Finding your ecommerce niche is an exercise in discovering passions, solving problems, networking, and testing for supply, sales, and competition viability. But once discovered, marketing and selling products to a niche can lead to online retail success.
Nearly anything can be sold online, from a $300 custom ax to a $30,000 airplane on eBay. Many retailers can sell the same product too — just think about all of the companies selling Levi’s jeans. Some retailers offer a broad range of products while others offer one or two specific items.
In this context, an ecommerce niche is the intersection of interest — or even passion — and market viability. It embodies the idea that a small ecommerce business can succeed by either focuses on specialty products or offering mass-market products in a special way.
What follows are four tips for identifying a marketable, ecommerce niche — a business opportunity if you will — for entrepreneurs that want to sell online but who are not really certain what they want to sell.
List Your Passions
Your ecommerce business should be a source of profit and enjoyment. If you don’t like what you do, you won’t want to keep at it. In fact, many people decide to open an online store because they are unhappy in their “regular” job. You will want to choose products and categories that truly interest you.
One way to find an ecommerce niche is to list out everything that interests you and everything you are passionate about — regardless of whether you think those interests represent a business opportunity.
As you make this list of interests and passions, think about how you spend your time. Do you watch a lot of old John Wayne movies? Add it to the list. Do you love coaching youth soccer? Put that on list. Do you play the piano, follow fashion blogs, collect early American scientific drawings? Whatever you do when you can do anything you want should be on this list.
Next, go down the list, asking yourself if there are products related to one of the items on your list that you could sell. If you had “watching John Wayne movies” on your list, could you sell classic CDs, movie memorabilia, or cowboy hats? If you enjoy coaching youth soccer, could you sell soccer balls, cleats, or soccer instructional videos?
Solve Your Own Problems
Another way to identify an ecommerce niche is to solve your own problems. As an example, there was a mother and daughter team working to start selling baby blankets on Etsy. Both ladies had made a list of passions and discovered a common love of quilting. They’d each made dozens of baby blankets for friends and family members, and were ramping up their inventory to start selling online.
In the process, they purchased several large cones of thread. In this form, the thread was significantly less expensive per foot. Unfortunately, these cones didn’t fit on the sewing machine. They were worried that they would have to somehow transfer the thread to spools, unwinding and rewinding hundreds of feet of thread by hand. Instead, with some help from an engineer friend, they built a simple cone holder with a “thread arm” that makes it easy to use large cones of thread with a standard sewing machine.
Now, the duo has found a second ecommerce niche selling their innovative thread feeder.
If you encounter a problem, however small, you may have just identified an ecommerce niche.
Often the most valuable asset in business is whom you know. When you’re planning to open your own online store, a network of friends and business acquaintances can be an excellent source of niche ideas.
Consider going to a convention or exhibition focused on one of your interests or passions with the aim of trying to meet folks. In fact, Tim Ferrris, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, recommends attending panel discussions at these sorts of events. At the end of the discussion, introduce yourself to the moderator, explain some of your interests, and ask the moderator if she could recommend one or two people that you should meet at the convention.
Mostly likely, you’ll enjoy the resulting conversations and get many good product or marketing ideas.
Test for Viability
Finally, anytime you have an idea for an ecommerce niche, test it against the market or, at least, your own perceptions of the market. You want to think about three things, at least.
First, who else sells this product or something similar? If you want your ecommerce niche to be fashion jeans for women, you are going to have a lot of competition. This does not mean that your idea isn’t viable, but it does imply that you are going to need to market differently.
Second, can you actually get the product? If you’re planning a new product, how and where will it be manufactured? If you’re planning to resell products, have you found distributors or manufacturers that will sell to you? Do they require minimum orders?
Third, how will you market your products? Will you buy pay-per-click ads, dominate Facebook, or choose some other marketing tactic to spread the word about your business.
After you’ve asked yourself these questions, share the ideas with a few select folks in your personal network. They can provide helpful perspective.
One might define an ecommerce niche in a couple of ways. It can be a specialty product or a special way of marketing a product. Regardless, discovering your ecommerce niche might meant that you need to identify your passions, find problems to solve, network, and test your ideas.