HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHAT TO SELL ONLINE
I’ve been in the eCommerce industry for over 10 years. Because I’ve started 3 of my own successful businesses, I’ve gotten very good at figuring out the perfect product to sell (the most recent one being modern cat furniture).
In this article, I’m going to show you step-by-step my exact approach to finding and sourcing products that will be crucial to your success down the line.
Criteria of a “perfect” product
Here are some general rules for a perfect product. You don’t need all of these, but the more you have the better.
- Retail price is $50-$100. This is not exact and it’s fine if you’re slightly above or below, but this is usually considered the sweet spot for online purchases. You’ll be making enough on each sale to justify spending on ads and fulfillment, but it’s a small enough amount that customers are fine pulling the trigger.
- Easy to ship. Shipping is a huge part of e-commerce and you’ll save yourself a ton of hassle if your product is small or lightweight and easy to ship vs clunky oversize items.
- Hard to find. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Amazon. If you’re selling the exact same thing that’s easily available on Amazon, you’re in trouble. Ideally, you are selling a product or category that is very hard to find.
- People already want it. Too often, I speak to entrepreneurs who are looking to invent a category. Though this can work, it’s usually a huge risk that you don’t need to take. Look to sell things that people are already buying.
- Low-quality competition. If there’s no competition, it usually means there’s not much demand. You *want* competition, but you want a bad competition where you can come in and take over. So if you’re selling high-quality masquerade masks, you want to see competitors who are selling low-quality masquerade masks.
- You can build a theme around it. Ideally, you’re not selling just a product, you’re selling a collection. For example, instead of just selling cat trees, we’ve zoomed out and we sell cat furniture which includes cat trees, cat beds, scratching posts, cat perches among others.
- You’re interested in it. This isn’t mandatory, but if you’re going to be spending a lot of time on this business, it really helps if you’re at least interested in the product.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move onto my process for finding good ideas.
Step 1: Brainstorm
This step usually takes me a few days. I start by opening up a google sheet and clearing my mind – it’s important that you’re in a creative state of mind and not too focused on the left brain details.
I like to use a tool called Moz Keyword Explorer. The idea is that we don’t actually know most of the product ideas that exist. Usually, when we try to think of an idea off the top of our head, it’s a generic idea that most people think of. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people tell me they want to start a socks company.
Using a keyword tool, we can enter a random word and the tool is going to offer similar suggestions and we’re going to go down a rabbit hole of ideas. The keyword tool will give you a list of phrases and how many times people are searching for that phrase. Without judgment, your job is to write down any interesting ideas that you come across. The sweet spot for phrase volume is around 1-5k searches per month.
A good place to start is things that you’re interested in. If you type in “golf”, you might find an interesting niche product for golfers. For example, for Tuft and Paw, I asked my girlfriend what she was interested in. She said “cats”, so we entered cats into the keyword tool. We discovered that 3000 people per month are searching for “modern cat trees” which led us down the path of searching for all the other cat furniture categories.
If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, another trick I’ve found is to make a list of countries and then google “good souvenirs” from that country. You’ll find some really interesting niche products, for example,e Kimonos from Japan or Glass Blowing from Italy.
After a few days, you should have more than enough ideas.
Step 2: Offer a category, not just a product
Your brainstorming will have yielded a lot of keyword ideas, but you’ll have a lot more potential if you offer an entire category instead of a product. You don’t want to go to niche. For example, if you find there are people searching for “indoor cats” you may consider expanding to “indoor plants” so that you have more opportunity down the road.
At this stage, I usually try to narrow my ideas down to about 3-5 potential themes.
Step 3: Research the competition
Once you’ve come up with your top 5 ideas, do some quick Amazon and Google searches to see what type of competition comes up. As I mentioned earlier, you actually want to see competition but it’s important that you think you can beat the competition in some way, for example by offering more or better quality products.
By the time I’ve finished researching the competition, I can usually narrow down to one idea that I’m most excited about.
Step 4: Source unique, high-quality products
Do some thorough research to find unique and high-quality products. I do lots of calls with new entrepreneurs on Clarity and the number one mistake I see is that people take shortcuts on product sourcing.
If you put the effort into finding unique and high-quality products, then your marketing job will be 10x easier. You won’t need to compete on price, you won’t need to compete with Amazon. It will take longer to find good products, but it’s well worth the effort.
Your goal is to find stuff that’s hard to find. That means you shouldn’t just be looking on the first page of google or dropshipping off Ali Express. If you’re looking to sell high-quality Kimonos, you might consider checking out google japan and searching for “kimonos” in Japanese using google translate. You could check some forums or Reddit for advice on finding the best Kimonos. You’ll be adding a ton of value by offering your customers a better product that they wouldn’t otherwise have found.
Step 5: Take better product photos
A super low hanging fruit is just taking better photos of your products. Too many entrepreneurs will just use the stock photos that the manufacturer provides. For a few thousand, you can create completely unique product photos that will usually pay for themselves after a few months. By having unique photos, you prevent customers from comparison shopping because they don’t actually know if the product is the same.
That’s it! I hope this article has helped you figure out where to get started. It can be intimidating, but I truly believe choosing the right product is the most important decision you’ll make in your e-commerce business.