Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Zazzle: An exercise in stupidity

Posted in best practices, botch, business by commorancy on September 29, 2013

I love the idea that Zazzle represents.  Quick custom printed promotional items.  The theory is that you open a store, upload an image, place it onto an item and order. You can even let other people order it. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the idea ends.. at least with this company.  Let’s explore.

What is Zazzle?

As I said, it’s basically one big short run promotional item tool.  You upload your images, plop them into a garment, mug, stein, iPad case or whatever and order. The theory is that they’ll ship you the item(s) you ordered.  What is reality is far different.  The reason it’s far different is because this company is completely mismanaged. In fact, it appears there’s no real management driving this listing ship at all.  Certainly on the surface, there appears to be the Beaver family who started up the thing that formerly was Zazzle. Now, it’s just a topsy-turvy disaster of a company that can barely even accomplish their core business offerings.

Content Management

Let’s start with the absolute most mismanaged piece of this company. The content management team.  This team sits around reviewing what’s been uploaded for ‘violations’ and ‘copyright infringement’. Unfortunately, the management team doesn’t ‘get’ copyright infringement at all.  In fact, the law is fairly clear on the point of copyright infringement. It’s not actually infringement until a court of law deems it so. Remember, innocent until proven guilty? To the Zazzle team, however, that a company makes a claim that something is infringing is enough to prove guilt. To prove actual infringement requires a court of law, not Zazzle. Worse, this company is policing alleged infringement on behalf of companies like Electronic Arts. It’s not Zazzle’s responsibility to police any other party’s content. Each party who owns copyrighted material can very well police and ask for removal. Zazzle doesn’t need to intervene here.

However, because companies (especially Silicon Valley companies) are running so scared that they’ll even get the slightest hint of a lawsuit, they have begun acting on behalf of companies like Electronic Arts and taking down imagery that even has the tiniest tinge of violating copyrights. Unfortunately, this company’s team must be bunch of hired monkeys. They simply see the word ‘Crysis’ and they automatically assume infringement and take the work offline. They don’t read, ask questions or bother to even review the actual image itself (which is what is actually in question). No, it’s all run by a bunch of monkeys trained to click delete. See word, click delete.

Forget about disputing any monkey deletes. There’s no reasoning or rational thought behind this team. If you create a ticket to try and dispute, you’ll get a canned response that won’t even tell you why it was deleted. They’ll just point you to the terms and conditions and let you be on your merry way. In short, they don’t want to talk to you, a store owner. Consider for a moment just how stupid that is because store owners are what’s keeping Zazzle in business.

Just The Tip

The Content Management team is merely the tip of this iceberg. I’ve seen so many complaints regarding this company that they are even listed on Ripoff Report 20 times (so far). Worse, no one from the company even reviews Ripoff Report to post rebuttals or head off any of these disputes. As I said, this company is squarely mismanaged.

If you are in business, you would want to take that business seriously.  By ‘seriously’, that means treating all consumer complaints as valid and doing something about. You don’t let complaints stew and fester unless you actually want your company to appear to be a ripoff.

Stores

Part of the way this company works is by allowing registered users to put up their own Zazzle store where they can market and sell custom items from within Zazzle’s inventory. This is, in fact, where Zazzle makes its money. Store owners put up content, Zazzle takes a cut on each item sold. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where this story ends. Even if you do manage to get your imagery through the Content Management team’s monkey review, that doesn’t mean your item will really ship if you place an order. According to some complainants, the items never arrive. Basically, when you pay, you are taking your chances that the item will actually arrive.

Even worse, though, is that you spend your time, effort and good faith into placing your items in the Zazzle store. Yet there’s no promotional system or anything you can leverage to try and get people into your store to buy. You’re squarely left to fend for yourself to get people into your store. You would think Zazzle would offer at least some kind of promotional vehicle to feature stores with certain types of items.  But, no. There is no advertising system available. Again, you are left to fend for yourself.  It’s up to you to post on Facebook, Twitter and buy advertising space to get people into your Zazzle store.

Worse, even if you do manage to get people into your store to buy, those people could then have problems just getting their paid items.

No ‘About The Company’ page?

For me, this is a huge problem with any company trying to be respectable in its industry. If you aren’t willing to put up information regarding your management team, where that team is located, investor information, address information, etc.. it certainly looks like you’re not really serious about being in business. If you visit Zazzle’s corporate information page, you will find nothing there about the management team, investor information or anything pertinent to this company.

If anything, this lack of information says they are a ripoff fly-by-night. I know, they’ve been in business for several years now, but who knows how that’s happened as mismanaged as this thing is. However, even former employees have choice things to say on Glassdoor. The primary complaints seem to be high turnover, low pay and lack of upward movement. That doesn’t surprise me. Seems to me this is the McDonald’s of Silicon Valley startups.

Recommendation

If you’re a company thinking of opening a Zazzle store, you should reconsider.  Attaching your company’s name to Zazzle could taint your business reputation in the long term.  This is especially true if you’re trying to grow an existing business. The last thing you need is dealing with complaints from people who’ve tried to purchase from your Zazzle store only to be ripped off.

Instead, if you really do want to buy custom printed items, you will want to get them from somewhere else. There are thousands of reputable promotional item companies who create and sell printed promotional items.  In fact, you can do much better in pricing on those items when you buy them in bulk. Zazzle is really to be used for extremely short runs (1-10 pieces). With short runs, you will pay a high premium price, which is quite evident in the pricing model Zazzle offers.

Instead, I highly recommend you shop around for companies whose sole business it is to sell custom printed promotional items. Promotional item companies don’t offer store fronts to people, don’t deal with content management, don’t do short runs, don’t deal with individual consumer returns, etc.  No, they are solely focused on getting you your promotional items exactly as you want and shipping them directly to you. Yes, you’ll end up paying more up front for the bulk quantity, but if you’re giving the items away at a conference or event, the cost per item is much much lower.  Better, you can pick the exact quality of the item you want. With Zazzle, the quality is what it is. There’s little choice.  If you don’t like the t-shirt brands they are using, tough luck. If you want to buy a specific brand of polo-style shirts to give away, you’ll need to choose another company to produce your item.

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One Response

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  1. John Purlia said, on January 6, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    This captures the mess that is Zazzle exceptionally well — nice job! I too love the concept that is Zazzle and I like the variety of products that I’m able to design and offer for sale, but the marketplace side of Zazzle is simply a disaster. The software is even worse, with changes made to a store not appearing of hours (or days), and reams of “help” pages that have no correlation to the ever-changing tools, products, and management interface. The site is a serious disaster of technical buffoonery. Were the market place half as good as what you find on a consumer merchant site such as Etsy, I’d be happy, but it is a real disaster.

    As for their ridiculously ignorant interpretations of copyright law… this is a constant and inconsistent battle that spirals down a vast black hole of poor customer service. They don’t understand copyright law, AT ALL, and fail to honor that laws laid out in the Digital Milenium Copyright Act that are actually setup to protect them from the potential illicit behavior of their users. Each time I’ve filed a DMCA takedown notice — either via email, or sent via the mail to their appointed copyright agent – my actions have gone totally ignored. They ignore the law and just hope no one takes them to court.

    I strongly believe that Zazzle really doesn’t care to support a community of independent artists and designers who want to offer designs on a wide arrange of products. Their focus seems to be on two markets: the branding deals they have established with Disney, Marvel, and other big licensing companies, and “vanity consumers” (putting grandma’s face on a mug, the boss on a dart board, etc…).

    About a year back I wrote a three part article on Zazzle’s imbecilic content review practices as they relate to Fair Use, the DMCA, and other legal issues they choose to ignore. You can read the first part here:

    http://johnpurlia.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/a-tale-of-copyright-confusion-fair-use-and-zazzled-nerves-part-one/


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