Finding products to sell with your online store
Do you want to start an online store? Selling online can be a lucrative way to launch your business. Ecommerce is a fast-growing sector of the economy and estimated to account for 95% of all transactions by 2040. Currently it accounts for about 14-18% of all global retail sales.
To get into ecommerce, you first need products. Selling items online is what ecommerce is all about. Knowing what you’ll sell is half the battle of starting your business. Where should you start finding items to sell?
What kinds of items are sold online?
Before you can decide what to sell online, you should discover the general types of items people sell. They fall into a few categories and the simplest distinction to make between them is whether they’re physical or digital.
Physical items typically have a higher perceived value than digital items because they were physically made and customers can hold them in their hands. Plus it’s harder to make illicit copies of physical goods. But physical items are also more expensive to sell because you need warehouse or storage space, and if you’re making the items yourself, you’ll need to pay for the materials.
By contrast, selling digital items requires much less effort. You only need to make the item once, and then you can just sell that forever. You don’t have to deal with shipping issues when you sell digital items, and don’t need to deal with supply chain issues. If your customer buys a digital item, they get it immediately.
But on the other hand, it’s easier to illegally copy digital items and resell them, and they’re more likely than physical items to be refunded.
Then you can categorise items based on what they represent to customers. That means asking yourself: why are people buying this? There are a few reasons.
The item addresses an immediate and quantifiable need: these are responses to observed problems customers face, and they are the best kind of item to find. They are immediately marketable and resonate with customers. They address the problem in a way that is clear and observable.
The item is somewhat like a vitamin: it solves an emotional need and definitely has long-term benefits, but it’s hard to quantify what those are. Successfully marketed vitamin items will fulfil a customer’s psychological needs.
The item is a ‘nice-to-have’. It doesn’t really serve a need or have inherent benefits, but it’s nice for other reasons. These items bring immediate pleasure and if they become trendy, they can be very profitable. However that means they’re often only valuable for a short time before everyone forgets about them.
Before we guide you through how to find items to sell online, here are some basic principles to bear in mind that apply to whatever you choose.
Be unique: it’s always going to be better for you if the items you sell are original and not reproductions of existing items.
Price items well: generally speaking, the best price for a new item is between £15 and £100. There’s a good amount of room in that range, but the important thing is items cheaper than that are slow to generate revenue, and more expensive items are difficult to sell.
In general, try not to sell seasonal items. It’s hard to sell consistently if your item is only used at one time of year.
Try to sell items that aren’t fragile and aren’t too big. That way, it’s less likely they will break during shipping and cost you profits. Smaller items will also make storage and shipping much easier.
Make your items customisable: if customers have different options this can make your store unique.
If you can, offer items related to one another. Items designed to be paired sell more easily. If you sell shower gel and a shower pouf together, they’re likely to both sell since one enhances the other.
Finding your niche
Now that you know a little about the kinds of things you can sell, how do you go about finding the precise item? First find your niche. The right one will allow you to occupy a vacant, or close to vacant, space in the market.
There are a few steps you can take towards finding a niche that not only makes sense from a profitability standpoint, but that appeals to you. It’s important to sell an item you are passionate about or at least believe in, because selling online is a commitment and you want that commitment to stay interesting.
Finding your niche is all about research. Get ideas for items to sell online by searching everywhere people are buying or talking about items – Amazon, eBay, Facebook groups, or subreddits. See what’s appealing and to whom it appeals.
Research item keywords
Once you have an idea of the items you’re selling, find out how popular your idea is and who is already doing it. That’s where keyword research comes in. Keyword research just means taking note of which Google search terms generate the most interest and who else is already using those terms.
There are plenty of free keyword research tools out there. One is Google Keyword Planner, which tells you how many people search for the keywords you enter, as well as how much competition there is from other websites. You can use these results to fine-tune what you’ll sell.
It’s tempting to see a keyword with hundreds of thousands of search results and want to stop the search right away, but keywords with high search volume also mean more competition. A perfect middle ground would be something specific enough, or ‘long tail’, to have less competition and more opportunity to own your niche.
For example, the phrase ‘cat food’ might return many results, but those results may already point to far bigger brands than yours. You can therefore narrow down the scope, going from ‘cat food’ to ‘organic cat food’ to ‘organic, heart-healthy cat food’ and so on. But be careful not to get so specific that you end up with no search results.
Address customer pain points
How do you make sure your keywords are in that sweet spot between specificity and relevance? A step towards this is addressing customer pain points with your item. Addressing pain points turns your item into one that addresses an immediate need of your target audience – which is the best kind of item to sell. But how do you find them?
Do the same kind of research you did while figuring out items people were interested in, only this time, also pay attention to the negatives. Read item reviews on sites like Amazon to discover issues customers are having with their items. Keep in mind a pain point doesn’t have to be physical – it can be mental or emotional.
Once you’ve identified recurring problems customers face, incorporate the solutions into your used keywords. For example, if customers’ complaints about an item involve it not being waterproof, work off the fact that the version you offer is waterproof, so that customers will find your item in their searches.
Another reason for appealing to pain points is that learning what customers don’t like about the items currently available gives you deeper knowledge of the niche you’re serving.
Appeal to passion
Another great way to build your niche is by appealing to people who are passionate about a certain item or hobby. Passionate customers tend to spend more and generally have stronger feelings towards particular brands or retailers. Convince them your item is the best available and you’ll have a dedicated customer base.
Appealing to passion doesn’t have to be only about your customers. If you have passion for your own item, this can be a huge help in selling it – especially because you can speak to your audience about it with empathy rather than just as a salesperson.
Tap into trends
Another avenue towards building a niche is to find on-trend items. Trendy items are generally recent arrivals that create a lot of hype. It can be big for your business if you can identify a trend before others do.
Discovering trends is easier than ever thanks to the internet and abundantly available digital marketing tools. Here are a few tricks you can use to keep an eye on trends:
Social listening: monitor Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms to see which hashtags and items are trending. Simply browse these sites yourself or you can set up social listening tools to monitor for you.
Google Trends: similarly to social media platforms, you can use Google to track trends. By monitoring search results, you stay aware of spikes in interest.
Trend Hunter: this is one of the largest trend communities on the internet with a combination of data, artificial intelligence and customer testimony used to identify trends in the market.
Reddit: the self-proclaimed ‘front page of the internet’ has a subreddit covering just about any topic that exists. And discussions often get very detailed, so you’ll have a lot of interesting insights.
You can find trends by browsing the best-selling items on websites like Amazon and Etsy. Browse items by category or search different lists like ‘highest selling’, ‘most wished for’ and ‘most popular’.
When hunting for trends, try not to confuse them with fads. A fad is only based on novelty or a gimmick, and they don’t last. Great sales opportunities while they’re around, but once they’re gone, you’ll need a new cash crop.
By contrast, a trend will be around for longer because trends fulfil existing needs in new ways. This goes back to addressing customer pain points; a trending item will solve customer needs by solving the things they have issues with.
Sell more than an item
If you want to make a mark selling your items online, go beyond for your customers. For example, offer a service along with your item. By offering both, you can make money in two ways.
Some examples of a service you can offer to complement your items are:
A knife-sharpening service to go along with the knives you sell
An interior design service in addition to selling artwork
Sell furniture and offer a moving service
By offering services as well as items, you can go from store to institution. The more your customers rely on you, the more potential your business has.
Where to get what you sell online
Now that you know the kinds of items that are best to sell and how to decide what you’ll sell online, the last question is where to physically procure your items. There are a few ways you could go about sourcing what you sell.
Make the item yourself
Making items yourself is ideal if you’re planning to sell items that support a hobby. You will need to account for the cost of the materials if this is how you opt to produce your items.
Making items yourself can also present challenges if, and hopefully when, you scale up your business. As your business develops, you’ll need more employees to help you produce enough to meet the growing demand.
Similar to making items yourself, you can have them manufactured. This entails outsourcing the work of making the items to a third-party company; if you’re concerned about price, this third-party company is usually going to be China, Taiwan or India. But you need to make sure you find a trustworthy contractor.
Buying items wholesale
If your goal is to sell and not to make anything yourself, wholesale buying is a good option. You have near endless brands and companies to source items from, and you can focus entirely on the business side of your online store.
Although wholesale buying is a great way to find items to sell online, the fact that so many other stores do it means you will face competition. You’ll also need to have a way to manage the inventory you buy, which usually means a warehouse or other storage.
There are two parties involved in making dropshipping work: a dropshipper and a dropshipping partner.
You as the business owner take on the role of the dropshipper. You take orders and redirect them to the dropshipping partner. Your dropshipping partner takes care of everything related to handling the items, including shipping, storage, packing and delivery. Your profit comes from the difference between the item costs – which include shipping and handling fees, as well as the wholesale cost of the item – and the prices in your shop.
Not every business will dropship items, but many do; 20 to 30% of online retailers use dropshipping, including massive companies like Amazon. Dropshipping gives you a huge range of items to sell just like buying wholesale does, but when you dropship, you don’t pay for anything unless an order comes in.
Dropshipping is the easiest way for up-and-coming online stores to establish themselves. You don’t have to handle any of the technical concerns of running a business, only the marketing. You can find businesses to partner with by contacting them directly or by using a dropshipping directory.
Getting started selling online is all about finding the right items, and the key to deciding what items you’ll sell is finding your niche. That’s a matter of item and audience research, as well as monitoring social media and forums where people discuss the items they use.
You can sell a variety of types of items; big, small, digital, physical, essential goods, or luxury goods. You have a few options for sourcing items and the method you choose depends to an extent on the items you choose to sell.
For example, if you are a furniture retailer, dropshipping probably makes the most sense, as the bigger and more fragile items get, the harder they are to ship properly. Smaller, less expensive goods are easier to buy wholesale.
If your item is something that appeals to peoples’ passions, then homemade or manufactured is a good option to consider. Customers who buy based on passion are usually very specific and exacting, and appreciate the artisan nature of their goods. It’s a good opportunity to emphasise the craftsmanship and heart behind your item.
When you’re searching for items to sell online remember that, ideally, you would be solving a problem in whatever niche you enter. If you can do that, finding your market will be much easier. Once you have your item, it’s a few short steps to setting up a store and getting your first online customers.