper’s store anymore, like it used to.  However, on the individual product page, there is still a link to the shopkeeper’s premium shop, if they have one.  If you want to see more designs by that same person, you click on their username and it sends you to a very poorly designed page with a mishmash of all of their designs all over the place, with no order at all.

Community

You can follow a seller, like and favorite their products, and leave and receive comments.  Their wishlist has been broken for years and they have not fixed it.

The designs that seem to do best on CafePress are the text-based ones, as well as trendy topics and simple graphic design.

File Size Limits and Types

They accept PNG and JPG image types.  There does not seem to be a file size limit.

Conclusion

A decade ago, CafePress was all the rage.  However, they are not the only POD anymore, and I feel like their popularity has declined dramatically.  They do not update their website anymore and have stopped offering new products a long time ago.

My store still makes a decent amount of income, which is why I still have it up and still add products, although with not near as much vigor as before.  I add just enough products to keep the store active and my royalty level at 10%.  My peak year was 2014, and it has been declining ever since, partly due to the frozen royalty system.  This is the POD where I make the least on each product sold.  It is unfortunate, because at one time, this was the store that was actually making me the most money out of all of them.

The designs on CafePress tends to lean towards cartoon-style graphic design and text-based designs the most.


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