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CafePress for Fun & Profit

In April, I set up a CafePress Shop for the Duke City Fix, a Ning-based city blog about Albuquerque, New Mexico. Through CafePress we now sell custom t-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs, and other blog-branded schwag.


When I decided to set up the Shop I had two simple goals:
  1. To build awareness through guerrilla marketing. My hope is that the promotional merchandise we sell will serve as mobile billboards for our site.
  2. To generate some cash to help underwrite our work on the site. We do also host Google ads, so the Cafe Press shop is a supplement to the Google income.

I'd worked with CafePress before, and liked that the company makes it so easy to set up a Shop and start selling. Also -- and I think this is super-important for those of us who are operating on a shoestring -- CafePress requires no (zero, nada, zip) upfront investment from the Shop owner. When you make a sale, CafePress' cut comes from the buyer, not from you. You don't have to create, store, or ship inventory, and you don't need a merchant or PayPal account. You have zero risk.


Without going into too much detail about how to set up a Cafe Press site (they have great, clear instructions), let me list the tools we use to promote our Shop:

  • I chose to create a Premium Shop (not required) which costs $4.99/month but allows me to customize the look of the shop. In retrospect I might not have chosen the Premium option, but I can be a control freak so there you have it. A Basic Shop is completely free.
  • The Shop features slogans and in-jokes that had been developed by our community over the life of the site. Using "The Duke Abides", "That's Not Dust, That's Enchantment", and "Oh sí liar!" on our schwag helps to create a sense of ownership among our readers.
  • We deliberately set our markup at a low amount, in order to keep prices low and encourage sales. If revenue had been our first goal, I might have set the markup higher. Through CafePress you decide how big a cut you receive on each sale.
  • I created a custom banner to use on The Fix's home page (see the banner image above). It sits in a text box, and is linked directly to the shop.
  • We announced the shop on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
  • We ran a contest, which we promoted through Facebook, Twitter, and the Broadcast Message function on Ning. As part of the contest, we asked our readers to come up with a new slogan for the site (we change the slogan periodically). And products with that slogan are now offered in the shop.

Finally, the results! We initially ran the shop on our front page for three weeks*. During that time:

  • We sold just over 40 items.
  • We made just over $40 (remember that we set our markup low!)
  • We generated great buzz on and off our Ning site.
  • Through the promotion of the Shop, we drove traffic to our own site.

*The shop came down off the front page for a few weeks to allow us to run a different promotion, but now it's back up there. And while sales have slowed, we're still selling, and still happy with the results.
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Comments

  • I sold a shirt off of my CafePress app and received nothing for me. It was just one shirt for $32.00 but I did not earn a dime. What did I do wrong this time?
  • awesome. too bad cafepress has massive glitches and won't work on my ning site and i still haven't gotten a fix from the creators of EITHER site.
  • nice
  • Good job! I love your designs!
  • this is great, i have some already wanting shirts!Ty ning
  • Wow we have a ton of slogans. I may have to set this up on my site!
  • Nice more way stay on ning and group
  • This is awesome! Thank you for sharing your experience. Definitely a help!
  • Thanks Thunder X
  • i have a cafe press account and they ship globally as far as i know, but you can check for yourself at cafepress.com.
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