You are itching to start an eCommerce business. All you need is a great product idea, and off you go. It sounds so simple. But before you decide to manufacture the “next best” of anything, take a breath and follow a logical pattern of thought. Lots of eCommerce businesses has fizzled, because founders did not consider some of the following key factors.
For purposes of this article, Dollar Shave Club and Headbands of Hope will be used as examples, because both of these entrepreneurs took into consideration all of the key factors before they launched. There are great lessons to be learned in this short guide that will help you find your perfect eCommerce product.
Check Out The Size of Your Potential Market
You are looking for a large demographic that will not be difficult to “reach” and who will see your product as unique, valuable, or solving a problem they have. If your target market is too small, then your chances of success are small too.
Razors. Everybody needs them. So what? They are found in every grocery and drugstore across the world. When Michael Durbin and Mark Levine decided to sell them online, they knew they had a huge demographic, and they began by selecting a market of men only.
Children with cancer. It’s heart-wrenching, and who doesn’t want to help make the lives of these small sufferers better in some way if they can? Jessica Ekstrom wanted to do something on a big scale, and she knew there was a huge demographic out there that did as well.
Check Out The Competition
The fact that there is competition, even strong competition, is okay. It means that there is a market for your product. You will just have to find some way to reach that market and have a “twist,” or an improvement on your current competition. What can you do differently?
Dollar Shave Club’s twist was to provide a subscription-based product. Men could sign up for a few dollars a month and have their razors delivered to their homes – no more “forgetting” to buy razors or making a special trip to the store to get them.
Headbands of Hope had a “twist” – a cause. Buy a headband, and one would be donated to a little girl with cancer; and $1 would go to cancer research. A simple idea, but one that has turned the company into a huge success. Lots of businesses sell headbands as a part of their product lines, but helping a child with cancer? This was a winner.
Is Your Product Just a Fad or Does It Have Staying Power?
Pet rocks were a fad. They made the business owners lots of money, and then they were gone. If you want to be in business for just a short time, then come up with the next pet rock, and hope it makes a huge splash so you can retire early. But this is risky business indeed. Your “fad” could be a total bust, and you are back at square one having spent money and time.
If you want to be in a business that has the potential for staying power, then choose a product that research shows has lasted over time. You can make improvements or have your own twist on it, but you know that people will always be looking for it.
This was the case with both razors and headbands. While Ekstrom says she would love to be put out of business by a cure, until then, people who want to do good, even in a small way, will continue to come.
You can check out Google Trends to see how your product idea is faring – it will give you a search history for similar items, as well as a whole lot more.
How Available is the Product Locally?
There are just some products that may not be available to consumers in their local markets. Take clothing that is made adaptable for physically handicapped or with other special needs. One example is clothing for seniors with special health needs. While a lot of seniors resist shopping online, their kids don’t, and as they age, kids are more often around.
In both of the examples being used here, the products were readily available locally, so this was not a consideration. But it might be for you if you can think of a product that would fill this need. (how about something left-handed people?)
What kind of markup do you envision? Remember, it is not just about the cost of the making of the product. It is about storing inventory, about shipping (most online consumers are excited about free shipping), about marketing, about packaging, and a host of other little costs that all add up and eat into profit. You will need to sit down and figure out the cost of getting your product from raw material to consumer and then decide how much profit you need on each item to be a reasonable venture. If it will cost more than what consumers can purchase locally, then you will want to re-think – unless, of course, you are bringing more to the table.
Everyone can buy razors and headbands locally. The convenience and the cause are what make the difference.
Setting Up Your Store
This can be a costly endeavor if you choose to use consultants, designers and developers. Again, start small. Use a cost-effective site like Shopify and it will walk you through the entire process, providing everything from your site to your purchasing process, to checking for fraud, etc. Everything on one place, doing what you don’t want to spend a lot of time and money on right now.
Beware of Too Much Variety in Inventory
When you are starting out, keep it simple. You can always scale later. You are not going to be a large online clothing retailer with many items and sizes that you have to keep in stock. Managing a large inventory without the funds and staff will kill you. Start small.
Durbin and Levine began with just razors. Over time, they have obviously scaled and now offer all sorts of personal care products too. Note, this was done over time.
Ekstrom began with just headbands. She has now expanded into other items to. Again, over time.
If your product is consumable and/or wears out, consider a subscription-based model. Many e-commerce business have found this successful, just as Dollar Shave Club.
Having repeat customers, either through a subscription or because your product has a shelf-life, is always a good thing.
Think About Weight, Size, and Perishability
The smaller your product and the less it weighs the better. Consumer love free shipping, and lightweight products are best for you. And think of the storage requirements. If your product line is simple and small, you will save yourself a lot.
And perishable products will not be a good bet unless you have some real expertise. Packing a quiche in dry ice for shipment may not be your best bet right now.
The most important factor when considering a product for e-commerce is your market and the problem you can solve or the passion you can fill for them by your offering. The other considerations are just business decisions that will need to be wisely made.
Get your thoughts organized around filling a need for a large demographic. Then review these nine considerations. If you can meet most of them, it’s time to take the leap. As you finalize your plans and set up your business, you will then need to develop expertise in marketing. But the first step is complete. You have a solid product.