This is the third post in a series. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

In February of 2014, sellers in the clothing category on Amazon were hit with a new policy that limited the number of SKUs any given seller could have. Previously, there had been no cap to this and the move was catastrophic for many apparel sellers (including us.)

The clothing category is unique when it comes to the number of SKUs sellers have due to the size/color variations for clothing. Each child variant is one SKU and they add up quickly. Amazon determined many of the listings we had as a group weren’t selling and they wanted to thin out the search results a bit. It made sense, and still does today, but it definitely altered the way we operated as clothing sellers. Amazon eventually implemented a “high volume listing fee” which is still in place today to accommodate sellers with a high volume of SKUs and the drama was mostly forgotten.

I think after that we all looked at our listings a bit more carefully and self-policed ourselves so the search results weren’t overwhelming to buyers.

Then came Merch By Amazon.

Let’s start with an example for a search for “Dad Super Hero Shirt.” This produces 5,207 shirts. The first 9 pages are, for the most part, the same shirt over and over and over.

The shirt is an obvious intellectual property infringement. It says “Daddy – You are as smart as Iron Man, as strong as Thor, as fast as Flash, as brave as Batman – You are my favorite superhero.”

Considering those heroes come from different entities (Marvel, DC Comics), there is no way it is an officially licensed product. I also don’t think the following “brands” are selling licensed goods:

  • Daddy Superhero
  • Father Day
  • Men Shirt
  • Super Dad Daddy Papa Hero Father Day Gift T shirt
  • The Family T-Shirt
  • Dad Papa Super Hero Spider T shirt Man Father Day
  • Teekiwi Daddy Shirt

That’s just a smattering of them. So imagine what the Amazon customer sees…. rows and rows of identical shirts all with these words strung together as “brands.” These are also all Merch By Amazon shirts. While some Merch sellers are limited to their original 25 designs, many have “tiered up” to 100, 500, 1000 or more. This gives them ample opportunity to list the same design over and over with different brands. Hence, saturating the search results and degrading the customer experience. And, the more they sell, the faster they tier up. In essence, the system rewards the manipulation of search results.

You can repeat this experiment over and over with the same results. I talked about the ability to create brands on the fly in part 2 of this series (here). With these types of search results, it becomes immediately clear why this is a bad idea. The Amazon system thinks these are all different items since they have different brand. Hence, they all have their own product detail pages and they clog up the search results.

If traditional apparel sellers attempted this, they would be suspended. It is against the TOS on Amazon to create multiple product detail pages for the same item. As Merch evolves, Amazon will have to come up with a system to control this. No one is going to scroll through 300 pages of t-shirts looking at the same items over and over. Non-Merch offerings are buried since they aren’t shipped by and sold by Amazon. Even the Prime eligible Marketplace offerings are getting buried  more and more due to the hundreds of duplicate items.

I know many Merch sellers are trying to supplement their income and are doing a great job of trying to build a business. Unfortunately, the bad eggs always seem to overwhelm weaknesses in any system. Until Amazon fixes these weaknesses, all legitimate sellers from both Merch and the Marketplace will suffer. But suffering most of all… the Amazon customer we all try so hard to delight.