How to Choose a Great Product to Sell Online

The key to successful online selling very much hinges on making the correct choice of what to sell.  There are so many things you could sell, how do you make the choice?  Here are some tips to make that decision a bit easier:

1. Sell things people need

If you have identified a need or you know there's a product people will always need, that makes it one of the safest things to sell in terms of the market not drying up.  Unfortunately it also means you'll have more competition, and that can be a hefty obstacle for a newcomer.  If you can identify a niche product that people need, and will need always, then that is where the real money is.

2. Sell things people want

The great thing about selling online is that there are plenty of tools available to help you research your market.  Use search analytics to identify trending topics and interests, but beware of fads.  Fads are trends that will have a very short lifespan.

Rubik's Cube, Tickle-Me-Elmo, and Cabbage Patch dolls are all examples of fads.  Those fads proved costly for retailers who didn't anticipate that the interest in the products was a fad and not a permanent trend.  While all of those products are still available to be purchased new today, they will never recapture their glory days.

The lesson of the Rubik's Cube is a valuable one.  When these first hit the market in the mid 1980s, they did so in a blaze of publicity which even included mainstream news reports.  The promise that this toy would turn ordinary kids into instant geniuses was irresistible to adults who rushed to buy the things for their children, grand-children, nieces and nephews.  Of course the problem is that not everyone could solve the puzzle and it was for many an unhappy recipient simply a frustrating and ugly hunk of plastic taking up space until a toddler could come along and conveniently break it for them.  The initial explosion in sales was followed almost immediately by the inevitable slump, and the only retailers who made a decent profit from the fad were those who got into cube selling early, and exited without restocking before the bubble burst.

What all this really means is you can't just sell what ever is currently trending, it has to be something you really have faith in.  You have to believe it is good quality and value to the consumer, something you'd be proud to sell.

3. Choose products that have global appeal

The internet provides you with access to a global market, so it's really wasting that advantage if you sell products that are only useful within a limited geographic area or for a limited amount of time.  That's not to say that you can't make money from such products, but it requires more effort.

There's another twist on this as well, and it ties in nicely with the first tip.  If you can identify something people need which is in short supply in one location but abundant in another, you can make money by buying from a place of abundance and selling in a place of shortage.  You just have to get your marketing very narrowly focused so nobody figures out your game, or you'll get swamped with competitors.

4. Sell stuff you're already passionate about

There's no doubt that if you really love something, you'll be better at selling it.  You'll probably also do a better job of promoting it on your website.  If your really into health and fitness, for example, sell products relevant to that interest.  You'll find it easier to write about these products in your blog posts and you'll get a marketing boost from that.  You will also find it easier to research and source new products to sell, because you're already interested in the types of products that will be on offer.

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5. Sell stuff you have specialist knowledge about

If you're an expert of some sort, you should be selling products that are relevant to your field of expertise, so that you can provide quality advice to customers.  Customers will really appreciate knowledgeable and reliable service.

6. Sell stuff you make yourself

If you have a skill and you can create things (either physical objects or intellectual property such as e-books and videos) then you can potentially profit from this.  Manufacturing physical items is more expensive and you'll need to make sure you are unique enough that people really want to buy what you're selling.

7. Sell other people's stuff

There's a way you can sell almost any product without having to actually stock it.  It's called drop-shipping, and if you invest a bit of money into creating a strong brand identity, you can make a success of it.  How this works is when a manufacturer of bulk products doesn't want to invest money in marketing, packaging, branding and so on, they'll let you invest your money in those things and just focus on doing what they do best, which is manufacturing.  You create the brand, they create the product, you sell the product and they send it to the consumer.  Of course if anything goes wrong in that process, you'll probably be stuck with full liability, but that's business.

8. Facilitate other people selling their stuff

A rarely considered business model, but one which can potentially work in the right circumstances, is where you don't directly trade at all.  You simply supply a website that allows other people to trade and you skim a percentage of the sales as a commission for providing the site.

9. Promote stuff and let other people sell it

Affiliate marketing programs let you promote businesses and products of other people and you get paid a commission when somebody makes a purchase.  It's very difficult to make a success of this unless you know how to write good copy that pulls in an audience and motivates them to take action.  Lazy affiliate marketing where you just post a banner ad on a web page is somewhat viable if you get enough traffic, but it's nowhere near as successful as really well written copy.

10. Sell memberships

Sometimes single sales are really not the best way to go.  If you have the kind of site where you have content people would want to come back and visit often, it can be a good idea to create a “members only” area where you serve exclusive content to paying members.  This works if you have something highly desirable, but which is not likely to be traded openly by the people who buy the memberships.  Investment advice is a good example (provided you actually are an expert investor), or any other sort of secret information which your target market is not likely to share around too freely because they'd hurt themselves in some way if they did.

Of course you're not limited to only following one of these ideas.  You could try any combination of them, because the beauty of online business is that it's so inexpensive you can afford to experiment and fail many times before you find the right formula.  Traditional business is expensive, but online business doesn't have many of the financial burdens or freedom limitations, so you can explore anything that takes your fancy.

This was just a brief guide to some things you could think about when choosing a product to sell online, but if you want to get really scientific about it (and really you should) then you can read a much more detailed guide here, which will give you all kinds of suggestions about not only what kind of products to consider but also detailed case studies of particular niche products so you can see how it all works.

header image courtesy of Emile Feij

Catalin Zorzini

I'm a web design blogger and started this project after spending a few weeks struggling to find out which is the best ecommerce platform for myself. Check out my current top 10 ecommerce site builders.

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