100k School Debt to Financial Freedom – Merch by Amazon Update 10
February was an interesting month. A lot has happened in the world of Merch by Amazon but not too much has happened with this account (except for some increased sales!).
While there has been talk of Merch throttling in all of the communities on social media, the account still managed to see increased sales. While it would be nice to compare this to last years earnings, this account does not have any earnings from last February. What I can tell you that while Amazon is having some issues with search visibility, that there is not an actual throttle going on.
In this month’s case study, we are going to go over a few things that happened in February, the switch over to the new mockups, the uploading strategy, and a quick reminder for something that may have gotten a friend suspended from the program!
In case you missed it, here is last month’s case study:
100k School Debt to Financial Freedom – Merch by Amazon Update 9
Quick Note: Merch Informer came out with a cheaper plan to help everyone new to the Merch by Amazon game really make sure they are making the best use of their time. The Newbie plan is half the price and packed full of features. If you have not given the 3 day trial a try yet, make sure to read about what you are missing here.
February was still a pretty slow month for the account. From my own experience, I did not expect it to raise too much from January as generally the new year is a slow start for retail sales. That being said, what we experienced and a lot of other people experienced has been a day or two of REALLY slow sales, and then all of a sudden a day that just explodes in sales out of nowhere. We are talking about 2-3X the amount of sales in a certain day followed by another day or two of slow sales. In the Facebook communities this is being referred to as the Merch Middle Finger (ha!). No one actually knows what is going on when this happens to sales. All I can speculate is that they are testing out something internally and I can only hope it has something to do with search visibility.
Some have even speculated that it has something to do with the last MBA survey that was sent out asking about AMS ads. In case you did not get that email, here were the questions:
Q1: Which tier level are you?
Q2: Are you familiar with Amazon Marketing Services (AMS)?
Q3: How likely would you be to participate in a program that advertises your Merch products on your behalf in exchange for a percent of the royalty from each product sold through the program? This program would be in addition to the free organic search traffic you already receive.
Q4: If Merch were to advertise products on your behalf what is your level of comfort in allowing Merch to select which of your products to promote?
Q5: I would sign up for this program if Merch charged me no more than the following royalty percentage for products sold through the program
Q6: What sales percent increase would you expect from Merch through this program?
Q7: At which tier level do you think this program would first become useful?
Q8: On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend Merch by Amazon to a friend or colleague?
Could Amazon be testing running ads to our products (increasing our sales by 2-3X on some days) internally? What do you think about this survey? Let us know in the comments below!
BIG NOTE: For anyone NEW to the game, it is currently not possible to sign up for AMS. You may have read our popular article about running Amazon Marketing Service ads here: https://merchinformer.com/ultimate-ams-amazon-marketing-services-guide-to-marketing-your-merch/ but I am sad to announce that currently, this is not possible to get started with as they have shut down the work around people were using to get accepted. This just goes to show that when we show you a technique to use, JUMP on it in case it gets taken away in the future. Anyone who signed up previous to them shutting this down, still has access.
Let’s get into what actually happened with the account in February!
What Happened In February
February was an interesting month for the account for a few reasons. The first is that not very many designs were outsourced during this time. While the account got a tier up last month, this month was focused on more reuploads and doing MANY trademark checks. Not only was a lot of maintenance stuff taken care of, but Etsy also took up a lot more time with customer support and fixing orders from incompetent buyers.
Outsourcing was done this month, but only about 50-70 designs were created. The reason for this is because the account was tiered up, but there are hundreds and hundreds of designs stored on the computer that got taken down because of the 90 day rule. She wanted to get some new designs for the account (and a family member’s account that I will discuss shortly), but also is focused solely on tiering up. The account has more than enough sales to get boosted to the 8k tier, but just does not have the slots filled up. Keeping track of all these designs has become a living nightmare and has turned the uploading process into a MUCH more time consuming activity than it used to be.
This is how the current system works although I have an idea of how we can clean this up later. Essentially, when designs are created, they go into the All Shirts folder. From here, they are copied and pasted into the “Resize” folder to later be scripted to the correct size for hoodies. Then they are moved to each of the folders for the different products as they are uploaded. With the constant take downs for the 90 day rule, many of these need to be put back up so they are constantly moving folders.
Now, reuploading shirts or uploading new designs is not particularly hard at all, but one of the things that everyone should be wary of is trademarking checking EVERYTHING again. This is so important! Every night when she is uploading shirts, she has a second monitor simply for TESS searches. While you can use Merch Informer trademark alerts to make sure nothing is actually fully registered, what she is finding sometimes is that there are so many new applications for trademarks. She is a lot more cautious than I am, so if she sees a new trademark application and after reading the documents it looks like they stand a good chance of getting the mark excepted down the line, she will simply move the shirt to the “Not Sure” folder which is pretty much the “NSFM” or Not Safe For Merch folder. Many people will tell you to put these designs on other PODs, but this is just asking for trouble as on other platforms you are often the seller of record and can open yourself up to a lawsuit.
Big Trademark News: We are all absolutely FED UP with the trademark trolls registering common phrases and somehow getting away with it while taking down Merch shirts at the same time. It just so happens that our friend Ken Reil has done a ton of leg work and found something that actually seems to work to combat these. They are called letters of protest, and they are absolutely free to file. The community is growing quickly in a concentrated effort to oppose as many of these claims as possible. If you want to join the effort, you can join this Facebook group where everything is being organized: https://www.facebook.com/groups/MerchWatchDawgs/.
The one thing I should mention that was also this month is that she essentially took my idea of “Franchising” Merch by Amazon and made it a reality. Both her brother, good friend, and her cousin have asked about her t-shirt business. Of course she will explain it to them, but as anyone in this game knows, it takes a while to actually become familiar with the entire process as well as the ins and out. She had them sign up for an account, and then hit them with the offer to essentially help and manage the accounts for a percentage of the profit. This has worked out really well for me, and if you have no idea what I am talking about, here is a long but informative video explaining the process:
Moonshot! (Trending Design)
I almost forgot to include this in the case study this month! Valentine’s day was in February, and like most holidays, people for some reason end up buying a bunch of shirts. Generally this account has always put up a few shirts in these niches a good time before the actual holiday is here, but this time it was different.
First, this shirt was uploaded in 2017 and did NOT SELL the first go around. In fact, this particularly design was put up not once, but TWICE because of the 90 day rule.
Yep, you read that right. This design was a “dud” twice in 2017 and turned around to make $900+ in 2018. This is the exact reason I always tell people to put their shirts back up. If you did your research and determined there is customer demand there, as long as your designs are good, they will eventually sell at least once. And sometimes, they may sell 200 times.
Second, this shirt was originally priced at $14.99. The goal here was just to get that first sale on the shirt so it did not have to be subject to the 90 day rule. As the shirt sold originally and kept showing up in the analyze page within Merch by Amazon, she decided to bump the price to $16.99. As it continued selling, she used the technique I generally talk about raising the price by a dollar every day or so up to $19.99 as it takes off. This ended up working well and sales kept strong through valentines day.
Third, this shirt has received multiple bad reviews. Not only did it receive multiple bad reviews, but even when the price kept increasing on the shirt, sales actually picked up! This just goes to show you that customers shop with their EYES first, and reviews later. If they like the design, they will end up purchasing it, especially if it is for a special occasion.
Fourth, this was a semi text based design. Not the kind of text based design that you open up in photoshop/illistrator, type something and save, but still very simplistic. If you have any inclination on how to use these programs, this design should have taken no longer than 10 minutes.
Fifth, this design cost $4. This is an ROI of over 19,900%! (This is after ad expenses below) There is a reason that I always tell people to outsource instead of creating designs yourself. When you create designs yourself, you are trading your time for money. Make the system work for you!
Sixth, this design started selling organically through proper keyword research (a third time), but used an extra boost from AMS ads. Here is what those looked like:
You will notice a few things right away. First is that the budget was set at $5 per day, and that they all got plenty of impressions and clicks. We were testing different CPCs (cost per click) when doing this, so you will see they are all over the place.
The estimated total sales are very low for the spend giving the campaigns a terrible ACoS. The reason for this is because AMS gives us TERRIBLE reporting. What that really means is that if someone clicked the ad and then purchased a size that was NOT put into the ad, this would not show up as a sale, nor be included in the ACoS. So how do we know these really worked? Well, as soon as we started running them, sales increased. When sales increased, we just let them run to see how they would perform. To be completely honest, we did forget to turn them off for a while.
You will also notice that almost all of these are headline search ads. These have continually worked well for me, and working on her account as well. Since you can put 3 products in the headline search, what she did was pick 3 different sizes of the SAME shirt to put in the ad. Not only that, but these are “above the fold” meaning that they are the first thing a searcher is going to see. Above the fold ads are what you want when you are selling as you want them to be in the customers face, showing them products that they will love. If you use sponsored products, they will have to scroll, or it will not be the first product a customer sees, so by the time they do see your sponsored product ad, you may have already lost the sale.
We wrote a very detailed write up of how AMS works here:
Ultimate AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) Guide to Marketing Your Merch
If you already have an AMS account, you can follow these directions near the end to set everything up.
**If you do NOT already have an AMS account, I am sorry, but this process currently does NOT WORK as they have closed registrations.
Now, this brings us to the way uploads are broken down and the strategy. I would say this is going to be drastically different if you are in a smaller tier. If you are tier 1k or below, I would really suggest doing 1000 different designs. Use 1 slot for 1 standard t-shirt. Yes, yes, I know you have access to many more products but Merch is the a numbers game and standard shirts are the big money maker here. You drastically stand a better chance at making more money without uploading to other products at first because it allows you to either get a very wide spread in the niches you are in, or really go in and dominate a particular niche with many different designs.
If you are a higher tier though, you should really consider uploading the designs you have currently onto multiple products. This is just going to be much more economical. Why? Well, at the current tier my girlfriend is at, she can upload 200 designs a day. If we are paying for those designs, that is going to cost $800 a day. I do not know many people that could keep up that level of outsourcing for very long! I cannot begin to imagine how you value your time if you are trying to create 200 designs a day yourself, which in itself is also not economical.
When this account gets new shirts, each one is uploaded FIRST to standard, then imidiately to premium. They are then uploaded to long sleeve and sweatshirts as well since these are the same dimensions. Sometimes she will upload them to hoodies that very day, but often they go into the Resize folder and those are done in batches the next day.
Even though you can see the breakdown of royalties by product at the end of this article, the real goal here is not to make more money (well, that is always nice!), but to tier up. Tiering up when Amazon is having search visibility you say? Yep!
The goal is to get this account to tier 8-12k as soon as humanly possible. The reason for this is that when new products open up, she wants room to quickly come to market to get ahead of everyone else giving her the advantage. New products ARE coming *wink wink*.
As you can see, the account has a while to go:
Probably one of the biggest things that has happened this month is that the mockups have started to change over to the new Port & Co mockups.
This is the old mockup:
This is the new mockup:
The new mock ups look a bit more “boxy” and what a lot of people are complaining about are that the designs look way too big and stretched. I have not really seen many of the designs that look “bad” but the mock ups do look a bit more boxy. The reason they are switching everything over is that the new shirts are supposed to be higher quality and cut down on some of those bad sizing reviews. That being said, people are reporting that the new mock ups are not helping with the bad reviews or with sales.
What are your thoughts here? Switching over to the new shirts is the most probable reason we are having issues with sales, but who knows! This is Amazon we are dealing with after all and they will fix the issues given enough time I believe.
*These are not my designs or my girlfriends designs, just an example.
Sweaters? Listen Up!
I decided to put this in here as a PSA to everyone that may not be paying as much attention to Merch groups as they would like.
If you are using the word “sweater” in your listings, NOW is the time to go and remove this word from your listings. Either remove the word from listings, or remove the listing entirely, and I am not joking.
A good friend making thousands of dollars per month just happens to be from a country outside the USA that calls hoodies “sweaters”. Amazon has a big issue with this. His account recently got suspended and after crawling through all of the designs, he could not figure why. After talking with him extensively about this, it turns out he had over FOUR HUNDRED designs that called hoodies “sweaters”. That is a big big NO in the eyes of Amazon so he simply removed them all from the platform.
Be careful out there!
The Results For February
Before we get to it, here is a quick recap of the January Numbers:
You will notice that the January earnings are a bit higher than report in the last case study. In the last case study we were off by hundreds of dollars and that seems to have got added to this payment. It seems that we are almost caught up on the royalties that Amazon owes for the products sold on this account.
Almost all of the shirts are priced at $16.99 for standard, whereas premium are priced at $19.99. Long sleeves have been priced at $25.99 to take advantage of the free shipping at $25 dollars. Sweatshirts are priced at $35.99 and hoodies at $39.99. These are all the starting price points, but if a shirt starts taking off OR gets a review, the product is bumped by about $1 in price. This has resulted in more earnings but little to no slow down in sales from those products.
Here is a summary of the totals for February 2018 from downloading the excel spreadsheet:
841 ASINs sold with $3053.68 in royalties!
These royalties are up about 23% from last month whereas sales are up around 29%. The account is selling more shirts but at a smaller royalty. I do not really see this as an issue because all experience points to MBA being a game of volume. This month has FELT slow. In fact, it has felt slower than almost all the other months I can remember but something seems to be up with Amazon search and no one is really sure what is going on. For that reason, we are pretty happy with this increase from January which is notoriously one of the slowest months for retail anywhere.
Here is a breakdown of the shirts sold:
Long Sleeve: 3.7%
This month saw a lot more sweatshirts and long sleeves sold by percentage. By actual number sold, not so much. Standard shirts again were the big winner here because that is where the most money is to be made. Everyone wears t-shirts for the most part, even during the colder months.
If you are looking to replicate this success, then make sure to check out the newbie plan Merch Informer just released. This plan is half the price and the girlfriend decided to release some coupons to celebrate the end of the year. You can use coupon code: casestudy for 20% off the monthly $9.99 a month newbie price or coupon code: casestudyyearly for 25% off your first year on the newbie plan. These codes are extremely limited so make sure to snatch them up before they disappear.
Since designs can easily be created yourself (and what most people are doing when they start), we are only going to be including the royalties in the math.
I have never been able to get a Headline ad approved. I always run into trouble with confusion from Amazon of “Brand Rights”. They want proof that I am the brand owner and have permission to advertise the design. Any tips for getting past that?
Every time you run into that, you need to head over to the brand management tab. From here, enter the EXACT brand name that you have your shirt on Amazon under. Then fill out all the information with YOUR email address for both slots. Amazon then emails the email address you just entered. Open that email, click the link that basically says you have the rights to run ads for that brand. You should get a confirmation on that webpage and then you can go back and put the ad through again. It should then go live!
I’m pretty new to MBA and the way the brands on Amazon work is a little confusing to me. I like that you can create a different brand for each niche or even every shirt but if you click on the brand for your shirt there can sometimes be other people’s shirts under that brand too.
I was expecting either there would be a check for uniqueness at the point of upload or that Amazon would have separate versions of each brand based on the account used to create it. Especially when, as you submit the upload, you have to confirm that the brand is yours and you have permission to upload to it.
Do you always check if a brand name already exists before uploading? If so, is there an easy way to search for brands or do you have to wait for the shirt to be given an ASIN and URL and then click on the brand name?
Thanks for any advice you could give!
I never check myself. I do not typically find that people will click on the brand as much to look through the shirts and mostly end up on the product pages from searching for keywords so this is never really a concern for me.
Should you remove the ‘sweater’ keyword from your sweatshirt listings or just from any designs uploaded to the pullover hoodies?
You should remove sweater from any listing as MBA does not technically offer any type of sweater on the platform.
Another great installment. Thanks for all the advice you have included in these articles.
Do you know what it is Amazon dislikes about ‘sweater’? As a Brit, it’s a common term we use here for any jumper/pullover/sweatshirt. Is there a technical difference?
Matt from Merch Elephant mentioned in a YouTube vid that they don’t like the term ‘maternity’ either but didn’t mention why. Is there a list of words that are banned somewhere we can reference when uploading?
Thanks again for all the help!
I am not 100% sure why they do not like sweater. My best guess would be because a sweater over in the USA is more considered a knitted type of thing you wear around Christmas time. I would assume they are just trying to combat getting returns.
There is no list of words that I know of. A lot of them you just kind of figure out by doing this long enough!
Good info. Any recommendations on outsourcing? Mainly what to expect to pay per design? Where to find a designer? And what questions to ask them?
We did an in depth article about that here: https://merchinformer.com/use-upwork-outsource-scale-merch-business/
Hi Neil, I listened to the Proven Merch course you guys were in and people were recommending https://www.onlinejobs.ph/ instead of Upwork. Do you have any thoughts on that? I think reliability is really important. We don’t want people giving our designs away to other clients.
This is just another outlet to find VAs and is actually very similar to Upwork. I know some of my VAs pretty well at this point, and when they are looking for jobs, they will usually put themselves onto both platforms. The difference I believe is that you as a client need to pay to access onlinejobs.ph whereas Upwork, you do not.
Hahahaha I love the “dud” reference.
>> “Every night when she is uploading shirts, she has a second monitor simply for TESS searches.”
Can you describe what you are using to upload?
Are you running a script to upload shirts to Amazon in bulk?
Just a mouse and keyboard! She uploads everything manually.
Do you put new keywords for every variant of a design? For example different keywords for premium and standard versions of the same design
We used to but as time got more and more crunched, she has been copying the sentences and then switching out the variations such as “t-shirt” and “long sleeve”.
I have a shirt that sells pretty regularly; at least 2 – 3 copies a day. So, I have been raising the price $1 like you suggest. I am now at a point where it hasn’t sold anything in 2 days. How long would you let it stay before you lowered it back down?
I would probably give it a day or two longer, then slowly start decreasing the price. The thing is, the market fluctuates so much so it is hard to decide. I would not raise it over $19.99 though!
Great stuff as always, Neil!
Always appreciate the inside info and tips, especially regarding your upload strategy and removing “sweaters”.