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Beginner's handbook

11 Things to Look for in Every Print-On-Demand Company

By on March 26th, 2019 Reading Time: 7 minutes

Getting into print-on-demand (POD) means choosing a print partner that best fits your ecommerce business. While there are many in the market, the best ones all share the same traits. If you’ve wanted to know the top 11 things to look for in every POD company, then keep reading.

In this article, I’ll go over the main factors that you should look for in a reliable print partner to ensure that your online store has quality products and services. This will keep you, and your customers, happy.

1. Product Range

Many brands that launch a merchandise line start off with t-shirts. Put a logo on a t-shirt and it has universal appeal to fans of that brand. What do you do when your brand grows past t-shirts, though?

Expanding your merchandise to include more niche products, such as swimwear, babywear, or even home & living accessories can be a great way to grow your brand. Customer who bought and loved your t-shirt might also want a mug or other accessory.

This only works if your print provider offers all of them. So choose carefully when starting out and see which companies have as broad of a product range as possible, while still offering high-quality products. You want your customers to be as happy with a new mug they order as they are with the t-shirt they bought.

2. Pricing Model

One of the biggest appeals of POD is that you don’t have to deal with or pay any upfront costs for inventory.

So besides the cost of producing a t-shirt, you do have to be aware of any costs of actually using the print service itself. Some companies charge a monthly fee, and that can really impact your profits, especially when you’re starting out and sales might be low. Others might charge a percentage of your final sales prices—so the higher your prices, the more the print company makes.

Ideally, you want to deal with drop shippers who only charge you a flat amount for the actual cost of the order. This keeps things simple and avoids continuous, additional charges. When comparing options, find out what you get for the cost. A more expensive print company might have better quality products, or offer additional services, such as branding (more about that later).

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3. Good Reviews and Social Proof

Most people, 90% of them in fact, looked at online reviews before choosing to do business with a company. When searching for a printing partner, you should do the same.

The first place to look is the company’s own website, and many are happy to share their reviews with potential customers. You can usually browse through many reviews and see what is the general consensus among customers.

Maybe they’re satisfied with the product but experience one particular issue, such as a t-shirt running a size too small or too large. Customers might also mention competitors, and praise how certain aspects of one brand are better than another.

The number of reviews is also important. A 4.5 out of 5-star average from 2000+ reviews is far more impressive than a 5 out of 5 from just 20 reviews. It’s easy for a new brand to ask friends or family to leave good reviews, so be wary.

Also, look for reviews in more than one place. A Facebook page is another good source of reviews or recommendations, as most companies will also have a social media presence. App listings (such as on Shopify) can be good sources of feedback, too.

Lastly, social proof is a good indicator of how good a print company is. The more people publicly endorse a POD brand, the more trustworthy they appear to be.

4. Returns Handling

Mistakes sometimes happen and orders get returned. There can be many reasons why—from the customer being unhappy with the product, to an error in production, or even a problem by the shipping service.

How a print company handles these issues will tell you a lot about them. Make sure you do your research thoroughly and know the differences in each company’s policy. This way you’re fully prepared in case a customer does want to return something.

It also might be a good idea to copy the print company’s returns policy into your own store. If an item is returned to the POD facility, your customer will know what to expect.

This keeps things fair for everyone involved.

5. 24/7 Customer Service

Getting into ecommerce and using a POD company responsible for fulfillment means multiple channels of communication; you and your customers, and you and the print company.

Any communication related to helping customers fix problems with their orders will be delayed, and it’s even slower the more spread out everyone is around the world.

The best fix for this is 24/7 customer support. As a store owner, you can rely on the print company to help you with customer issues any time of day. You’ll save a ton of hassle and have happier customers for it.

The quality of customer support is important, too. The support team should be helpful and actually care about solving your problems. It’s also a plus if they’re available by different channels (phone, chat, email, etc.)

By working with a POD service that has 24/7 customer support, you can manage any occurring store errors much faster.

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6. Transparency

You want a print partner that’s open with communication and forthcoming about any issues (if they do appear). Sometimes mistakes happen with orders, and then you want customer service reps who help you in the best way possible.

Transparency also includes being open about policy or company changes. Try to see how the print partner informs its own customers about these kinds of things. It also helps to be informed ahead of time of any big changes, this way you have time to react on your end and make the necessary adjustments to your business.

Sending out notifications on multiple platforms helps keep customers up to date. Coordinated email, social media, and website messages make sure everyone gets the new information.

7. Experience

A POD company with years of industry experience has a few things going for it, mainly sustainability and strong partnerships. Let me expand on each one:

Sustainability means that a POD company is at a size where it can maintain long-term growth. It also has a track record of making good business decisions and adapting to changes in the industry. You want a print partner that’s in it for the long term and that you can rely on. Switching POD’s can be risky, since you’re changing almost everything involving the product, production, and shipping.

Years of experience can also lead to better partnerships between POD companies and shipping carriers who offer better rates. A POD company can get lower prices on its stocked products or shipping rates as it grows over the years, and passings these savings on to you as an ecommerce store owner is a good way to beat the competition.

8. Fast Shipping

Nowadays, everyone expects fast shipping. You want to meet basic expectations, so look for a POD with many locations around the world so they can access different regions faster.

As an ecommerce store owner, look at the different shipping methods and speeds offered. Typically, you can choose between two types of shipping rates, flat and live.

For flat rates, you pay a fixed amount to ship anything as long as it doesn’t exceed size or weight limits. Live shipping rates are more dynamic and are calculated in real-time, based on the weight and destination of the order.

In any case, if you want to sell your products globally, you need a print partner that can ship worldwide and offer different methods like standard, express, overnight, etc.

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9. Personalization

One of the best ways to make your brand out from among the competition is to add personalization to your products. These are ways to help your brand stand out and be more unique.

Surprisingly, 1 in 4 customers said they would pay more to have a personalized product. If you’re using POD, then you want a print partner that can offer these options.

Some popular add-ons can be sleeve prints on t-shirts, embroidery, or even printed inside labels. Perhaps you’re looking for a white-label POD company so that you can add branding stickers on packages. This makes it look like the products are coming directly from your store, and not from your print partner.

Another useful feature is having the POD company on the returns address (but still keeping your brand name). That way, if the customer does send the package back, you don’t have to deal with the returns.

10. Growth

A print partner that’s focused on growing and adding new products and features helps your brand grow alongside them. Fashion trends are always expanding, and a POD company that’s on top of the new, hit items means your brand can capitalize on them, too.

Location expansion is important too. Plenty of POD companies have locations in the United States, but what about Europe, Asia, or Australia? Each market has growing ecommerce sectors, and POD is going to be a portion of that.

11. Quality

Finally, let’s mention print quality. A good POD company will pride themselves on the quality of the printing they do. After all, it’s what their entire business is about. This means using ink and thread (in the case of embroidery or cut & sew products) that will last longer and look good.

Don’t just stop at printing though, investigate what kind of equipment they use. Print companies that work hard to stay ahead of the curve will constantly be investing in new equipment, ensuring they can provide the best products.

The products printed on should be of high quality too. There’s no point in having fancy equipment and expensive ink if the t-shirt it’s printed on is going to fall apart after a few washes. You can test the quality of products and the print yourself by making a sample order.

Have you found your print-on-demand company?

Choosing the best POD partner for your ecommerce store will require you to do some homework, so use these tips as a study guide to help you make the best possible decision.

To summarize, a quality print partner will give your brand:

  • A lower rate of returns
  • Better brand reputation
  • Peace of mind

Whoever you end up choosing, they should fit your brand while also leaving room for your store to grow. You might start by only selling to friends and family in your hometown, but you could one day be a brand recognized all over the world.

If you have any other tips or suggestions about what to look for in a POD company, please share them in the comments!

Read this article in Chinese.

You can find me devouring the dusty marigold pages of my First Edition Wheel of Time collection while enjoying a plate of fluffy pancakes next to my adopted goldfish, Harold.

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  1. Dave

    I agree with what was mentioned but I wish there was better quality control when an order is shipped. I have had several customers receive a completely different design than what they ordered. Makes me wonder how this particular part of the process has managed to evade quality control. I know it happens but it has happened to my customers more times than I expected. Secondly, production times on products that ARE NOT t-shirts seem to take significantly longer. I cringe when someone orders a hoodie or sweatshirt because I know the that the order won’t ship for days. Overall, Printful does a great job considering the volume and fulfillment complexity. I’d mention that they are my #1 for POD product fulfillment but they are not my exclusive POD. They have a stronghold on the market for now. But for how long? We’ll have to wait and find out as technology and processes are refined across the entire POD industry.

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey Dave,

      Sorry to hear about your experience. Our error rates are well within industry standards and if you ever happen to have any issues with your orders, make sure to submit a problem report and we’ll fix it as soon as possible. Our average fulfillment time is 3 business days but the estimated fulfillment timeframe is 2-7 business days. Thanks for the feedback!

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