5. Seasonal trends, t-shirt quality, building a brand and keyword research Q and A

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Welcome to the Merch Entrepreneur podcast. I’m your host Elaine Heney and in today’s episode we are going to do a Q&A so thank you very much for everybody who’s been in touch and your kind words on the podcast and questions to do with Merch.

Today I have some questions from some listeners which I’m going to go through. If you’d like to leave me a question about Merch for an upcoming Q&A episode, what you can do is go to MerchEntrepreneur.com and then just click on the “Contact Us” button and then you’ll see where you can leave your questions. Definitely looking forward to hearing from you.

The questions for today. The first question is from Natalia and she says, “I am still in the 25 tier and wandering in the dark trying to figure out what to do. On the podcast you mentioned Father’s Day and Halloween as the time when sales have picked up for you, so would you say that t-shirts related to seasons and the holidays do better with Merch or do you also do niche topics completely unrelated to any holidays?”

First, Natalia, the 25 tier is the hardest to get out of. It really is. I do have an episode coming up that goes to five ways, the five easiest ways I think to get out of the 25 tier. Definitely it is just the trickiest to get out of. You asked should you do t-shirts related to the seasons and holidays or niche topics completely unrelated to any holidays.

If you’re just doing generic topics I think that’s really good. In general, things about where people are working. You know, “I’m a veterinarian and I love it,” or you know, something like that. Or if they really like a particular animal as if they really like goats or chickens or a specific breed of dog. They’re all really good t-shirts to do but they’re not something that’s probably going to sell tomorrow. Like if you launched today, it’s probably not going to sell tomorrow. They’re more when you have a lot of room in your account and you’re looking to fill up slots, then you can definitely do more general topics that people are just passionate about because it’s part of their lives.

“You mentioned Father’s Day and Halloween as a time when sales have picked up for you.” Yes, absolutely. There’s some big times during the year that people just buy, well not just but one of the main trends is they buy t-shirts relating to that time of year. Halloween was definitely big. Father’s Day was crazy and I don’t think any of us really expected it because it was the first time that Merch actually existed during the Father’s Day period. I definitely sold a lot of Father’s Day t-shirts so that was really good. If you are looking to sell t-shirts quick, if there is a big holiday coming up or a big family celebration type thing, I would definitely recommend doing that.

Now we are in November so there’s two big days coming up. There’s actually three. There’s Thanksgiving then there is Christmas. Christmas has got to be insane. Then there is New Year’s so I would definitely absolutely, if you’ve got 25 t-shirts right now I’d have probably geared towards Thanksgiving and Christmas. The other half I would probably do more trending topics.

Right now we’re a couple of days away from the US elections and probably by the time this is aired there will be a new president in the States. The US elections has to be one of the biggest topics that has been going on the last couple of months in the t-shirt industry so I think I would definitely put up some political t-shirts along those lines as well. That would be my two recommendations on that.

Next question from Olivier. He says, “Do you find that branding, including the brand name, is important for selling t-shirts?”
No. Not at all. That’s crazy. The t-shirts, when someone finds them on Amazon, they look like they’re made by and sold by Amazon so they don’t ever say your name or anything. Now of course, there is a space to put a brand name in there but to be honest I kind of use that just to … You know, I keep it short and sweet but I’ll have some keywords in there that were kind of related to the t-shirt topic so if it’s like a political t-shirt, I might have the name of the person as the brand name. Hillary Clinton Shirts or something.

In terms of actually using Merch to build a brand, at the moment I would probably say it’s not really worth it because there is an issue with copycats that Amazon are definitely looking into at the minute. If you put a lot of t-shirts under one brand name, it makes it easy for people to find your other t-shirts but it makes it easy for copycats to find your other t-shirts and they can just literally go into a page of a hundred t-shirts you’ve put up, find the five best and copy them 10 times which isn’t really ideal.

Definitely I’ve had a ton of sales already. I didn’t have any branding on anything. I don’t think it’s necessary. I think in other industries or maybe in Merch as it evolves it’ll become more of a strategy but right now I think there’s more cons than pros in terms of building a brand.

Okay so the next question then is from Leanne and she asks, “Just out of interest, have you ordered the shirts yourself so you can see the quality of them and the printing? I’ve heard mixed things about the quality. Seems Merch by Amazon has taken off like anything. In the last six months, are Amazon coping with the volume?”

The first part of the question, “Have I ordered the shirts myself and have I seen the quality?” Yes, absolutely. I’ve ordered some shirts for another business I run. It’s kind of a horse related business. I’ve actually got seven or eight shirts at home and I’ve worn them for the last couple of months and they’re actually really nice. They’re still in really good shape. I’ve had no issues with them. Actually, people really like the fit, which I wasn’t expecting.

There’s two types of t-shirts and I had ordered the cheaper t-shirts and they’ve been perfect. I’ve had no issues. I’ve heard stories of people getting t-shirts that are blank and maybe with suspicious printing and stuff on them but any t-shirts I’ve got have been absolutely perfect and a couple of months later they are still good to go.

Then the second part of that question, “Are Amazon coping with the volume?” They’re coping pretty well with the volume considering. I guess this is a new program. They didn’t really know what was going to happen. Nobody did. It’s probably taken off even more than they had anticipated in terms of how many sellers there were and how many sales are going through. I think bearing in mind everything, I think Amazon are coping really as well as they could’ve ever hoped for. Both with scaling up and having more people and more machines so that the shipping time doesn’t get too long on the t-shirts.

Obviously there’s been a few bumps in the road when shipping times have taken longer or they have delayed tiering up people for a couple of weeks or obviously the invitation you have to wait, like, at this stage a couple of months to get in. They are definitely throttling a bit in terms of it’s not just you can upload as many as you want whenever you want. They’re definitely keeping an eye on it, but I think all things considered they’re doing a great job and looking forward to seeing what happens there in the future.
Then one more question from Natalie. She says, “I know they say do your keyword research. Do you have any recommendations on ways to do that?”

Yes, I do. My first recommendation I think is possibly the most important. Well, the most useful one that I’ve done. Basically I have a spreadsheet and the first column in my spreadsheet is a list of different topics. You’ve got Father’s Day, Christmas, Halloween, Dogs, Cats, whatever else. God knows how many. Like hundreds. You have all your topics in one long column and then the second column, this is where I’m going to write the couple sentences that I’m going to put into the bullets. For the column that says dogs, then I’m going to go “Enjoy this great dog lovers t-shirt perfect for walks with your dog in the park, blah, blah, blah.”

In terms of where I actually get these keywords from. First up, it’s just as many as I can pull from the air really. I just start writing and when I get to five or six different keywords to do with dogs. That’s the beginning. After that then there’s three websites that are good just to get some more ideas and the thing is I find it hard to literally sit down and go, “I’m going to write a killer description about dog t-shirts.”

I can’t do that in five or ten minutes so what I do is I put in my best effort, think of the words that people could be searching. You can also type into Amazon so you go to Amazon.com and then just type in dog and it’ll actually auto-fill some ideas for your dog t-shirt. Let Amazon order-fill to see what people are searching for. I think just do your best effort. Just write a sentence or two and then save it in the spreadsheet and the next time you go to do a dog t-shirt, again look at maybe the Amazon auto search.

Every time I do a dog t-shirt, I’ll add a word or two or I’ll tweak the description a little bit. I always try to make it a little bit better. What you find is that when you’re doing t-shirts for a couple weeks or a couple of months, your description bullets are really starting to look good because you’ve just put a little bit of time and effort into them every time you’re doing that type of t-shirt.

Three websites that are good in terms of getting ideas for keywords that might work. First is Keywordtool.io. I just put in dog and I got like 712 unique keywords. Some of them you can definitely use. Some of them probably wouldn’t be too applicable but they’ll definitely give you ideas to start with.

The second one is Wordstream.com/keywords. Again, they’ll just give you tons of dog-related keywords if you type in dogs.
The third one which is probably the most useful is just Google AdWords, the Google keyword tool. If you go in there and type in dogs then you can see different … You can see how many people are searching for it. This was a little more specific but I think in the last while Amazon, they give you the average monthly searches but I’m looking at one it says, “Dogs for sale,” between 100,000 and a million. Okay there’s a lot of people looking for dogs for sale but it’s not very specific.

Then there is another one, “Dog rescue” 10,000-100,000. Until you get enough of an idea for what we’re doing in t-shirts to see what keywords might be good and what wouldn’t be good. In terms of then writing them, so obviously you don’t need to expand your keyword description field. Don’t put like dog toy, dog jacket, dog food. You know. It’s got to be readable. It’s got to be interesting. It’s got to be something that makes sense like a human being actually wrote it and if you can put a little bit of humor into it and make it appealing, that’s definitely a bonus.

That was it for the questions so thanks very much to everyone who’s joined the Facebook group and also to everyone who’s left questions. If you’d like to leave questions, again just go to MerchEntrepreneur.com, find “Contact Us” page and you can do it there.

Then lastly, if anyone would like to be interviewed, I have one or two interview slots available in the coming few weeks so if you are a Merch Entrepreneur, whether you’re the 25 tier or the 4,000 tier or the 500 tier, whatever it is, I’d definitely love to hear your story, hear how you’re getting on. Your store goals, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. Definitely do get in touch. You can find me on MerchEntrepreneur.com, so thanks so much for listening and talk to you in the next episode.

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