When asked in an interview about his views on the diminishing revenues coming to artists from recorded music sales, Roger Daltrey of The Who exclaimed “I think it’s great” – his reasoning was that with declining record revenue, young bands are forced to do exactly what The Who and their generation (see what I did there?!) had to do. Namely, get in a van and travel around the country performing to audiences, growing a fanbase and rather than topping up the gig income with record sales – merch is the backbone of a band’s income.
In this blog we’ll look at merchandise websites, evaluate a number of merch providers and work out which one is the best merch website. We’ll even touch on how to make merch – so let’s jump into it!
There are a few different types of band merch websites – there are the online stores, the merch providers and one-stop-shops.
An Online Store is exactly that – a platform where you as an artist can sell your merch online. A lot of band website providers will include an eCommerce platform as part of the package and the great thing about this is that these platforms also tend to have sophisticated systems for helping you manage your orders, your income and your inventory.
By using a basic online store, you are responsible for sourcing your own merch. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have to invest money up front in order to get your stock – and of course you often need multiple designs / styles – so it can be a bit of an upfront investment. On the other hand, being responsible for your own sourcing means you can buy your stock at a price that works for you and you can set your own prices and profit margins that suit you.
If you are looking to source your own stock, you will probably need to engage our second breed of Merch Website – the merch provider. Merch providers are companies dedicated to providing bands with cool merch – they will often help with designs and in some cases even provide logo creation and you can order pretty much anything from them – from T-Shirts, Caps and Tote Bags to Teddy Bears, Mugs and Condoms and everything in between.
However, if you are strapped for cash and looking for a lower-cost entry into the online merch market. You might find the best place to make merch for you is our third kind of merch website – the one-stop-shop.
One-stop-shops are a relatively new entrant into this world and aim to solve the problem of bands who want merch but don’t have the initial start-up cash to invest in stock. Their business model is that as a band you can upload your own logos and designs and select which of their products you’d like to sell to your fans. Your audience can then log into your store within the One-stop-shop’s platform and purchase whatever they’d like, with you earning a commission on any sales. For example, a fan might purchase a T-Shirt from a one-stop-shop for a cost of £15. The one-stop-shop is responsible for manufacturing the T-Shirt and shipping it out and once they’ve taken their slice cost and profit, the band in question is left with the remaining £4 paid to them. The advantage of this model is that bands can get merch out to their fans for zero cost and just make the money on the margins.
The best Online Stores are typically connected to website builders which also allow you to build a website for your band.
Wix is a hugely powerful website builder which requires no programming knowledge at all as it’s all drag & drop – the tools can be a little clunky but you can get some good results. As an online store it really comes into its own with an easy-to-use interface, really simple and informative report generation so you can view your sales and inventory management so you can keep track of your stock.
It also has built in tools for managing a mailing list and provides information on your customers that left an ‘abandoned cart’ in your store (meaning that they added products to their cart but didn’t check out) so you can follow up.
Price-wise it’s not the cheapest offering on the market but it’s probably the best value for Money.
Squarespace is probably the best-known website builder and online store on the market.
Although the pricing is at a premium, the website tools and templates are super easy to use and it’s actually pretty difficult to make a bad looking website with Squarespace.
The Online store is hugely functional and you do have some cool features such as member areas where you can have exclusive prices for members of your fan club, for example, which could be very useful for an aspiring band.
Music Glue has been around for a while and is a website builder and online store built exclusively with bands in mind which can prove really useful when you are selling things like event tickets, etc.
The pricing is pretty competitive too and the store functions well but I’d say it’s the least intuitive of the online stores on the market and the templates for website building are a little clunky and less flexible.
One of the most powerful new tools to emerge on social media and also on Spotify is the ability to set up a shop within the platform itself. On Facebook and Instagram you can set up your store and sell your products directly through the platform and Spotify have partnered with Shopify to offer the same solution to artists. This gives you loads of power as you are not fighting the platform algorithms to force people away from your website – instead you’re inviting them to spend more time on the platform and engage with it in a deeper way and paying money to an entity that they are aware of and trust. The shops are easy to build, free to set up and work incredibly well.
Deciding what merch you want to sell is a mission in itself! Most bands are on the hunt for T-Shirts but once you go down the rabbit hole you can end up spending a lot of money on items such as sweets and teddy bears that might not fit your audience – so be careful how you spend your money!
Awesome Merch is a pretty comprehensive website that has worked with a lot of bands in the past. They are very good at most of the products most bands need including T-shirts, Hats, Beanies and Badges but they also offer slightly off-the-beaten-track products like mugs, bottles and art prints. One nice feature is that they also have a full eco range of products which is good if you want your store to be as eco-friendly as possible.
Although Rapanui have their own brand and designs, they also offer a custom option for the design of T-Shirts, Sweatshirts and Tote Bags. Whilst their offering for bands is a little limited, the one great thing about the brand is that they are fully Eco Friendly – not only are all the products organic but they are produced in a factory in the UK that is powered by renewable energy and all of their inks are water-based rather than including any nasty chemicals.
Solid merch are a really cool band-focussed merch company that specialise in products for bands. In addition to the regular products you might want for your merch store, you also have a few cool custom options including wristbands, foam fingers and posters and flyers.
Solid Merch also cater for vinyl, CD and Cassette production so you can get everything you need from once manufacturer if you like.
Spreadshirt were the original one-stop-shop t-shirt merch store. They’ve since branched out into all kinds of merch from bags and teddy bears through to mugs and keyrings.
The basic premise is that you set up your profile and shop on the Spreadshirt Platform. Each product has a base price – for example a custom printed T-Shirt might cost £15 and as the seller you can set your own commission. So if you’d like to £5 profit from your T-Shirt, you can choose that as your commission and the price listed on your shop page will be £20. For every sale, you’ll be paid £5 and Spreadshirt will take care of the printing, dispatch and deal with any complaints, etc. as part of their service.
Teemill offers a similar model to Spreadshirt but it’s a much cleaner model. Rather than getting into the direct to consumer game with their own store and designs, Teemill stick to allowing their customers to be the only ones selling. They also have an app for you to set up your store and the added bonus is that sustainability is a core part of the business.
The end result is that Teemill is a much simpler and easier to use partner for those of you looking for a one-stop-shop to handle your band merch needs without any financial costs upfront.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and as we’ve covered in this blog, the question of how to make your own merch website is a detailed and multi-faceted discussion. One stop shops can be a tempting way to enter into the world of band merch because they are relatively easy to set up and they require zero up front financial investment.
However, there are a few practical issues with the one-stop-shop model. Firstly, if you are a gigging band, the majority of your sales will generally be at gigs when your fans are primed to buy whatever it is that you are selling – so you will want to have at least some stock on hand and ready to sell. The pricing on a one-stop-shop is generally pretty high because the model assumes that your fans will going online and purchasing low quantities of products so you end up paying above the odds to have stock to then sell at your gigs.
Similarly, the one-stop-shop model also ends up forcing you to choose between a decent profit margin and a reasonable cost of products in your store. By buying and selling your own stock and managing it through your website in the Online Store model we discussed earlier, you have the power to shop around and get the best prices so that you can benefit from bulk pricing which gives you a greater profit margin. It’s also worth highlighting that the one-stop-shop journey as a customer is pretty clunky – typically a fan ends up clicking on a link from your social media or website which takes them to another website they’ve not heard of where they can buy merch. It’s a lot of clicks which generally means low uptake in terms of sales.
If you set up your own online store – whether that’s on your website or your social media or Spotify (or better yet, all of the above) you have total control over your store, your product availability and all of the intelligence and reporting that goes along with that – which can help you work out what your fans like the best. It’s a more complex route and also opens up the question of how to make merch (and don’t feel like you can’t make your own – a lot of bands do very well selling things they hand make themselves) – the control, intelligence, power to decide what you want to do and the ability to make sure your fans’ customer journey is seamless is really valuable.
The final piece of advice we’d offer is that you really think about what merch works for your fans. Don’t spend money getting teddy bears made if your fanbase is generally seasoned rockers in their forties. You want your merch to be an extension of your music so it should fit together perfectly and be consistent with your brand as a band or artist. And have fun with it, this kind of cottage-industry style working is one of the most fun things about being in a band and the lessons you learn about the business will serve you really well as you progress your career.
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