Studying success within the e-commerce industry yields interesting results. Whether you are looking at Amazon sellers or Shopify store owners, it is fascinating to pick apart the similarities and differences between those that CRUSH IT and those that seem like they can’t make it work.
Regardless of how many action items you can list that appear to be universal among the highly successful, or the nuances that each failure share in common, one thing is for certain; product selection is a major factor. A major factor in what, you ask? The answer is; Everything.
Product selection plays a huge role in the reason booming brands go viral. It plays a big role in why failures happen too. There are many things at play, but much of it boils down to what you are selling. The vehicle that delivers the solution you provide will determine how easy or hard it is to market, how expensive or cheap it will be to promote, how much effort or time is needed to gain exposure, etc.
Is it a solution to a widely felt problem? Or perhaps a small niche? Is it a solution people feel comfortable with? Or perhaps it is unpopular? The product determines the answers to all of these questions. And the answers determine what it will take to succeed.
Some people argue that the perfect product sells itself. Others say you can sell anything with good marketing. I think the truth lay somewhere in between. It is rather like a sliding scale; the better the product (the more novel the concept, the easier it is to use it to solve a problem) the less effort you have to put into marketing. However, the poorer your product choice, the more you’ll have to make up for in the marketing.
A poor product choice doesn’t necessarily mean it is a crappy product either. It can be made of superior quality materials, but if it looks like everything else on the market, and offers no unique selling proposition, then people have no reason to buy over a competitor.
So that means a high quality product doesn’t necessarily mean a good product choice. Sure, it’s a good start, but is the product novel, or does it offer a unique solution? Does it fill a gap in the marketplace? If the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes,” then the product could go viral and that is all the marketing it will need.
We can see this illustrated everywhere we look, too. Think about how many people are struggling trying to sell garlic presses or silicon spatulas on Amazon.com right now. There are hundreds of products just like that, that are super saturated with sellers and nothing unique among the pages upon pages of offerings.
Now, think about the person who introduced the inflatable lounger to e-commerce. Or the smart pen, or all those cool foldable, hide-away furniture pieces. These novel solutions to everyday problems (beach comfort, note taking or minimalist design, respectively) have garnered massive attention and are, therefore, making the brands that own them a ton of money.
Wait. So are you saying I have to INVENT something? I’m not creative enough for that.
Have no fear, because I am NOT saying you have to invent something. You just have to look for gaps in the marketplace. Places where you can either create an improvement or market a solution in a different way than is being marketed currently.
Basically, you have to have the right product selection system.
Keep Your Feelings OUT of It
When striking out on our own, as budding entrepreneurs we are filled with excitement and fear. This chemical cocktail is powerful and it fuels the long nights and sweat and tears that come along with entrepreneurship. Not all of its effects are positive, however. Our emotional state can also impede our ability to make sound decisions.
To elaborate, likely before becoming an entrepreneur you hear a lot about how the most successful people do what they love. Passion can seem like a prerequisite for scaling. The reason is because it is that passion, that desire for the work you are doing, that will keep you moving forward even when things get rough (and they undoubtedly will at some point).
The problem is that, with regard to selling physical products online, this edict is misunderstood. Many interpret the need for passion in their business to mean they must find a product that they are passionate about. So, what happens if you are passionate about the wrong product?
See passion, desire, energy; all that is very necessary to breakthrough into greatness, but what you need to be passionate about is service. Be passionate about serving your market. Be excited about providing solutions. The form in which those solutions take, the specific products they embody, that will always evolve with tastes, trends and technology.
So, the reason creating a product selection framework is so important is because it helps to separate personal feelings from the process of finding a vehicle through which to service your market. It helps keep you from making an emotional choice, or from holding onto a product because of an emotional attachment.
“Don’t fall in love with your idea.
Don’t fall in love with your product.
Don’t fall in love with your company.
Fall in love with your customers.”
– David Cancel, CEO Drift.com
Creating the Framework
It is much easier to say you need to create a framework than it is to actually create it. Obviously if there was one objective standard that worked perfectly every entrepreneur would adopt it and make millions. Be that as it may, I want to share the way I created my own methodology that allowed for each product I chose to sell to have a score or number assignment. This makes the decision mathematical rather than emotional.
Step 1: Define Your Market
While a product picking methodology like the one you will build can be used to pick a profitable product in any category, I still believe it will serve you better to approach the task with your target market in mind. That means, rather than just look for opportunities where you can make money, look for opportunities where your brand can grow.
You need to define your market, in detail. Who are you trying to serve? What problems do they have? What solutions do they typically like? Where do they tend to spend their money? By answering these questions, you narrow the broad scope of Amazon (and any ecommerce platform really) from infinite possibilities down to a few select categories. Essentially, this gives you a starting place as to where to search for your niche solution.
Step 2: Define Your Criteria
Now you will need to determine what is important in a product to your market. What must it have? What must it avoid? This may seem complex, especially for a new seller, but it is important. It will take diligent research, but in the end you’ll have an objective list of criteria that will tell you whether your next product idea will be well received by your target customers.
To give you a real world example, one of my brands is in the baby niche, so an important criteria for me was safety compliance. In my niche, moms are always worried about whether a product is safe for their baby, and the more complex the product, the more concerned about safety they are. I built a criterion into my method that essentially forced me to STAY AWAY from products that required safety testing and standards, which saved me time and money. It also allowed me to focus on products my market were more likely to impulse buy.
Step 3: Define Ideal Metrics
After you know what is important to your market in terms of a product, the next thing you’ll want to know is what it takes for products in your chosen categories to succeed. You’ll need to look at metrics on Amazon.com to determine whether the space is under-served or over-saturated.
How many reviews does the product you are considering typically have? What are the listings’ BSRs? What kind of search volume do the major keywords get?
You are looking to see if there is any room for you to come in as a newer brand and take some market share. You will determine this based on your ideal keyword volume, BSR range, number of reviews, seasonality, number of other listings, number of sellers, number of listings sold by big brands, etc.
There are many opinions on what these metrics should be. Some say go after products with keywords that get millions of searches per month. Some say focus on less competitive spaces with keywords that only get between 10,000 and 50,000 searches.
Some claim that products with too many listings that have over 2,000 reviews are hard to compete with. Some set the bar for review count much lower. The point is, every seller in every category will have their own metrics and target numbers that are important to them. You’ll just need to do your research and make best guesses as to what your ideal metrics should be.
Step 4: Define Scoring
The last step in the process is to assign a numeric value to the criteria. That way, when you add it all up or average it all out, you’ll have a hard number that tells you whether a product should be pursued or not.
This takes all emotion away from the decision. Your methodology, in effect, becomes a mathematical equation, and the answer is a number that tells you whether a product is a “go” or a “no-go.” So long as you adhere to the rules you’ve defined, you’ll be swift and precise with your decisions.
Again, this may seem intimidating to a new seller-hopeful, just trying to find their first product. But it will be worth the extra research in the long run to avoid picking the wrong product and having to start over. It just takes a little market research, some surveying or Googling on buyer habits, some tracking products on Amazon and checking metrics on page one search results. Armed with that knowledge you can be a little more assured as to whether your product idea has real potential.