Last year, we introduced MMW readers to Neil Lassen, who was appropriately billed by us as one of the most interesting — and brilliant — entrepreneurs we’ve ever featured.
As you may recall, Neil went from pushing carts at Target to pulling down six-figures a year through his entrepreneurial efforts (covered by CNBC).
How did he do it? In late 2015, Amazon launched a new platform for designers to create and publish high-quality shirts for purchase — Merch By Amazon.
In response, Lassen created what has since become one of the most invaluable tools for Merch By Amazon designers — Merch Informer.
This week, MMW once again caught up with Neil, who has been hard at work on making Merch Informer even more helpful than it already is. We had a chance to pick his brain about the enormous opportunities ahead for the online retail scene in Q4 and what Merch By Amazon sellers can do to make the most of this vitally important prep-time.
Check out our exclusive Q&A below.
MMW: In your experience, what’s the smartest and fastest way for lower tiered sellers (10 and 100 tiers) to fill more slots and tier up faster today?
Neil: Filling slots for lower tiered sellers can often be a huge headache because they are not natural born designers. The good news is that the majority of us have no idea how to design ourselves! I find the best solution to be to download photoshop or even a free program like GIMP and then watch some YouTube videos to teach you how to use these programs to create text based designs. If you have a little bit of money to work with, I would highly suggest looking at outsourcing on sites like Upwork but you can easily teach yourself enough skills to get yourself out of the lower tiers.
After you have the designs uploaded, you need sales on them to tier up. The absolute easiest way to get out of these lower tiers is NOT sitting around hoping for a sale. The first thing people should be doing is looking at the competition and optimizing their listings to stand the best chance at organic sales. Once that is done, people should be marketing their shirt designs! There are so many free options available there is no perfect place to start. If I were to recommend somewhere though, I would say to take a look at Pinterest and Reddit as social platforms where people might be interested in what you have created.
MMW: Last December, MBA was beleaguered and over-burdened to the point of limiting orders, tshirt colors and sizes, etc. What steps can sellers and designers take in preparation of Q4 this year to protect their products from falling victim to the consequences of another potential overwhelmed MBA platform?
Neil: One of my good friends Ken Reil actually made it out from all of these issues last year by simply uploading his designs on both Anvil and the premium option (now BELLA CANVAS). Doing this, he was able to capitalize on all the orders he would have missed if the other t-shirt was out of stock so this is something for every designer to consider if they have the slots.
It has been almost a year since all of those problems occurred and since then Amazon has been busy expanding so while there may be some issues, I do not expect them to be nearly as bad as the year previous. That being said, if you do not want to play with the premium shirts and want to stick with Anvil, I would recommend simply taking your chances on the MBA platform but also uploading all your designs to other platforms. If you really want to get ahead of the curve, you could take advantage of the shopify integration with Amazon (https://merchinformer.com/shopify-amazon-merch-no-inventory-integration-guide/) but know that you will not be prime eligible with this option.
MMW: In the age-old Anvil vs. Premium debate, which do you advocate using for lower-tiered sellers as they focus on filling all of their slots in time for Q4?
Neil: This is almost a double edged sword. Last year during Q4, Amazon ran out of black Anvil shirts for many sellers. This hurt a LOT but the massive traffic Amazon was able to deliver almost made up for it. As for me, I only sell Anvil shirts. They give me the highest margin and I think a lot of the customers (most) actually are completely blind to the premium shirts. Not only that, but the anvil shirts are super soft and a lot of people love to wear them. I always just make sure to mention in my listings that they do fit a bit strange, so order a size up if you want a looser fit. This seems to get rid of some of the bad reviews I was reciving previous when they would order an Anvil shirt and then complain about the sizing.
MMW: What’s the single biggest keyword strategy mistake MBA sellers make and how can Merch Informer empower them to stop making that mistake?
Neil: The single biggest keyword mistake that I see time and time again is completely ignoring keywords or at least not taking the time to actually focus on WHAT keywords specifically customers are using to search out products. Now, Amazon does not give keyword data of what keywords customers are searching for specifically or how many searches per month those keywords get. What information sellers do have is what exactly is ranking and selling well in those specific niches. You can use Merch Informer to quickly let you know what shirts are selling in what niches, and then data mine those listings for the keywords that got them into that position.
It does not matter if you have the best design in the world if no one is looking at it. I see it time and time again where a designer or Merch entrepreneur has a great design, but they do not take the time to see what keywords their competitors are using. If you can use similar keywords with a few synonyms thrown in along with a better design, you have the formula for a winning shirt.
MMW: For sellers with limited slots, is now the time to design for seasonal trends (Halloween, Christmas, etc.) or is evergreen a better bet going into Q4?
Neil: I really think it depends on how many slots you have available. If you are the 10, 25, or even 100 tier, your entire goal should be tiering up as quick as possible. For most people, November/December is where they are going to make the most money no matter if they focus on seasonal designs or evergreen designs simply because the traffic on Amazon spikes with people buying gifts for friends and family. You need as many shirts live during this time as possible.
Focusing on upcoming holidays now might be a good idea if you can get some traction. The best way to do this is creating original designs in the niche and then play around with keywords and pricing. I would put these designs up about 45 days before the actual holiday hits in order to make sure that Amazon is indexing the listings. You will have more competition going after these niches, so if this is not up your alley, focus on evergreen designs in niches where customers are actively buying. You do this by looking at BSR in those niches and seeing how many designs there are for sale in any given niche.