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Monday, June 23, 2008

Your eCommerce Solution

Partner with an online service that handles your orders, collects the money, ships the prints and leaves you with higher revenue

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A variety of sites have surfaced offering photographers online eCommerce solutions combined with the resources of a physical lab. The advantage to these sites, besides the nominal costs and time savings, is that they're providing quality products without your customer base ever knowing that they're dealing with outside entities. Companies like efotolab.com, SimplePhoto and Zenfolio are offering seamless integration into your workflow by fulfilling many of the back-end duties like billing, shipping and sales. More importantly, though, they're also using the convenience of the Internet to improve upon traditional workflows.

Mpix and Zenfolio feature eCommerce integration for streamlining workflows.

SimplePhoto presents a range of services that allow photographers to exercise exactly how much control they wish to have over their outsourcing. If you want SimplePhoto to do everything for you, all you have to do is get them the images, and they post, print and sell for you. If you prefer a hands-on approach, you can customize your own sales cart and prices, and SimplePhoto will offer guidance in the background or stay out of the way altogether.

Efotolab.com bases its business model on performing time-consuming customer service for you. With the primary focus on event photography, efotolab.com notifies registered clients, and then interacts with them on your behalf to fulfill requests. The customers then have the ability to print the images they choose in a variety of customized options. The professional photographer can set the prices, customers see those prices and purchase items, and the photographer retains the profit after debiting the cost of the service—all without the photographer needing to do anything more than upload images.

Many sites, like Zenfolio, are offering website integration through password-protected image hosting that pipelines customers directly to print sales through their workflow partnership with online digital lab Mpix. Ultimately, though, it's not just about posting images online. It's about making sales and profit off of your images. These eCommerce sites are offering professional levels of back-end sales for very little investment, coupled with fast turnaround and quality printing solutions. The up-front costs are where the initial profit is, but, much as with royalties, the little extra payoffs on back-end prints and sales provide long-term income.

Sites like Mpix and SimplePhoto also offer many of the novelty photo-print items available online. No one can argue with the client-appeal of products like coffee mugs and calendars. The market is heavy profit, and it's one that local labs have to take the time to outsource to. Sites include everything from hardbound books to calendars to playing cards embossed with personalized images. Sites also offer framing options, at last combining two business models that should have been working together since day one. Mpix, for instance, offers matting and framed prints that can still be shipped within the 24-hour turnaround they aim for.

Setup for almost all of these sites is simple and usually free. Sites make their cut of profit in a variety of ways, either through commissions, print or product sales or through subscription-style rates. The options and offerings of sites vary by domain and sometimes by tiered levels of service.

Zenfolio allows photographers to organize, present, print and sell their images online with or without customized logos and links. Photographers create their own price lists, including percentage and order-size-based coupons with flexible shopping-cart options. Zenfolio then collects the revenue, outsourcing the prints to Mpix. The fees and the costs of the prints are deducted from the order, and Zenfolio takes a 12 percent service fee from the profit. The remaining balance is paid out to the photographer.

SimplePhoto, a commission-based service, provides a free 30-day trial, including free setup and sales/web consulting with the goal of helping its photographer members leverage the Internet for better online sales success. SimplePhoto has a free flash website builder for photographers who also need a website; for photographers who already have a website, SimplePhoto uses a customizable "StoreFront," which matches the colors and fonts of predesigned websites. Events and session booking also can be sent to clients directly through e-mail.



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