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This is the second post in a series of articles that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online. For the first post in this series, click here

Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least expect it. Many times though, it’s something you need to be proactively on the lookout for. The internet contains a wealth of ideas and inspiration, but as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin? Aimlessly searching online will only get you so far so we have compiled a list of the best resources to give you direction and get you started.

As you go through all the resources listed in this post, it’s vital to keep two things in mind:

  1. While searching for new product ideas, make sure to look beyond the products themselves. It may sound cliche but as we learned in the last post, there is heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories. Choosing a different or unique angle can be instrumental to your success. Try not to just look at products, rather look for potential in the product category. Consider new markets, new features and new ways to use the products.
  2. Don't be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and is usually more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.

In this post we will go into detail about the best places to look for product inspiration and ideas. We’ll start with some broad ideas to get your head in the right space to start your search and then get into more specific resources closer to the end of the post.

Let’s get started.

Make a List

As you go through this post and the list of resources, it’s best to capture all of your ideas on paper. Once you have all of your brainstormed ideas recorded, you will be able to return to them later and evaluate them for viability and potential.

1. Start With What You Have

Before you begin searching the depths of the internet and the ends of the earth for product and niche ideas, it’s always best to start with the ideas you already have. Maybe it’s a product or idea you have had for years. Maybe it exists in a half written business plan sitting in a folder somewhere on your computer. Even if you’ve discounted it at some point prior, it’s worth taking a fresh look at it. At one point you thought it was a great idea right?

Here are a few questions to consider when making your list:

  • What products, niches or industry you are particularly passionate about or interested in?
  • What products, niches or industries are your friends passionate about?
  • What pain points do you have in your own life?

Example: Max had a big issue with his unruly, messy hair in the morning. Short of taking a time consuming shower every morning just to be able to style his hair properly, he set out to fix the pain point with his product, Morning Head. Morning Head is a shower cap with an absorbent towel liner that you can soak with water, place on your head and rub around for a minute to get your hair ready for styling.

2. Local Community

Sometimes, you don’t need a new idea at all. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have been around much longer than their ecommerce counterparts. Paying attention to trends in brick and mortar retail and adapting them to ecommerce can be just the ticket you need to create a profitable and unique business. Look around your community and take note of what new or interesting retail concepts people are talking about. Your local newspapers can also be a great resource for this type of news and information. 

Example: Yummy Tummy Soup Company is a perfect example of someone that saw an opportunity to take a brick and mortar concept and put it online. The Yummy Tummy Soup Company sends healthy homemade soups, cakes and pastries in a thoughtful care package to someone you love, giving them the tools they need to heal whatever ails them. They cook and bake all products daily and send them coast to coast in temperature controlled containers.

3. Online Consumer Trend Publications

A great place to start your search for product ideas is to look at some top consumer product trend publications. Following trend publications is great way to begin getting a sense of the direction consumer products are going and the ideas other entrepreneurs are introducing to the market. Following these publications can also expose you to new product categories and industries that you previously didn’t know about. Following what’s trending can help you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for your online business.

There are several popular trend publications online including, but not limited to:

Trend Watching - Trend Watching is an independent trend firm that scans the globe for the most promising consumer trends and insights. Trend Watching has a team of thirty professionals in locations like London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos all looking for a reporting on worldwide trends.

Trend Hunter - Trend Hunter is the world's largest, most popular trend community. Fuelled by a global network of 137,000 members and 3,000,000 fans, Trend Hunter is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.

Jeremy, the founder of Trend Hunter says, "Like many of us, I was an entrepreneur at heart, but I didn't know what idea I wanted to pursue. I chose careers that I thought would lead me to my business idea... but after years of searching, I was still hunting for inspiration. It was then that I started Trend Hunter - a place for insatiably curious people to share ideas and get inspired."

Springwise - There are millions of business ideas spanning the globe that operate in a specific way, have their own style, and market in a unique fashion. It’s not always possible to travel the world searching for these ideas to bring home though. That’s where Springwise comes in. Sources such as Springwise travel the world for you, on the search for new entrepreneurial ideas, trends, and stories. Springwise publishes a daily and a weekly newsletter, which you can subscribe to for free.

Example: A great example of someone that noticed a trend from another country and brought it home is Dan and his product, Inkkas. Inkkas are beautiful, unique shoes using authentic South American textiles. The idea came about when Dan noticed the trend for these style of shoes in Peru. Determining this was a great product that would also do well in the North American market, he brought the idea home and successfully funded his Kickstarter project, raising over $77,000 in pre-orders.

4. Industry Leaders

If you know the industry or niche you would like to be in you can use various tools to discover the influencers in the industry. Following the right people on social media can help inspire new ideas via a constant stream of carefully curated content from the people in the know. It’s up to you to uncover the opportunities.

There are several online tools you can use to discover the influencers online for a particular industry or niche:

5. Product and Trend Discovery Review Sites

Product review and discovery sites can also be a fantastic source of ideas and inspiration. Sites like Uncrate (men’s products) and Outblush (women’s products) are great ways to see new curated product trends daily. What better way to get inspired than to get a daily glimpse into the new and interesting products other entrepreneurs are bringing to the market.

Here are just a few examples of popular consumer product blogs to get you started:

Don’t just look at the big and popular sites but explore niche reviews sites as well. Consider what types of products and niches you're particularly interested in and search for consumer product review blogs in those niches.

6. Social Curation Sites

Pinterest and other similar image curation sites can be a goldmine for product and niche ideas. Many of the images contain interesting, new and trending consumer products. Using the built in social signals you can sometimes get a sense almost immediately of their popularity. This could be your first clue if there is a market for the product or niche.

Several of the larger social curations sites are:

  • Pinterest - Pinterest is the fastest growing social network with over 50 million monthly users. Don’t forget to check out the popular section for what’s trending.
  • Polyvore - Polyvore is a new way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore's global community has created over 80 million collage-like “sets” that are shared across the web.
  • Fancy - Fancy describes themselves as part store, magazine and wish list. Use Fancy to find a gift for any occasion and share your favorite discoveries with all your friends.
  • Wanelo - Wanelo (Want - Need - Love) describes itself as a community for all of the worlds shopping, bringing together products and stores in a Pinterest like product posting format. You can start by checkout out trending people. 

7. B2B Wholesale Marketplaces

What better way to get product ideas than right from the source. This has been a popular option amongst ecommerce entrepreneurs for a while and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Wholesale and manufacturer sourcing sites like Alibaba exposes you to thousands of potential products and ideas. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of product available so take it slow.

Some of the more popular B2B wholesale product sites are:

  • Alibaba - You’ve likely heard of Alibaba. They are one of the biggest ecommerce companies in the world, up there with Amazon and eBay. Alibaba connects consumers all over the world with wholesalers and manufacturers from Asia. With hundreds of thousands of products, there’s not much you can’t find on Alibaba. 

Although it’s generally accepted that Alibaba is the largest online wholesale and manufacturer database, there are many other sites similar to Alibaba you can use for inspiration and to find product ideas.

Some of the largest competitors of Alibaba include:

8. Online Consumer Marketplaces

Another rich source for product ideas are online consumer marketplaces. Million of products is probably an understatement so you may want to begin your search with some of the popular and trending items and branch out into other interesting categories that catch your eye from there:

eBay - eBay is the largest online consumer auction site. 
eBay Popular - A list of some of the most popular product categories on eBay.

Amazon - Amazon is the largest internet retailer. 
Amazon Bestsellers - Amazon's most popular products based on sales. Updated hourly.
Amazon Movers and Shakers - Amazon's biggest gainers in sales rank over the past 24 hours. Updated hourly.

Kickstarter - Kickstarter is the largest crowd-funding website.
Kickstarter Discover - Browse all projects by popularity, funding, staff picks, as well as many other options.

Etsy - Etsy is a marketplace for handmade items.
Etsy Trending Items - Check out the current trending items and listings on Etsy.

AliExpress - AliExpress is a new consumer wholesale marketplace from Alibaba that allows you to order in small quantities. 
AliExpress Popular - The most popular products being bought on AliExpress.

9. Social Forum Communities

Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and is enormously influential. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and and areas of interest. It’s within these subreddits that you can find lots of inspiration for your next product or business idea. 

If you have an idea for a particular industry, niche or product category, it’s worth doing a search and finding a suitable subreddit community to join and actively become a part of.

There are also many product focused subreddits that are packed with ideas.

Here are a few examples:

There are also several subreddits for curated Amazon products, make sure to check out the following:

If you're active on Reddit and pay close attention, occasionally you have come across interesting posts like these:

No matter which approach you take, Reddit is has been and continues to be a valuable source of entrepreneurial ideas and inspiration, coupled with a great and supportive community.

10. Instagram

Instagram isn’t just pictures of food and dogs, it is also an interesting option for inspiring product ideas. Because it’s photo based, it makes it easy to scan through many ideas and photos quickly.

There are a few ways you can use Instagram to search for product and niche ideas:

  • Hashtag - Once again, if you have a particular interest in a product category or industry, you can try searching for applicable hashtags. Another great option is to do a search on Instagram for applicable hashtags that insinuate buyer interest and intent like #want and #buy.
  • Product Curation Accounts - There are many accounts on Instagram that post curated product content. Like many other examples above, you'll likely want to search for and find accounts within the niches you are particularly interested in. As an example, Shopify curates interesting and unique products from Shopify’s 90,000+ online stores. It might just provide the idea or spark for your next product.

Next Week's Post

Surely with all these resources, you’ll be able to come up with a great list of initial products ideas to start. In the next post in this series, we are going to look through all of the resources ourselves and share some interesting product ideas with you.

This is the second post in a series of articles that will detail the process of getting started in ecommerce. In the coming weeks we will be posting further in-depth articles on other aspects of finding and evaluating products to sell online.  


About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is a an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.