Print-on-demand: Custom Gateway uses a newly created Amazon interface


Offering a print customization service via the world’s largest eCommerce platform – for many print providers this is a welcome opportunity to fly the flag in this key marketplace. Custom Gateway and Amazon – what’s behind all of this?

A couple of days ago I came across an announcement that made me sit up and take notice. “Marketing print-on-demand and customizable products via Amazon”. Hold on a minute, is Zipper now talking about Amazon Custom? Is that now available in the European market too? No, we’re talking Custom Gateway for Amazon. This Macclesfield (UK)-based provider of online customization software with branches in places like Aachen is now offering a comprehensive solution for sales of create-your-own-text print products via Amazon. Some folk may recall Custom Gateway under its former identity, Gateway 3D – it was renamed Custom Gateway in 2016. More than 3000 eCommerce websites now use the mass customization-focused SaaS solutions provided by this recently established business.

Print-on-demand production integration and process via Amazon (german); Source: Custom Gateway

And now to Amazon. As Europe’s largest online provider, the Internet giant managed to generate almost one third of all eCommerce sales in Germany in 2016. Taking a closer look at Amazon Custom (US) reveals that while the number of products has not really increased since my last report on this topic, the number of reviews certainly has, and substantially too. Some of these customizable products have already received several hundred thoroughly positive reviews, which indicates a positive trend towards print customization. Nevertheless “custom” is still not a separate category – and there are still no signs of the beta version in Germany.

“The fact that Amazon is still seriously limiting the design options for print and other customizable products delights online print providers specializing in mass customization and at the same time “annoys” software providers and small print businesses, since their access to this valuable marketing opportunity is to some extent restricted.” – Bernd Zipper

Custom Gateway has now launched a new opportunity to use Amazon for mass customized products. And how does the incorporation of print-on-demand work in this marketplace? Given that Amazon currently (and presumably in the near future as well) does not allow for live previews for configurable products in the European market, the first step in the process is via Gateway’s Custom Product Platform, where the products, including designs for items that can be customized at a later stage, are set up. Product data is exported to the store established at Amazon by the client via a recently created Amazon API, which Gateway utilizes for the transfer. Therefore if a customer buys a PoD product via the store, the provider receives the print data promptly via an integrated, automatically updated download from the Amazon store. This is attributable to the Gateway OMS (Order Management System), which enables print jobs, including detailed views of customized templates to be rechecked and print data to be forwarded subsequently to proprietary or partner printing facilities for production purposes. At the start of production the last thing the OMS does is to update order status via Amazon.

Daniel Rüben, CEO Europe at Custom Gateway, regards the new link option as groundbreaking. “Given that optimum use of all sales channels is gaining in importance, facilitating mass customization of print products, for example, via major platforms like Amazon plays a key role in our thinking.”  In a brief conversation with him he also explained to me that it is the company’s express aim to add other product customization functions beyond just text customization to Amazon stores in the future. However Amazon has not yet activated the requisite interface, in contrast to Amazon Custom in the USA.

My take: great principle. The market power and the reach of Amazon speak for themselves – so it would be a logical step for many retailers to want to offer customizable products there too. Software providers like Custom Gateway are making major progress on the path to print-on-demand via marketplace, despite Amazon’s restrictions on live customization options. Is Amazon going to approve the requisite interface at some stage? That would certainly be attractive for some print providers without their own stores or with low production volumes – you always have to consider the sales fees on these platforms. And even if it’s only an opportunity for B2C online print providers to fly the flag and transact their main business at their own websites. A look at Amazon Custom (US) shows that many print products that you can customize using your own text and images are great sellers. At any rate I shall continue to monitor developments and report on the Gateway solution once again at the appropriate juncture. That’s because the software providers are already thinking in terms of a wider range of customization options provided via a marketplace.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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