What I Learned My First 3 Months of Selling Merch by Amazon
Several months ago I posted about my initial experiences with the Merch by Amazon program. Back then, I was essentially just trying to figure things out. And while I’m still working through the process, I thought it might help others if I shared some of my learnings.
In case anyone else is thinking of selling t-shirts through the Merch program, here’s an update as to what I’ve learned over these past few months. Believe me, it’s quite a bit — although I’m sure it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I still need to learn.
And you know how it’s sometimes better just to write things down, even though you’re pretty sure you have a basic idea of how to do something? Well, this is me, documenting what I’ve learned about Merch by Amazon. Because a few more months down the road, who knows? I may get distracted, have to dedicate time to something else, and come back one day & be totally clueless.
Increasing Your Merch Seller Tier
In that initial post, I talked about advancing from a Tier 10 to Tier 25. When you’re first accepted into the Merch by Amazon program, you start out in Tier 10. The tier number equates to the number of products you need to sell before advancing to the next level.
So I sold 10 t-shirts in order to reach Tier 25. And I will flat out tell you almost all of those sales were made either by myself, or someone I know. Because you’re allowed to do that with the Merch program, as a quality control activity. Also, several blogs and podcasts have made that same suggestion. Because when you think about it, having 10 measly t-shirts floating around in the vast ocean that is Amazon — it’s not very likely you’ll stumble upon random buyers and organic traffic.
Moving quickly out of the lower tiers will allow you the opportunity to really build your brand, and experiment with different designs.
Moving from Tier 25 to Tier 100
Once you reach Tier 25, you’ll need to sell another 15 shirts (for a total of 25 sales) in order to Tier up again. The next level you’ll advance to is Tier 100. That’s where I currently am today. I was able to sell the additional 15 t-shirts, and from my analysis, 10 were purchased by legit strangers. The other 5 were friends/family.
My overall strategy — which I believe really helped generate these sales — was in keyword research, and pushing my top sellers. When I first started, I had an idea of a few niches I wanted to focus on. Over time, I’m starting to see which designs are rising above others in terms of sales.
I’ve been leveraging that knowledge by creating additional versions of the most successful designs. For example, new listings with different color options, or different shirt styles. While I focus mainly on t-shirts, I also have the option of creating sweatshirts, long sleeve shirts, and hoodies.
Additionally, I’ve been focusing on boosting the listings that have customer ratings.
I’m sure when you go on Amazon to search for an item, one of the first criteria you choose is 4+ star rating. (I know I do that!) Having a positive customer rating does wonders for increasing Merch by Amazon sales. I believe Amazon favors results that have customer ratings, and will, in general, display them in search results before others. That’s my personal theory anyway.
As a best practice, I’ll intermittently review my listings that have ratings and modify them to include more keywords in the description. If a particular holiday is coming up, I may insert phrases related to that (if appropriate). And basically do an overhaul on keyword optimization.
Important note: No keyword stuffing is allowed in descriptions! Apparently that was a common practice when Merch by Amazon was initially launched. However, a recent notification alerted sellers that Amazon will be reviewing all listings, past and present, to ensure content does not include misleading descriptions or keyword stuffing.
Reaching Tier 100 as a Merch by Amazon Seller
Tier 100 gives you a lot more flexibility, where you can list up to 10 shirts a day. And it allows you to play around with different strategies, without worrying about tying up your available slots.
As of right now, I have 91 out of 100 designs live on Amazon. While I did have all 100 slots filled at one point, I recently decided to delete some listings that were underperforming.
I highly recommend reviewing and evaluating any older t-shirt designs that don’t seem to be selling. I did that, and determined some of them were just not that great! So I decided to cut my losses, and free up slots for other listings that will hopefully do better.
And while I do plan on filling those slots soon, I don’t really feel an urgency to do it right away. Right now, I’m trying to assess the ones I have, looking at what’s selling, and what I can do to boost some of the others.
I’ve been reading through forums and listening to Merch podcasts to get a better idea of how to set up my listings. And this is namely in regard to using keyword variations.
I’m finding there’s a bit of a balance that needs to be maintained in terms of marketing to a very specific niche vs. a random Amazon shopper stumbling upon your listing.
Optimizing the Title for Your Merch by Amazon Product Listing
So as an example, I could make a shirt that says “ English Majors Totally Get it Write” — but I don’t necessarily want that to be the title of my listing. Because what are the odds someone goes into the Amazon search bar, and types in that specific query?
Maybe instead, I could make the title “ Quirky T-shirt for Grammar Nerd”, or something like that. Because for the most part, when people are on Amazon, they’re not sure what they’re specifically looking for.
It could be a funny t-shirt, or inspirational tee, or humorous dog sweatshirt. And then the search results will give them recommendations. (And yes, I know, the above example was terrible…an English major would never buy that shirt, LOL).
So in a way, making your title more generic will allow you to get your products in front of a broader audience. And since I’ve modified some of my earlier listings to go from very specific to more generic, I’m definitely seeing an uptick in organic sales.
Technology for Designing T-Shirts
When I first started designing for the Merch by Amazon program, I talked about the two major tools being Adobe Photoshop and GIMP. I have no experience with Photoshop, but I have read several articles that indicate it has a learning curve (and is also expensive to purchase.)
So I decided to go for the free option, and learn how to design with the GIMP program. My very first designs were made with GIMP, a free, open source image editor.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) also has a bit of a learning curve, but at least it’s free. And I found a couple of really good YouTube videos showing how to format specifically for Merch designs.
Here is the video I found to be most useful for creating Merch designs with GIMP:
As you can see from the screen flow in the video clip, GIMP is not the prettiest application.
Which is why I find using video tutorials to be so helpful.
But what about other tools — are there any other applications that can be used to design Merch t-shirts?
Glad you asked, because I have tried a few others -
Canva for Work
The Canva application is something I was already using for my blog in general.
The free version of Canva can be used to make graphics for your website or blog, as well as creating pins for Pinterest.
Since I was already very comfortable using Canva’s free version, I wanted to examine if the same tool could be used to create Merch designs.
Unfortunately, free Canva doesn’t allow you to download your creations with a transparent background, which Amazon highly recommends for their Merch designs. Transparency is only available with the Canva for Work plan.
In addition to transparent images, Canva for Work offers a few other perks. For example: unlimited storage, resizing existing images, access to a huge library of free photos and graphics, animation, a brand kit, team templates, and folders, to create consistent designs across multiple platforms.
While all of these features are nice to have, other than the transparent images, they’re not terribly useful for designing Merch items.
You would initially think the free photos and graphics would be a plus — but there’s a caveat to that.
Canva operates using a One-Time Use License. This means you can’t use their graphic design elements to reproduce or sell. If you wanted to do that, you’d need to pay for an upgraded license for commercial use.
Therefore, if you plan to design anything using Canva, be sure to use your own photos and original design elements so you’re not infringing on the license requirements. Taken from a Canva representative’s response:
“If your design only uses elements which you uploaded and created yourself, then you may print it on items for resale, such as postcards and t-shirts. If your design uses only free elements from our library, they are subject to the terms of our licenses. And if your design uses any paid elements from our image library, you need to purchase the images under the Extended License to use it on products for resale.”
And while we’re on the subject of licensing, don’t forget to do your due diligence before listing t-shirt designs with quirky or trendy phrases.
Use the websites Trademarkia and USPTO (Trademark Electronic Search System, a.k.a TESS) to perform a search on whatever words or phrase you plan on listing. This will save you some time and grief in the long run, if it turns out someone has already trademarked that particular term. See the Tools section below for links to these two resources.
Why Canva for Work May Still Be a Good Option
Although you are restricted from using Canva for Work graphics and images for Merch designs, many of these perks would be useful for creating other types of blog-related graphics. Which would stand to reason if you’re already using Canva’s free version for blog and pin purposes, it might be a reasonable investment to upgrade to Canva for Work.
Since I was already incredibly comfortable with using Canva for my blog, I decided to continue using it for designing Merch t-shirts (using my own images and graphics). I found GIMP to have such a learning curve to make designs attractive, that it wasn’t worth it to me. Maybe I’ll revisit that decision in the future, and come back for an update.
Creating a Merch Design with Canva
Here are the high level steps to creating a Merch design with Canva for Work:
- Click Create a Design, Custom Dimensions
- Then enter 4500 x 5400 px (the required dimensions for Merch t-shirt designs)
- Create New Design
At this point, you would add pictures, graphics, text — whatever you’d like to add to your t-shirt design. Canva is pretty easy to navigate, in terms of adding images, text, font, colors — and also has a helpful ruler feature that allows you to center the components of your design.
Once you hit Create new design, a new page will pop up with your blank canvas to start creating. You can add your own text, photos, or drawings to make whatever design you’d like to list on Merch by Amazon.
Then once you are happy with your design, the last step you absolutely have to remember is to download the PNG file with a transparent background.
Don’t forget to check that little box!
Note: While having a transparent image is not a requirement, it is one of the Best Practices listed on the Merch by Amazon Resources page.
It states you should avoid having “a solid rectangle filling the entire printable area”, as well as “making designs that look contained within a rectangular block.”
Stencil App for Creating Merch Designs
Another useful program I’ve been using online is Stencil. I stumbled upon this site while reading a Merch blog, and found Stencil to be a very easy tool to use. The interface is very user-friendly, and it also allows you to download as a transparent image (for free).
The only negative is you are limited to 10 images per month. If you’d like to create additional images, you can upgrade to their paid Pro plan where you are allowed 50 images per month, or upgrade further to their Unlimited plan.
Although there is a hack that you can use, if you’re in a bind. Once you’ve run out of images for the month, Stencil will award you additional images if you follow or share on various social media platforms. I’m assuming you can only do that one time, and I’ve already cashed in those options on my account.
Another perk I’ve (literally) just discovered is that Stencil allows you to create images for commercial use. No further licensing is required.
Per the Stencil website: “All images and icons on their site are “under a special public domain Creative Commons license called “ CC0 “. That means you can use these photos however you want. We mean that literally. Personal, commercial, blog posts, posters…anything. Also, there’s no attribution required whatsoever!”
This is an interesting development that may warrant further research into the whole Canva vs. Stencil comparison …
Okay, so here is where I lay out the actual numbers. How many Merch t-shirts I sold those first 3 months, and how much I made in profit.
So I will tell you — it was nothing spectacular, but it’s a start!
As you can see below, I sold 35 t-shirts, had one returned, and made a total of $127.25 in profit. Not exactly enough to make a living off of.
Also worth noting, you can set your own price point for each individual item. I experimented with a few different options, but ultimately landed on selling t-shirts in the $16.99 — $17.99 range.
While my profits over the first three months were not exactly enviable, I still consider it a win. Because I feel this timeframe had the largest learning curve, since I knew nothing about Merch by Amazon prior to applying for the program.
For the first three months, I was learning how to use the various tools, coming up with design ideas, creating designs, and learning how to keyword optimize the listings. Not too bad, for work that was done entirely online, with no physical product to purchase or ship.
And even though it’s been kind of a slow start, all of these listings are now out there. So any future sales of these items will be entirely passive.
As noted previously, I recently deleted a bunch of listings and will be putting some new designs out there. Hopefully that’ll help produce more meaningful sales going forward.
And in reference to that one return — although I have no insight into why something is returned, I kind of have an idea.
On the date of the particular sale, I noticed I sold two of the same exact t-shirt designs — same size and color. So my theory is someone hit the “Add to Cart” button twice by mistake, and didn’t realize they’d purchased two of the same item.
That’s just a guess. But I’m good with holding onto that theory going forward.
References to Learn More About Merch
If you’re interested in learning more about selling t-shirts through the Merch by Amazon program, here is some info that may help you out. These are websites I discovered that have some great tutorials, as well as videos for creating your designs.
Merch Pursuits — This is one of my go-to Merch info sites, and has an Ultimate Getting Started Guide.
Merch Informer — This site’s main purpose is to generate membership to its online tools, which can be pretty pricey. But I’ve referenced their blog to learn a few tidbits of information.
Passive Shirt Profits — Lots of great video tutorials on how to get started with Merch by Amazon and Print on Demand.
Merch Campus — YouTube channel for an extremely successful Merch business, offering tips and tricks to succeed as a seller.
My Lifestyle Dream — Read about this UK blogger’s epic Merch by Amazon journey, and where he is with his business today.
Jersey Merch / Amazon Merch Jersey Edition — Two serial entrepreneurs with over two decades of business ownership talk about their learnings through Merch by Amazon.
Merch Minds — Glen and Yong discuss anything and everything related to Merch by Amazon, as well as the Print on Demand industry in general. Also, they’re pretty funny characters.
Merch Lifestyle — Spencer and Shannon dish on Print on Demand strategies, expert interviews, tools, and the daily struggles of the e-commerce entrepreneur.
Morning Cup of Merch — Quick little tidbits of Merch-related information.
Merch by Amazon — Apply to join the Merch by Amazon program.
Trademarkia — To search for existing trademarks that have been filed, so your design idea isn’t infringing on an existing trademark.
USPTO/TESS — To search for trademark applications and registrations with Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
Canva — Image design program, can be used for Pinterest pins, blog images, or Merch design (provided you use your own images/graphics).
GIMP — Free & Open Source Image Editor.
I hope this post has been helpful for anyone who wants to get started with the Merch by Amazon program. It’s been a crazy few months, but I really feel like I’ve learned so much. Even if this doesn’t wind up being a huge windfall for me financially, I’m grateful to have this opportunity.
And learning new things makes life all the more interesting, I think. Because who wants to be bored doing the same old thing on a daily basis? It’s better to keep our minds nimble, and challenge ourselves by learning new skills.
Let me know what you think of this post, if you’ve signed up for the Merch by Amazon program, or if you have any questions.
I’ll do my best to answer what I can!
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Originally published at https://sidejambiz.com on June 14, 2019.