Struggling to figure out what to sell online?
Oh, I understand. Picking a product that sells like hot crispy chocolate cakes is a hard task.
But let’s face it. If it weren’t somewhat tricky, everyone and their dog would join the club of successful business owners and start selling their products online.
However, a substantial number of people have already done that and chances are you can too. And if you are still at sea about WHAT to sell online, this beginner’s guide is right for you. It was carefully written and then updated seven times to bring maximum value to you.
But keep it in mind — this article is not a magic pill that will help you find your sweet spot in the world of eCommerce.
It’s just a bunch of simple ideas that you can use right away to choose a profitable niche and avoid common mistakes that may leave you high and dry.
So dive in and get inspired.
- I. Who’s Selling Online
- II. Types of Products to Sell Online
- III. How to Build a Great Product
- IV. How to Find Your First Product
- V. Things to Watch Out
- VI. Examples Of Products Sold Online
- Bottom Line
I. Who’s Selling Online And What?
Thought that twenty-somethings dominate eCommerce market? Fresh minds bring innovative ideas, and stuff like that.
That looks weird but, according to market research, the over-65s is the fastest-growing age group of business owners in the UK. Hope the rest of the world doesn’t lag behind.
Over the last ten years, the number of eCommerce businesses launched by olderpreneurs has risen by 140%. Such marketplaces as eBay and Amazon are also actively used by this age group.
Need proof? Lots of amazing examples are only a simple google search away.
Rita Cooper, selling some old stuff online:
Have a look at Rita Cooper, an energetic 61-year-old woman. She takes hip-hop dance classes and sells used products on eBay. That’s a kind of hobby for her. Spending her mornings at local thrift stores and her afternoons photographing and selling those products on eBay, she knocks down a not-too-shabby $600 a month. She uses this money to travel the world or spoil her grandchildren.
Denis Bastien, owning a well-known doll company:
Another great example is a 59-year old solopreneur, Denis Bastien. He is the owner of a successful online store and the ‘doll’s father’, as he calls himself. His role is simple — he does everything — generates business ideas, decides what to sell, makes photos of the items and even takes care of his eCommerce site (with the help of the X-Cart team, though). Back in August 2017, I created a success story about his Affordable Designs Canada online store.
Teenagers also make money online. Some of them earn more than their parents. Others make even more than many Americans.
Temper Thompson, a teenager, teaching how to create Kindle books:
Let’s take Temper Thompson, for instance. This 17-year-old genius is making more than $30,000 each month on the internet selling online courses on Kindle publishing. These digital products generated more than 10K sales online in the past year alone. And his goal for the next year is to make more — $100,000 a month. Temper is still a school student, but he’s got plenty to teach all of us. Right?
As you see, it doesn’t matter whether you are a teenager, an ‘olderpreneur’, or a middle-aged up-and-doing guy, you can set up a profitable online store.
You just need to invest a bit of your time and effort searching for a perfect product niche. And maybe get a little guidance. Just like Madison Robinson got when she was eight years old.
Madison Robinson, a kid selling flip-flops that look like fish:
Back in 2006, this artistic girl turned her passion for painting into a flourishing online business. She had an idea. And her dad helped her sell products online. A few years later these unique products could be found at Nordstrom and Macy’s, and in many other online marketplaces.
You know, all those oh-I-am-getting-too-old-for-this-shit and I-have-to-get-a-high-school-diploma-first sob stories won’t work.
At least not now.
II. What Types of Products to Sell Online?
While there are millions of products to sell online, the foundation of your business model boils down to just a single question.
You need to decide whether to focus your attention on physical products, combine physical with digital items, or start selling digital products only (and forget trouble with shipping and fulfillment forever!).
Selling digital products online
The biggest advantage of digital products is that you can create a product once (ex. an online course) and then make money from home for the rest of your life.
No shipping issues. No trouble with supply chains. Your products are just a couple of clicks away from your potential customers, day and night.
Also, selling digital products online is a great place for newbie entrepreneurs to start — it’s less expensive, and it takes little to no work on your part.
BUT. Even a kid can copy your digital ‘artwork’ and resell it on his Instagram page.
By the way, we’ve got a scrumptious guide to selling any products on Instagram. It will teach you to use the right #hashtags, generate powerful copy and get real insta-followers. Not bots or ‘ghosts’.
Plus, it’s a way more natural for people to make a refund. Guess who is going to pay the expenses? You are.
Selling physical products online
The main advantage of physical products (ex. board games or blueberry ice creams) is that they have higher perceived value.
There’s more joy in owning something physical, like a crochet sweater for your dog than an e-book, right?
Plus, it’s harder to make a copy of your product.
On the other hand, manufacturing physical products is somewhat pricey.
So you need to make sure that your product is unique enough to stand out from the competition.
Product range, service and price — that’s what makes your brand stand out. We always take that extra step to ensure customer satisfaction. Team training ensures in-depth knowledge along with practical experience in all our products sold.Leanne Garske, owner & director of Wilderness Sea n Ski
And, besides shopping cart software and a domain name, you need a warehouse. You are not going to stock your products in your apartment, are you?
A good idea would be to merge the physical and the digital worlds. For example, you can combine selling physical products (a knitted dog sweater, why not?) with related digital products (a knitting pattern).
Unique products or Commodities
There’s more. You have to choose between unique products and commodities. Or you can start selling both.
Unique products have meaning and significance attached to them which makes people fall in love with what you sell. Selling unique items in your online store can help you build your brand and attract loyal customers.
Commodities have no soul and no meaning. But they may attract new people or increase your profit margins, which is also OK.
Dropshipping or Carrying Inventory
If you choose to sell dropshipped products in your online store, you won’t have to worry about order fulfillment and inventory. Someone else will handle the back-end of your business for you.
Inventory-carrying business model will be preferable for retail store owners, as they have a warehouse to stock their products in before they are shipped to customers.
III. The Eleven Principles Of Building Great Products
Now that you know who is selling online and what types of products to focus your attention on, it’s time to learn what makes your product “cosmic” and why.
The following tips should help you do that.
1. Come up with unique product ideas instead of making ‘me too’ products. Browse community forums like Reddit, Voat, and Quora to find out what human (animal, alien?) needs hasn’t yet been fulfilled.
2. Solve a problem, don’t shake the air with high-falutin marketing phrases that mean nothing. Products solving a specific pain point are the easiest products to sell online. A person seeking a solution won’t think twice before pumping all his money into your pocket. Especially if the solution is one of a kind.
My project started first with a discussion area where people could help each other care for their disabled pets. Then the community started to need products which I offered, so I decided to launch an online store. Now we have hundreds of products to support the caretakers of elderly, injured, and handicapped pets. And our X-Cart store helps us to distribute them in 22 countries.Mark C. Robinson, the founder, and president of HandicappedPets.com eCommerce store
3. Find the sweet spot for pricing your products. The sweet spot for pricing for online purchases is somewhere between $15 and $200. Most items under $15 won’t create any visible revenue. More expensive products will make you sell a kidney to start.
4. Avoid seasonal goods, like painting Easter egg sets or snowball fight gear. They won’t bring regular sales to your eCommerce store. However, every rule has its exceptions.
I started my eCommerce business because I think pajamas are a perfect niche business for on online store. I love the seasonal aspect of pajamas and love how pajamas make people happy, especially around the holidays. It’s been fun working in pajamas since 2004.Ellie Badanes, the founder of The Pajama Company, about seasonality of her eCommerce business
5. Your products shouldn’t be fragile. Your physical products shouldn’t break into pieces (or melt if you sell ice cream or snow) while shipping. Otherwise, you’ll lose your money and pay expenses for refunds.
6. Your product shouldn’t take much space. Warehousing trouble and pricey shipping guaranteed.
7. If your products are easily customizable, you win. Giving your customer the option for personalization is a perfect way to carve out a unique brand.
8. Your product lifecycle should be endless. Back in July 2016, Pokemon Go craze made people walk billions of miles and spend over $1.6 million a day. Remember that time? Then, back in May 2017, fidget spinners pulled themselves into the mainstream. Both died out as fast as they became popular. People no longer hunt for Pokemons and play with spinners. What’s the next trend? Thinking putties?
Maybe, maybe. Try your hand at fortune telling and find a trending product idea that is guaranteed to be favored over time.
9. Selling products is easier if you have a variety of accessories. Related products are good for upselling and cross-selling. Offer a shower pouf for your shower gel. And you instantly get an additional sale.
10. Your product niche should have fans. If there’s an instant set of customers to target to, it means you will have sales.
11. Your item should trigger emotions. We spend lots of time and money for what we love. Fishers are ready to spend hundreds of dollars on fish pellets. Artists will splash their cash on paints and brushes. So emotionalize your products!
It’s not the best idea to sell products if:
- they are already available at Walmart, Best Buy, Amazon, you name it.
- they take too much time to produce. What are you going to do if you run out of stock on Black Friday?
- they are too generic. Your potential customers need something to identify your brand with. Unless your brand name happens to be eBay or Alibaba.
- you hate them. The chances are that you’ll have to get sucked into it 28 hours a day.
But keep it in mind that all these ‘rules and regulations’ should not limit your fantasies.
You are free to break them and probably perform your own market research.
Here are a couple of practical strategies that should help you find the right product to sell online.
IV. 10 Practical Strategies For Finding Your First Product
Truly, there’s an endless number of strategies on how to find products to sell on your eCommerce store. And, I’m pretty sure, you also know a few.
The funny thing is that hardly anyone uses them.
Instead, you keep thinking, thinking, and then thinking again, hoping that a bombastic idea will fall from a clear sky and hit you in the face.
But, believe me, it’s likely that you will end up brainstorming FOREVER. Or waste your time on low competition goods with zero demand.
Do not join this club. There is a more methodical way to decide what to sell online. Here are a few ideas for jumpstarting your thought process.
1. Dig Amazon’s movers, shakers, and BSRs
Day after day, more and more people in the US go straight to Amazon for all of their online shopping needs.
And that’s the main reason why most online retailers choose this gigantic eCommerce platform as a leading place to successfully sell products online.
As a result, sales data taken from Amazon is an excellent representation of overall demand, which makes Amazon a great place to find trending products to sell online and check if there’s any competition.
The first way to find ideas on Amazon is to scroll down to the Products Details section to check the Best Sellers Rank (BSR) of a product.
This information can tell you how well a product is selling compared to others within the same product category.
Another way to find any useful search data on Amazon is to research movers and shakers section.
It shows products currently trending on Amazon and the biggest gainers in sales rank over the past twenty-four hours. The information is updated in real time.
And if you, purely by chance, decide to join the crowd of business owners selling on Amazon, here’s a step by step guide for you.
$1K on your credit card, several hours of active work plus several days of passive waiting for results — that’s pretty much everything you need to start your own successful business on Amazon.
2. Use eBay sales data to find products you’ll fall in love with
Similar to Amazon, eBay is also an awesome place to look for potential products to sell in your eCommerce store.
And although it is not that ‘jam-packed with customers’ as Amazon (*sigh*), eBay has a real-time access to sales data.
Getting started with this eBay’s search data is a no-brainer. First, you should enter the product in eBay search:
ex. ‘camping backpack’
Then, scroll down to find the “Sold Listings” checkbox in the sidebar. Click on it to see the sales data.
Here it is — the list of all the products sold on eBay with the final selling price, which may help you calculate your price point and give you an idea of how many products you need to sell to turn a profit.
And, by the way, eBay is an auction where everyone and their uncle can make their bids. The more bids a product gets, the more sought-after it is.
And though the ‘Number of Bids: Most First’ filter option is long gone, you can still narrow your search down to the products sold using the auction-style format.
You see? The 55L Green Pythons Grain Military Tactical Bag Camping Hiking Trekking Backpack shipped from the United States sold for US $18.50 is three times as popular as the one from China sold for US $5.50.
Why do you think? Quality rocks, IMHO.
3. Look for inspiration on Alibaba
While Alibaba is mostly used for product sourcing or finding wholesale suppliers from China, it’s still a good place for getting insights about what to sell online.
You can browse through Alibaba’s entire product range, check prices and get an idea of what product is best for your online store.
Note, that it’s better to browse Alibaba itself, not Aliexpress, as the first one is used for selling and buying wholesale products and has a much more extensive selection of products.
And, JFYI, it’s also possible to purchase an individual sample of good on Alibaba. However, the price will be higher or similar to the one displayed on Aliexpress.
4. Sign Up For a Newsletter from Kickstarter
Could you possibly guess that there’s a group of people that help bring creative projects to life?
Yes, there is one. It’s called Kickstarter.
But would you be surprised if I tell you that this group consists of 14 million of people? They are here to support your ideas. And share theirs with you. Sounds a bit Utopian as the most part of startup entrepreneurs prefer to keep their kick-ass ideas under their hat.
However, since April 28, 2009, when the website was launched, they managed to successfully fund 139,068 projects.
There’s a list of just launched, nearly funded, trending projects and the projects Kickstarter team loves. You can dig a couple of ideas there.
Or (a more comfortable way!) you can start off by signing up for Kickstarter’s newsletter. You will receive a weekly portion of noteworthy projects straight into your inbox.
Who knows? Someone else’s idea may turn out to be life-changing for you.
And if you’ve got problems with funding, the Kickstarter community can help you.
Yes, you. They’ve already invested $3,514,636,561 in total.
5. Try Comparison Shopping Engines to Analyse the Market
Comparison shopping engines are like Google search, but for products. They are used to filter and compare products based on features, reviews, price and other things needed to find a product you’ll love.
The most popular CSE is Google Shopping.
Millions of people have already heard about it. But hardly anyone uses it for spawning jaw-breaking ideas.
Shopzilla, Pronto, Nextag, and PriceGrabber are less known, but also useful for finding products online.
When you land at one of these sites, you will see a wide range of popular products that are currently selling on the web.
6. Analyze The Competition with Google Trends
Google is a big dog. No doubts about it.
Its search algorithm is, by all means, better than Bing’s, Yahoo and any other search engine that has ever existed. See the proof below.
What is more exciting is that 3.5 billion Google searches per day are made worldwide.
It makes sense to look at what people are searching for to find good products to sell online, isn’t it?
Good news is that there’s Google Trends — a handy service that can help you see what is trending on Google.
Say, you are going to start selling socks online. OK. Let’s see if there’s high demand for this sort of products.
What I clearly see here is seasonality — every winter (especially this one) people are looking for socks. No wonder, it’s cold out there.
You can also compare an item against other keywords so that you know what your SEO strategy should be.
For some reason, cotton socks are less trendy this winter than wool socks.
7. Perform Keyword Research with Google Keyword Planner
That’s what your potential customers use when looking for your product. That’s what search engines pay attention to when they stumble upon your eCommerce website. And that’s what can help you choose products to sell online.
But how? Google Keyword Planner, like Chip ‘n Dale, is here to rescue you.
Looking at the exact keywords people use to find your products, you can understand the average search volume and guess whether you are ready for that competition or not.
The whole process is quite straightforward. Simply enter a keyword (or several keywords, separated by commas) and press ‘More like this’ button. You’ll see related keywords.
For example, you plan to sell military outfit online.
You see? Along with army clothing, you can as well sell army boots.
However, interpreting these keyword planner results, you need to only look at keywords that are product focused.
Keyword research, also called ‘the Holy Grail of SEO’, is considered to be one of the most high-return activities when starting an online store.
8. Look Through Product Reviews
Product review websites, like Amazon Customer reviews, Yelp, Angie’s List and many others (let me Google it for you), can also be a great way to brainstorm for eCommerce niche products and ideas.
Here’s what I’ve found on TestFreaks about Oral-B electric toothbrush:
Facebook or Twitter can also serve as additional hubs for online reviews. Why not?
We all know the value of social proof is MEGA-HUGE.
Try to use it to your advantage.
9. Spot Business Opportunities Absolutely Everywhere
If the above suggestions don’t work for you, here are a few practical ways to find fresh product ideas in your everyday life.
- Look around and think of putting a new ‘spin’ on old items. Forget about what these items are really made for, flip them upside down, improve quality and re-purpose.
- Randomly click around Pinterest and other niche-related forums. There are lots of ideas that can trigger your imagination.
- Read trending topics on Reddit. They are full of great niche ideas straight from the horse’s mouth that can help you find the right product and start selling it online.
- Think of all those embarrassing products, like adult stuff or things related to health products, which make people feel like hiding their faces and shop online.
I mentioned that there are plenty of talented designers, the unknown ones, feeling lost on the web. So I made up my mind to aggregate their products in a single online marketplace.
Anne Catherine Scelles, founder and CEO of Pitimana
10. Ask Your Friends What You Are Good At
V. Things to Watch Out When Choosing Products to Sell Online
Choosing a product to sell on your eCommerce store, you make the very first step into the DEEP BLUE ocean of eCommerce.
And every ocean has its sharks. They dream of chewing you up, with all your guts and teeth and bones… and the products you sell online.
But don’t be scared too much. You know, alert today — alive (and fattening your pockets with $) tomorrow.
Here’s what you should beware of choosing your product niche:
Fear #1: Out of stock. Selecting physical products to sell online you risk being left empty-handed. You have to create a step by step business plan before using any marketing channel to advertise. Sell digital products to be on the safe side.
Fear #2: Black-hats. The world wide web is cram-full of malicious hackers, that can steal, copy, and even break your electronic properties. A digital online course, for instance. Thank god, they cannot beat you!
Fear #3: No competition — no sales. Selling a unique item, you risk being left alone on an island dancing tango to yourself. So don’t throw all your time and efforts to find a product with low competition.
Fear #4: Too many dancers onstage. If you choose to sell currently trending products, the ones with high demand and high competition, your powerful competitors will make your life a living hell. Don’t even try. I prophesize your fail.
Fear #5: You product may lose its value over time. We all know that TV is slowly dying (and here’re the stats that prove it) together with an alarm clock, calculator and address book. You are not going to witness the death of your baby-product.
VI. Examples Of Products And Services Sold Online
No matter what product you choose to sell online, tattoo it on your forehead, Mr. Lebowski: people do not buy your product — they buy a better version of themselves.
Here’s the formula you MUST follow, or you will never-ever sell anything:
Your customer + Your product =
YOUR SO-SUPER-CRAZILY-HAPPY-AWESOME CUSTOMER
Apparently, the guys selling the weirdest products know this ‘Da Vinci Code’ of selling products online. And you should. Here are a few examples of the way online retailers make a better version of their customers.
Example #1: Give memories, like the guys selling snow do
Here’s the photo (shamelessly!) copied from their eCommerce store:
Natural snow is collected in the mountains of Northern Vermont and shipped directly to your door for $399.99 for a big box. Each box includes a few related products — a top hat, a felt scarf, nose & googly eyes.
And if you are lucky, a blizzard or an ice cool snowman kit are added to the purchase for an extra $10.
You can host a snowball fight or create a snowman. Choose what you like.
They hand pack each box with as much snow as possible. Then, use heavy tape to seal the box airtight. And, finally, ship the product through the air. You see, selling physical products can be fun.
How on earth does this work? That’s pretty simple.
They guys from Ship Snow Yo give their potential customers memories they will never forget.
And that’s true:
Everything was perfect! Thank you once again, everyone had a great time playing with the snow. Priceless memories… We can’t wait to order some for our neighbors!Cindy W. from Texas
Example #2. Describe all the pleasurable moments your potential customers will experience
Ishii Yuichi, a Japanese entrepreneur, could clearly see what is currently trending now in our society.
EVERYONE CARES ABOUT THEIR APPEARANCE.
I’m not talking about skin care products. No. The whole fuss is about reposts on Facebook. Or likes on Instagram. Or re-tweets. Day and night. Endlessly. 24×7.
So he considered this niche idea to be quite profitable and started selling appearance.
Family Romance — that’s how he named his brand — provides professional actors to fill any role in the personal lives of clients. They can act a father for your daughter, a newborn baby, and even a mourner at funerals, in case you don’t have one.
We had a case recently where a dying man wanted to see his grandchild, but it would not have been born in time. His daughter was able to rent an infant for the day.Ishii Yuichi, the owner of Family Romance Inc.
Example #3. Get your customers to perceive the value of your products
It looks like the guy selling teeth on Etsy knows how to be successful online. No doubts about it.
More than 70 people added this item to favorites. What’s the key to his success?
The seller explains the real value of his products to the targeted audience. He is quite frank but convincing. He says that these ‘molars may not be good for jewelry’ but they will perfectly fit for science experiments. That’s why ‘dental students’ love them:
It was exactly as described. Everything shipped right away and teeth were of great quality. She saved my daughter’s science experiment!!!Reviewed by Melissa, Nov 8, 2017
There are actually a way more keys to successfully selling on Etsy. Look through this extensive guide to find them all.
Lots of unusual goods are sold with the help of X-Cart, too.
According to this blog post, X-Cart store owners sell uncleaned ancient coins, Lamborghini driving experience, scolopendras (ugh..) and even shit box festival toilets.
And again, the secret to sales success lies in the value given to customers:
- Cleaning these “Low-Grade Uncleaned Spanish found Ancient Roman Coins” is like touching history.
- The guilty pleasure of a drive through the center of London is worth £124.99. And you feel like a celebrity!
- A beautiful creepy scolopendra from Thailand and other bugs — an excellent decoration for Halloween party, or a perfect present for a bugologist.
- Mm.. No need to explain the value of portable toilets.
So if you want your potential customers to be tickled pink about your products, it’s critical to focus on benefits rather than features.
You’re not just selling your company, its numbers, and successes. You’re giving the customer a clear vision of where they will be with you. So work on your copy carefully.
Of course, these recommendations and thoughts will hardly save you from getting your hands dirty with some more data.
You will have to go further and dig dipper (for example, read our next chapter on how to sell a product), and probably give your blood, sweat, and tears before you make it.
But I hope that these few insights will help you do that.
What strategies do you use to find a product?
1: How To Find A ProductGo to the Beginning