Choosing the Perfect Product

I see a lot of posts and concerns from sellers in forums and on Facebook about the perfect product to sell on Amazon. There is no such thing. There are products that are more or less difficult to launch, but unless you’re selling something like an 8 track recorder or corded rotary phone, then you can probably make it work. And even those can work well on eBay and Etsy!

What these approaches fail to take into account is that there is no magic formula for getting massively rich. There are products that will be more or less successful, and as a leader in compliance as part of the team that grew AmazonBasics from an already successful brand to triple its size in two years, I will be the first to tell you that there are some products that are more successful than others by far. But, if you are filling a gap within the market, then there are always ways to be successful selling your chosen product.

The Rachel Greer method for choosing a product:

  1. Find something you can be passionate about. This could be passion in that it’s your personal hobby or obsession, something you know and understand deeply. It could mean passionate in that it is something that you have had a hard time finding in the past when you needed it, or exactly with the features you needed, and this was a frustrating experience – anything you have significant emotional responses to will help you to invest the time and effort needed to make your product and brand successful. Picking a product based on sales alone is rather boring, and when you’re just starting out, you need something to keep you going other than the potential to make money.
  2. Test the market – do retail arbitrage, or check the comparative sales of products similar to what you want to launch. I don’t typically recommend the buy from Aliexpress or small batch from Alibaba route because Amazon’s reviews and sales ranks give great initial information, and I’m a product safety and quality assurance expert – recalls have happened before at 4 units, and even a small run of horribly crappy or IP infringing products can do terrible damage to your Amazon account. As such, I prefer to work with clients to find marketability indicators outside of market testing sales.
  3. Make sure you can be profitable with the price/cost combination you’ve found. If you’re sourcing from the US or Western Europe, you must charge more for your product, because typically your base costs are higher, right? Maybe – sometimes it’s actually cheaper to source domestically than import because China is getting more expensive than it used to be – although that trend appears to be slowing – and logistics and duty costs must be included as part of your overall profitability proposition. If you can’t be profitable on a product in the US or China, branch out – there are many places production is done in the world, with varying types of issues that occur, but certainly the costs for textiles can be much lower in the Indian subcontinent or the Caribbean, or the costs for furniture and other household goods can be far cheaper in SE Asia. While Africa is still an up and coming market and primarily exports raw materials, there are many potential sources for product along the west coast of Africa and especially in South Africa. Food imports from Africa can also be quite profitable.
  4. Evaluate the competition and your pocketbook’s depth. I never say, “don’t do that.” I always provide clients with “if you want to do this, here is the level of competition you’ll likely face, and here are the regulatory and safety risks.” I don’t believe that any product is out of scope; it’s more about what your goals are long term for your brand, and how much effort and cost you’re willing to put in to make that product a success. If you have limited funds, then an electrical, food contact, or children’s product isn’t a good place to start. Try something less risky from a customer experience and safety perspective. Don’t choose not to enter an area because it’s too competitive – recognize that it will take longer to get that recognition for yourself, and make sure you have a marketing and advertising budget.
  5. Make sure the product you are marketing is the product you are selling. This is essential! A lot of new sellers get into the mindset of testing the market but not testing their product. If you aren’t doing validation testing, quality testing, safety testing – then you have no idea what kind of problems customers will encounter with your product until AFTER the complaints and returns start coming in. Not to mention, it needs to meet regulatory compliance at a minimum. Nothing irritates a customer more than being sold a premium product and getting a slightly better than average product. They would rather be sold an average product and get something slightly better than average. If you sell the same product at the same price point, but you market it differently, you will get a vastly different customer response.
  6. Always take the customer seriously. Once you launch, it can be tempting to say that it’s the customer’s fault, or they just didn’t get it. Maybe so… which means you need to help them get it. Your goal is to sell to these “dumb customers” and not get burned by them. But beyond that, most customers aren’t dumb, and simply need feedback in the form of e-books or inserts, or a PDF guide sent in your follow-up emails to them asking for reviews (yes, you DO need to do this too). If your goal is to build a brand long term, you need customers who will love what your brand stands for. Every brand started small at some point, and made sure to take care of those customers that they got, and then grew that customer base over time. Treating your customer like the enemy is a good way to fail in a hot minute.

Some examples of branded products to sell that many sellers would stay away from (breakables, large box sizes, saturated markets) but with enough passion, drive, and discipline, can turn into a viable business:

Simple household furniture – the cons here are that they must go to a non-sortable FC, so the FBA fees are higher, and these are expensive to produce now in China. So, source in Malaysia, Vietnam, or Indonesia, and voila! The costs now make sense.

 

Socks – if there is any example of a saturated market, socks are it. I would say socks are just as saturated as consumer electronics. But, there is always a market for unique and interesting socks, or socks with exceptional properties, such as soft hand feel wool socks, or thin and durable 100% Rayon from Bamboo socks. The key in a saturated market is to stand out – find Instagramers to feature your products, YouTube videos from fashionistas, Facebook ads to drive traffic, since on Amazon itself, the costs for PPC are too high in saturated markets.

Glass – glass is one of the oldest industries in the world, after stone tools, iron tools, and bricks/ceramics. Ball jars are one of the oldest and most respected glass brands in the US, and this entrepreneur has found a way to make this glass new. Selling glass or other breakables on e-commerce channels requires exceptionally good packaging. ISTA 3A is a must to ensure that the products can make it by either truck or air to their destination. I would recommend wood pulp molds in thick corrugate to ship something like glass. It also makes the product easier to return if a customer doesn’t like it, unlike bubble wrap which the customer damages while opening, and in the return process to the FC, the glass may become damaged and unsellable.

In the end, the “perfect product” is the one that you want to sell, that you have the funds to invest in to develop, test, and launch, and that meets your criteria for profitability. Otherwise, there are no other rules about perfection.

About the Author
I got my first job at Amazon because of my German language skills from my Master’s in History. Take that, people who said I’d never get a good job with my liberal arts degree! I soon learned that I’m not good at taking orders and started my MBA coursework at Seattle University.

After more than seven years at Amazon in Fraud/Transaction Risk and Product Compliance & Sustainability, I left to spend more time with my husband and two beautiful children and launch my own business. Unfortunately, I thought I needed more stability and went back to Amazon while my talented and capable husband led the company from December 2016 to June 2017. But Amazon no longer fit me, or I didn't fit it anymore. I decided stability was overrated and I am so grateful to be back doing what I love!

In my not significant free time, I do fiber crafts such as spinning, crocheting, and embroidery, and I have been in a community band since 2009, playing French Horn, Trombone, or Euphonium depending on the band’s needs that season.

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