Ecommerce businesses in the U.S. made more than $504 billion in sales in 2018. There’s a lot of money to be made in the industry. But there’s also a ton of competition.
If you’re interested in breaking into the ecommerce business, whether you want to start your own niche site or sell on a platform like Amazon, you first need to determine what products to sell. Unless you’re making them yourself, that means you need a supplier.
Source Products to Sell Online
If you’re wondering how to source products to sell online, here are some tips to help you find the options that will work best for your business.
Determine Your Style of Ecommerce Business
Not all ecommerce businesses are built the same. Some use suppliers that offer dropshipping, where they basically handle all the logistics for you and you simply build a site and list their products. Others find wholesale products or unique items from niche suppliers.
Brandon Ulrich, lead solutions architect and ecommerce consultant at Classy Llama said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “It really depends on what kind of business you want to start. If you’re just starting an ecommerce business for the sake of starting one, then dropshipping can be a good option because you don’t have to worry about warehousing, fulfilling orders and inventory management. You can have a supplier that will dropship directly to customers when they place orders. So that eliminates one piece of the whole process. But in this case, you’re also basically reselling. And there’s a lot of competition in that space. So you don’t really have a unique value proposition. It’s not as easy to market and sell.”
Find Something Unique
As a small business, you’re going to have a tough time going up against big names like Amazon by selling on price alone. Instead, it’s often better to niche down so you can focus more of your efforts on building a positive shopping experience for a specific type of customer.
Ulrich says, “If you want to sell your own product that’s in some way unique and something no one else really has, that’s usually a better and more viable business to start. But it depends on what you’re selling. You have to find a kind of niche and then find a good supplier whose products you can curate onto a branded site.”
Do Some Online Research
There are plenty of sites that can help you connect with manufacturers of various products around the world. Be wary of scams or unreliable suppliers – it’s essential that you actually connect with suppliers and ask questions instead of just relying on websites. However, this can help you build a list of potential names that you can narrow down throughout your search.
Check Out Supplier Events
Another option for finding potential suppliers is attending trade shows.
Ulrich adds, “A lot of people like to check out industry trade shows or markets where you can see a bunch of different vendors in one exhibit hall. Walk around and see what products they have to offer and talk to them face to face so you can ask all those necessary questions.”
Ask About Logistics
Once you find a few supplier options to consider, you need to ask questions about their processes. Since shipping and logistics are such a huge part of the process of running an ecommerce business, that should be one of the first topics you cover.
Ulrich says, “Find out where they ship from. Do they have one warehouse or multiple warehouses? What are the lead times going to be?”
Consider Data Sharing
Additionally, you need a way to easily share data with your supplier so they know when you’ve made a sale and you know what’s left in their inventory. Some suppliers do this via email or using manual processes. Others send files that you can integrate right into your website. It’s important that you understand each of these options and go with a supplier that offers a process you’re comfortable with.
Think About Scaling
Ideally, some type of automation option is going to work best for businesses that want to scale. Rather than changing suppliers as your business grows, it may be best to make use of automation early on or at least go with a supplier that offers it as an option.
Ulrich explains, “Covering some of this process manually is usually doable for sellers who are just starting out and have a pretty low sales volume. But as you grow and make more sales, you’re going to want to automate some of those things.”
Build Value Around Your Products
No matter where you source products to sell online, it’s important to create an experience around them that appeals to your target customers. And you should keep those customers in mind as you search for vendors as well.
Ulrich adds, “The biggest thing is understanding what your value proposition is to your shoppers. There’s a lot of competition out there. Amazon is kind of eating up a lot of business, and Walmart and other big companies are also competing. So if you’re just starting up, it’s usually better to focus on having one niche rather than trying to sell everything. Become an expert on your product and provide content and education on your site around your product. Then focus on providing a great experience for your shoppers with great customer service. All of that will set you apart from the big stores that are just selling on price and speed of delivery.”