It’s been a while since I’ve written about Merch By Amazon and a lot has changed since July of 2016. Most of the changes have been positive, but there are still a couple of issues.
A little over three years ago, Amazon tried to destroy the “novelty t-shirt” seller. They implemented a series of changes, including the highly disruptive SKU limit. Read some history here. My personal theory is that they saw a huge dip in revenue as a result of the policy and backed off. My other theory is that through this process they realized exactly how much money is to be made in t -shirts. They went from limiting third-party seller apparel SKUs because it “diluted” the customer experience, to opening the floodgates themselves with Merch by Amazon items they began to produce. I’m not knocking them here. It makes perfect sense. Amazon has always wanted a larger and larger piece of the pie, and t-shirts make for a very large and tasty portion.
What they obviously failed to immediately recognize was the intellectual property nightmare that is part of running a t-shirt business. They did get a pretty quick lesson in this when sellers from all over the world started uploading designs that were, simply put, outright theft. Since my last blog post, Amazon has become very aggressive in their policing of intellectual property violations. They’ve also become quite adept and identifying pixel-for-pixel copies of original designs and removing them. I still continue to see violations, but they have been greatly reduced.
A major issue that is still problematic is the “brand” field. A Merch By Amazon seller can still simply make up a brand to list under. Thus, you see tons of brand like Hyped Keep Calm Birthday T-Shirts or birthday tshirt. These “made up” brands make the Amazon marketplace look and sound unprofessional. A good example of this is when Merch by Amazon sellers use their “brands” as a way to communicate with buyers: ON SALE: Cool Unless March for Science Earth Day.
While apparel sellers on Amazon.com must still go through an intensive (and expensive) brand registry process for each brand they would like to sell, Merch sellers can simply make up as many as they want. In addition, while some brands on Amazon are gated through the Brand Registry program, Merch By Amazon sellers can simply tag onto those gated brands by typing them in as their brand in the listing process.
While there appears to been an extensive design approval process implemented on Merch By Amazon, there has been no change or attempt to protect the brand field.
Another big change affected the number of Merch listings available on the Amazon.com site. In an effort to stop the flooding of dud SKUs on the site, Merch By Amazon now limits sellers in two ways: they limit the number of uploads per day and they delete designs that don’t record sales in the first 90 days. Both methods have proven to be somewhat effective but are not popular with sellers.
The sheer number of listings, however, makes it difficult for new Merch By Amazon sellers to gain ground. A quick search shows over 570,000 Merch listings available on Amazon.com as of today. Many of the t-shirts are still very similar to each other and finding an undiscovered niche is next to impossible these days. New sellers also find it difficult to gain rank over both Merch sellers and third-party apparel sellers.
I find it telling that Amazon has yet to add more items to their offerings. They are still selling their original items of kids and adult short sleeve t-shirts. An easy next step would be long sleeve t-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies. I can only assume they have had to focus more time than initially expected on the intellectual property issues. It’s also not as easy as it sounds to teach someone how to print on demand. Getting those shirts on straight is no easy feat!
Maybe that slice of pie isn’t that easy to take after all.