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Selling t-shirts online – week one learnings

Three brains Introvert Christmas 3/4 Baseball T-shirt at Redbubble

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Why read this? : We launched our first online store as Three-Brains last week. While it’s still top of mind, we share lessons we’re picking up about selling t-shirts online. Read this to learn about more aspects of the t-shirt selling customer experience. Learn about delivery, pricing and the importance of having insight behind your designs. 

When we launched our first online store last week, it had 2 objectives. Selling T-shirts online of course, but also as a way to test out our e-Commerce skills

It helps with our coaching and consulting, if we’re also actively managing an online store ourselves. 

Insights we pick up. Things that go well. Marketing mistakes we make.

All part of the learning process we can then share with our business customers. 

Man wearing a blue T-shirt that says Christmas Day decisions and shows a TV with 4 options - baddie falls from skyscraper, creepy guy on doorstep saying nothing, family flee nazis while singing, grown man overacts but nicely

So how has our selling t-shirts online experience gone so far?

In a word, slowly.

We didn’t expect a flood of customers. Let’s be honest, no-one knows our brand yet. But it feels like we launched and the world kinda just shrugged. 

That’s OK though. We know e-Commerce is a long term play.  On our first online store, on a much more well-known brand, it took 3 months before we really saw any proper sales and another 6 months after that before sales really took off. (see our e-Commerce forecast article for more on this). 

And that was with a clear D2C business model, and the experience of overcoming many of the barriers to e-Commerce

But this launch has been fun. We’ve learned some new things. And after this first week of selling T-shirts online, here’s some lessons we can share. 

Test the full shopper experience

As per our setting up your own online store guide, there’s a number of Print on Demand suppliers you can work with.

Print on Demand is the channel we chose for selling t-shirts online, coming out of our e-Commerce planning process

We chose Spreadshirt as a supplier for a couple of reasons. The User Experience (UX) on their site was better than anyone else we looked at.

It was quick and easy to set up the shop and start selling T-shirts online. 

Screengrab of the Three-Brains Spreadshirt shop home page showing design topics for T-shirt designs

You can also embed the code from their shop into your store website. This helps with our SEO as customers visit your site and you benefit from the traffic you generate. 

So far, so good.

Test the order to delivery model

Unfortunately, what we didn’t fully check before we launched was their order to delivery model.

A big learning there. 

Even though they have an Australian .com.au website and an Australia contact number, it wasn’t until we ran a test order that we realised they deliver Australian orders from the US.

And we were doing all our test marketing in Australia without realising the impact of US delivery times and costs to Australia.

A subscription model box branded with three-brains on a doorstep

So anyone seeing one of our social media adverts (in Australia) when they clicked to buy a $24.99 T-Shirt, suddenly got faced with the following options (based on looking at the site today, 16 Dec 2019)

1. Standard shipping : $16.99 Delivery between 30 Dec – 07 Jan. No tracking provided. May be subject to import taxes, customs, and duties upon delivery.

2. International Express : $37.99 Delivery between 17 Dec – 20 Dec. Tracking provided and delivery by FedEx. Not deliverable to PO Boxes. May be subject to import taxes, customs, and duties upon delivery.

So, our initial four Christmas T-shirt designs, would either be delivered after New Year, would not be tracked and could incur import taxes, customs and duties.

Brilliant.

Or, the customer could pay an additional 150% of the cost of the T-shirt ($38 delivery on a $25 shirt) to have it delivered in the next 3 days. A total cost of $57.48 for one T-shirt. From a brand that no-one would have known existed 10 days ago. 

Hmmm.

Clearly our customer experience for Australian shoppers in this shop needs more work. (Check out our article on Print on Demand suppliers for Australian deliveries for more on this). 

For customers based in the US, the Spreadshirt were much more reasonable on both cost and timing :-

  1. Standard shipping $6.99 Dec 18 – Dec 26. Tracking provided. Saturday delivery. Delivery by USPS. Delivery to Alaska/Hawaii may take longer.
  2. Premium $9.99 Dec 18 – Dec 20. Tracking provided. Saturday delivery. Sent via USPS Priority Mail.
  3. Express $26.99 Dec 17 – Dec 18. Tracking provided and delivery by FedEx. Delivery not available for AK, HI, PO Box and APO.

These are clearly more attractive for online shoppers than the cost and time delays shipping from the US to Australia. But it does mean we’ll switch our marketing activity for our Spreadshirt store to be US only.

So, what do we do instead for Australian customers?

Well, we had a list of other Print on Demand suppliers we  planned to add anyway. So, we picked Redbubble as our next POD supplier to test.

We knew they were originally Australian, so we thought it a good bet they’d have delivery services based in Australia.

(Note : Incorrectly as it happens. After this post we found out Redbubble deliveries for Australia also get shipped from the US). 

So, looking at a similar T-shirt offer and design to the ones we set up to sell via Spreadshirt, the shipping and delivery works out slightly better for Australia-based consumers.

We have a $19.62 T-shirt, that with $6.99 standard shipping will arrive by 24th December if sent today.

Woman wearing a black T-shirt with a design showing a WiFi symbol and the words Australian Invention

And an express shipping option for $12.50 that, well weirdly still only promises to deliver by 24th December, but we have 3 days to place that order.

We assume that means it’ll arrive by 21st December, but it’s a little unclear.

A bit of an opportunity for Redbubble to improve the UX there. But adding actual delivery time into this form is probably technically challenging we assume. 

Pricing

It was also at this point we found the pricing section on Redbubble.

On Spreadshirt, you add your artist margin in against each product. Pretty simple and it’s set as an absolute amount. $2, $4 or more per item.

On Redbubble, it’s a separate section, and you set a percentage margin for each sale. This defaults to 20%. That’d mean we’d make somewhere between $3.57 and $7.61 per T-shirt we sold.

Lit up dollar signs on a dark background

So now, we’ve updated the home page and landing page to have both options (Spreadshirt and Redbubble). We noted where the products ship from to give potential shoppers an easier selection and expectation of delivery time and cost.

It’s still not perfect. But it’s better for shoppers than when we launched. We have more Print on Demand suppliers we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks.

Work on the insight more for T-shirt buying

We documented thoughts on our introvert and extrovert designs in the design section.

We think we’ve captured the behaviours of introverts and extroverts in a quite insight driven way. But we’ve got more thinking to do to work out if this is enough to drive sales with that design. 

Our SEO keyword secondary research showed not a lot of searches on the words ‘introvert’ or ‘extrovert’.

We suspect those that do search are probably not looking for T-shirts. So far, our best keywords are Christmas T-shirts and Christmas Tee Shirts.

We also wonder with the ‘introvert’ thing if true introverts would want to draw attention to their introversion by wearing a T-shirt.

Three brains Introvert Christmas 3/4 Baseball T-shirt at Redbubble

Maybe.

Maybe not.

We have more design ideas to come and want to broaden the audience targeting. There are clearly many other niches when it comes to e-commerce selling t-shirts.

Refine designs

We don’t think our first T-shirt designs will win any awards. We never expected them too. It’s our first go at designing T-shirts after all.

Nobody gets things right the first time.

There’s quite a lot of text. We relied on that a little too much. Our next designs will be more refined visually. We learn from our marketing mistakes and move on. 

The ‘too much text’ has a couple of extra challenges. The pictures don’t render well on the Spreadshirt shop when the design is detailed. And when you put them into Facebook ads, you get warnings from Facebook about too much text in your advertising.

This is not a good thing. We’re working on making our next set of designs punchier and less dependent on text to tell the story.

(See also our article on T-shirt learnings which covers simplicity of designs, shortcuts to T-shirt design and using Facebook to advertise T-shirts).

Conclusion - there's much to learn selling t-shirts online

In summary, we’d say we’ve learned lots of new things when it comes to selling t-shirts online. We hope sharing those is useful. 

But it’s also given us more to think about. 

And that’s kind of the point of why we did this. You don’t know until you try things out. 

Even though we’ve worked in e-Commerce, and launched online stores before, every time you do it, you learn something new. 

man in a blue T-shirt looking at the ceiling

We’re a new brand. We only did our first burst of advertising last week. Nobody knows who we are yet or what we stand for. We’ve yet to make clear to our target audience what our positioning is and what our brand identity means for them.

That’s OK. For now anyway.

The T-shirt side of the business was always going to be a slow-burner. And it’s as much about establishing credentials for the coaching and consultancy side of the business which launches in the New Year, as it is about selling T-shirts.

Check out our shop for more on this. Or contact us if you’re interested in finding out more about selling T-shirts online.

Photo credit

Doorstep delivery (adapted) : Photo by MealPro on Unsplash

Dollar lights : Photo by Chronis Yan on Unsplash

Man looking at ceiling (adapted) : Photo by Anton Danilov on Unsplash

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