From adding your awesome new logo to filling out contact details and config settings, starting to populate and build your e-commerce store is an instantly gratifying process. In these early stages, it’s easy to overlook the parts of your business that need sustained thought; none of which are more important than the products you choose to sell. If you’re about to make a big noise in online retail, bringing your A-Game to e-commerce product selection has got to be top of your list, and in this post, we’ll provide tips, advice, and list the questions you must ask about the products you hope to retail.

A successful online store does not become a success because of its style, branding, functionality, advertising spend, email marketing or influencer-saturated social media pages alone. A successful store is defined first and foremost by the popularity of its products. Does that sound obvious? It should. But contemplative, market-driven assessments about what you should be selling are not sexy, and in truth, they stand to pour some rather cold water on your enthusiasm if you’ve so far skimped on competitive reality.

(Not) Boring Market Analysis

Ok, maybe it is a little bit boring. But what would you prefer: a store that gets regular orders or the crushing anxiety that comes from realising you misjudged the market? At Always Riding, a company I took from scratch to successfully selling out, I made it my business to find products that had the best possible chance of success in what was an intensely competitive market. While I didn’t always get it right (it sometimes went horribly wrong…), more often than not things worked out because the fundamental tenet of the business was to source product that was unique, hard to find, underexposed, or unavailable in a particular locality.

Let’s start with some basic questions to ask about you and your product:

  • Do you like what you hope to sell, and the people who will buy it?
  • Are you naturally helpful and friendly?
  • Do you have time – a hell of a lot of time – to drive this new venture?
  • Is anyone else selling your product? If so, where?
  • Does Google Trends show a declining market for your product/sector?
  • Is your product heavily reliant on a trend / bubble of popularity that could wane?
  • Is the market saturated? In other words, is it just looking too damn hard to make an impact without big money?
  • Is your product already available in your country?
  • Is your product readily available on Amazon, Etsy or eBay with good inventory levels and same day / next delivery in the country in which you will be based?
  • Does your keyword analysis show an abundance of competition and low opportunity?

Now we are really getting somewhere. Let’s keep it up – here’s a few more questions based around logistics if the above is coming back with a positive slant:

  • Do your suppliers have reliable supply chains? Are they mature and able to supply quickly, with good transparency on stock and delivery?
  • Do the suppliers in your sector like online, or do they impose heavy restrictions? (i.e. a requirement to have a physical store as well, or perhaps onerous geographic requirements)
  • Are minimum order requirements reasonable, or punitive?
  • Can you access decent high-res imagery, or will you have to take your own shots from the get-go and budget accordingly? (We highly recommend taking your own shots – watch our for a future post on that).
  • Can your product be shipped without hassles? Or is it just plain tricky to ship to the consumer?
  • Do your suppliers make available EPOS / .csv stock feeds so you can accept back orders from customers and be confident of your ability to order in the item?
  • Will your suppliers offer payment terms after your first few orders?

So come on, how are your answers looking?

The ’T-Shirt Store’ Problem

We could equally call this the ‘Shopify’ problem. Although in truth, it’s more a marketing issue than it is platform-specific.

The e-commerce market is booming. From the existential migration of stores from off to online to the platform providers and app makers who create and support the e-commerce ecosystems, it’s boom time for the e-commerce business. But any gold rush holds within it the seeds of its destruction, and the e-commerce industry’s weakness is a pressing need for scale.

“Start your store today!” they say. “Turn your hobby into a business!”, they cry. “Got 5 minutes? Get selling online! – it’s easy!” they urge. And you can. That’s the truth – you really can. But not in five minutes, and not off the cuff without first checking with the market or having a solid plan.

Seeing things as they are

On the pessimistic/optimistic scale, I sit slightly to the right: realistic but prone to see things in a positive light. That’s not bad, but the best position is right in the middle, and that’s so far away from human nature, it might as well be a ring around Saturn. So the print-and-stick-it-to-the-fridge note from this post should be to assess the market and be wary of the e-commerce industry’s attempts to encourage you to circumvent your intelligence by over-promising on the outcomes.

In short, be your own boss and don’t be led by the nose (which includes questioning everything we’ve said too), and always use the curiosity and intelligence that brought you to this point (and post!) to your best advantage.

Until next time!

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