Hello Niche Pursuits! Many of you probably have no idea who I am, but just like you guys, I enjoy checking out what Spencer has going on and always learning what I can to fill in the gaps of industries I may not understand as well.
My name is Neil, and I have been self employed in the internet marketing industry (if you want to call it that), for almost 5 years now. I am going to show you exactly how to start a t-shirt business online.
You see, I first started out my Sophomore year of college by creating hosting affiliate sites. I pushed shopping carts at a local store down the road in order to pay for my living expenses and start building a PBN (yay 2012!). This first hosting affiliate enabled me to hit the 5 figure a month mark and I took the leap of faith to quit my job.
To accelerate this story a bit, since then, I have graduated college, decided not to pursue law school, created 10s if not 100s of Amazon affiliate sites, created a small time marketing blog that I tend to neglect, sold software and Clickbank products, ran all kinds of paid traffic, and now I sell t-shirts and other merchandise on Amazon!
The other day I stumbled into an article Spencer had written about how to make money using Amazon here, and noticed that I actually got a mention in that list for making over $150,000 on Amazon selling shirts through the Merch by Amazon program.
Today I want to go over exactly how I did it, and the steps you can take to replicate the process this coming year starting right NOW!
Merch by Amazon Program
Many of you are probably not aware, but the Merch by Amazon program launched a little over a year ago. This is a great program for someone trying to learn how to start a T shirt business. For the first few months, almost no one knew this Amazon program that had just been released even existed and this is because you are probably not a developer.
If you still have no idea what I am talking about, let me explain. Merch by Amazon is a print on demand (POD) platform for selling t-shirts and MANY other products like mugs, etc. on their platform.
The way it works is that once you have an account, you upload artwork to the platform, pick a few shirt colors that your design looks great on, enter a title, brand, a few bullet points, and a description of your shirt, and click publish. Within just a few minutes of time, you now have a money generating page on Amazon selling your t-shirt to billions of monthly visitors.
Amazon handles the selling, the printing, the shipping, and even the customer service for the t-shirt sales you get, and all you do is collect a royalty on each sale.
If you have started to connect the dots, you would notice how massive of an opportunity this is. You can sell products to people with the full force of Amazon behind you and collect royalties! A lot of other people started to see this opportunity, people who were not app developers.
As the program was swamped by sign ups, Merch by Amazon quickly went to an invite only program. This caused wait times of up to 9-10 months for some. As it sits right now, they have not accepted new people to the program in over a month and are not tiering people up. This means that essentially, you can only post so many shirts on an account when you get one. You need to prove you can make enough sales with those slots you are given, before you get even more slots for t-shirts. If you want a really in-depth walk through of the backend of Merch and how it works, I wrote a merch by amazon guide here.
If your interest is peaked even a little, I highly recommend that you head over to merch by amazon and request an invite. You may be waiting a long while, but it can be really nice once you get in…
7 Steps for How to Start a T-shirt Business on Amazon
Merch by Amazon is not the only way to start selling shirts on Amazon, far from it in fact. You could always get your designs printed, and then send them in to be fulfilled by Amazon (FBA), or you could print and sell them from your home. There is also the possibility of dropshipping your shirts from Ebay or another marketplace by doing retail arbitrage.
What if there was a way to sell not only t-shirts, but hundreds of different items on the Amazon marketplace without holding a single piece of inventory and see the same level of success if not higher numbers than I saw over the last year?
There is, and I am going to go over exactly how to do it based on the brand new Amazon/Shopify Integration. You can set this up and be selling on Amazon today if you decide to take action.
Step 1: Understanding how Amazon Works
Before you even consider hooking everything else up, you first need to understand how Amazon works. These are Amazon BSR and Copyright/Trademark metrics.
BSR (Best Sellers Rank)
For every product that is selling on the Amazon Marketplace, they will have something called a Best Sellers Rank or BSR for short. This number given to you is going to be relative to the number of sales that item is receiving. This BSR number is also relative to the category that the product is in. 100k BSR in clothing is not going to be selling the same amount of units as 100k BSR in Gardening and so on.
If you were to go over and find a product, just scroll down to the product description and you should see a box that looks like this:
To give a very rough idea of what the BSR equates to, a BSR of 100,000 in clothing is selling around 1-2 units a day. The BSR in the picture above probably means they are getting a sale or two every few days.
The lower the BSR goes, the more units they are selling. I can tell you from experience that a BSR of around #2000 means you are selling 25-50 units a day. The more experience you get selling in certain categories, the better you get at estimating how many sales these listings are getting.
Copyright and trademark are very much different but they are both something that you need know well enough that you are not infringing on someone else’s rights. When putting designs on merchandise in no way should you ever straight up copy their designs. This is breach of copyright and will eventually get you banned from selling on Amazon after people report you.
Amazon does not want rip-offs, and they will punish you if caught. Why risk it?
Trademark is the other big one that you need to know how to use. These are recognizable expressions that people have protected. These can be signs, expressions, or logos. When dealing with putting designs up on Amazon, you need to avoid putting any sayings on your merch that have been protected. Make sure if there is any text or logo type work going on with your designs to run the phrase though one of these sites:
Step 2: Research
Now that you are familiar with BSR and copyright/trademark, we can actually get into the fun part; Niche Research. This is by far the most important step in selling merch on Amazon. If you do not do research properly you will fail.
Let me just say that again, you need to do your research properly or you will not succeed.
I have made a lot of money so far following a very simple strategy. Make better products than the competitors in niches where there is demand.
Simply put, I find what customers are buying, and I create more visually appealing products for them to buy at a fair price. I do this by analyzing keywords and Best sellers rank!
Head over to Amazon.com and enter in any niche you want plus “t-shirt” and hit search. For this example, I am going to be using a niche example: Veganism.
Note: Niches where people are passionate about their cause sell the best.
This brings up the product page for your search. You can see some examples of shirts that are for sale. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can see there are over 15 pages of shirts in this niche. Just because there are a lot of products does not mean they are selling well.
Start opening up all the different shirts you see! This process can take a long time, but open as many tabs as you can. Once you have many open, go to each page, and navigate to the “Product Description” section on the product page and locate the BSR.
Important Tip: I personally target any design around 100k-300k BSR. This generally means the design is selling once every day or so, and that if you come up with something better, you can make sales as well. This also seems like the sweet spot between a lot of competition, and making easy money.
I will then take every single shirt that has a BSR that is low enough and copy that URL into a spread sheet.
Designs that you find on these t-shirts might be simple, or they might be complicated. Your first goal is determine if you or a designer can make a BETTER looking product in the niche. If you cannot, do not add it to your list!
As you can see from the screenshot, if you go check out some of those shirts, they are selling very well. It would be extremely easy to compete against these because the shirts so far are mainly just text. A little bit of graphic design around the same idea, and you will have a better product!
I generally go through at least 5 pages at the bottom of the page looking at every single shirt to determine the BSR and saving my links in an excel file.
You will need to do this for every single niche you come up with. I would recommend coming up with 100 niches, and then going through the first 5 pages of shirts for each of those niches to make your initial file of potential designs to target.
Keep in mind this is a numbers game. If you want to put up 10 designs and think you are going to come close to big numbers, you are very very wrong. You want to eventually get to the point where you have thousands of designs online, each selling every day or two. Start at just a few designs and scale up as you make money. This is a process.
The second thing that I will do is tied into the keyword search that we just went over. Sometimes it can be extremely hard to come up with other niches on the top of your head, right? I love to let other people do this niche research for me!
The way we do that is by taking a look at brands that are already selling well on the platform.
If you go back to the screenshot about vegan shirts, you will see that there is this listing: https://www.amazon.com/Plants-Protein-Vegetarian-T-Shirt-Medium/dp/B01APINC7E
Right above the title, you will notice the brand of the shirt. This shirt may or may not be selling well when you read this (currently #98k BSR), but you might wonder what other niches this brand has created merch around. Simply click the brand at the top of the page there.
As you can see, this brand has 169 shirts up right now! Simply scroll through the list to find new niches, and then open all the shirts in a new tab to check if they are selling via BSR (yes, open all 169 links, I know it takes a long time). Keep adding to that spread sheet you are making!
Keep following the keyword research and brand research that I have laid out above until you feel like you have a solid foundation for 100 killer designs. If you do exactly as I lay out above, you should have what it takes to make the kind of money that I screenshot near the top of this article.
Speeding Up the Research Process
These were the exact steps that I took to build my initial revenue stream. If you try it out you will notice that it can take forever! Since I still run a lot of large affiliate sites, this growing side business was taking up a ton of my time. I needed to keep the process going (because it was working) but needed to free up some of my time.
I, along with my business partner, decided to come up with a better way. We created our own software to complete the entire research process as automated as possible. As the merch income grew, so did the questions from the community. After many months of polishing our self use tool, we released it to the public and Merch Informer was born in October of 2016.
Merch Informer lets you pull up the top selling shirts for any keyword or any brand. These are in order by best sellers rank and you have the ability to save and download your links, images, descriptions, prices, as well as check keyword competition within Amazon. Using the Vegan example from above, you can see what it would look like inside the software. I use all of this information to send to my designers which we will go over in the next step. The easiest way to grow this business is outsource at light speed!
You can do everything I talk about in this article manually, or you can try us out with a 3 day free trial that we give everyone.
We spent a lot of time and effort putting together the most comprehensive Merch research tool available to the market. As a thank you to the Niche Pursuits community, please use coupon code NICHEPURSUITS for 20% off if you want to give it a go.
The biggest challenge that most newcomers face in the POD (print on demand) space is that they have problem finding niches that sell. With Merch Informer, we have basically created a keyword tool that pulls keywords in niches that are almost guaranteed to make you sales. How do we do this? We pull from Amazon suggest!
Amazon is a big data company so they use all this data in order to optimize how many sales they get. When you start typing a keyword, you will see that Amazon starts auto recommending or suggesting endings to that original seed keyword. They do this because they know from their data that if you were to enter in one of the suggested niche, you are a lot more likely to buy things.
Use everything I put in above along with Amazon suggest to ensure that your research is rock solid!
Step 3: Getting Your Designs Created
There are two ways you can get your designs created. You can either create custom t-shirts yourself or you can outsource them.
I ended up doing my first 100 designs myself but after I saw that the model worked, I started outsourcing. Since I am not an artist, I had to watch a few videos on Youtube to figure out what I was doing.
If you are going to create them yourself, you can use:
GIMP is a free option that you may want to look into.
Note: When you are creating designs, make the dimensions 4500X5400. You want a large resolution so that when they get printed, they will look sharp and crisp.
If you are not an artist like me, it really just leaves you a single choice: outsource!
If you are familiar with outsourcing content to VA’s this is extremely similar. Since I was already hiring writers on Upwork, I decided this is the place I was going to get my graphic designs from. Turns out you can get graphic designers for around $4 a design. There are many custom t-shirt businesses that outsource this way. Here is the exact script that I used:
Hey, I am in need of 400 t-shirt designs in the time period of 2-3 months.
Your task will be pretty basic, I will send you ideas of t-shirts I want to make and you make them yourself in your own unique style. For example, I might send you a link of a already existing tshirt and I would need you to be inspired by it and create a better version that is in your own creative style.
I will leave a lot of 5* reviews so that you will be able to get jobs easier in the future and this is a long-term position. Once we have done the first batch of 400 – around 4 per day, we could continue if everything looks good.
I look forward to doing business with you!
I will then hire a few of them and give each person a few of the links from the research we did in the previous step. If they come back with good designs in their own unique style, then I hire them for the long term. Keep in mind you want to give them the links and or pictures as inspiration and receive something back that is a better product than what is currently being sold.
Step 4: Setting Up Shopify
Now that you have some pretty designs sitting around from your research, you need some merch to put them on! I mentioned in the beginning that the Merch by Amazon program was closed, so if you want to start a t-shirt business or any other merch business, there is a way around the merch program. Not only is there a way around it, this is a much better solution. It will allow you to put your designs on tons of different products besides shirts. The sky is the limit, and you do not need to hold any inventory.
The way we do this is through the brand new Shopify/Amazon integration. Since there are print on demand services that integrate with Shopify, and since Shopify now passes through to Amazon, you can set everything up to become completely automated.
Head on over to Shopify and sign up for a free trial (yes, this entire method works in the free trial).
Once you are signed up, then the back end should look like this:
What you want to do is scroll down to the apps section on the bottom and look for an app called Teelaunch. It will look like this:
Teelaunch is the company we are going to use in order to print our designs on products without ever touching them. See, when you get an order from Amazon (we will go over this in a minute), then the order shows up in your shopify store. Teelaunch automatically sees that order, prints it for you, and ships it to the Amazon customer. This all happens without any input from you!
Note: I went with Teelaunch because of their pricing meaning higher ROI. There are many print on demand services that integrate with shopify that you may want to use for this method.
After you get the Teelaunch app installed in the back end of shopify, you need to quickly set it up. Head on over to the app, and click on the “Account” button in the upper right hand corner. Fill out your information and put in a credit card that will be charged when you get an order. You will take the profits from Amazon and pay off this credit card every 14 days. Whatever is left over is your profit.
Before the comments start pouring in, if you are from another country, YES you can do this method. Simply Google “free USA address” and look through the options that will give you an address as well as a mail forwarder. Most people from overseas will handle returns by just refunding the customer and letting them keep the product.
Head back to the Teelaunch app, we are going to add our first product. Click on “New Product” from the top of the page.
Pick whatever type of merchandise you want to sell. In this example, I am going to go over selling shirts because that is what I started with.
Pick the shirt you want to print on. I went with the Gildan shirt because from personal experience they are great quality, and actually the cheapest choice.
Upload your design to the editor until it looks good, pick some colors, and then select a few sizes.
When you are happy with how everything is set up, give it a title and some bullet points in the back end and then publish it.
You now have a shirt in your Shopify back end. We will now need to attach this shirt so it shows up on Amazon.
Head back over to your Shopify menu, and click on “Add a sales channel”
From here, install the Amazon sales channel. This is where the magic happens Once the Amazon channel has been installed, you will need to connect it to your Amazon sellers account.
IMPORTANT: If you do not have an Amazon sellers account, go sign up for one. You WILL need a professional sellers account which is $39.99 a month in order for this entire integration to work.
Agree to the Amazon MWS agreement and you have successfully linked your account to Shopify!
Now that these 2 accounts are linked, you will want to go into the Amazon app, and click on “Sell on Amazon”. When you click this button, it will bring up a list of products that you have published in your Shopify store. From this screenshot you can see the shirt that I was creating earlier.
Since you are building your own brand here, select that the product is made by your brand. Pick the appropriate category, and start entering your title, your brand name, some bullet points, and a description.
Keep in mind two things. The first is that you will need to click the “Apply to sell in this category” before the shirt can go live on Amazon. This application asks you a few questions and you are approved INSTANLY. Also, you will need to make multiple listings for both male and female shirts. I actually prefer this as it gives us a chance to be more targeted in our keyword approach.
For each shirt you pick up, you will have variants. Each variant requires a UPC and a SKU.
SKUs are for internal use and can be made up. They are just a string of characters. I decided to make mine random by using a 10 digit random string: https://www.random.org/strings/
UPCs however will need to be purchased. These are 12 digits long and can be purchased from a ton of places online. I got thousands of them on Ebay for only a few dollars. It is very important that when purchasing them, you get the 12 digit ones, and NOT the 13 digit EAN numbers.
Since you need a new UPC for EACH variant you want to put online, I recommend that you put your designs on other things that do not require sizes.
Once you have finished entering in the variants and have been approved for the clothing category, you can publish your design. It should take 30 minutes or so for the item to appear live on Amazon.
If ANY of these instructions are confusing, or you want a more detailed description of how to set up and connect the two, please read this article here.
Go into your seller central account and make sure you are changing the shipping time and the shipping price. Teelaunch has been very fast on their shipping, but I like to extend it just a bit as well as lower shipping to $2.99 for the lower 48 states. This makes my products more attractive to the buyer.
Return on Investment Calculations
If you price your shirts around $17 on Amazon with $2.99 shipping, the customer will be charged around $20. If you figure that a typical t-shirt that we created is going to cost you $12.50 (this is with shipping included), and Amazon takes their fee of around $3, you are going to be left with over $4 per shirt sold.
This might not seem like much at first, but when you realize that you are selling on Amazon.com where there are millions of daily buyers, your perspective might start to change. I sell hundreds of shirts per day.
Shirts have a $4 profit margin but think of the other products you could sell. Mugs and sweatshirts might have a much higher profit margin depending on what you price at. Play around with it because the sky is the limit.
Step 5: Optimize Your Amazon Listings
When it comes to building your Amazon listing around the product you are building, there are only a few major points that need to be covered. These are: price, brand, title, bullet points and competition.
This is a major one because it is one of the first things that a buyer will notice. Make sure you are pricing competitively. If everyone else in your niche is selling for $20, then why would you try and sell your merchandise for $25? Sure, you would make a better margin, but you will get drastically more sales. If you price about $20, you need to have an extremely good reason for doing so.
Let the market determine where you are pricing. Take a look at your competition. They might have the same product, but really give it a hard look and see if your designs are really that much better to ask for a higher price. I like to make sure that my prices are right in the middle. An easy way to do this is take all the prices on the first page, add them together, and then divide them by the total amount of listings on the page and then price your product at that price.
I used to recommend people on Merch by Amazon come up with a different brand for every shirt that they put online. This is no longer the case with this method because you are selling on Amazon seller central and have full control over reviews and other aspects of the listing. Pick one brand that would work for many products and roll with it!
The title is extremely important to ranking on Amazon and where keywords will come into the picture. In order to talk about keywords, we need to go over competition.
For this example, say that you just came up with a really good design about “Cats”. When you are uploading your shirt, you want to actually look at what similar designs are out there and price to what the market is demanding. When you get to putting in your title, you may just want to name it “Black cat t-shirt”. This is a huge mistake!
Look at that! If you were to name it black cat t shirt you would probably be lost in almost 150 thousand different results showing up. You want to niche down if you are to stand a chance of making any sales.
Think to yourself “What would a customer search for if they were looking for this shirt”? Maybe your shirt has some ears in it.
Getting better, but still lots of results. Time to try and use a modifier to niche down even further.
Very close! I like to see if I can get under 1,000 results if possible. Niching down like this is the perfect way to add keywords to your title of your listings without looking spammy.
As you can see, by tweaking the title a little bit, we found out a way to lower down the competition you will be facing as well as putting in some keywords into the title for better rankings all around. This is what you want to practice with every product you are putting up.
Bullet points are what get your merchandise ranked in Amazon from all the tests I have run. You need these bullet points to be keyword rich without keyword stuffing. To do this, make sure they are coherent sentences. Read them out loud to yourself to make sure they sound correct.
What many people do here is simple describe their product. Should you do this?
The bullet points are where you put on your marketing hat and SELL the potential customer. You have multiple bullet points to work with here, so really make sure you are marketing to them here. They will read these. Tell them why they want it!
I also like to put a last bullet point telling them to order a size up because these print on demand shirts often shrink a size in the wash.
If the bullet points are where you are selling the customer, the description is where you want to describe what is in your shirt. Keep in mind that this section is what shows up on mobile and is often times used in the meta description for ranking in Google. Make sure you are filling these out and not leaving them blank.
Step 6: Scaling Up
This entire method is nothing but a numbers game and a pretty easy one at that. The majority of people will probably not even try it because of the time investment needed, but it works!
In order to scale quickly, you need to be able to either design yourself, or afford to outsource designs. I would suggest doing at LEAST 10 products a week if possible.
A lot of people reading this and who have listened to the entire process on my site have begun by putting up t-shirts on Amazon because that is what I used on Amazon.
DO NOT DO THIS.
Brand new Amazon accounts are limited to 100 variations a week. If you put up 1 shirt in 5 colors and all the sizes, you blow through almost 50 variations with a single shirt.
Instead, while everyone is focusing on putting up a few shirts a week, you can take your designs and put them on hundreds of products a week! Put them on products that do not require sizes.
If you look and the shopify app does not have the category you want to list in, list the product through seller central, and let it sync to the Shopify app.
Doing that one thing will set you apart from the competition and let you grow at an incredible rate.
If you are still here reading through this, have no idea who I am, you probably have no reason to believe me.
You get nowhere in life without at least trying, but people do always like to see some proof and I understand that.
You have seen some of the numbers posted above, but let me offer to you 3 people who have each found their own success through selling Merch on Amazon over the past year.
The first guy who I will not name, has been a friend for a long time. He is heavily focused on Amazon affiliate sites, but when I started talking his ear off about Merch right when it opened, he decided to give it a go and scaled up quickly. Here are his earnings:
The second is a guy named Tom. One of the most driven people I have ever met, he designed every single piece of artwork himself, and just look at what kind of earnings he is hitting. Keep in mind these are screenshots from ONLY selling t-shirts. Can you imagine what they will look like after he starts putting those same designs on other pieces of merchandise?
Finally, we have Albert from Canada. This guy is always the first to jump at an opportunity and test it out before coming to conclusions. Be like Albert! I have actually personally spoken with him just a few times. According to him, he heard about Merch through my tiny little marketing blog and hit the ground running with it. He managed to strike fast and create a few very well selling designs and ended up doing almost $6,500 his SECOND month of selling shirts online.
Then when the Shopify/Amazon integration happened, Albert saw the writing on the wall and started putting up his designs that he had already created on other products. In just 3 days he has made 8 sales! He only has a couple of designs up right now using the Shopify Method and plans to scale quickly.
Disclaimer: In order to see the same level of success as the above, you will NEED to be able to put in the time and effort. Do not expect to put up 10 designs and wonder why you are not making money. Dedicate yourself to it. Numbers matter, so go out there and hit numbers that your competitors can’t.
If you want to read an entire Merch Informer Review, go here.
Wrapping It Up
That about wraps up the entire method and exactly how to start a t-shirt business today. Leveraging the millions of buyers on Amazon has never really been this easy. If you are lacking startup costs, you can do this on the cheap by learning to design yourself. There is ZERO inventory that you need to hold, and minimal issues you need to work around. Think of this entire process as starting an Ecommerce brand with the force of Amazon behind you.
I appreciate the Niche Pursuits community allowing me to bring this to the table today, and if you have any questions, drop them in the comments and I will make sure to answer. Good luck!