Just about any product can be sold online. But let’s be quite clear; some products sell much better than others. Let’s think about some product characteristics that both help and hurt products when selling online.
You can also read: Launching Profitable a Business Online
What Makes a Good Online Product?
The price:weight ratio needs to be high; that is the price, in
comparison to the weight, needs to be high. Books have a very high price:weight ratio-a book might be worth, say, $30/lb. Sugar might be around 35 cents/lb. The price:weight ratio issue is why it’s hard to sell sugar, cement, and charcoal online.
Less available is good. Available everywhere is bad. That’s why it’s hard to sell candy bars online.
Products that are essential information sell well online. Books, reports, reference materials… even music is an information product, really. Why do they do well online?
Because online technology provides a very efficient way to deliver information. It’s fast, and it’s cheap. It’s no wonder that books were the first major product category online and remain one of the primary categories.
Complicated products requiring research
The Internet is the perfect research tool, of course. Products that require careful selection—products with many different features-often do well online.
Wide selection of specialty products
An example is one of the earliest small-biz successes, HotHotHot.com, an online success for over a decade. Sure, you can find hot sauce in any grocery store. But can you find Jamaican Hell Fire, Rigor Mortis Hot Sauce, 99%, or 3:00 am? (The company provides 100 different brands.) Have you ever heard of these?
Another example is RedWagons.com. Certainly, you can find two or three different Radio Flyer wagons in most toy stores, but where else can you find every Radio Flyer product made—steel wagons, plastic wagons, trikes, scooters, retro rockets, roadsters, and everything else?
There’s a class of goods that crosses all classes and even covers products that you might think of as Not Good Internet Products. If you can sell a particular product at a very low price, you may have a good Internet product. Hey, if you can get the price of sugar down low enough, you might be able to sell that online.
“Cool” products that sell themselves through word of mouth
There are some products that are just so cool, people tell their friends. One company that gets fantastic word of mouth is ThinkGeek.com, which sells tons of really cool stuff.
Another example of a great word-of-mouth site is Despair.com. This company sells products that people put on their office walls and laugh about with their friends.
No need to touch, smell, or even see clearly
Products that really require a close view generally don’t sell well online. That’s why it’s hard to sell furniture online and difficult to sell unique works of art or perfume. And that’s why well-known brands can sell online … because people know what they’re getting. In other words, although it’s hard to sell a perfume that your potential buyers have never smelled, it’s easy to sell perfume from Christian Dior.
High-value products are good
You may do better selling a $500 product than a $5 product. You’ll have less competition—making it easier to compete using Pay Per Click (see Chapter 22) and in natural search—and will make much higher “margins” (gross profit). Low-price products can be very difficult to deal with online. Think very seriously before selling anything below, say, $50, unless you’re pretty sure you can really pump out high volumes.
Junk is hard to sell
This may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many merchants just post any kind of junk online and hope to make a business out of it. Mass-produced statuettes of kittens from China, junk jewelry, handicrafts from the wilds of Wisconsin … come on, you can do better!
Products you understand and love
These are easier to sell. If you have a passion for skydiving, there’s a natural business for you selling skydiving products.
Having said all that, it’s important to realize that every rule can be broken. Groceries can be sold online, for instance. Diamonds, products that most jewelers would say need to be looked at carefully before purchase, are selling very well online. And though Furniture.com crashed and the big grocery-store sites (PeaPod.com) went down with it, some companies are selling furniture online and some companies are selling groceries online. (PeaPod, for instance, was bought up by a grocery chain.) So you can break the rules. But you’d better have a good reason to believe that it will work.