You may have heard that eCommerce is doing pretty well.
We talk about it a lot – it’s one of the best ways to make money online. There’s just one catch: to start selling, first you need to know what to sell.
As with anything else worth doing, to get great results for your budding eCommerce business you will need to do some forward planning. Especially if you plan to step into an unfamiliar product area.
If you can get on top of this right at the start of your journey, it’s one less thing to worry about later on. It’ll also likely save some heartache and frustration.
We’ll show you how to do product research to cover all bases, from finding those dream products for your store to putting plans in place for future growth.
If you want to learn how to find a product to sell online, these 7 tips are for you.
Table of Contents
1. Realize a personal passion
Never work a day in your life.
That is what’s supposed to happen if you find a job you enjoy doing. So, if you’re ready to create your own eCommerce store, why not start by looking at what you love?
Turning your personal passion into a viable business is not necessarily a bad idea.
Sure, your hobby for sleeping in and eating pizza in bed may not be the healthiest or the most grown-up way to pass the time. But by using a little research, it could be the key to your success.
Start with your hobbies
Before you’ve made any other commitments to your store, kick off the research process with some creative thinking. Remind yourself that at this stage, no idea is a bad idea.
Map out your personal passions, and use this as the blueprint for your product research journey.
Cast the net wide. Look back at your career, think about your high school achievements, remember which news segments have stuck in your mind.
Also, think about what you love doing in your spare time:
- If you’re good at making something that people already get to enjoy – like cakes, maybe, or greeting cards – could you produce it in bulk?
- When you’re shopping for yourself, are there products you often need to get but don’t see anywhere? Write them down.
- Is someone else doing a bad job of selling items that you want, need or can design and create yourself? A bit of healthy competition can be a great motivating factor.
If you discover that your hobby isn’t exactly niche enough, but your research draws you to something similar, don’t be afraid to go off on a tangent.
The founder of Black Infusions Vodka was actually into making wine when his business idea struck. Michael Davidson loved making products that his friends and family enjoyed, but was fascinated by a tradition that nobody had attempted to disrupt, yet.
Why would restaurants pair wines with food, but not spirits? Vodka should be just as artisanal. Here was space for Michael to sell a product that people didn’t yet know they needed.
Stand for something
Perhaps enjoying pizza in bed isn’t going to help you grow a successful company. If your hobbies are uninspiring, or best kept as hobbies, look beyond them to see what else makes you tick.
There’s plenty of scope to create your eCommerce store around a product you’re only just starting to think about, instead of a pastime you’ve been enjoying for a while. Not every side hustle needs to be turned into a main hustle.
Explore the next step in using those personal passions:
- Could you be using your professional skills to create a new product?
- Do you have a friend who might make a great collaborator? Often, creative people need a business partner with a head for figures.
- Is there an issue you’re passionate about resolving? Evaluate what’s important to you.
Let your product research be inspired by a range of factors. Take notes on what your skill set is made up of, what your values are, and think creatively about how to get everything to work together.
LastObject started out as a kickstarter campaign, sparked by three people with one shared objective: transforming single-use products into reusable ones.
The founders used their backgrounds in design to formulate one innovative product that looks great, serves a need, and would get people talking about their brand.
Research proved there was a market for sustainable products, giving the founders plenty of scope to turn their passion and skill into a business.
2. Utilize social media
If your eCommerce store is rooted in a personal passion – great news. Every step in this list will factor into your product research, but you’re over the first hurdle.
If you want to draw a line between your hobbies and business interests, however, set your sights on social media.
Even if you already have a direction in mind for your store, taking stock of trends on social platforms should be a key step in your product research.
Clever use of sites like Instagram, Pinterest, and Reddit could help you see products you never knew you should sell.
Tune into conversations on social media to see which products are being talked about. This step capitalizes on an easily accessible research technique, but if you concentrate really hard you can feel like a spy on a mission.
Making use of social listening early on in your search is a simple way to unlock product ideas and market demand. You could stumble upon a top trend that’s set to take off, or a subset of customers in need of something niche.
Reddit shouldn’t be ignored in your search for a product to sell.
With thousands of forums and communities populating the site, it’s like one giant online opinion poll.
It’s important to canvass many people in the market for goods, so start here. Check out:
- The ‘Buy it for Life’ board. Unfiltered, unsponsored opinions from users who have proudly invested in gold-standard products, and are sharing their admiration. Yes, you may think a post about a 23-year-old Thermos flask won’t inspire you, but this forum is a great tool for finding out which items consumers need, want, and value.
- The ‘Find it on Amazon’ board. Here’s where you’ll see true product demand. In true does-what-it-says form, the board helps users find out from others if they can purchase random products they’re coveting on Amazon. Great for research and, further down the line, for pointing customers in the direction of your own product offer.
One of the best platforms to use in your search for a trending product, Instagram will let you see what consumers are using in real time.
Have a scroll through:
- The ‘explore’ page. That little magnifying glass icon will open up a world of product inspiration. Tap on ‘shop’ to see products that businesses are selling or marketing right now, and also see if you can pick up on a trend.
- Hashtags, of course. Instagram has made the hashtag infiltrate our daily vocabularies. It’s also an invaluable tool for product research. Use websites such as hashtagsforlikes to pick out trending hashtags in popular categories.
You get so many product ideas at your fingertips with Pinterest. The mood board building site is the most esthetically-pleasing social platform out there.
It can be your (not so) secret weapon for finding the most popular products to sell:
- What are people re-pinning? It may be slightly obvious, but take note of what Pinterest users are interested in while you’re researching. A sudden abundance of photos of goat playhouses may be the nudge you need. Yes, that’s a real trending product this year.
- What does the trend report say? A fresh trend report emerges from the Pinterest newsroom on an annual basis. Open to anyone, this detailed forecast for the upcoming year in trends takes real search statistics from the site, and digests them into marketable segments.
3. See what sells elsewhere
If you now have one or two product ideas floating around in your mind, this is a good way to find out how they perform for other businesses.
Is your mind still blank? Have no fear: this is also an opportunity to dig up some fresh product inspiration.
Trawling through consumer marketplaces can give you both positive and negative results.
This is a great step in your product research journey. As well as identifying the best-selling items on the market, scoping out the competition can also show you exactly what they are lacking.
Look beyond the best-sellers
Don’t be afraid to go big. You’ve used some of the biggest social media platforms in your product research, so why not step it up and focus on the titans of shopping?
Sites like Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba will give you some fascinating insights into consumer spending habits. If you know roughly which products you’re interested in, you can look up the best-sellers by category value. It’s a great place to start.
If you fancy looking into shopping trends at a more granular level, however, try:
- Amazon’s Hot New Releases, Movers and Shakers, and Most Wished For lists, which are updated daily. Rapidly learn which items are in demand.
- eBay’s Seller Center tool for businesses. Designed with prospective sellers in mind, the ‘how to sell’ segment on this marketplace’s website will get you to identify current demand in a few easy steps.
- Alibaba’s Top Ranking Product lists. An enormous marketplace for wholesalers and suppliers, this site helpfully ranks current hot products per category. Take a look at what other businesses are buying for their own online stores.
Be sure to scale down your search, too.
Although smaller eCommerce stores may not provide the insights of the large marketplaces, a comparative shop of other brands can often be a lot more inspirational.
Start your comparative shopping journey by mapping out brands you already love. Is there a store where you always have a wishlist of favorite products in your account?
If you have products in mind for your store, or you are already selling, note down who you think your competitors are. Consider who might match your offer in terms of style, price point, and variety.
Read the reviews
Negative reviews can be painful to read, and you should capitalize on as many as possible.
Take a look at the reviews left by shoppers in marketplace stores, where healthy ratings are core to a seller’s success. It might sound mean, but you can really use negative scores to your advantage.
If a customer has left more than just a star rating, their review might contain invaluable feedback on how to modify an existing product. You now have the opportunity to transform that frustration into a better product and get selling.
Don’t just focus on the negatives. Glowing ratings can shine a light on a product idea, too. Filter ratings on sites like:
- Amazon, where the average customer review is one of the key search filters
- Etsy, which allows shoppers to view and leave ratings for sellers, as well as their wares
- Google, if you’re keen to understand how a business is performing in its entirety
You can go down a different route with your review research, too.
If you have found a product niche that interests you, use a simple Google search to see if the category pops up in any blogs or magazine reviews.
Be sure to take these types of reviews with a large pinch of salt. Brands are prepared to sign up to pretty lucrative affiliate deals with both large publications and independent bloggers.
Often, a positive write-up for a product can be influenced by a paycheck.
Fortunately, these types of reviews are governed pretty strictly by advertising laws. So don’t be completely deterred from using this search method to see if there’s an audience for your niche.
4. Research keywords
So, you think you have a product in mind. How do you know if anyone really wants to buy it?
Whether you plan to take that personal passion and earn some money from it, or you’re up for skipping that step and following popular trends instead, keyword research is vital.
Any forward-thinking entrepreneur should use a keyword search function as a primary step in finding saleable items. This is an important way of validating demand for your product, and will cut out a lot of time-wasting later on.
As with anything truly valuable to your new business, keyword research might take some time to understand and perfect. To make your life easier, we wrote a guide on how to effectively research keywords online.
While understanding search engine optimization is a surefire way to drive traffic and boost marketing for your existing website, this is a step that you should aim to take as part of your early product research.
If you know exactly what you want to sell, use Adwords later on in your store building process. Get a solid idea of the costs involved with your products, then build yourself a great marketing campaign.
To optimize the tool while you’re still searching for product inspiration:
- Create a list of keywords you think future customers might use to search for your products, range, or store. The bigger and more strategic the list, the better. Think of modifiers: instead of ‘nail kit’, a customer might search for ‘how to do gel nails.’
- Access the keyword planner. Set up a test marketing campaign and get some use out of the ‘discover new keywords’ tool. Spend some time exploring your options for range building. Click on ‘get search volume and forecasts’ if you want to check the popularity of product searches.
One of many platforms designed as a useful research tool for wannabe Amazon sellers, Jungle Scout could provide you with some insights for your own product offer:
- Utilize the ‘Niche Hunter’ tab. This search function will let you see how saturated the market for your product idea is. Input some of the keywords you listed, and work out if they’re worth your time and investment.
- Install Jungle Scout’s sister product, Extension, and validate the market for product ideas you have generated using Jungle Scout. Search for products in Amazon and Extension will crunch the numbers for you. View results for sales rankings, average prices, and demand rankings.
We’re back at social platforms again.
If you aren’t ready to think about future marketing campaigns, low-investment sites that are focused around forums and video sharing will also yield helpful results.
Although less specific and not as data-driven as software dedicated to keyword research, social platforms can give you off-the-cuff results which can push you towards product ideas:
- Get smart with YouTube. Research the online guides designed for content creators looking at marketing themselves. This will lend some insight into how to be smart with YouTube’s search function. The world consumes 5 billion YouTube videos daily, and a huge chunk of them are how-to instructionals and reviews for new products.
- Sift through Reddit. You already know that this is a surprisingly invaluable tool for your product research. Arm yourself with your list of keywords, and step back into that ‘Find it on Amazon’ board. Get stuck into Reddit’s complex network of forums, if you’re confident you won’t get sidetracked by one of their weirder threads.
5. Understand the logistics
Picture this: you put all your time into researching products, you built a beautiful website, and became a pro at optimizing keywords.
You invested in a stack of products for your store and dedicated one corner of your garage, spare room, or basement to the boxes.
You’ve absolutely nailed your online presence. Your brand is on fire and your products are selling fast.
You order even more of each product to meet demand, and that corner of boxes starts to fill out the room.
Then, demand slows down and you’re not shifting as many products as you did last month. You’re surrounded by a fort of boxes, wondering where it all went wrong.
Don’t get boxed in
Taking the time to research logistics is an essential step when you’re figuring out which products to sell.
Whether you’ve landed on the perfect product or you’re still searching, it pays to understand all the costs and technicalities involved in eCommerce.
Getting to grips with product journeys can really influence which items you end up selling in your store. You never know – this step in your research might give you the lightbulb moment you’re after.
Review all the options available to you as a store owner, and remember to keep an open mind. You could:
- Become a maker. Perfect for the side-hustle and main-hustle crowd, and for those interested in stocking smaller-scale products. You can widen your reach by selling on a marketplace such as Etsy alongside your own website.
- Hold your own inventory. Take full control of all the products you’re selling, and partner up with a distribution center. You can oversee every step in the process.
- Get into dropshipping. This thoroughly modern fulfillment method cuts out the need for you to hold inventory, so you pick products to sell that go straight from the supplier to the customer.
Dropshipping sounds great, right? It can be. But delve a bit deeper into this method before chalking it up as the one product fulfillment model you want for your website.
You should be balancing the pros and cons throughout your product research, so apply the same logic to dropshipping. The benefits are obvious: it’s easy to get started, there are lower overheads and commitments, and you can pick from a wide range of products.
Now, for the disadvantages. There are potential supply chain issues with dropshipping, where you will be answerable to angry customers regardless of where the fault lies.
It can be tricky to find a niche product and fend off competitors, so you may end up compromising on profit margin.
Protecting profit margin will be a full-time job when your business is up and running. It’s always important to do some forward planning, so adding this step into your eCommerce product research sessions is invaluable.
Work out which factors you can plan for while doing product research. You can’t review past sales yet, but you can write up a list of potential products to sell and start to estimate the return on investment.
Maybe your research has led you to furniture upcycling. Painting is your hobby and it’s all over Pinterest this season. It could be a winning product idea, but how does it stack up to all these variables?
- Time spent sourcing or making products. Be granular about this. If you’re using up a full week to paint one bench, how much is that bench really costing you? Much more than what you paid your supplier for it, that’s for sure.
- Order quantities. The cost of an individual product will generally decrease as the quantity you buy increases. Figure out what your target products are worth. Could you end up buying too much in order to get a low price, or spend too much to get a low quantity?
- Funding and support. Furniture is one heavy product category. Will you need to employ other people to shift your products? Make sure your capital could stretch to that.
Go back to that list of potential competitors.
If you’ve got a rough idea of what a product could cost you, take a look at how your closest competition is pricing similar items for customers.
This is one of the easiest ways to establish whether you might end up charging beyond the market rate for a product.
It’s also another great opportunity to see if the market is saturated with the product idea you have in your mind.
If you can’t beat your competitors on the price for products that customers already know and want, it may not be worth selling in your store.
6. Test everything
Whether you’re absolutely set on bringing a particular product to market or you’re still having a look at your options, get testing to the top of your search agenda.
This is a really crucial step in product research that not everybody will be using. You might be setting up an eCommerce store, but as long as you’re offering physical products you need to know that they’re of a good standard.
Consider this step as an exercise in reassurance. You can look at a wide variety of products and really narrow down your search by incorporating testing into the process.
There’s more than one way to test out a product.
Think about which product areas interest you and start using the testing step to try really hard to break them. Sometimes literally.
You should definitely implement a pressure test if you have a clear idea of which products you want to sell.
And if you’re still in the early stages of your search, take a look at which techniques are the most cost-effective and time-efficient. It doesn’t take much to get some products in front of you or your target market.
Test your product
This is possibly the most enjoyable part of product research. You might have a target market in mind, but it pays to stock products that you want, too.
If you can be passionate about the items in your store, it’s a great look for your brand. Your marketing will be easier to deliver if you’re already using your products and understand how to get enjoyment out of them.
- Order product samples. If you have already built your website to look like the exciting store it will be, suppliers might be more inclined to send you freebies. If not, the investment will be worth it anyway. Remember to keep communication concise and show people you understand the market. Even just a little.
- Use things, and tweak things. Is the product as great in reality as it was in photos? Spend time using or wearing it, see if it sparks an idea for a new product, and see if there are one or two design changes you can make. Feel confident that there are other people who will buy this.
Test your market
Criticism – who needs it? You do, right now!
Throughout your search for a winning product idea, your target market will probably be one of your top priorities. Or at least an idea in the back of your mind that you can use to influence your search perimeters.
Engage with people while you continue to look for products and their feedback might be a catalyst for you deciding what to stock.
Make use of the opportunity to fully test demand for a product with a target market:
- Run an ad campaign. If you’re ready to put some money toward your business, you can experiment with a campaign on Adwords to check conversion rates to your website. This takes some marketing knowledge. Use your contacts to find people who can help if the world of pay-per-click is beyond your abilities.
- Sell a batch of products. Create a mini database of people willing to trial your product offer. Make sure you have your website set up, and a selection of products in stock. You can see how customers use your store and which products come out on top. Be sure to send out surveys after the test run.
Test your shipping
Running some trial orders is a great first step in checking you’re happy with your choice of logistics.
It can show whether or not dispatching products yourself is a total nightmare, or it can help you understand the time commitments of dropshipping.
You might not want to use this method of fulfillment for your store, but trialing dropshipping as part of your product research is an often-underestimated step.
- Use a wider range of products in your trial. The low-investment, low-overhead perks of dropshipping mean that you can market a variety of items in one go. That’s particularly useful if you still have no idea which product area to go into.
- Test over and over again. Did nobody want fluffy sliders or band t-shirts? Clear your site and market a different product. You haven’t committed to inventory, so make use of dropshipping to see what people will actually buy from you. Don’t go over the top in your brand reinventions, but be sure to thoroughly use this step in your product research.
7. Check market demand
Great marketing is everything to an eCommerce store.
But you have to make it relatively easy to market your product. You could spend all your research time devising something totally unique to offer.
Or you could jump straight onto the latest top trend that’s already selling out on Amazon.
Either option could completely fail. Ensure you don’t launch a product that’s so niche that nobody actually wants it, or so popular that you’re competing with everyone else on the internet.
Considering all the many highly technical methods of product research, it’s easy to forget that a quick Google search will still give you results you can use.
This can be a simple step that acts as a sanity check for the future of your company. After all the research you’ve spent time doing, you hardly want to launch products that have no market stability.
Sure, with a dropshipping model you can switch from one market to another with minimal hassle.
However, in an ideal world, it would be nice to not have to step into a different product area every few months. Try this:
- Google Trends. Analyze how rapidly product demand can peak and subside. Use this tool to check market growth but don’t rely on it for keyword research – revert to step 4 instead.
- Market research surveys for in-depth insights. Use these reports to review tangible growth predictions for specific product categories. These are great to search through when you are closer to knowing which product you want to sell.
- Canvassing your friends. Adopt a survey strategy for your business right away, and ask small groups of people questions about their shopping habits. This is a pretty basic but effective way to get results that will aid your research.
Get your list of potential competitors and take a look at how they market themselves.
Take note of the top search results in Google for different products, for a start. Use a site like Ahrefs to pick through useful data.
Discover which backlinks your favorite brands are using to market their goods, and also to establish market leaders within any category that interests you.
Remember that as well as helping you see what other businesses are excelling in, your search may turn up holes in their strategies that you can capitalize on.
Think of the influencers
One crucial step in honing your future marketing strategy will be to team up with top influencers in your product area.
Start to think about influencers as part of your product research journey, and you’ll be familiar with how to use them to your advantage again later on.
You’re already aware that some people will market anything if they get paid for it. So, be discerning in your search and see who is consistently talking about specific products:
- Ensure your niche is not too niche. Take this step to reassure yourself that there is a market to get into, even if it’s a small one. Search via hashtags on Instagram or by pairing your product with keywords like ‘Q&A’ or ‘advice’ into Google.
- But be confident you’re not also oversaturating a market, either. Millions of search results for one item can be a telltale sign that it isn’t right for your business.
- Figure out what people are professionally endorsing. There are online tools like Heepsy that you can use to accurately pin down people and their search demographics.
If you have time on your side, start following a handful of people on social media who specialize in a product area that interests you.This is essentially a hands-off step in your product research that will get you thinking about the saleability and esthetic of your favored items.
You can establish how often people want to post about certain products, see how popular each post is, and decide whether the audience will understand what you want to offer.
And if nothing is working out – the product is too niche or too generic, the subject matter is boring to you – all you need to do is unfollow, and pick up something new.