Where have all the t-shirts gone?

Let’s talk about t-shirt availability, or lack thereof.

If you’ve been here more than once, you know our history with t-shirt inventory is a strange one. The very first version of United Pixelworkers had a normal inventory process. We’d buy a batch of tees and slowly—very slowly—sell through them. It turns out we couldn’t afford to do that, so we switched to a pre-sale, get-em-while-they-last model. While that worked pretty well, it was never perfect. If you missed the pre-sale—whether it was because you knew and couldn’t afford to pick up the shirt at the time or just didn’t hear about it until it was gone—you were out of luck. To fix that problem, we started buying a few extra shirts after the pre-sale ended. That worked even better, but what if we ran out and demand wasn’t sufficient to order more shirts? Surely those people also deserve the shirt they came to buy. In our zeal to make sure every last customer was satisfied, we introduced yet another twist: sign up to be notified when your shirt and size is back in stock. That helped us gauge demand for which shirts to bring back, but despite that improvement, many shirts still had only five or 10 people signed up. If you’ve ever tried selling anything, you know that even these extremely qualified leads aren’t going to convert well-enough to make that model work. We’d end up ordering 12 or so additional shirts, maybe a quarter of the people that signed up would grab one, and we’d be left with half-a-dozen assorted sizes that nobody really wanted. Six months later we’d be back in the same position. A handful of people would have signed up to be notified when a shirt was back, and we’d be reluctant to add to the pile of shirts on the shelves that weren’t ever going to sell.

So now you’re up to speed. Entering the holiday season last year (2013), we had hundreds of shirts that barely moved. Because we didn’t have the normal constraints of a physical store, we saw no reason to remove shirts from the site that we might, someday, maybe bring back. This is the Internet, after all, we don’t need to be bound by convention. You know what, though? Even Wikipedia has deletionists. In order to be honest with ourselves and our customers, we need to acknowledge that many (most) of the shirts we’ve ever released aren’t coming back. We’ve done three completely different shirts for every state in the union. We’ve done over 60 city shirts. We’ve had dozens of guest designers and partners. Some of those shirts have been incredibly popular. We’re going to keep making those ones. Some have been less popular. We’re going to let those ones go. If you look at the home page, you’ll see the ones we’ve chosen to stock up on first. We’ve got:

That’s 10 shirts. As long as those are in the rotation, they’ll always be in stock. As soon as we get low, we’ll order more.

Does that mean there will never be any other shirts on the site? No. We’ve got lots of plans for new shirts and for bringing back old shirts that sell consistently. In addition to that, the local tee sponsorship program is up and running. If you’re interested in seeing your local tee back on the site, contact us and we’ll get you sorted.

Here’s what you can expect as far as products go in 2014:

  • Our best-selling tees will be in stock all the time.
  • New shirts on a provisional, pre-sale basis. Unless a shirt absolutely blows up during the pre-sale, that’s going to be your only chance to get it. This time we mean it.
  • Lots of new, non-shirt products. Everyone loved the thermals and hats—which is good because we liked making them. Be on the lookout for more in that vein.

One more thing. Mystery tees. That’s right. Mystery tees are back. Get ’em while they last. $6. Cheap.

Here are some comments

  1. Horrible idea. I came to this site week after week waiting for you to restock your amazing state shirts and pixel anatomical heart shirt. Hearing this news just solidifies me no longer having to come back to the site.

  2. Good Business decision, makes total sense. Although you will have some customers that hate it because they like more of a selection, I think many of your other fans will understand and stay buying.

  3. From a business decision I get it, inventory is sheer hell and you have to deal with it one way or another. As a long time fan of you guys and your brand, I have some thoughts on this:

    Personally, every time I came to your store I would browse the plethora of shirts you had. Some I didn’t like, some sort of, and others I loved. It’s because of that selection that I kept checking back to see if it would grow and what new products were offered. With the limited inventory now, I feel fairly blind.

    I know, because I’ve seen past designs, how diversified in style/color your items can be. So because I have this knowledge, I know to look forward for good things to come! However, if I were a new customer for the first time, not aware of your extensive portfolio, I would take a look at what you currently have presented and honestly wouldn’t be that excited, probably pass up what could have been an awesome brand.

    Have you been able to judge your customer retention based on this?

    Here’s an idea I have for you guys. Feature a tab/link/picture to show every single past shirt you’ve made, like a tribute to your work. That way new potential buyers are able to see the wide range of designs you create, and can have the confidence to check back often to see how. Your portfolio is massive and extremely impressive, even if you don’t carry those shirts anymore, you’d be insane not to show it off.

  4. @chris You’re absolutely right. Technically you can browse the shirts right now in The Archive. We haven’t decided how we’re going to position that page, though, so it’s not linked anywhere.

  5. That blows. The thing I loved most about this site were all the amazing options. The site has been pretty stale of late and now I know why. It’s your business and I can only speak for myself but I will becoming back less and less now.

  6. Yah, have to agree with some of the other posts. I understand the why but still not happy that my locals aren’t represented and might never be again; especially when I’m in San Francisco/Silicon Valley and I see Calgary and Portland available.

  7. I get your your dilemma. I want one those glow in the dark night owl whatever shirts. How about this: You pick dates in the future or maybe once a month or something. Let people know that they need to preorder (and pay) before then. Put a countdown timer on the site if u like. You could also list all of the designs and allow people to sort by popularity. The deadline passes and you print the shirts. Happy customers and zero inventory of non-city preprinted shirts. You could have a new design of the month or something to keep people coming back. If it works consider letting people pick their tshirt color. Please please please. Do it!