Starting a T-Shirt business used to be almost impossible without a network or buyers, factories, and tons of blank tee shirts.
But with Merch by Amazon it’s becoming easier!
A few years ago I signed up and began going through some YouTube videos on how to create very simple designs.
Within a week I saw my first sale!
No marketing to bring the customer to my page, nor did I have to deal with the customer in any way.
The Amazon Print on Demand Process:
- You create the shirt with Amazon’s specifications
- Set the price
- Amazon creates the product listing
- You make a sale
- Amazon ships it to the customer
- You’re paid a royalty
I was hooked
Within just a few months, I was scaling operations as fast as possible. Sales started pouring in and I was soon running a 5 figure a month T-Shirt business through Amazon that is still running and growing to this very day.
Now, let’s get into the details so I can show you how to create a successful Merch by Amazon business.
Starting A Merch By Amazon Business
What is Merch by Amazon?
It’s a print on demand (POD) platform that allows anyone to sell Merch on Amazon by simply uploading a design. The program has expanded from just t-shirts to an entire line of clothing including standard and premium tees, long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies.
The Merch by Amazon program launched at the end of 2015. This program was originally designed to help App developers monetize their Apps.
The way the entire program works is simple.
- Once you have an account, you upload your art onto the platform.
- From there, you pick what product you want to sell.
- Once you have uploaded your design onto the product type, pick which colors look best on that product
- Give it a price and a title
- Publish it on Amazon
From there, your product is now live and searchable on the Amazon platform. You earn money via a royalty for every product that is purchased on Amazon.
Merch by Amazon used to be open to everyone. As the program got more popular, they had to turn the system into invite only where you had to apply for an account.
But applications are being approved within a few days up to a week or so. Keep in mind that as the program grows, Amazon needs to build more facilities to store all the printers that run 24/7 to print our designs.
How To Apply For Merch by Amazon
Signing up for Merch by Amazon is a very easy process. — it should take you no more than 10 minutes to go through the application process.
Step 1: Gather the following information to sign up:
- Business contact information
- Bank account and routing numbers
- Social security number or other tax identification number
Step 2: Request an Invitation. Head over to https://merch.amazon.com/landing you will see an orange request invitation button:
Step 3: Sign in to your Amazon account. It can be your buyers account, your sellers account, or a brand new account that you created specifically for Merch by Amazon.
Step 4: Begin the application. It will ask you to fill out your company profile, banking information, and then take a quick tax survey.
Step 5: Take the tax questionnaire. If you’re not from the USA, Merch by Amazon may withhold up to 30% of profits for tax withholding.
Step 6: complete the request invitation form.
If you don’t have a company set up for Merch by Amazon (you probably don’t), then just use your first and last name. Make sure that all the details you put in here are your REAL contact information so that Merch knows you are filling these forms out honestly and will accept you to the program.
Finish up these few pages and then take the tax questionnaire.
Now that you have all your contact and tax information out of the way, you simply need to complete the request invitation form.
How to Complete the Merch by Amazon Request Invitation Form
There are 3 sections you need to fill out for a completed invitation form. Depending on your business and past experience you might need to fill out the form differently.
- Industry Type: The drop down menu has a few options for you to choose from. If you have filled out the application with your personal name, I would recommend picking a novelty T-Shirt business. If you used a company name, simply pick small business in the drop down.
- Organization Name: This is where you will enter your business name of your personal name. If you entered in a personal name on the first page of the application, then enter the same here. Otherwise, use your business name in this box.
- Additional Information: You want to include all the relevant information that helps you stand out from the other applicants like websites and print on demand designs you’ve done in the past.
Additional information is where you want to include all the information we mention below.
How to Get Accepted Into Merch by Amazon
You want to give Amazon as much information as possible for them to accept your invitation. You don’t need to be a graphic designer. Just be as transparent as possible to help them know you’re a serious seller.
Here’s the best way to make sure your application is selected:
- If you have print on demand experience, link to other designs you have up on different websites.
- Link to your personal website. Amazon loves when people sold on other platforms or have an audience.
- Explain how you will promote and sell to Amazon’s audience and customers?
- Create 5-10 original designs to show on your application
- Include trademarks you may own.
- Licenses to art you may have
Remember, none of this is NEEDED to get accepted to the program, it just gives you a head start and a better chance. You can create the additional designs yourself or read below about outsourcing.
Design Outsourcing Companies We Recommend:
Once you submit your application, you will see this page:
Merch by Amazon Dashboard Walk Through
It’s important that you get familiar with everything here, where to look for certain things, and how everything works together.
The first thing you will see when you login is a page that looks like this:
What are the Merch by Amazon Tier Levels
When you first get access to your account, you will have 10 design slots available. Once you have made 10 sales and have filled up the majority of your slots, you get tiered up. Tiering up allows you to upload more designs per day, as well as increase the total number of designs live for sale on Amazon.
These are the Merch by Amazon Tier levels:
- Tier 1 = 10 Designs
- Tier 2 = 25 Designs
- Tier 3 = 100 Designs
- Tier 4 = 500 Designs
- Tier 5 = 1,000 Designs
- Tier 6 = 2,000 Designs
- Tier 7 = 4,000 Designs
- Tier 8 = 8,000 Designs
This means that you can put up 10 designs total on the system before you will not be able to upload any more.
Creating Your First T-Shirt Design
The create page is where you will want to go when you have some designs you want to upload. The process is fairly straight forward that we will go into detail below.
You have a drop down menu to pick what product type you want to upload, and a mock up to see how your design looks on each product prior to publishing.
You can use software like Photoshop, Illustrator or GIMP to create designs.
These are the design requirements for Merch by Amazon:
- 15″W x 18″H with transparent background
- 300 ppi (i.e. 4500 x 5400 pixels)
- Export artboard as an sRGB
- File must be less than 25MB
They also make it easier for you to create designs by providing their own pre-made templates for you to use.
Managing Your Merch by Amazon Inventory
The manage tab is where you will be able to keep track of all the t-shirts you have up on Amazon. This will tell you which ones are “Live”, as well as what the design is that you have uploaded.
It will give you information such as what date you uploaded the design, what price you attached to the product, the status, and then any actions you may want to do such as editing or deleting a product.
You will see a status on each of the shirts. There are many different statuses that might show.
Once you upload your first t-shirt, you will see that the shirt appears to be in the “Under Review” status. This is completely normal as the system does its work.
From there, it will then go to “Started Processing” and then to “Processing”. This means that your t-shirt has passed review and is now being pushed live onto the Amazon marketplace for people to purchase. Once it goes Live, the status will change to “Live” and you will be able to click the hyperlink which takes you to the shirt listing that customers see and purchase from.
Analyzing Your Sales Stats
Once you have a few products up on Amazon that start selling well, you’ll be navigating to the “Analyze” tab from the Dashboard a lot!
This will show you what products sold, on what days, and at what price. It will also let you see what kind of royalty you are getting paid. You might notice that there is a tab at the top of this page called “Earnings”.
This is where you should click when earnings finalize to show you how much you are going to be paid! I would recommend checking this tab at least once per day to see what you have sold.
At the very top of the page, you will see the resources tab. This is probably the most important tab out of everything you will see in the dashboard. Why you might ask? Because this is where the content policy and best practices documents can be found!
You will want to make sure you read over all this information. It can get pretty dry but it’s VERY important to your long-term success in the program. The content policy can be found here: https://merch.amazon.com/resource/201858630.
How to Calculate Merch by Amazon Royalties
You want to go to this page: https://merch.amazon.com/resource/201858580
Managing Your Account
To see your company profile, payment info, banking info and tax information you need to go to My Account.
You can change your business e-mail address here in the future if you would like, but this is where you will go to grab your tax documents come tax season.
Other than that, this pretty much wraps up the dashboard. Once you are familiar with everything, the dashboard is easy to use and straight forward.
There are 2 crucial aspects you must understand.
Amazon BSR (Best Sellers Rank), and Copyright/Trademark. These are not always the flashy and exciting topics people like to talk about, but without at least a small understanding of these two things, you might as well just skip reading this entire article.
Copyright/Trademarks are Important!
Copyright and trademark are terms you may have heard before but have no idea what they are. Both copyright and trademark are intellectual property protection but they protect different types of assets.
Copyright protects mostly literary and artistic materials and works, whereas a trademark protects names, slogans, logos and company brands.
Think of it this way. You can copyright your shirt design about entrepreneurship, which means that someone else would not be able to sell that particular design.
However, if you wanted to use the brand name “StartupBros” you wouldn’t be able to as this brand is protected by a trademark.
When putting up designs on Merch by Amazon, or any other print on demand site, you must NEVER put up designs that are copies of other people’s work. This is a breach of copyright and WILL get you banned from these platforms. Amazon does not want to have bad sellers on their site. They don’t want to spend time and resources dealing with this, so don’t risk your account.
Copyright is something that you won’t have to worry too much about in this business. As long as you’re not ripping off other people and stealing their art, then all is right in the world.
Trademark, however, is something you will be thinking a lot about. Since these are recognizable expressions that people have protected, you may run into some issues on Amazon Merch. The first being that there are a lot of words and sayings that you simply cannot use on your account because they have been previously protected. Some of the protected trademarks might seem crazy (E.g., “Aged to Perfection” has a live trademark), but you still can’t use them. Be careful!
Make sure that ALL text (and variations) of your designs are run through one of the following sites. I prefer to use USPTO because that is the government database, and at the end of the day, going to be the most accurate:
Please spend a few minutes looking at them before you move on to the exiting parts of this tutorial as I cannot stress how important this is in keeping your account safe!
Understanding Amazon Best Sellers Rank (BSR)
Amazon shows you how well each product on their site is selling through a metric called BSR. A number is assigned to each product relative to the number of sales that item is receiving in a particular category.
This number fluctuates based on how other products are selling in that same category, so BSR moves up and down according to sales volume. Every Merch by Amazon listing is put into the Clothing category. After selling in this category for a number of years, you start to learn how BSR equates to sales.
A 100k BSR in Clothing is going to be different than a 100k BSR in power tools. If you want to find the BSR of a product, go to the page on Amazon where that product is listed, scroll down to the product description, and you will see this box:
Two Ways to Research Niches (Increasing Your Chance Of Success)
This is THE most important step for selling on the Merch by Amazon platform. Once you are familiar with BSR and copyright/trademark, it is crucial that you master this. Without mastery (and it will take actual work), you will fail. If you put in the work, learn the ropes, then this becomes one of the most fun, and easy parts of the business!
Just to really hammer it home…
You MUST do your research properly or your chances to succeed are slim to none.
Years of selling Merch through this platform, I have followed a very simply strategy. Find out where customers are spending money, look at the competition, and then provide better products for the current demand.
It sounds straight forward, but when it comes to clothing, this is actually a lot easier than you might think.
I want to find where customers are buying. Once you can nail down what people actually want, you can see what the current market holds. Then come out with something that is going to be more visually appealing at a fair price (Amazon customers are price sensitive).
All of this is accomplished by looking at certain keywords and best sellers rank.
Method 1: Researching Niches by Keywords
Navigate over to Amazon and enter in anything that comes to mind followed by “T-Shirt”.
Hit the search button.
Always remember that niches inspired by passion are the absolute best sellers and place you want to be.
What might be a passion for you may not be a passion for others though. Always remember that to succeed in this type of business, you need to be providing what a customer wants, NOT what you want.
We will use “BBQ” as an example.
This brings up many product pages of results. You see right away that there are plenty of different and pretty clever designs out there. If you were to scroll to the bottom of this page, you would see that there are 7 pages full of results. This is not showing ALL the results because there are more than 3,000 t-shirts in this niche.
So we know a lot of these shirts in the BBQ niche are up on Amazon, but is anyone actually buying these, or spending their money here?
Just because there are a different products does NOT mean that they are selling well.
This process is probably one of the most time consuming and boring aspects of research, but it is important that you get a full view of a niche before you make a decision.
Steps to Research
- Come up with 20 different categories or niches that you think people might be interested in.
- Open those up category pages up on Amazon.
- Start going to each page and navigate to the product description in each of the listings. Look for the qualifying BSR range to make sure the shirts are selling.
- Ask yourself is, “Can I do better?”. Do you think you can offer this market a better design?
- If Yes, add it to your list of products excel sheet for design and creation.
- Rinse and Repeat
Can you make the design funnier, or more appealing to your target audience?
Use Excel spreadsheets for this and have lists of hundreds of different Amazon URLs after searching through 10s or even hundreds of Amazon pages to see where the demand was.
Some of these t-shirts are actually selling decently if you open them up and check out their BSR. It would be really simple to open up an image editing program and create something better that said “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em”.
If you get to the point where you have thousands of designs online, each selling 1 a day or even 1 per week, the process scales up and you start making great money.
Method 2: Researching Niches Via Brands
What if you’re having a hard time coming up with some initial keywords to actually search on Amazon?
This is where I like to do searches by brands.
This leverages the research of other people, to tell you where there is money to be made.
The way we do this is by looking at brands that are selling well on the platform, and see where else they branched off into.
Take the example screenshot of BBQ shirts for example. You will see this Amazon BBQ listing:
Right above the title of the shirt, itt says “Funny Saying t-shirts”.
This is the brand name that this shirt is under. You can create whatever brand name for your shirts as you want with the Merch by Amazon program. You can find out what other niches are in this brand.
Click on the brand name at the top of the page and it will show you all the designs so you can hunt out some niches.
There are 19 other shirts listed under this brand. Scroll through the list to find some new niches you may not have thought of before. I never thought “troll hair” was a niche, but I see here that it is. Remember to keep opening all the shirts in a new tab to see if they are selling by checking out the BSR. Keep adding to the spreadsheet you are building up!
Some brands have a LOT of t-shirts under them. Check out this brand, Tripple G Mav. There are over 20,000 shirts under this brand. What a great place to do some more research!
Follow the two research methods that I laid out above with both keyword and brand research. Go through pages and pages of designs until you have a solid foundation of say 100-200 killer niches. If you can repeat this process over and over again, you can eventually get into a steady 5 figures a month as long as the designs you create are good. If they are good, you know the market is hungry!
Speed Up The Research - Stop Wasting Hours Opening Links
The above is the exact steps that you can use to build up initial earnings from Merch by Amazon. To keep scaling (because everything is working properly), you need to be able to free up some time.
We created our own software that would take this exact research process, and automate it as much as we could. After many months of keeping quiet, we released our tool to the public and Merch Informer was launched in October of 2016.
- Merch Informer pulls up all the best selling shirts for any keyword in order of best sellers rank.
- Save and download the links, images, descriptions, and prices from a list of favorites.
- The Advanced Competition Checker module gives you detailed information about your competition and who else you’ll be up against.
- Merch Hunter allows you to figure out the best selling shirts on Amazon. It displays the top 1,000 best selling shirts on Amazon in order of BSR.
- Movers and Shakers was created to identify trends before they took off was implemented.
Using the BBQ example from earlier, you can see what it would look like inside the software. You can use all of this information to create long and detailed spreadsheets with the click of a button and then send them to my designer. Virtual assistants, which we will discuss soon, is the easiest and quickest way to grow this Merch by Amazon business.
As a thank you to the StartupBros community:
Use coupon code STARTUPBROS for 20% off
Amazon is a big data company. We can then use this data to find unknown or super easy to rank for keywords specifically in the clothing market.
Creating Designs and Outsourcing
Now that you have an idea of how the entire research process works, you now need to get some designs to upload onto the platform. You can either create them yourself, or you can outsource them.
When I first started, I had access to Photoshop, but am by no means a designer. In fact, I can basically type sentences, and drag and drop and this was enough to get my first 100 designs online and selling. These did not look great, but people thought they were funny and purchased them. Anything I was not sure how to create, I loaded up YouTube and watched some tutorials.
If you are going to create your own designs, you can use:
If you have neither PS or Illustrator, GIMP is a free option that works similarly. There are loads of tutorials that will teach you the basics of any of the design software listed above.
Please note that when you are creating these designs, they need to be 4500X5400 pixels large, and a 300 DPI.
Outsourcing is King!
My go to place for hiring people is generally Upwork.
It turns out, people are willing to create excellent work for around $4 per design. Here is the exact script that I am now using (modified slightly from my original):
This script gets a lot of people applying to design for you.
I give each person that applied and had a good portfolio a link or two from the research we did in the previous step. If the quality work is good and has not been copied and is in their own unique style, then start hiring them for longer term jobs.
Remember that when you give them a link from Amazon you want to receive something back that is for the same niche, but different artwork. The goal is to create a better product than what is currently being sold.
If you’re hesitant to outsource design work, read this guide on using upwork to outsource design work.
Keyword Optimized Listings
If you have designs ready to go, there are only a few more steps you need to take to have your product available to hundreds of millions of people on Amazon.
The uploading process for Merch by Amazon is very straight forward:
- Upload the image
- Select some colors
- Select a price
- Fill out listing information (price ,brand, title, bullet points, and description)
Price determines whether your product will sell well or not. Shoppers will take one look at your design and decide if they like it or not. Your first goal is to have the best design possible that is catchy and will grab their attention.
The next thing that customers consider when buying clothing is the price! They shop on Amazon for the convenience, but also because they are known for their great pricing on products.
One of the easiest ways to determine if you are pricing in the middle of the pack is to take all the prices on the first page of results, add them together, and then divide them by the total amount of listings on the page. This is what you would want to target as your price point.
If you want to build a clothing brand, then by all means put your brand into this slot. However, branding can actually have an effect on how well your piece of clothing will rank.
I generally put all my Merch by Amazon products into different brands that have keywords related to the niche I am uploading in. If your t-shirt was about loving BBQ and eating great food, I might enter the brand name “BBQ Lovers Anonymous”.
Just make sure that the brand you want to enter is not trademarked and you can make up all sorts of combinations to put your shirts under.
The title the most important aspect to actually ranking your product within Amazon search. This is where keywords will play an important role. To talk about keywords, we need to have a short discussion about competition and niching down.
Let’s say that you are creating a design about “Cats” around Halloween time. When you go to upload that t-shirt, you want to actually look at what other designs are selling and price accordingly.
When you get to your title though, you may just decide to put something in such as “black cat t-shirt” and be done with it. This is one of the biggest mistakes new people to the platform make!
Taking a look at that on Amazon.com, you can see that if you were to name your product “black cat t-shirt” you would be competing against over 10,000 results on Amazon. This would be VERY hard to rank, and more than likely, you would get drowned out by players who have been selling for a while. Your chance at sales comes by being able to niche down.
Take a minute on your title and think to yourself.
What would a customer search for if they were looking for this particular shirt? In the example I like to use about black cats, maybe it has some REALLY large ears to look spooky.
All of a sudden just by changing up your title slightly, you are coming up with less results while at the same time getting MORE relevant keywords into your title. Now instead of competing with over 10,000 other people, there are only 217 results. I personally like to get under 1,000 results if possible.
The idea is to niche down while at the same time adding keywords to your title. Adding more keywords to your title will rank you for more terms, but don’t make it spammy! If you are adding keywords to your title for the sake of adding keywords, it’s a waste. It needs to make sense in the context of your design.
We are not done yet though. Remember in the example I proposed, this was a t-shirt for Halloween? Here is a great tweak where I add more keywords, and the competition drops!
Just like that, only 42 results, and more relevant keywords in the title. We can lower the competition we are facing by simply niching down to a relevant title for the particular design. This will ensure you stand the best chance for ranking your products in search and make money. This is exactly what you want to practice with every product you put up on Merch. It can take some extra time, but it will be well worth it in the end.
Bullet points are the second most important aspect of ranking your listing in Amazon. You want these to be keyword rich without keyword stuffing. To make sure this happens, keep the keywords you use in your listing relevant to the design you are uploading and write them out in full sentences! Take the time to read the sentences you wrote out loud to yourself and see if they make sense. If they do not, then it may be keyword stuffing.
Many new people will take this space to simply describe their product.
Do NOT do this!
Sure, describing your product is great, but this is the one chance you actually have to sell and close a customer. You have two bullet points to work with here, so give it your best shot at marketing (with relevant keywords). The potential customer will read these, so tell the customer WHY they want this t-shirt and why they need to have it right now.
Just as a quick example, this might be what a bullet point would look like:
Notice how this does not just tell the potential customer what is on the shirt, but you are taking the time to actually sell it to them. The keywords get added (kitty, cute kitten, kitten tee, Halloween costume, gift) but you are convincing them to purchase from you at the same time.
The product description has no bearing on where your t-shirts rank in Amazon. The product descriptions may not be taken into account with ranking, but they ARE what shows up to people searching your t-shirts on mobile devices.
They also show up as the meta description in Google. So, you need to be filling out the product description even though they say that this slot is optional. What I would recommend is to make sure your product descriptions are optimized to give the customer better information. That way, you are still selling the customer even while at the same time getting in those keywords for potentially ranking in Google.
Expanding Your Reach - Scaling Up
Merch by Amazon is one of the most straight forward numbers games out there. The more designs you have up on the platform that are well researched and optimized, the more money you will make. The majority of people are not willing to give it a shot, which is better for everyone that does.
To scale as quickly as possible, you need to either be able to design yourself (which takes time if you are not already in the know) or you will need to be able to afford to outsource your designs. At the very beginning I would recommend you do at least 2-3 designs per DAY. Over the course of a month, this equates to around 60-90 designs.
If you are just getting into Merch by Amazon, you might be ready to call me out right about now. Why would you create 60-90 designs when you only have 10 slots available in Merch when you first start off!
There are so many other platforms out there with traffic, that is why! The beauty of this game is that you do not NEED to drive any traffic at all. You just need to find where the audience is hanging out. Amazon is definitely where the biggest piece of the pie is to be had, but other platforms are well worth it. While you are waiting for more slots on Amazon, upload your other designs to some of these platforms:
- Printful + Etsy (one of the most profitable integrations)
There are a lot more out there that people are having success with. I would say the top 3 recomendations would be to first try out the Printful and Etsy integration. This allows you to sell your designs through the Etsy platform without shipping anything yourself.
Next, I would try out Redbubble as I know many people doing well on that platform. It is a complete POD just like MBA. Finally, TeePublic is a great one to try out as their upload process is simple and easy to use.
Merch By Amazon Success Stories
If you have made it through this much of the article, you probably have absolutely no reason to believe me. I understand!
You really do not get anywhere in life without at least trying, but I understand that some people need to see proof.
Let me show you 3 people who have found success through selling on the Merch by Amazon platform over the last few years.
The first person I want to mention is my girlfriend. At first, she thought Merch was a waste of time. Since she was in Nursing school full time, she had no chance to actually upload t-shirts or see any profits. Then one day during a hailstorm, her car was totaled and she was left with 100k worth of student loans and no car. Once she kicked into high gear, she has been able to get a new car and is paying down her student debt a LOT faster. I have been writing a monthly case study on her account on the Merch Informer blog. Here are her earnings:
The second is from a guy named Scott. I actually ran into Scott years ago when I was building up my affiliate website business. It took me a while, but when we were chatting over Skype one day, I finally convinced him to give Merch a try. He actually started out a lot similar to what I did. He created about 50 text based designs himself, and as soon as he saw that he was getting a few sales, it was outsourcing from then on out. I would say it has been worth it:
Finally, we have Greg. I always preach that in order to hit these big numbers you simply must be willing to put in the time and effort. What happens if you put in the minimal effort though? Just enough to learn the ropes and get some sales?
Well, when I was thinking about Greg, I asked him what I should say since his numbers are much lower than the two screenshots above. Here were the first words out of his mouth:
“This is what you can achieve with just 3 hours a week”
Wrapping this up...
If you made it to the end of this article, congratulations! That about wraps up the basics of how to start a business selling T-Shirts online.
If you take the time to go through everything and start, while remaining dedicated, you can leverage the millions and millions of buyers on Amazon to build up a 6 figure clothing company in an incredibly short time span.
It really has never been this easy but with this new print on demand platform that many people are still unaware of, now is the time to take advantage of it. If you do not have any of the startup costs required, then spend a little bit of your time to learn how to design yourself.
That is where the majority of the cost is anyway. There is ZERO inventory to hold, ZERO customer service to provide, and only upside on how much royalties can be earned.
Think of this opportunity as being able to start your own E-commerce brand with the force of Amazon behind you.
I really appreciate the StartupBro’s community allowing me to bring this new method to everyone. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments and I will swing by to answer them! Good luck!
Additional resources you might be interested in: