What I Learned My First Month of Selling Merch by Amazon
What’s up everybody — and Happy Super Bowl Weekend!
For those of you celebrating this strangely entertaining American tradition, this year’s matchup consists of the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots (shocker).
I actually live in New England, so am not surprised to see they have made it to the big game once again. Not that I’m particularly fond of the team — or of football itself.
But as far as the Patriots — you either love ’em or you hate ’em.
However I, for one, am solely in the experience for the commercials.
So if you are celebrating this occasion —
Enjoy the game, enjoy the commercials, don’t drink too much beer, and don’t forget to take your Pepto (ya know, after gorging on loaded potato skins, nachos, buffalo wings, and taco dip.)
Merch by Amazon Updates
In my last post, I talked about embarking on a new journey with the Merch by Amazon (MBA) program. This past month has been pretty busy, as I’ve been trying to learn the in’s and out’s of this new endeavor.
The fun thing about Side Jams is you get the opportunity to learn new things. You can try something out, decide if you like it or not. And then keep going or move on to something else.
There’s no long term commitment, plus I will always give you my honest opinion on ones I’ve tried.
One month in from being approved as an MBA seller, and I’m still trying to absorb the process. But I do feel like I’ve learned quite a bit. And that’s essentially due to the vast amount of free info I’m finding on the web.
Here is my high level timeline from the past month:
- 12/27 – Submitted application for Merch by Amazon program
- 1/4 – Approved for program as a Seller (Tier 10)
- 1/4 – 1/10 – Additional research on MBA website, Googled tutorials and YouTube videos
- 1/10 – First t-shirt product design goes live on Amazon
- 1/20 – All ten slots populated and live on Amazon
- 1/21 – 1/31 – Started drafting designs to release once more slots become available
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The MBA team reviews all product submissions before they go live on Amazon. Although each item was approved on the same day it was submitted, it didn’t happen immediately.
The review process goes from Submission, to Under Review, to Processing before finally going Live. And this assumes you pass all of the quality and legal criteria.
I did have one submission that was initially rejected and had to be resubmitted. It actually wasn’t anything to do with my design, but was something I had written in the product description.
There’s a section where you can add two additional bullets to a pre-existing description. Under one of the bullets, I added “Premium t-shirt”. Which was true, by definition. Instead of listing one of the Standard options, I wanted to test out one of their Premium shirts. The Premium shirts cost more and earn less of a royalty, but are supposed to be of higher quality.
But apparently you are not permitted to include the word “Premium” in your description. Within the Seller Terms, it says your design will be rejected if it makes “promises about the quality of the product”.
Weird, huh? I mean, they’re the ones supplying the merchandise, and I created my listing specifically with their Premium product. So I thought it would be okay to reiterate the specific type of material it was.
Guess not. But once I removed that one word and resubmitted, the listing was approved and went live.
So just a little reminder, make sure you review the MBA Content Policy in its entirety. And maybe read it through a few more times before submitting your products.
Ultimately, I’m glad they gave me the benefit of the doubt as a newbie seller. I’ve heard from others that once your account is terminated for non-compliance, there’s no way to have it reinstated again. #LessonLearned
As of right now, I have advanced to Tier 25. This means I’ve sold my first initial 10 t-shirts, and tiered up to the next level. At the Tier 25 level, I can have no more than 25 designs live, and can list no more than 3 designs per day.
However, there is no restriction on how many designs I can have in Draft status. Designs that are ready to go, for once I am able to level up again. My goal is to have as many designs as possible uploaded as drafts and ready to submit.
Also, at this point, I can start evaluating some of my initial designs. Meaning the very first two I ever listed, which were more experimental. I have the ability to delete a listing and put another one up in its place.
I can also edit the contents of a Live listing. If I want to change the price, size/color options, or any of the written content within the description. What I can’t do with the Edit feature is replace a previously uploaded image. If there’s a design that doesn’t look quite right, or that I just don’t like anymore, I need to submit as a whole new listing.
I’ve been building a list of design ideas since the start of this journey. Anything I encounter in everyday life is fair game. I asked my son what types of phrases would be popular for others in his age-range (mid-20s). He suggested I try famous movie quotes (which I would need to research first for trademark/copyright.) I also asked my partner, and most of his suggestions would probably be rejected due to the profanity guideline.
Then last week I had an appointment with my gynecologist (sorry if that’s TMI). I was wearing my “Socially Awkward AF” t-shirt, which she got a kick out of. She then told me she owns a similarly humorous t-shirt that says “Sarcasm: Just one of many services I offer”. I thought that was hilarious and perfect, so plan to design a shirt with a version of that phrase.
So you truly never know when and where inspiration might hit …
How I Tiered Up
You may be wondering how I moved from Tier 10 to Tier 25 in the first month. As mentioned previously, In order to advance from Tier 10, you need to sell 10 products and maintain a certain level of quality.
Clearly, it’s very unlikely that a brand new seller with only 10 designs will be able to sell them all organically within the first month. I acknowledge that — along with many other sellers whose expertise I’ve been referencing in online articles.
The interesting thing about Merch by Amazon is they allow you to purchase your own products, for quality control.
Because while you can see the print layout by using the templates, it’s not quite the same as seeing a t-shirt in real life.
Seeing the product in real life allows you to ensure the design, colors, fonts, and overall message are all balanced and visually appealing.
This is part of evaluating the customer experience that I believe is necessary. So I did purchase a few of my own product designs, as did some family members and friends.
Another option sellers use is to order a supply to list on other platforms, or even use as a giveaway for their readers.
It’s a fairly common discussion within the forums and reddit threads that in order to gain momentum as a seller, you need to be in a higher tier.
With thousands upon thousands of available products on Amazon, your 10 little t-shirt designs are unlikely to pop-up in search results. Unless you’re in a super-super-super tiny niche, and the only seller catering to it.
Amazon Affiliate Comparison
However, what I did find interesting is while MBA does allow you to purchase your own products, the Amazon Associate affiliate program does not.
With the Amazon Associate program, you are an affiliate with a tracking link to the Amazon.com portal. Anyone who clicks through your link and purchases something on Amazon will generate a referral to you.
And with the affiliate program, it very specifically states you are not allowed to click on your own links. In fact, such occurrences are tracked, and you will receive warnings or even be terminated from the affiliate program.
So it’s an interesting difference between the two. But important to know the variations within the two programs.
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How to Create Designs
I really think this will need to be a separate post altogether, but realize I haven’t yet addressed how to create a Merch by Amazon design.
On the MBA site, the Resources page has a lot of helpful information on creating Merch designs. In addition, there are templates you can be use to create products. You would download their ZIP file, open in your respective designing tool, and then get to creating.
Designing Tool Options
The two major tools I’ve seen used are Adobe Photoshop and GIMP. And actually, the Resources page also has a product template for Adobe Illustrator.
Not knowing a ton about either Adobe product, it appears the main difference is Photoshop deals with pixels whereas Illustrator works with vectors.
At a very basic level (since that’s honestly where my expertise currently is!), vectors provide a better quality visual, especially when zooming in. When you zoom in on an image with pixels, you’ll see it becomes block-y looking, or “pixelated”. Vectors can be zoomed in and out, maintaining its quality. Don’t ask me why, but there’s a reason. Someone else who knows more about this techy stuff can feel free to opine.
However, the main thing I take away from the above, is they are both paid products. Like, pretty expensive paid products. So I have chosen to proceed with the third option, GIMP.
GIMP is a free, online product. While it doesn’t contain all of the fancy bells and whistles that the Adobe products offer, it gets the job done.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free, open source image editor. Note the main word that caught my attention in that statement: FREE!
While GIMP has a bit of a learning curve, I found quite a few helpful tutorials on YouTube to walk me through it. And there are a bunch that are geared specifically to creating Merch designs, which is even easier.
Because once you get the basic flow for the program, you’ll be creating design variations before you know it. The main components you will use and need to know about are layers, images, and text. You can upload an image to your design, then add text to it, or you can even do a text-only design.
Each piece of your design is considered a layer. The image layer, the text layer, the background layer, etc. And each layer is customized individually.
Merch best practices state that simple is always better. The most basic designs — oftentimes a short phrase — typically do the best. So once you get the knack for adding text to a GIMP image, you’ll become an MBA rockstar!
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There is so much more to share on this topic, but I acknowledge it will probably take multiple blog posts to review what I’ve been learning.
Not to mention the trial and error that is still happening — which again, I will share with you all. Because if I can fall flat on my face while doing it, the least I can do is make sure you don’t make the same mistakes! 😆
So more to come on my Merch by Amazon journey. Hopefully I can Tier up to the next level, and begin selling shirts to legit strangers.
But I’m having so much fun doing this, it doesn’t even seem like work at the moment. Plus remember — this is not a sprint, it’s more of a marathon (just like blogging!)
Anything having to do with passive income is more of a waiting game. But once you have the foundation built, the rest is cake.
Until next time, when I hopefully have another fun update —
Robin : )
Robin is a full-time business professional who has worked in the insurance industry for over 20 years. She is also a personal finance blogger who shares her first hand experience with the struggles of money and debt. On Mastering the Side Jam, she focuses on ways to maximize efficiencies to make & save money, pay off debt, and live your best life.
She has been been featured on The Money Mix, Rockstar Finance, The Financial Diet and Women’s Money Talk, and has been quoted in various online publications.