Get Started with Merch by Amazon – A Live Experiment

What is Merch by Amazon

Last year Amazon launched a new program called Merch by Amazon to help app developers, especially game apps, sell branded merchandise to their fan base. Creators simply upload shirt designs, add a few relevant details, and Amazon takes care of the rest. When a shirt is ordered Amazon makes the shirt, ships it to the customer, and then gives the creator a royalty for the sale. With no upfront costs or fees, but the ability to earn royalties on something that is infinitely reproducible, as well as hands off after the initial design development; this becomes a very enticing no-risk opportunity.

How Popular is this Program?

Needless to say, Merch by Amazon exploded in popularity. The no-risk, all reward opportunity coupled with a powerhouse sales platform like Amazon, was the perfect mixture for success. So much success in fact that Amazon limited the number of designs that could be uploaded, and the number of people that could sign up for the program. Now if you want to take part in the program you have to request to join, and wait a few months to be accepted (at least in my case I had to wait months). Once you are finally accepted you will allowed to upload 25 designs, and the more shirts you sell, the more designs you will be able to upload. Even though Amazon is taking these steps to try and keep things manageable, there are already whispers about Merch by Amazon expanding to other products like coffee mugs, and phone cases so that they can compete with services like Zazzle, CafePress, and Teespring on a more even footing.

Getting Started

Just like anything life, there is a small learning curve associated with selling your designs on Merch by Amazon, and I am going to walk you through what I have done so far. You can however, avoid most of this process by either buying premade shirt designs, hiring a VA (Virtual Assistant) to make designs for you, or by hiring someone from a site like Fiverr or Upwork. Often you can even buy key components such as titles and descriptions along with the design itself. If you’re like me though and choose to learn the process before outsourcing it, here is how I went about getting started.

Finding Design Ideas

The first step is to find ideas for designs you think will sell well. Since my wife is also helping me we went with themes she knows about and / or enjoys. One of the themes we chose is borderline taboo, and we hope that by using that theme we will reach an underserved market. Once we had an idea for what types of shirts we wanted to make, we just went to Amazon and found one we liked from that category and saved the image. This is not the design we uploaded, and I do not recommend simply copying other designer’s ideas, but this is a good way to start the creative process. From that first shirt we just scrolled through the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section to find more shirts we liked. Once we got around 50 ideas simply by clicking through what is already on Amazon we started creating our own designs.

Creating Your Shirt Designs

In order to actually create your designs you will need a photo editor or image manipulation program. Amazon lists GIMP, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop as possible options, and personally I recommend GIMP. GIMP is a free, open source program that works extremely well, and one I started using back when buying Photoshop would cost you your first born child (disclaimer: you did not actually have to pay with your first born, but it was really expensive). Now Photoshop is not nearly as expensive since you can get it as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud for $19.99 per month, but that is still a lot pricier than the free cost of GIMP. You can download GIMP here, and Photoshop here.

Once you have a program for creating and editing images, you can find similar images with creative commons, or free to use licenses with a quick Google Image Search. You can even drag the saved images right into the search bar to make the search that much easier. With fresh ideas and images you are allowed to use it is time to make the designs.

Making Shirt Designs

Depending on your skills and experience with image software, actually creating the designs for your shirts could arguably be the most difficult part of the entire process. Some designs may require you to create the design completely from scratch, while others may only require minor edits. The level of effort you want to put into this portion of the process is completely up to you, and this is why quite a few people decide to just purchase the designs. However you choose to approach the situation, there are a few things you should know.

First off, Amazon does provide templates to help get you started because designs are limited to 15 inches wide by 18 inches tall (4500 x 5400 pixels). Just because you can make your designs this big, does not mean you should. In fact, Amazon themselves recommend keeping your design to 12 inches or less, and placing the image more towards the top of the shirt than directly in the middle. Second, you will also need to be sure to save your images in PNG format in order to upload (File > Export As in GIMP). Also keep in mind that Merch by Amazon is nowhere near as robust as other custom shirt marketplaces. With Amazon you are limited to 15 colors, of which you can choose five for your design, and are limited to square blocks on the front and backs of shirts. Some other custom shirt marketplaces allow you to use more shirt real estate and extend your images to sleeves and sides, or create long-sleeves and hooded sweaters, but Amazon does not. Finally, do not try to upload anything vulgar, obscene, violent, or hateful. It should go without saying, but all of those are violations of the Content Policy, and since it seems Amazon reviews every design before it is listed, it is probably not a good idea to try.

Upload Your Designs

We’ve made it this far, and there are only a few steps left. Luckily it’s all downhill from here. Once you have your designs finished, polished, and saved as PNGs it is time to upload them to Amazon. And despite the design limitations, Amazon actually has a pretty simple user interface to get your shirts listed. Just choose front or back, upload your image, and click Save Selection and Continue.

Merch by Amazon - Upload

On the next page you will be able to select relaxed, or slim fit; if you want men’s, women’s, children, or all three options; up to five color variations; and the price you want your shirts to sell at.

Merch by Amazon - Details

Now I imagine that even though there are fifteen color options, Amazon probably limits you to five for the same reason I plan on only using three colors or less; and the same reason that almost all of my designs are either for men, or women only. Shoppers can easily catch decision paralysis when there are too many options, and that leads to lost sales from indecision. To get started I am using five colors on almost all of the designs I uploaded, and I tried to use each color variation at least once within my set of designs. That is so hopefully I can get a feel for what colors work best in general, and with each specific shirt. Once I have a few sales and can start seeing trends, I will cut out a few of the colors. Another thing I am doing is cutting my shirt price from the default $19.99 down to $13.99. Since I selected only slim fit shirts this only leaves me with a royalty of around $1. However, if Merch works anything like private labeling, then I would rather get a few sales and start ranking my listings than go straight for the $7-8 profits. Again, once sales start flowing I will make changes and increase my price.

Advertising

While we’re on the topic of sales, we might as well touch on advertising. Initially I had planned on starting both paid Amazon and Facebook ads as soon as I uploaded my designs. However, I am going to hold off for a week to see what (if anything) happens organically. I don’t have high expectations, especially because I did not take my time crafting descriptions and titles as well as I should have, but I am interested in seeing the results. Even if the organic results are amazing and offer much more than I expect them to, I will still run paid ads. Especially paid ads on Facebook because of how narrowly you can target your advertising. For example, if I want to show my shirts to tennis playing single moms, with an income over $75,000, who own homes, and shop online more than average, I can do so. However, constantly creating, monitoring, and adjusting ads takes a lot away from the passive income notion and is in no way required. You can choose not to run any ads at all and I’m sure others still find success in doing so, that is just not how I am choosing to approach this.

So What’s Next?

Now that we got started, and since this is a live experiment, I will be writing periodic updates. These updates will discuss how things are going, what I have tried along with what did and did not work, and strategies I intend to implement going forward. But I want you to do more than just follow along, I want you to join in the experiment. Comment below if you have already started with Merch, and if you prefer GIMP or Photoshop. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments.

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  • Velma

    Really looking forward to updates!