What Are and How Does Print-On-Demand and Dropshipping Work?
This article answers the questions in its title, and in doing so answers the MFAQ (most frequently asked question): How long is the delivery period? The short answer is three weeks to a month. For the long answer, please see below.
Lazy River Design Works couldn't operate without the use of a service that offers both print-on-demand and dropshipping services. Before tackling how that works, I will quote myself from this site's FAQ:
"Print-on-demand is the service provided by an online printing company that allows the artist to upload graphics to their servers and, when required, print those graphics on to various products that the artist has made available. The key here is that printing is only done on demand, when an order is made, even if that order is for only one item. Print-on-demand services generally take one of two forms. In the first, only the artist can order product from the company. An example of this is Vistaprint. In the second, the artist can order their own products, but more importantly creates a store on the site that members of the public can browse and buy from. The company handles the financial transaction and the shipping. A great example here is Redbubble (please check out my store there). There are also sites that offer a bit of both.
Dropshipping is a little more complicated. It's a method for offering products via an online store without carrying any inventory. Products are listed and available in the store with photos/mock-ups and descriptions, and those products directly linked to a third-party manufacturer. When a customer decides to buy an item, the financial transaction is processed by the store owner and the manufacturer receives the order, manufactures it, and ships it straight to the purchaser, a process known as "fulfillment." I get the impression that most online stores that use dropshipping sell just ordinary stuff that has no artist-added design element. It's sunglasses and accessories, for the most part, perhaps with some small ability to tweak a product's appearance - colour options, or the ability to add a designer label.
The place this Lazy River flows through is the confluence of these two services. A "print-on-demand dropshipping" company (a terrible mouthful that needs a better term) is one that provides products via dropshipping to an online store that features printed items such as clothing, prints (framed, sticker, magnet, etc), fashion accessories, electronic accessories, household items and so on. It allows someone like me to create a store and offer their creative output on the products selected without carrying an inventory."
How It Works
A customer sees a shirt that they like and decides to buy one. They select colour and/or size if applicable, and select "Buy Now" on the shirt's product page. They are presented with a Checkout Page, which allows them to enter their shipping info and pick a payment method. They do so, confirm the order, and their part is done for now. The waiting has begun.
When the order is placed, the payment for it must be cleared. This process is composed of two phases. First, my site host, Wix, has a "pending period" when they process the payment (alliteration unintended); this takes up to two business days. Second, the payment has to be settled by the customer's payment method, the "settling period," taking a variable amount of time, but likely up to two days - I am waiting for more data here.
When the payment clears the final phase, I am notified of it. Then there is period of time while my financial institution clears the transfer of funds and puts it in my account. All of this, from the end of the pending period to the money arriving in my account, takes three to five business days. That makes it five to seven business days from time of purchase to me receiving the payment.
Once I know the order has been successfully paid for, I transfer the order to the manufacturer and pay for it. At present, that manufacturer is exclusively HugePOD, though I will definitely be adding other companies when they become available. HugePOD is located in China, and their turnaround time is usually pretty good. In my still limited experience due to the newness of this endeavour, it usually takes about three or four days for them to process an order and get it to shipping. Call it three to five business days to be on the safe side. That's been the case when I have ordered just one type of thing, i.e., t-shirts, but the one time so far I placed a large and varied order of shirts, hats and umbrellas it took two weeks for it to be shipped. Obviously, I am keen to gather further data here as well.
Which brings the order to shipping, the final leg. There is a lot of variability here in time taken and cost, as you can imagine, depending on the country that the order is being sent to. Thus far, to my part of Canada, it usually takes about a week. I have an order being shipped right now, and we'll see if it fits that time period. I have plans to get a few people that I know in Europe to order something and chart the progress. Again, more information needed, but I think seven business days would be something to hope for, with more days possible.
Adding it up:
- 2 business days - Wix Pending Period
- 3-5 business days - Customer's payment method's Settling Period; my bank clears the transfer of funds into my account
- 1 day - I make the order at HugePOD and pay for it
- 2-5 business days - HugePOD makes the order and ships it
- 7 or more business days - International shipping
15 - 20 business days, and possibly more if there is a problem while being shipped. Add in the weekends and it's three weeks to a month
I found this graphic on the HugePOD site, giving some info about setting deadlines for Christmas shopping. I think the production time estimates look very reasonable, while the fifteen day upper end of the delivery time looks to me like the company setting a low bar for liability reasons. I can understand why, as a lot can happen that is out of their control while a package is being shipped internationally. It does present me with the significant challenge of making October and November my Christmas campaign, however. There's a lot of pushback on social media when Christmas is introduced too early.
If you still have questions about this process, feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org