I’m not going to tell you what I think of this. I want you to tell me what I should think.
As some of you may know, Right Reason has merchandise. There’s a link to our store over on the right. The link is http://www.cafepress.com/rightreason. The store is hosted by Cafepress, who provide a service that enables people to design and sell their own merchandise. I’m going to describe a recent experience that I had with them, and I’d like your feedback on whether or not you believe they conduct themselves ethically in the matter I am describing.
I add a pretty modest mark-up to what I sell. Here’s an example: I’m selling a pretty sweet Right Reason baseball jersey. The base price (what Cafepress charges) is $17.99, and I add $5 to that as profit on each sale (although Cafepress takes a small portion of that too). The total price: $22.99. Check out the snippet from the product editing screen over on the left.
When a user sets their store options, they have the option of excluding their products from the general marketplace at Cafepress. If you select this option, then people won’t stumble on to your products when browsing Cafepress. They would have to come to your store at Cafepress to find them. I figured – Hey, why not just leave my products visible in the general marketplace. More visibility means more sales, and at five bucks a shirt, it may even start to add up, right?
So far everything seemed to make sense. Cafepress told me the base price, I decided the profit level, and I made my stuff available for people to buy either in my store or at the general Cafepress website.
At this point it is worth noting that when Cafepress give you the option of excluding your products from the marketplace, it’s just a checkbox, and there is no mention of price.
Here is the part I want you to think about. Recently I bought one of my own products for somebody (this baseball jersey actually). After buying it, Cafepress sent me a link to this product, suggesting that I share it with my friends. Great idea, maybe somebody else will see it and want to buy one. So I posted the link on Facebook. I wondered, What will my friends see if the click on this link? So I clicked on it. Here is what I saw, in the picture on the right. That’s right folks, just $34.99, reduced from $38! Bargain! Wait a minute, I thought. I’ve added the price incorrectly! I went back to my store to edit the price – No, it was correct: Base price of $17.99, mark-up of $5, total price of $22.99. What was going on here? I emailed Cafepress to find out. I didn’t want people to think I was charging that much. They emailed me back and pointed out that although the product listing – apart from the price – looked like the one I had created, actually it wasn’t the same listing. The higher priced item was in the marketplace, not in my store, and the price was different. What? I thought. The price is different? They decided what to charge for my design? That was news to me. And since the base price that Cafepress charge is $17.99, did this now mean that I would get $17 per shirt that people bought in the marketplace? Actually I had asked them that too. Their reply was to tell me that for sales of my products in the marketplace, I would get 10%. As in, $3.49.
So here is the summary of agreed facts:
- I created a store at Cafepress where I sell these shirts. Cafepress charge a base price of $17.99, and on top of that I make most of a $5 commission.
- By default, Cafepress sell my products on their wider website, telling me that I can opt out.
- When Cafepress sell this product on their wider website, they charge $12 more, and I get about $1.50 less per item.
- When I bought one of these items from my store, Cafepress provided a link to the product for me to share, in case others want to buy it. The link was to the item outside of my store, where the price is much higher and my take is less. This link is what would have been sent to another buyer. It just happened that on this occasion I was the buyer.
Cafepress have acted legally. That is not in question. The question is: Are they acting ethically? Let’s hear your thoughts.
(For the record, the link they sent me is no longer available, as I have removed my products from the wider marketplace. They can now only be bought from the Right Reason store.)