Merch by Amazon is a print-on-demand division for apparel. You can sell your designs with no upfront costs or investments on the world’s largest marketplace. This includes t-shirts, tank tops, long sleeve t-shirts, hoodies, pop sockets, and crewneck sweatshirts. With the exception of the hoodies, all the clothing can be printed front and back.
So, here we’ll explore this platform in a little more detail to help you determine if it is the side gig you’ve been looking for.
How it Works
The Merch by Amazon system is actually quite simple. You upload the artwork, choose color and product types, and set your price. You’ll need to create a product description, but Amazon will generate a product page.
When a customer purchases your product, Amazon handles production, shipping, and any customer service issues with no cost to you.
Merch by Amazon is available to U.S, German, and U.K markets, but there is a possibility that it may extend to other regions in the years to come. You will need to abide by the Amazon content policies to ensure that your products are not rejected.
Joining Merch by Amazon
Amazon receives thousands of requests to join the Merch by Amazon program. In order to deal with this influx of requests, an invitation-only system has been put into place.
Currently, there are no announced plans to remove this invite system, but applicants are notified when space becomes available.
Unfortunately, there appear to be no solid rules for Amazon making an applicant decision. Some people wait for prolonged periods for an invite or have their application declined for no specified reason. Some users speculate that a history of selling books on Amazon may help gain approval, but this has not been confirmed by Amazon.
How Much Money Can I Make with Merch by Amazon
The cost structure of Merch by Amazon frequently changes, making it difficult to estimate the potential royalties months in advance. Typically, you may gain royalties of between 10 and 20 percent of each sale depending on the list price.
If you use Amazon Associates (Amazon’s affiliate program) to promote your products, you may earn as much as 10 percent more with the affiliate commissions. Additionally, you need to consider that due to rising costs for processing returns, MBA deducts royalties for any returned items.
While there are other print-on-demand marketplaces and tools, there are a number of advantages of using Merch by Amazon. These include:
- No Distribution Stress: Whether you’re a seller or designer, Amazon handling every aspect of the transaction can be a massive boon. From production to manufacturing and logistics through to customer service means that you don’t need to stay on top of the details. You won’t need to pick, pack, and ship your items or even purchase stock and store it. Your primary role will be creating great designs and trying to stand out from the crowd. While you may need help with keyword research and optimizing your listings, you can focus on being a designer.
- Amazon Takes Royalties from Sales: This means that you won’t have to pay upfront costs to start your merch business. Amazon only charges fees when you sell an item, paying you the balance after costs and fees have been deducted. This is a fair tradeoff, as Amazon handles distribution and customer service so you can enjoy a relatively predictable profit margin. You can focus on the nuances of your operation, such as design and business development. Since you have a rough idea of your profit margins in advance, you can figure out the numbers for outsourcing and marketing.
- Easy Maintenance: Once you have a team in place to assist with SEO and keyword research (if you don’t want to handle it yourself), Merch by Amazon is very easy maintenance. In fact, if you currently sell merchandise with a proven sales track record, you may even want to raise funding to get a team assembled to scale your designs. Finding a skilled design team isn’t easy, but once you have established a strong relationship with a designer, you can quickly scale your designs.
The possibility for passive income is why Merch by Amazon appeals to so many people.
As with any enterprise or platform, there are some potential downsides that you will need to consider. These include:
- Heavy Competition: In many niches, there is heavy competition, which means that you may struggle to stand apart from the crowd. You will also need to think about negotiating copyright laws and avoiding copycats. When you put a design together, you need to make sure that it does not infringe on any existing trademarks. Treatment for knock off designs or copycats is harsh, and if Amazon has an issue with your design on more than one occasion, you may be banned by the Merch by Amazon program.
- You Need SEO Expertise: As we touched on above, the key to success is to optimize your listings, and this can be a challenge. Not properly harnessing SEO principles could sabotage your chances of developing a serious income. Fortunately, there are lots of keyword tools to help you perform competitive analysis. It takes time to find low competition, high volume keywords, but it will allow you to make a good go at this opportunity.
- Research Intensive: Merch by Amazon should also be considered a research-intensive enterprise. In addition to keyword research, you will also need to analyze the Best Seller’s Rank of products to check how items are doing in the overall marketplace. If you want to generate greater revenue streams, you will need to do some serious research. However, if you put the time and effort in, it will pay off in the longer term and could lead to an income stream that adds up to thousands of dollars.
- Copycats: While Amazon has strict policies and does a decent job of protecting designs, there are still many copycats flourishing on the Merch by Amazon platform. The system is designed to protect against one-for-one replicas, so if a word or color is changed, it can appear right next to your listings. Copy catting is unavoidable and rampant on the platform, so you will need to be prepared for this. You have no control over your competition and have no way to gain traction by getting better reviews. Unlike Amazon FBA, you can’t follow up with your customers and gain reviews. Both you and your competition are sourcing your apparel from Amazon, so you can quickly be bumped down the search results by a good copy cat.
How to Sign Up for Merch by Amazon
To sign up for Merch by Amazon or MBA, you will need to visit the MBA landing page and click the “Request Invitation” button. Don’t be put off by this invitation, as it means that Amazon has not opened the floodgates for the platform 100 percent. There is a waiting period before approval, but this can scare off the lightweights and those who are not completely serious about setting up a business or side gig.
During sign up, you will need to answer some questions and be sure to be honest. You will be asked whether or not your brand is already existing and the type of business you run. Even if you don’t already have a business or brand, you can still get approved.
In the past, there has been a waiting list of 6 months or more, but in recent months this has dramatically reduced. Some MBA users have reported approval in less than a week, so don’t be put off or delay putting in your application.
During the signup, it is a good idea to use an email address different from your Amazon FBA or Amazon.com email addresses, where possible. This is not mandatory, but it can get confusing if you use the same address as your shopping account. Amazon will link all the accounts under that email address together, so it could make it easier for competitors to trace your identity and business. So, it is better to err on the side of caution and keep everything separate.
After your account is approved, you will gain access to a dashboard to manage your account. The dashboard is very minimal with few options, which are basically, submit a new design, edit an existing design, and view your sales. However, one important thing to note is that MBA has a tiered system that can restrict the number of new designs that are live at any time, and the number of new submissions you can create daily.
This system is designed to stop unscrupulous scammers from setting up a new account and uploading a thousand designs immediately. The tiers for how many designs you can have uploaded at any time are as follows:
- Tier 1- 10 designs
- Tier 2- 25 designs
- Tier 3- 100 designs
- Tier 4- 500 designs
- Tier 5- 1000 designs
- Tier 6- 2000 designs
- Tier 7 – Over 2000 designs
New accounts are automatically placed in tier one, so you’re limited to 10 designs live at any time. You will also be restricted to submitting one design per day. To progress beyond this tier, you will need to sell 10 items, which will bump you up to tier 2, which will also allow you to submit 2 designs per day. After 25 sales, you will move up to tier 3 and be allowed to submit 10 designs each day.
Every time you progress to a new tier, the sales from your old tier will still count towards your progression total. However, as you begin your MBA career, you will need to treat your design slots as premium real estate. If you have 10 bad designs, you will struggle to get the sales to move up to tier 2. So it is crucial to have high-quality designs at the right price point to progress through the tiers.
The real money on MBA comes from having lots of designs available for potential customers. Most merch sellers only have a couple of sales each week, so having more of your items in the Amazon search results will increase the odds of getting more sales. This means that established MBA sellers have a leg up as they could have thousands of live designs. So, you’ll need to work hard to ensure that your 10 designs show up in the search results.
Finding Designs to Sell
Once you have your account created, you will need to create designs and list them. Creatives are likely to already have lots of ideas, so if this is you, you can see how they do. However, many sellers will need to rely on competitor research. Fortunately, there are some great software tools to help you.
One of the most popular and useful tools is Merch Informer. When you sign up for this tool, you will be presented with some great tutorial videos that can teach you about keyword research, listing optimization, and competitor analysis. These are all crucial concepts to help your designs rank well on MBA. This tool has different pricing tears with the basic option starting at only $10 a month. This option will still provide you with all you need to get started as you can access the data to find good keywords. With higher tiers, you can unlock other features, such as tracking historical data such as trademarks, products, and keywords.
Merch Informer provides a keyword research tool, so you can browse the designs by how many sales they get per month. You shouldn’t really target the top sellers, as this will be too highly competitive a segment. If a seller has a best seller rank of 100,000, it is likely that they are selling a few items a week. This is a good starting point, as a new account, you will be doing well to sell a couple of items each week, and you will be able to quickly progress through the tiers.
If you don’t want to use this type of tool to do your research, you can search for keywords and find bestseller ranks on the listings. Go to Amazon.com and search for your keyword and halfway down the page, you will see the best sellers rank info. You will need to pay attention only to the ranks in the top-level clothing categories.
You can also find design ideas on Google or even Etsy by searching for combinations of t-shirts such as “funny t-shirts.” This can provide a good starting place for idea inspiration, but of course, be sure to not copy other people’s ideas.
The Commission Structure
The fees charged by Amazon depend on whether you’re printing front and back or front only and the style of the item. Most t-shirts only have a design on the front, which maximizes your potential profit.
When you get started, your primary goal is to move through the tiers and get more live designs. To achieve this, you should aim for a lower price point. If you stick to front only printed garments, you can drop your price to lower than most other sellers. You can always increase your price a little as you start making sales.
It is possible to test different sales prices to see how they affect sales numbers. Typically, if the keyword you’re targeting is more competitive, it is better to set a lower price, while unique designs can command a higher sales price.