What TO Sell Online - Products That are Always a Hit!


teleporterWouldn't it be great if you could invent something like a teleporter and dominate the internet with your world-changing product? Let me know if you get the whole teleportation thing worked out; I want one! Until then, you'll have to join the rest of us and sell products online that already exist.

In the article - What NOT to Sell Online - Products to Avoid - I discussed many of the pitfalls that can trip up an eCommerce website from the very outset. Products that might initially seem great turn out to be duds; keyword research that seems to point to a real winner leads you down a path of wasted time, money and failure.

In this article, I'm going to do an about-face. Ecommerce is not all clouds and rain; there are definitely sunny days ahead if you build your website around products that are almost guaranteed to be winners. Yes, today I'm going to tell you what TO sell online!

You'll still need to do some keyword research so that you can make sure that there are enough people searching for your product line and that the competition isn't too stiff, but knowing what TO sell online and what NOT to sell might be more important than even search numbers and competition factors. If you give me a winning product that has a decent amount of searches, I guarantee you I will find some non-competitive search terms to build my website around. If it's got a good markup, I don't even care what the competition is; I'll advertise my way to success!

What to Sell Online - Characteristics of a Successful Product Line

What to sell online checklistAlthough there are no clear answers to the actual number of eCommerce websites online, the consensus is that it is somewhere in the half million range, with only about 100,000 of them classified as "successful." That fits with the 80-20 rule that seems to apply to most everything in life, so for our purposes, we'll go with the 100K number.

Initially, that may seem like a ton of places to compete with! Keep in mind, however, that a very small percentage of those online stores are going to be in the same product niche as you. Unless you have invented a revolutionary new device and are going to be the first to ever sell it (got a teleportation device to sell, maybe?), chances are, quite a few people have tried to sell it online and failed if there is no competition. So, SOME competition is actually a good thing!

There are literally thousands of opportunities that still exist for online businesses; hardly a week goes by where I don't think of another one that could be successful. As you'll see by reading further, there are scads of product niches that are perfect for online sales!

In many cases, the answer for what TO sell online is simply to do the opposite of what I outlined in the What NOT to Sell Online article, so be sure to read that if you have not already done so. Although I will not get into the exact products that you should be selling, there are certain characteristics that the products of some of the most successful niche websites have:

Sell Products with Many Accessories

parts in a camera bagI'll admit it. When I am pondering what the next great eCommerce website I'll build will be, I often find myself falling into the trap of looking for a product that has a pretty high retail price ($250+) because I know that it'll usually yield at least a $50 profit when someone buys it from me. Focusing on the profit from a single product is not always the best way of determining a niche's viability. You need to look at what the profit is per sale - not the profit per product!

One of the more successful websites I ever had sold cheap beads for bracelets. I sold the bracelets, with or without beads, for about a 200% markup, which is not considered a big markup in the jewelry niche, so my prices were considerably lower than many other sites for the bracelets. The real profit was in the beads. Nobody buys just one bead. In fact, the average person bought 8 beads - with or without a bracelet. I made far more money selling cheap beads at more than 1,000% markup than I ever did selling the bracelets! More remarkable, my average sale was just $60. The site still made pretty decent money because my average cost was only $15 per sale.

When you sell products that require various add-on accessories, you drive up your profit per sale. Not only that, but the markup can be five times or more on smaller accessories of the main product. A perfect example of this would be televisions. Retailers frequently have sales on HDTVs at only a 10% profit. They have trained their salespeople to always offer the accessories that customers will need for that HDTV - HDMI cables (400% markup), surround sound speakers (2-40% markup), wall mounting brackets (300% markup). When a customer buys cables and a wall mount, the profit from those comes close to what the retailer made on the TV!

You can do the same thing with a website by pushing those related products. Have them clearly visible on your main product's page, in a "related products" tab or both. If your shopping cart has the capability, offering them after a main product has been added to the cart (e.g. a "did you forget this?" pop-up) can really add to your bottom line!

You may need to get extremely competitive on the price of the main product because that is what people are really searching for. What you lose in profit on that main product can be made up by having a slightly higher price for its accessories. People rarely price shop accessories when they are buying the main product. People who are shopping for best prices simply add them to their order and assume your price is equally competitive on those, too!

And, since you know they already have the main product, sending an occasional newsletter offering specials on or news about new accessories can keep the your customers coming back to you again and again!

EXCEPTIONS: You've got to be extremely careful with accessories pricing. If your site offers free shipping on everything or free shipping for orders over $XXX, make sure that you cover the cost of your shipping in the price of the accessory - especially if it ships from another supplier or cannot be added to the same package as the main product. Fortunately, because people rarely price shop the accessories, you can usually get away with marking them up pretty high - even when some competitors have them priced much lower. If they are shipping along with the main product, you might consider having pricing high on the individual accessory pages but having them lower in an "Add This?" check box on the complementary product page.

Sell Consumable Products

Sell ConsumablesThere is nothing better than selling a product line that is consumable or has consumable products associated with it. Websites that have a loyal customer base that keeps buying grow faster than practically any other kind of eCommerce website. Every time you gain a new customer, that's a customer who will likely be buying again next month. Treat your customers well, and they will return to you for many years to buy their replacements and consumables,

Hobby shops selling Estes rockets make their money on the engines that have to be replaced after every successful launch - not on the rocket that can be used over and over again when it returns to earth (and hopefully not a tree). Swiffer makes their money on the replacement pads - not on the mop. Air Wick doesn't make its money on the scented oil warmers - they make their money from the scented oil refills. In fact, talk to any auto dealer and they will tell you that they make the bulk of their money from service and parts - not on the sale of a car!

As many people know, I had an electronic cigarette website for quite a few years. From the very beginning, I made it a point to sell the basic starter kits for a very low price (barely over break-even price), knowing that the accessories and replacement components is where the money is really made. Customers who researched the price of the starter kits at the beginning and who chose my company in part because my starter kits were cheaper automatically assumed that the consumables were also priced competitively (they were, but not as competitively priced as the kits were). 95% of my online sales on the e-cig website were from returning customers who initially bought a kit from me but kept buying their consumable e-juice, atomizers and batteries regularly!

EXCEPTIONS: Like the previous product group, you're going to need to make sure that you price the consumables at a point where you can make a profit after shipping. This type of site is ideal for having free shipping over a certain dollar amount. Most of the cost of shipping is the package, itself, and throwing extra things in it doesn't cost any more. Even if they hit that "free shipping" dollar target, you've made so much on the multiples of accessories that giving away an extra $7-12 in "free" shipping doesn't hurt at all!

Sell Products That Fall in the Price "Sweet Spot"

Know the best target price pointOne of the great things about selling expensive products is that you usually make a pretty good profit on them. The downside is that pricing is very competitive on expensive items, conversion rates are very low and, as I pointed out in the What NOT to Sell Online article, if a fraudulent order does slip past you, it can severely hurt your wallet! (As I also pointed out in that article, the risk of fraud can be essentially eliminated by using a fraud detection/guarantee service like NoFraud.)

As I also pointed out in that article, if you sell things that are too inexpensive, and they are the type of products people don't buy a bunch of, it's simply not worth your time processing orders when you only make a few bucks per sale.

There seems to be a "sweet spot" for selling goods online and it is in the $150-$300 range. Excuse the generalization, but women seem to have no problem at all buying products that are in the $100-$175 range. Men will spend up to $300 without blinking an eye. Once your total price gets beyond those marks, expect there to be far more price comparison, consulting with a friend or spouse and, in general, a whole lot more second-guessing the purchase. You can also count on far more customer inquiries before a sale is made.

Assuming a 20% profit, a sale of $150-$300 will net you $30-$60. That's a pretty decent profit and well worth the time building a website, working on SEO for that website and processing orders. You will probably make 5-10 times as many sales online in the "sweet spot" as you will selling things that cost $1,000. Five times a $30 profit ($150) or $60 profit ($300) is comparable to the profit from one $1,000 sale ($200). Ten times that profit is $300 or $600, respectively - considerably more!

Know who your target market is and remember the sweet spot for men and women. You'll not only make more money from products that are in the "sweet spot" of $150-$300, but you'll do far less hand-holding to get those sales. This doesn't mean that all of your products need to be in that range. You can certainly have more expensive products - just don't count on selling as many of them. Obviously, if there are accessories, they can certainly be at a lower price point and will boost your per sale profits!

EXCEPTION: If you are sourcing your products from China, the cost of products is ridiculously cheap. You can get away with price points as low as $30 or $40 if your goods are made in China. In that case, there are no price barriers at all. Even teens have that kind of money at their disposal. And please, don't think that I am giving you license to sell knockoffs. If you are going to source your products from overseas, only sell generic products - not name brands. Any name brands from China are almost 100% guaranteed to be counterfeits!

Sell Expensive Products

jewelWait a minute. Didn't you just tell me NOT to sell expensive products and that ones in the "sweet spot" worked better? Yep; I can be a tad bit contradictory at times. 😳

Contrary to what many scam artists who sell "instant push button money making" courses online would lead you to believe, very few niches exist where you will be able to rank well in organic search engine results immediately. Sometimes, it can take six months to a year or more for a new website to generate enough organic traffic to generate profits. Because of that, it is an extremely good idea to start advertising online the moment you launch your new website.

Unfortunately, advertising costs money and if you only make $20-$30 profit on each sale, there simply is not enough money left over to afford the advertising it takes to generate the sale. All niches are different, as are the plethora of advertising options, but I have found that most product niches with products that cost less than $1,000, it costs somewhere between $30 and $35 in pay per click advertising to generate a sale.

Assuming an average net profit of around 20%. If you are selling products that cost at least $400, that leaves plenty of money left over for you: ($400 x 20% = $80 profit) - $35 PPC ads = $45 profit. Whereas if you were selling something that only cost $150 you might end up in the hole: ($150 x 20% = $30 profit) - $35 PPC ads = $5 loss.

It all comes down to the same old time versus money thing. If you are very diligent about optimizing your website for search engines and getting a good variety of high quality backlinks and don't mind waiting around for your site to make the slow crawl up the organic search listings, you won't have to spend anything for advertising and can make a profit when sales start to trickle in. If you are impatient (like me), selling higher priced goods allows you to start making sales the day you launch your website. The sweet spot of $150-$300 may be the better niche in the long run but it's hard to turn down instant money!

A Word of Caution: Don't go nuts here! There still is some risk associated with fraud and you better be very competitively priced because people are definitely going to do a whole lot of price comparisons. Selling items that cost between $400 and $800 is certainly a price point that balances risk  vs. reward at a level that I feel comfortable telling people new to the eCommerce scene to go after.

Sell to Hobbyists

train setsAny time you can find a niche with ready made repeat customers, it is a niche you want to be in! People who are avid hobbyists can't help themselves. They are collectors who are going to keep buying those products from someone and they are going to buy often. If they don't yet have it, they want it!

Newsletters that offer limited time sales or announce the newest products work incredibly well for websites that target hobbyists. They also tend to be one of the best kind of websites for driving referrals from satisfied customers, since hobbyists tend to belong to clubs and attend trade shows where they love to spread the word about where they buy things.

Hobbyist product niches always have forums and blogs devoted to them, too. Become well known on the forums or blogs of those niches, and it should be very easy to drive natural traffic to your website!

EXCEPTIONS: You still have to keep price point in mind here as well as whether or not the hobby products are available in a wide variety at local stores. If your hobby products cost less than $100, it's pretty tough to make a big profit selling them. And, if they can buy them locally, people almost always will!

Sell to "Addicts"

needleSimilar to hobbyists, addicts can't help themselves. They HAVE TO have the products. Although price is always a consideration, nothing is more important to the addict than getting what they need FAST. If you are in a niche that caters to addicts, emphasize speed of delivery, not prices!

Of course, competing in "addict" niches is another story. Think of practically anything that is addictive or things that people obsess about and you likely have picked the most competitive niches on the web. Gambling, pharmaceuticals, "enhancement" products, fitness products, diet products and pornography are practically impossible niches to do well in, the competition is so fierce. It's that fierce because of the repeat sales and the unlimited earnings potential if you make it to the to the first page of search engine results.

Really, the only way you stand a chance in an "addict" niche is if you are among the first to get a website built around a revolutionary new product that caters to those people. If you get lucky and are driving the bandwagon before others start climbing on, word of mouth and repeat buyers, alone, can sustain your website for many years to come.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon the electronic cigarette niche long before even 1% of the population had heard of them. I built up a base of hundreds of loyal nicotine addicts a couple of years before e-cigs really caught on. That repeat customer base kept buying and referring more people to me every week. I would never be able to compete in the e-cigarette niche if I was trying to enter it today. There are far too many established websites that would be next to impossible to pass in the search engine rankings and there is a "vape shop" on every other corner in many towns. Plus, because they can not be advertised online anymore, pay per click advertising is not an option.

Sometimes, solid planning and skill are no match at all for perfect timing and a little bit of luck. You'll need a little of both to have success in "addict" or "obsession" niches!

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: Practically every "addiction" niche either has or will someday soon have a ban on advertising. In addition, many payment processors will not touch addiction niches or they charge considerably more to process payments for those niches.

Sell Confusing Products

confused storm trooperA product that is not simple to assemble, not very easy to set up, confusing to use or difficult to understand is usually tailor made for an online business. Confusing products allow you to really outshine your competition and, quite often, if your website does a good enough job of explaining things, people are so thankful, they aren't as inclined to price shop (people like to buy from places that know their stuff just in case they have questions after the sale).

Not only are confusing products great for establishing yourself as an authority to customers, if you create excellent instructional articles or videos, you will be able to earn valuable links from other websites. Despite all the recent talk to the contrary, obtaining links back to your website from other relevant websites is still the number one way to quickly climb the organic search engine rankings.

There are some downsides to selling confusing products; though, you will need to do far more hand-holding before and after the sale than you would for an easy to use product. You also need to really know your stuff! If you don't, people will know and you will instantly lose customers' trust.

EXCEPTION: As I discussed in the What NOT to Sell Online article, you don't want to sell anything that is so complicated, you don't understand it OR, even if you do, you may not be able to explain it to a layman. If you are passionate about a product that is a little outside the scope of understanding of most people and are absolutely sure that you can explain it to practically anyone, you may have found yourself a golden niche!

Sell "Problem" Products

cat scratching furniture"Problem products" and "products with problems" are two very different things. You sure don't want to sell anything that is poorly made or doesn't work as advertised, as we outlined in the What NOT to Sell Online article. You definitely want to sell things that solve people's problems, though!

Having spent most of my life in sales and marketing, if I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times - "sell benefits NOT features." As sage as that advice is, it wasn't until much later in my sales career that I heard it put in a way that I could use better - "people buy solutions to their problems."

Even though you are selling physical goods, every single product somebody buys is being purchased to solve a problem, real or perceived. Sometimes, that problem is very real, like when someone's refrigerator dies and they need a new one A.S.A.P. Other times, the problem is a little more deep, like when someone buys a Gucci watch instead of dozens of other watch brands because their problem is more one of self esteem and the need to impress people.

So, I guess you could say that anything you choose to sell could be seen as being a product that solves a problem. Selling products that solve REAL problems is what I'm talking about here. Someone who has chronic acne has a real problem. A parent who recently purchased a gun and now needs a place to securely store it out of reach of children has a real problem. A pet owner whose new kitten is clawing or peeing on furniture has a real problem.

People with REAL problems are desperate. They are looking for guidance and are ready to purchase a solution to their problem yesterday. They are less inclined to price shop and much more likely to buy from the first place that convinces them that they can solve their problem. Construct your product copy from the customer's perspective in such a way that it solves problems, and your conversions will soar!

Again, this is a niche area where solving a problem, AND QUICKLY, is more important than price. Offering expedited shipping options as well as satisfaction guarantees can help separate you from the competition.

EXCEPTIONS: With this particular type of niche, you're probably not going to get a whole lot of repeat customers and, depending on how "private" the problem is, you might have to kiss referrals goodbye. (This reminds me of a study I once saw that showed that mouse traps were one of the most shoplifted items at stores because nobody wanted other people to see that they were purchasing them.) If your product niche is one where people are not likely to buy again or refer other people because they are embarrassed, you better have a pretty high price point and profit per sale. (On the plus side, if it is embarrassing enough, you'll probably never get phone calls!)

Sell BTB Products

handshake between two laptopsThe only thing that is better than large orders is repeat large orders. When you sell to other businesses or the government, that's exactly what you can expect!

Although you may have to lower your prices a bit, many people in purchasing departments are more concerned with product availability and ease of ordering than they are about getting the absolute rock-bottom price (it's not their money, after all!).

Best of all, there is not nearly as much competition in the business to business market as there is when you are selling to consumers!

EXCEPTIONS: There really are no exceptions to this rule, other than that you might have to do some REAL marketing and think outside the "internet box". Making connections on LinkeIn and even cold calling businesses on  the phone can lead to tremendous results with BTB niches. If you are uncomfortable dealing with people - especially business professionals - this may not be your type of niche!

Sell Products to the Age 25-55 Group

30 Something TV show castOne of the most important things to consider when choosing your product niche is the age of the typical customer for those products.

If you are selling to teens, you'll have a difficult time making huge profits because of the lower price point and you can certainly expect more fraud. Teens and those in their early 20's don't have a heck of a lot of disposable income, frequently do not have credit cards and are more prone to "borrow" mommy or daddy's credit card when they are not looking in order to purchase something online.

Seniors are not as computer literate as the rest of the population and are more nervous about ordering things online. If they aren't comfortable using a computer, they'll never find your website. Even if they do, expect to take the majority of your orders over the phone when those over 55 years of age want to buy something. If you aren't around to pick up the phone every time it rings, you will definitely lose sales!

The people who purchase the most online are those in the 25-55 age group. Generally speaking, they are familiar enough with computers (or smart phones) to be able to search for products and order from those devices. They also are not quite as skittish about ordering online as seniors are.

Of course, in the future, that upper age will most certainly increase as the computer literate set gets older. In fact, I would not be at all surprised to see that in the next decade or two, seniors become one of the best groups of all to target for online businesses!

EXCEPTION: One thing that anyone who has been doing eCommerce for awhile will tell you is that nothing converts better than phone calls. If you're always available to speak with people over the phone and have patience, seniors can be some of the best people in the world to sell to. They often have far more disposable income than younger people, they love to buy things for their children and even more so, their grandchildren. They are especially grateful when websites have a phone number and answer when they call. They don't mess around either; they buy on the spot, so be prepared to enter orders manually when you get calls from the older crowd!

Can You Add Value?

5 gold starsLastly, I should point out that no matter what product you choose to build your online store around, the most important question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you can add value to what is already available online.

After looking at the top-ranked websites for a product niche, you need to ask yourself whether or not you can build a better website than theirs. Can you do a better job of answering the questions that potential customers will have? Can you put together instructional articles or videos that show how to use the product or assemble it better than your competition? Can you construct the ultimate buyer's guide that helps people nail down exactly the product that they need? Most important, are all the questions being answered by your website and easily discoverable or are people likely to have to start searching for answers elsewhere online because you have not provided them (or they can't find them)?

Being able to convince people that yours is the best place to buy from is all about separating yourself from the competition. Make sure you are confident that you can do that, no matter what product niche you choose to sell online. Then, get to it and build the very best website in your niche - one that blows away the competition. Keep that as your ultimate goal, and all the rest (especially the money) will fall into place!

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