Today I wanted to share a new way to make money online that I’ve been experimenting with over the last couple of weeks.
I’ve been interested in selling on Amazon for a while now. I read about some other bloggers who were killing it and even making enough to quit their day jobs after a few months!
Sell on Amazon for profit
A typical business model for selling on Amazon is retail arbitrage.
This means you look out for things on sale in the shops, then sell them on Amazon for higher price. If you want to take things to the next level, you can even import your products wholesale from suppliers in China on Alibaba.
This can be a really lucrative side hustle and can definitely be a full time job if you scale it up!
There are just two problems that put me off dipping a toe in these waters:
1. The upfront cost. You need a few hundred pounds to buy stock before you can sell it. Then you have the risk that it doesn’t sell, and you’re stuck with loads of products that you can’t shift!
2. I’m lazy! Yes, I hustle and I want to make money. But I also have a draining day job, and my natural inclination is towards side hustles that I can do in my pajamas with a glass of wine. The idea of schlepping round the sales and hauling massive boxes off to the post office all the time was enough to make me look for a short cut.
The other day I came across an awesome article about a model for selling on Amazon with no upfront costs, no physical stock, and never actually having to handle a product yourself. What’s more, after the initial work setting everything up, it’s close to passive income – my holy grail!
How is this possible?
>> Related post: How To Make Money With Amazon FBA
Print on demand
This business model revolves around print on demand products. Print on demand (POD) companies have been springing up everywhere in the last few years. You probably know some of them – Zazzle, Cafepress, Teelaunch, Teespring and Gearbubble are some of the big names, but there are loads more.
Basically, these companies allow anyone to upload their own design and have it printed on various items. The products vary by company, but typically you have T shirts, mugs, phone cases, posters and more.
You then try and sell your item. You can do this through the POD website directly, or on Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Shopify – wherever.
The POD sites show you an instant mock up of your chosen item with your design applied so that you can use this on your sales page. But they don’t actually print the item until you make a sale.
When you sell an item, first the customer pays you. Then the POD company prints the item and ships it directly to the customer. Finally, you pay the POD company for any products shipped at the end of the month (payment dates might vary depending on the company).
This means that you don’t hold any inventory yourself. You don’t have to deal with shipping. And if you don’t make a sale, you don’t pay anything!
The best thing about this is there is absolutely no risk involved, and nothing to lose except your time. You can throw up dozens of different variations on each design and experiment with what sells.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing around with a business model which combines Teelaunch’s printing and shipping services with the sales clout of Amazon. In theory, this creates a business that almost runs itself.
Here’s how it works.
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How to sell on amazon without stock
First of all, a disclaimer: I’m not guaranteeing you will make money with this idea. It’s something I am currently testing out myself, but it’s too soon to say what the results will be. I’m just sharing this as a potential side business idea, in case it’s of interest to anybody else.
I’ll give you a quick run down of the process here, just so you know what I’m banging on about.
However, if you are interested in learning more about this business model, I highly recommend heading over to this article and this one to read more. They are both by a fantastic entrepreneur called Neil at Merch Informer and he really sets out the whole process in great detail for you.
Have a read of the comments too – lots of questions answered there.
In brief, here’s what you need to do:
- Open a seller account on Amazon.com
- Set up a free Shopify account
- Add the Teelaunch app in Shopify
- Create or source some designs (more on this below)
- Upload your designs and apply them to T shirts, mugs etc in the Teelaunch app
- Sync your Shopify and Amazon Seller accounts
- For T shirts: once you sync, you can automatically send any T shirts in your Shopify shop over to be listed Amazon. For other products: you will have to create listings on Amazon separately, and then connect them to Shopify.
- Sit back and wait for sales!
Again, head to the article linked above for detailed step-by-step instructions. It literally talks you through every little thing you need to do.
The magic word that makes all this nearly passive income is integration.
Print on Demand Amazon integration for hands off sales and fufilment
Because of the integration between Amazon and Shopify, and then between Shopify and Teelaunch, any sales on Amazon are automatically sent over to Teelaunch (via Shopify) for fulfilment.
A customer buys on Amazon, Teelaunch gets the message, prints your product, and ships it out.
Once you’ve designed your products and listed them on Amazon, the process is pretty much hands off.
I say ‘pretty much’ because you are responsible for handling any customer support issues yourself. But still, no inventory, payment information or shipping to handle.
Shopify is essentially just the middle man here, because Teelaunch doesn’t integrate to Amazon directly.
Technically you could just create products on Teelaunch (or any other POD site) and list them on Amazon yourself, but then you would have to copy the details of any sales from Amazon and transfer them over to Teelaunch manually. Thanks to the magical integration, once everything is set up, you don’t have to do a thing!
For this reason, I’m only selling on the US Amazon at the moment, even though I’m based in the UK. The Teelaunch/Shopify/Amazon integration only works in the US at the moment. Of course, I could always find another POD service in the UK and sell on my local Amazon that way, but I don’t know any that support integration right now.
Without integration, I would have to check Amazon each day for orders, and then copy the customer details over to the POD company manually to fulfill each order. Perfectly possible, but I’m basically trying to keep things as automated as possible here. I told you, I’m lazy! 🙂
The other great thing about this system is selling on Amazon. You could also try to sell your products from the POD site directly or from your Shopify store. But the thing is, you likely won’t get many organic sales. People don’t really tend to end up on those sites naturally so you will have to spend a lot of time and money on advertising to drive traffic to your store.
Whereas Amazon gets hundreds of millions of customers, and is master of the sell. Think of all the ‘related products’ sections and the recommendations it makes based on your browsing.
As long as you have good product titles and descriptions, you don’t need to do much to push your products on Amazon. You get to benefit from their gigantic customer base, their trust, their marketing know-how, and more.
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Sourcing your designs
There are several options for creating great designs.
Obviously, if you are an artist or designer yourself, you can easily make your own. Some people hire freelance designers on Fiverr or Upwork to create designs for them.
Personally, I’m trying to keep costs as low as possible at the moment, so I’m going the DIY route.
I’m no artist, so I’m sticking with simple text-based designs for now. Think cheesy slogans like ‘world’s best dad‘ or whatever (no, that’s not one of mine – just an example!).
I make the designs in Canva. I’d already been using the free version to create my blog graphics, but I upgraded to the pro plan at $12.95 per month because you need the transparent backgrounds. I like to search for quotes and memes on Google Images and Pinterest for inspiration.
It’s great if you find a phrase where you can simply replace the key word to make a lot of similar designs quickly. So for example, if you have a ‘world’s best dad’ design, you can edit it to make world’s best uncle, world’s best sister, world’s best teacher etc, and you have dozens of extra designs with no effort! See how easy this is?
Since you don’t need any physical stock, this business model is very, very cheap to get into! In fact, there are almost NO upfront costs.
Amazon pay out for sales you made every 2 weeks. Most of the below costs aren’t due immediately. So if you start making sales in your first couple of weeks, you actually won’t be out of pocket for very long at all.
Here’s what you need to get started:
- Amazon seller account: $39.99 per month for US residents, $47.99 for EU residents like me
- Shopify lite account (the cheapest package is good enough, since you won’t actually be selling on Shopify): first 14 days free, $9 per month thereafter
- Canva For Work (or other picture editing software of your choice): first month free, $12.95 per month thereafter – OR outsource to a designer – prices start at $5 per design on Fiverr.
- UPC codes (you need these to list on Amazon): approx $5 for a batch on eBay
There’s a huge variety of products available on Teelaunch. They have fixed prices for you, but of course you can set your own prices when you list on Amazon.
You’ll want to do a bit of research and see how much similar products are selling for.
As an example, I’m mostly selling mugs at the moment.
(It’s also possible to sell shirts online without inventory, or other products, following the same process above. But I decided to keep it simple with mugs to start with because I don’t have to worry about creating different sizes, colours etc.)
I’m listing my mugs on Amazon for $14.95 + $4.49 delivery. That makes $19.44.
My costs are:
- Amazon’s cut: $2.92
- Mug price on Teelaunch: $3.50
- Teelaunch delivery fee: $4.50
- Shopify fee: approx $0.25
This makes $8.27 profit for each mug sold.
Have a look at the range of products available on Teelaunch and compare with Amazon to see how much profit you could make on different items.
>> Related post: 7 Simple Ways to Make Money Through Amazon
How’s it working for me?
I’ve been playing around with this idea for two or three weeks now. I have my own little budding Amazon shop with 18 products at the time of writing! I haven’t sold anything yet, but the majority of my products haven’t been listed that long, so I have hope.
This process is not difficult, but it does take a bit of time if you’re familiar with all the different sites mentioned.
I would say it took me around 7 hours on the first weekend I dedicated to this to set up my Amazon shop and list my first product. I made a few rookie mistakes like saving my images as the wrong size.
Since then, I’ve sped up considerably. I can now create and list about four or five products in an hour.
Also, once you’ve created a really good product description you should be able to adapt that easily for all your other products.
I’ve only given you a very brief overview so far but the links above will give you more information on things like product research and writing good Amazon descriptions. The site where I read about this business model (Merch Informer) actually sells software to help you identify best selling products. I haven’t tested it out yet, but might invest in the software if I decide I want to do this long term.
So far, I’m enjoying selling mugs on Amazon. It’s cool to see products that I’ve designed myself listed for sale, and even better that it’s all online and I don’t have to deal with physical stock. I like the idea that anyone can make money selling mugs or other simple products, even without upfront funds or even a design background.
When will I see results?
I think you would probably want to get at least 100 designs up before you can start expecting to make money.
This might sound like a lot, but remember what I said about creating one design with key words you can switch out? So maybe you only have to think of around 10 unique designs, with 10 variants on each one.
I listened to a podcast the other day which was an interview with someone who has a 7 figure business selling T shirts online. He said that only around 1 in 10 designs really took off. (The podcast was My Wife Quit Her Job, by the way. I listen to a lot of podcasts about Amazon selling and online business in general, and this is one of my faves. Here are some more to check out.)
This is why you just need to throw loads of ideas at it, and see what sticks.
I also read a quote by another online entrepreneur who said something along the lines of ‘the amount of money you make is directly related to the number of buy buttons you have online’ (completely forgotten who, sorry!). I think that is very true for this kind of business.
So, this is not a difficult process, but I think you do have to put in the time to create a large number of products before you expect to make money!
Since the initial investment is so low, I think this is a great idea for anyone who wants to dip their toes in the world of online business with little risk or startup cost.
I’ve decided to give myself three months to test this out and see if I can make a decent profit.
Remember, this is just a side hustle idea! I’m sharing with you my journey to create an online business for passive income. There are no guarantees and I’m no expert. But if you’re interested, please follow along for updates!
**Update (September 2017)**
I’ve had a few messages asking how this side hustle is working for me, so I’d thought I’d write an update.
I actually put this project on hold about two months in. As it turns out, I didn’t make enough sales to cover the monthly Amazon seller fees, and I didn’t have enough time to focus on the project and make it a success.
I still believe this is a great potential business model though, and I will maybe pick it up again in future.
I’ve seen a lot of people from Facebook groups (hint: search ‘merch’ to find some good ones) who are making great money doing this, and even some that are doing it full time!
The difference is, of course, that if you want to make a full time income, you have to treat it like a serious business, and invest your time, money and energy accordingly. It just wasn’t for me at this time 🙂
By the way, the side hustles I’m currently focusing on are blogging (I have two main sites now) and affiliate marketing on Pinterest.
What I learned from dabbling in Amazon sales
Here are a few things I learned to help out anyone else thinking of trying to sell shirts or mugs on Amazon:
- It’s all about the volume! Well, I knew this anyway, but I feel it even more now. A large proportion of your products will be duds. Keep putting them out there and eventually some will take off. Unfortunately I did not commit enough to put out the volume of designs required.
- Sales aren’t as passive as I optimistically hoped with this model. You need to promote your products, at least in the beginning, to get your first sales and move up the Amazon rankings. Once you have enough sales and reviews to get on the first page of search results you will start to make more sales organically.
- Some ways to promote your products that I’ve heard people have success with: Pinterest (free traffic!); paid Facebook ads; pay to promote your products within Amazon (sponsored listing); create a Facebook page, Instagram or other social media profile around your niche, share viral/popular content to build a following, then start to promote your own products to your followers (time-consuming but free and potentially very successful); promote in relevant subreddits or Facebook groups (careful not to spam); pay an Instagram influencer to promote your product. You can also check out this article for more ideas on free ways to promote your products.
- If you hope to make organic sales without too much promotion, it helps to do some research into trending topics or current events, and write good, keyword focused titles and descriptions. If you do create products around popular topics or culture, be careful not to use any trademarked words.
- Sign up for Merch by Amazon as soon as possible! This is a T-shirt print-on-demand system run by Amazon themselves. You upload your designs directly to Amazon and they take care of the rest (bypassing the POD companies like Teespring). Merch has no monthly fees (they just take a cut of sales), so it’s even lower risk than the above method! They only admit a limited number of applicants at a time, so get on the waiting list now.
There are lots of Facebook groups about Merch by Amazon and print-on-demand where you can pick up a lot of tips on designs, keywords, promotion, legalities and more. I won’t name specific ones here but just search and you will find them 😉
Has anyone else given this a go? Would love to hear about your successes or failures selling mugs or other products on Amazon!
**Second update: 2018**
So shortly after writing my last update above, I was accepted into Merch by Amazon. Even though I’d decided to put my print on demand business to rest, I decided I may as well recycle some of my old designs and give Merch a go.
Believe it or not, I am seeing WAY more success on Merch than I ever did with the Teelaunch-Amazon integration model!
I don’t know why exactly. Possibly Amazon prioritises Merch in the search results, because they get more of the profit. Merch goods are also eligible for Amazon Prime, so maybe that makes a difference.
Merch by Amazon is even more passive than the above business model because Amazon handle all the customer service and returns themselves! Also, you do not have to pay for a Shopify store. You simply upload your designs and then receive your profits from Amazon each month (any returns etc will be taken out of your profits automatically).
Read the post on my experience with Merch by Amazon here (includes earnings!)
Merch by Amazon now lets you sell in the US, UK and German versions of Amazon but you don’t have to live in any of these countries to sell there. In face, I think you can be based anywhere in the world. They pay by bank transfer but if banks in your country are not accepted by Amazon then you can use Payoneer (which is like a virtual US bank account).
Merch currently lets you design and sell T shirts, sweaters, hoodies and pop sockets for phones. No mugs yet but I believe they’ll be expanding into more and more products in the future.
So again, I recommend getting on the waiting list for Merch as soon as possible.
While you’re waiting, by all means test out your designs on Teespring, Redbubble and other print on demand sites. There’s nothing in the Amazon T&Cs to say you can’t list the same designs in more than on place. Just be prepared to hustle a little harder to promote your products and get sales if you’re on one of the other sites 😉
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24 thoughts on “How to Start Selling on Amazon – WITHOUT Any Stock”
I looked into this last year but never got around to doing it. I could only find one company doing it and it definitely had no links to Amazon so this is very helpful! Let me know how you get on, sounds like it could be a very interesting, lucrative side hustle – especially with spring around the corner!
Glad you found it helpful! Yes, it’s the integration with Amazon that made me want to give it a go – it’s just so easy! Will definitely keep you posted. Now I’ve got the basic system down I just want to make as many designs as possible and hopefully will stumble across a bestseller!
Wow, major props to you for setting this up! “The amount of money you make is directly related to the number of buy buttons you have online” I love this line you got there, it’s my first time hearing it but I agree 100%! The harder you work, the “luckier” you get. There’s just no way around it. Here’s hoping that this side hustle does well for you!
Thanks T! Yes, it’s a great line! Wish I could remember where I read it originally. It’s a great reminder that we can’t just sit there and wait for money to come to us – we have to get out there and make it happen! I hope this side hustle will do well too. I’ll post updates!
I have put a few designs on ZAZZLE but am struggling with my time. I didn’t know about the integrations that are possible. Definitely something for the future as I don’t have the spare funds at the moment. Great post – thanks.
Thanks Kerry! How are you getting on with Zazzle – have you sold anything yet? The integration made it really attractive to me because it should be hands off once I’ve made the listings. It does take a lot of time to make and list products though!
Hello I was checking to see how your progress is going. Your article is great. Very good info.
Thanks for your comment, Josh! I actually put this project on hold for a while to concentrate on other projects, but I have heard other people are doing well with it, so hopefully I will be able to pick it up again soon
Is there a follow up to this article? I’d love to know how it’s going.
Hi Dave! I have added an update to this article. Please see the last two sections above 🙂
Thanks for sharing your story. I am currently in the Philippines researching all of the same things you did and find this very helpful. I have bookmarked it as there is too much information to digest in one sitting. I would be interested in any more information you or anyone else has in successfully making money with Print on Demand products. I am an artist and writer so I have the designs ready to go. I just want to make the best decisions as far as what POD company to work with and how to best market my products, which I also feel is probably through AMAZON. giorgeleedy @ gmail . com
Hi Giorge, thanks for commenting and I’m glad you found it helpful.
Since I last updated this article, I have been accepted into Merch By Amazon and I am seeing moderate success! I uploaded a handful of the same designs that I tried with the Teespring>Amazon integration thing and I’m making far more sales with zero promotion.
This is probably because Merch shirts are available on Prime. Also, Amazon possibly ranks Merch shirts higher in the search since they get a bigger cut of the profits – who knows! I have also heard that Merch are stricter on copycats/intellectual property than other PODs which might make them a better choice for artists.
So I would definitely start by applying to Merch. That said, there is nothing to stop you from selling on multiple PODs. But I would prioritize Merch because nothing beats the organic traffic you get on Amazon.
Nice article… Thanks for suggestion and i am also seller on Amazon
What happens if the buyer says they didn’t receive the product or its damaged or they want to return? Who foots the bill and would it not be quite possible for a small side business was to lose quite a bit in this way? I’m very interested but I’m not totally sure how it works!!
Hi Vikki, good question. I believe you as the seller would have to foot the bill by sending out a replacement. Luckily this doesn’t seem to happen often and you only have to pay your cost to the supplier, which is quite small. I’ve now switched from the above model to Merch By Amazon which is much easier because Amazon handle all the customer service themselves! With Merch, if there is a refund it is simply deducted automatically from your monthly earnings and you never pay anything yourself so it doesn’t really affect you. I now recommend Merch By Amazon over the above model, although there is an application and waiting list to get started.
Hi! Thanks for this post, it was very informative.
I have been trying to sign up to Amazon Merch, but find the forms very confusing. Do you have a guide about signing up from the UK?
Sorry, I haven’t got a guide and I’ve heard the application has changed since I joined anyway so I’m not sure what they ask now! There are a few useful Merch groups on FB such as this one where you could ask? Or see if there is anything on YouTube. Good luck!
Last time when I joined the Amazon Affiliate, my account was terminated because I didn’t had a single sale in 150 days. That’s the policy but I have one question, suppose we made a sale in 150 days , will this policy continue for the next 150 days or our account will active lifetime?
No, once you’re approved your account will stay active forever 🙂 I was also terminated due to no sales at first but I just reapplied when my blog was bigger and got approved with no problem second time round. Good luck!
Hi, interesting article, I’m from the UK too, but sell products to Amazon UK using Printful, Amazon UK is around £30, Printful has a base in Latvia which is the downside because it makes the products expensive to sell.
And the whole editing listings can be quite time consuming….
Would be awesome if there could be a POD service in the UK that could integrate to Amazon UK.
How do you set up prices so they are not too cheap that you are losing money and not too expensive? (or so you get in more than you spend out, if you know what I mean).
Hi there when applying for Merch is there anything I should say or not say to help my help my chAnces? Or is it comply a waiting list?
If you have any experience, e.g. selling designs on a similar site, it’s recommended to tell them about it. However, I know many people who have been approved with zero experience (myself included), so I don’t think there is a trick to it to be honest! Just get on the waiting list and see 🙂
This is great in theory. But you should mention it costs $39.99 + selling fees to join Amazon Seller Central. Just FYI for these “work from home with little to nothing.”
Thanks for your comment! I did list the seller fees in the ‘Costs’ section above, along with the Shopify fees and optional paid design software. But it’s worth drawing attention to the fees. This is not a totally free way to start a business – although it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other business models. People looking to start with zero upfront costs should look at selling Amazon’s Merch program or another print-on-demand platform with no seller fees, as I talk about in this post. In fact, the method described in this post is a kind of round-about method I used before I was accepted by Merch, but now I would definitely recommend joining Merch first if possible!