Unless you are Overstock, Rakuten (formerly Buy.com), eBay, Amazon, or even Walmart, the odds are low that you are going to be able to effectively stock, sell and ship nearly every consumer product known to mankind. The fact is that most ecommerce stores aren’t equipped to handle the traffic or the shear number of products (or SKU’s). Additionally, the disparity between the cash-on-hand is likely not even close to these leaders of the ecommerce world.
For example, consider the following scenario: If Amazon is going to sell 100,000 SKU’s, and an average of 100’s of each SKU world-wide each day, compared to the number of transactions at your store each day – who is going to pay more for the transactions or shipping? Aside from the difficulty in determining what to sell, minute details such as transactional and shipping costs, become the bane of existence for startup ecommerce stores and cumulatively can be the difference between success and failure.
The Data Says These are Some of the Most Popular Products in Ecommerce
After establishing why most stores cannot sell everything under the Tuscan sun, the question then becomes: what can you sell?
A starting point in regards to direction would be to either pick a niche for which you have some passion for, and sell those particular products to that particular market, OR to find a product (or product line) for which the markup is quite high, so that your store can carry these products at a discounted retail price, still make the margin your business requires, and still compete against other ecommerce sites carrying products in the same category.
Learning from the ecommerce giants like Amazon, there have volumes of data and knowledge published regarding what products are most commonly sold through ecommerce and what we can learn from the sites that sell each product.
Computers, Stereos and Music Equipment
These consumer electric products are among the most popular products sold on the internet. Let’s throw some brand names at you: Dell, Walmart, Costco, Amazon, Guitar Center, and Rakuten. What do these brands have in common? They’re huge, have vast storage and distribution systems, sell large volumes of these products, likely get the best deals from the manufacturers of these products, and therefore you’re not likely to be able to compete.
Now, if you make a specialty product in either of these categories, it is possible to find a niche of customers for your product and, in that case, you have a unique offering that would be the exception to this rule. Seth Godin likes to refer to a high-end speaker company that sells speakers at prices upwards of $50,000 each. These aren’t going to be sold by the mainstream shops. Therefore, this shop owner has found a niche where there is enough demand for them to make a good deal of money. Again, the exception. Not the rule.
Smaller and Lighter Theory – Why Sell Jewelry, Tee-shirts or Clothing?
Even if there are a great number of jewelry, tee-shirt, handbag or clothing accessory ecommerce sites out there, these items do not weigh much and can therefore be shipped at a reasonable price. Also, one can screen print shirts or make fashion jewelry and accessories at a price well below typical retail value. This allows room for markup and profit margin, while also allowing the flexibility to offer a competitive price.
Now, the same rule of finding a niche applies to these popular ecommerce items. If your handbag has a unique feature or design that isn’t currently found elsewhere, then there is likely a small group of people that are seeking such a product and are willing to pay more for the product. Seek to create scarcity in an economy of abundance. If you solve a problem that people are willing to pay for, you have a scarce product for which you may charge more.
A great example of taking a commonly sold product and making it unique, is Everpurse. Combining purses and clutches and turning them into mobile charging stations, Everpurse has created a niche within a popular space.
Etsy, Zappos and Groupon Goods
After reviewing some of the basic principles of selecting products for your ecommerce store, we will take a deeper dive and take a closer look at a few companies that focus on selling products that are small and light, but still making a splash.
Etsy is a creative form of ecommerce, which fits the products sold on the site quite well. Think about putting the brain-trusts of Amazon and eBay in the same room, and limiting the product to handmade goods, and you have the backbone of Etsy. Artists and crafty folks can easily sell their creations or vintage items on this site for a $0.20 listing fee and then pay Etsy 3.5% of the purchase for creating, maintaining and constantly improving their infrastructure – or their platform.
While most are not here to learn about labor-intensive ecommerce models, we will take a look at what we can learn from Etsy. First, like the Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come” meaning, if you provide a top-notch facility, you will get some of the great players in the game to show up. Etsy has done much more than create a facility, of course. For an artist just beginning in ecommerce, the fees are palatable when one considers the traffic that already makes its way to the website each day, and the terrific social-media-esque community, where shop owners can connect and blog. Adding to the sense of community, one can even choose to buy locally, supporting the artists and economies of their neighborhoods.
The best takeaway from Etsy is that you can create a wildly successful ecommerce site and not necessarily need to sell your own items. If you have a niche that you are interested in, and know there is a large community that would be eager to take advantage of your own Field of Dreams, then your business model shifts from product-based to service-based. You can provide a fast, easy-to use website with built in community, blogging, and tools to help your community become successful, and just take the entrance fee and/or some of the profits for yourself!
When people write or speak about the best brands of the past decade, Zappos seems to come up quite a bit. Seth Godin is rather fond of using them as an example in his writing and speeches, as are folks like John Jantsch, Chris Brogan and Michael Stelzner – to name a few. Looking at the screen shot, or if you’ve done business with Zappos before, you know that we’re not just selling shoes on this site. However, shoes will likely remain the staple item and then clothing and accessories will be sold just because people love the brand so much. Either way, there is no denying what the takeaway is from Zappos.
Building a business worth talking about, which is truly a brand that is beloved not only by customers, but by those who work there as well (so we hear), and which fully embraces the new economy of abundant information and communication, and you will be one happy ecommerce store owner. All of that seems pretty obvious, but when one hastily considers the fastest way to build a business that requires as little of one’s time as possible, the brand can suffer. Remember, finding a niche is nice, but building something people will want to talk about is better.
Bringing it All Together
We have discussed some of the most popular items that are successfully sold on ecommerce sites today, and why those products were a natural fit for ecommerce. We have not only made recommendations for selling (or not selling, as the case may be) particular types of products, but we have examined two of the top ecommerce sites out there, which are all acquitting themselves quite well in today’s economy, and explained what the lifestyle-business entrepreneur can learn from these business models.
Are there additional items which you would recommend, or which you might be considering but aren’t quite sure?
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