I’m late to the Amazon Merch phenomenon, I know, but better late than never right?
I wanted to document our progress on the newest side hustle we’re trying called Merch by Amazon. Can we really leverage this thing to make a profitable side income? That’s what I want to test out. So over the next several months I’ll be documenting the progress as well as publishing all of our income reports and tips to take your Merch account to the next level (or just learn by our failures).
Waiting for Amazon Merch Account
I first found out about Merch by Amazon in April. I was browsing along one day, probably reading some of my favorite blogs when I came across a post about this new-ish platform. It had only been around for about a year but there were already so many success stories that I had to give it a try.
People who know Jaimee and I know that we are “serial side hustlers,” especially me as she’s more an expert in starting long-term sustainable businesses. I just love leveraging information and know-how that we already have in order to make a side income. If that side income can come largely through a passive means then I’m all over it.
What Exactly is Merch by Amazon
Before I get too far ahead of myself it’s probably important for me to explain what Merch by Amazon is in the first place.
Merch, like CafePress or Teespring, is a Print On Demand service that leverages the most powerful and popular marketplace on the internet.
Users sign up for an account and upon acceptance are able to upload original t-shirt designs into the Amazon platform, set pricing and options, and then let Amazon work for them to print and fulfill orders. There is no customer service or anything else you have to deal with. You simply design and upload and watch orders come in.
Sounds pretty cool, huh?
This isn’t a new concept. In fact, Amazon is kind of late to this game. Print-on-demand services have been around for years. You’re probably familiar with some of them. I’ve already mentioned CafePress and Teespring above. There are others. Nevertheless, when you are the giant that Amazon is you can afford to be the latecomer. And that certainly seems to be the case for them. People all over the world recognized the immense power and opportunity in Amazon Merch and immediately flooded the “market.” This flood happened so quickly that the users of Merch quickly outgrew the initial infrastructure that Amazon had devoted to the project. This has caused many users to be frustrated by the length of time it has taken for them to get accepted into the program.
I’m here to tell you– stop complaining and do something.
I don’t say that as if it’s something original to me. In the sanitized words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “Ideas are crap. Action is all that matters.” As I quickly found out while waiting for our Merch account, every Merch user worth their klout will tell you something along these lines. The waiting game is the marquee time for you to be designing. Upon acceptance you will be given 10 designs. You should be ready to get every single one of these live the second your acceptance email comes through. But enough lecture…
Ideas are [crap]. Action is all that matters. -Gary Vaynerchuk
Merch by Amazon Acceptance
June 5th finally came. I received the long awaited email from Amazon Merch letting me know that I had finally been accepted into the program. So what was my next move?
Well, you’d think I’d practice what I preached above and get those babies up and start testing my designs out, right? Well, that didn’t happen. I had a design ready, but as you’ll see below it was over 24 hours before I got it up. 24 hours wasted.
My First Try with Merch
Instead late in the evening on the following day I sat in bed, uploaded my first design, and waited. I couldn’t find documentation for quite a while about how long it took for designs to get accepted and so, since I couldn’t contain my excitement about the whole deal, I stayed up refreshing my email.
And wouldn’t you know, I got an email within 25 minutes! But it wasn’t the one I was hoping for.
Amazon Merch Rejected My Design
Yup. First design with Merch. Rejected. In less than a half hour. Needless to say it kind of took the wind out of my sails. Maybe you’ve had a t-shirt design rejected on Merch? Let me encourage you. Don’t let it get you down, try again. BUT, and this is really important so don’t miss it. Be sure to do the work to understand why you were rejected. Amazon is very committed to trademark and artist protection and so you need to make sure you are too! And so, review your submission and design. Put in the time and energy to understand why so that you don’t get that dreaded email that your account is being closed.
I truly believe that this side hustle opportunity from Merch is that important. There is so much opportunity within this platform that it would simply be a shame to have one week to go at this and never again be allowed in. Don’t think that can happen? Think again. Amazon has the right to close your account at any time, and as is well documented in the Merch world… good luck ever getting a hearing to get reinstated.
What’s that mean in the end? It means be committed to INTEGRITY. Research integrity, Design integrity, and Process integrity. Believe me, it will pay off in the end so much more than you know.
So, the question in your mind is probably why did Merch reject my design? I’m glad you asked. Let me share why.
My initial strategy was to pick two niches and attempt to create within them until a few designs within that niche took off. Not a bad idea. In fact, many online entrepreneurs do this from blogging, to instagramming, etc. So, it’s not the strategy that was bad. The bad part for us was that our execution was poor.
Because of an upcoming holiday I selected a sports niche and then a holiday specific niche. For this first shirt design I merged the two niches and targeted Dads. Recognizing the general humor that is attached with gifts for dad I rightly believed that humorous dad shirts would be big sellers (and after seeing the results of hundreds of sellers within this niche… the thinking was spot on). But here’s where I got sloppy…
Amazon doesn’t just care about trademarks and protecting people in the designs themselves, but every day they get more and more stringent on protecting entities on every aspect of a product’s page.
Within Merch when you upload your design you are then tasked with one of the most important part of the online selling experience outside of the product itself. You are asked to title, brand, and describe your product. What you do within these fields will often make the difference of whether your shirt designs are ever seen by the public or not.
So you want to make sure that you are writing rich, detailed descriptions that contain keywords that one might use when searching for a shirt that looks like yours.
I did this…
But I included the name of a celebrity. Obviously this was dumb and looking back I really believe it had something to do with limited rest at 1am. Needless to say, if you attempt to create a shirt that in some way references a celebrity, don’t include their name. As a matter of fact since this initial snafu I’ve learned that even more than that, the mere reference to a celebrity, tv show, or abbreviation commonly given to either is also frowned upon and will be rejected. So, hear our warning… be careful when you play around these types of subject matter. You obviously want to act with great integrity and merely referencing these people or entities may just be something that you don’t want to risk your reputation for.
Checking For Trademarks
Let us just throw this in… as you design your shirts for Merch by Amazon you should be sure to use this handy tool for checking trademark status before you ever hit “upload” on an Amazon shirt design. Using this directory will save you a lot of time and maybe even save your newly opened account.
Our First Success With Merch by Amazon
One of the things I love about Merch thus far is how you feel like you’ve conquered some incredible feat with each successful step. First, you apply and wait. Then you get accepted! Victory 1. Second, you start uploading and get denied. Then you get a shirt live! Victory 2. Now the big battle… sell your first shirt.
But before thinking about selling we had to think about people seeing our shirts. As I mentioned above this had to account for both the product description and actual advertising/marketing. First, we refined the descriptions on our live tees.
Second, we tackled advertising. Since Merch is a completely passive income stream for us from a dollars and cents perspective, we accomplished this through free social media content. So we preserved the original intent of this experiment: Could we possibly have a completely passive income stream that made a couple hundred dollars a month.
I won’t go into detail here with how we set up our social media or which channels we used, but I will say, it took us less than 1 hour to set a couple up, gain some real followers by targeting people we thought might be interested in our products, and then linking to our Amazon products.
In less than 24 hours Jaimee and I landed our first two sales and in 72 hours, four. Without doing anything after that initial hour. Extrapolate this over a month and then a year and you can see why this could be a pretty cool passive income stream.
If you’re at this point in your own Amazon journey let me just encourage you: celebrate this! This is a big deal! Yeah, you’ve probably just worked really hard to make $5, but you really are just getting started. If you continue to work hard and follow the generally accepted strategy of going for volume over price, I do believe that you can easily make a few hundred dollars per month without being engaged in this side hustle.
The Next Steps in Our Merch by Amazon Experiment
So where do we go from here?
Well, I’ll be documenting our experiment on a monthly basis. As with everything on our blog we want to be as transparent as possible in an effort to help you in whatever way we can. Our goal in all of our posts is to deliver real value to our community. So, we will update this journey as best we can with what we’re learning (both wins and failures), what we’re trying, and also (the part I know many are interested in) how much we’re actually making in this experiment.
- What We’re Learning
- What We’re Trying
- How Much We’re Making
In the end your time is important and so I’m a firm believer that if something isn’t worth your time you need to ditch it and try something new. I’m not saying you don’t give a good thing time to develop and grow, but I am saying you trust your instincts and learn to recognize the things that could work for you and the things that probably won’t. For example, if you’re a terrible designer or have no concept of products like Photoshop, Illustrator, Gimp, or Canva, then maybe grab a course or two before you sign up. Better yet, just get an account and start learning. Putting the work in beforehand will give you a sense if this is even something you’d enjoy pursuing before wasting too much time.
So, until next time, we hope you’ve found this first post in our Merch by Amazon Experiment series helpful, intriguing, or both and we’d love to hear from you whether or not this is something you’ll be trying. Comment below and let us know.