Want to start an online store? Here’s how to choose what to sell.

Looking to take your business online? How exciting. Not sure what you’re going to sell yet? A bit daunting. That’s why we asked leading SA e-commerce expert, and founder of the Insaka Academy, Warrick Kernes, for his most practical advice. 

“Finding a product that will sell online is the foundation of your successful e-commerce store.” 
Warrick Kearnes

There are a few questions you can ask yourself when you’re looking for something to sell – or offer – online:

What are you passionate about? 

This is the first place you should look for online product ideas. What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies? If you can find something that gets you excited, and a gap in the market that it will fill, you’re well on your way to finding something that could do well online. It’s also so much easier to start your business and build your brand when it’s something you truly care about. This passion will shine through everything you do and help customers recognise your genuine belief in what you’re selling. 

What’s available in your network?

Have you thought about potential products you could get from your current network? This network extends from friends or family, to business associates. Maybe someone you know has an importing business or a warehouse you could use to store your products. Find these connections and reach out to them. Maybe you can help them grow their business while you’re growing yours. Ask them if you can list their products on your website, and work out a win-win sales agreement. Don’t underestimate the valuable resources in your network – having an already established relationship goes a long way when you’re trying to find products to sell.

Some websites highlight the newest products that are currently trending in e-commerce sales. Use these resources to determine what works, and where. Subscribe to their newsletters so you can stay abreast of these trends as they change. Some of the websites you should keep an eye on include: Trend Hunter, Google Trends, Sell The Trend and Jungle Scout.

What’s working overseas?

Always keep an eye out for products that grow quite quickly abroad and see what you can implement here. Maybe it’s not yet available in South Africa. Reach out to these brands for a possible partnership. There’s always a time lag between something really awesome launching abroad and when it’s available locally. Use this time as an opportunity to identify high growth products and to see how they perform before you invest. When you’re sure of its success, you can become a trailblazer and make sure you’re the first seller in South Africa. 

I followed this same approach and became the first person in South Africa to sell GoPro cameras and accessories. With the success of this venture, I was able to successfully start my own business. 

What is the competition doing?

What are you waiting for? Find your competitors in the industry and see what they’re doing. Subscribe to their newsletters  – that way you’ll know first hand when they launch new products or make significant changes. Pay attention to how much noise they make about certain products. Are these products on their homepage? Are they pushing them on social media? All these actions indicate this product is potentially a big deal.  

But don’t limit yourself to local competitors  – watch the market leaders in your industry, no matter where they are in the world. If you see them launching a new product, start investigating this new offering before other local competitors do.

What do your customers want?

It’s also essential to find out what your current (and potential) customers want. If you’re not sure – ask them! Use customer surveys, user testing, interviews, social media polls. Whatever tools you have to communicate with customers. 

Ask them what they’re looking for – maybe they have insights into potential products that are launching soon that they’re excited about. Maybe they can help you with ideas for products you haven’t thought of yet. Let them tell you what they need, and then start figuring out how to solve it.

If you’re looking for products to sell, please be encouraged to browse the Insaka supplier list

About Warrick Kernes

A serial entrepreneur with 12 years e-commerce experience in South Africa and Europe, Warrick won London’s 2009 Young Businessman of the Year Award. Founder of the SA award-winning online store Action Gear (founded 2010, exited 2018), Warrick is a guest lecturer on e-commerce at WITS Business School to MBA students and has also talked on e-commerce for JP Morgan (S&P 500).
Warrick is a regular contributing author for Entrepreneur Magazine and in 2018 he published his book on South African e-commerce. He also sits on the Education Committee for the e-commerce Forum Africa. In 2017 Warrick founded the Insaka e-commerce Academy and is now dedicated to growing SA’s e-commerce industry.

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