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As an entrepreneur, finding the right product to sell can be a daunting task. It’s arguably the most important step towards building a successful business, and choosing the wrong product could seriously limit your company’s potential. Over the last ten years, I’ve successfully started three different brands, ranging from cat furniture to masquerade masks to suspenders (diverse, I know). In that time, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but I’ve also dialed in on a process for choosing the right product to sell that I believe can work for anyone starting an ecommerce business.
Before we get into the steps themselves, here are the four criteria I look for when identifying a potential product to sell:
The product is hard to find on Amazon and in the USA in general: When diving into the choppy waters of ecommerce, you want to give your business a fighting chance and avoid competing with the biggest fish in the pond.
It’s easy to ship: As your company scales up, shipping efficiency can make or break your business. Do yourself a favor at the beginning and focus on products that can be shipped and stored at a reasonable cost.
It has a retail value of $100 or greater: Higher priced items will help you generate more revenue as a small business compared to small-ticket low-margin items that require massive scale to be profitable.
It has something distinct or unique about it: Pretty self-explanatory! Your product needs to catch the eyes of potential customers online. If it photographs well, you’re already ahead of the pack.
A personal example is my DTC cat brand tuft + paw. When I adopted my cat in 2016, I was disappointed by the lack of quality cat furniture on the market. The offerings on Amazon and big box stores were ugly, poor quality and just generally lacking in inspiration. I sensed an opportunity and got down to researching. Here are the steps I followed:
Related: How to Choose Your First E-Commerce Product
Step 1: Brainstorm
The first step towards finding the right product is to brainstorm ideas. Take some time to jot down all of the ideas that come to mind, no matter how wild or crazy they may seem. There are no consequences at this stage, so it’s the time to get as creative as possible. This process can be done alone or with a group of friends or colleagues, as bouncing ideas off of others can often lead to new and exciting concepts. Feel free to use conversational AI tools like ChatGPT to get the ball rolling.
One of my favorite (and frankly underrated) brainstorming techniques is to search Reddit for souvenirs from a specific country or region. For example, if you search “Japan souvenir ideas Reddit,” you may come across some unique products that are highly valued but hard to find in the U.S., such as high-quality kimonos. Just remember that you’re looking for high-quality souvenirs (i.e., products that retail for $100+), not tchotchkes or novelty items.
Once you have a list of potential products, start a new Google Sheet to track all of your ideas. At first, this document should include the name of the product and a brief description, but as you get deeper into your research you can add details like estimated production costs, potential retail price and any other relevant information.
Step 2: Narrow it down
Once you’ve got a list of possible products, it’s time to weed out the weak ideas and identify the promising ones. At this stage, SEO tools like Ahrefs and Semrush become invaluable. By typing in a product keyword, you can see other related keywords that people are searching for. This can help you identify potential niches or products that have a high demand but low competition.
Before settling on a product to sell, make sure that there’s enough variety and volume of searches around the general category. Instead of focusing on a single keyword, look for broader categories that have a high demand. This will help ensure that there’s a market for your first product and you can continue to generate new sales as you expand your product range.
Let’s say you start in a niche (e.g., kimonos) but then expand to a broader category (e.g. Japanese-inspired clothing) as your business grows. This will allow you to establish yourself in a specific market before branching out to other areas. Think of it like growing a tree — the initial planting spot needs to be good, but there also needs to be room for the tree to grow as it matures.
Related: 6 Key Things to Consider When Bringing a Product to Market
Step 3: Connect your ideas with your passion
Finally, it’s essential to choose a product category that you find interesting. Building a successful business takes time, and it’s important to enjoy the work that you’re doing. If you’re passionate about the product you’re selling, you will be more motivated to put in the time and effort to grow your business. Sure, the U.S. kimono market might have lots of potential, but if fashion bores you, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
The opportunities are out there!
The ecommerce world is competitive and absolutely gigantic. Every day, thousands of new products hit the market, and I can guarantee the vast majority of them are nothing special. That’s because identifying the right product to sell and targeting the right audience are really difficult things to do — but by starting with these three steps, you can at least give your fledgling business the best possible chance of surviving.
Don’t forget, this is 2023, and we’ve got so many immensely powerful tools to help us, whether that’s ChatGPT for brainstorming or using Ahrefs for keyword research. Leverage these tools, identify your niche, and you’re well on your way to building a successful business.
Related: Before Falling in Love With Your Great Idea, Find Out If Anybody Wants It