WooCommerce and Print-On-Demand

In this post I am getting into the eCommerce side of Maddy Osman‘s experience, specifically, print-on-demand. We dive into some of the the popular products for print-on-demand, the advantages of using it it and who is it best for. We also dig into using WooCommerce and Printful to offer products on your WordPress site, including:

  • The thinking behind print-on-demand
  • Some of the more popular products in this space
  • The advantages of print-on-demand
  • Who print-on-demand is best for
  • Using WooCommerce and Printful to offer products on your WordPress site

Bob: What I want to talk about today is print-on-demand. And I think by the term itself, it’s pretty self explanatory. But just give us a little bit of an overview. And I know there’s tons of products available that you can get via print-on-demand. Can you share some of the more popular ones as well?

Maddy: Sure. Just to explain for anybody who might not know, print-on- demand, I compare it to drop shipping, in that you never actually have to stock the products yourself. So that’s the idea behind print-on- demand. The benefit is that you don’t have to hold inventory. So it really enables anybody who has an idea for something that want to design, and then print on various items, to do that without having to take on all these additional expenses, and figuring out where they’re going to put this stuff— in their house or wherever.

Print-on-demand is really cool for those reasons. I use it mostly for apparel items, things like hoodies, tank tops. I even have some crop tops. We have some tote bags. We’re experimenting now with my side gig, which is called Tanks That Get Around, although I’m thinking of rebranding it. Anyway, that’s kind of what I’ve been playing with. But there’s a whole lot more you can do with it.

The supplier I use, just because they have such a great integration with WordPress and WooCommerce, is Printful. And Printful has all sorts of different options. You can do all-over printed leggings. You can do socks. You can do canvas prints. You can print on mugs. And they have a lot of different options, even within those categories, things like American apparel versus Gildan, so you can go for the cheaper quality stuff. Or you could go super high-quality with it.

Of course, the thing to keep in mind with print-on-demand is that you are operating with a lower margin, and so inevitably because the company, like Printful for example, is taking care of not only printing and inventory and having access to these products in the first place, but also fulfillment, it cuts down on what’s left on the table for you to take home. So things like deciding between different variations of a type of item become important when it comes down to winning back some of that margins on those sales.

Bob: Right. It sounds like it’s either, if you really want to get serious about it, probably quantity is the key there because of that. Or like you said, there probably are a lot of people where it’s a side gig. Maybe it’s something they put on their site. They want to offer that you can come and shop for a few things here. Yeah, nobody wants to sit there and buy a screen printing setup for their office and go through that every time they get an order, so it makes a lot of sense. Okay. Here’s a three-part question, really, a loaded question. I’m going to let you run with it.

Maddy: Okay. Try me.

Bob: You’ve kind of answered why print-on-demand. If you would want to add anything to that, that would be great. But maybe dig into the advantages a bit more, and who it’s really good for.

Maddy: Sure. While you were talking, I was actually thinking this. Maybe the benefit of doing print-on- demand? It’s probably best for somebody who is testing a concept, somebody who’s bringing a new brand to market, or extending a brand that didn’t have an apparel or other trinket line because, like you said, you don’t have to buy this whole screen printing setup. So it’s nice to be able to rely on a company like Printful, or like Printify, or one of the other many providers that are out there because they’ve essentially taken on that risk for you. And they have access to all those things and can give you discounted access.

You get to set your prices on top of whatever their prices are. In the long-term, print on demand is probably not the most profitable way to run an online apparel business. But I think it lowers risk for somebody who wants to test it out.

Bob: That segues into what I’m thinking about. You just answered part of that, but everybody’s thinking, oh, this sounds really cool. But you’ve said that probably running a full apparel shop is not the way to go. Are there any other instances where print-on-demand doesn’t really work?

Maddy: Good question. Yeah. I mean, I would say that it really has to do with scaling up. As you scale up, it doesn’t make as much sense. Printful, depending on the volume of orders you get in a month, give you a discount on top of whatever the normal pricing is. Once you start to hit certain milestones, it becomes cheaper to use them as your provider. You’d really have to do a cost-benefits analysis. Where’s that point where it no longer makes sense to work with a print-on-demand company and do your own inventory, do your own fulfillment?

But I think the other thing about print-on-demand that I like is the fact that when a person puts in an order, I don’t have to rush out to FedEx, or UPS and make sure that it gets out on time. So it’s a convenience thing, too. And in some situations, at least early on while it’s still that side hustle, or that untested concept, it’s nice to be able to outsource the headache.

Bob: Right. Now with the shop you’re running, you’re using Printful, obviously. Are you using WooCommerce with that as well?

Maddy: I am, yes.

Bob: Great. So we’re good to go here. I want to focus on those two. What are some of the things on that checklist that you’ve experienced that people should really follow when making this decision or going in this direction?

Maddy: I think I sent you a link to an article I put together that goes through it. If you want to follow it by the book, that’s the way to do it. But let me share some of the higher-level thoughts behind it. First of all, before you do any integrations, you should determine who your print- on-demand partner is going to be. That’s going to be a function of cost. And that’s going to be a function of what their average fulfillment time is. Another thing that’s worth talking about is the fact that your customers may suffer a bit from you doing print-on-demand because of the production time, and then the fulfillment time because the products aren’t ready to go right off the bat. In my experience, Printful has been pretty timely with fulfillment, but it still probably takes a minimum of week from the order until somebody gets that item in their hands.

You have to factor the pros and cons. Another one to think about is product offerings. Because if you’re going to connect one of these integrations to your website. I haven’t tried stacking Printful with one of the other options. It would be interesting to see if there were any major conflicts that I’d have to work out if I wanted to offer other things. Printful specializes in certain things. Maybe one thing that I’ve been considering is doing some sort of custom glassware printing, like shot glasses, or pint glasses, or something like that. I don’t think that’s something that Printful offers right now, definitely not shot glasses.

So if I wanted to do something like that, I’d have to find another partner and then integrate that on top of Printful. I have had some weird issues with setting up Printful in the past that I’ve troubleshooted and worked through. But ideally when you’re getting started, you should probably just pick one, especially if your web development experience is limited. Because even with one you’re probably going to have a couple things to troubleshoot with setup. After you’ve figured out which one you want to use, then you want to make sure to have their documentation at the ready as you’re integrating it with WooCommerce. In the case of Printful, they integrate with a lot of other services. Like Etsy; you can push your products from Printful to Etsy. You can simultaneously push your products to Amazon as well.

Right now my store is set up on WooCommerce, but we also have an Amazon store with the same products, which is kind of cool, the ability to expand your reach. Taking advantage of a major eCommerce market with existing users is nice. The next step is, if you haven’t installed WooCommerce, you have to install that before you can install the integration that you’re going to set up with it, like Printful. And you have to set up WooCommerce for all those little things that matter, like setting your shipping rates and setting up your payment gateway and things like that. And you have to make sure you have a theme that’s compatible with eCommerce.

You also have to set up your Printful account and set all the details there. When connecting with Amazon, there are additional steps that you have to factor in, like the documentation they require in order for you to be able to push products from a print-on-demand partner and different things that you have to set, like what your average ship date is and things like that.

There’s a couple technical steps that you have to configure in the backend of WooCommerce with Printful. For example, you have to enable the rest API. But what is interesting about Printful is they have a WooCommerce plugin that allows you to configure shipping rates, which is cool because it takes into account the weight of the item, and the location of where it’s being sent, so you don’t have to say, “It’s just a flat rate, five bucks for one item,” or something like that. It’s dynamic according to whatever people put in their cart and whatever zip code they put in. And you can also set in the backend of Printful, which specific options you want to offer. But if it’s not feasible that people would get their stuff in one day because it’s print-on-demand, then you’d probably not want to put that there.

You could do things like slower shipments and giving people cheaper prices if that’s something that they care about. You can also have Printful calculate the sales tax for you, which is nice because when I was starting to configure WooCommerce, and before I decided I wanted to use Printful, I was getting confused by how to set up all these different sales tax rates. I had started to download some tables. It was just over my head, so it’s nice that Printful does that for me.

And yeah, the rest of it is just using Printful’s mock up generator tool, which is really easy to use, easy to upload stuff, easy to configure it however you want. And then you add just a couple product details, and push it live to your site. It shows up in a matter of minutes. That’s the Printful setup in a quick run-through.

Bob: We’ll share that link. Let’s say I’m coming to you and I’m thinking about doing this. And I don’t have a WordPress site. And I’m kind of intrigued with the idea that WordPress may add something to the mix here. I know that with Printful, for example, you can build a store on their platform, or you can integrate it with your WordPress site, like you said, using WooCommerce.

What would you say to somebody who came to you and said, “You know Maddy, I’m going back and forth here. I’m thinking maybe it would be better if I have my WordPress site and put it on there. It might be easier for me to just do it over here”? What advice do you give them? How do you lead them down that road?

Maddy: I had somebody get in touch with me recently specifically after they had read that blog post. And she had mentioned that she was on Blogger or something, and she’s like, “So I probably couldn’t integrate it with Blogger, right?” And I answered her: “I don’t think you could integrate it with Blogger, but you could always create the Amazon version of your storefront, and link to that from your blog.” Certainly, there are different ways you could go about it. The reason I use WooCommerce is because I have the backend knowledge of WordPress, so when I had to learn how to use WooCommerce to set up my store, it wasn’t a huge hardship for me.

But for everybody else, even those people who don’t have a lot of experience with WordPress, you still benefit from the flexibility of the platform, the fact that both WordPress and WooCommerce are open- source means that you can, depending on your means, depending on your knowledge, customize it to however you want it to be. And that’s something that you can’t necessarily do on a platform like Amazon because they own the platform. They set the standards for how you’re supposed to fill out your listings. You’re limited by what you can put in your brand profile page.

The other thing is that when you push stuff to Amazon instead of your own website, or Etsy, or whatever, they then own all that eCommerce data. And you get limited access to it, whereas on a platform like WordPress enabled with WooCommerce, if you set up Google Analytics or any other sort of analytics tools, that’s your data to make sense of and to use to make your store better. There are a lot of reasons to choose a platform like WordPress/WooCommerce, over a managed platform like Etsy or Amazon, even though you can technically do that with Printful.

Bob: Likely if somebody comes to you and says, “I have a WordPress site. I’ve had one for a while.” Let’s say I’m a web designer. And I’m thinking about doing this, but it doesn’t really fit on my web design site. I don’t want to put products on there. Then when they ask you, “Should I go ahead and just open up a site on Printful and shoot people over that way? Or should I do that WordPress site?” I’m assuming since they have that knowledge in WordPress, you would really push them to creating a second WordPress site with it.

Maddy: Yeah. I would say that if they already know it, there’s no reason not to. If you understand how to use the WordPress dashboard, you won’t have a problem configuring WooCommerce, at least for your basic needs. It’s a straightforward plugin from my experience. When I set up my Printful store, I found some informative video on Skillshare or something like that. It was like an hour long. I watched it while I was configuring the store. And I did the majority of what I needed to do in that hour. It was that easy to pick up with a background understanding of WordPress.

Bob: Right. The last question I want to ask you is: Have you seen any creative ways that people have used print-on-demand? Like when you came across it, it was, wow, that’s different, or you don’t see a lot of people doing it that way?

Maddy: There’s actually one I saw last week. And I don’t know if this is an exact answer to your question, but it’s kind of funny. It was a website where you could send them any tweets or any texts that you want, and they would transform it into Sumerian cuneiform tablet thing. That’s not exactly print-on-demand, but it is create-on-demand, and I just thought it was hilarious.

Bob: It’s something you could get very creative with, not that it would necessarily be something someone would want. But the fact that you could get just about anything printed on it, or to whatever limit you want.

Maddy: Exactly. You can have as much fun with it as you want. And there’s definitely tools to enable more or less anything you want to do, maybe not Sumerian tablets quite yet.

Bob: Right. I just wanted to get an overview of it because it is something that I’m sure there’s people that have thought of things, and again, it’s like that side gig, or adding some products to a site you may have been struggling to think of. And it does give you a nice introduction into selling products, like you said, without all the hassle of the shipping and the taxes and actual product creation. That’s something I’ve pondered only because I’ve used WooCommerce. I used it for many years. And I use it to sell everything except physical products. And I’ve always thought, hm. One of these days, I have to think of something like that. It’s not like they’re going to buy shirts with my face on it or anything. But maybe.

Maddy: I was going to say, it could be a great outlet for even just personal branding purposes, for a business that wants to give their customers the option to support them and wear branded gear. That’s not a bad way to start with it.

Bob: Yeah. I think that’s the fun part of it, getting a little clever with the content, how you would brand yourself via shirts, or hoodies, or something like that. It’s one of those things, it pops in the back of my head. One of these days, it’ll come to fruition. I’ll say it’s all Maddy’s fault.

Maddy: Well, now you have all the tools.