Last week I attended NALC (a leadership conference for the promotional product industry) and watched David Nicholson of Leeds moderate an interesting discussion about Alibaba, who many feel is a threat to our industry. Alibaba connects factories, mostly in developing countries, with end-buyers thus, circumventing the traditional Factory > Supplier > Distributor > End-Customer model the promotional products industry is accustomed. David is the President of Leeds which is one of the largest suppliers (see where Supplier fits in the chain) in our industry. In preparation for his presentation David registered as a buyer on Alibaba and purchased three different branded items from three different factories. He then shared his experience with the audience which sparked intense debate. There is no doubt that Alibaba is a threat to our industry's distribution model. But it seems that customers considering Alibaba are more likely to be doing so for larger quantity orders. There is, however, another threat from North American based companies like Zazzle.com which thrive in the lower-minimum arena. I wanted to test Zazzle much like David tested Alibaba and so I did so last week.
Feel free to use any/all of this information with your staff or clients. FYI, I purchased one t-shirt and the entire transaction was completed via their website.
Firstly, about Zazzle. They are a well funded company that received venture capital dollars (nearly $50M from my quick research) from the same people that funded Google. Here's a compelling video that Zazzle produced to establish the problem many end-customers face with our industry, and their solution (if you're receiving this by email: click here to view):
Below are my thoughts on the experience and on Zazzle. At the end I have posted links to all of my correspondence emails as well as images of the printed t-shirt for your reference.
- If a customer wants a handful (or armful) of standard branded promotional items, quickly, Zazzle is a great solution.
- The print quality, at least on black t-shirts, is lackluster at best. As you can see in the photo at the end of this post there was a large square of pre-treatment on the t-shirt that was very noticeable (it did not wash out, either). Also, the printing of the red text was outlined with a faint white color. If the client has specific requirements on decoration quality, placement, color-match, etc then Zazzle is not a good solution.
- It took me ten minutes to find the t-shirt I wanted, add some text, enter my billing/shipping info, and submit my order. Not bad, at all.
- Their online design tool for adding text/images is solid.
- Their phone support is good but before I could speak with someone I was on hold for 5+ minutes. Then they put me back on hold for another 5 minutes in order to "send me an email". For comparison, I tried calling 4imprint.com and was connected with someone who could help in 13 seconds.
- When I called Zazzle to complain about the print quality they promptly offered to reprint and ship a new one to me free of charge. All that I needed to do was email them a photo. Good outcome but getting this to happen was a hassle.
- If you're ordering more than 20 items it seems to be cost-prohibitive to use Zazzle, especially at the expense of quality. The ability to order 1 piece, custom branded, is very appealing.
- They do not offer USB drives, yet, so for now those needing drives will have to go to a distributor and consequently iClick...sorry David! :)
- They have an incredibly vast product offering in which all of the products can be custom decorated.
- You need to pay extra for shipping via UPS/FedEx and thus receive a tracking number. I opted for the least expensive shipping option, which for one t-shirt was $3.99 via USPS. They said it could take 7-11 days to arrive but, in fact, it arrived in 3 days. I'm not sure I would trust their service to deliver on a specific date for an event.
- If I was throwing a birthday party for my daughter and I needed ten t-shirts and water bottles, I would use Zazzle. For that type of order there isn't a lot of value that a distributor can provide to me and, really, it's a waste of a distributor's precious time. Let Zazzle have that, all day long.
- Zazzle is great for customers that 1) are not concerned with the quality of decoration 2) need low quantities, now 3) don't have a relationship with a distributor 4) like to do all the work themselves 5) do not need any creative help.
Here are links to the copies of the four emails I received from Zazzle which you may print or reuse as you wish (I redacted my order number and address): Welcome to Zazzle Order Confirmation Order Queued for Shipment Customer Service RMA for Reprinting