What if you knew your ecommerce store was going to be a profit-producing machine before you did any work on it? There is a way to find this out.
Stop trying to come up with top ecommerce ideas. If you sold salt online, would your online store be a success? What if you sold fishing rods?
If you answered yes to either, your idea of what to sell is wrong. Though it can help, you don’t need business experience or industry expertise to know if your ecommerce idea will be successful. By the end of this guide, you will have several great ecommerce ideas you know will sell well.
Pick a Passion or Go for Profitability?
A guide on what to sell wouldn’t be complete without a discussion on passions versus profitability. The argument is if you work on something you’re passionate about, you stick at it longer and are more likely to make money. On the other hand, if you start an online store selling photocopiers to businesses (sorry to the few who are passionate about photocopiers) because you saw there’s no place where someone can go to buy photocopiers, you make the money but are miserable.
My advice on this is simple. Online stores are not about you. Markets are not created by what you love. If you love something, chances are other people do too but will enough people buy enough so you make a living? (I’ll help you answer this soon.)
When coming up with ecommerce ideas to figure out what to sell, put your passions second. Get the damn money first.
You are interested in what you do – not necessarily you do what you are interested in. You might surprise yourself with how much you love selling products you are inadvertent for when commencing your online store. If you don’t care about the homeless, work with them for a day then I guarantee you will feel concern for their well-being.
Your satisfaction selling products you care little for could come from learning how to get visitors to your website, talking with happy customers, or waking up knowing the day’s work will further your profit margin. Once you have an online store that lets you sleep easy at night then create a second store selling your handcrafted sticks with engraved celebrity faces.
The 3 Most Important Questions You Could Ever Answer for Your Ecommerce Ideas
The following three questions come from business guru Eben Pagan who is responsible for creating common marketing tactics used online today like the simple landing page. When you answer these three questions, you know if products you sell are going to be a hit or fizzle out. Answer the questions now to solve most of your inevitable marketing problems.
Get a yes to all three questions for your particular market and you have a killer business. Have two and you can succeed. Nail one and I wish you luck. Miss all three and you will tear your hair out for years trying to market with the latest techniques making no progress.
Research psychology shows over and over that pain motivates more than pleasure. The problem with selling stuff that is “nice to have” is procrastination. People can search for the product and want it, but never buy it because they don’t need it.
Your store does not have to solve a pain, though if it does, you can be more certain it will sell well. Enthusiasts and hobbyists are example exceptions to this rule – kind of. Golfers, wind surfers, car enthusiasts, and miniature painters love what they do so much that it becomes a pain to not have the right equipment for their pleasure.
I am fascinated that few couples want to learn about building a strong marriage. But individuals whip out their wallets when they want to save their marriage from divorce. See the desperation difference?
Here are examples of this in online stores:
- Washer parts fix a pain. Most parts of anything fix a pain because they are used to replace something broken the person wants working now.
- Coffee grinders fix a pain (of missing out on pleasure). You cannot have good coffee without freshly ground beans. Coffee lovers have an irrational passion for their pleasure.
- Blood pressure monitors address a pain. The pain could be created from a health risk, doctor’s recommendation, or post-hospitalization necessity. Maybe American Indians are looking online for a blood pressure monitor to deal with the stress of environmental damage.
- Hard drives for computers can be an insane pain. I’ve purchased multiple hard drives over the years the day my current hard drive went faulty. I go with an eBay seller that offers express postage because I quickly need the hard drive.
If you sold vitamins, you may do okay. A vitamin is something you should have. You would sell better if you sold vitamins to guys wanting to build muscle because they hate being thin.
Notice how the vitamin product did not change but the positioning changed. Your prospect may experience a serious problem your product can solve – it’s a matter of zoning in on that.
Some markets lead themselves to clearly defining your ideal customer. A dog owner buys dog food for his canine friend. On the opposite end are markets like supplements that have many segments. Your market could be 80-year-olds looking to fix a health ailment, college athletes wanting to improve athletic performance, or over-weight single mothers. Your supplements can be suited to all these types of people, but they will not all buy from you.
An over-weight mother wanting to lose weight will think the supplement is not for her if she starts hearing about how the supplement boosts her speed in sprints. Even if you mention how the product is good for losing weight, you have unsold the product by diluting its message. By being something to everybody, you are nothing to everybody. That is why you need to observe irrational passions and urgent pains experienced by potential customers.
If you still do not know your customers having answered yes to the three killer questions, just launch. Overtime you get feedback from customers about how they use your products. You then tinker your message to match the customers who buy the most.
If you’re dead-set lost about a product idea, browse eBay’s categories. Pick anything to begin with. You can – and should – repeat the three questions for a variety of products.
How would someone search to find your product?
Google at a glance gives insight at passions and profitable markets. Use the Google keyword research tool. Type in the problem your product solves or the product name. How many people are searching for it?
Below you see a search I did for “yo yo”. There are over 37 million searches for “yo yo”. Not all these people are looking to buy:
Keywords of a profitable market to note if they appear in conjunction with your current keywords are:
- brand names
- model names
A second tactic to see if your prospect is looking for a solution is to search your product idea in Google. What ads show up?
Looks like a lot of companies are making money advertising for “buy whey protein”. If there are no advertisers, there is a greater chance the market is unprofitable rather than you having found an untapped opportunity. It is a reliable rule of thumb that more advertisers equals a good market. If someone frequently spends money on advertising, it is working for them.
If in the Google keyword tool you see people use the keywords, but there are no ads in Google, the search queries are likely for “a it’d-be-nice-to-have-product” or for educational terms where people want more information rather than to buy. A search term of “how to unblock a drain” is informational compared to “drano” (a product that unblocks drains) or “drain unblocker” (someone wants a product or person to unblock a drain). Unsurprisingly, more advertisers are competing for “drain unblocker” compared to “how to unblock a drain”.
Every market has educational terms that are a good part of marketing to get leads and sales. If you sold drain cleaning products, I recommend you to create an article titled “How to Unblock a Drain” that leads to your drain unblocker product. An educational term by itself in your keyword research hints at a weak market.
Search for the product in Google. What comes up? Create a spreadsheet then copy the name and website of the competitors who sell your potential products. Thousands of results will likely come up, yet do not be discouraged.
You’re about to discover how to steal competitor information to duplicate their success. If you’re at all serious about starting an online store, signup for TeraPeak right now. TeraPeak is an amazing tool to get eBay market intelligence to discover bestselling items.
In TeraPeak, if you already have your product idea, search the product name otherwise go to “Hot Research” and select the “Hot categories” view. You’ll see a list of hot-selling categories:
The “Hot” measure gives you a vague understanding of demand. It is quantitative measure of the number of bids divided by the rate of increase in listings over 30 days. Super hot means there’s a lot of people bidding on a few products.
From the drop-down, compare “Sell-Through” with “Total Listings” over “2 Year History”. Click trend. I did this for the eBay category “Toys, Hobbies > Classic Toys > Yo-Yos”. Here’s what I got:
A high sell-through rate indicates a supply-rate struggling to meet the demand. The total listings hints at the size of the market and number of competitors.
Also look through the average number of bids per listing. If average bids per listing is consistently over five, people frequently compete to buy the product. Here’s the bids per listing for yoyos.
Bids per listing is just another factor to consider. People may buy yoyos at set price rather than compete through bidding.
Visit the eBay listings and bring up your Google search results. What products do your competitors sell? What are your competitors missing (so you can be better) that your customers want?
You now have answers to the three killer questions. In answering the questions, you have a list of potential markets to enter. You want to answer yes to all three questions or at least answer yes twice.
Do you now see the importance of answering these questions? Your getting out of your head then into the head’s of people who decide whether your online store has a chance. If you get the market right, the marketing becomes easy.
The Final Step to Validate Your Ecommerce Idea
The last step to see if your ecommerce idea is viable is finding manufacturers, distributors, or dropshippers for the products you want to sell. Most businesses will work with you only once you register a business and setup the basic domain name, hosting, and design of your ecommerce site. Here’s what each role is and means for you:
Manufacturer: A manufacturer makes the product. Large manufacturers often work with distributors. Whenever you can, work directly with the manufacturer for the lowest cost price of a product. Always contact a manufacturer to see their distribution model.
Distributor: A distributor is the middle man between you and the manufacturer. If you want to setup a warehouse, you buy products from the distributor then store them in your warehouse ready to fulfill orders. You may have many distributors in which case it becomes difficult to fulfill orders. A 3PL service is great in this case. Some distributors do “dropshipping” where you don’t handle any stock.
Dropshipper: A dropshipper receives your order then ships the order to the customer. Dropshipping is a supply chain management technique to not touch any product. You will not make as much profit with dropshipping compared to other methods because you pay for the order fulfillment so we recommend you use it only at the start as you grow your store. Shopify have a comprehensive guide on all you need to know about drop shippers.
Search Google for product manufacturers in your niche. Most manufacturers have a link on their website for prospective distributors or dealers to contact the company.
Mary is one of our clients selling fashionable clothing to women. I asked her how she sources her clothing: “I have been in the wholesale fashion industry for 20 years so its kinda second nature to me. I already knew alot of places to go, but it also involves trolling through magazines, competitors retail shops, internet sites, fashion blogs, trade fairs and ongoing research.” All great ideas.
Your goal here is to contact suppliers to see if they’re open to you selling their product. Though your ecommerce idea checks all three marketing questions, a supplier must “authorize” your idea with their consent to supply you with product.
By now you have a feel for your products, your market, and your customers. In day two we cover how to pick the right shopping cart provider. Select the wrong ecommerce software to leave yourself with a headache and constrain the growth of your business.