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Diary of a Merch Mom

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I am pretty new to Merch myself. Although I signed up for an account in October 2015 I didn’t start paying any attention to it until near the end of May 2017. I’m still learning but I’ve come a long way and I truly believe there is a huge earning potential with this venture. And in a much less risky or physically demanding way than FBA is.

If you have applied for your Merch account and are (im)patiently waiting for it to be approved or if you have been approved but are just starting out and are feeling a little overwhelmed then I am here to help and share what I have learned and a little bit about my process. So, sit back and enjoy… this is going to be a long one!

It all begins:

Because I’m active in many Facebook FBA groups I first heard about Merch when it first opened to applications in October 2015 and I immediately signed up. I had no idea what i was doing and to be honest those first shirts I put up could have gotten me kicked out for copyright infringement before I even got started. But, luckily they didn’t and my account was still there waiting for me when I rediscovered it this past May. I pulled down the questionable designs and at that point I started from scratch and set about learning how to use design software and find ideas.

Design software:

Because I have no design background I was starting from scratch in every sense of the word. The first thing I needed was software to design on. The most commonly used are Photoshop, Adobe Illustrater, and Gimp. Because the first two cost money and the third option was free I chose Gimp and set about watching videos to learn how to utilize it create Merch shirts. My first attempts we pretty pitiful and are no longer listed for sale but as time has gone by and I created more designs I learned along the way and now have a pretty good idea of what I’m doing.

There is one other program that I very highly recommend called Make Merch. It is a a very simple platform for designing Merch shirts and is especially handy when you first get started. They provide various templates and a whole library of Merch safe images and fonts. You select your image, can add different filters to make it look really cool, and input your text. Super easy and no experience needed. It is a subscription service (currently it costs $19.99 a month) but I definitely feel like it’s worth it even with my using Gimp primarily. For one, it offers a template that does curved text which is something that I don’t have a handle on at all with Gimp. And my kids LOVE signing in and having fun designing their own shirts. It is seriously so easy that even my 7 year old can create cool shirts in no time at all. If you are interested in checking it out just click here: Make-Merch

How to get ideas:

Ideas are everywhere. I’ve gotten a lot of them just by keeping my eyes open and paying attention to what people around me are wearing. Every day I’m lots of places – stores, soccer practices, games, etc – and there tshirts galore. I’ll also check out the new offerings when I stop into clothing stores to get ideas and if I see something I can work with I’ll either snap a picture or text myself the idea to research later.

I also use a program called Merch Informer merch informer to do research. Merch Informer is a subscription service with three different options: A basic membership for $19.99 a month, advanced for $29.99 a month, and pro for $59.99 a month. I am a basic subscriber and find this to be enough to meet my needs right now. You can search ideas and see what kind of competition there is and how well a shirt is selling. If it’s profitable niche with little competition or an idea that I think I can do better then I’m in! Merch Informer also has a trademark tool that lets you search trademarks before you put up a listing (VERY imporant – I’ll talk more about this later). Honestly, while I did use this feature for awhile I find it easier and feel safer searching on the actual government website.

Trademarks:

Trademarked and Copyrighted words and phrases are the biggest problem I run into as a designer. It is crazy what they will allow people to trademark! You want to be very, very careful about what you are listing because if a trademark appears on the design or in the brand, title, or bullets Amazon will reject your design and you will have a “ding” on your account. Too many dings and they can suspend or close your account so tread very carefully. I’ve learned that if it feels risky it probably is and don’t even try it.

I check words and phrases through the USTPO website. They have an easy to use database where you enter the words and they let you know if trademarks are filed. If your search returns no results you are good to go. If it pulls results you will need to check any marked live to see what the category is. If it is not trademarked for clothing (025) then you can go ahead with your design. Of course, trademarks can be filed at any time and if one becomes live after your shirt is listed you may have to pull it down later so always keep that in mind. That is actually another benefit to Merch Informer because they will store your searches and run them daily for you (or multiple times a day if you request) in case the status changes.

Images:

There are a lot of options for images and not all of them are free. For the most part I only use the free ones and get the bulk of my images from Pixabay. I do subscribe to another image site called Graphic Stock that I paid a set price for the year to access but I don’t find them to have a wealth of images that I can use and probably won’t renew it next year.

With images you are looking for those that allow commercial use. Many clip art sites allow the images to be dowloaded for personal use but not commecially and this won’t do you any good. If they do say they are commercial use approved then be sure to read the fine print. In some cases they specify they are not allowed to be used on POD (print on demand) sites and since this is what Merch is that makes these images a no go.

Fonts:

Just like with images not all fonts are free. And the ones that are you also have to be sure they are acceptable for commercial use (with no restrictions to PODS). The ones that come with the design software are largely personal use only so for this reason I stay completely away from any that were pre-loaded into GIMP. I don’t know how aggressive Amazon is with font ownership and while I don’t believe this is something that would come back as a rejection up front it is something that could get you a compliance violation down the line which is not something you want.

I use Dafont to search for free commercial use fonts and have found quite a few that I like. There are also many, many websites that will sell fonts for commerical use and even some that offer free fonts of the month and the like.

Keywords:

Once you have a design created and you have checked and double checked for trademark infringement you are ready to upload it to Merch. When you do this after picking your t-shirt colors (you can choose up to 5 – pick ones that work best with your particular design) you complete the info for the brand name, title, bullets, and description. You want to write coherent well thought out sentences that incorporate as many terms people might use to search for your shirt as possible. I do this by putting myself in the buyers shoes and thinking of all the things I might type in if looking for that shirt on Amazon. Again, be wary of trademarks while doing this.

Amazon pulls keywords from the Brand, Title, and Bullets but not the description. But, since Google does pull from the description I always complete this info too. Often I copy on or both of my bullets and put it down in the description too just to cover all of my bases.

A handy little website I came across for finding Keywords is Keyword Dude. You enter a term in the search box and the Dude will pull up related things that people have searched for using that term. It can help give you some more ideas and doesn’t cost a thing so it’s a good tool to keep handy.

Outsourcing designs:

A lot of Merch sellers (especially once they reach the higher tiers and are facing large amounts of uploads daily) will hire designers either through Upwork or Fiverr or from one of the numerous design services that cater to this kind of seller. Because I’m cheap and have so much enjoyed creating my own designs I can’t really speak to the majority of them.

The one exception is a great little service called Design Candy. You pay a monthly subscription fee which is waaaay lower than most services of this kind and get access to tons of designs which are added to frequently. They do the research for you on popular niches and you choose any designs you want. There is a $10 per design fee (although they also have an awesome sale section where older designs go for $5 and sometimes as low as $2). You get exclusive, commercial rights to the designs that you purchase and can sell them or use them in any manner possible. It’s really cool, actually.

I signed up back when I got serious about Merch and have purchased a little over a dozen designs from them with good success. In fact, one of their shirts became my Father’s Day biggest seller and more than covered the cost of all of the designs I’ve purchased in total.

Even though I do most of my own designs I still log in and check out the current offerings. If something catches my eye I’ll pick it up. You really can’t beat the price considering once you buy it that design is yours to sell over and over again forever.

If you are interested in trying them out for yourself just click here: Design Candy

Copycats:

After the trademark headaches the next biggest problem I’ve seen on Merch is the number of Copycats. A copycat is a person that steals the design of another person. The most flagrant of these is what is a called a Pixel by Pixel copy. This means that someone just lifts your design right from their computer screen and places it into their own product either on Merch or on another POD site. As far as Amazon goes this is not allowed. If you see this you can report them to Amazon and they will remove the listing. But, you have to find them first and that isn’t always easy.

There are very few actually original ideas any more so the chances are that your designs are going to have the same phrases or the same idea as others and this is fine. You can use other shirts you see as inspiration and hopefully improve upon them but never copy exactly.

What isn’t allowed:

Before you create your first shirt you should take some time to familiarize yourself with the Merch TOS (Terms of Service). In there they lay out for you all fo the rules including the types of shirts that are not allowed to be sold on Amazon. At this time these include: pornographic content, child exploitation, profanity, promotion of hate or intolerance, and human tragedy. Stay far away from any of these areas and you will be fine.

Pricing:

There are SO many different thoughts and strategies amongst sellers when it comes to pricing. My own personal belief is that you should never undervalue your work. When you go to upload your shirt on Merch you will see that the default price is set to $19.99. Now, we all know that Jeff Bezos is no dummy and that means that the price is defaulted here for a reason. I start all of my shirts at $19.99 and go up to $21.99 once they start to sell.

The only caveat to this is if you are in one of the low tiers you might want to price low just to get the sales and move up.

T-Shirt Quality:

There are two shirt quality options on Amazon. Basic is the Anvil shirt and Premium is the Bella + Canvas shirt. I personally prefer the Bella + Canvas both to wear and to sell. For wearing there is a definite difference … the shirts are longer and softer. For selling there is also a difference – this time in the way the shirt is displayed. The designs just seem to present better on the premium option in the listings. I also think this gives me an advantage in a niche where it is heavily saturated because I stand out as a better option to someone torn between my design and another. I make sure to note this in the title too. I always start my listing with the word Premium so customers know without a doubt what they are getting.

The exception for me is the few shirts I do that I am really aiming more for kids to wear. Unfortunately, Merch does not price differently for kids vs. adults and I feel like $19.99 is just a lot to pay for a kids shirt that they will outgrow. I usually do these shirts as Basic quality and price at $17.99 (which I raise to $19.99 once it takes off and there has been demand established). This is a very small portion of the shirts I have up for sale though.

One thing to be aware of with the Basic vs. Premium is that the Premium run VERY small. I’m talking about 2 sizes too small. Amazon notes this in the bullets they add but I really wish they would do something about it. I am sure they deal with a lot of returns because of this. Forunately, returns don’t affect us because we technically are not the seller (Amazon is) and we do not lose the sale if it returned after being shipped. What we do risk though is bad reviews over something we have no control over so that part stinks.

T-Shirt Size and Color:

Another choice you have to make when creating the listing is what sizes do you want to offer (mens, womens, kids, or all three) and what colors do you want the shirt available in.

For size I always choose all three. Even if a shirt is clearly not meant for a child (like in the case of alcohol related designs) I offer all three because some women like the smaller sizes available to children (just as they sometimes like the larger sizes available to men since the male sizes run higher). I’ll present all of the options and let the customer decide what to order.

For color – you can choose up to five but you don’t have to have five. I, personally, almost always offer 5 choices. I say almost because I have one design that only looks ok on one color and that is all I offer it in. And for whatever reason dark shirts seem to sell the best so for that reason I’m partial to dark colors and white or light text.

Design types:

The world is your oyster when it comes to designs. You can have image only, text and image, or just text. Many of my best sellers are just words on a shirt that took very little time to create. And just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it. Don’t only design what you would wear. Branch out and try to find customers that need shirts created for them.

Advertising:

Most of my sales are what is called organic. This means the customer found it because my keywords were good enough for it to show up when they searched for it. But, I also will use Amazon Marketing Services and Facebook from time to time to get my shirts in front of more potential buyers.

Amazon Marketing Services is a pay per click service. You select the shirts, bid on a per click price, set a budget, and choose the length of the campaign. They show it to their customers. I’ve had campaigns do very well and others do terribly so I’m still on the fence about using this and tend to only do it now when there is something big coming up (Prime Day or a holiday for example).

Facebook Ads – to use this service you have to create a post to “boost”. I don’t want to spam my friends with t-shirts on my personal Facebook page so I created a t-shirt “business” page to post shirts and run ads from. Actually, I created two… one that I invited friends and family to and another one where I posted a little edgier shirts (at least in the beginning. Now I post all kinds of shirts and split between the two pages).

The reason I use Facebook ads from time to time is that you can target a trademarked group. Amazon won’t let you enter a trademarked search term on the ad service. So, I go to Facebook if I need to market a shirt to a group of fans that I can’t specifically call for in my listing keywords. For example, I have a shirt that makes fun of the New England Patriots. I can’t say anything related to that team at all on Amazon. But, I can market the shirt to fans of the Facebook group ” I hate the New England Patriots ” and I can get the views I want that way.

How payment works:

You get paid the 29th of the month after your sales from the previous month for anything that actually shipped during that previous month. So, if a shirt sells the last day of the month it will likely not be in that months earnings unless a miracle happens. Around the 15th of each month they release your earnings statement to let you know how much will be deposited that 29th of the month.

Tiers:

When you first get accepted to Merch you will be in the first tier and allowed to list up to 10 shirts with 2 uploads allowed each day. Once you get 10 sales you are eligible to be bumped up to the next tier (in this case 25) but it is not automatic. Amazon tends to do the tier ups in batches so you might get lucky and be tiered up right away or you might have to wait a little bit. Fortunately, if your slots are filled you are still able to upload into draft status so it is there waiting once you tier up and have more room.

The tiers are currently:

10
25
100
500
1000 (this is where I am currently)
2000
4000
8000
and upward.

To be eligible to leave a tier you must have total sales matching the tier number you are in (so tier 100 – 100 sales, tier 500 – 500 sales, etc) and in most cases you should have at least 80 percent of your available slots filled with designs.

You also have design uploads associated with the various tiers (meaning the number of designs you can submit each day). At tier 10 it is 2 shirts, at tier 25 it is 2, at 100 it is 5, at 500 it is 10, at 1000 it is 20, at 2000 it is 40, and at 4000 it is 80. So, you can imagine that this becomes a full time job (to say the least) if you don’t outsource one you hit 2000 and above.

In conclusion:

I think that about wraps it all up. Like I said, Merch is a fantastic opportunity and has unlimited potential. Amazon is just getting started with this and I am excited to see where it goes. It was originally rolled out as a program for people who had apps to sell shirts within their app to their own audiences but has completely changed from that original vision. So much so that as of the end of August they no longer support in app purchases at all. And the talk from Amazon is that down the road they will be launching more products to be printed on demand like the other sites do. Think coffee mugs, pillows, hoodies…. the possiblities are endless. Just think how lucky we are to be along for this ride!

**Full disclosure: This post does contain affiliate links. I happily use them but would never, ever recommend a service to you that I didn’t use myself and 100% believe in. If you don’t want to click on the links I provided please feel free to find your own way to their websites. However you get there they are definitely well worth checking out! 🙂

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