12 Oct 2018

Why you need to sell print-on-demand Tote Bags in your eCommerce store!

Why you need to sell Tote Bags in your Print-on-Demand Store!

If you haven’t heard of the Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin, you’ll at least be familiar with his most famous creation.

Back in 1965, he patented what he called a “bag composed of a polymeric weldable sheet material…having front and back panels.” Their “bottom edges” were “welded together to form a closed bottom for the bag,” and “the front and back panels” had “top edges welded together to form handle loops.”

Not the catchiest name – perhaps unsurprisingly, we settled on the less fussy name of ‘plastic bag.’ But anyway – this innocuous looking contraption has, in our lifetime, transformed from a mainstay of convenience into an environmental pariah.

Experts reckon that about 2 million plastic bags are used every minute (that’s around a trillion per year.) Which would be fine…except the majority of them are non-biodegradable which means that they take between 15 and 1000 years to break down.

In the meantime they’re clogging up the oceans, harming wildlife and basically causing all sorts of immense damage to the environment. They’ve been found in the depths of the oceans, near the summit of Mount Everest, and everywhere in between.

It’s probably unsurprising, given all this, that we’re being pushed towards reusable alternatives.

What are tote bags?

Enter the tote bag: a type of reusable bag which mirrors the look and feel of its plastic brother, but can be used over and over again – with a fraction of the environmental impact.

The era of self-expression

At the same time that plastic has emerged as public enemy number 1, we’ve seen a huge rise in consumer demand for personalisation and self-expression. The appeal of products like t-shirts, mugs and phone cases goes far beyond their practical use. These items (and others) have become the equivalent of billboards for the bands, artists, personalities, movies and TV shows we love. Yes, they serve a practical purpose – but they’re also items that empower us to show off a little part of our personality to the world. Custom merchandise is well and truly on the rise.

It’s exactly the same with tote bags. Sure, you could pile your weekly shopping into a plain brown tote bag – but where’s the fun in that?

Increasingly, we’re all keen to use bags that reflect our tastes and interests – that evoke something in us with every use.

What are tote bags used for?

Tote bags can be used for pretty much anything you’d need to use a bag for! We’ve hinted at the idea of a reusable shopping bag above, but the uses of a tote bag can extend far beyond the weekly shop.

Think work bag, laptop bag, baby bag, overnight bag, school bag, picnic bag, gym bag, beach bag, travel bag, work bag…or simple fashion accessory! This gives you lots of potential business ideas and angles to work with in terms of selling tote bags into different audiences.

What are tote bags made out of?

Furthering the environmental claims of the tote bag, they’re often made from recycled materials themselves. Here at Kite, for example, our woven twill tote sling bag is made out of 60% recycled organic cotton, and 40% recycled polyester twill weave. Whichever type of tote bag you decide to print and sell, make sure you check on the fabric – this could easily become a tool to strengthen the marketing of your product.

How to sell tote bags

With governments, businesses and individuals all under pressure to cut their plastic use – and consumers more keen than ever for custom merchandise – the (already considerable) popularity of tote bags is likely to soar in the coming months and years.

This creates a huge business opportunity, and in the next part of this article, we’ll walk you through how you can take advantage by selling tote bags in your store.

Define your audience

We’ve touched on it above: what really inspires people to carry round a tote bag with a particular design on it is that it reflects their passion.

So, in order to successfully sell tote bags – with ‘successfully’ being the operative word! – you need to tap into a particular passion. It’s the same for any item of merchandise.

If you’re lucky enough to be an influencer – a musician, artist, photographer, YouTuber or content creator with an existing audience – this is easier. After all, your audience’s passion will be for you and your work. You already have the audience to tap into and market to. (And, in many cases, you’ll already have the artwork, logo or illustrations to apply to your products.)

Just head to the Kite Shopify Merch plugin and install it to your Shopify store. Fire it up, and upload your band logo, a slogan, strapline or artwork as a high quality PNG file. You can then drag, drop and tweak your way to a fantastic tote bag your followers are going to need to have.

But if, like the majority of us, you’re not an influencer – you’ll need to find “an audience” and tap into their passion. Of course, you also need to make sure you’re legally allowed to print your design. This means ensuring that you own the rights to your artwork – and avoiding infringing on intellectual properties. Say, for example, you want to market to theme park lovers; that’s a great idea. But selling a product with a Disney World character printed on it, for example, is NOT a good idea. In fact, it’s one of the quickest ways to a cease-and-desist from Mickey Mouse himself!

The audience for your tote bags should be consistent with the audience for your other products.

  • Start with you. There’s a lot to be said for imagining yourself as your perfect consumer. Firstly, that’s because we’re always willing to get more excited and devote more time to our own interests and passions. But also, you’ll be able to communicate authentically – which is more important now than ever.
  • Open your eyes and ears. Listen to what people are talking about around you. What are your friends and family passionate about? What are their interests and hobbies? What are the beliefs they hold that are strong enough that they’d carry them around with them?
  • Latch onto trends. What are people searching for on Google? What’s trending on social networks? What’s hot on Reddit and Know Your Meme? These are all great barometers of things that lots of people find interesting or engaging.
  • Get a helping hand. Really struggling? Check out this list of 1109 profitable niche markets. You can choose one or simply use the list to inspire you further.
  • Validate the idea. It’s always a mistake to simply assume that an audience or community exists purely based on your gut feeling. Avoid assumptions; search for that audience. Try and isolate where these people are, and what they do online. Search for it on social media channels. How are the numbers for Facebook Groups? How widely used is the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram? Use Keywords Everywhere – a free Chrome Extension – to validate how many people are searching for your keyword on a monthly basis, and how difficult it might be to rank for that keyword. Search Google for “<your keyword> “forums”” to find online communities where these people hang out. These are all ways of validating that the idea has potential – and give you a very simple roadmap for places to start promoting your product range once it’s live.

For the purpose of our example, we’re going to keep this super-simple. While we were writing this post, the hashtag #NationalDogDay was trending #1 in the UK. And that got us thinking – if there’s one thing everybody loves, it’s their pet dog. Further market research tells us that around 24% of the UK adult population has a dog – that’s around 8.9 million furry friends in total.

So, let’s get to it. We used some pretty ropey lateral thinking to come up with the brand name ‘My Doggy Bags’ which is a pun on the bags used by restaurants to allow diners to take leftover food home with them.

Now, it was time to snag some doggy-themed designs to apply to our tote bags. There are a few options available here:

  • 99designs is a ‘design contest’ site. You basically create a brief for your logo/design. Designers are able to pitch their designs – giving you lots of different options to choose from. And as a customer, you only pay for the one that you choose.
  • Upwork and People per Hour are freelance platforms where you can connect with freelance designers, brief work to them, and manage the delivery of that project from start to completion.
  • DIY. Of course, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a designer, you can use your own skills here to save costs and boost your margins. You can use industry leading software like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop on a subscription basis – or their free counterparts, Inkscape and GIMP respectively. For this exercise, we decided to go even more basic than this – we used Canva, which is a browser-based design tool. If you visit the Kite products page, you’ll be able to find the exact dimensions for the printable area on each product. You can use these dimensions to create your design.

We ended up with 3 separate designs, including the one we created ourselves, and uploaded them to the Kite Product Generator.

Clicking into each of the designs by hovering over them and hitting ‘View,’ we were able to edit the logo placement, and a bunch of other factors, of our tote bags.

We ended up with this…

Promote your products.

“Build it and they will come,” might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but it definitely doesn’t cut the mustard in the world of online retail! Success in eCommerce comes down to a simple, but extremely challenging, equation; getting the right product in front of the right person.

By spending time isolating your audience – and making sure the demand for your product exists – you’ve given yourself a great head start here. A lot of the research you did earlier on in this process (identifying forums, social media groups, websites and influencers in your chosen niche) is going to stand you in great stead when it comes to promoting your new bags to your audience.

When it comes to social promotion, you should check out our guides to marketing on Facebook and Instagram respectively.

You could consider setting up introductory discounts for your new products (or your store launch if these are your first products) to drum up some initial interest and sales. These are easy to set up through Shopify – just hit ‘Discounts’ from the Shopify dashboard, then ‘Create Discount.’

Discounts give you a great ‘excuse’ to reach out to the groups and communities in your niche; there’s much greater value in a promotional offer that gives the audience some added bonus. You could even reach out to respected websites in your chosen niche and offer to create a ‘custom’ discount code purely for the readers of that website.

Don’t forget to promote your products offline too. In our doggy-based example, we could have created a bunch of fliers or business cards and posted them in our local pet shop, for example. There are often low-tech, high-impact ideas waiting right under your nose.

Thanks for reading!

In this article, we’ve given you just a few reasons why you need to start selling print-on-demand tote bags in your ecommerce store – and a few starting points to help you do it.

As the pressure increases to stop using plastic – and the pressure of carrying things around remains consistent – reusable bags are a GREAT business opportunity, and a must-have item in your store.

Remember; isolate your audience. Add value to those people and keep them front of mind throughout your whole experience. And keep in mind that, while it takes a matter of minutes to set up print-on-demand tote bags as a product in your store – long-term success takes much longer and relies on a great deal of promotion, hustle and creativity.

Good luck!

If you want to sell Tote Bags in your Shopify eCommerce store then we have just the right App for you!

Shopify Merch Plugin