The Most Important Steps for Discovering What to Sell Online

The following article is a guest post by Josh Cohen from

A good e-commerce business has to begin with a good product to sell, but what makes it good?

Finding your perfect product(s) is the first step any business owner has to overcome in order to 'make it' online. The token word in that last sentence, and the one you need to focus on is 'product'. Too many people will try to find a good niche or range of products and this is often where they fail before they even begin.

The thing to do is realise you are looking for a profitable product and not a profitable niche.

The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as a profitable niche! In my 8 years of experience selling on the internet I have never found one and almost certainly never will. An exception to this is if you are creating a brand, but even then you will want to start with one product and grow your range from there. 

Don't get despondent as there are plenty of profitable products!

So what makes a good product?

Now you know to look for specific products rather than niches, you should be aware of what to look for in a product and what NOT to look for.

What to look for:


  • Sales price of $30 - $150 - It is important to get your pricing right, too low and you will have to rely solely on volume to make any decent money. Too high and you will need a lot of capital investment for your inventory, which can be tough when starting out.
  • Profit margin of 40% or more - Personally I won't touch a product unless I can double my investment, so if buying for $30 I will want to sell for $60 or more. However I recommend 40% being the bare minimum when considering an item to sell. 
  • Small and lightweight - Always think about the size and weight of the products you wish to sell. Apart from the obvious shipping costs you also need to consider storage and the returns cost.
  • Non seasonal or time sensitive items - Try to avoid seasonal products such as Christmas and Halloween as they will only sell at certain times of the year. These types of items can make great add-ons to your core products, but don't start a business around them. Like wise, stay away from time sensitive accessories such as iPad 4 cases. The demand for these types of products will decrease daily after release and you could be left with a lot of redundant stock when the next model comes out. 


What NOT to look for:


  • Non user friendly items - Unless you want to spend hours helping your customers get set up with their purchases, you need to avoid complex products. Just ask yourself 'would the average person need help using this?' If the answer is yes, stay away. You want simple transactions with products that are self explanatory. 
  • Trademarked or counterfeit - Stay away! Do not get sucked into this 'quick-buck' business model. There is no longevity in counterfeit items because sooner or later you will get caught and shut down. 
  • Mechanical or electronic - These types of product require very high standards or impeccable warranties and are not worth the time or effort when starting out. 


Please take the above as guidelines only but use them to reference when deciding on what to sell. Now you know what you should be looking for we can get into researching potential products.

Research is critical

The first thing to do is make a spreadsheet to jot down your ideas and findings as you will be dealing with a fair amount of data. You will want to record the following metrics: product name, cost price, sale price, popularity (scale of 1-10 works for me based on your research) and a section for notes. 

Remember you are looking for individual products and not categories. Products that you can double your money on and are not time sensitive. 

I always start by coming up with a list of keywords that I can dive deeper into, a good way to do this is look around and write down everything you see. So for example at my desk I can see: pens, a stationary holder, a coffee mug, scissors, a lamp, a white board. 

I'm sure you get the idea!

With this list of words I then start searching on the internet and digging deeper, so for scissors I will find medical scissors, crafting scissors, serrated scissors, spring loaded scissors, left handed scissors etc. 


Researching popularity and sales price

When casting my product net I always find myself on two websites. You should use these to get product ideas, gauge the demand and work out the sales price point. 


  • eBay - This is always the first place I look as you can view a huge amount of useful data very easily. I would suggest using the 'completed listings' option in the advanced search feature to discover the price that products have sold for recently. Using this information you can quickly see whether a product is popular from how frequently it is sold.

  • Amazon - Another fantastic place for researching popularity and price point for potential products. I personally prefer eBay as you can get a better idea of the volume sold but always use Amazon as a reference. 


Researching cost price

After finding some popular products that meet the guidelines mentioned in the first part of this blog post, you will need to get some initial cost prices to calculate whether the items are viable for you to sell. To do this I use a selection of the sites and resources below. Remember at this stage you are just looking for guideline pricing so don't get too hung up on it if you see massive fluctuation in prices, just take the median result and use that as a gauge. 


  • Alibaba - The largest directory of overseas suppliers available online. This website is great for researching the cost price of your products as well as getting ideas for other things to sell. It is possible to get scammed on this site, although the Alibaba team is working hard to prevent this. My advice is to only use suppliers who have been audited by Alibaba themselves, they will personally send an inspector to vet the company and factories. To do this simply check the box as shown in the image below.


  • MadeInChina - Another brilliant directory of suppliers, mainly from the east as you might imagine with the name! In my experience I have often found suppliers with much more competitive pricing on this site. Although they do not have as much buyer protection, so it is down to you to perform your own due diligence before purchasing. I recommend Googling the company you are considering and looking for any bad reviews or warnings before parting with any money.


  • Our Supplier Directory - Of course you should also be using our directory of over 8,000 suppliers and 1.6 million products to find prices with zero risk. 


Decision time

With the data you collect from the steps above you should input it all into your spreadsheet so it's clear to interoperate. 

Then have a long, hard think about your line up!

Ask yourself the following questions to get a better understanding of which products are winners:

  1. Will it be expensive to ship?
  2. Is there demand for this all year round?
  3. Will it have a high refund rate?
  4. Will I need to give much after sales assistance?
  5. Am I comfortable selling this?
  6. Will I infringe on any copyrights or trademarks?

Now it's time to pick 2 or 3 products from your list to roll with. I recommend ordering a sample of each product before you fully commit, this gives you a chance to check the quality of production, packaging and get a clear idea of your import cost.

In conclusion

Obviously the products you pick are the backbone of your business and need to be done so with care and consideration. Following the tips in this blog post you will have a clear method to use and better chance of success. Remember that not every product you pick will be a winner so spread your bets and never put all your eggs in one basket.

After you are comfortable with the range of products on offer, it's time to expand! Just repeat this process to increase your revenue month on month. 

If you have any additional tips when choosing your products please comment below, whether it's market research, product selection or supplier secrets - I'd love to hear them. 

Note: The views and opinions of the author may not represent the views and opinions of SaleHoo.


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