Should you offer free shipping? The short answer is...it depends.
If you're using a single vendor and aiming at a specific area where you can factor in the free shipping and keep the price manageable, then free shipping is probably going to work out for you. I'm, trying, with my store to offer my stuff worldwide with multiple Print-on-Demand (POD) vendors, who are also located around the world and there was just absolutely no way to make it work I'm looking at YOU Canada). I found that out the hard way...lol...
I'll go into my store set up and current lessons in another post, but I'm currently using Shopify as my platform and a few main vendors: Printful, Printify, and AOP (I found through an app on Shopify).
AOP is awesome. It's sort of set up like Redbubble in that you upload a single design and it splashes it across a bunch of merchandise. You then go and adjust the design as needed, there are several 'All Over Print' items, and really for your time spent I think it's one of the best "bangs for your buck". You can get a single upload of around 100+ individual items to your store, not including variants, in not a whole lot of time.
You work in a collection, and updates are fairly simple. You can also add multiple designs to the collection, just not on the same item.
Their prices are competitive and they take care of production. I picked up some samples and they were quality , delivery was also a usual 7 days or so (It's odd to wait when you're used to super fast 2-day delivery, but these are custom pieces, but even Amazon isn't as fast as it was currently). It's been a faster way to add merchandise to my online store. They don't have everything, but for most of the basics like t-shirts, hoodies, pillows, blankets, mugs they are a good choice.
A few wish list items that other places have would be being able to tile an image easily on being able to layer multiple items. With pricing it'd be nice to be able to enter the final price instead of having to guess at a markup %. Another downside is that you aren't able to add just one item to the collection you have to create a whole new one, which is inconvenient when you'd like to offer some multiple design options and keep them together.
I've dealt with customer service a few times and they have been very friendly and helpful.
PRINTFUL is another platform I use that is also darned good. While AOP may not have everything and Printful helps fill in gaps and offer other merchandise AOP does not, like multiple types of women's and men's leggings, plus sizes, laptop cases, backpacks, jackets, hats, stationary, posters, shorts, underwear, swimwear, sports bras, dresses...all All Over Printable, so cool.
You create templates, which I'm not sooper sure I'm doing efficiently as I create one per design, but the design edit lets you tile images and you can shift and move them around where you want (it'd be nice if they had layers, but not yet). AOP limits you to a box for most things to move your designs around in. You are also able to add a background color, which is handy for AOP items with a transparent design that you want to offer in multiple colors, you can duplicate the template, change the color, and upload it again.
While AOP lets you do multiple items at once in a collection, Printful only let's you do one at a time, which feels like (after being able to do multiples) a bit more tedious, but it's just different. Plus if you do AOP for your basics, this is an easy supplemental.
One caveat, is any changes you make and re-upload aren't over written (which now that I think about it, using one template you could just make changes and upload them instead of creating multiple templates like I do), but if you get proficient at creating, like I did, and then have to go back to make changes, then you have to go delete the original items and re-upload them since they don't overwrite. Just something to be aware of.
With pricing, Printful is still competitive and they take care of production as well. Samples I;ve gotten from them have been quality and customer service friendly and responsive. They have great product mockups as well.
One option they have that I like is you can choose stich color, either black or white, but still a nifty touch.
PRINTIFY is the first vendor I came across, and started with, they are another option (like Printful) that let's you create a single item at a time, but they get a bit more granular with the production as you also have the opportunity to choose who produces our item.
Vendors are available in the US, Europe, China, Mexico and I think a couple of other places. This choice in particular can have an effect on shipping prices (call back to what this was all about to begin with...lol...). Not all vendors necessarily have the same prices, items, colors, etc...which lets you shop around and choose a bit more, but can be a bit tedious to deal with initially.
Design-wise they are fairly similar to the others, BUT they have LAYERS so you can layer individual images, tho with some items you are still limited to a boxed area, but you can choose which colors and sizes from the design interface that is handy. They don't do tiling tho (yet at least), which is a bit disappointing.
They also have a lot of items to choose from. One of my favorite that the others don't have are SHOES. Sneakers, high tops, boots (for men and women) as well as flip flops. They DID have women's high heels which I LOVED designing for, but have (at least for now 7/9/21) been halted by the Chinese manufacturer, but I have high hopes they will come back! lol.
But calling back, again, to the "Free Shipping" option. Using any single one of these vendors you could probably do it, just build it in to the price and you are set, but all three of them together, different zones and prices, just made it impossible for me to do. Ultimately it also worked out better for my customers as well as the price is slightly cheaper, usually, from a vendor for second+ items, so they don't technically get charged twice for shipping.
The shipping prices to Canada, yow, made it mostly prohibitive as well. They were just so much more expensive than most anywhere else.
One thing I'm still trying to work out is production and shipping zones so someone ordering from a different part of the world gets their order produced more closely to where they live and, hopefully, lowers their shipping costs.
This is partially where I'm at currently, hopefully it helps someone and they don't have to go through the same learning curve I have...lol...
Reach out if you have any questions or comments I'll be happy to try and help.
- todd (firstname.lastname@example.org)