This is Part 2 of a 4 Part blog series by Rick Wilson, President of Miva Merchant. Check back weekly for more insight on How to Start Selling Online!
Step 2: Finding the Right Product to Sell
Now that you realize Selling Online is the next step in your businesses evolution, the next step is to choose what you are going to sell. Choosing what you are going to sell will arguably be the most critical factor of the success of your online business.
Choosing what you are going to sell will arguably be the most critical factor of the success of your online business.
One of the biggest misconceptions about running a business on the web is the idea that there’s no operating costs, marketing costs or really overhead associated with running your business and all you need to do is pick something to sell and put up a site. That is a recipe for failure. Online Businesses have just as many costs associated with running them as a traditional brick and mortar; they’re just different.
I think the question you have to answer to pick the right product is this:
What product do I have a unique insight into offering the market?
There are a number of different ways for someone to have unique insights as we’ll discuss here, but figuring out what makes you uniquely qualified to offer your product is the key to success.
Unique Insight #1 – Did you create or invent the product or category of products?
I find this to be consistently one of the best ways to getting a successful online business up and running is to be the creator of a truly unique product, or the creator (or one of the creators) of a type/line of products.
www.mayajewelry.com is an example, where she designs all of her own jewelry and has built a niche and a following in the world of body piercing and jewelry. Other companies make similar styles (some even knock her off), but because she’s considered the originator of these looks, people seek out her site and product directly.
www.melodiadesigns.com is another such store; she’s both the originator of these designs as well as a thought leader in the Yoga Clothing and Belly Dance Clothing world. Many people imitate her designs, but she is well known in that world and her powerful following propels and protects her business.
Unique Insight #2 – Are you uniquely an expert in this space or about this subject?
There’s a number of ways one becomes an expert in their space or subject, but one of the most direct routes is being known for your own specific content, speaking or writing.
www.tomhopkins.com is a great example of this mentality. While this site is nice and does the job, it’s not a cutting edge design, Web 2.0, Responsive, etc… The thing that’s driving this site to success is the power of Tom Hopkins’ message and brand.
The same thing can be said for www.abraham-hicks.com. The momentum is behind their brand and their message and that propels their online store.
Another way is to be an artisanal expert in your space. www.lotussculpture.com success is based on 15 years of travel, research and building a virtually impossible to replicate network of true artisan sculptors in Thailand, India and other locales. Kyle (the founder/owner) began his business while travelling in India back in the late 1990’s and was very interested in these types and kinds of sculptures. He’s converted his own passion for this art, along with his willingness to travel, learn and navigate the challenges of international business to become a true artisanal expert in the field of Buddhist and Hindu Sculptures. This expertise is what makes his business both successful and defensible today.
Similar to being an artisanal expert, it’s possible to be a broader subject matter expert about most everything. Psydde Delish from www.deliciousboutique.com is a broad subject matter expert on everything from Goth clothing to Corsets to stylish Yoga clothing. He successfully merges a consistent brand message with his own style expertise to be a subject matter expert on these hip styling’s and that helps keep his business above competitors who just play follow the leader.
Unique Insight #3 – Can you leverage what you already do well to drive your online business?
www.newbelgium.com is famous for making beer, specifically Fat Tire beer. Sadly, beer isn’t ideally sold via the web (maybe someday you’ll be able to 3-D Print your own craft beer at home, but that’s still a ways off), but that didn’t stop New Belgium. They use their online store to sell clothing, hats, accessories, gift certificates and more.
How can you leverage something you’re currently doing into driving your online business?
Unique Insight #4 – Do you have local or regional momentum that should be harvested online?
www.copperdoorrestaurant.com is one such example, they’re a locally known eatery in Bedford, New Hampshire that is using the web to both provide information to their customers and potential customers while also being able to sell Gift Certificates and other tangible items.
In addition to Copper Door Restaurant is www.chefnicole.com, and Chef Nicole is doing an excellent job of extending her local success by extending her brand online.
Another great example of using regional power to move online is www.thepaperstore.com who while not nationally known, is very well known in New England with dozens of brick and mortar locations. In this day and age it’s hyper-critical to cross over from being either purely online or purely offline into being an omni-channel retailer and The Paper Store is a great example of using their regional power to gain a unique competitive edge in a market crowded with competitors both online and offline.
Unique Insight #5 – Education-Based Marketing is often an overlooked angle for choosing what to sell.
www.directfix.com is a perfect example of this principal in action. Over the last 6 years they’ve had approximately 30 million combined views on YouTube for their instructional videos showing you how to repair your iPhone, iPad, Android Phone, etc.… Generally speaking, these videos walk you through how to replace the screen or the back on your mobile device, all the while subtly marketing Direct Fix as a place to either purchase the parts or pay them to do it for you. This is a truly unique way to build leverage while selling a commodity product in a crowded marketplace.
Unique Insight #6 – Business To Business (B2B) online sales are a widely under tapped market.
www.spill911.com is a useful case study on how to bring consumer sensibilities into the B2B sales space. Even with consumer ecommerce being nearly ubiquitous, the vast majority of B2B sales are still taking place via outdated catalogs, fax machines, phone calls and occasionally email. Many B2B companies think they can get away with not advancing their sales process into the age of ecommerce due to the more inherent inertia in that type of sale. This myopic perspective creates an ideal opportunity to enter and potentially disrupt many markets.
Fire, Ready, Aim! Or in other words don’t let not having a perfect site stop you from succeeding.
While most of these sites are very well designed and many of them are using well-defined and accepted best practices for site design and conversion optimization, they’re not all following these rules. In addition, to the extent they are well designed and following modern best practices, they’re not universally applying those insights into their online stores.
The reason I bring this up, is that while design and best practices are very important, they are not the spark (or the je ne sais quoi if you’re French) that makes your online business work.
Each and every one of these examples is a different take on the same underlying principal. Make sure you have a Unique Value Proposition (in traditional sales and marketing terminology) and leverage what makes you unique to both grow your business and ultimately protect your business.
There are countless ways to make your product offering unique. Make sure you have a great answer when someone ask why they should buy your product from you specifically and then get going!