November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM


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But Zazzle is as much a digital community as it is an e-commerce site, says Robert Beaver. Zazzle combines a just-in-time manufacturing process with easy-to-use online design tools and a large collection of digital images from The Walt Disney Co., the Library of Congress and others. This combination enables consumers and businesses to create and store personalized images and create personalized merchandise. What makes the site unique is the sense of digital community Zazzle is building among its core users of artists, photographers, designers, business owners and online shoppers, says Manivone Phommahaxay, senior user experience specialist at Molecular Inc. “The interactive page features invite shoppers to view detailed images, test out color combinations and even browse other products instantaneously without multiple page refreshes,” says Phommahaxay. “Shoppers no longer have to wonder what their personalized T-shirt might look like because the site shows it to them.”

Early on Beaver handled the business side of the start-up while his sons concentrated on web design. Now the company sees a future as both a web retailer and as a third-party services company. In August, Zazzle launched a program that represents an overarching effort to expand its business by enabling customized product creation on third-party web sites. Zazzle’s Create-a-Product API offers web sites a one-click way to turn digital content, such as images, designs, photos and text, into custom products such as T-shirts and mugs. “We’re a web retailer that’s grounded in being a good technology company as well,” Beaver says. “Lots of retailers can sell online. Our model is different because we’re focused on merging e-commerce with digital content and an interactive community.”

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