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The definitive guide to help you decide what products to sell online

If you’re reading this article, you may be pondering over quitting your day job to become your own boss, and start your own business. However, you’re having difficulties in deciding what to sell online. Finding the right products to sell is often the biggest obstacle for many aspiring entrepreneurs, and it is something that we’re asked about on a daily basis.

Believe it or not, it’s possible for anyone with enough drive and determination to find something to sell online. There are small pockets of opportunity that can be uncovered in your day to day life – you simply just need to look hard enough for them.

From figuring out what to sell, to sourcing your products, we’ve put together a definitive guide to give you all of the information you need to get started.

How to know what to sell

The first logical step in setting up your business is to choose a niche that you’re going to fit into. Unfortunately, many people think that if they want to sell products online, they need to offer as many different products as possible to try and appeal to everyone, however, their businesses are often unsuccessful.

This is because they try to be the best at everything by offering too broad a range of existing products, instead of focusing their attentions on a more specific, niche product area. There’ll be thousands of people out there trying to sell the same products as you, so if you’re trying to compete with everyone, you’re going to have a hard time.

There are endless inventories of existing products out there that you can delve into, but there are also opportunities for new products that are just waiting to be created.

What is your passion?

One of the best ways to discover your niche is to go back to basics and think of what you’re passionate about. What makes you get out of bed in the morning? Do you have a particular hobby, or skill that you would love to turn into a business? Perhaps you enjoy creating beautiful artwork that you could print onto canvases, phone cases or t-shirts. Maybe you enjoy cooking and experimenting with creating different jam flavours, and you want to start sharing your delicious creations. Whatever it is, it’s possible to turn your skills and passion into something more.

More often than not, business ideas will come from instinct. But if it’s not immediately obvious to you what you’re passionate about, then fear not as there are other ways of figuring out what you could potentially sell.

Solve a problem

Have you encountered a problem in your daily life that causes you frustration? We come across a lot of little problems that can drive us crazy, so why not be the one to create something that will make people’s lives that little bit easier? We are often passionate about these little problems that we come across on a regular basis, so if you’re unsure of whether you have a passion, we can guarantee that you do.

Example: Sara Blakely was 27 when she founded Spanx. She was a salesperson at the time, and she was sick of her underwear creating lines beneath her clothing. She didn’t have any experience in fashion or business at the time, but she created a product that eliminated these lines when worn beneath garments. The product which stemmed from a simple idea of cutting the feet off pantyhose has now grown into a multi-million pound company.

Example: Shaun Pulfrey, the founder of Tangle Teezer started his career as a hair colourist. It was during his career that he realised there was a need for a hair brush that was quick and easy to use, and detangled the hair without pulling or tugging. He began his research in 2003 and created the first professional detangling tool. He presented his ideas to the investors of Dragon’s Den and was turned down, but in 2008, his hard work and perseverance paid off as his products were launched in British retailer Boots. The detangling brush has now won multiple awards and is worth millions of pounds.

Conduct market research

If you’re still unsure of what products you could sell, conducting market research can help to give you a clearer picture of what kinds of products may be popular. This research could consist of looking at popular online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay to see what kinds of products are ranking in the bestsellers category. It’s not always recommended to jump on the latest trend as can never be sure how long they’ll be around for, but you may find inspiration, and it will also help you to discover whether there is a market for your product.

Browse Social Media

If there’s a new and upcoming product, it’s highly likely that it is going to be marketed on social media. The great thing about social networks is that you can instantly gauge people’s reactions through likes, comments and shares. If you see a new product ad that’s receiving lots of love and positive engagement, you know that it’s going to be popular amongst consumers.

Instagram is a great place to look, as it’s practically now a visual shopping platform. Use hashtags as a starting point to search for areas of interest such as #fashion, or #homeware. You’ll soon find yourself discovering new brands, products and concepts that can inspire you. Take a look on the Explore tab to find trending posts related to what you’ve been liking and searching for.

Pinterest is also a fantastic place to look for inspiration, as you can look at trending pins on the Explore page and save all of your ideas to one board.

Make sure you’re doing something you love

More than anything, just make sure you’re choosing something that you’ll love. If you’re only driven by the money, you’re not going to get the fulfilment out of the business that you would if you live and breathe it. If you’re doing something that you love and putting your everything into selling online, the money will naturally come anyway. You want to make sure that you can stay motivated if times become hard, after all, many successful business owners have faced challenging obstacles before reaching where they are today.

Example: James Dyson, the inventor of the Dual Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner. It took over 15 years and 5,126 failed prototypes before it became a success. But his passion and determination kept him motivated to keep trying. If he was to give up at any point, he wouldn’t be where he is today, and someone else would have got there first.

Motivation is key to success, so as long as you love what you do, you’re well on your way.

Source your products

Once you’ve settled on the product or products you’d like to sell, it’s time to start thinking of how you’re going to get the product in front of you.

There are numerous ways that you can source your products, from making the products yourself, to using print on demand suppliers and wholesalers, we’ll run through the different ways of acquiring them.

Make them yourself

One of the best ways to bring a brand new product to the market is to create it yourself. Once you’ve finalised the product concept, it’s time to use your creativity, get stuck in, and start creating a prototype. You may create your products from the comfort of your own home, or you may need to hire a manufacturer to create the first sample, but we’ll go into manufacturers in the next section.

Handmade products may consist of anything from clothing to food items, beauty products, homeware products or artwork. Creating products by hand gives a more human touch, which works in favour of many small businesses, and allows them to compete with the bigger chains who manufacture products by the masses. Handmade products tend to be more unique, and there’s a vast market of consumers out there who appreciate more one-of-a-kind, individual items.

Producing handmade products can save you lots of money in the startup process, as you don’t have to purchase the stock inventory you would if you were using manufacturers or wholesalers. If you take this route, we recommend to keep your product range quite small to begin with so that you can focus on getting the quality right.

Manufacturers

If you’re developing a new product but you don’t possess the skills or equipment needed to create it yourself, your next bet is to start searching for a suitable manufacturer. Finding an appropriate manufacturer can be quite a difficult process, as they need to tick all of the boxes while remaining within your budget.

DOMESTIC VS FOREIGN

One of the key things to note with product manufacture is that it can take place in the UK, or overseas. We call this domestic manufacture, and foreign manufacture. Depending on what you require from your manufacturer depends on which type you will choose. See below for the key differences between the two:

[quote]
DomesticForeign
  • Higher cost
  • Smaller unit quantities
  • Faster turnaround and shipping
  • More control over inventory
  • Can meet with manufacturers more easily
  • More environmentally friendly and ethical
  • Can use ‘made in the UK’, or ‘made locally’ as a marketing tool
  • Lower cost
  • Larger unit quantities
  • Longer shipping time – can be weeks or months
  • Less control over inventory
  • Difficult to meet with manufacturers
  • Increased freight damage risks
  • Larger carbon footprint
  • Debates over worker ethics
[/quote]

Both types of manufacturer provide different advantages and disadvantages, but the key difference between the two is the cost. If you’re on a tight budget then foreign manufacture may be more suitable for you. On the other hand, if you have more money to spend, then you may consider looking into domestic manufacture. Perhaps you want to push the ethics of your products because they’re made in the UK, or perhaps this isn’t important to your business. For whichever option you choose, the next step is to begin looking for them.

GOOGLE

The internet is a great place to begin looking for manufacturers, as most will have a website with  information for you to look at. Enter your search into Google, and be prepared to trawl through numerous pages of unrelated sites before coming across a potential manufacturer. Think of it as a treasure hunt; they’re very well hidden and difficult to uncover. So sit back, grab a drink and utilise Google’s search filters and search shortcuts to refine your search.

ONLINE DIRECTORIES

Online directories are another great resource. Take a look at the likes of Made In China and Alibaba. They’re huge online directories with vast listings of products listed by manufacturers and suppliers from China, and other countries around the globe. You can find ready to order products along with customisable products, so you can make them your own.

If you’re looking for strictly UK-based manufacturers, directories such as UK Directory and Make Works (https://make.works/) list manufacturers from around the UK.

These are just a few examples of online directories, but there will be plenty more out there for you to get your teeth into if you search for them on Google.

ASK AROUND

If you’re fortune enough, you may know someone who can recommend manufacturers to you. Or, someone you know may have friends or connections that do. You’d be surprised as to what you can find by getting in contact with others from your network. The internet has made it easier than ever to reach out to people and have conversations, so get social, speak to friends, family and colleagues and see what you can uncover.

WHOLESALERS

Wholesalers buy stock in bulk and sell it on to other retailers. They can acquire all kinds of products from clothing, to electronics. If you want to sell already established products, then purchasing from wholesalers could be a good option for you. Its lower risk than manufacturing your own products, as the products they sell are tried and tested, and you can order smaller units. However, this also means there’ll be plenty of others selling the same products as you, so you need to offer a reason for them to shop with you.

Once again, Google is your best friend when finding wholesalers – as it is with any kind of supplier. Utilise the internet to find wholesaler websites and directories, and take a look at the ones listed below.

ALIEXPRESS

AliExpress is a B2B ecommerce service made up of independent businesses around the world that can sell their goods. You can find almost any product you can think of on Aliexpress.

WHOLESALE CLEARANCE UK LTD

Wholesale Clearance UK LTD is a wholesaler perfect for bulk buying clearance stock. They run over 4000 listings for all manner of clearance stock including; clothing (branded and ex high street), footwear, jewellery, cosmetics, toys, homeware, tools, gift stock and much more.

PK GREEN ENTERPRISE LIMITED

PK Green  is a UK supplier based in the West Midlands. They supply premium indoor & outdoor lighting. Indoor lights include LED mood lamps, table lamps, night lamps, hanging ceiling lamps, floor lamps, light up furniture, LED cube stools, LED globe lamps and battery operated candles. Outdoor lights include floating sphere lights, waterproof LED cube stools, garden lights and pond lights.

They’ve supplied over 100,000 units to businesses in UK and Europe. Previous clients include Selfridges, Shangri-La Hotels, BBC, ITV, Warner Bros, Very.co.uk, and Corporate Events.

Dropshippers

Dropshippers are suppliers who enable you to sell their products without having to physically hold the stock yourself. It’s a cost-effective and relatively low risk option as it requires little cash up-front to get started, and you don’t need to make any shipping arrangements with a courier as it’s all done for you. It also allows you to trial different product lines without having to buy hundreds of units of stock in at once. However, be wary that if you’re going to go down this path, there will be fierce competition out there from other people selling the same things as you.

NINE X FASHION

Nine x Fashion create beautiful and affordable lingerie to fit and flatter all body shapes. They provide a dropshipping service as well as taking online orders. They’re based in the UK and are an ideal supplier for those with aspirations of starting an online lingerie shop.

BODY POWER NUTRITION LTD

Are you passionate about health and fitness? Power Body Nutrition LTD stock over 7,000 products, and over 190 supplement brands. They are based in the UK and offer a dropshipping service.

TROO HEALTH CARE LTD

Troo Health Care can offer a variety of manufacturing and wholesale trade services for those businesses wishing to develop their own food supplement product range.

With no minimum orders and dropship services available to those who need them, Troo Health Care wholesale & private label services are suitable for any business size.

Print on Demand Dropshippers (POD)

An option for aspiring business owners who want to put their own stamp on their products, but don’t want to order in bulk is print on demand dropshipping. Print on demand is when you sell your own custom designs on various items such as t-shirts, hoodies, mugs and phone cases. The wonderful thing about print on demand dropshipping is that it is a relatively low risk business model. This is because the supplier holds all of the stock for you, and you only pay for a product to be printed when a customer makes an order from your shop. Of course there are options for bulk ordering to reduce the cost, but if you’re just starting out, you needn’t worry about holding the stock yourself.

If you’re an aspiring artist or graphic designer, or you dream about starting your own fashion brand, then print on demand dropshipping may be a great avenue to go down. At EKM, we integrate seamlessly with two UK POD dropshippers, which can be found below.

INKTHREADABLE

Inkthreadable offers an integrated print-on-demand fulfilment service for ecommerce businesses. Products include t-shirts and other garments, wall art, homewares and accessories all printed in-house in the UK, and shipped worldwide.

TWO FIFTEEN

Two-Fifteen are a UK based drop shipping company that specialise in the printing and shipping of print on demand products for a wide range of companies. With over 250 products available including t-shirts, mugs, cushions and canvases, they are ideal for big or small businesses. There are no minimum order requirements and no hidden charges.

Of course the road to finding products that you want to sell is going to be a bumpy one. But, if your heart’s in it and you’re passionate enough, you’ll see the process as a learning curve and a chance to do something that you love. Don’t rush into things, take your time and don’t be afraid to follow your gut instinct, as this is often the best strategy. Order samples, inspect the products and ensure they’re right for you before purchasing in bulk.

Once you’ve decided on your products, and have a reliable way to source them, you’re ready to start selling online.

What are you waiting for?

Your own successful online shop is just a click away