Most entrepreneurs fall into two categories: print on demand vs AliExpress dropshipping. Print on demand is when you sell your own custom designs on products like mugs, t-shirts, and phone cases. AliExpress dropshipping allows you to choose from millions of products to sell. In both cases, the supplier ships products directly to your customers on your behalf. As a person who’s run both types of businesses, this article will share some of my personal experiences to help you make a better decision for your entrepreneurial ventures.
What is Print On Demand (POD)?
POD stands for Print on Demand. Print on Demand is when you sell your own custom designs on various different types of products. Print on demand products include t-shirts, hoodies, books, and many other items. A print on demand business, just like every other business model, has its own set of pros and cons that are discussed in detail below.
There are many great print on demand companies for you to research and work with. These include, but are not limited to,
Print on demand clothing services from companies includes printing, designing, editing, and shipping. For print on demand book publishing other services could include proofreading and distribution. You can use most of these print on demand services directly through your Shopify store.
Best Selling Print On Demand Products
Print on demand products are popular for many different reasons. Customers may buy one product from a store for their own personal use. Depending on your store, though, you may entice customers to buy more than one thing. Profiling your customer’s personality correctly and creating designs that resonate with them can lead to customers purchasing many items from you over a period of time. These loyal customers will then act as influencers, helping to encourage others to buy from you in the future.
Popular print on demand products include:
- Phone Covers
Print On Demand Vs AliExpress Dropshipping: POD Benefits
Print on demand dropshipping is a great business model for entrepreneurs young and old. Here are a couple pros for print on demand dropshipping.
You’ll Have Your Own Custom Products
It can be a pretty cool feeling to have someone buy a product that you designed yourself. Most print on demand suppliers allow you to design your own clothing like on-demand t-shirt printing, dresses, and leggings. They might also have products like phone cases, tote bags, and canvas that you can customize. Not just this but print on demand books also exist. If you’re a graphic designer or a creative person, designing your own products can be a fun experience.
You Can Build Your Own Brand and Clothing Line
Not only can you create your own products, but you can also build a strong brand that people can identify with and that you can print on the back of your mug or t-shirt. It's a great way to share your values and greatly impact people's identity (what you wear is what you are, right?). You can build a unique clothing line and then find manufacturers to up your game once you have made a lot of sales in POD to help increase your margins.
You’ll Get The Perk of Good Shipping Times
Compared to regular dropshipping, POD dropshipping gives you the advantage of working with US and European suppliers. That’s because the best POD companies are based in these regions. Offering good communication and fast deliveries, these companies allow POD stores to boost conversions and loyalty.
You Can Cross-Sell and Upsell Products Easily
Print on demand dropshipping offers lower shipping costs when you buy more products. What you could do is cross-sell and upsell items to keep costs low. For example, you can sell a cap to customers who buy a t-shirt from your website. Another option is to bundle products to make them attractive for the customer to buy, such as offering three t-shirts for the price of 2 and even throwing in a gift. These kinds of things can help increase your average sales and revenue.
You Might Be Able to Do Custom Packaging
While most print on demand suppliers don’t allow you to design your own boxes or add marketing inserts into your packages, some allow you to add your logo on a receipt or a sticker for your package. This can be helpful in building your print on demand business.
You Can Make Good Margins and Keep Cash Flowing
If you set your prices right and choose the right dropshipping suppliers offering POD services, you can sell products at a good margin. Of course, product costs and shipping costs are two different things, so you’ll need to calculate your prices very carefully to generate good cash flow.
You Can Sell Your Products On Various Channels
If you create a POD store on Shopify, you can sell your products there and on marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. It’s also possible to engage in social selling by listing your items on Instagram and Facebook. Have customers who reach out frequently via Facebook Messenger? Use Shopify’s Messenger sales channels to sell directly from those conversations. Essentially, you can sell across channels and get more eyeballs on your products, which can bring you your first sale faster.
Print On Demand vs AliExpress Dropshipping: Dropshipping Benefits
Dropshipping is a great business model for new entrepreneurs. Here are a few dropshipping benefits:
Easier to Predict What the Best Sellers Are
Dropshipping allows you to easily find the best products based on order volume, seller ratings, and customer reviews. With print on demand services, my guesses for what I thought would be a bestseller were always wrong. Always. But with AliExpress dropshipping, products with higher order volume and high customer reviews have the data behind them to justify adding them to your store.
Millions of Products to Choose From
Product diversity is huge. With AliExpress dropshipping, you can basically sell any type of popular item. Want to jump onto the fidget spinner trend early? Just import it from AliExpress. Want to find dresses in different styles and materials? Try out AliExpress dropshipping. You’re not limited to selling graphic tees or leggings of the same fabric. You’re also not limited to your own style of design. With AliExpress dropshipping, you can have different types of designs to appeal to a wider audience.
Can Scale Quickly
My personal experience with AliExpress dropshipping has been that I’ve generated much higher profits than I did with a print on demand business. As a result, I was able to re-invest my earnings back into ads. As a result, our store’s sales drastically outperformed my print on demand store. In my first month as an AliExpress dropshipper, my store made double the revenue my print on demand store made in 6 months. By having enough profit to reinvest back into ads, our store’s sales quickly grew each month.
Shipping Costs are Low
With AliExpress dropshipping, shipping rates are super low. I always use ePacket, which means our shipping tends to either be free or under $5. Having transitioned from print on demand into AliExpress dropshipping, this was probably what made the biggest impact when it came to profit. My business was able to absorb the costs of shipping to offer customers free shipping. With print on demand, most of my best sellers ended up being mugs which had a higher shipping fee than the product value. Considering most people buy mugs for under $8, this business wasn’t sustainable long-term. I either had to charge more for my product or charge a shipping fee with print on demand. If you prefer selling low-cost goods, AliExpress dropshipping is your best bet.
Offers a Quicker Start
With AliExpress dropshipping, it’s pretty easy to run your business. You add products, write descriptions, maybe edit a few photos, market your products, process orders, manage customer support, and make improvements to your store. This becomes your general cycle of routine. With print on demand, there’s an added layer. You’re the product designer. You’ll need to come up with great texts and icons that sell. After the design is done, you need to create mockups of the products or take your own product photos. AliExpress dropshipping doesn’t require you to do any of that, so it’s quicker to start. .
Less Risky Business Model
In the battle between print on demand business vs AliExpress dropshipping, dropshipping AliExpress products is the less risky option There’s more data behind AliExpress to help ensure you have great products. In print on demand, you can only do your best in terms of design and hope the customers will resonate with your offerings. Figuring out which products will make an impact can be hard. And that’s why AliExpress has proven to be a better business model for me. I can clearly see which products are worth importing based on order volume, seller ratings, and customer reviews.
Print On Demand vs AliExpress Dropshipping: POD Cons
There are a few issues with the print on demand business model. Here are a few examples:
Expensive Shipping Costs
Shipping rates are usually the worst for print on demand. With 90% of customers wanting free shipping as an incentive more than anything else, it’s fair to say you should probably be offering it on your store. Absorbing the cost of US shipping (most print on demand suppliers are US based) can quickly eat up your profit margin. If you try selling internationally, you’ll quickly realize you can’t sustain the business long-term.
High Product Cost
It’s not that print on demand product costs are high for what you’re getting. I mean, for getting your own custom design on a product it isn’t too bad for a one-off piece. However, for running a business, the price of print on demand services are sky high. On Printful, the starting price for a mug is $7.95. Add in a worldwide shipping price of $16.95 and you’re at $25.90 USD for a mug! That’s not even the customer cost because you need to have a retail price to ensure a profit for your store. Your profit needs to be high enough to afford marketing and business costs and pay salaries.
Mockup Generator Models All Look the Same
Many print on demand services have a mockup generator that allows you to easily include a product photo on your website. This is great for new store owners. The downside is that all the mockups look the same. If you only sell leggings or phone cases, all your product photos will look identical. From a user experience perspective, your store can end up looking really repetitive making it hard for a customer to differentiate which product they should buy. Having models wearing the product or having different types of settings for your product photos can help make the decision-making process of online shopping easier.
Need to Have a Knack for Creativity
If you’re a creative person, a print on demand business is likely your best bet. The problem is that many of us aren’t, and if we can’t come up with a cool slogan or font, your products are unlikely to sell well. One way to tackle this is to outsource design. You can find people offering POD design services on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. When shortlisting designs to put on your shirts, make sure to get an opinion from friends and social media acquaintances to ensure you choose the best ones.
Profit Margins Can Be Low
You will be tempted to order a large number of products from your supplier to avail of the low cost of bulk printing without knowing if you will sell all the units. This means you may not sell everything and will incur the cost of warehousing or disposing of these products. Print on Demand companies need to be careful to not over exaggerate success in the beginning so they do not spend too much money on their stock.
Print On Demand vs AliExpress Dropshipping: Dropshipping Cons
There’s one big issue that turns people away from AliExpress dropshipping. Here’s an example of an AliExpress dropshipping con:
The biggest reason why people avoid trying AliExpress dropshipping is because they think there’s a quality issue. Some say they don’t want to sell products from China. The reality is most print on demand merchandise is made in China too. China is the biggest manufacturing country in the world. While there may be a few bad suppliers on the platform, there are also a ton of high-quality suppliers too. Heck, the best jewelry I ever bought was from AliExpress. And, for a case study, I even have picture proof of an AliExpress unboxing. If you stick to the proven sellers with high order volume and high reviews, you greatly reduce the risk of experiencing an issue. My AliExpress dropshipping store’s refund rate floats around 1-2% which is actually pretty average.
Longer Shipping Times
Since most AliExpress suppliers are based in China, shipping tends to take longer than in POD dropshipping. That said, many suppliers have opened up warehouses and fulfillment centers in Canada and the US. You can find these dropshippers by setting the country where you want to ship your items from the top of the AliExpress homepage and select the category of items you need. Simple, right? It’s even simpler when you use Oberlo to source products from AliExpress, as you can see where an item ‘ships from” directly on the product listing page.
Print On Demand Vs AliExpress Dropshipping: Similarities
While print on demand and AliExpress dropshipping have several defining differences, they also share a lot in common. Here are a few examples:
- They both involve dropshipping. No bulk inventory to carry. The supplier packages and ships products out directly to your customer.
- Order processing is mostly automated. When a customer places an order, all you need to do is click a button to send customer product details to your supplier.
- A print on demand business and AliExpress dropshipping are both low-risk models. You don’t need to buy inventory upfront and only pay once a customer places an order on your store.
- Both require a similar skill set to achieve great results. A print on demand business requires more creative thinking. However, both require marketing, customer service, and advertising skills.
If you’re a creative person with an entrepreneurial spirit you can do a mix of print on demand merchandise with AliExpress products. Having a mix of the two puts you at a competitive advantage. You can offer your customers a greater selection of products, competitive pricing and run a more profitable business.
Which is More Profitable?
In conclusion we can say that dropshipping is more profitable in the short term, but in the long run POD can also be very profitable. Especially if you work hard at the beginning with great design production, brand identity and putting your creations on some marketplaces too to get more sales.
Both dropshipping and print on demand are profitable business models. Dropshipping is more profitable in the short term; the shipping costs are lower, allowing you to offer your customers free shipping without eating up much of your profit margins. The product prices are lower too, which allows you to charge market value to ensure a profit. However, it also helps ease customers into a purchase with a great deal.
But in the long term, POD can also be very profitable, especially if you work hard in the beginning and come up with great design ideas. Later, you can put your creations on some marketplaces too to get more sales.
Want to Learn More?
- 30+ Amazing Startup Business Ideas That’ll Make You Money
- The Value of Facebook Ads and Target Markets for Ecommerce
- How To Start A Successful Online T-Shirt Business
- The Ultimate Guide to AliExpress Dropshipping
Have you tried print on demand or AliExpress dropshipping? Which have you preferred and why? Let us know in the comments below!