So how much variety do you want? Zazzle.com seems to think that people want a lot of variety and strives to offer customized products fast. Here is how the firm’s web site describes what they do:
Infinite and Instant, Zazzle is the only on-demand retail platform for consumers and major brands, offering billions of retail quality, one-of-a-kind products shipped within 24 hours. Offering the largest library of customizable digital images from world-class brands, Zazzle enables content owners to unlock their entire libraries of content, making it available for purchase and customization by consumers.
Some numbers put this business plan in perspective. First, the web site has 200,000 newly designed items added each day. They sell 100,000 items (in over 30 categories) per day and 95% ship within 24 hours.
That, of course, begs the question of how do they do it. For that we have a recent article in Fast Company (Zazzle Dazzles on Demand, Oct 1). It seems that two things are notable. First, what Zazzle is really providing is a platform for customized retail. As the article notes:
We’re taking the retail chain and turning it into a software platform,” says [chief product officer] Jeff Beaver. Every aspect of production of Zazzle’s 33 different product types — from manufacturing to quality control to the user experience — runs on the same code and allows everyone a shared window into the process. Designers, Zazzle staff, and customers all see realistic representations of each product, helping Zazzle keep its return rate below 1%.
The second thing is that they have created a community of designers that use the site. Just as people looking to auction items benefit from the community around eBay, designers benefit from the diverse customers that the wide variety of offerings brings to the site.
A final point, this actually makes an interesting test bed for existing brands. Disney apparently learns what sells well on Zazzle and then stocks those items in traditional channels.