T-Shirt Talk Update
We are back! Updates should be multiple times per week now.

Zazzle Recruiting Cafepress Shopkeepers – Unethical or Good Business?

Zazzle has been growing and changing rapidly lately and striking partnership deals left and right. They have wasted no time spending their (unconfirmed) second round of funding. The site has undergone a major face lift and Zazzle finally started listening to users who demanded changes to certain policies regarding the image licensing and the commission structure. The long overdue changes did get some previously skeptical designers to test the waters at Zazzle but I don’t know exactly what result has been. However, there doesn’t seem to be enough shopkeepers over at Zazzle. How do I know? Well…

POD Salesman

Apparently part of the current Zazzle strategy has been to quietly (attempt to) recruit Cafepress Shopkeepers. Cafepress shopkeepers have reported getting phone calls from Zazzle representatives offering them one-on-one meetings and possible trips to the Zazzledome in California to talk “business”. What business topics are unknown but because they are targeting Cafepress Shopkeepers it is fair to assume that they are trying to get them to defect to Zazzle.

Is it necessary to recruit from other companies and are phone calls and meetings the best way to grow your business? What happened to recruiting shopkeepers by having the tools/system that made it so designers and entrepreneurs couldn’t resist opening an account, telling their friends and doing business with your company?

Shopkeepers are critical to the business model of to the big 3 POD’s (Zazzle, Cafepress, Spreadshirt) and they each have had different ways of getting new clients. Cafepress has a referral program that pays the referrer 5% of every sale the recruited Shopkeeper makes. This system influences folks who are passionate about Cafepress or those who just want to make some money to recruit their friends or web site visitors to open stores. The Cafepress model has been extremely effective in getting people to spread the word about Cafepress and building up a solid membership in the millions.

Spreadshirt never really had an open recruiting scheme but last year they had a brilliant logo contest that attracted thousands of designers from across the web who may or may not have ever designed a t-shirt or other product. They were just folks who love design and brave enough to enter one of their designs into the Open Logo Project in hopes of getting a bunch of prizes and fame. But what Spreadshirt was really doing was attracting 2000+ designers who would soon (hopefully) open up a shop at Spreadshirt. The best part of the contest for Spreadshirt wasn’t the logo, it was the exposure of the company to a potentially untapped design community. Spreadshirt put in about 550 hours and €19,650 to make the project possible (see stats). My guess is that was far more efficient, effective, and less controversial than Zazzle’s current recruitment techniques.

As always, tell us what you think: Is Zazzle’s method of recruiting Cafepress Shopkeepers unethical or good business? Or is there just something bigger going on that we can’t see.


Written by T-Shirt Talk


  1. Steve Vera · February 6, 2008

    There are millions of CafePress shop owners. I wonder how Zazzle determines who to target?

    If they target the ones that sell the most products then they might be targeting the successful ones. If they are successful with CafePress, why would they want to switch to Zazzle? If they target the ones who are not successful, then they might be interested in joining Zazzle. However, if they were not successful on CafePress then they might not be successful with Zazzle either!

    I don’t see how this marketing ploy can pay off.

    Steve :~)

  2. Katrina · February 7, 2008

    I can’t say if it’s unethical or not but to some extend it might be effective. First of, no one can forbid you to open a second store at zazzle. Lets say you have a successful store at Cafepress, why not duplicate your success over at zazzle? Second, some of the CP shopkeepers make a living out of it and thus it’s a day job for them, while others do that on the side. If you belong to the later category, and zazzle promises to take care of promotion, descriptions, and a better servoce, you might wanna try it out.
    Personally, though, I don’t think it’s going to be too successful to justify the effort they’re putting in or even more to “bring down” Cafepress.
    Time will tell I guess…

  3. Mark · February 7, 2008

    Is this unethical? Seems that way, I guess it depends on your ethics right. What it definitely is is desperate since what Zazzle is doing isn’t something that’s going to actually make anybody more money (besides them maybe,) they’re just trying to cut into the Cafepress lead. Zazzle doesnt have the audience to make someone more sales, they just want to take away sales from big bad Cafepress.

  4. Debbie · February 8, 2008

    It sounds like they are paying for market research. They are probably luring Cafepress Shopkeepers for meetings and then interviewing them about what they like and don’t like about Cafepress and finding out how much money they make and then trying to convince them to join Zazzle. But even if the Shopkeeper doesn’t join they still get valuable market research.


  5. A Loyal CPer · April 16, 2008

    They are targeting shopkeepers on CP who have offsites – requesting them to sign a 3 year contract to agree to transfer all of thise designs into zazzle – and ONLY link to zazzle from their offsite – additionally they are requiring you stop all advertisement for your CP shops!!

    Any company this unethical – is not getting my designs – or my business!!!

  6. JD · April 28, 2008

    I heard they pay a decent signing bonus and that they have tools that will match or exceed what I’ve been using with CP – bulk creation and cpshops / feeds… at least that’s what the sales guy tells me. I’m not making a ton with CP (the community is tight), but if Zazzle has Disney and Star Wars and gets their tools up, I think it is probably good for me as a seller to have an interest in their platform going forward.

  7. janice · May 12, 2008

    You guys talk about ethics and then you print a t-shirt that says “Jesus was a gay black hippie Jew”? Aren’t you a little afraid of standing before the Living God?

  8. Atlanta Hawke · May 13, 2008

    I went to Zazzle’s offices in Redwood City and I was impressed by their people except for their chief sales guy Jimmy (?) something. I think they recruited him from the appliances section at Sears or my local Kia dealership. He was one arrogant, pompous and generally one-who-does-not-leave-you-a-good-feeling-kinda guy. Bad choice and is obviously the architect of their effort. Honestly the flight, hotel, limo, meals and upfront money was nice but the fact is their sales chief (…sorry I am not sure if Jimmy is his name as I try to forget bad people) over-promised, way under delivered. Their technology is not ready and no bribe by their sales chief makes up for the fact that CP is seller focused and Zazzle seems to be content focused. They even changed their site to look like Craigslist to bump their SEO… absolutely dumb and soooo very not seller and community-focused. Content DOES NOT sell… shop keepers’ efforts DO the selling. Chief sales boy kept talking about their music and entertainment deals but I don’t remember or know of ANY musician who hammers out SEO/SEM work like I have to do 12 hours a day to make a living. He obviously does not know how to run a CP OR Zazzle store.

    My .04 cent comment.

    Back to SEO work…

  9. Zazzler · May 27, 2008

    As a Zazzle galery owner and CP shop owner, I’m personally disgusted that they are spending all this money to get new accounts away from CP when there are thousands of loyal Zazzlers out there already who could benefit from all this money they’re wasting flying, wining and dining CP shop keepers.

    HEY ZAZZLE What about those of us who have been with you for years and work tirelessly to bring traffic onto your site? Why not give US these bonuses and help promote us the way you promise these CP shop keepers? Why aren’t we as important to you as the business you hope to get?

    I much prefer Zazzle’s design tools and set up to CP – but when I keep hearing how much more important it is for you to spend money luring people from CP instead of investing that money in helping the contributors you’ve already got – not to mention spend it on the features and product lines we’ve been asking for – it makes me feel like investing more time and effort at CP.

    Zazzle – you need to do some major re-thingking!

  10. Gern · May 31, 2008

    I was recruited by Zazzle. I still have my shop with CP. There’s no part of the agreement I signed that said I had to take down a single design at CP. In fact, one of the “selling points” was the recruiter’s own words: “sell your designs in two places, so all your eggs aren’t in one basket”. I’m averaging a sale per week at Zazzle, and the shop there isn’t even done yet. Their customization (which allow the customer to add text) and image placement tools blow CP out of the water, but their bulk tools are non-existent. It takes patience to build a shop of any significant size.

  11. John · July 11, 2008

    Since when is trying to win your competitors business unethical? Thats how this country was built. It makes the market stronger and businesses more focused on providing better service and products. This is a good thing people.

  12. Jessica · July 12, 2008

    Zazzle has stooped to a new low… They are not really that great at listening to their members…

    @ John: There are plenty of designers who follow and abide to the T&A (Terms & Agreement) of Zazzle just in turn to find out that they (Zazzle) is lenient to other designers that do not abide by the T&A. How fair is that? Yes, I understand that they want more designers but they should have followed example from SpreadShirt and hold some kind of contest to draw more attention. They need to support more the ‘real’ designers and artists there instead of the plagiarists and phonys.

  13. flashfox · July 12, 2008

    Why don’t they spend more money on fixing all the bugs with the site? I have both a CP premium account and a Zazzle account and even after the monthly fee I make way more money on CP. Zazzle sales are so rare I really don’t know why I bother. They could easily spend some time cleaning up the sites issues, navigation, etc. and I bet they’d get more shopkeepers and therefore more sales. I AM a web designer and I find their navigation appalling.

  14. Gracey · July 12, 2008

    Well, all I can say is it would be nice to see some of the designs from Zazzle shop owners given more exposure. Some of the stuff that hits the “featured” and “popular” sure makes you wonder how it got there. Bad.

    I don’t know if it’s unethical, business often has to be to succeed, but it sure feels a little immoral of them to ignore us.

    What’s more…all those tees people upload with copyright stuff on them need taken care of before bringing more onto the site.

  15. Sonia · July 12, 2008

    I have been a CP shopkeeper since 2001 and I was recruited by Zazzle back in March o fthis year. However, I was not asked to sign any agreement, nor were there any conditions attached to my joining Zazzle. In fact, I was told that a Zazzle shop would compliment my CP shops.

    I have kept, and continue to develop my CP shop. I have 3 off-shop sites where I promote both Zazzle and CP (and various affilates). Both PODs have different qualities that I like.

    For example; At Zazzle, (5 shops that I am working on) I like the choices of the prints, the fact that we can add our © to the back of cards and the various styles of mugs, shirts,and bags.

    At CP, I like the tiles, tile boxes, clocks, ability to customise my shops (3 premiums) using HTML, and various other shop design and product management features.

    In other words, both Zazzle and CP have their own qualities, and their own drawbacks. I use both to compliment each other and to offer more choice to my customers.

    My sales at CP have tripled for the month of July, over last July (and we are only halfway through the month). My sales at Zazzle are slow, but there are some there. With more work on my end, I am certain that my Zazzle sales can at least equal my CP sales by this time next year.

    So, to make a long story short, I am glad that Zazzle sent me that initial recruitment email. I was contemplating trying them anyway, and their friendly email, plus a follow-up telephone call helped tremendously in getting me going at Zazzle. 🙂

  16. Elise · July 27, 2008

    I was contacted by Zazzle through email… I was actually already a (Zazzle) shopkeeper when they offered to set up my entire shop for me… if I sent them my designs, they would put them on items on Zazzle. I thought it seemed a little fishy, so I eventually just stopped replying to their emails. They haven’t contacted me about it since.
    I have a shop on both Cafepress and Zazzle… and I don’t really think it was “low” of Zazzle to contact me… but I did think it was strange and wondered how they got my email address in the first place.

  17. Aktuelle Spamwarnung: „Hey Sie, Sie verkaufen doch auch Shirts“ at Der deutsche Spreadshirt-Blog · August 14, 2008

    […] des öfteren an uns weitergeleitet, eine mögliche Inspirationsquelle ist vielleicht der Fall von Zazzle und Cafepress im Frühjahr). Zum anderen ist der Markt eigentlich groß genug, dass man sich (noch) nicht gegenseitig auf den […]

  18. Zazzle Updates Logo, Brand and Website · August 20, 2008

    […] design history). The designs were definitely not as edgy as places like Cafepress. Following the Zazzle’s heavy recruiting baiting, and bribing of Cafepress shopkeepers much of the same content was soon available at both […]

  19. Steven · January 20, 2009

    Anyone aware how ethical the production of their clothing is? i.e. in relation to workers rights etc.?

  20. Linkin Mall · June 22, 2009

    Recently CafePress began competing with the artists for whom it acts as printer and shipper.

    CafePress rents web shops to its artists. The artist creates a website page and manually loads the desired blank products. The artist imports his image onto each product, arranges the products on the page, describes the products, titles the products and tags the images.

    Initially, the artist would set a markup and received the markup for each product sold.

    However, recently CafePress began competing with its artists, using the artists’ own images. CafePress created a marketplace where a customer can search a keyword. That search brings up artist products. When the customer buys from the marketplace CafePress pays the artist 10% of the price CafePress set. Both the customer and the artist lose money. If the artist’s shop sells a t-shirt for $21, the artist makes $3.01. If the marketplace sells the same shirt for $25, the artist gets $2.50. The customer pays $4 more, and the artist gets $0.51 less.

    CafePress tells artists to “promote your own shop,” but CafePress buys Google adwords using the very image tags the artist provided.

    CafePress justifies this bait and switch of service terms by telling artists they can opt out if they don’t like the new terms; however, many have spent as much as 7 or 8 years creating as much as 88000 images.

    In spite of their sweat-equity, many shopkeepers (content providers) are building shops at other print-on-demand companies and then closing their CafePress shops due to the broken faith and trust, the financial hardship CafePress has delivered into so many lives, and the huge amount of time and dedicated effort all lost in the momentum of their own businesses. Would you keep your AMOCO station franchise if AMOCO built a company store across the street from you?

  21. AT · June 25, 2009

    I think Zazzle is a great company so far in my experience. The only complaint I have is their prices are way to high to do any serious wholesale business. Everyone I talk to wants 45-55% off!

Leave A Reply