How To Decide What You Should Sell Online

By Team AmeriCommerce - Updated On 2/6/2020

Whether you're looking to make some extra pocket money, or have aspirations of quitting the day job and running your own business, there's never been a better time to start selling online! 

The technology is easier to use and more accessible than ever before, and online shopping continues to grow at an incredible pace.

And that's all great. But, when you start thinking about taking the plunge yourself, the first question you ask may well be the hardest. What are you actually going to sell? 

We thought we'd write an article to help you Ecommerce rookies make this all-important decision!

Finding your niche

Often, success for Ecommerce startups depends on whether you can find a niche, an untapped market that's crying out for a certain product. A broad product offering is great, but a broad target market puts you at risk of being routed by the bigger, established brands who already own those markets. Of course, you don't want your niche to be too limiting, either.

By finding a specific niche to market towards, you give yourself a great chance of carving out a loyal and committed corner of the market which can yield great rewards.

A good place to start with identifying a suitable niche is with some keyword research – this lets you find out what people are looking for online. You can also use tools like Google Trends to gauge whether your niche is growing, shrinking or staying about the same over time.

You might find it useful to check out the internet's top selling items to get a flavour for the most popular things people are currently buying online!

Making money

However passionate you are about your product, you're looking to create a profitable business venture here. That's why it's important to really think carefully about whether you can make money – and how much of it – before you go any further.

Some basic market research can help you establish whether your idea is sustainable. Questions to ask include:

  • How much will it cost to source, sell and ship the product?
  • How much are your competitors currently selling similar (or identical) products for?
  • Based on these numbers, will you be able to price your product competitively and still make a healthy profit?
  • Who is your ideal target customer – what are they looking for in a product, and can you deliver it at a price they can afford?

These numbers have to add up before you go ahead, or you're running the risk of losing money.

What's the competition like?

In order to understand your own chances of success, you have to have a good understanding of the marketplace in general and how your competitors are performing.

Of course, there are risks associated with entering a saturated marketplace, but it IS possible (if not always advisable.) After all, you could perceive a thriving, competitive marketplace as validation for a particular product or idea.

Can you bring something different to the market?

The caveat to that is, if you do find yourself entering a crowded marketplace and taking on established brands, it's vital to get a handle on exactly what makes you different.

You essentially have 3 choices – you can be better than the competition, worse than the competition, or different to them. Your branding can go a long way towards differentiating yourself. But there's other stuff to consider. Can you source your products cheaper than competitors, and thus undercut their pricing? Can you personalize products, or otherwise alter them to make them unique? Can you put a new slant on an established product range?

What are you passionate about?

Some might say it's misty-eyed sentimentalism, but we think it's true: you generally have a greater chance of success if you're passionate about what you're doing.

If you're able to sell a product you're already interested in and passionate about, it's a great starting point. It means you can tick a few vital boxes right away: you'll generally have reasonable product knowledge, as well as a basic understanding of how to position your brand and address your audience.

Let's say, for example, you're a sports nut, and you're always wearing the latest sports gear. Selling sports equipment would be a logical place to start – you understand the market, you know what your customers want and expect, and you probably have an idea of how you can position your brand for maximum impact. The next step might be to identify a particular specialist 'niche' within this market that you can really own.

Passion is a powerful sales tool. By its very nature, it's authentic, which almost always comes across to your customers and helps in your sales cycle.

Of course, you can also achieve success by making an ice-cold, withdrawn business decision, and selling something you don't really know anything about – you just need to plug the gaps by ensuring you thoroughly research your product, and diligently define how you can add value to your market.

Closing thoughts

When you're getting started, it can seem intimidating to choose one particular product or market to target. That's understandable. You'll give yourself the best chance of success, however, by carrying out plenty of research, making sure the numbers add up, and getting really specific about who your competitors are, and how you're going to be different.

The good news is that the first thing you sell online doesn't need to be the only thing you sell online. It's often a case of trial and error, and reacting to the feedback and behaviors of your customers. Some of the biggest brands on the planet started out selling something different.

Use the points we've suggested above to make an initial, educated decision, and then go with it – and see how you get on. Good luck!

About the Author

Team AmeriCommerce

We're a bunch of nerds, a few cat people, several musicians, numerous gaming addicts, countless beard aficionados, and possibly a hipster or two. Since 2005 our team has been building one of the world's most powerful E-Commerce platforms designed to do stuff other platforms can't.

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Josh R.
August 15, 2014 11:02 AM
This is a terrific article. I agree with everything it says. I have owned a store in the brick and mortar world and I have sold online. I currently consult on several online businesses and can truly second the advice given above. A couple of added comments-- you really, really need to look at shipping requirements for your product-- in terms of cost, needed packaging, shipping regulations and the time required. Many people don't take that concept as seriously as they should and it can make or break an on-line business. Also ask yourself this important question: Is this a one time sale or will I have repeat customers? This is absolutely need to understand the answer to that question as it has major ramifications.
David Adams
August 16, 2014 1:59 PM
Finding out what to sell isn't easy, especially when everything is pretty much done already. But adding a new spin to things helps I believe. I personally believe doing freelance work is a good way of making a living. I do it from time to time on one of my sites. I have tried many things and it seems like the best overall thing to sell, my services. Great article by the way, very interesting read and it's given me some good ideas to start another shop. ;)
Alex London
August 17, 2014 5:13 PM
Spot on, I started selling one type of product that was relatively successful and had a chance to sell some surplus stock that was completely unrelated. The new product sales went crazy and now I pretty much only sell that. Never give up the chance to try something different as you never know how it will turn out.
Bryan (Store Admin)
August 18, 2014 10:33 AM
Great comment @Josh R! @David Adams, interesting point. If you have the skills to freelance, there is always going to be a market for freelance work. @Alex London, great point! I know some people aren't real big on selling things we are passionate about. Dallas Mavericks owner and Billionaire Investor/Businessman - Mark Cuban - has a different way of looking at being passionate about what we do in business. He says “Follow Your Passion” is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get. I can't disagree with him on this. My thoughts are this. If you really are fortunate enough to be able to start a business in some niche that you are already passionate about, and that business is successful, you can definitely attribute a portion of that success to the passion that you already possessed. It seems to make some things a little easier. The road to knowledge about the product is shorter. The natural 'salesman/saleswoman' seems to come out when you are already passionate about something. So I do believe that being passionate about something can help you succeed. "IF". That's 'if' all the other things work out. Is there a market for the product? Is there a nice margin for the product? Can you get through all the business hurdles to make it work? Cuban goes on to say that "When you work hard at something you become good at it". He is right. There are many niches that you might know nothing about. But once you venture down the right road, and starting making sales, you suddenly start growing a passion to succeed. No matter how you look at it. There are products out there right now, waiting to be sold. Waiting for the next entrepreneur to be a success. You just need to research it out. Check the comparatives. And give it a go!
Bo Tipton
August 18, 2014 6:31 PM
If you have a passion to succeed there are a lot more doors open for you. As someone that has been around for a lot of years I do not totally disagree with Mark Cuban but if you do not enjoy what you are doing stop what you are doing and try something else because you are not going anywhere.

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