“The first part of our business has been about creating the design tools, the visualization platform, and the ability for consumers and sellers to create products for our Web site,” said Jeff Beaver, co-founder and chief product officer. “The second part of our business is about the marketplace.” Zazzle.com enables retailers, content owners, and designers to create and sell products online.
When Beaver describes the company’s marketplace, he’s referring to an open platform that includes Disney-sized corporations as well as local artists and amateurs. By eliminating the middlemen, shortening the supply chain, and enabling its business customers to produce goods without having to wait through the months-long process of a typical retailer, Zazzle.com gives its business partners a competitive advantage.
“Retailers have struggled so much in the last year or two because it’s impossible to predict what will sell when you’re designing things nine months in advance,” said Beaver.
“When you don’t perfectly match your supply with demand, you’re stuck with inventory that doesn’t sell, and it hurts finances,” he continued. Zazzle.com eliminates the process, making each product on-demand, for a specific order. “It’s a no-risk way to offer products,” said Beaver.
With humble aspirations and a small team, Zazzle.com began with the goal of developing an on-demand manufacturing model combined with an eBay-sized marketplace. It started with custom-made T-shirts.
“In the world of mass production, you typically have to order large volumes to balance the upfront cost of production,” said Beaver. “We wanted to give people the option to have short runs and one-at-a-time kinds of orders.”
As the company developed its competency, the executive team got more involved in Web site development and software tools to visualize products from the design online. Years later, the company has innovated on the ink and hardware/printer level and in automation, tying its systems and machines together in a way that produces a product minutes after an order is placed. In the past year, the company has also enhanced its Web site capabilities with three features related to sellers and retailers.
Quick Product Create enables any design, image, or photo to be automatically created on multiple products at once. Since launching this feature, Zazzle.com has seen product development skyrocket to more than 100,000 products a day.
“When you have a no-inventory model, the actual virtual inventory can be limitless,” said Beaver. “Disney alone has more images and products on our site than across all of its stores and parks.” So while Quick Product Create uses technology to create numerous products, Zazzle Store Builder and Advanced Store Customization enable sellers to create branded stores for their products.
Beaver said one of the early lessons he and others in the company learned was that online retailers need to have a venue and experience relevant to the customers they serve to be successful. “From the look and feel to how they merchandise their products, these two features enable our sellers, both on our site with Advanced Store Customization or off our site with Zazzle Store Builder, to create custom HTML and CSS-driven stores for their product,” said Beaver.
A smooth process is of the utmost importance in keeping Zazzle.com’s business intact, but without an equal amount of attention paid to the product side, process means nothing. Beaver said he has focused on three elements to ensure products are given as much attention as the processes behind them.
First, each product must measure up to Zazzle.com’s high level of quality. Second, the breadth of the company’s offering must be expansive enough to compete with what consumers can find in a mall. Third, within each offering, there must be as much variety as would be found in multiple bricks and mortar locations.
“It’s not just about having T-shirts or apparel as a category but rather having tons of options in styles, colors, and sizes,” Beaver said. “In apparel alone, we have more than 350 SKUs. We have to stay passionate about the products we’re offering.”
Recently, Zazzle.com has been working with product brands themselves, moving away from manufacturing 100% of the products sold on its site. The first major jump in this direction is with Keds. The companies have created a program to enable full customization of the sneakers, and they collaborate on the manufacturing process to fulfill orders.
“We have taken the concept of customization to the next level,” said Beaver. “Now it’s not just about printing on a product but about ‘customization by construction,’ controlling the creation of the entire product from the ground up.”
The potential of such business partnerships is tremendous. With Keds, within the first 48 hours of launching the design capabilities, more than 13,000 shoe designs were created. Beaver said it was more than Keds had seen in its entire 100-year history. “We’ve helped Keds become hip and modern again because we’ve enabled this platform for the company to tap into—the ecosystem of sellers, designers, and consumers,” he said.
Zazzle.com has also expanded its global Web presence in the UK, Europe, Australia, and Canada, and the sites are already popular. The advantage, said Beaver, comes from improving overseas customers’ experiences by providing localized content and payment options with their own currencies. Beaver said designers and brands on both sites would benefit as well.
“They have access to selling in their own local markets but also abroad,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited about our endeavors internationally, and I believe it will continue to accelerate.”