Your products are the bread and butter of your brand. They’re what customers come to know you for and, ultimately, what makes you money. But choosing the right products is just the first hurdle on the road to a successful ecommerce business.
Once you’ve chosen a product or range of products to explore and evaluate, it’s time to put them under the microscope.
Without properly evaluating your product ideas through deep research, your choices will be random—and so will your chances of success. Using the criteria below, you’ll get a clear picture of your product and niche, along with a better understanding of its strengths and the knowledge to identify its weaknesses.
You will likely never find a product or niche market that fits all the criteria perfectly. But evaluating your idea against this list will give you a better understanding of your chosen product and niche, helping you avoid pitfalls and increase your chances of success.
What is product research?
Product research is the process of gathering and analyzing information about a product, its market, competitors, and potential customers. The goal of product research is to identify opportunities, assess demand, and make informed decisions related to product development, marketing, pricing, and distribution.
Product research answers questions such as:
- Will the product be a success in the market?
- What are similar products in the market?
- What’s the best way to develop and sell the product?
Product research doesn’t just ensure you choose the right products for your audience, it also helps you:
- Prioritize your ideas
- Test and validate different ideas
- Experiment with product names and packaging
- Sell at a competitive price
- Understand your competition
- Monitor product-market fit
- Improve your product and marketing
Businesses that perform regular product research stay ahead of competitors. It also helps with developing innovative, high-value products, because you’ll always know what’s on trend and if the trends will grow sustainably.
How to do product research
Market-based criteria refers to the behavior in the market, including how big a market you have for your product, what other brands are selling similar items in that market, and who your target customers are.
Here are the most common market-based criteria:
- Market size
- Competitive landscape
- Product category outlook
- Local product availability
- Target customer
Market size indicates how big the market is for your product—or how many people there are that fit your target customer.
It can be a difficult metric to determine, but with some research, you can probably get a good idea. To determine how large the potential market is for each product, you can dig into data, city and state development offices, and even Facebook’s ad targeting feature (without actually running ads) and other social media channels. For example, if you’re selling tech gadgets to women in middle-management positions, you might check LinkedIn to see how many middle managers there are in the cities you’re targeting.
Example: Daneson toothpicks targets a small segment of the wider health and hygiene market by positioning its toothpicks as a luxury item.
The narrower market size limits the revenue potential for this business. However, depending on the exact market, a narrow market size potentially can be easier to market to, allowing a company like Daneson to penetrate its market and capture it more cost-effectively.
Determining exact market sizes is usually impossible for most businesses, but there are some ways to understand it in a more general way. Google Trends is a good starting point—not for determining market size, but for determining market demand trajectory.
From there you can also look for your particular product idea being sold elsewhere and look at the number and quality of customer reviews. Are there no reviews, just a few, or hundreds?
This can give you an idea of how many people are searching for your keyword terms and, in return, can also give you a better sense of the market size. Combine all these methods with some realistic judgment and you should start to get a good sense of the potential market size of your product idea.
What does the competitive landscape look like for your selected product and niche? Are you first to market? Are there already a few competitors or is the market saturated with people selling the same product or targeting the same niche?
If you’re first to market, you’ll want to do a lot of market research to determine that there is in fact a market interested in your product.
If there are many competitors in the market, that’s a sign the market has been validated. However, you’ll have to differentiate your brand and products from the sea of competitors in order to carve out your own spot.
Google searches and Similarweb will help you uncover current market players, and an SEO tool like Ahrefs can tell you approximate search volumes for your chosen keywords. “Doing keyword research with a tool like Ahrefs or Semrush helps get a realistic view of search demand,” says Shane Pollard, CTO at Be Media. “It also helps with opportunity mapping: If the difficulty is high, I can look for longer-tail results. The long-tail approach is best for entering new markets.”
It will also tell you how competitive they are (meaning how many other people/businesses are bidding on those words).
Product category outlook
Riding a fad can be dangerous. A trend can be lucrative. Stable markets are safe, and growing markets are ideal. Understanding where your product and niche fit into these categories can play a huge role in your success or failure.
To better understand the differences between each of these, look at the growth curves, and then at real-world examples of each type:
A fad is something that grows in popularity for a very short period of time and dies out just as quickly. A trend can be lucrative if your entry into the market and exit are timed perfectly, but this can be difficult to predict and is usually a recipe for disaster.
A Geiger counter is a personal electronic device about the size of a cellphone that measures the level of radiation around you. Shortly after Japan suffered an earthquake in 2011, Geiger counters were flying off the shelves. However, as you can see from the Google Trends graph below, interest died as fast as it started.
A trend doesn’t grow as quickly as a fad, it lasts longer and generally doesn’t decline nearly as quickly. Trending products can also develop into long-term growing markets, although this can be difficult to predict.
As an example, over the past 10 years, gluten-free foods have been growing in popularity. You can see from the graph below a consistent climb, but this likely would be predicted and labeled a trend, as opposed to a growing market, due to the ever-evolving and changing nutrition market.
A stable market is one that’s generally immune to shocks and bumps. It’s neither declining nor growing but maintains itself over long periods of time.
A kitchen sink is a perfect example of a product with a target market that has generally remained constant and flat for decades. There’s likely not going to be any huge spikes or dips in the interest and purchase behavior of kitchen sinks.
A growing market is one that has seen consistent growth and shows signs of a long-term or permanent market shift.
Yoga has been around for a long time, but over the past 10 years or so has become a mainstream health and fitness activity. The benefits of yoga are well established, making this niche a solid growth market.
Google Trends can help give you the big picture as to whether something is a fad, trend, growing, or stable market. If you see unexplainable spikes, try doing some further searching to see what the possible cause was.
Local product availability
A product that’s readily available locally means there's one less reason for consumers to seek your product out online. However, a unique or hard-to-find product that isn't available locally means there’s an increased chance of someone looking for it online which increases their chances of actually purchasing it online.
Example: Ellusionist sells beautiful, high-end decks of cards for magicians and card players. Sure you can go buy a deck of cards anywhere, but these are not just cards—they’re works of art and trick decks, and if you want one, it’s only available online.
One of the simplest ways to find out if your selected product is available locally is by doing a search on Google for “your product + the name of your city,” or, if you don’t live in a major city, try substituting the name of the major city you’re closest to. For example, you could search for “magician deck of cards + New York.”
You don’t need to go into great detail defining your exact customer persona at this point, but, you should be aware of the type of customer you’re likely to sell to and their online purchasing capabilities.
If you have a product geared toward teens, it’s important to keep in mind that most teens don’t have a credit card to make purchases online. Similarly, if your product is geared toward older baby boomers, you may find that your target demographic has a lower level of technology adoption and doesn’t like to purchase online.
To find out more about who your target customers are, you can look into your Google Analytics account. Be Media’s Shane Pollard explains that, when he conducts product research, he looks at the following Google Analytics reports:
- Audience demographics. This is key to understanding age ranges, gender, and how the current product appeals to that demographic.
- Geolocation. Knowing what audiences are doing in a location can help form an insight. For example, people in Melbourne don’t need a lawn mower as much as people in Perth, based on Melbourne having a higher percentage of people living in apartment complexes.
- Top pages. They are a great pulse check for how many people are looking at products. Shane has come across reports where the top product was described as outperforming every other product by 10 times, only to review top pages and see that the 10 times was in reference to hundreds of visits, not thousands. The way the data was phrased made it sound like more of a performer than it actually was in scale.
Product-based criteria refer to points related directly to your product, like its price, whether it’s seasonal, and how scalable it is.
Here are the most common product-based criteria:
- Product markup
- Potential selling price
- Product size and weight
- Product durability
- Product seasonality
- Product pain points
- Product turnover
- Product type
- Product perishability
- Product restrictions and regulations
- Product scalability
It’s important to take markup for a specific product into consideration before diving too far into a product idea. When you begin selling online, you’ll quickly find out there are lots of small fees that will eat into your margins, so having a strong initial markup will provide you with the necessary cushion to absorb these little costs.
To understand the margin a bit better, take a look at a real product. For this example, use a pet pedometer—a small electronic device you connect to a dog’s collar to count how many steps they take.
Looking around at other pet pedometers, its determined that the average retail price of a product like this would be $24.99. Using Alibaba, you can get these pet pedometers at a cost of $2 per unit.
A 1,200% markup. Looks good so far, right? Here's a closer look at the other fees that you will need to account for:
You can see from the example above how the small fees will whittle away at your margins. In this case, a product that had an initial markup of over 1,200% ends up with a markup of less than 100% when everything’s taken into account.
Of course, these are just approximates and you can cut costs significantly by handling fulfillment yourself and spending less on advertising. Regardless, knowing this information upfront will help you anticipate your revenue and expenditures, as well as determine whether a product is worth the costs.
Potential selling price
Selling an inexpensive product means you’ll need to move many units to make a decent profit. This tends to go hand-in-hand with more customer service inquiries, as well as an increase in other operating metrics. Alternatively, selling very expensive products means a longer sales cycle and more discerning customers.
Generally, a product price point between $75 and $150 is recommended, as it minimizes the need to find a large number of customers to turn a decent profit and is still able to give you some cushion for marketing and operation costs.
Our previous example of the pet pedometer had a relatively low selling price of $25. Because of this, variable costs ate away at much of the profit, leaving a profit per unit of only $12.95.
See what happens, though, if you switch out the pet pedometer for a new product and assume that this new product has a potential selling price of $100 (four times more than the pet pedometer). For consistency, we’ve also multiplied the other appropriate costs by a factor of four.
Because of the higher pricing, you have much better margins—73% versus 42%—for the pet pedometer, and the profit per unit skyrockets from $12.95 to $76.75.
Product size and weight
Product size and weight can have a big impact on your sales and bottom line. These days, many customers expect free shipping, and just rolling the shipping cost into your prices doesn’t always work. This means these costs tend to eat into your margins. If you decide to pass the shipping costs on to your customer, you’ll find that the shock of high shipping will likely hurt your conversion rate.
Additionally, if you don’t plan to use the dropshipping model, you’ll need to consider the cost of shipping the products to yourself (or your warehouse) from your manufacturer, as well as storage fees. If you’re ordering your inventory from overseas, you might be surprised at the costs involved.
Say there’s a popular yoga mat company that sells oversized workout mats. The product itself is a reasonable $99. However, shipping is $40 to Canada and $100 to the rest of the world. For many consumers, it would be hard for them to justify spending 40% to 100% more for shipping.
How durable or fragile is your product? Fragile products can be an invitation for trouble. Products that can break easily will cost you more in packaging, and you’re bound to have more returns and exchanges.
Businesses with seasonal demand can suffer from inconsistent cash flow. Some seasonality is OK. However, an ideal product will have somewhat consistent cash flow year round.
If you do choose a highly seasonal product, you may want to consider ahead of time how you can overcome seasonality, possibly by marketing to different countries in the off-season.
Check for seasonal trends by looking at Google Trends for your product and niche keywords. For example, US searches for “picnic baskets” spike every summer and die back down in the colder months, but you could stabilize year-round sales by targeting countries in the southern hemisphere during the US winter.
Here’s the graph for “picnic baskets” searches in the US.
Product pain points
It’s always an advantage to sell products that serve a passion or solve a problem.
An additional benefit is that when you sell products that satisfy one of these requirements, your marketing costs tend to be lower, since customers are actively seeking out a solution, as opposed to you having to heavily market your product to find them.
For example, Decem sells low-ABV gins to people who love a gin and tonic but want to consume less alcohol.
It can be risky to choose products that constantly need to be changed or refreshed. These types of products run the risk of not selling before the time of turnover. Before jumping in head first and selling a product with regular turnover, it’s vital to know what your turnover schedule will look like and plan accordingly.
For example, smartphone and tablet cases are a hot market. Yet creating new designs usually requires a high initial investment for designing, prototyping, and minimum order quantities. One of the harder parts of building an online business in a niche like smartphone cases is gaining enough traction and exposure before the next model smartphone/tablet comes out. Not selling through your inventory fast enough could leave you with a stockpile of outdated cases.
Stringberry produces mobile phone cases for a range of devices and updates its catalog when new models are released. The brand regularly updates its product offerings to align with the latest mobile phone models.
Having consumable or disposable products makes selling to the same customer over and over again more natural by essentially putting a time limit on the product’s life and giving the customer a reason to come back to you for replenishment.
Harry’s, for example, sells products that generally are highly consumable, like razors, shaving cream, and deodorant. This model keeps consumers coming back to their site to repurchase.
Perishable products are a risky proposition for any business, never mind an online business. Since highly perishable products require speedy delivery, shipping can be costly. Even products with a longer perishability timeline can be risky, as it complicates storage and inventory, potentially leaving you with spoiled products.
For example, food products, supplements, medication, and anything else that needs to be kept cold or has a short expiration date all require special consideration when ordering inventory and shipping to customers.
Augason Farms gets around the perishability dilemma by selling dried, freezable consumables that have a longer shelf life.
Product restrictions and regulations
Restrictions and regulations on your product and niche choice are annoying at best and crippling at worst. Before you move forward with your product idea, you’ll want to make sure there are no regulations or restrictions on your product selection. At the very least you’ll want to make sure they are manageable.
Certain chemical products, food products, and cosmetics can carry restrictions not only from the country you are importing your goods into but also the countries you’re shipping your products back out to.
Consider making a few phone calls to customs and border services of the country you’ll be importing your product into, along with your warehouse, if you plan on using one, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, in the case of a food or supplement product.
It's difficult to think about the future and growing your business when you’re still in the launching phase. However, scalability should be considered and built into the business model right from the start.
If your product is handmade or contains difficult-to-find materials, think about how to scale it if your business takes off. Will you be able to outsource manufacturing? Will your number of employees have to increase with the number of orders, or will you be able to maintain a small team?
How to find products to sell: 6 tips for effective product research
Whether you’re researching your first or fifth product, keep these product research tips in mind:
- Follow consumer trend publications
- Find bestsellers on Amazon
- Browse social curation sites
- Evaluate B2B wholesale marketplaces
- Observe niche forums
- Ask your own customers
Follow consumer trend publications
Consumer trend publications can expose you to new products and industries you may not have known existed. They also help you stay up to date on the latest trends to remain competitive and discover new product opportunities.
One free platform to follow is Trend Hunter. Trend Hunter is the largest trend community, with more than 200,000 people dedicated to finding the latest trends. You can find trends for anything on this site, including beauty, fashion, culture, luxury, and more.
For example, if you see that “vegan milk initiatives” are trending, you can center your product search around vegan milk items.
Another trend platform to check out is PSFK. It’s a membership website that produces reports and insights around retail and customer experience trends.
Take Inkkas, for example. The brand found the trend for wearing Peruvian textiles and turned it into a shoe business. Inkkas works with local artisan shoemakers in Peru to create the designs, then sells them online.
Find bestsellers on Amazon
Amazon is one of the largest consumer marketplaces in the world. You’ll find thousands of product ideas the minute you land on the site. But it’s easy to get lost in all the products and ads if you don’t have a plan.
To speed up the product research process, go straight to Amazon’s bestsellers list. You can find profitable products from any category, from toys and games to patio, lawn and garden, and more. All products on the list are based on sales and updated hourly. So you’ll never run out of product ideas for your business.
If you want more detailed information about products on Amazon, you can use a product research tool like Jungle Scout. You can easily search for any product by keyword, category, or custom filter with the brand’s product database, a searchable catalog with over 475 million products from Amazon. Or evaluate product ideas in seconds with its Chrome extension. All of this can give you ideas for winning products, whether you’re an Amazon seller or run an online store.
It’s important to look at a few different factors when doing Amazon product research:
- Product listing reviews
- Who is spending on ads
- Product variants
- What product bundles exist
Browse social curation sites
Image curation sites can be a rich source for finding product ideas. Just by looking at likes and trending photos, you can get a sense of market demand for a specific product or niche.
A few sites to check out include:
- Pinterest, the largest visual discovery engine and curation site
- We Heart It, for fashion and beauty product discovery
- Dudepins, for discovering and buying products for men
Evaluate B2B wholesale marketplaces
B2B wholesale marketplaces are a gold mine for finding new product ideas straight from the source. These sites will expose you to thousands of potential product ideas to sell. If you end up liking a product, you can buy it right away.
Two sources you’ll want to check first are Alibaba and AliExpress, which are marketplaces that connect you to manufacturers from Asia. They have hundreds of thousands of products to explore so you can find almost anything.
“The trick is looking at the various marketplaces to see what’s trending, then cross-referencing it with Alibaba to see if you can spin it in a unique way,” says Jeremy Sonne, Founder of Decibel.
Alibaba is for B2B transactions. So if you want to order large quantities of a product directly from manufacturers, you’d use Alibaba.
On the other hand, AliExpress is available to everyone. If you want to test a product, you can order in small batches from AliExpress. You can also do dropshipping with AliExpress.
Other B2B marketplaces to explore are:
Observe niche forums
Industry and niche forums are another way to discover new products to sell. They are also a good place to connect with potential customers over shared experiences and to discuss relevant topics with them.
Some niches, like gaming, have active online communities. For example, if you wanted to do product research, you could head to websites like GameFAQs or NeoGAF to observe discussions around video games.
There’s also Reddit, which is the forum of all forums. You can find communities within Reddit for any topic, like tech, culture, and environment. To date, there are more than 3.4 million subreddits, also known as communities, where people come together to talk about different topics related to the community’s title.
And if you’re still not finding any forums around your niche, try searching Google. Type your niche + forum into the search bar and see what results come up.
Ask your own customers
Whether you have five customers or 500, one of the best ways to get product ideas is from the people who buy from you. You can send an email to your customer base and ask for their feedback on a few product ideas you have in mind.
For example, Planted Detroit offers customers 20% off their next order if they take a survey in a recent post on X (formerly Twitter).
Whether it’s you or your support team sending these emails, you can still get feedback and use it to inform your product development process.
Find your next bestselling product today
Choosing the right product and niche is at the very core of your ecommerce business and is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.
Using the above criteria as a guideline can help you find low-competition, high-demand products that will likely be a success.
Product research FAQ
What’s the difference between product research and market research?
How do you start product research?
Product research is a critical part of choosing the right products and can have a huge impact on the success of your business. Follow these steps to get started:
- Evaluate market size: Use product research tools to learn how many potential customers you might have for your product.
- Analyze the competitive landscape: Explore other brands selling similar products and how they’re marketing them.
- Determine product category: Decide what type of product your audience will enjoy the most.
- Define target customer: Establish who you’re going to sell your products to.
- Figure out the profit margin: Calculate costs to see how much profit you’ll make on each
How do I research a product to sell?
Use these tips to research products to sell:
- Follow consumer trend publications: Explore sites like Trend Hunter to find out what concepts and cultural icons are popular.
- Find top sellers on Amazon: Discover what products sell well in your chosen categories on Amazon.
- Browse social curation sites: Take a look at Pinterest, We Heart It, and other curation sites to identify common trends.
- Evaluate B2B wholesale marketplaces: Check out Alibaba and B2B marketplaces to discover trending products.
- Read niche forums: Find forums dedicated to your niche to explore popular topics and narratives.
- Ask your own customers: Run a customer survey to get feedback on upcoming product ideas.