At the start of February I logged into my Merch by Amazon account and was extremely happy to see this little guy pop up on my screen:
This means that I’ve now sold over 6,000 shirts on the Merch by Amazon platform and now have a whapping 8,000 slots to fill.
I haven’t updated the blog for a while so I thought I’d share a couple of tips on how I made the leap to Tier 8000 so quickly and what I’m going to be looking at to get me to the next Tier.
Niching Down for Q4
Q4 always sees a massive bump in sales and this year was no exception, but rather than just relying on evergreen niches I thought I’d have a go at breaking into the Halloween and Christmas holiday trends.
Unfortunately, gone are the days when you can just design a silly Santa or Zombie shirt and hope for it to sell as the competition on Merch is bigger than ever.
However, there is definitely still room in the niches to make decent sales in any of the holiday periods by combining popular niches with the holiday theme.
For example you could do a range of sports based Halloween shirts with slogans such as ‘My basketball coach scares me more than any Zombie’ which can be scaled out to a huge number of niches. Mix this with a cool illustration, run a few ads to test the water and you will definitely reap the rewards.
Going Deep into AMS
I have to admin a large portion of my sales have come from AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) and running ads to my listings has been a fundamental part of my strategy until now.
I’ve spent way more than I would have liked to and my ACOS (Average Cost of Sale) is still at around 25% across my account.
This generally means that I’m making a loss through the ads that I’m running, so why keep doing this?
More Organic Sales
Even though I’m making a loss on the individual ads, this doesn’t account for the boost that I get in organic sales due to the increased BSR.
Put simply, this means that because the ads are generating sales of my shirts, my shirts are being listed higher up in the search results, which means more people get to see them and ultimately buy them… The only issue I have with this is that it’s really hard to measure how effective this technique is.
Generally, I think that as long as I’m not straying too far over an ACOS of 25% then overall I’m not losing out.
More Sales means Quicker Tier Ups
Merch is pretty much a numbers game. The more shirts you put up, the more money you’re going to make in the long term.
Running ads to my shirts simply means that I’m going to be selling more shirts, which means I can get tiered up quicker and have more slots available to sell more shirts.
Of course there are other strategies you can use and spend time curating amazing designs and focus on quality rather than quantity, but that’s not my approach.
My designs are definitely not works of art, but I think the designs that sell well on Merch are simple ideas whos messaging resonates well with the person who’s going to wear the shirt… and that can be as simple as a text based design.
Learning by Doing
AMS is as much a part of a successful Merch business as creating the designs, writing the listings and coming up with the original research and like all of these things… the more you do it the better you get at it.
WARNING: AMS is definitely not a passive game to play, because if you don’t keep an eye on your campaigns you can easily burn through your profits and see your ACOS spiralling.
I’ve been experimenting with AMS over the past year and continually tweaking my approach as I find different levers I can pull and here’s a few things I can recommend:
3 Top AMS Tips
- Review Search Terms – This is a new introduction to AMS but shows you exactly the keywords that users have been using to get to your listings and helps you to find new keywords to add to your product listings pages
- Use Negative Keywords – If you’re running automatic campaigns then you’ll find a lot of your spend going on keywords you’re never going to make a sale on. Take the example of the sports based Halloween shirts I mentioned earlier. If you look into your ad spend you’ll probably find a heap of cash spent on generic terms such as ‘Funny Halloween Shirts’, which you’re never going to make good returns on unless you have a super unique awesome shirt. Save yourself a few quid and add this to your negative keywords list.
- Check your Targeting – This is a bit of a weird one, because it varies so much between different campaigns. You’ll find that in some campaigns ‘substitutes’ will perform absolutely terribly, but in other campaigns will be fine. Just monitor the campaigns and be sure to switch off the targeting type that doesn’t perform… for me usually substitutes is a poor performer more often than not.
Revised Keyword Strategy
One other realisation that has taken me a long time and a lot of hardship to get to is that you really don’t need to stuff your listings full of keywords.
I’ve found that targetting a smaller number of exact match keywords is really benefitial to rank both organically, but also to laser in my AMS campaigns.
The word on the street lately is that the Brand and the title are by far the most significant fields to optimise, so you should focus more on these rather than trying to stuff heaps of keywords into your bullets and description.
Previously I would have used Merch Informer to find the most popular keywords that were listed for the shirt eg “Halloween Basketball Shirt” and would have added lots of keywords like : players, teams, fans, coaches, college, high school, ball etc to my listing.
With my new approach I would simply list the following:
- Brand: Halloween Basketball Shirts
- Title : Halloween Basketball Shirt for Men| Scarey Basketball [T-shirt]
- Bullet 1 : Halloween Basketball Shirt for Men xxxx
- Bullet 2: Scarey Basketball T-shirt xxx
The idea is to try and rank for the longer tail keywords that are likely to be exact matches for terms users are searching with, and you should have a better chance of ranking for these keywords.
Planning Ahead – Content Calendars
The early bird definitely catches the worm and that is as true in Merch as anywhere. Making sure that you have your shirts loaded onto Amazon before the masses arrive means that you have less competition and can start to get your BSR decreasing before everyone else starts pilling in with their shirts.
The other advantage is that you should be able to advertise shirts with lower bids the earlier you get into the market, and if your ads perform well, then generally you will be able to keep a lower bid than for people who just join the market late (as your ads will have a proven track record already).
So how do you do this?
Preparation is the key and making sure that you have a calendar of key events / holidays that you are going to target for the year. I usually plan this out at the start of the year and start my process 3 months before the actual event, to give myself enough time to go through the entire Merch cycle and get my shirts live.
For example in early December I spent a day or two researching St Patricks Day shirts and coming up with ideas / slogans for how I would niche down this year.
I then had to create design briefs for all of these designs and send them to my designer. I currently use Design Pickle for all my designs, which means I get 1 – 2 design concepts back from my designer every day and by the end of December I had all my designs back ready to upload.
Next in my process was writing the listings and in early January I spent a day uploading all of these designs into Merch and in February already I started running ads to these designs.
You have to remember people are often buying shirts a long time before the event happens and you want to capitalise on the start of the spike in sales when competition is less.
Just use a tool like Google Trends and you can see when you want to start entering the market
PRO TIP: Search in Google for an events calendar to give you a list of events for the year ahead eg https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/. Just add this into a spreadsheet and skew the dates by 90 days ahead of time. This will then give you a clear focus on what you should be working on each week, to keep ahead of that curve!!!
What’s Ahead in 2020?
My plan of attack this year is to really drill into my content calendar and test out different designs and hopefully build up a strong range of shirts for key holidays/events that will be repeat sellers in future years as well.
This means I’m not going to add any ‘year specific’ designs but go a little broader within my niches!
For each niche I’m going to create between 20 – 40 shirts and go heavy on ad spend so that I get eyes on these shirts, to help me decide which ones are likely to keep selling in the future.
I’ve been quite lazy with AMS up until this point. I do always try and tweak my ads each week, but have often let under performing ads run for longer than they should, so I need to get better at this.
I also spend quite a lot of money on ads at the moment, so I want to try and reduce that and really fine tune my process over the course of the year.
It may seem strange but even on Tier 8000 I don’t have a lot of slots available and I’m going to fill them up really quickly.
I probably have about 4000 designs so far, which means I still don’t have a lot of room for selling on different products other than the standard shirt, so I want to break into the next tier within the next couple of months to give me a bit more space to expand the products that I’m selling.