Monday, November 8, 2010

Razzle Dazzle Zazzle

Earlier this year, I became aware of the website, an on-line marketplace that allows users to customize apparel, accessories, and more by uploading their own images. Users can choose what product any image goes on, design the layout and image placement, and alter variables like color, scale, and materials. Once the design is finalized, the product can either be posted as private (viewable and purchasable only by the creator) or public (viewable or purchasable by anybody), and is fabricated by a professional manufacturer when ordered. On the whole, there are many positive services that provides, but it has several major drawbacks.

On the positive side, it is completely free to use Zazzle, and the site allows users to set their desired commission, up to 99%, on public items. They also provide widgets for online-self promotion, and track referrals, granting additional commissions when sales are a result of traffic directed to Zazzle through an individual user’s promotional efforts. To minimize offense to sensitive visitors to the website, before being published a user rates their creation as “G,” "PG-13,” or “R.” Zazzle has many eco-friendly product options, and contracts with high-quality professional manufacturers, such as Pro-Keds for shoe designs. My boyfriend has designed and ordered 2 pairs of Pro-Keds shoes on, and is thrilled by them. More importantly, provides an invaluable option for emerging designers and artists to have images manufactured on items professionally, quickly, and without cost.

"Parallel Universe" ProKeds available at

Unfortunately, there are a few major flaws that Zazzle suffers from. Base prices of customized prices are slightly high, so setting a large commission can negatively affect sales. Also, with over 35 billion customized or customizable products in their virtual marketplace, is a vast ocean of competition or distraction to any one item, so in order for any sales and exposure the user has to do extensive on-line promotion. Though there is flexibility to customize design and placement, certain elements of the Pro-Keds shoes cannot have their colors change and it is not possible to place a design on the side of a shirt. Censorship also adversely affects Zazzle, as was recently demonstrated with a product that my boyfriend recently designed and attempted to publish. The image in question was an abstracted nude that he had drawn on a psychedelic background, and Zazzle refused to publish the design, only saying that “products may not be obscene or pornographic, and may not contain overt drug references.” Zazzle did not respond when told that there is a difference between artistic nudity and pornography/obscenity, or when asked what constitutes an “R” rating on their website if not a tasteful nude image.

Despite these drawbacks, I would recommend that anybody who is curious should check out, and make up thier own mind whether or not to use it. There is a “Zazzle University” series of videos on YouTube that explains all of the sales and commission process and helps users maximize all of the tools that Zazzle provides. I feel, despite their shortcomings, that the service provided by Zazzle outweighs their defects.

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