If you and I were to decide to go into business together, and we chose to open up a brick and mortar store on Main Street, there’s no way we’d sign an 18-month lease, order display furnishings, install carpet, hook up a phone line, and hire employees without first knowing what we’re going to sell. Yet, online retailers—or, more accurately, casual sellers who want to become successful online retailers—do it every day.
Without giving much thought to a company name, product line, or business or marketing plan, new online sellers sign up for services like Doba, work with a third-party vendor to build a web store, and only then get around to asking, “Hey, what should I sell?” They head to eBay, see what’s selling, and then decide to sell the same products–usually consumer electronics–for slightly less than the competition. They end up being disappointed, mainly because their profit margins are so low.
The problem is that these misguided novices have nothing unique to offer, so they try to compete on price alone–an almost surefire way to go bust. One of the keys to online retail success is your ability to establish yourself as the person or the company from which to purchase a particular selection of related products. Tiger Woods, for example, would be better off selling golfing gear than home décor… something that Martha Stewart is more qualified to sell.
Selling what you know
What’s interesting is that first-time online retailers often overlook their own areas of expertise and passion. A guy who’s spent his entire life fiddling around with car engines in his garage suddenly decides to start selling video games, because they’re so popular with the kids in the neighborhood. Or a gal who’s had a lifelong passion for photography decides to open her own major department store online, selling anything and everything.
At Doba, we have the unique opportunity to meet many talented individuals who simply started out by choosing the wrong products to sell. One of these gifted people, whom we fondly refer to as “The Dart Lady,” was interested in selling consumer electronics, despite the fact that she really enjoyed schooling men in the art of throwing darts at her local pub. She knew a ton about darts, was very passionate about playing, and kept up on the local, regional, and world dart scene. As soon as we pointed out to her that she could sell darts and dart-related equipment online, her eyes lit up with a ton of possibilities. In her case, a female focusing on darts made her unique, as did her product knowledge and sheer passion for the game.
We also met a gifted musician who never considered using his musical talents to his advantage. He was at a complete loss as to what to sell, so he dabbled here and there as most online retailers do, simply experimenting with different products in the hopes that he would hit it big. When we pointed out to him that he could use his knowledge and talents to market himself and a line of musical instruments and accessories, he too say an infinite amount of possibilities for his online business. Now he’s selling what he knows, and for his local clientele, he offers lessons to accompany specific purchases.
We even met a fellow who managed to transform his work experience at a major amusement park into a successful business. We didn’t teach him much, because he understood the importance of picking a niche right from the start. He had worked for a number of years in catering at a theme park and noticed how much kids and grow-ups alike liked carnival foods. He took his product knowledge from that space and applied it online by selling cotton candy machines, popcorn makers, snow cone machines, and so on—an excellent example of someone who is using his product knowledge to price, market, stand out, and sell products online.
Identifying your areas of expertise
Follow in the footsteps of these and other successful online retailers—sell what you know. If you have trouble identifying areas of expertise, answer these six questions:
- What do you know a lot about?
- What are you most passionate about?
- What are my hobbies and pastimes? Are you a weekend mechanic? A seamstress? A sports fanatic? A movie buff?
- How do you spend your free time?
- What kind of professional training and experience do you have?
- Find something that makes your eyes light up, and you’ve probably hit on the right line of products.
Researching your niche market
Once you’ve identified your niche market, you can begin researching the market to learn more about your customers’ wants and needs. The good news is that since you will be working in areas that interest you, the research won’t feel much like work.
As you begin researching your niche market, keep the following in mind:
- Knowing your product is not equivalent to knowing your customer. You need to know your customers’ wants and needs. Using the products you sell and being involved with other’s who use those products can give you a clearer sense of what people need.
- Base your decisions on research. Whether it’s browsing completed eBay listings, Amazon sales rank, or using a more sophisticated tool like Terapeak, there’s a variety of ways to go about researching products sales performance. And, if you sell golf gear, for example, you may be able to do a little research by going golfing on Saturday!
- Stay on the leading edge. Don’t follow the crowd by selling what they’re selling and how they’re selling it. Develop your own unique vision based on your research and your experience. Attempting to sell what’s hot usually turns into trying to sell what used to be hot and then being disappointed.
- Get involved in your industry. Read trade publications related to your market, attend industry conferences and trade shows when you are able, and mingle with the people who manufacture, market, and use the products you want to sell.
When this is all said and done one of the more important things to keep in mind is that you must keep the consumer in mind. Just because you like a product or specific brand doesn't mean your consumer will. Lets go ahead and take a short lesson from Joe Dirt... yes, Joe Dirt.