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Societies do not change gracefully. Behind major shifts in how humans go about their days often stand unspeakably horrid events: war, plague, famine, flood.

When the shit hits the fan, we deploy all of our technologies to mitigate the disaster. Medically, that translates into vaccines and healthcare systems. In times of natural disaster, we call up the engineers and first-responders.

The current crisis has forced us to shift as a planet in multiple ways. One of the most prominent economic shifts is in consumer behavior. The changes are significant, real and much more substantial than we think.

Are These Numbers For Real?

It’s a black ribbon medal, for sure. But ecommerce has arrived. No longer an oddity or an alternate, it is now required to be online, either as a consumer or a retailer. This one graph pretty well sums it up:

cgk.ink | ecommerce growth

That’s impressive growth on any level. But the percentage increases become ridiculously large when you start looking at a few industries. Obviously, we know the losers (aviation, hospitality, etc.) but there are some surprising winners. Chiefly among them is an industry I focus on a lot: Print on Demand (PoD).

“It was almost a straight line up when people were scrambling to shift from traditional production to on-demand,” says Brian Rainey, CEO of Gooten, a print-on-demand logistics and fulfillment company. “We saw an enormous spike in Q2, and it continued in Q3 and Q4. On-demand manufacturing and mass customization is growing faster than anyone can keep up with.”

Printful, another on-demand fulfillment company that prints, packs and ships custom products from e-commerce sites, reported an 80% year-over-year increase in order count over the last three quarters of 2020 and a 44% year-over-year growth in the number of new stores joining the platform. During the holiday shopping bonanza between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the online printing and drop-shipping company fulfilled 25 million products. In fact, that weekend, Printful saw a 70% order increase, with as many as 204 orders per minute – twice as high as in 2019.

(Sources)

The Future: More of the Same

“I don’t think anything will revert back to the way it was before,” says Rob Watson, chief experience officer at Top 40 supplier Vantage Apparel (asi/93390), which offers its own home-grown on-demand customization service to distributors. “More distributors are getting into the space and offering a solution that end-users wanted before but never knew that distributors could offer. I don’t think this is going to go away.”

Don’t expect 2021 to rewrite the narrative for on-demand companies and promotional products firms that follow the same model – 2020 wasn’t a blip. It was merely an acceleration of what’s already been happening. Consider that Printful’s impressive numbers during the holiday shopping weekend came after an already staggering growth rate for the company, which ballooned by 441% over the three previous years – from $21 million in 2016 to $116 million in 2019.

Related article: U.S. Ecommerce Up 92.7%