You’ve probably landed here on this beautiful wall of text because you’re wanting to start an online store and are wondering, “What are the best products to sell online?”
The short version – it depends :)
The long version – keep reading for specific ideas to find the best product for you to sell online.
There are hundreds of articles out there talking about trending products for [insert year here], the best all-time products, rising products, etc., but these resources are typically 100% based on what’s happening now.
So, how do you know what the best products are in general?
Again, spoiler alert: there is no such thing as a best product to sell online!
Sure, there are basic principles to stick to, such as
- products with a high average order value
- things that can be drop shipped / don’t require a high-touch in store experience
- products that can be shipped cheaply and easily, etc.
But with that said, if you look at the brands that are killing it online right now, like Native, Dollar Shave Club, and Tuft & Needle… they break all of those “rules”. Native sells deodorant, Dollar Shave Club built an entire business on super-cheap razors, and Tuft & Needle sells mattresses (a product that typically requires a high-touch in-store experience with high shipping costs).
I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as the “best” anything — instead, I operate from “best for your skills, knowledge, resources, and goals”.
So when it comes to starting your online store, the key is to move out of the “best product to sell online” mindset and into the “best product for ME to sell online” mindset. And that’s a product that fits your skill set, knowledge, resources, timeline, and market demand.
There are several approaches to finding the best product to sell online for you… and that’s what I’ll be breaking down in this post.
How to Find the Best Products to Sell Online (For You)
The Product Research Route (Amazon scraping, Adplexity, etc)
Thanks to platforms like Amazon, anyone can sell something online — and luckily for you, there is a giant trove of product data just waiting for you on the Internet.
One way to figure out what to sell is by looking at other products that are performing well and weighing those against your own wants and needs.
The goal here is to collect data on what’s working already, then reverse engineer an ecommerce strategy to sell it.
For example, let’s say you’re looking on Amazon for bestselling dog toys. You could look at niches within dog toys to niche-down into subcategories, look at best-selling products within those subcategories, see top sellers to identify competitors — the opportunities are endless.
The bonus here is you don’t have to do this manually — and you’re not limited to Amazon’s data. Spy tools like Adplexity and Jungle Scout can aggregate product data across several ecommerce platforms and even show you competitor’s ads so you can reverse engineer a marketing strategy that works.
With that said, keep in mind that everyone has access to this data, which means you won’t be the only one reverse engineering a successful product. What’s really going to set you apart is choosing a successful product that fits your own criteria and knocking your marketing strategy out of the park.
The Persona Research Route
People are constantly searching for things online. Think about your own behavior — where do you go when you’re looking for the “best swimsuits for speed” or “most durable dog toys for puppies”?
As a business owner, you can use this data to figure out what people actually want and give it to them. In marketing, this approach is known as creating a persona (marketing jargon for a description of your ideal customer).
An effective persona defines what your ideal customer actually wants. Who are they? What problems do they have? How can you solve these problems.
Use tools like Facebook Audience Insights, Pinterest, Google Display Planner, Trend Hunter, and basic keyword research (see here) to create 2-4 personas that outline your ideal customers. Be as descriptive as possible by including things like job title, favorite device, pay scale, main frustrations & problems, end goals, what they do in their spare time, etc. Use this detailed guide by Moz to guide you through the process.
Remember that your personas don’t have to be the end all be all. The focus here is to define your initial target market that’s small enough you can effectively reach them but large enough to get some insight on what products will fit their needs (and to get some initial sales and feedback on those products so you can polish what you’re offering).
Nearly every business started this way (think about how Facebook started by targeting college students). Here’s a podcast episode explaining this concept [skip to the ~ 11-minute mark].
The Sell What You Know Route
Perhaps the most self-explanatory method for finding the best product to sell online is selling what you know. What are you good at? Passionate about? Experienced with? Use that experience, channel it into a need, and sell it.
Take Quad Lock, a bike mount designed by a biker who was unsatisfied with the mounts on the market, so he designed one he wanted and sold it. The founder used used his own experience (biking) and pain point (ineffective mounts for his iPhone) to create a product that others love too.
Keep in mind though, it isn’t just about the product. Quad Lock leveraged reviews and Facebook and Google ads to get the right people to the product. You’ll need to have a proper and realistic marketing funnel behind whatever it is you’re selling.
The Build an Audience Route
Traditionally, ecommerce business owners take a “build it and they will come” approach to product development and selling online. This method takes the opposite approach. Instead of creating a product and finding an audience to sell it to, you’ll first build an audience and bring them a product they actually want.
Both approaches have advantages — again, there is no blanket “best” way or “best” product to sell online. Once again, it depends on your goals.
Building your product first and selling it to an audience could bring in revenue faster (as long as you build a product that actually sells). However, you do run a higher risk of creating a product that doesn’t fit the market as well as it might if you were to build an audience first, learn about them, and give them what you want.
The tradeoff here is time vs. money. If you have the time to build out an audience, nurture them, and build a minimally viable product to get feedback on, this route can save you the headache of launching a product that no one wants (see The $100 Startup). However, if you need to generate revenue quickly, this path might not be the best option.
The Rapid Product Testing Route
If you’ve ever donated to a kickstarter campaign, or if you know anything about Tim Ferris and the 4-Hour Work Week, then you know how successful rapid testing a bunch of product ideas can be.
Ferriss did it with different ads, headlines, and even book titles until he found what worked, and you can take the same approach with your own product development. The goal here is to get a ton of data quickly. What are people clicking on? What are they signing up to learn more about? What’s sticking? Once you have that info, keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.
Again, the tradeoff here is time and/or money. You have to give yourself enough of a runway to actually test and get the data, whether you’re starting a campaign on Kickstarter, offering email and social demos to find that one customer with a new idea, or running multiple Google Adwords campaigns to test which promotions get the most traction.
The Niche / Tailwind Route
Sometimes it’s worth sticking to what’s already working. Similar to reverse engineering products that are performing well and fit your criteria, you can also find a growing niche and/or company and build out products that complement them.
A classic example of this is the cell phone case industry. Before the iPhone blew up, cell phone cases were practically non-existent. But once the iPhone took off, an entire niche industry was born.
This is happening all the time. Think about Peloton — the at home spin bike that’s building an entire submarket that needs attention. There are constantly new opportunities to hop on board with what’s working and complement it with submarket products of your own.
The Supplier / Numbers Route
Keep in mind that you don’t always have to supply a product. Sometimes the best product to sell online could be one that someone else has created. In this scenario, you’d focus on building a killer marketing strategy for the product.
For example, let’s say you have a dentist friend who has a patented a new mouthguard that’s amazing, but he has no idea how to sell it. You could start an ecommerce business with exclusive access to the product at a price that makes sense. He’d be your supplier while you’d focus on getting sales.
Even if you don’t know someone directly who has an amazing product, you could always research suppliers on AliExpress or Alibaba, or connect to people who have great industry contacts in a niche you know well enough to navigate profit margins and create a marketing strategy that gets the products to move.
Either way, you’re removing yourself from the product definition. Instead, you’re looking at suppliers who have already created a killer product and need someone (AKA you) to sell it.
Next Steps / Takeaways
Finding the best products to sell online really has less to do with there being a “best” product and more to do with having a system and approach to finding a product that fits your own needs, skills, and means.
Instead of randomly brainstorming and endlessly searching online for that one big idea, take time to do an inventory of your own needs. Think about your skill set, knowledge, resources, and timeline to launch your product. Then, choose one of the methods above to find the product that best aligns with your defined criteria.
You also want to find the best way to sell – here’s how to choose the best ecommerce platform.