The Problem With Merch by Amazon

Nearly a year ago, Amazon started their Merch by Amazon program. At first, only app and game developers could join to push their apparel to their users. Now, anyone can join by invitation, and people are queued up to get accepted.

What is Merch by Amazon?

Merch by Amazon is described as a way for developers to start selling apparel to their customers using a print-on-demand system to create t-shirts on the fly.

The Good Side

There are a number of good reasons to use Merch by Amazon. It’s not all bad.

  1. Anytime someone buys a shirt, you make money. It’s always profitable, and the amount of profit is based on how you price your product.
  2. The print-on-demand component makes inventory unnecessary. When someone buys a shirt you design, Amazon puts your design on their blank shirt and ships it to the user.
  3. Unlike some services like Teespring, there is no minimum order necessary to ship. People can order on a Tuesday, and if they have Prime, can get the shirt by Thursday or Friday.

Unfortunately, every one of the good parts of this model has an equal and greater negative.

The Bad Side

Sans the part about always making money anytime a design sells, there are a number of bad reasons to be hesitant in using Merch. First, we’ll point out the bad side of the previous good points

  1. There isn’t really anything bad about this. Carry on.
  2. To keep costs down per shirt, the print-on-demand is direct-to-garment or DTG. This is equivalent to running the shirts through a giant printer and they get blasted with ink. This creates a lower quality product. Like an organized stain on it.
  3. This is in conjunction with number two because they do 1 at a time they will primarily use DTG. The reason there is a minimum number of orders on other sites is so they can screen print on the shirt.

Bonus: They’ve opened the doors for anyone to join. Internet marketers everywhere rejoice.

The Problem

Here’s the issue that happens with this. Because the quality of the print is bad unless you order in bulk, it’s not a platform to start an actual brand. Original ideas will be buried by the clones of designs from other websites.

So here’s the lifecycle of any successful t-shirt.

  1. Create a shirt that appeals to a very targetted audience
  2. People start buying that shirt, it gains some traction
  3. Someone else is able to take your idea and either
    • make a better-designed shirt and price it equal or higher
    • make a similarly designed shirt and price it lower
  4. You have to lower prices to compete with the competition
  5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 until it’s no longer worth it to compete

That is what is called the race to the bottom.

So how does someone actually succeed on a platform like Merch by Amazon? They have to mass produce low-quality designs because quantity trumps quality in this system. And that’s what they’re doing because it’s easy. Incredibly easy. Right now anyone can go on Upwork and hire a foreign “designer” to pump out “unique” shirt designs for $4 a pop.

Here’s how people are suggesting doing market research and starting their Merch account.

  1. Go on Teespring or similar shirt sales websites and search for top designs.
  2. Jack the top selling design/message/idea
  3. Go to your designer and have them recreate it and add 24 other variations (note: new accounts have a max of 25 designs, then get bumped to 100 when they make 25 total sales)

That’s it. $100 down isn’t too much to gamble with. As far as those variations go, say there’s a shirt that says “My [dog_breed] is better than your dog”. Insert 25 different dog breeds and boom, you’re appealing to 25 segments of dog lovers.

And then you make some money with your shirts until someone else comes along and jacks your work.

Because people understand that this is the lifecycle, they are only willing to go $5 of less per design. Of course, this mainly applies to those internet marketers and not people using the system for what it was initially intended for.

Fuck creativity, let’s just do the same thing everyone else is doing to make a few dollars before everyone jacks each other’s idea.

I’ll still use it though.

Big dawgs gotta be unique