Saturday, 6 February 2010

Is selling online the best way to go?

Sadly, I haven't had time to produce a single new design this week! The reason? I've turned my attic studio into a printing works!

I was beginning to feel frustrated that all my sales on GCU and Zazzle so far have been from customers in the US, especially as I've had requests to sell my cards direct to friends and 'friends of friends' here in the UK. So I started to make enquiries about the cost of getting some cards printed locally and by online digital printing companies, assuming that with digital printing I would be able to order as many or as few copies of each design as I needed. Wrong!

By the time I had been asked for the fourth time, 'How many do you want?' and I had replied, 'I don't know yet.' it was beginning to become clear to me that 'print-on-demand' is a bit of a misnomer. Although it is possible to order a smaller number of each design from a digital printer than it would be from a 'lithographic' one, the only way, it seems, to get one or two copies of a particular design printed is to do it yourself!

With more than 300 designs (and rising) in my GCU store, I need to narrow the number down to the most popular and the volume of my sales through the online stores, is, as yet, nowhere near big enough to demonstrate any clear trends. So I've been investigating different types of card/board, working out costs and experimenting! The cards I've produced are not as 'solid' as the ones from GCU - my printer couldn't cope with such heavy board. But the colours are good so I'm hoping that if I can sell them locally for a lower price than they would cost to buy the more substantial ones, I'll be able to see which ones are worth considering for a larger order from a digital printing company.

So far, it's looking as if the (blank inside) 'fine art' cards that I've made from my soft pastel paintings (above and below) are going to be popular - but time will tell.
Part of me is not entirely convinced that the internet is the best place to sell greeting cards, at least not in the UK. One of the reasons that people shop online is that the goods they want to purchase are not available locally. But even the smallest town in the UK has plenty of shops entirely dedicated to selling greeting cards - if a shop closes down, you can be pretty sure that it will be replaced by a cheap card shop, at least temporarily. And cards are available from corner shops, supermarkets, stationers, bookshops, post offices, garden centres and petrol stations - and probably some other places I haven't thought of! So, unless you are housebound, greeting cards are available to buy everywhere you look - and hospitals and residential homes for the elderly have spinners for those who can't get out to the shops! So why would anyone choose to buy such a readily available product online?

Another reason for shopping online is the price. People look to get a discount for quantity which wouldn't be available in a shop. Apparently bulk buys of disposable nappies (diapers) are popular online sales. So unless one is prepared to sell one's greeting cards very cheaply, I have my doubts about whether it is the ideal product for selling online. However, all sales are welcome, from whatever source, so I shall continue to upload my new designs to PODstores - after all, it doesn't cost anything and any work involved (mostly the high resolution scanning, which takes me forever!) will mean that my designs are ready to print, either by myself or a printer - eventually!
These wet-in-wet watercolours have also aroused some interest from people who have seen them 'in the flesh' - though none at all from online customers. I think that may be partly because the subtle nuances of the colours don't show up well on the screen - I've been pleasantly surprised at how much better some of my cards have printed out than you'd imagine from looking at them on a screen, especially some of my painted paper collage designs! But maybe, as well, the American taste in greeting cards is different from ours here in the UK? Or perhaps typical online shoppers - whoever they may be? - aren't looking for the same sort of thing as those who like to handle their cards before committing to buy them? Who knows? I'm hoping that time will tell!

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