You’ve decided to take the plunge and start an online business. Now for the million-dollar question: what should you sell? Profitable products achieve one of three things: they ease a customer's pain point, serve a passion or solve a problem.
Ideally, you want to sell products that a) Customers want to buy and b) You are able to supply.
For example, if you’re creating an advanced digital product with complex technical specifications, can it run on most operating systems? Or if you’re selling handmade home décor, do you have partnerships with manufacturers and artisans you trust?
Also, consider whether you want to serve a niche in the market, or cater to an established one. Another way to scope for business ideas is to consider your own domain knowledge and passions. Perhaps you’re a former chef with a passion for clean eating or a surfer with a design background. Find ways to put your expertise to use.
Here, we’ve put together a set of guidelines for finding great product ideas for your online store.
Finding products to sell online requires a lot of research.
First, try to find an unmet customer need. A gap in the market indicates one of two things: a) There are currently no products available to serve this need or b) The existing products are insufficient.
These are opportunities for you to introduce a new product to the market. Next, research your target audience to understand who they are and study competitors that are already serving this market.
Once you’ve selected a product category, you need to validate your idea by studying the market.
Find out if there’s sufficient demand for the product to build a potential business. What is the potential market size? Who are your potential customers? Who are your competitors? Is there low competition?
Focus your research on identifying customer needs; then, determine if your product can meet those needs. Find out what related product lines are already being offered — how is yours different? Beware that some products are short-lived trends while others represent a growing market.
Take cues from your competitors. Some things to consider include product features, market share, pricing, differentiators, strengths and weaknesses. Read their customer reviews. Where do they excel? What are the prevalent customer complaints?
For example, if customers complain about long shipping times, you can offer faster delivery.
Remember to research your competitors’ marketing strategies — study their ecommerce website, social media presence and approach to search engine optimization (SEO). These are research tools which can provide major clues as to how to succeed in your chosen niche.
To make sure you’re selling the right product, you need to understand your ideal buyer. Your target market is made up of people who are the ideal fit for your product. What are their interests, hobbies and needs? Find out as much as possible about your ideal customer including their age, living situation, income, buying habits and media consumption.
Also, research their buying habits. When are customers most likely to purchase your product? Is it a seasonal purchase, or do they only buy when they need to replace something that is broken? This will help you determine what products and features they value most.
The type of product you decide to sell will determine your selling price, branding, as well as marketing and distribution. For example, niche products can be sold with a higher markup because there are few substitutes, whereas commodities rely on volume to generate profits.
A commodity is a basic good that is considered of equal value no matter who produces it. Examples include computer chips, coffee and metals. There isn’t much product differentiation here — customers purchase these items for their utility, not uniqueness. Consequently, a lot of businesses resort to competing on price.
The best way to sell a commodity is by adding value. For example, fresh produce is a non-differentiated product, but meal kit companies transform raw materials into ready-to-cook, pre-portioned meals and sell them at a marked-up price.
A niche product is a product targeting a specific section of a larger market. Examples include bespoke fragrances, made-to-order linens and handmade art. Demand for these products tends to be price inelastic because they are premium products with few substitutes. This means you can charge a higher markup and generate a higher profit margin. Direct-to-consumer business models have made it easier for retailers of niche products to reach their customers online.
Selling physical products online can be tricky. The key is to provide a user experience that lets customers envision the product as if they were viewing it in real life. For example, how will they know whether a pair of shoes is comfortable? Or how that new coffee table will look in their living room? Product images, videos and product configurators help bring physical products to life in the digital realm.
Digital products are easy items to sell online because you can distribute them without any manufacturing or shipping costs. Since the product is in digital format, customers need only download it or access it online. Examples include online courses, specialty software, artwork and gated content such as ebooks or webinars.
Trending products have high demand, and, in some cases, customers may be willing to use their credit cards and pay a premium for them due to real or perceived exclusivity.
These types of products tend to have a high search volume online, making it easier for customers to find your product as long as you are using the correct keywords on your ecommerce store.
Start with a brainstorm of potential products based on what you discovered in your market research. For each product idea, you should be able to describe the product’s core functionality and target market.
Product validation means making sure the product is technically feasible and commercially viable. If it’s a physical product, how will it be manufactured? How will the product reach customers?
At this stage, you should be able to define the product’s value proposition and success metrics to measure product performance. Ideally, you’ll also develop a prototype of the product (a digital or physical mockup) and test it with potential users.
Next, design and manufacture the product based on the prototype’s technical and design specifications. Depending on the product type, you might prototype it yourself or outsource the work to a manufacturer or developer.
The testing stage before launch is your chance to have users trial the final version of the product. Product testing entails checking to see if the product operates as expected according to its technical and design specifications.
Create a go-to-market strategy to ensure your product reaches your customers. This means determining pricing, marketing and distribution. The goal is to build excitement for and awareness of your product before it launches.
Find ways to make your product’s story shine. Think about the key features and messaging that should be included in your marketing campaign. Perhaps your business has a unique founding story, or your products are made with specially sourced materials.
A product opportunity gap occurs when there is a gap in the market that existing businesses are not yet serving. These gaps can be identified through market research or by observing trending topics on social media or Google Trends. Once you identify a product gap, you have a choice between refining an existing product or service or creating a completely new one.
If you’re an entrepreneur with their own product or a beginner creating their first startup, the key to setting up a successful online business is to sell popular products that are in high demand. To find good product ideas, study the market and find out what customer needs you are uniquely positioned to serve.
Next, after sourcing products, make sure you understand your target market and competitors in the online shopping landscape..
During the product development process, make sure you are continually testing your idea with real users — from the ideation phase all the way through prototyping and launch.
Use your product research to discover an unmet need in the market. A great way to find product ideas for your ecommerce business is to study your competition and observe their strengths and weaknesses. For example, if your competitors offer limited customisation for their products, you can offer a similar product while giving customers the opportunity to choose their own styles and colors.
The top-selling products have a clear value proposition: they ease a pain point, solve a problem or bring joy. When selling online, remember that customers must be able to envision the product in real life, so be sure to include high-quality product descriptions, images and videos.
Your products should also be unique and eye-catching. If similar items are available in a brick-and-mortar store in your area, customers may go there instead to see the product in person.
Find out what search terms people use online. Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner are great starting points for keyword research. You can also check product listings on popular online marketplaces like Alibaba, eBay, Amazon, Etsy, AliExpress and Walmart to find the best-selling products.
For example, if you start typing into the Amazon search bar, Amazon Suggest will surface the most-searched terms associated with that keyword. eBay Watch Count helps you find viral goods by indicating how many people are “watching” items associated with a specific keyword. Finally, pay attention to what products are trending on social media.