The online print giant Cimpress has committed resources to further expanding on the principle of “coopetition”. In launching “Cimpress Open”, Cimpress is offering partners direct sales channel access in future. But what does that mean for the industry
Cimpress has had a beta version of Cimpress Open on the market for some time now. Although the system, or rather the API, is still at an early beta stage, the objectives that this access is designed to achieve are very grand indeed. The project is based on two pillars – “Merchants“ and “Fulfiller”. On the one hand merchants are to get the opportunity to distribute Cimpress products via their own websites and via apps, and on the other there is also the option of offering their own products via the Cimpress network. Cimpress has clearly stated that its sales target for Europe is 1 billion Euros – is Cimpress Open the right concept to help achieve that target? Other providers, like Unitedprint, offer partner stores or APIs. Is this the right path for Cimpress to go down and for delivering fast growth?
For several years other big players, like Flyeralarm, have also given resellers the opportunity to dock onto their systems via an API interface. Cimpress’ Merchants program can be regarded as a reseller interface. It enables print providers to link Cimpress products into their own online stores via API and thus complement their product ranges. As soon as the consumer decides to buy a reseller product of this kind, the order is automatically transferred to the Cimpress network, produced there and shipped “unbranded” to the consumer. Currently Cimpress‘ first group of partners have a choice of mugs, T-shirts, shoulder bags, business cards and cellphone covers that they can incorporate into their own stores.
This reseller strategy is of course not completely unfamiliar or new. That’s because several Cimpress brands, like Wir-machen-Druck or Exagroup, already partner with a network of third-party providers.
“Using existing platforms and networks can definitely be an effective component of a successful market entry or expansion strategy for offline and online print providers. Cimpress Open, which dovetails with the coopetition concept, not only enables Cimpress to line its own pockets, but it is also expected to provide several market players with opportunities to expand their own businesses. However a partner must always bear in mind that this arrangement will generate a certain degree of dependency.” – Bernd Zipper
Things begin to get interesting in the “Fulfiller” segment. Here the term “open.cimpress” can be taken literally, because Cimpress wants in future to give print providers or producers of niche products the option of increasing sales of their own products and also distributing their own print products via the Cimpress network. That not only adds products to the product portfolio of the Cimpress brands, but also opens the door to expanding sales to niche providers, for example, those who are unable to cope with designing their own successful store or acquiring new customers.
Reseller programs are certainly not the latest market innovation. The pioneer in this field is primarily Amazon – and Kollin offers something similar – its Print4Reseller marketplace. But what’s the “Fulfiller” story all about? Of course the vast market that would open up for distributors of niche products is very tempting – but is that of real benefit to our providers of special products? Marketing their own products under the ‘codename’ Cimpress or Vistaprint, for example, would at least give small print providers the option of higher workloads. Whether and what Cimpress in this case will require the print provider to pay in the form of commission, as well as boosting their image and product range , is not (yet) known.
My Take: it remains to be seen when exactly the beta test phase is completed and Robert Keane actually opens the doors for all potential partners to a gigantic product portfolio and new sales by launching Cimpress Open. However coopetition with Europe’s largest online print provider does provide a decent platform for all those, who want to expand their sales channels or enhance their product portfolios. Mark you, docking on to Cimpress’ huge network – be it for production or sales reasons – is no substitute for having a higher-level strategy of enhancing your market positioning through selling “mass-customized” products. And every player should be aware of the fact that when one of the big boys opens up their sales channel, they want to earn money – and a certain level of dependency is generated once the first sales have been transacted. If you get used to making a “fast buck” too quickly, you as a niche player that wants to go online, will soon morph into a subcontractor – an extended production line. You’ve got to like doing that.