Merch by Amazon (MBA) is a frequent topic in the make money online arena and is one of many ways to make money on Amazon. I had come across several articles of untold fortunes, so I wanted to give MBA a shot. If people are making “$150,000” from selling shirts, I didn’t want to miss out.
Merch by Amazon Overview
Merch by Amazon is Amazon’s print-on-demand (POD) apparel division. Individuals can sell their designs on the world’s largest marketplace with no upfront investment or costs. Product formats include:
- Standard and premium t-shirts
- Pullover hoodie
How does it work?
You upload your artwork, choose a product type and color, set your price, and add a product description. Amazon will create a product page, and when customers buy your product, they’ll handle production, shipping, and customer service at no cost to you.
What will you earn?
MBA’s cost structure changes frequently, which makes it difficult to estimates royalties six to twelve months out. You can expect royalties of roughly 10 to 20 percent per sale (depending on your list price). If you promote your products as an Amazon Associate, you may earn up to ten percent more (depending on what customers buy). Due to the rising cost of processing returns, Merch deducts royalties for returned products.
Ready to go? Not so fast!
Merch by Amazon has received an overwhelming response from content creators. To handle the influx of requests, Amazon implemented an invitation-only system soon after launching MBA in September 2015.
A few people I know are still waiting for invites or have been declined, and there’s no rhyme or reason for Amazon’s decisions. I’ve been on Amazon for years selling books, so perhaps a little marketplace equity helped me to get approved.
Amazon has no scheduled date to remove their invitation-only system but will notify applicants when more spaces are available.
Is there a limit to the number of designs you can submit?
Yes. Amazon allows ten submissions to begin. You will need to sell at least ten products from those you’ve created to move up to the next tier. Tier levels include:
- Pro (by invitation)
MBA limits the number of new products that can be submitted for publishing each day, for example, mine is one. Publishing limits are based on tiers.
What else should you know?
MBA has a very informative resources and FAQs page that addresses best practices, royalties, content policy, tools, templates, and more. It’s worth exploring if you’re serious about succeeding.
A foray into any Amazon division is exciting. However, POD marketplaces have been around for years, for example, Zazzle, Cafepress, Redbubble, and Teespring. Amazon’s entry into this crowded and saturated market is a tad late. Also, POD marketplaces like Zazzle give a wide assortment of products for content creators to sell, for instance, pillows, blankets, mugs, key racks, phone cases, wall decals, and more. Thus, MBA is quite limited in its opportunities to make money. A more compelling e-commerce apparel model than MBA is that of Stitch Fix, which Amazon is trying to compete against through Prime Wardrobe.
Step One: Create
Upon the approval of my account, I began sketching designs. When I completed ten designs, I searched for a graphic designer on Upwork (I don’t have photoshop experience and wanted help). Alternatively, I could have found someone on Fiverr. I hired a designer who charged five dollars per shirt. I created the concepts, and he produced them.
Step Two: Publish
I began uploading my designs to MBA. I created three more designs because three got rejected by Amazon’s review team. Each of my three sketches was rejected for different reasons including, “Promotion of Hate or Intolerance,” “Objectionable Content,” and “Copyright.” Amazon’s review team is very strict, so beware. I uploaded my designs on Redbubble too since MBA doesn’t require exclusivity. I passed on Cafepress and Zazzle because the competition is extremely high, and their marketplaces appear to be on the decline. For example, Cafepress (PRSS) trades publicly on the NASDAQ and hasn’t performed well.
Step Three: Promote
My ten shirts went live by the end of August. I priced them at $11.99 to be competitive and volume-focused. I created a Twitter profile and a Facebook page for my brand and promoted my shirts regularly through these channels.
Results & Observations
Aside from not generating a single sale, I lost interest in MBA for several reasons:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical to product ranking and visibility. When self-publishing books through KDP and CreateSpace, I can influence SEO significantly. On MBA, I’m limited to shirt titles, for example, “Funny Beer T-Shirt.”
- MBA will remove products that haven’t sold within the first 180 days of being published. If a product has had at least one sale in the previous 180 days, it won’t be removed. I hate this policy because it’s counterproductive and discouraging. Content creators can relist their products, but instead of making it easy, for example, being able to select “relist” from a drop-down menu, Amazon forces creators to go through the approval process again.
- MBA only ships to customers in the United States, so your listings don’t appear on international sites.
- MBA could be phased out.
MBA could be shut down because the POD market is highly competitive, saturated, not very promising, and Amazon doesn’t need it. Also, don’t forget that online POD e-commerce sites compete with millions of regular e-commerce sites and offline stores. You might think that MBA isn’t at risk of being shut down, but Amazon occasionally fails and pivots. For instance, the Amazon Fire phone was a mega flop, and Amazon will shut down its online wine store to move distribution. If MBA doesn’t deliver, Jeff Bezos will terminate it and refocus on more profitable divisions and new experiments.
Generating significant revenues as an MBA fashion designer is closer to myth than reality. Suppose you, I, and eight other creators sell enough product to reach and publish 500 listings (MBA probably has thousands of creators signed up). If all of us publish our maximums at roughly the same time, there will be 5,000 listings. Every now and again customers will purchase products, but not enough for all of us to reach our income targets. Moreover, I’ve never bought and wouldn’t likely purchase apparel online. I still buy my clothing offline along with millions of people.
Many people flock to Merch by Amazon and similar platforms because they’re easy to join, low-effort, low-risk, and low-cost, but therein lies the problem. POD platforms attract so many people that a few individuals do okay while most others waste their time and money. The lower the barrier to entry for a given market, the more folks will enter it, which reduces income prospects for all and creates a race to the bottom.
MBA, like many e-commerce endeavors, can work if you have a significant following to sell to or your designs become must-haves. Without a significant audience or influencer touting your goods, you must get lucky in which case you may make a few dollars or hundreds per month. Making high five and six-figures is highly unlikely. People who claim they make or made a lot probably benefited from first-mover advantages and low competition. Note: There are many frauds claiming to make thousands on MBA. Some of these frauds are selling online courses about how to replicate their successes. Buyer beware!
I have no plans to upload more designs and will allow my account to sit idle because making a lot of money on MBA is unrealistic. Moreover, a 10 to 20 percent royalty pales in comparison to other online ventures, for example, affiliate marketing. On a positive note, I did generate a sale and royalty of $1.31. The royalty came from Redbubble, not Merch by Amazon.