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Amazon Goes after Cafe Press with New Custom Marketplace

Imagine being able to order a Tshirt printed with a picture of your pet from an Amazon third-party merchant. That may soon be a possibility, presenting a potentially huge opportunity for Amazon sellers – but may not be such great news for other sites, including the granddaddy of personalized merchandise, Cafe Press.

Amazon is breaking new ground with a program that allows select sellers to offer personalized products – a significant change in thinking for the company. We spoke to a seller who is participating in Amazon Custom, a pilot program that has yet to be announced.

Unlike another new program we wrote about last month, Amazon Handmade, this program is open to all categories of goods – but sellers must have approval first.

Paul Costello of Prints That Rock is part of the pilot program and shared an example of one of his Amazon Custom listings. The first thing that will likely jump out at readers is the fact there is no “Add to Cart” button – instead, the listing features a “Customize Now” button.

The listing is for a framed print showing four jerseys hanging in the Kansas City Royals baseball team’s locker room – fans can personalize one of the jerseys shown in the print to feature their own name and a number of their choice.

Clicking on the Customize Now button in the listing brings up a form that shoppers must complete before adding the item to their shopping cart. That solves a problem that sellers who offer personalized products on Amazon sometimes encounter – that of getting an order but not having the complete information necessary in order to fulfill it.

When customers enter the text they want to appear on an Amazon Custom product, a preview widget shows them what it will look like on the photo the seller uploaded. (The Royals print widget previews the text only – Costello said it was too difficult to represent the font on the product image in this case.)

To power the preview widget, a seller uploads a blank (non-customized) photo of the product in 400×400 pixels, along with the dimensions and location of the text box(es) on the photo using x y coordinates so Amazon can show the customer what the item will look like.

One of the hazards of selling customized goods is returns – once someone’s name appears on a product, for example, it may be impossible for the merchant to resell it. Costello appeared unconcerned – he would eat the cost of returns, he said. He did note that the longer the processing time, the greater the chance for buyer’s remorse to set in.

He also offers free shipping, though he said Amazon did not specify that as a requirement of the program.

Amazon is also testing image-based customizations with a very small number of sellers, but Costello did not request admittance into that program.

Products participating in Amazon Custom must be seller-fulfilled – they are not eligible for Amazon FBA for obvious reasons – the seller would not be able to customize products located inside one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.