Header for E-commerce 101 for Musicians

The world of e-commerce can be confusing for independent musicians. With services like Shopify and Stripe to research and terms like P.O.D. to learn, it’s tough to just get started, let alone succeed.

That’s why we’re here to give you a crash course in e-commerce for artists. We’ll cover platform options, things to be aware of when selling merch online, and even some creative merch ideas.

But first, let’s answer the basic question…

What is e-commerce?

E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods or services online, as opposed to selling or purchasing things in a physical space such as a store or venue.  When you buy something on Amazon, you’re using e-commerce. Pretty simple!

So how can you the independent musicians use e-commerce to sell music and merch? And what options do you have?

Which e-commerce platform should I use?

Shopify: This is the current number one e-commerce platform. Shopify integrates with your artist website and social media profiles like Facebook and Instagram. It also boasts an entire ecosystem of additional apps that can help you supercharge your online sales.

Bandcamp: If you’re already selling your digital downloads on Bandcamp, you can add physical products as well. CDs, shirts, you name it, you can sell it on Bandcamp.

How do I choose an e-commerce platform?

There are at least four things to consider when choosing e-commerce tools:

  1. Cost: This is the big one. Times are tight right now and you don’t want to overpay for tools and services you don’t need yet. Which leads to…
  2. Needs: How much merch are you selling currently? Do you require a robust store with fancy email automations and upsell options? Are you just starting out and only have a few items to sell?
  3. Outsourcing: There’s a middle ground between going to the post office every time you sell something and using a dedicated shipping service that handles all the warehousing and order fulfillment. A service like Print Station can help you print shipping labels at home and find you the cheapest shipping method.
  4. P.O.D. vs. bulk printing: “Print-on-Demand” is a process where you only have items manufactured individually as they’re purchased. The downsides are often higher cost per unit (so you make less money), and a slightly lower printing quality. The upsides are that the POD service will ship the item to your customer for you (convenience), and you avoid the risk of ordering excess stock that sits in your garage or closet for the next two years. A mix of print-on-demand and bulk printing can be wise. This lets you test new merch offerings with zero upfront cost; then once a POD item has proven popular, you can print in bulk for higher quality and higher returns. There are many P.O.D. services, including Printful, which is easily integrated with Bandzoogle and Shopify.

Things to be aware of when shipping your merch

1. Shipping rates

Understand where your fans are. Lean towards the high side for shipping rates and you can always set a discount later.

2. How you package your product

Consider slimmer options for CDs to lighten the package and lower shipping costs.

3. Volume

How much merch are fans ordering? Set aside time each week to ship orders. Think about printing on-demand instead of in-bulk if your volume is lower.

4. What kind of products you’re selling

If you offer unique merch, you may have difficulty finding a fulfillment service, and you’ll have to sell and ship it yourself.

5. Think about popularity of items

If you have a few shirts that sell a lot, it could be worth it to print those in-bulk and ship them on your own. Bulk printing is cheaper per unit, so you’ll make more money per sale.

6. You’ll need a payment method

People need a way to pay you, right? If you’re setting up your own online store, you could use something like PayPal or even Venmo, but there are also other payment processing options such as Stripe that are easily integrated with other e-commerce tools.

DIY merch ideas

Are you ready to sell some merch online but not sure where to start?

Here are some merch ideas for indie musicians:

  • CDs: Yes, people still buy CDs! And they’re high margin items, which means they cost little to make and you can charge $10 or more for each. Personalize them to incentive people to buy them. Eco options instead of normal jewel cases make them even cheaper to manufacture and ship.
  • Think outside the box: Everyone sells shirts. Make merch that is unique. Personalized notes or signed drum heads. Even one of a kind items, like a personalized concert on cassette.
  • Limited editions: Only make a small quantity of an item to entice people to buy something scarce!
  • Make videos for your merch: Show your fans “how it’s made.” Or even do an unboxing video when you receive merch from the manufacturer.
  • Look local: There might be a merch shop in your area. A place that prints shirts near you that you can visit and check out their quality. That will usually help you save on shipping costs when the merch is sent to you.
  • Buttons: Super cheap and you can do a set for people to order multiple different buttons. Pure Buttons is a great option.
  • Factor the form factor: Books are easy to package but can be expensive by weight. Posters are annoying due to the tubes they ship in.
  • Digital merch: PDF booklets instead of physical books. Use them for lyrics or liner notes or extra art so people who don’t want the CD can still access extras. Tab books for people to learn your songs. Easy to host on your website and cheap. Sell your full digital discography in one zip file so new fans can access your entire catalog for one price.

Tips for selling merch

And finally, a few tips for selling your merch online:

  • Don’t be afraid to actively sell: Advertise your merch on your social profiles and in your emails.
  • Use your email signature: Not every email needs to sell, but every email should give people a chance to buy. Link to your most popular merch below your signoff, in what marketer’s call your email “super signature.”
  • Follow up with people: Use your e-commerce platform’s “abandon cart” features. Track people who added items to their cart but didn’t check out. Send them automated emails or ads to entice them back towards purchasing. Sweeten the deal with a discount.
  • Create an unforgettable experience: Use cool packaging. Put some extras like stickers or personalized letters in the mailer. If it’s a surprise and their experience is good, they might want to buy more from you.
  • Keep notes on who’s bought what: If you offer an item at a discount, make sure you don’t send the offer email to someone who already bought it at full price.
  • How to move items that aren’t selling: Tell your fans you’re putting items on sale. “Everything must go!” Fans know you’re offering them a deal.
  • Lead with your story: It’s more than just a merch item. It’s a part of your overall journey, and it should say something about your audience too. Provide your fans some value so they buy into your brand, and see themselves in your story. This is what will make fans buy and wear your merch like a badge of honor.
  • Experiment with price: Don’t be afraid to lower or raise price based on what’s selling.

Learn more about selling music merch online

Want expert advice on e-commerce? Listen to our full podcast episode.