Small businesses have a lot to gain from the world of e-commerce. During the year 2020 alone, online sales increased by 44 percent and represented 21.3% of all retail sales in the U.S. Yes, the coronavirus pandemic contributed to this jump, but these numbers were already rising steadily. You could use this opportunity to bring your brick-and-mortar business online or to launch a new product.
When you’re up and running, selling products online is a straightforward proposition. Before you get started, you’ll need to identify products you want to sell, determine who your potential buyers are, and figure out how you’ll deliver these products seamlessly to your customers. Getting prepared for e-commerce will lay the groundwork for a successful campaign. To start a business online, you need to understand how to sell your product.
Below is your guide to selling products online in 10 steps.
1. Find your products
The most common methods of sourcing products for online sellers are DIY, wholesale, and drop-shipping. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. No matter what method you choose, choose products that you are passionate about and that meet a need in the market.
Whether you turn your baking hobby into a business or create a 3D printer factory in your garage, these are products you make yourself. If you have a creative urge, you can make the most gratifying DIY items.
If you sell handcrafted or highly specialized items, you can charge a premium, but remember to factor in the time involved in creating the item. When you cannot charge enough to make a business sustainable, you may need to reevaluate your process and strategy.
Traditionally, items are bought from manufacturers or wholesalers in large quantities and sold individually. Sites such as Alibaba and Etsy Wholesale sell wholesale items. eBay also has wholesale lots that you can search for suppliers.
Do your research carefully and check your sources. Before you place your first order, check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reviews and ask many questions. If you purchase a product, you want to ensure that it meets the specifications that are stated online and in person.
Dropshipping involves you marketing the products and taking orders, but your supplier handles their fulfillment. Although it is convenient, there are fewer margins and tough competition — you can find the same merchandise elsewhere online. Among the most popular drop-ship suppliers are AliExpress, Wholesale2B, Inventory Source, and Megagoods.
Dropshippers should select a cohesive catalog of products and target a niche audience to compete in the market. Learn more about how to start a dropshipping business.
2. Find a niche
For an online seller, the market is massive, but it’s also competitive. To stand out, find a niche.
For example, if you were selling yoga mats, you’d have to compete with brands that are already well established.
However, if you were to sell travel yoga mats with hand-painted designs that might be more expensive, you might be able to target a specific audience — like globetrotting women between the ages of 40 and 55.
Below are some of the best ways to find a niche:
Use analytic tools to see what’s popular
The Google Trends tool can be used to discover trending products. If you are looking for a new niche product, make sure your search range extends past “Past 12 months” to “2004-present.” This will allow you to see whether the search volume is increasing or decreasing.
Don’t forget to check out Kickstarter. You can test all the coolest new ideas on this famous website. It’s the world’s largest crowdfunding site. By sorting all projects by popularity or filtering them by category, you can make use of other useful options.
Use social media to find niche products
In today’s world, people live on social networks, so it makes sense to find ideas and products there. Instagram, for example, provides tons of inspiration and ideas for online retailers. It is one of the best media sources for inspiration. The hashtag makes searching easier.
You can also join Facebook groups with a specific theme. There are many of them. Be sure to follow your competitors’ communities as well. Competitive analysis is an integral part of niche research.
Explore forums and other discussion websites
What other sources are there to find product trends information? Forums! They’re buzzing with activity, discussions, and heated arguments. Many original ideas are floating around. Pick a topic that interests you and jump in.
For example, Reddit has multiple sections devoted to different industries, spheres of interest, and product categories. You’ll find business ideas in thematic subreddits. There are also communities where you can ask for advice, as thousands of other users do.
Conduct a keyword study on product trends
Conducting a keyword study is also a great way to analyze current product trends. A number of tools are available online that can evaluate the potential of keywords and give you a list of keywords you can use when starting an online business.
For niche research, Google Keyword Planner is the best tool. The keyword ideas it provides are also product ideas. Therefore, when you select a keyword, you can instantly see its potential and competitors.
3. Create buyer personas
The buyer persona is a visual representation of your target audience. The idea of buyer personas is to refine your idea of how to sell a product online and personalize your marketing.
As an example, consider hand-painted yoga mats targeted at female travelers over 40. Who is she?
She might be like Jessie, a fitness enthusiast with a high discretionary income who enjoys taking cruises to the Caribbean with her friends. During the yoga classes, she and her friends take together at resorts and on cruises, Jessie would like a yoga mat that is easy to transport, works in all weather conditions, and that her friends admire.
You might also imagine her as Tiffany, a frequent business traveler who works late at night. She would enjoy a relaxing yoga practice on a hand-painted yoga mat if she had one.
Jessie and Tiffany are fictional people you keep in mind in order to make your marketing more relevant and human.
If you want to market to Tiffany, you might use different images, language, and price points than if you wanted to reach Jessie.
If Jessie saw a picture of a yoga class at a resort with rows of solid-color mats on the floor and one stunning hand-painted mat, she may respond well to it. Jessie would pay a premium for that mat. However, Tiffany may like a picture of a well-appointed hotel room with a meditating woman sitting on a colorful mat in a candlelit corner.
Ads and even product lines can be tailored to different buyer personas in your business. Each persona should include the following details:
- Favorite social media channels
- Club memberships
4. Validate Your Product Ideas
Every serious startup faces the difficult task of validating a product idea. More than 50% of new small businesses fail within their first year, meaning the risk of failure is very real. The overzealous newbie businessperson launching products that don’t have market demand is one major contributor to this trend.
Entrepreneurs often make this mistake because they get so excited about their ideas that they ignore the practical approach of creating a product that people want to buy.
Here are a few tips on how to validate product ideas and avoid costly and confusing mistakes:
The Three Main Questions of Product Idea Validation
You have to answer three questions to find your product/market fit:
- Can it be built? This is where you find out what you would need to build the product: expertise, equipment, capital, etc.
- Should it be built? Here, you determine whether the product is needed, if it has a chance in the market, and how profitable it could be.
- Will people be able to use it? Here is where you choose the features of the product. You have to decide how complex it will be. The product you launch should be easy to use and convenient for customers.
Next, we need to respond to these questions in a cost-effective and sufficient manner.
Ask your audience
Test your product idea by conducting surveys, both formally and informally.
As you begin to develop your idea, post it in a social media group and ask for feedback. Furthermore, you may be able to find people in your niche to interview in person and ask them about their needs, their favorite products, and how they feel about your product ideas.
Online surveys provide a simple, streamlined approach to learning what your target market wants and needs once your idea is more developed. Moreover, you can collect their contact information, grow your audience, and follow up when your product is available for purchase.
Build a Prototype
A prototype is a very rough version of your product, which typically only performs or describes the basic functionality you’re looking to provide. It’s regarded as one of the most efficient and effective means of pitching an idea.
To create a prototype, you can use anything from a sketch to a 3D model of your idea. A minimum viable product (MVP) is an advanced form of a prototype. MVPs are more or less functional and usable versions of your product, even in their infancy.
If you’re trying to create an online course, an MVP could be a YouTube video tutorial or educational blog. They don’t have the extensive functionality of a full eLearning platform, but they do what they need to do: teach.
Generate Leads with a Landing Page
A landing page campaign can naturally serve as a lead magnet. You can build a mailing list by asking your target audience for their email addresses in exchange for benefits or perks based on your product.
In exchange for the email, you can offer different incentives. For instance, it could be an exclusive copy of your product when it launches or a minimum viable product. If it isn’t something that will interest people, then you will not receive a lot of responses.
Most often, landing pages are used with MVPs to test the potential price of your product. Normally, you do this by adding a CTA button with a price value to your landing page. However, you can also include a price point in your description to let your audience know that they might purchase your product.
Use a Crowdfunding Campaign
You can also conduct a crowdfunding campaign to measure product viability. A crowdfunding campaign will not only help your business raise capital, but it will also illustrate how much demand there is for your product and how much people are willing to pay for it.
In preparation for your crowdfunding campaign, your landing page campaign should be used to generate and warm leads. You will then be in a better position to generate funds.
5. Brand your business
Logos, websites, marketing materials, and other communications with your customers form the foundation of your brand identity. You can shape your brand identity to be unique and appealing to customers if you make deliberate choices.
In order to begin this process, you should summarize in a few words what you want your brand to symbolize. Is it trendy, friendly, and casual? Or is it reliable, sturdy, and high-quality? If the business sells hand-painted travel yoga mats, it might be artistic, unique, and inspiring.
Giving your brand a persona is a great way to distill its identity. If your brand were a cartoon character, how would it look?
Your brand identity is expressed through the words you use, your logo, the images you select, and the colors you choose. It will be hard for customers to discern your brand if you don’t make those choices strategically. Here are some things to consider for a strong brand identity:
Color, a logo, and the imagery associated with your product give your brand its recognizable, consistent look.
Choose colors that express your brand identities, such as red for boldness, dark blue for luxury, or green for organic. Color associations are often culturally specific, so what appeals to customers in one region may not translate the same way in another.
Simple and expressive is the best way to design a logo. If you print complex designs in black and white or in small spaces, they don’t work well. As your logo will appear on everything you make, it should be carefully crafted to convey your brand’s identity. An online logo creator, such as Canva, is free to use (most charge a fee for downloading), or you can hire a graphic designer.
It is important that the images you use on your website, advertising, and social media reflect your brand’s image clearly.
It may market to two personas with imagery of the yoga mat in a specific context for each — such as a resort class or a hotel room — with a focus on the product. It would be easy for an image like that to capture the brand’s identity and become associated with it.
Your brand’s voice should be carefully chosen to reflect your brand’s identity.
Write copy keeping in mind your buyer personas and brand personas. Who are you going after, and how are you going after them? Can you be a fun friend, an expert in your field, or a calming confidante? Establishing your brand identity will be easier if your brand voice is consistent across all channels, including email, product copy, social media, and advertising. Here are some ways to show your personality:
- Product names
- Product descriptions
- Ad copy
- Social media posts
- Phone greetings
For example, if you were selling yoga mats, you might include words like “artistic,” “elegant,” and “unique.”
6. Build your eCommerce website
It has never been easier to build an online store. And when you build your eCom store on Shopify, it also has a 14-day free trial.
Your brand identity should be incorporated into your website from the very beginning. Make sure you include your logo, photos, colors, and other branding elements on your website and then use them across marketing channels.
Your website design needs to make it easy for customers to find your products. Make sure your customers know exactly what they are buying (and why) by uploading images, writing specifications, and including shipping details. You can start selling instantly by adding Stripe buy buttons to your new website.
Instead of a full website, you can also use landing pages to sell your products online quickly. This is particularly useful when testing an idea, launching a new product, or running a promotion.
7. Set up processes for payment, shipping, and communication
To start selling online, you’ll need systems for collecting payments and shipping products.
With a website built on Shopify, you can connect a Stripe account to start selling. Although Shopify’s payment gateway is sufficient for business transactions, third-party payment tools, like Stripe, could improve the payment management process significantly. It is for this reason that many businesses opt to implement Stripe Shopify Integrations.
Integration with this service can also help reduce payment-related charges. You can initiate the Stripe integration by logging in to your Shopify admin account, clicking on the Settings menu at the bottom left of the screen, and then selecting Payment Providers.
You’ll need accurate shipping numbers on the website if you’re handling the shipping yourself. Look at USPS, UPS, and FedEx if your company is based in the US, or at alternatives in the country where your company is headquartered.
Free shipping is popular with customers, but if you plan to offer it, you should include it in the product price. Remember to factor in the cost of packaging and boxes when you set up your pricing structure.
If someone makes a purchase, make sure that their information is stored using customer relationship management software (CRM). In this way, you can keep in touch with customers, send order notifications, and follow up after their purchases.
8. Create high-quality product content
It is ideal to have an experienced copywriter, photographer, and marketing expert build your site. Sadly, this is not the case for most small businesses.
Here are some tips if you’re doing it all yourself.
In addition to making your product look desirable, your images should align with your brand image.
Make sure you follow the rules for using professional product photos provided by your product supplier. Crop the photos and add your own logo if you’re allowed to alter them.
You don’t have to invest in the most expensive equipment if you’re going to take your own photos. Many smartphones today have excellent cameras. Consider these tips to get great shots:
- Set up a bright light. Make use of shop lights, remove the shades from lamps and move them close, or use natural light. Purchase a lightbox if you plan to photograph a lot of smaller items.
- Lean in. Moving closer to the product will yield much better results.
- Get level. Take some close-up shots of your product instead of photographing it from above.
- Highlight details. It is not necessary to frame the entire product in every photo. You can focus on specific details that explain why your viewer should choose this product.
- Take a lot of pictures. A great picture requires hundreds of shots. Using different cameras and phones, as well as different angles and lighting, is a great way to improve your photography.
- Select a signature image as well as several detailed images for each product. The best way to optimize your images for search engine optimization (SEO) is to name them with your target keywords when uploading them or adding alternative text (alt).
We recommend that your product descriptions are thorough but easy to understand for a busy person.
- Don’t waste space on the headline. Whenever possible, name your products in a way that tells people (and search engines) what the item is exactly, rather than just “Lotus Mat.”
- An overview is a good place to start. Tell people in one or two sentences in the top of the page what this product is about and what it can do for them.
- Keep it brief. Overwhelmed readers are likely to click away if they see too much text. Try to keep your paragraphs concise.
- Organize your topics with headings. By using headings, you can make the page more scannable. When using headings, choose descriptive, compelling words, and include keywords when possible, as some people will only skim the headings.
- Compile the details in a digestible manner. Use bulleted lists to keep the page appealing and readable.
- Ask for reviews. Always ask your customers for feedback. To get your first reviews on the page, consider giving away free products in exchange for honest reviews to a select group of people.
9. Promote your products
As soon as your website or landing page is built and ready to sell, you can reach potential customers in many ways:
Social media allows businesses to communicate directly with their target customers. With social media marketing, brands can instantly reach billions of active users at a low cost.
You can boost your reach by using social media ads, for example, and achieve millions of views on your posts. In turn, this will give your product the promotion you want and allow you to generate more leads.
Businesses use influencer marketing to promote their products and services by partnering up with popular social media users or bloggers. A brand can tap into the influence of influencers to build credibility and even drive sales by tapping into their large, engaged audiences. You can start by sending free samples to influencers in your niche.
Everybody watches YouTube. YouTube has over two billion monthly active users, making it the second most popular website in the world after Google. More than 75% of Americans age 15 and up are on YouTube. You can start a YouTube channel to showcase your products.
Content marketing involves creating and sharing relevant articles, videos, podcasts, and other media to attract, engage, and retain consumers. The goal of this strategy is to establish expertise, promote brand awareness, and keep your business at the forefront of potential buyers’ minds. Using SEO tactics, you can start a blog to bring organic traffic to your site.
Although you can sell directly on social media pages, it’s a good idea to drive traffic to your website in order to convince customers to join your email list. In that way, you can follow up with them in the future and maintain a relationship.
If visitors wander off your website without making a purchase, you can also send abandoned cart emails and other targeted promotions. Google Ads can also remind visitors about the products they showed interest in after they left your site.
10. Keep refining your approach
There are so many details involved in selling a product online that it may seem overwhelming. Before you can even begin the process of marketing your product, you need a brand identity, a target market, a website, and solutions for handling payments and shipping.
Even so, if you take them one at a time, you can manage them. You can keep changing your approach over time.
You should take the first step, and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to achieving your goals.