By Wynn Mustin
Running an e-commerce business can feel like you’re competing against thousands of similar brands on Pinterest and Instagram. In an environment where everyone shares photos and links all day every day, it’s no longer possible to capture attention with the same old products as everyone else.
But this year, you can break the cycle and stand out from the crowd.
By creating a unique product for your brand, one that communicates who you are and fills a gaping hole in the market. Your product could be anything from a simple t-shirt or mug with your original quirky messaging, to a reimagined iPhone case or cup holder, to an entirely new physical product that the world has never seen before.
But how do you bring a new product into the world? What if you don’t have design skills or connections with suppliers and manufacturers? And what if you’re clueless about supply and demand?
There’s an answer to all of your fears. It’s called…
Printing On Demand
Printing on demand is a way of manufacturing that assembles each individual product after it’s been purchased. If you’re creating a funky screen-printed t-shirt, a fresh t-shirt will be printed every time someone clicks “Buy Now.” If you’re selling a 3D product like a uniquely-shaped iPhone case, a new sale will send the model to a 3D printer to be built right then and there.
This has so many benefits. First, there’s no need for inventory, which means you won’t pay huge upfront costs to develop products. And you won’t risk losing everything if your products don’t sell. For each product you develop, you only need to pay for the design and one test copy (to make sure it’s ready to be sold).
Each product lives in your store as a single digital file, which means you can easily update your products by tweaking the design. Want to fix the color or wording of your t-shirt? Just edit the file and re-upload. Want to change the shape of your iPhone case? Just edit the 3D design, and you’re set.
With this method, you’re able to develop unlimited products. If you wanted to, you could create hundreds of designs for minimal cost and test them to see which one sells. Remember, you won’t lose any money except for the cost of the design.
The old way of manufacturing required you to drop hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to develop products, test them, and build an inventory based on how many you expected to sell. If the product flopped, you’d lose your entire investment. Printing on demand removes that risk.
And besides printing products, most print on demand services also package and dropship your products to customers, eliminating the hassle of fulfilling orders by hand.
But wait, you may be thinking, how can I design these products if I don’t have the right skills? That part is easy — if you choose to outsource.
Maybe design isn’t your strong suit. That’s perfectly normal — many (if not most) business owners rely on the skills of professional designers to realize their vision.
If you’re looking for 2D designs to print on products like t-shirts, towels, and mugs, you can outsource to designers on Fiverr, Upwork, or 99Designs. For 3D printable designs like plastic figurines, cookie cutters, or animal-shaped showerheads, you can find 3D designers on these 3 sites or on platforms like CadCrowd that specialize in 3D modeling.
Most 3D print on demand services also feature an in-house design team that you can hire to create a 3D printable file.
Let’s say you’re an e-commerce brand that sells beach-themed products, and you want to start a new line of tropical fruit-themed items. You plan to sell t-shirts printed with patterns of starfruit and kiwis and quirky iPhone cases shaped like pineapples.
You grab a coffee and open up your laptop to browse freelance sites for designers. You find one on Upwork and one on CadCrowd that fit your style, agree to a price, and hire them to make the designs. A few days later you have an Illustrator file of starfruit and kiwis and a 3D model of a pineapple phone case.
You take these designs and upload them to the print-on-demand services of your choice (more on those next). They’re soon approved, so you set the price of each item and connect them to your online store.
A few days later, you get an email that three of your pineapple phone cases have sold. They’re currently being printed and will soon be on their way to your customers, and you’ve pocketed a cool profit.
Doesn’t get much easier than that!
How to Get Started
First, you’ll want to choose the print-on-demand services you’ll use to launch your new product. Companies like Printful and Gooten print designs on pre-made products like clothing, beach towels, bath mats, and coasters. For 3D-printed products, check out Fulfilled By Voodoo, Shapeways, or Sculpteo.
Let’s recap the steps to launching your new physical product with on-demand printing:
- Come up with an idea.
- Create the design (by yourself or by outsourcing).
- Upload your design to the print-on-demand service of your choice.
- Print a prototype and make sure it’s ready to sell.
- Connect the product to your online store.
- Spend your time building your business, or just sit back and watch the sales roll in!
Now, it’s your turn. What new product will you unveil to the world?
Great thought-provoking article Wynn.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in regards to being unique and making yourself stand out from the crowd.
With a lot of competition due to low barriers to entry – low start up costs etc, you really need to set yourself apart.