What the hell is ‘Merch?

What the hell is ‘Merch?

If you have found yourself perusing Amazon.com lately, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t, then you may have noticed that they have a new, nearly hidden, section entitled “Merch by Amazon.”  A fairly innocuous webpage publicizes, “Sell your designs on the world’s largest marketplace with no upfront investment or costs.”  What?  No upfront investment or costs?  Have I stumbled into ecommerce nirvana?  But wait, I have questions.  What designs?  Who prints them?  What can I print them on? Can I print anything?  Does Amazon get a cut of my profits?  Seriously, what the hell is ‘Merch?

OK, so let’s start with the basics – ‘Merch is a new, up and coming, independent entrepreneur seller platform where, for now, anyone can request an invitation to sell their own, unique t-shirt designs on Amazon.  Once accepted, you upload your design, pick the color and type of t-shirt, decide on price, and viola – you’re good to go!  From there, Amazon will create a product page for your new, hip, and totally original t-shirts – and it will go live on Amazon.  Once a shirt is purchased, they will print them on demand and ship them to your eagerly awaiting customers.  They will even handle customer service issues.  All with absolutely no upfront costs.  So cool, right?

What about this invitation thing though, what’s that all about?  In an effort to accommodate the overwhelming number of new sellers, Amazon has initiated an invitation only system that allows them to respond to your invitation when there are available resources to support new sellers.  In short, ‘Merch may be a new Amazon entity, but it is taking off quickly.  Are you really surprised?  Everything Amazon does is ecommerce-a-maz-ing!

I know the real burning question you have – will I make any money?  Did you expect a yes or no response here, really? Listen, if Amazon accepts your invitation to sell and you have a good design concept that people want to buy, then sure, you will make money.  Everything is relative in the land of commerce, and how much money you make depends on too many variables to discuss here.  That cliché, “If you build it, they will come,” seems apropos, “If you design it, they will buy it” – at least that is the hope, right?

The truth is, no one really knows what will sell because trends change practically minute by minute.  If you do find people flocking to purchase your “‘Merch is Sexy” t-shirt (hey, I may have to market that…), then how much will you make per shirt? Amazon is going to get some of your money at some point, right?

The legal mumbo-jumbo.  Let’s throw out a basic legal term – royalties.  Royalties are what you, the designer, get paid after Amazon deducts their costs (materials, printing fee, packaging and shipping).  They also have a standard 15% listing fee to appear on Amazon.  Since you pick your price point (decide on a price for your shirt), how much you make can vary slightly.  Other variables include whether your shirt is printed on both sides or just one and what material (type of t-shirt) you want to print on.  So, if you have a t-shirt priced at $19.99:

  • The listing fee will be $3.00                                                                                                                                                                  
  • Costs will be $9.80 (single side printing on standard material)
  • Which makes your royalties $7.19 per shirt sold.

Is this, then, profit?  Well, yes and no. There are other considerations such as overhead, marketing investments, taxes – yeah,  all those things you need to consider when you sell more than a few t-shirts just for fun.  I suggest we not delve into that right now. However, there will likely be limited overhead in a ‘Merch endeavor.

Can I really print anything I want?  Again, yes and no.  Amazon reserves the right to deny printing of any design that they find offensive – use common sense here:

  • no pornographic, profane, hateful or discriminatory designs or language
  • nothing that that exploits children
  • nothing that capitalizes on a universal tragedy in a negative way

Furthermore, the image cannot violate (get ready, more legal terms) copyright or trademark laws.  Basically, your design must be YOURS, cannot contain a licensed, recognizable or iconic image (think Mickey Mouse) or name (President Trump, I know bummer) without the express written and legal consent of those who own the right to the name or image (and yes, there is legal precedent – not president – regarding “right of publicity” claims for public figures, but let’s gloss over that for now).  In short, if you want to print a shirt with the President’s recognizable face, he has to approve – and not in a Tweet, either.

Now your original design becomes your own intellectual property and it is also protected by these same laws.  This prevents other Amazon sellers from pilfering (fancy name for stealing) your awesome ‘Merch Is Sexy design!  If your design proves to be popular and you want to protect it, you may apply for copyrights and the like.

So far this sounds pretty simple – you have an original design you believe people would love to wear on a t-shirt, you have been accepted to sell on Amazon, you are ready to upload your design and start making your millions selling ‘Merch Is Sexy t-shirts.  Is that it?  Is that really all there is to beginning this ecommerce journey?  Pretty much, yes.

So there you go, the answer to, “What the hell is ‘Merch?” is that it is an awesome start-up opportunity on the world’s largest ecommerce marketplace for creative individuals who want to sell original, imaginative designs printed on t-shirts to eager customers with no upfront investment costs. Seems worth a shot, doesn’t it?  Are you ready to get your ‘Merch on?

The Entrepreneurial Mecca Of Artisan Craft Shows

Do you know what my boyfriend and I did last weekend?  Before you say, “Uh, I do not want to know,” let me preface it with –  we saw a TON of interesting, unique, crafty, artisan handmade items all in one place selling like hotcakes!

What?  Oh, I have your attention now, don’t I?  Thought so.

For the last couple of years, I have noticed a huge uptrend in craft fairs.  Not just the craft fairs of years past, you know where people would sell handmade thread bracelets and badly drawn artwork.  No, these are “artisan craft shows” and these, my entrepreneurial equals, are a much different animal!

Why you ask? 

Well, because these shows have all kinds of homemade products. At this average sized fair, I saw so many creative and cool items. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • custom made jewelry
  • hand carved wooden pen sets
  • custom engraved (on the spot) frames
  • license plate art
  • unique (and may I add, adorable) hand carved wooden dragon wind sculptures that look as if they are flying
  • soaps and shampoos
  • t-shirts and hats
  • personalized books
  • keychains

. . . the list goes on and on and on!  Hell, one guy was even making lamps and clocks out of doll heads and animal skulls!  Hey, if that is your thing, why not?

My point?  People were FLOCKING to buy these items.  I, myself, bought a handmade leather bracelet with these adorable inspirational sayings on them (you pick your own), that I gave to my sister for her birthday!  It was original and affordable and had that special touch.  Perfect for a gift.  In retrospect I should’ve bought myself one too.

And, you know what else?  Many of these folks sell on Etsy, Amazon Merch, Shopify and Folksy too!  How do I know?  ‘Cause they would have a little sign, “See my shop on Etsy” or “Find me on Amazon.”

So, you know what this means, right?  YES!  You can (and SHOULD) consider whether your particular merchandise would appeal to a general and diversified audience, and whether the small fee to rent the space (at this fair it was $100 for 2 days), would be worth the exposure?

The benefits of soliciting at Artisan Craft Shows.  Come on guys and gals, this is a no-brainer.  For serious.  You can meet thousands of people, advertise your wares, get the feedback from your could-be customers, and also promote your other seller platforms.  Plus, you can meet other entrepreneurial peeps and discuss with them their successes, failures, trials and tribulations. It is a unique group of sellers who may know things you do not.  The best way to learn about something is to consult those who are doing it already.

This would be especially good for you if you are new to the business and really haven’t had much customer feedback on your product yet.  Or, if you are unaware of all the places and platforms you could sell.  Artisan craft shows (or, any craft show really) are great places to start out and, as you get bigger, you can hire people to hit the shows for you.

A success story to inspire you.  One guy I was chatting with said that his boss now has 20 employees whose jobs are simply to peddle his hand-carved designer pen and pencil sets at different fairs, malls and craft markets throughout the U.S.  Apparently, he started his business just a few years ago and the demand was so big he had to hire more people.  Even though he sells mostly on Amazon now, he began

on Etsy, then hit the craft fairs.  I asked as to why he would continue to hit the craft show market after becoming so successful and was told that they are a huge source of sales and contacts for his boss.  That some of his largest sales in the beginning came from customers at these craft markets.  So, I guess in a way it is a nod to his early success.

So, there you go!  Straight from the mouth of a success story (or, the employee of a success story).  When you are an entrepreneur you have to experiment with different venues, and seller platforms. You must continue to grow your business.  You have to think larger than your little Etsy shop. Search out people who have experience, or who have learned the best ways to market.  These craft shows are full of free advice as to marketing!

Forget going it on your own, learn to consult others.  Help learn through the mistakes of others.  Because, honestly, when you change your mindset, your business changes in response.


Why Be An Entrepreneur?

It seems like everything in life is a risk.  We choose a career – it’s a risk.  We choose a college – it’s a risk.  We decide to get a job somewhere – it’s a risk.  We choose a mate – it’s a risk.  Deciding to become an entrepreneur is most definitely a risk.  However, for the right-minded person, taking the risk will pay off nicely.  How do you decide if you are willing to take the risk to be an entrepreneur?  Can anyone become one?  Is the risk worth the reward?  I mean seriously, why be an entrepreneur?

Autonomy: It probably seems pretty simple and obvious that the number one reason people become entrepreneurs is to become autonomous – free from outside influences, i.e. bosses and set work hours. Entrepreneurs work for themselves (or perhaps with a partner), but there is no set work day, hours, or mandatory anything.  This is a great draw for many people who tend to be more easy going or who have a hard time with following another person’s schedule.

Being autonomous is not synonymous with having no responsibility. Quite the contrary in fact.  Entrepreneurs have a TON of responsibility – ALL of the responsibility – for their business venture.  However, for many people, being able to do work when they are prepared, instead of during a standard work day or work week, is very freeing.  So, if you tend to work well on your own schedule, can stay on task, are really good at self-monitoring and self-pacing, then you may be a successful entrepreneur.

Quality of life:  Something that often goes hand-in-hand with autonomy is quality of life.  When we assess quality of life we often think of a few factors:

  • Time to spend with loved ones
  • Monetary comfort
  • Happiness in current situation (employment)

Generally speaking, being an entrepreneur provides greater freedom when it comes to spending time with loved ones.  Because you can schedule your life the way you wish, this time can be better allocated.  Vacations and weekends can be free if you wish.  Now, keep in mind that sometimes being an entrepreneur can mean MORE work.  In fact, you often will work harder and longer than in a standard employment.  However, there will be many more opportunities to dial down as the success grows.  Monetary comfort is also something that may take some time to grow.  No one wants to start a business venture and end up in the poor house, but it can happen.  More often, however, monetary comfort will be attained.  All of these tie in to general happiness.  Entrepreneurs are responsible for their own health and happiness, doing or not doing what they want.  This leads to overall greater quality of life.

Get out of a rut:  Get up.  Take a shower.  Drop off the kids.  Go to get coffee.  Get to the office. Answer e-mails.  Have a staff meeting.  Do your work.  Go to lunch.  Answer more e-mails. Go to another meeting.  Finish the day.  Go home.  Rinse and repeat.  Standards jobs are often very monotonous.  Monotony works well for some people.  Some people like predictability. Some people need that structure.  However, many people feel like a zombie walking through life with no change – as they are on a track or in a rut.  Entrepreneurs often have a great bit of variety in their lives.  Yes, they have to answer e-mails and have meetings and take care of their business.  However, they have that flexibility to change up the routine if they need to.

When we are bored in our jobs we tend to not be as successful of an employee.  This is scientifically proven.  Having variety in our day, even slightly, often gives us a much-needed creativity boost.  Being in a rut is a death sentence a day at a time – whereas, being an entrepreneur often ends that “in a rut” mentality.  It is new, fresh, and unique!

Direct Impact: Being only one cog in the machine is not as satisfying as realizing that your actions, ideas or decisions have a direct impact on the company.  This is a great responsibility, because the impact can be positive or negative. However, most times with jobs we do not know if we have any impact at all on our company, as we are just one of many.  There are exceptions to this, of course, but overall people lean toward entrepreneurship because they want to know without a doubt that they are making a difference through their actions.

Not only this but some entrepreneurs want to make an impact through their ideas, products and companies.  They may have this grand plan to make the world a better place.  As “Miss. USA” as this sounds, some people really do have visions of how to impact the world, and they start their entrepreneurial endeavors to bring this to fruition.  The best entrepreneurs want to take the responsibility of success or failure, while doing something worthwhile.

Creativity doesn’t mesh with corporate life:  My Mom used to tell me that I, “March to the beat of a different drummer, and in fact I play all the instruments.”  It was her motherly way of saying that I was a creative person that didn’t want to follow the masses.  She is right (as always, Moms are always so smart.)  I am a creative person by nature and I do have a way of looking at things that is unique to me. I am not always good at following the instructions of people, and I much prefer my own creative outlets to what I am told I MUST do.

Creative types often do not do well in corporate situations.  Oh sure, there are exceptions to this, as there is for most things, but in general, creative, free-thinkers make great entrepreneurs.  Not only are they successful, but they often feel this calling to leave the corporate world behind to do something “better” or “more fulfilling” with their lives.  I’m telling you it is true!  I went to law school (I am not a lawyer).  I am drawn to creative outlets, flexibility, and knowing I am making a difference somewhere.   Damnit Mom, you are always so right!

Of course, there are more reasons to become an entrepreneur – or why you may be drawn to it – but these are the most often cited reasons why people have left the standard job and have branched out on their own.  So, the question is, is entrepreneurship calling to you?  Or, are you happy with the same ole?


Ingenious Ideas – How To Come Up With Creative Ideas For Your Merch Shirts or Products (Part III)

By now our discussion of how to search out creative ideas should have furnished those creatively-impaired entrepreneurs with at least a few ideas on how to search out or expand creative ideas to design your products.  The internet is an expansive resource for researching and sparking ideas.  I mean, hey, if you are reading this you are already on the right track!  So far I have discussed how to spark creative ideas by finding a niche or a hobby as well as specific trades.  What else is there?

Verticals, of course.  What?  Don’t know what a vertical is?  Lemme tell ya.  When a merchant deals in verticals it basically means that the products or services serve the specialized needs that are tightly focused toward one industry. So, sort of like a niche and a trade at the same time, except they concentrate on platforms that are very closely related to a specific industry and those who cater to that industry.  For example, an entrepreneur may provide a variety of specialized products that serve only freelance writers.  The company itself would be geared toward providing any number of wares for this market only, such as t-shirts, mugs, computer bags, computer software – anything that would be relevant to a freelance writer.

I know what you are thinking.  But if I only concentrate on one industry, aren’t I limitting the potential to appeal to a many different groups and make more money?

The long and short of it is, when you are concentrating on one industry, you end up giving yourself a “name” in the industry for having products that those in that industry love and appreciate. It also helps to focus your thoughts and ideas to one industry, thereby usually making the creativity process much simpler.  How?  Well, if you are only going to provide products for freelance writers then you only have to come up with sayings, or artistic designs, or products that would appeal to freelance writers.

Perhaps you have some witty or clever sayings that you think a freelance writer would love.  For example, as a writer I could definitely appreciate a shirt that reads:  ON THE 8TH DAY GOD CREATED WRITERS.  It appeals to me in my trade.  If I liked a company that made this shirt I would be apt to check out other offerings that they may have, such as mugs or hoodies. By catering to a particular industry, you gain allegiance from those in the industry.  You can better focus your ideas and attention instead of trying to make one design work for every profession or industry.  I am sure you have seen the same boilerplate shirt that just changes the occupation – doctor, nurse, firefighter.  What is the fun in that?  I want something that really speaks to me in my industry!

If you are personally a part of the profession for which you are designing products, you may have a bit of an edge because you are more likely to know the lingo, the imagery, the tools of the trade, and the inside jokes.  For example, if you are a CPA by trade, and you want to have a little Amazon Merch biz on the side, you would be better able to design shirts with clever sayings that relate to all things accounting.  Many of these sayings may not be understood by non-CPA people.  But, that is the joy of staying in your vertical – you only have to appeal to the one industry.

What if you are not part of the industry, but believe that you want to cater to that industry.  For example, the death care industry.  Funeral directors, morticians, cemetery workers, funeral cosmetologists – these people are definitely in a specialized industry.  But if you are not, how do you know what will appeal to them?


Again, the internet is a wonderful place.  You can Google key phrases, trends, products, industry terminology.  You can look into specialized magazines or newsletters that cater to that industry to find what products are already being offered.  You can ask those in the industry what they would like to see in products.  While you do not want to copy other ideas, many times you can get a creative offshoot by seeing what is already out there. People who are passionate about their career are also very interested in the merchandise that caters to their career choice.

There you go!  3 installments designed to help you design better and more creative products for your Amazon Merch (or similar) entrepreneurial business.  Just remember, it is not easy to be creative and we all need a little inspiration from time to time.  If you decide to cater to a specific industry, then research the living hell outta it and find all the specialized niches that you can to make the most of your merchandise offerings.  After all, everybody knows that coffee tastes better in a mug with a clever saying that relates to your career printed on it.


Ingenious Ideas – How To Come Up With Creative Ideas For Your Merch Shirts or Products (Part II)

For many entrepreneurs who deal with designing products for the public, the biggest roadblock many seem to encounter is finding the next creative idea. Perhaps you have had a few good ideas, they have sold really well, but now you want to branch out and find other ideas to expand your business.  Or, conversely, maybe the ideas and designs you have had thus far have been total bombs and you are desperate to find a winner!  Either way, many merchers struggle to be creative.  Let’s face it, it is hard to come up with ideas and even harder to come up with ideas that no one else has come up with already!  So, here is the second installment of this topic – and hopefully this will help you spark your creative side!

Hone in on hobbies:  People take their hobbies EXTREMELY seriously.  Hobbies can be anything from reading to horseback riding to crafing to fishing to hunting.  A person who is serious about their hobby will naturally be drawn to merchandise that showcases that hobby.  For example, a fisherman who is serious about his fishing may find a shirt that reads:  MILF – Man, I Love Fishing, to be a real hoot!  Not to mention those who love this fisherman in their life may find this to be the perfect gift for him as well.  Some things you may not even find to be a “hobby” like going to the beach, but for some people this is a huge part of their lives, so it becomes a hobby.  Then, how do you find what hobbies are new, popular or up and coming?  Google of course!  If you search for “popular hobbies” you can search these sites which list them:

There are countless others, and you can search by gender (hobbies for women) or by age (hobbies for retired people).  The idea is to find ideas for things that are popular and then gear your products to fit those criteria.

Know your niche:  Perhaps you have a particular niche in which you know a lot about the subject and can craft designs specific to that niche.  For example, if you are a crocheter you may understand the lingo and and puns that go along with this niche.  Yes, this is a hobby, but when you take a hobby and hone in one specific lingo it makes it more specific to that group of persons who share the niche.  A great niche is people who share a certain career or academic following.  A literary niche, for example, will provide quotes and plays on words that are related to the specific niche of those who are knowledgeable in this area.  Or, may have the imagery of a favorite author or book, twisted around in a funny way. For example, Edgar Allan Poe, a very popular author with a lot of devote followers, may find a shirt that has Poe saying: “I’m just a Poe boy and nobody loves me” while his iconic raven responds, “He’s just a Poe boy from a Poe family.” (which is, already, Trademarked of course) This is a hilarious little pun for anyone who loves literature and Poe specifically.  So, if you have a niche use that to your fullest potential and advantage and play off of it.  If you do not have a niche, then perhaps employ the ideas of someone who does.  For example, if you have a favorite aunt who is a math professor, perhaps ask her about some equations or clever math-related sayings that would appeal to her and those in her niche.  Think about Googling things like “Literary Quotes” or “Literary Puns” or “Things Mechanics Say” and see what a wealth of ideas will pop up:

Thinking Trade shows:  All of these categories (hobbies, niches, trades) are very closely related, but yet different enough to offer you a wealth of resources for searching out ideas.  Trade shows are like a mixture of niche and hobby in that the people who attend can be in the profession or interested in the profession. Trade shows cater to people in a particular field (such as funeral and burial, food service, computers, tattoo artists, electronics, video games) and they have products for those fields.  This would not only be a great place to find ideas, but also a great place to either do product research on what these people find interesting or amusing or to eventually sell your products which are specific to this genre.  In order to find these trade shows we turn to our friend Google once again.  Here is a basic list (and you can hone this in more by putting in specific keywords for the industry such as ‘food service trade shows.’

Attending these trade shows will give you many ideas and definitely help spark creativity.  There are endless market possibilities here for sure.  In the final installment of our creative ideas series I will discuss verticals.  Now, aren’t you intrigued?

Ingenious Ideas – How To Come Up With Creative Ideas For Your Merch Shirts or Products (Part I)

Are you a creative person?  Do ideas simply fall into your mind? Are you able to think of cute, funny, clever, witty or sarcastic sayings that instantly take hold with the general public?  Are you the kind of person who can design new “characters” or know how to pair up an adorable stock picture of a fox wearing boxer shorts with a witty saying that just makes sense?

Yes?  Good for you, I have nothing left to show you.  Go forth and be creative, you God or Goddess of creativity.

No?  Dude, you are so screwed.

Just kidding.  Most people are not going to answer “yes” because even if you are a creative person, there is probably a limit to your creative abilities, meaning, you do need new inspirations and ideas to continue the creative processes.  So, where do you find ideas?  How do you know what is currently on trend?  There is a lot to say on this topic, so let’s get started!


Stalk other Merch sellers.  Yes, the idea is to design your own Merch shirts or products and not pilfer (i.e. steal) ideas from other sellers, BUT, you can see what is new and popular by doing a bit of research, which involves stalking your fellow Merchers.  If you want to see what the newest designs are, follow these instructions:

  • Go to Amazon.com and click on “Clothing, Shoes, Jewelry” in the drop down menu by search bar
  • Then type in “Newest Arrivals” in the search bar
  • Then the Amazon Fashion page comes up; look on the left side for the sub-menu option and choose “Novelty & More”
  • Then choose “Newest Arrivals” in the “sort by” drop down option on the upper right side

Now you can look through the shirt designs that have recently been put on Amazon and see what seems to be the new up and coming trend.  You can filter by seller too, and then view their Amazon store (or stores) as well, so if you know that “HotShirts” has designs that sell well you can look there.

Keep in mind the idea is not to steal another Mercher’s idea, but to spark your own creative juices.  By seeing what is new and out there you may find a creative vein all your own.  Plus, you can also see if any ideas you already have are close to the ones being sold.

Search the Net.  We live in a world where we can Google ANYTHING and get millions of hits. There are also thousands of websites that sell t-shirts. You can Google “Popular T-Shirts” and you can explore sites like “Spreadshirts” or “MoTee” or “CafePress” and see what shirts are popular there.  You can usually search by different categories, such as “Witty Sayings” or “Political Views” so if you have ideas that are specific to a category, you can search those categories to see how your ideas align.  Many of these sites have other products too (mugs, sweatshirts, pillows, etc.) with designs as well, so you can explore the general designs and perhaps get an idea for your own products.

Testing Trends.  A trend is something that gains popularity, but then usually this popularity dies out.  Trends can last days, weeks, months or years, but they usually do not last forever.  To check current trends in words or images you can search Google Trends.  You can then search via the different search subjects and see what is or was popular per category.  For example, in 2017 the following were hot:

  • MoviesIT, Wonder Woman and Justice League were hot
  • Memes – “Cash Me Outside,” and “United Airlines” memes were hot
  • TV ShowsStranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, Game of Thrones
  • Actors – Meghan Markle, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K.

Then, you can perhaps find a creative way to link a popular movie, TV show or actor with your designs as these seem to be the hot trends this year.  Keep in mind that trends change very quickly and sometimes a trend is based on a “not so nice” reason, such as Kevin Spacey making it to the top trends because of sexual assault accusations. You may not want to use good ole’ Kevin on a shirt without knowing WHY he is so popular at the moment.

These are just the first few ideas on how you can begin to spark your creative juices, while seeing what is already out there (and there is A TON of product out there) and what is hot and what is not.  You may also be very surprised to find that what you personally find stupid or not amusing is very popular with the general public.  For example, I am absolutely horrified by that “Cash Me Outside” girl’s popularity and fame that is basically built on the back of her blatant ignorance and lack of respect for, well, anything.  Yet, her merchandise sold like hotcakes making that little insolent girl very wealthy, just for saying a non-grammatical sentence on a TV show.  Who knew!

Check back for the next installment to see what other ways there are to spark your creativitity!  I guess I will “Cash You Next Time.”





Monetary Maximums – How To Maximize Profits By Minimizing Costs (Part III)

So here we are at the third installment of how to be a successful entrepreneur by maximizing profits while minimizing costs.  E-commerce is such a wonderful avenue for selling products because it already comes with built in savings.  Meaning, doing business virtually will save on some pretty obvious expenses.  However, there are also many ways an e-commerce business can experience losses – and these losses eat into profits.  Minimizing losses by making smart choices is a great way to minimize those costs, and maximize revenue.

In e-commerce there is no need for an actual brick-and-mortar store in which to peddle your wares so there is no rent, upkeep, insurance, interior design needs, and no theft.  Or is there?  If you do not have an actual store, how do you experience theft?

You can experience loss through theft even in an e-commerce environment, and that is an expense that you can totally avoid, or at least minimize.  All businesses lose a substantial amount of revenue through shrinkage (fancy-dancy word for lost inventory / money due to theft).  In fact, last year shoplifting alone created a $48.9 billion dollar loss among retailers. [1]  So, just not having to deal with that saves e-commerce folks crap tons of moola!  But, you are not exempt my friend.

Huh?  Is there virtual shoplifting?  No, but yes.  Confused?  Me too.  Let’s clear that up.

STOPPING SHRINKAGE.  First, depending on the size of your business, there may be a need for employees to help make the products, and where there are employees there is a possibility of theft.  In an ideal world we would have only our nearest and dearest making our products.  Aunt Betty would sew, your Grandma would bedazzle and your bestie would do all the packaging and not one person would steal even a button from you.  Sigh.  We do not live in that world unfortunately, so we need to find and use employees that we can trust.

Furthermore, if you need to store your wares, pick a place that is reputable, such as Amazon FBA for example.  If you go someplace else it is possible to lose some inventory there via theft.  In short, where there are people besides yourself handling your product there is always the possibility for theft.  So, the golden rule with e-commerce is to only have people whom you trust handling your inventory.  Research your storage and fulfillment providers, make sure those who are making your products are reputable and not some shady, back-of-a-dark-alley type set-up.  Shrinkage is a totally avoidable expense in e-commerce.  Choose wisely.

SENSING SEM (SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING) SCAMMERS.  Unfortunately, shoplifters and employee theft is not the only place you can possibly encounter shady people in e-commerce. There are many fake and untrustworthy marketers out there claiming to advertise your business and they simply don’t deliver.  Depending on the size of your business, marketing outside of social media and your friend network may be a good idea.  However, you need to be able to sense the scammers.  If you are contemplating hiring a marketing firm to increase your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) ranking; meaning, you want more hits on your seller pages than for other comparable product pages, then you need to be diligent in your hiring.  Search engine statistics are extremely important for e-commerce, but if you do not have a marketing company that delivers, then you are just throwing money out the door.

CURSING THE CHARGEBACKS.  Unfortunately, businesses experience chargebacks – which are when a consumer requests a refund on their credit card for a purchase that they contend is fraudulent, never received, or received damage and no refund is offered.  There is no real way to completely avoid chargebacks, but being prepared for them and having a strategy to minimize them is very important for e-commerce business owners.  Here are some ways to cut down on the chance of experiencing chargebacks:

  • Have your business name on appear on the receipts / PayPal transactions. Most people will check their banking or credit card statements to see where there money has gone. If your business name doesn’t appear on the statement, or if there is some weird acronym for your business that is not identifiable to the consumer, this can send them running to call the 1-800-you-took-my-money hotline. Having a clearly identified name appear on all transaction records is an easy fix to eliminate those mistaken fraud claims.
  • You gotta have customer service. The first thing a consumer is going to do if they have an issue with a product, haven’t received a product, or have a question about billing is to try and contact the company where they bought the product.  If there is no phone number, e-mail address or any other way to contact you then what will they do?  Yup, exactly, they will be hitting the 1-800 line again and you will have another chargeback.  Always have a customer service network in place.    Your customers are your life in any business.
  • Be willing to accept returns. Listen, no one wants to offer a refund.  No one.  The idea is to sell, not to sell and take back. It is a hassle and it is discouraging to have someone want to return an item.  So, the temptation is to say NO REFUNDS.  However, what happens when a customer legitimately gets a defective item?  What happens when their ‘Merch is Sexy’ T-shirt comes and it says, ‘Lurch is Sexy?’  Is this what they ordered?    Should they get what they ordered?  Yes.  If you offer returns and exchanges you will make your customer feel at ease and they will be more likely to shop with you again, even if they have a defective product.  But, if you do not offer returns then they will be dialing that 1-800 number to get their chargeback faster than you can blink.  Return policies are a good thing.  Trust me.

So there you have it.  The 3rd and final installment of how to minimize costs to maximize profits – and this one was all about how to avoid unecessary losses due to shrinkage, fake marketters and chargebacks.  Sometimes the best thing you can do for your business is to prepare for the worst.

[1] Reiley, K. (2017).  Time Online. Retrieved from: http://time.com/money/4829684/shoplifting-fraud-retail-survey/

Monetary Maximums – How To Maximize Profits By Minimizing Costs (Part II)

When it comes to being a successful entrepreneur, one of the gauges of success is how much profit you are bringing in.  Sure, it is cool to say, “I have an online business selling widgets” or “You can buy my awesome new ‘Merch is Sexy’ shirts on Amazon.com” but, it is even BETTER to be able to say, “Last month I had a net profit of $3,000!”

Yeah, that’s where it’s at – MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY – MON-AY!


So again, what is the formula regarding profit:

Revenue (sales) – Costs (expenses for production) – taxes = net profit

It is pretty easy math, actually, even for someone who is not at all math-minded like myself.  The less costs impact your revenue the more money you will profit.  In part I of this blog we explored a few ways to keep costs down, but there are more yet to explore.  It is always smart to re-evaluate your business and to make the appropriate adjustments when necessary.  Otherwise your business may be generating a fraction of the profit it could be.  We don’t want that, we want to maximize profits!

So, what are some other ways you can cut expenses with your e-commerce business?  Let’s explore some more. . .and yes, there is going to be a Part III to this series . . .

BE A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY:  Social media is a HUGE, free resource!  Think about the millions of people who are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat to name the big platforms.   Each and every day, these people are an untapped resource of free advertising for your e- commerce shop!  No matter where you are selling your items (Amazon Merch, Etsy, Shopify) you can still advertise for free on these social media sites!  Have a Facebook page for your e-commerce business and link to your online store. Link your private Facebook account to your business account. Send Facebook invites to show people your new items.  Put up pictures of your designs and items and get feedback from a whole host of people for free.

In case you didn’t know, free = no cost to you = ideal!  Use free when you can!

Listen, social media is a great resource for getting free (yes, there is that word again) target testing to see what people like and what they hate.  You can run contests, offer free samples and even link to all the different e-commerce platforms where you sell.   Instagram can be used to draw people into learning more about your business by posting pictures of your products or people wearing / using them.  Twitter can spread news of your business like wildfire!  One tweet can be re-tweeted hundreds or thousands of times, reaching new people all over the world. Advertising is a HUGE part of costs and this is a fantastic way to cut way down on them because it is, well, FREE!

INVESTIGATE INVENTORY INVESTMENTS:  It stands to reason that if you are carrying more inventory than you are selling that your surplus inventory becomes wasted profit.  When you use Amazon Merch as a seller platform you do not risk excess inventory because Amazon prints your shirts to order.  However, if you have a product that requires manufacturing, or, requires you to invest in materials to make the products, it is advisable not to have too much inventory in stock (nor too much material).  No one can guarantee how long something will be a hot item, so just because you sold an unprecedented amount of a product last month, this does not guarantee that it will be so every month after.  As much as I would love to tell you that it would be so.

For example, remember last year’s Hatchimal craze?  You literally could not get one anywhere.  Stores were given a small number of them and people were going cray-cray trying to get their  hands on just one.  Now you can find 20 of them just sitting around in random stores.  Why?  The craze doesn’t last forever.  Trends come and go – and sometimes come back again – but they are rarely consistent.  Therefore, it is better to sell out all your stock then to have a warehouse full of product that no one wants any longer.

I know, you are talking to your computer screen right now, “But if I sell out, and people want my product, then am I not missing out on that money?

Let me answer by just reminding you of our Hatchimal example.  Do you think that the parents of the kids who wanted those ridiculous items just gave up when their local Target didn’t have them?  HELL NO!  They got on waiting lists and waited and searched until they could get theirs.  If you have a product that people want, they will wait a fair amount of time to have it.

PERFECT PACKAGING:  Have you ever ordered something, let’s say a mug, and it comes in a box that a microwave would fit in?  It is packed in the middle of this HUGE box with enough bubble wrap and those little packing peanuts to fill 20 “mug-sized” boxes.  This is literally money just flying out of your bank account!  Those peanuts do not cost peanuts (bad pun?) and they will eat up your profit.  Yes, you want to ship your product securely so that it doesn’t break.  However, if you spend $15 dollars to ship it (box, packaging, cost for the larger / heavier box to be shipped) when you could have spent $6 dollars, well, that is $9 of profit you just pissed away.  If you combine this with the smart shipping ideas from the previous blog, you may actually save even more than you thought!  Being smart about your packaging and shipping will keep your costs low.

Thoughts for next time . . . ask yourself, “am I using the free resource of social media to my fullest advantage?  Am I overzealous with my inventory?  What about how I package my items?  Am I over bubble wrapping my t-shirt . . . wait, why am I bubble wrapping a t-shirt?”  It is time to take a long look at every aspect of your e-commerce business and scrutinize your expenses!






Monetary Maximums – How To Maximize Profits By Minimizing Costs (Part I)

Everyone understands that the reason to start up an e-commerce business is to make money!  How do you make money? Well, as we learned on our numbers blog, you make money having sales that exceed your costs (expenses) and taxes.  In short:

Revenue (sales) – Costs (expenses for production) – taxes = net profit

Every entrepreneur is going to encounter some sort of expenses, especially as your e-commerce business grows. Sure, with Amazon Merch the expenses are deducted right from your royalties so you have literally no upfront costs to begin.  However, this does not take into account any of the software you need to design your shirts, nor the accounting software you most definitely need to stay on top of your business.  Plus, as you tier up (meaning, you are designing more and more shirts) the likelihood that you will be working alone is pretty slim.   Therefore, you will then have to factor in paying people to help you design.  These things add up and the more successful you become, the more you will likely spend on expenses to make your business larger and more profitable.  Ideally, you will want to branch out to other e-commerce platforms which will undoubtedly raise your expenses.

So, then, how do you minimize these costs in order to be more profitable?  Do you just stay small and keep the overhead low?  Do you forgo exploring other e-commerce platforms and just be happy with your little Amazon Merch shirt biz (or your little Etsy shop)?

NO!  What are you daft?

Listen, you want to be an e-commerce success story, right?  You want your designs or merchandise selling like hotcakes.  You don’t want to settle for measly pennies when you can possibly be making major bank!  So to do this you have to invest more to make more.  One of the major rules of business.  However, you want to be smart about it and learn some ways to minimize costs. This is a rather large topic, actually, so we will do it in a two part discussion in order to give full attention to all the ways to cut your expenses.

So, let us begin . . .

INVESTIGATE E-COMMERCE PLATFORM COSTS:  We live in a virtual world and we are all virtual girls (and guys) *song reference probably lost on many* and as such there are tons of e-commerce platforms out there to explore. Not all platforms offer the same benefits and some are more pricey to use than others.  Let’s take for an example Shopify vs. Etsy.

Shopify has a monthly charge depending on which seller tier you choose.  I will provide middle level tier information for this example.  Etsy does not have different tiers.


Monthly fee:  $79 / month

Listing fee: none

Transaction fee:  none

Credit card rates:  2.6% + .30

Shopify payment service – free

Other payment gateways – 1.0%

Shipping discount (better with each tier)


Monthly fee:  none

Listing fee: .20 per item

Transaction fee:  3.5%

Credit card rates: 3% + .25

Etsy payment service – free

Other payment gateways – free

Shipping discount – none

So, which is the better option?  It is not simple to decide without knowing (1) how many products you plan to sell (2) how you want to accept payments (3) what other services you may need to back up your business (4) how you plan to ship and how expensive the items are to ship.

Choosing Etsy may cut your costs, specifically if you prefer to accept PayPal or check by mail payments.  However, when you delve more deeply into the different offerings, even though Shopify may have a $79 / month fee they do offer many services which Etsy does not, such as seller protection through all payment sources, not just Shopify payments, and abandoned cart protection (helps to maintain accurate records for inventory).  Plus, those listing fees, although minimal, can add up if you are going to list many different products.

The goal is to analyze all the spending you are doing with your current seller platform and decide if there is a better, more economical (notice, not “cheaper”) seller platform that may better fit your business needs.  Look at all the things offered and decide which are essential and which you maybe are paying for but never use.  Make the most informed decision for your specific needs.

ALWAYS LOOK FOR DISCOUNTS:  Depending on what type of business you have, you may have to get your products or materials from a vendor or manufacturer.  Sometimes these vendors offer pre-payment or early payment discounts.  In fact, almost any service you may need for your business may offer some sort of discount, including artisans (people such as designers or marketing experts).  Perhaps you are hand-making a product and have to order a certain material in bulk.  Bulk buy discounts are very common and while they may only be 2%, if you know you are going to need the material, it is worth the money.  Now, be wary not to just go hog-wild and buy up everything in anticipation of selling all your products, this would be gambling in a non-economical manner.  However, if you are ordering materials for products already sold, then hell yes get your discount on!

FIND WAYS TO SAVE ON SHIPPING / STORAGE:  If you happen to have a lot of product that you need to store and ship it may be wise to look into a program like Amazon FBA.  Since they store your product and ship it when purchased, this is a great way to take the sting out of the price here.  Or, as referenced above with the Shopify example, some seller platforms have agreements with UPS, USPS, FedEx or DHL to offer discounted shipping for members. And, Shopify also subcontracts with Amazon FBA as well.  Finding those little discounts with shipping can end up in massive savings, especially if you are just standard shipping your items to your customers.  If your seller platform does not currently offer a shipping discount, and you are noticing a bulk of your expenses are from shipping, you may consider changing seller platforms in order to cut those costs.

We are only just beginning to delve into the world of expenses…stay tuned for more on this subject and in the meantime, here is some homework:


What pros and cons are associated with your seller platform?  Is there one that may be better suited for you?  Where are you spending the most money as to expenses on this platform?

Remember, it is your job to find the best fit for your business.  Never be afraid to change or sample others.

Enthusiastic Entrepreneurs Part II – Think It, Do It, Be It – How To Become A Successful Entrepreneur

There are 3 types of entrepreneurs:

NOT-SUCCESSFUL: Seems obvious but many entrepreneurs will fall flat on their faces and give up the entrepreneurial gig. The thing about these types of entrepreneurs is, there is a reason that they have failed. No, really, there is. Failure doesn’t just happen, nor does success. They are not taking their businesses seriously, not learning from their mistakes, not utilizing all the resources available to them, or are sort of half-assing their efforts. There are few things in this world that are just instantly successful. Determination and drive (as well as being willing to fail and to try again) are characteristics of successful people and successful entrepreneurs. Every failure is a lesson learned and each new attempt should bring you closer to success.

SEMI-SUCCESSFUL: This type of entrepreneur has experienced some success and has turned an average profit and is happy with it, but doesn’t really go beyond this initial success. They stay trapped in a bubble of comfort, perhaps not expanding to other seller platforms or adapting their designs / products to maximize sales. They do not advertise or utilize social media and they fail to explore other avenues in which to grow their business. They are likely breaking even or making a very modest profit, and are not re-investing this into other ideas or avenues for their business. They are, in short, just satisfied with being average. If they continued to brainstorm, rethink, re-invest and think larger they would likely become more successful. However, they are just happy driving in the middle lane of entrepreneurial success while others pass them by.

SUCCESSFUL: This type of entrepreneur is always thinking, planning, revising, always maximizing opportunities, and turning a profit. Continuously utilizing all the tricks of the trade and remembering to be apprised of – and ready to adapt to – new trends in an effort to stay current of what e-commerce consumers want. These types of entrepreneurs advertise heavily wherever possible, and definitely make the most of our digital world and social media outlets. They sell their products on a variety of seller platforms in order to extend customer base, and they cautiously pursue expanding their business. They utilize some profits by re-investing in their business or exploring new ones. They are super star entrepreneurs.

So, the question is: which type of entrepreneur do YOU want to be?

If the answer is “not successful” then why are you here? Go. Go now. I’m serious. There is nothing for you to learn here. I cannot help you. Loser. Oh crap, did I write that out loud? My bad. Sorry. No, sorry not sorry! #sorrynotsorry Why in the world do you want to be anything less than successful? No one truly wants to be less than successful, it just happens through lack of effort and drive.

So, obviously, if you have stumbled upon this blog you are attempting to be successful and to try to find ways to do that. Yay! That is what I want to hear. You may stay and, hopefully, learn. Good for you. #yougoyou

OK, so, what are some key ways to be that successful and enthusiastic entrepreneur?

THE 3 Ts – Test, Track and Tweak. Being successful in e-commerce (or, anywhere really) requires adaptability. The world is in a constant state of flux with trends changing literally daily. Social media makes these normal changes in trends much faster because of the rapid infusing of public opinion on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to name a few. So, it is instrumentally important to first test your product / design with targeted audiences, to track results over time to see if your desired product / design stays popular and to tweak the designs / products as needed. In fact, sometimes a design or product needs to be eliminate all together because it is just not hitting the mark as needed.

THE 2 Ss – STICK OR STOP. Many times in life we have a decision to make on whether to stick or stop. For example, if you invest in the stock market, each day you have the choice on whether to keep or sell your stock. When you play BlackJack you have a choice on whether to stick or take another card. Being an e-commerce entrepreneur is much the same, you have to be able to realize when to stick with a product / design or when to give up. Sometimes you need to start all over with a new product or design, and sometimes you just need to be a little patient and wait for the sales. Figuring out the right move can be one of the hardest things to learn as a new entrepreneur.

THE 1 E – EXPAND. Probably the most important thing that separates the semi-successful entrepreneur from the super successful entrepreneur is the willingness and ability to expand their business. Sticking to one seller platform and never experimenting with others is a self-limitting decision. Yes, it can be scary to have more than one ball in the air and to have to maintain the different seller sites, but, if you are smart about which you choose and how much you expand at a time, being wary to not go TOO fast, then you are sure to experience more success. Plus, finding a niche and the appropriate seller platforms to support this will help you to expand successfully.

LASTLY, LEARN. Everything in life is a lesson, and often it is our failures or the times when we are not as successful that teach us the greatest lessons. In e-commerce there is a huge learning curve and the most successful entrepreneurs know how to pay attention to the lessons that failure teaches. When you market a product or design that you think is a sure hit, but it is a total and utter flop, you should set your sights on finding out why it was a flop. Was it the design? The wording? The color? Did it sell hot for a while, then die? Do some more target testing to see what suggestions may be out there to improve the product. Similarly, if something sells really well try to figure out how you can adapt and change it to perhaps find another product or design that would be equally successful. We never stop learning nor do we ever learn it all.

When you decide to invest your time and money into a business it is always your hope that it becomes successful and financially sound. What everyone needs to remember is that success starts and ends with YOU. You make the conscious choice on how seriously you are going to take your success and if you are going to strive for greatness or be happy with being average. So, think it, do it, be it – SUCCESSFUL.

E-Commerce Nation – Exploring Other Seller Platforms and Finding Your Niche

We can no longer deny what is happening to our world – everything is going online!  We have online everything – colleges, shopping, movie rentals, grocery shopping, even virtual doctor visits are the way of the world today. Like it or not, e-commerce marketplaces are going to be where we do our shopping more and more until brick and mortar shops are the eyesores of the retail world.  Think about bookstores, nearly instinct – Barnes and Noble and BAM books being the exception – Nook and Kindle killed their prosperity.  This, personally, saddens me, but it is the advancement of technology. Most educational institutions will be moving to e-book only formats within the next 5 years and online classes will soon replace in-seat classes.  My point?  E-Commerce seller platforms are taking over the retail world, so if you have an online business you need to get to know these platforms in order to increase your business opportunities and expand the places where you sell your merchandise!                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Currently, there are 29 known e-commerce seller platforms: eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, WooCommerce, Weebly, Zibbet, Selz, LemonStand, Tictail, Squarespace, Cratejoy, Symphony Commerce, Magento, Alibaba, Jet, Ebid, Bonanza, Depop, Folksy, Rakuten, Vide Dressing, FlipKart, eCrater, Big Cartel, Style Lend, and CustomMade.

Niche platforms are for selling specific types of products – for example, Vide Dressing deals with high-end fashion only, or Cratejoy which is for designer “crates” (the new trend where you get a crate full of specialty or themed products, usually sent as gifts).  Therefore, if you have a specific “niche” product, you should look for these types of seller platforms. 

Certain sites specialize in handmade items, Zibbet and Etsy are the two most notable ones, that tout handmade or original-designed items of a more artistic nature.  Similarly, Folksy is the U.K.’s Etsy, and will hopefully soon be branching out into the U.S.  CustomMade is handmade jewelry, leatherwork or woodworking, so slightly narrower as to the types of items available to sell.  So, if you are a crafty person with a unique take on something handmade, you may want to explore these avenues.

Social media and e-commerce are inexplicitly linked, and some seller sites are capitalizing on this big time.  For example, BigCartel is for the artistic “hipster” who has a huge social media following, and they tout that they cater to the special needs of sellers with an “artistic edge.”  Depop is unique in that it is more mobile-friendly and allows you to sell via a variety of social media sites with their online app in which you take pictures of your wares and then sell them across many social media sources at once.  Social media may save the world!                          

A new and emerging platform is the “rent-for-fee” e-commerce site.  These sites, like StyleLend, allow you to charge to rent a dress, shoes, and accessories for a fee for a short rental period; think, Bag, Borrow or Steal, the site that allows you to rent designer handbags (and later purchase them) for a fee.  This takes e-commerce to a different level, as you are not always “making” anything, just renting items you may already have, or that you buy specifically to rent, therefore making back the money you spent on the original item at a profit.  Totally ingenious idea.

Some platforms are not based in the United States, but instead are run in foreign countries, so if you are expanding to other markets, these would be good options to explore.  Alibaba is the Chinese version of Amazon (starting to branch out to the United States) and they sell goods AND services as well.  Similarly, FlipKart is India’s leading marketplace and it is huge! So, if you are really looking to expand your e-commerce offerings, consider looking into these platforms as well.

To be a successful entrepreneur it is absolutely essential that you not limit yourself.  Sure, you have to start slowly and build your business, and also remember that it is never a good idea to jump into more than you can handle.  However, being apprised of the various e-commerce seller platforms is an important part of being successful. Depending on your specific products, there may be a perfect platform to sell your items that is currently undiscovered to you.  Or, you can think about selling your items on more than one platform – a general platform like Amazon FBA along with a more tailored platform like Etsy – therefore doubling up your chances to sell your products.

Think of your business like a garden:

Let’s say you have 3 plots of land in your yard.  One plot is shady, gets barely any sun; the second plot is half sunny, but there are roots from a large tree that may make planting difficult; the third plot is in full day sun, afternoon shade, and has a nice, rich soil to plant in.  You may think that planting all your seeds in the full sun, rich soil plot is the best choice, however, what if that plot gets too much sun?  What if things don’t grow as well because you planted TOO many seeds?  What if you had planted some of your seeds in the half sun plot and they thrived despite the roots? Or, what if some of your plants are meant for shade?

The lesson?

Don’t ever plant all your seeds in one plot.  Spread them around and see which ones thrive and which ones don’t, then replant more where they thrive.                                                                                                                 

This is the lesson of living and selling in the e-commerce nation!  Find the plots that help you to sell the most product.  Trial and error may be your best friend. Do not limit yourself to only one seller platform if you can expand and try others.  Take a chance; spread your seeds!  Go all Johnny Appleseed on e-commerce’s ass!