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Yesterday I announced the launch of R3515T.com which is largely powered by Spreadshirt. In my announcement post about it I explained that I’ve printed and sold t-shirts via different companies for most of my life but only now had print on demand services, like Spreadshirt as well as Cafe Press, PrintMojo, Printfection, Zazzle and others gotten to the point that I thought I could actually use them as the main production and fulfillment piece of the business.

I launched the site in the morning and saw many people talking about it throughout the day which was exciting, and people were placing orders which was even better. At the end of the day with a handful of orders placed I thought I’d take a look to see who had actually ordered and where they were coming from. These are two very important things for me, as a business owner, to know about my customers. Are these people I know already, friends of friends, or people who found the site via some other method. With R3515T specifically, where they are at is important because if I see a ton of orders coming from Chicago I know that I need to step up my game and talk to some shops there about carrying my shirts as well.

Being able to reference this kind of information is invaluable to a business, but also lets me do cool things to engage my customers. I can offer special limited edition items only to people who have previously purchased something, I can let people who bought a specific shirt know about one in a few months that relates to it, and when I do a shirt about Los Angeles I can let the customers who are in Los Angeles know about it without bothering the ones that are in New York. (Shamal from Topspin gave a great presentation at MIDEM about Marketing with Data and how important this kind of information is.)

This doesn’t really need a lot of explaining, it should be obvious that knowing who is buying your products is a very important thing for a person selling those products. So I dove into the Spreadshirt admin pages and searched around. I could see when an order was placed, what was ordered, how much of a commission I made on it, but I couldn’t find anything about who had placed those ordered. Surely I was just missing something and they weren’t purposely withholding such crucial information. So I sent off a quick note to the customer service dept saying that I couldn’t find the info and asking if they could tell me where to look, noting that I obviously needed it for continued promotion of my products. I went to sleep expecting to get a note from them in the pointing me to something obvious that I’d just completely overlooked.

Instead I got something that still has me in shock. This is the reply I received from the spread shirt rep:

“Unfortunately, we are unable to fulfill your request. We cannot provide personal information about customers who are placing orders. This would violate our privacy policy. If you plan to continue to offer such a promotion I would recommend asking your customers to email their order number to you so that you know. There is no way around this and this will not be available in the future. Our privacy policy as well as our site security are one of the things that make customers more comfortable making purchases with us and our shop partners. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.”

What???!

That is insane. It’s beyond insane, it’s outright stupid. And what it shows is that Spreadshirt is completely missing the point. It shows that they think they are the ones selling the products, and I’m simply designing them. This couldn’t be anything further from the truth and they have it completely backwards. I’m not only the one designing the shirts, I’m also the one marketing and selling them. Spreadshirt is just the fulfillment cog in the middle of a much larger machine. The people buying shirts are not Spreadshirt’s customers, they are my customers. I am using Spreadshirt’s services to sell things to my customers. In fact I’m paying Spreadshirt for that service – I’m paying for a premier shop and giving them the lions share of the cost of each shirt sold. People are not going to the site and buying the shirt because of Spreadshirt, they are going to the site and buying the shirts because of me. That isn’t a bad thing for Spreadshirt, in fact it should be awesome for them, they have created a platform that people can run whole businesses off of – like ebay or Amazon or Lulu. Except by blocking me from interacting with my customers, by preventing me from knowing anything about them at all, they kneecap any follow up marketing and loyalty building I might be able to do.

And for a company like R3515T, that is a deal breaker. Luckily they aren’t the only people who provide this service (see partial list of other companies who offer almost the exact same service they do in the first ‘graf).

But that is from my perspective, it should be obvious from theirs as well, and they are losing money because of this policy. By preventing me, a shop owner who has clearly done enough work and effort to create and market shirts that people have come to the site and purchased them, from knowing who the customers are, it’s preventing mountains of return sales that they would be making a significant percentage of. Again, if I’m doing all the work to make the products and get people to my site to buy them, what possible sense does it make to prevent me from knowing who those efforts worked with. It’s completely shortsighted, and above all disappointing. I was really excited that I was going to build this business with them, instead they are going to lose my business entirely to one of their competitors who understands loyalty and repeat customer based businesses.

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