Chapter 1 What to Sell in 2018: How to Find a Product Niche and Start Selling Online

Katey Ferenzi / 15 min read

Think of starting an ecommerce website?

Online competition is fiercer than ever.

This is why figuring out what to sell online is a strategy in and of itself.

You’d be surprised how many people set up a store before identifying ecommerce opportunities. This is setting yourself up for failure.

Choosing the right products to sell will impact every other business decision you make.

They’re all important, but the most important thing you must get right from the very beginning is exactly what you sell and how you price those products.

Finding The Best Products To Sell Online:

Need ideas for what to sell online?

No matter what industry you pick, there are really only two kinds of products to sell:

  1. Commoditized products.
  2. Niche products.

how to sell online

First, there’s what we call commoditized products. These are the products everybody needs.

Commoditized products are the most popular products sold online.

Think of anything you buy at Walmart or Amazon that has a big brand behind it — food, golf clubs, clothes, kids toys, etc.

Now think of the brands — Heinz, Callaway, Levi, Fisher-Price.

Niche products are goods or services that serve a specific segment of customers.

In many instances, these are unique and one-of-a-kind, handmade products, making them some of the most popular items bought online.

Niche products are often made in small batch runs or on demand. Think of a unique beaded necklace, handmade frozen yogurt or leather iPad cases.

Many brands sell a combination of commoditized products and unique, niche products.

Take a look at Spearmint Love, for instance.

This site aggregates baby clothes from across the web (commoditized), as well as offers a few unique products of their own.

Offering only commoditized items, especially if those items are brand name or already sold on major marketplaces like Amazon or Walmart, will make it extremely difficult to be successful.

Amazon and Walmart can buy items in large quantities, lowering the price of the product. Your startup likely won’t be able to compete.

However, if you can offer unique products alongside commoditized ones (think of using Etsy Wholesale or reaching out to makers on Instagram) and build a great brand experience along the way, you are setting yourself up for success.

Coming up with unique products can be difficult, though.

The Value in Unique

The motivation behind launching our business was a combination of wanting to be in charge of our own destiny and the thrill of making a high quality American-made product that others would enjoy and value.

In 2004, we saw an opportunity in a updating an existing apparel accessory that had not really changed in decades.

At that time you could still purchase the same style ribbon belt your father and grandfather purchased 20 year before: a simple repeated clip art designs finished with low quality materials.

After a couple years use it was worn out and you needed to purchase a new one.

So, we decided to up the game.

We started by using local artists as designers and constructed our belts using the highest quality raw materials.

The result has been much higher quality and longer lasting product adorned with unique whimsical designs.

We started our business because we wanted to create something new, fun and of value.

We’ve achieved that.

– Jim Taylor, President & Owner, Belted Cow

Here are six different ways to generate ideas when trying to decide what to sell online.

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1. Identify or create products that solve a problem.

We’ve all heard the saying: necessity is the mother of invention.

Taking this tack when generating ideas for a product or service is a reliable avenue to kickstart a successful business.

Opportunities may exist in a few forms, including an improved product feature, a market unrealized by your competitors, or even unique marketing.

Try tuning into your everyday tasks. What things put a hitch in your giddyup?

Those small annoyances can turn out to be a brilliant business idea. Pinpoint a problem and conveniently solve it.

Your product or service doesn’t necessarily need to be a huge, complicated endeavor.

It can be quite simple, yet exceptionally effective.

As an example, look at the story behind Karen Rzepecki’s invention of the reCAP Mason Jars Pour Cap.

start-a-business-mason-jars-1

“Our story began with salad dressing,” she writes. “After creating yet another oily mess with the lid and ring, I searched for a pour cap that would fit my Mason Jars and allow me to shake, pour, and store dressing.”

Rzepecki realized there wasn’t one, so she went ahead and created something all her own.

As many do, Rzepecki used reusable, eco-friendly mason jars for food storage.

However, when trying to shake, pour and store items, things got sticky.

To alleviate the issue, Rzepecki created a simple lid with a spout that fit both large- and small-mouth mason jars and took her new product online.

Today, she owns a successful online store and is diversifying her product offering to scale her ROI.

“Our sales have increased this year, and we are spending a lot more time relooking at our SEO,” says Rzepecki. “Just recently we switched over to PayPal by Braintree so we could take advantage of the simplified checkout as well as selling on Pinterest. With that, our checkout was immediately improved. It’s all part of our work to improve our customer experience as much as we can.”

Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands

The founder of Sinus Support began having sinus congestion when she moved to Sonoma County, California in 1996.

Nothing relieved the nasal pressure, and she was increasingly more miserable at night.

As luck would have it, her mother mailed her a neti pot.

For weeks the tiny “teapot” sat in her bathroom.

Finally in desperation, she tried it.

After one rinse she got such relief she began telling everyone.

That’s when her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and she decided she could make a better ceramic neti pot right here in California.

Within a few years, Baraka Neti Pots were selling in herbal stores, co-ops and natural grocery stores all over the U.S.!

– Estelle Letizia, Shipping Mgr., Sinus Support

2. Find products you and other people are passionate about.

Let’s be honest, starting your own business means long hours, likely some rocky terrain and the occasional, if not frequent, sacrifice.

Being passionate about what you do will not only help you see the forest through the trees during the hard times, but it will also help you in crafting a brand that speaks to people in a way that is meaningful and engaging.

Putting Love and Life to Work

Evan Streusand launched his very first business years ago after a trip to South America.

There, he found a group of shoemakers working in a fair wage factory.

He made friends, had drinks, and when he came back to the U.S., he launched Fortress of Inca to help support the efforts of his new friends.

Today, he sells those shoes to brands like Anthropologie and Free People.

Before Thanksgiving 2016, he decided to open an additional venture – this time with his wife.

The launch story was oddly similar.

  • The two traveled to West Texas. They stumbled upon a pair of robes in an outpost, and over the course of their vacation, found themselves not wanting to take them off.
  • They had drinks with the locals – in their robes. They went out two-stepping – in their robes.
  • They stargazed and watched the Texas sun rise over the butt of the Rocky Mountains –– in their robes.
  • When they came back to Austin, with new friends and experiences in their pockets, they launched Highway Robery.

“Highway Robery really feels like an extension of who we are and our personalities,” says Evan. “We love coming up with new ideas, and this particular project has got our minds going in a million different directions. From the fabrics we want to use to the photo shoots we’re planning down to the text we want to use on our website –– it’s all exciting at the moment.

Oh, and puns. We love puns. Expect us to use a lot of them, be they good or bad!”

start-an-online-business-highway-robery

Combining Niche with Passion

I made a 26.2 Runner Girl anklet to commemorate my 1st Marathon.

When other runners saw it, they wanted one.

I realized that you can’t wear your race medal around to show off your accomplishment, so I create a new line of running themed jewelry and presented the line to a local running race director for her opinion on whether or not she thought this would be well received.

Her comment was “You got something special here! Go for it”  

She allowed me to showcase and sell my line of running jewelry at her local race expos and it was a huge hit!

At the time no one else was doing this commercially!

–  Melody Tabman, Owner & Designer at Milestones Sports Jewelry.

3. Find products with branding potential.

Creating a brand that resonates is particularly important if you’re thinking of pursuing a competitive ecommerce industry.

Crafting a recognizable and memorable brand means you’ll need to put in the time to research and truly understand your target audience.

Your brand should speak to your potential customers in a way that both resonates and compels them to come back.

In other words, you want to build loyalty based on audience identity.

Some great questions to start with here are:

  • How does your target audience like to be addressed?
  • How will you position your product?
  • How will you design your website to communicate your brand and appeal to your potential customers through layout, color scheme and calls to action?

When a Brand Becomes a Lifestyle

When it comes to crafting a brand and experience that resonate, Tyler Merritt of Nine Line Apparel is an expert.

Merritt’s goal when launching Nine Line, a patriotic apparel company, was to cater to his fellow veterans and those still serving in the armed forces.

He quickly realized, however, that this patriotic flair hit a resonating tone with his fellow Americans as a whole.

“We like to promote patriotism,” says Tyler. “We believe in certain things that might be considered controversial. We don’t think they should be. You can not agree with public policy, but to service members and other individuals, the American flag represents something that’s sacred. That’s our personal opinion.”

Tyler promotes the Nine Line brand through every single aspect of the business, from the t-shirts to well designed emails and product packaging.

The patriotic and respectful spirit even flows through his hiring processes. The company hires 100% veterans.

start-an-online-store-nine-line-1

Read More

From deployment to police raids, the Nine Line founders have been through it all –– and live to tell the tale. Learn how they secretly became the fastest growing retailer in the U.S.

4. Hop on trends early.

Carving out a place for your brand within an emerging market is ideal.

To do this, it is pivotal that you stay up-to-date on recent, trending products and services –– and then launch an ecommerce site to capitalize on them before they hit peak popularity.

Suzanne Moore started an online rubber stamp store right as the creative market was booming, and her business grew so fast that she was able to sell the store and launch a new venture helping other online entrepreneurs grow their own businesses.

SoSuzyStamps Aloha Stamp

This business angle can be a slippery slope, given that many trends don’t last.

However, the upside can be tremendous for a small business owner, as you’ll have a leg up on SEO and establish yourself as a leader within the industry from early on.

Start thinking of products or services that have been trending up in recent years (e.g., technology, survival gear, vintage, healthy living, flash tattoos).

Launch Before the Craze

Serving as proof that launching in the right market at the right time leads to success, online store Fugoo was built on the backs of team members who played integral roles at Acer, eMachines, Harmon Kardon, JBL and Toshiba.

The Fugoo team even won “Best of CES” awards in 2015. These awards given out typically to brands like Apple and Google when they show off new, unseen technology and products.

“Fugoo’s team is comprised of award-winning industry leaders who have been integral in the creation of many key technology industry milestones, including driving the development and industry adoption of Bluetooth,” reads their website.

In all, the Fugoo team used their skills and industry knowledge to launch the Fugoo Bluetooth wireless speaker just before the bigger technology brands caught on to the trend.

start-a-biz-fugoo

Read More

With 300% growth YoY and #1 placement in Google search results, see how Fugoo used BigCommerce to grow their global brand.

5. Find products that fulfill guilty pleasures.

Another solid business avenue to pursue is catering to customers’ passions, or even their vices.

Shoppers often spend more on their guilty pleasures, developing deep loyalty to brands that understand their obsessions.

Take Jeni’s Ice Cream for example. Founder Jeni Britton Bauer has been making ice cream professionally for decades, and founded her own brand in 2002.

Sure, she was ahead of the organic and all-natural trends, using whole ingredients and dairy from grass-matured cows from the very beginning.

She also added an artistic flair to her flavors, calling on every ice cream lover’s guilty pleasure – trying the newest, creamiest versions.

Today, customers can order ice cream online and have it shipped to their door, removing all barriers to getting that creamy goodness to their mouths faster than ever possible before.

start-a-biz-jenis-2

Jeni’s Mission Statement:

“We are absolutely devoted to making better ice creams and bringing people together. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning and keeps us up late at night.

We believe that you can grow a business as a community of people, with artful attention to detail and the customer experience, and get continuously better at the same time. That REALLY great ice cream served perfectly in a sparkling and beautiful space, with attentive and in-the-moment service (we believe service is an art) brings people together and helps them connect. And that sometimes sparks fly. And that there should be more sparks flying, generally.

We like to make people feel good.”

Turning Strife into Comfort Food

In the 2008 housing bust, I was laid off as engineer and soon developed health concerns that lead to a new direction in my life and an opportunity to take advantage of the growth of gluten-free foods demand.

Over the years, I’ve used my engineering skills to test and formulate a bread product that is gluten-free, vegan, tastes really good and has wonderful texture like comfort foods should.

We use half the ingredients of other popular commercial brands, with twice the taste!  

Consumers LOVE our product!

– Owner, Chief Bakery Engineer (CBE), Gluten Free Things

6. Identify and serve niche segments.

Niche segments often spell success for ecommerce.

Take, for example, Berkey Water.

Berkey Water is a water purification system unlike anything else on the market. You could put radioactive sludge in it and it would pull out drinkable water for you.

It is that good.

And because it is that good, it has niche markets which are increasingly loyal to the brand.

For instance, the prepper market –– full of individuals who are readying for disaster 24/7. Or, the health and cancer recovery segment –– where individuals are looking for the absolute cleanest water possible.

Plenty of other shopping segments love the Berkey Water filter, as well, but their success has long been hinged on markets on the lookout for the absolute best in water purification.

And the love that these segments have for the product is proven in their testimonials:

berkey-start-a-biz-reviews

10 Ideas For Niche Products To Sell Online:
  1. Unique beaded necklaces.
  2. Hand-made frozen yogurt.
  3. Leather iPad cases.
  4. Bluetooth wireless speakers.
  5. Baby clothes.
  6. Mason jar pour caps.
  7. Fidget spinners.
  8. Organic beard oil.
  9. Bow ties.
  10. Wood apparel.

Niche Crafting Over Generations

The desire to honor my father and other farmers who provide seasonal organic food was the main motivation behind starting CORKY’S NUTS.

Growing up on our walnut farm, I witnessed the care and passion my father put into growing his walnuts.

It seemed only natural for me to create a company which allows people to experience what fresh organic walnuts taste like just after harvest, rather than walnuts that sit on store shelves for unknown periods of time.

–  Nicole Facciuto. Founder, CORKY’S NUTS

7. Spot business opportunities absolutely everywhere.

If the above suggestions aren’t resonating, here are a few ways to find great business ideas in your everyday life.

  • Start taking people seriously when they give you compliments. What is it that people tell you you’re great at? Perhaps family and friends can’t get get enough of your online reviews. This is exactly how Spearmint Love started. Founder Shari Lott was a once-time baby clothes blogger and reviewer. Soon, she realized she was gaining more traffic and praise than many of the brands she promoted. So, she decided to start calling in wholesale orders and selling the goods herself. Today, Spearmint Love is a wildly successful brand, and Sheri is a well-known trend-spotter in the industry.
  • Start snooping around websites like eBay, Amazon and Etsy. You’ll be amazed at the simple things being sold online, including vintage items found at a thrift store, party lights, dog toys, tablecloths, decorative pillows and wedding decor. Checkout a site like GolfEtail which uses eBay as an additional sales channel to significantly increase overall brand revenue.
  • Think about a new spin for old items. Even just giving something a new paint job can turn a $5 item into a $50 gem. Check out the angle Bread & Jam took on standard items you’d likely find anywhere, turning them into treasured pieces.
  • Consider impulse buys or items people buy regularly. This could include items like incense, candles, novelties and DVDs. NatoMounts, for instance, sells phone holders for cars –– which about 80% of their audience buys from their phone (but hopefully not in the car!).

Start Where You’re At and Build From There

I didn’t wake up thinking, “I’m going to sell medical supplies for a living!”

I started a Youtube vlog as a journal to hold myself accountable while trying yet another diet –– not thinking anyone one would be interested in my vlog and not realizing people were actually following me!

After losing 65 pounds in less than 6 months, people asked me for help. Long story short, MMS was born out of helping people be able to easily and inexpensively do the HCG diet.

It is all about helping people.

– April Rowden, Owner, Missouri Medical Supplies

Continue on to learn how to evaluate your list of business ideas to better understand what is realistic, feasible and market-ready.

FAQs About Selling Online:

How do you sell products online?

If you are interested in selling products online, we suggest the following steps to increase your chances of success.

It is rare that you will find any easy product to sell.

It takes work both pre and post-launch to successfully sell products online.

  1. Do market research.
  2. Finalize products to sell.
  3. Choose which platforms to sell on such as your own online store, Amazon, eBay, Facebook and other sites customers buy from.
  4. Market to your potential customers to drive traffic to product listings.

Where can I sell my products?

For many B2C ecommerce merchants, branded stores, along with Amazon and eBay account for over 90% of all sales.

Below are several places to sell your products online:

  • Your own branded store.
  • Amazon.
  • eBay.
  • Google Shopping.
  • Facebook.
  • Instagram.
  • Pinterest.
  • Etsy.
  • Craigslist.
  • Email.
  • Affiliate sites.

How do you start selling on Amazon?

  1. Decide what you want to sell.
  2. Choose either the Professional plan (sell an unlimited number of products at $39.99 per month or Individuals plan (pay $0.99 per item sold).
  3. Register and start listing products.
  4. Improve product visibility on Amazon.
  5. Drive traffic to your products.

After you list your products, customers will be able to purchase them on Amazon.com. However, you need to be strategic about helping customers find your products.

We suggest improving visibility of your products with tactics such as an Amazon SEO strategy.

We also recommend reading The Definitive Guide to Selling on Amazon for more ideas to help you start selling on Amazon.

Additional Resources:

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

As a budding online entrepreneur, there’s quite a bit of homework and first steps to take before you begin making money.

Each of the articles in these sections will walk you through how to set yourself up for long term online selling success. 

Successful Ecommerce Business Basics.

Designing Your Store.

Accepting Payments

Configuring Shipping.

Protecting Customer Data.

Make Your First Sale:

Once you have your site set up for success, it’s time to start driving traffic and converting visitors into customers. Here’s everything you need to increase your brand’s visibility and then stay top of mind (and wallet) with customers.

Driving Traffic.

Converting Shoppers.

Retaining Customers With Marketing.

Measuring Success.

Sell Everywhere:

The fastest growing business on the BigCommerce platform view themselves similarly to a stock portfolio: diversification is key to success.

Smart brands have multiple revenue streams to supplement their ecommmerce website. Better yet, modern consumers are agnostic to their final purchase destination.

This means that a customer has no preference on whether they shop on Amazon or your webstore. A consumer’s only preference is convenience. So, if you aren’t selling across channels, you could lose the sale to a competitor who has better diversified.

Here’s all the information you need to know to expand your revenue portfolio and 10x sales.

Selling on Amazon.

Selling on eBay.

Selling on Google.

Selling on Facebook.

Selling on Pinterest.

Selling on Twitter.

15 Ecommerce Success Stories:

The best how-to articles come right from the source – those business owners who have been knee deep in the day-in and day-out activities of success.

Learn below from 15 businesses who grew exponentially over the last 2 years – and read what they have in store for the year ahead.

  1. How Classified T-Shirts Secretly Became the Fastest Growing Retailer in the U.S.
  2. How Vivino Went from Store Launch to Profitability in 2 Months
  3. How to Build an Organic Baby Formula Empire in 2 Years or Less
  4. One Business’s Humble Attempt to Undo the Impact of Fast Fashion and Loose Labor Laws
  5. What Happens When Olympic Athletes Set Their Sights on Abolishing a Monopoly
  6. The Economics of Direct to Consumer Selling
  7. A Beauty Experiment for Beards Goes Viral – And It’s Badass
  8. Oh the Places Your Purchase Will Go – and the 10,000 Girls It Will Educate
  9. The Significance of Sneakers and the Definitive End to Toe Creases
  10. A (Nursing) Bra of a Different Comfort
  11. The Adult Coloring Book Craze is Coming to a T-Shirt Near You
  12. How a $1,000,000 Loss Turned into a $22,000,000 Gain
  13. How I Grew, Valued and Sold My Ecommerce Business
  14. How to Go From Idea to 1,000 Orders in 9 Months
  15. How to Drive 364% Revenue Growth from SEO

What’s Next?

Ideas are great, but it is all about execution.

It is now time to finalize the products you are going to sell, launch your online store and start driving traffic to your website. Good luck!

Know of any other trending products to sell online? Let us know in the comments below!

Table of Contents

IntroHow to (Realistically) Start an Online Ecommerce Business That Actually Grows
Chapter 1 What to Sell in 2018: How to Find a Product Niche and Start Selling Online
Chapter 2 How to Evaluate Market Viability for Your Products
Chapter 3 How to Conduct Online Market Research for Your Ecommerce Business
Chapter 4 How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis for Your Online Business [with Templates]
Chapter 5 10 Online Business Laws You Need to Know for Internet Selling [Updated 2018]
Chapter 6 How to Identify and Analyze Your Target Market in 2018
Chapter 7 How to Source and Manufacture Products for Your Online Business
Chapter 8 How to Create, Setup and Launch a Profitable Online Store (Seriously)
Chapter 9 59 Productivity Hacks for Online Small Business Owners

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