Updated: Mar 12, 2021
Use these helpful tips and tricks to get the most out of e-commerce production partners and drop shipping services for creatives and artists.
So your friends love you art and you're getting tons of interest in prints and products. You decide you want to start selling your art online, so you set up your store and just got your first sale! What next? You have to find a printer that is affordable and high-quality, wait for them send sample and then the final product. Then you have to purchase packaging and run to the post office to calculate shipping costs, before finally sending the product off to its new home. And then where do you store all your extra inventory? Whether you are a small business just starting out, or don't have the space and equipment to print and store you own products, production and drop shipping partners are services that many creatives can benefit from.
Production and shipping partners are fairly straightforward. There are several great companies out there that let users make an account, upload their art, choose what products they want their designs on, and link them to an online e-commerce platform of choice. They then handle all of the printing, product costs, and shipping of the artist products for a small fee per item.
Sound simple, right? The short answer is yes. It's an affordable and easy way to take some of the guesswork out of selling custom products and prints online. But they all have a learning curve. Use these helpful tips and tricks to get the most out of e-commerce production partners and drop shipping services for creatives and artists.
One of the first things to consider when choosing a production partner is the type of products they offer and the quality of those products. Many producers specialize in a certain products or specific departments. Some only print professional art pieces like canvases and high-quality prints. Others have a more extensive catalogue that include drink-wear, tech accessories, and clothing. I find that it is hard to find a single company that fits all my personal printing needs. The service I used for years was amazing for art prints, but lacked the option to print greeting cards. You may have to play around a bit to find a service or even a few, that fit your needs best.
For example, Printful.com has a wide range of apparel pieces from name brand companies such as Champion. Gooten.com also has apparel but focuses more on home decor and art prints. Many production companies offer samples that they will send so that you can check the quality of the pieces before committing to the service. Your goal should not be what is easiest, but rather what offers the best quality for the cost. It seems like a no-brainer to just go with the standard t-shirts offered by your current partner. However, if the product isn't up to your standard, the negative reviews and feedback cancel out the simplicity. When working with services that have free accounts, who's to say you're only allowed to have one? I have several accounts so the products that I am selling match my expectations and those of my customers.
The best thing about using a production partner is the ability to set your return on a product. Profit margin is what the creator makes after the cost of goods is paid for. You decide how much you want to make off of each item on top of those fees. This gives the artist the ability to pick and choose how much they want off of each product sale or auto-adjust the profit margin to be a set percentage. For example, you can have all your products set where you make 20% off of each sale. Alternately, you may want to adjust each cost to reflect a different margin.
For example, if the producer charges $5 for a small print and you want to make $10 off of the sale, you would set your price to $15. You get to control your profit margins, so it is up to you whether you want to make $2 or $20. This also gives the flexibility to use the product cost as a buffer to hide any accumulated fees associated with the production of the product, such as marketing and shipping.
So if producers are selling their products to creatives for such an affordable price, how do they make any money at all? Don't be fooled, shipping costs still have to be added into the price... and usually at a steep cost. Shipping rates are fairly standard across the industry, so even if you're going to only pay a few dollars for the product fee, you will still have to pay the shipping fee. Some producer really rack up the cost for shipping, especially for large pieces and international shipping.
Unfortunately, you can't really get around having to pay for shipping... however it is worth is. They take away the burden of having to mail, purchase packing materials, and charge the correct fees off of the artist. One important issue to note is that although they may charge a high rate for shipping, it's not a positive selling point to show such a high fee on your products. If the shipping rate is more than a few dollars, especially for simple or small pieces, this could deter buyers. Additionally, with certain large e-commerce platforms, listings with free shipping statistically get more views and higher page rank. But this is an easy remedy. When calculating the price you would like to set on a product, add the shipping cost into the price. Then you can list it as "free shipping" without directly charging the customer. They still pay the fee, but it stays hidden in the total cost and they appear to be getting a great deal.
What to Avoid
While finding a great production partner feels like finding true love, you will probably have to kiss a few frogs first. It is very easy to get wrapped into sites aimed at creatives, but not with creatives in mind. There is a multitude of commerce sites out there that target artists, designers, and creatives to sell their products through them. They offer an enticing amount of products to choose from and have beautiful social media campaigns. They do handle everything from shipping to production, which makes starting an online store as easy as uploading your artwork. However, profiting off of these sites is incredibly hard.
These sites allow users to set their prices, but also take a huge chunk of change from the artist. Most profit margins are no more than 10% of the sale cost. If you are able to have a ton of product options or very successful pieces, you may be able to make some money. However, the artists and pieces that are given the prime listings and most advertising are one's that have immense success already. It's hard to grow a business from these sites and the companies only look to profit themselves. Read the best and worse places to sell art online.
Production partners and drop shippers are incredibly helpful for small businesses, but are not self sufficient. As an artist, you have to remain vigilant in ensuring that everything is running smooth and efficiently. Production partners usually do not handle any of the day-to-day maintenance and customer service tasks of running an e-commerce. It is up to you to frequently check on technical aspects and communication, as well as reviewing your statistics. It is easy to get comfortable that the producer will handle all incoming orders and the steps that follow. However, just to insure that everything is up to your standards, you should be checking the status of each order and relaying anything notable to your customers. You should also keep records of all orders and educate yourself of the protocol the partner has for fees, taxes, returns and any other anticipated issues.
Shop owners should also be ensuring that customer service is up to par. The producers communicate with only the artist. It is your responsibility to relay all important information to your customers. When you receive shipping confirmation, you should still be sending the tracking numbers and notifications to the buyer. This does give you the freedom to communicate freely with your customers in the way you feel fits your business best. Sending notes, answering questions, and handling issues in your own personal way instead of having to rely on the partner to take care of it gives you flexibility to take your business into your own hands. Remember too... with any automated service, you can run into issues with glitches. This is why manually reviewing orders is so very important. That way of something looks off or isn’t working correctly, you can resolve issues in a timely manner.
So that breaks down the top things you need to consider when committing to a production partner. Do you use a service such as this? And what have you learned along your journey? Let us know in the comments below!