Hey guys! So product selection is probably one of the most fun parts of creating a business, other than watching cash flow in of course, but there are several key aspects in understanding how to choose the best products to sell online. By best products, I mean ones that lend themselves to things like better profit, scalability and consistency of sales, as well as online purchasability and less customer service (in other words, less headache).
Combine all these concepts together, and you are ultimately aiming to find or create a product that brings in as much profit as possible, while minimizing your ongoing input and management of the business as much as possible. This will allow you to work towards separating your time from your income, and design a life you don’t need to escape from!
Choosing the best products to sell online is more of an art than a science. This is because we are dealing with human behavior and that’s why it is very important to consider product selection as part of a bigger picture, rather than in isolation. The bigger picture I am talking about is, ensuring you understand your market and target audience before picking your product, and then subsequently performing market research and testing after you have narrowed down to a few choices. One cannot go without the other, and it is best performed in order, otherwise you are just leaving it down to blind luck.
A Quick Re-Cap On What We Know So Far
So just a quick refresher of the niche and product selection principles I introduced in an earlier post.
- Pick your target audience before you pick your product.
- Think small and specific in order to more easily reach your target audience and make an impact with this group.
- Develop and tell a story about your product and business, something that matches the world view of your target audience.
- When thinking about products think about how you could help your audience. What problems do they have? How can you help solve them?
- We are in a world where most people’s basic needs are met, so they make purchasing decisions based on what they want, rather than what they need. They purchase things that capture them with a desire, feeling or emotion.
- People are looking for something that does whatever faster, quieter and better, but it has to stand out from the rest in a remarkable way to be worth them changing from what they currently use. What can you offer, tangible or intangible, that makes your product truly remarkable?
Keep these base principles in mind as you go through your product brainstorming.
Brainstorm To Your Heart’s Content
The next step is to start the brainstorming where you write down everything you think of or come across, nothing is a silly idea at this stage. Some helpful questions to ask yourself in order to keep focused on products that are best to sell online include:
- What is a product where I can add some form of value pre-purchase or post-purchase? Help to solve a customer’s problem either before or after they purchase through education or guidance.
- What products have a pre-purchase problem? These products may be very confusing or complicated to understand, have many choices, require multiple components or have compatibility intricacies.
- What products have a post-purchase problem? These products may have a complex installation or setup process.
- What products can be complemented with a range of accessories? You can achieve a higher per order sale value when customers naturally include accessories. Also, accessories typically have higher margins than the main product.
- What products may be hard to find locally?
- What products can I offer a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the manufacturing, sourcing etc.? People love to know how something is created because it is like telling a story and letting them in on a secret. It creates value through intrigue!
- What products can I find with bad reviews, read the reviews, ask the manufacture to modify according to customer suggestions and then sell as a better product and beat the competition?
The next step is narrowing down your selection to about 3 or so product ideas using the principles below. It can be a little more than 3 if they meet the selection guidelines, because you can use market research to narrow down even more before micro-testing.
Beginning with the End in Mind
When you are at this stage of narrowing your choices down to a final few and getting closer to a final decision, it is important to keep a few things in mind:
(1) Decide on your method of selling and distributing your product before you commit to one. You are thinking about the supply chain of your product, how it gets from the manufacturer to the customer with as little “middlemen” as possible that reduce your margins.
(2) You are aiming for products that more easily lend themselves to automation and “hands-off” management. These products include ones that can be explained online in a good FAQ (frequently asked questions) page, or for which the product assistance you provide is in a permanent format such as a blog (written), vlog (video blog)/video tutorials or podcast (audio). You want to try to minimize having a need for a call center as this adds cost and complexity to your operations.
(3) Try to explain the main benefit of your product, service or business in a single concise sentence. This helps in developing the cornerstone of you story and gives you a clear direction to build it from there.
One of main reasons we are here, looking to start an online business, is because we are aiming to create a remarkable and profitable business that allows us to escape the 9-5 office, and design a life we don’t need to escape from! When you keep this end goal in mind at the beginning of the process, it will make the steps clearer and the ability to separate your income from your time easier.
Focus On Products That Are Physcially Smaller And Not Fragile
Products that are physically smaller are easier and cheaper to ship due to their size and weight. Typically, you won’t need custom packaging if the product falls within standard sizes, although adding it could provide extra tangible value (nothing nicer than opening an eye-catching package). The lower physical size, or volume, of the product also saves on inventory cost if it is needed to be stored.
Another consideration is the fragility of the product. It best to avoid products that are fragile as this adds cost with custom packaging, careful handling and the possibility of a higher return or replacement rate. Not to mention it is just a headache for you and the customer when goods are received broken. Related to this would also be goods that are perishable, as it would greatly increase storage and shipping costs with the need for refrigeration and tracking of expiry dates.
Pick a Product in the $50 to $200 Price Range – The Sweet Spot!
When selecting a product, it is important to consider the final sale price. It is best to a pick a product within a ‘forgettable’ price range, which means people are more likely to purchase without much consideration, and are comfortable to spend that amount online without needing to talk to a person. This range is typically $50 to $200, but that’s not to say you can’t charge more, you just have to judge how comfortable your target audience will be.
Another consideration is the markup you charge. Avoid pricing you product lower to match the mid range of your competitors, as this effectively increases your competition as most businesses price in the middle. You want to create a premium offering (that means providing appropriate value), and charge the premium price. Go to the edge, as there is less competition, your customers will be easier to distinguish and you will typically attract lower maintenance customers with fewer questions, complaints and returns.
A higher markup means higher profit, which also means you need to sell fewer units to reach the same take-home amount, however it is a fine balance between volume and profit. Consider your competition, and consider the industry, then price high and justify the amount through the value, story and experience you provide to your customers. Many people like to know they are purchasing a premium quality product, as it makes them feel good, so deliver that experience to them.
One way to more easily position a product as premium and high-end is to select a product that doesn’t have a well-defined or perceived value. This means that it doesn’t sell for a fixed price across different retailers in the market, or it isn’t offered in the form you are presenting and therefore the customer can’t as easily judge the price against your competitors’. The customer is then left to judge the price based on the perceived value you are providing them, and this is where you can really deliver an experience! An example of products to avoid are common electronic goods, like TVs, which sell for a very consistent price across many retailers, and therefore have a very well-defined value.
Focus On Products That Are Not Seasonal Or Periodically Go Out Of Fashion
In order for you to be able to create and sustain an online business for the long term, it would be a good decision to avoid goods that are either seasonal or have a high turnover. Seasonal goods fluctuate in demand resulting in varying cash flow and you would need to start another business to provide income during the quieter months. On the other hands, goods with a high turnover often go out of fashion and you would need to periodically redesign your product, or maybe even your business and story, to meet the new trend.
Pick a Product That Is “Remark”able – Something That Is Easily Talked About
When creating your business, one of the main goals and hopes is to select a product which lends itself to word-of-mouth, which ultimately results in steady, or if you are lucky, exponential like growth! All without massive expenditure on paid marketing. Keeping these things in mind during your selection process may help with selecting such a product:
(1) Although easier said than done, try to pick a product which markets itself. What I mean by this is a product which, when used, shows it off and people can’t help but notice. It might stand out with colors, shape or a specific sound. There are also products, like e-Cards, where the use of the product itself is the marketing channel and distribution. A person who receives one can’t avoid being introduced to it!
(2) Pick a product where the purpose of it, the way it looks, or the story it tells matches the world view of the target audience. Computer graphics cards are a classic example of this, where the look of the item with its dark finish, sharp edges, stealthy shape and futuristic look, exactly match the 18-35yr old males that love ‘cool’ looking things which create amazing looking graphics on their computer games. These cards go at a premium too!
(3) Find a product that is remarkable in some way, shape or form. It may have some sort of ‘smoothness’ or ‘sexiness’ factor to it that after one use, the customer is a hooked and can’t help by rave and “remark” about it to others. This ‘remarkable factor’ is hard to find and often built into the product itself, but once found the resulting effect is astounding!
Manufacturing Lead Time
When narrowing down your product selection is it essential you get an indication of the lead time required to manufacture the goods in different quantities. A product which takes 6 months to manufacture, will be difficult to scale if demand varies (both up or down) and you will need to carry a lot of inventory, therefore increasing costs. Aim for products that take about 3-4 weeks from initial order to a state that it is ready to be shipped to the customer. Less is of course better, but harder to come by.
To find out this sort of information, you will need to get in contact with manufacturers of the product you have in mind and ask them for both cost and lead time on quantities of 100, 250, 500 and 1000units.
Some manufacturers have minimum order quantities, but you may see if they would be willing to take a lower order quantity, explaining to them that you need the money to advertise and grow your business, as you are just starting out. This will reduce your risk for the first order, and it will actually allow you to have spare cash for initial advertising, but I do recommend you only ask once you are close to placing an order as this is a favor and the manufacturer does have their minimum orders for a reason.
Understanding All the Costs Before A Final Decision
One final consideration during product selection is really understanding all the costs around getting a product from your initial order with the manufacturer right to the customer’s door step. It is the entire cycle, and many get caught out not understanding these costs before they start, resulting in decreased margins or worse, a failed business.
Ensure you find out and understand the following costs on your final 1-3 product ideas:
(1) Cost of Manufacture on a per unit basis for volumes of 100, 250, 500 and 1000 units (change these volumes as necessary for your type of product).
(2) Cost of Shipping the goods from the manufacturer to the inventory warehouse. The drop-shipping model is one way to avoid this step, as the manufacturer ‘drop-ships’ the products for you, direct to the customer.
(3) Cost of Import Duty and Customs Clearance Fees. This is the one which catches many people out, as there is most definitely a cost associated with importing goods into a country. These costs are taxes that you have to pay upfront on the goods, as well as fees charged for clearing the goods through customs. Costs vary from country to country, and even for methods of freight (sea vs. air), so contact your local authorities or clearance agencies for indications. A quick Google may provide some rule of thumb estimates, which is suitable for this stage of the business.
(4) Cost of Inventory and Storage. Again the drop-shipping product distribution model avoids this, however in other cases you will need to contact local fulfillment companies to get an indication of costs. Costs will vary typically on the amount of storage space required (height x width x depth), as well as the number of units you ship out each month. It may be best to do this after you have done micro-testing, as you will have a ball park estimate of monthly sales volumes.
(5) Cost of Shipping from the inventory warehouse to your customer. Fulfillment companies typically offer a full logistics package of storage, inventory keeping and fulfillment (picking your order and shipping it to the customer), so contacting them will give you an idea of the costs for logistics.
(6) Cost of Advertising. You will get a basic indication of this after performing your micro-testing.
Some of these costs are a once off with each batch order of products, while others are incurred per unit or per customer order. After you have some indication of the potential sales volume (from micro-testing of your product), you may want to divide all costs down to a per unit basis, which once summed gives you an average cost per unit. You can then easily calculate the potential profit per unit and potential monthly profit.
Profit (per unit) = Price (per unit) – Average Cost (per unit, from manufacture to customer door)
Profit (per month) = Profit (per unit) x Potential Monthly Units Sold
These guidelines aren’t hard and fast rules and there are some principles which you may not be able to meet. There are always exceptions and good money can still be made in certain cases, but do consider them as you go through the selection process, as they will help to focus your ideas and direction.
There is definitely a lot to take in and a lot to consider when choosing the best products to sell online, but it is a continual learning process and you’ll get better each time you revisit it! Be mindful that you might not succeed the first time in your product selection, I sure didn’t, but as long as you think about it, understand why and learn from it, you will do better.
Don’t rush through the process… enjoy it, because this is where the magic starts! For me, planning for an online business is a damn sight more interesting and fun than creating a 30+ page business plan for a traditional business… trust me, I’ve done it before!
I didn’t know or understand even half of the principles above my first time round, therefore I hope you will have a better chance for your first time. Please let me know how you go and any thoughts or question your might have! I am eager to learn, adjust or add more guidelines as this gives us all an ever improving chance of create a remarkable online business.
Good luck! The next step in the process is Market Research and Testing, so head back over to that post when you are ready to continue the journey. And remember… don’t deliver a product, deliver an experience! – Tweet This. Deliver a story that resonates with your target audience and you will win!
Are you ready!? Yes! Then get pumped, get inspired and let’s create a remarkable business!
There is no Motivator better than Progress, and there is no progress without Action – Tweet This
Let’s Do This!
Brainstorm your products… write it all down!
Read and understand the product selection principles.
Narrow down your ideas list to 3 or so products.
Ask me any questions you might have.
Continue with your next step in starting an online business, Market Research.
Please leave me a comment or question below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these principles!
Check out the Inspiration Center for motivation during your journey.