It’s hard to start a business without any products or ideas for things to make and sell. In fact, sourcing a supplier is often one of the first steps if you’re not creating the items yourself.
But if you’re starting a business on Shopify, there are dozens of product-sourcing options to help you populate your store with in-demand items, partner with suppliers who specialize in certain goods, or even add your own creative spin to white label products.
Want to source profitable products for your online business? This guide will walk you through the best apps to use, plus give you tips and examples from entrepreneurs and ecommerce experts.
What is product sourcing?
Product sourcing is the process of buying product inventory from a supplier and then reselling them. Common product sourcing methods include finding a manufacturer for custom products, purchasing third-party goods from a wholesale supplier, and partnering with a dropshipper.
Many of the product sourcing options we’ll be covering in this list will let you employ a dropshipping fulfillment model, meaning that you won’t need to hold or manage inventory, or ship orders yourself—that will fall on the supplier you choose to partner with.
This way, you’ll get to focus less on the logistics and more on building your brand, running effective ad campaigns, and providing great customer support.
Learn more: Trending Products to Sell in 2022
How to source products to sell
- Find a dropshipping supplier
- Buy from a wholesaler
- Partner with a manufacturer
- Attend trade shows
- Make handcrafted products
There are a few main sourcing methods for an ecommerce business:
1. Find a dropshipping supplier
Dropshipping is the easiest way to source products for an online store. It’s not just a product sourcing technique, it’s also an order fulfillment method. As a dropshipper, you only sell products by using a supplier that holds and ships the product for you. There is no middleman.
The process is simple: You only need to partner with a dropshipping supplier, like DSers. Then you can add products to your store and start marketing them. After you receive the order, the source will get a notification and they’ll ship the product for you.
There are two ways to start dropshipping:
- Working directly with a supplier that offers dropshipping services. You’ll be responsible for creating a process for managing orders and payments. Businesses work direct when they are looking for niche products, but it’s harder to manage.
- Use an app like DSers that connects you to a marketplace like AliExpress. With an app like DSers, you can find and list products in your store immediately, as long as the item is in stock.
There are other dropshipping sources, too. For example, if you want to work with EU and US suppliers only, you can use Spocket to source products. If you’re looking for an art supplier, you can try Creative Hub.
Learn more about the in’s and out’s of dropshipping by reading What Is Dropshipping?
2. Buy from a wholesaler
Buying wholesale products is a good product sourcing strategy if you want to get up and running quickly. It’s easy to manage compared to other sourcing options like manufacturing or handcrafting products. Wholesalers and distributors often offer a range of products that are established in the market. You run less risk of selling a product nobody wants.
Wholesale profit margins can be anywhere between 20% and 60%. That’s because you’re ordering in bulk and getting a lower cost per unit. One drawback to wholesale is product differentiation. Many other retailers may sell similar products to you, so you’ll need to compete with them on both branding and price.
Wholesale marketplaces like Handshake make the buying process easier. Each supplier is pre-vetted by a team of retail experts, so there is less risk bringing a product to market. Many also offer private label services, which means you can brand their products and sell them as your own.
Other popular B2B marketplaces to find wholesalers include:
3. Partner with a manufacturer
Manufacturing products is ideal for businesses with a unique idea or a variation of an existing one. If you’ve already validated the market for a product and are confident it’ll sell, this is a good way to source products. Market evaluation is important here because manufacturing requires the most upfront investment.
You can source two types of products through manufacturers:
- Private label. A manufacturer will create private label products for your business only. You control what goes into the product, how it’s packaged, and how the labels looks. It’s best if you are creating unique products.
- White label. These products are generic and sold to various retailers. They are better for larger customer segments.
Manufacturing overall gives you more control over branding and price. You can also control the quality of the final result, which is less likely if you are dropshipping. After its upfront expenses, manufacturing can result in lower cost per unit and higher margins.
There are a few drawbacks to manufacturing, however. Depending on how much your product costs, you’ll need to meet minimum order quantities (MOQ). This can result in thousands or tens of thousands of dollars upfront. If a manufacturer is prototyping, sampling, refining, and producing a product, it can take time to get up and running.
4. Attend trade shows
A trade show is an event where businesses and buyers comes together to demonstrate and discuss the latest products and services. These events often take place in convention centers in large cities and last several days. There are also smaller local trade shows that take place in different areas around the world.
For buyers, it’s a great opportunity to experience products before buying them and network with other business owners. It can also give you endless inspiration for new product ideas. Trade shows also offer workshops and presentations, panels, and other exhibitor events.
5. Create handcrafted products
Making your own products by hand is a common approach for many hobbyists. Whether it’s beauty products, clothing, or jewelry, handcrafting products gives you full control over quality and branding. The drawback, however, is that it does take time and is hard to scale.
Other costs to consider when making your own products are:
- Raw materials
- Warehousing and storage
Making your own products can result in a profitable business venture. Take Old World Kitchen, a family-owned business specializing in handcrafted kitchen utensils, for example. Despite the brand’s growth after switching from Etsy to Shopify, it has stayed true to selling handmade goods, while continuing to tell its family story and grow a profitable business online.
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12 apps for sourcing products
Whether you’re running your first or fifth ecommerce business, explore the following 12 apps to source products for your store:
- Creative Hub
- My Online Fashion Store
- Lulu Direct
1. Handshake: Shopify’s wholesale marketplace
Handshake is a wholesale marketplace and product sourcing app built and operated by Shopify. This app lets you choose from hundreds of thousands of products from brands all over the US (currently the only country where it’s available).
The Handshake catalog contains a wide variety of products, making this product sourcing app a great way to find your next bestseller, no matter your niche. Some of the top categories include:
- Home and living
2. Printify: Print-on-demand apparel and accessories
Price: Free plan available
If you’re looking for a way to inject some of your own creativity into what you sell, print-on-demand products are a popular choice. With Printify, you can choose from a large catalog of products to customize with your own designs.
While Printify is free to use (you pay for the products on a per-order basis), when you’re ready to scale you can also upgrade to a paid plan for $29/month, to improve your profit margins with a 20% discount on all products.
With Printify, you can put your own designs on:
- Tote bags
- Coffee mugs
- Wall decals
- Beach towels
- Pet beds
- And more
Interested in exploring how to build your own app for Shopify? Learn how to build a Shopify app on the Web Design and Development Blog.
3. Dripshipper: A quality coffee dropshipper
Price: $30 a month
Do you consider yourself a coffee connoisseur but are worried about selling a subpar product? Dripshipper, a coffee dropshipping app, might be for you. Whole beans are shipped on the same day they’re roasted for coffee that’s as fresh as can be.
Upload your own logo, choose the kind of coffee you want to offer, and customize your labels to sell white label coffee under your own brand directly to your customers. You can even offer a coffee subscription, so customers can get a fresh bag delivered as their previous supply runs dry.
The types of coffee products you can sell include:
- Single-origin coffee (Laos, Papa New Guinea, Columbia, etc.)
- Single-serve coffee capsules
- Decaf coffee
- Custom coffee product (select origin, roast, size, bag, etc.)
Learn more: Sell Coffee Online: How to Launch a Café
4. DSers: Choose from millions of products to sell
Price: Free plan available
DSers was built to make it easy to find the best products, add them to your Shopify store, and ship them directly to your customers.
You can choose from millions of products across almost any niche market you can think of, curating them into a branded online store to serve a specific audience, like pet accessories for pet owners or smartphone photography gear for travelers.
Best of all, DSers gives you data about how each product performs, so you can make informed decisions about what you add to your store.
Types of products you can sell:
- Phone accessories
- And more
5. Spocket: US and EU suppliers
Price: Free plan available
Spocket is another product sourcing app that lets you add products from dropship suppliers in the US and EU. It offers a large catalog of quality products and branded invoicing, plus fast shipping times.
Through wholesale pricing, the service promises a 30% to 60% discount on the retail price of all products, enabling great profit margins for you to get creative with discounts.
The products you can source through Spocket include:
- Sports and outdoor equipment
- Bath and beauty items
- And more
6. Syncee: A global marketplace of suppliers
Price: Free plan available
From inventory to reliability to delivery times, there are a lot of factors to consider when sourcing a supplier. With Syncee, you can browse a catalog of trustworthy suppliers from around the world and easily import products into your store to start selling.
Products you can import include:
- Baby products
- Fishing accessories
- And more
7. Creative Hub: Sell art made by contemporary artists
Price: Free to install
With Creative Hub, you don’t need to be an artist to sell art online. This UK-based marketplace gives you access to premium art by contemporary artists to sell in your own store. For each piece, you’re told the retail price (the minimum price you can sell it at) and your share as a vendor (how much you stand to make at the retail price). Some prints are even limited edition, commanding a higher price tag.
There is a fixed international shipping cost, which keeps shipping simple and lets you sell to anyone, anywhere in the world. It's important to note that frames are not included (though you might be able to source them and offer them through one of the other apps on this list).
8. Printful: Highly customizable print-on-demand products
Price: Free to install
Printful offers more robust product customization options, along with the ability to brand the customer experience (with branded stickers, package inserts, and labels). You can also order product samples at a discounted price, so you can see what your products will look like before you start promoting them.
The types of products you can customize include:
- Embroidered hats
- Sports bras
- Phone cases
- Bomber jackets
- And more
9. My Online Fashion Store: Fashion and accessories for women
My Online Fashion Store is a US-based dropshipper with a large inventory of stylish apparel for women. From tops to bottoms, jewelry to shoes, there’s a large number of items, each with a suggested selling price.
What’s more is it offers free returns and great shipping rates, however, it can only serve customers in the US at the moment, which limits your market.
The products you can sell include:
- Tank tops
- And more
10. Lulu Direct: Print-on-demand books and calendars
Price: Free to install
Lulu Direct focuses exclusively on books and calendars, letting you use print-on-demand fulfillment to launch your own book product. You can pick the format and size of the book, whether you want a hardcover or softcover, color or black and white ink, and the quality of the paper you want to use for the interior pages.
Have an idea for a bestselling coffee table book? Lulu Direct is a low-risk way to try out your idea before investing heavily in it.
The types of books you could create include:
- Hardcover photo books
- Comic books
- Poetry books
- Journals and notebooks
Learn more: 10 Best Providers for Print-On-Demand Books
11. Shapeways: Premium on-demand 3D printing
Price: Free to install
Shapeways is a 3D printing and fulfillment service that lets you upload your own 3D models and bring them to life as physical products.
While this may be one of the most expensive apps to use on this list (considering the upfront costs of 3D modeling), you can use it to create truly unique high-quality products to sell on-demand or for rapid prototyping.
The available 3D printing materials include:
- And more
12. Modalyst: A large network of suppliers with fast shipping
Price: Free plan available (5% transaction fee on sales)
Modalyst is a supplier network that gives you access to dropshippers based in the US with relatively fast shipping times. You can find independent brands, trendy products, and low-cost goods to sell in your own store.
Many of their independent brands include other Shopify merchants who meet strict requirements and are open to forming dropshipping partnerships.
Products you can find on Modalyst include:
- And more
Tips for product sourcing
Do market research
Market research involves gathering information about people, companies, and a market, then analyzing it to understand what that market needs. Market research is used to help business owners make informed decisions about product development, marketing, and targeting.
Gerrid Smith, CMO of Joy Organics, suggests retail businesses always observe changes in the market. “Exactly what kinds of goods are most successful on the market? What makes a product a good fit for the needs of your target audience? The survival of your firm depends on finding the answers to these questions.”
When you’re sourcing products, you want to understand a few key things:
- Industry trends
- Consumer needs
- Legislative trends
Knowing this information helps you choose the right product offering before you find a supplier. It helps you understand a problem or opportunity, and plan to solve it. For example, if a newly developed fabric helps hikers wick sweat and stay dry for hours, your outdoors clothing store may want to test designs with this fabric.
But where do you find this data? There are two avenues:
- Primary, which is first-hand information you gather yourself, such as surveys, focus groups, or customer interviews.
- Secondary, which is public information, such as magazines, government reports, industry analysts, and trade publications.
Research your product. Evaluate trends and data. Market research is critical in determining the right product and price point for your company. You need to make sure there’s consumer demand to make what you’re selling worthwhile. This information will allow you to make informed decisions when it comes to selecting your suppliers.
Once you find a good product with a reliable supplier, you’re ready for the next step: getting samples. Requesting samples is important because you want to test the quality of potential products you’ll sell in your store. As cool as a product may look in photos, you want to guarantee it’s top notch before offering it to your customers.
A sample run also helps you vet a supplier’s competence. You’ll understand how they communicate, process, and ship orders, and how they package products. It’ll also show a potential supplier you’re serious about working together.
Requesting samples is a tactic that Tyler Rybacki, who works on product development at subscription-based company Jot, uses regularly. “Always order a sample product before committing to an order,” Tyler says.
“Product samples enable you to inspect the level of quality so that you can ensure every order is worth your investment. Having a sample on hand is also helpful for shooting product photos for sales and marketing materials and your ecommerce website.”
When making your request, cover the following:
- Include the exact specifications of the product. Be detailed. If you have important information like specific colors or styles, share it.
- Ask the supplier to label your sample package as “of no commercial value” to avoid duty changes if sourcing from overseas.
- Ask for a company tag and model number to differentiate samples during testing.
- Request a video chat before the sample is shipped. That way, you can see the product and make any adjustments before shipping.
- If your product is proprietary, obtain any patents and trademarks before getting a sample. Suppliers can easily remake your product and sell another version to other companies.
When looking for a good product supplier, Tyler recommends getting samples from three to five suppliers. “Doing so will help you gauge the range of quality, pricing, and services available. And by ordering samples in a variety of colors and styles, you can determine which product, and supplier, best fits your business.”
Always order a sample product before committing to an order.
Source local when possible
Local sourcing refers to getting products from domestic suppliers instead of international ones. “Local” could mean your immediate community or your home country. Sourcing local can reduce supply chain costs, help you launch products faster, and earn more revenue.
Stephen Light, co-owner of mattress company Nolah, has worked with both international and local suppliers for his company’s mattresses. Due to recent supply chain disruptions, he shifted to more local suppliers, which has “proven to have benefits.”
“For example, building relationships with local suppliers can give you far more control over each important element of the procurement process.There’s also the matter of agility. Suppliers within your region are likely to be more reactive to your needs as a business, and able to fulfill and coordinate shipments within a short time frame.”
With local suppliers, you can also inspect the products in person and meet them in-person, which makes it easier to develop a closer relationship.
To find local suppliers, you can use a simple Google search such as “[location] [products] wholesaler.” In the example below, you’ll see the results for “los angeles women’s clothing wholesaler” provide a few local companies you could call.
Suppliers within your region are likely to be more reactive to your needs as a business and able to fulfill and coordinate shipments within a short time frame.
Work with multiple suppliers
Working with one supplier for your company makes product sourcing simple. Add one or two more suppliers to the mix and you may complicate supplier relationships and risk paying more for lower order volumes. However, a multiple supplier strategy can reduce supply chain risk and help meet the requirements of your business.
But how many suppliers should you work with? “There’s no concrete answer for every business,” explains Stephen. “But in the face of the supply chain crisis, it’s a good idea for businesses to be proactive and build relationships with multiple suppliers, and to include backup suppliers as part of procurement strategy. A multiple supplier strategy affords businesses flexibility and a safety net in the face of shortages, delays, and other problems that can leave them with serious stock issues.”
Any risks of a multiple supplier strategy can be lessened by working with high-quality suppliers. Before working with any supplier, evaluate the following criteria:
- Product quality
- Delivery and lead times
- Customer complaints
Aaron Alpeter, founder of Izba, a supply chain consulting, outsourcing, and technology firm, suggests thinking about your long-term goals when assessing a supplier. “To ensure that your supplier’s capacity or inventory cash flow doesn’t constrain your growth, think about what you need for the next 18- to 24-month time horizon and optimize for that,” he says.
“Then, in a few months, review that forecast and see if your needs have changed. By doing so you’ll spot capacity crunches before they arrive and will be able to invest in new capacity or relationships while also avoiding sitting on a mountain of inventory.”
Supplier relationships are a competitive advantage, so if you don’t feel a supplier is working in your favor, reconsider the relationship. Renegotiating contracts and exploring other options are part of owning an ecommerce business. Ensure that a supplier’s performance matches your short- and long-term goals and that they can meet your needs. If not, consider adding another supplier to your list.
Always go with your gut. When you are sourcing new products and researching potential suppliers, pick those that are in line with your company’s brand. You want to be sure you are not affiliated with untrustworthy suppliers, so always research beforehand and do not make rash decisions that could hurt your business.
No products to sell? No problem
With the rise of third-party suppliers and online marketplaces, like the ones we covered above and the dozens more you can find in the Shopify App Store, supply is no longer the hurdle it once was to starting a small business. These apps are a great way to find small business ideas, expand a product line, and set your business up to sell online profitably and efficiently.
Illustration by Gracia Lam