Choosing a product to sell online

Choosing a product to sell online

The problem of what to sell is common amongst people who want to set up their own businesses. Often entrepreneurial people know, deep down, that they long to set up and manage their own business, but most times haven’t got a clue what to sell, or where to find their product.

This guide is here to help you understand how to choose what you will sell, where to source those products from a South African standpoint, and how to ensure that you will remain passionate about your product in years to come.

Step 1: Look to yourself

The best products you can sell are things you like and know. Ask yourself the following questions:

What do I know better than most other people?

It could be rugby and you worked in a sock factory, and that sparks you to sell the world’s best rugby socks. You may have a specific skill, like graphic design and use that knowledge to sell your unique designs, or you may have knowledge that some people want and will pay for. Your product need not be limited to physical goods. You can sell time, information, or a specific service. As long as you can allocate a selling price to that product you can sell it. The best ideas come from putting what you know into practice.

What hobbies do I enjoy?

If you have a particular hobby, you will have come across specific frustrations you’ve had with the hobby. You may find certain equipment related to that hobby too expensive, or not up to scratch in terms of quality, and you can improve on those. You may like bonsai-ing and find that the bonsai pots locally are low quality, or not big enough, so you find suppliers of bigger, better bonsai pots as an example.

What am I passionate about?

Things which excite you always produce the most fun products to sell as you see your passion spreading to your customers. Maybe you are passionate about Labradors, and decide to print unique Labrador t-shirts, or design collars specifically for Labradors. If you’re passionate about something, you are also less likely to give up on the idea if it doesn’t kick off straight away.

Step 2: Stay niche

In a world of endless choice, the business that owns its market, no matter how small, will win. Your product doesn’t need to be everything to everyone. It should be everything to someone, and that someone should be the niche you’re targeting. You don’t need to open a camping shop if your product is a tent hook. Make the world’s best tent hook and stick with your hook. Eventually you’ll be selling your hook to camping shops.

When you generalise your product offering, you open yourself up to more competition, and more often than not – that competition has more money and clout than you do – so they’ll win. If you appeal to your niche market, they will love you for it, and they will more than likely return for more.

Step 3: Think about the logistics

When people choose their products, they often forget about the logistics of getting it delivered both to themselves and their customers. If your product is bulky or heavy, like furniture, or hardware, then it will be difficult and expensive to ship. This will affect your cost price, your selling price and your customer base. Shoot for smaller items to make sure you can deliver to a wider audience at a better price. Ideally, your product should be no more than 2kg in weight and no more than 40cm long, to ship it affordably. If your product is bigger or heavier than this, you’ll need to think of other ways to get it delivered, and those options, will generally be more expensive.

Step 4: Finding a supplier

There are so many easy ways to find suppliers, but try to use offshore suppliers as a last resort. Local suppliers will be easier to communicate with, understand your needs better, and will avoid any unforeseen costs like VAT, customs and duties.

If you can’t get around using offshore suppliers, make sure you understand the import process. Get in touch with a local logistics company to understand exactly what the implications will be before you go ahead.

Finding a good supplier or manufacturer for your product can be a tough and time consuming process, but go through it. Find at least 3 potential suppliers, talk to them about your needs and get them to send samples of their products, or previous work on other similar products. You will quickly see which ones you can work with, which have the best products and which ones are wasting your time.

Ordering samples can be expensive, but this step may save your business down the line. The last thing you want is to receive a shipment of products you can’t sell because they aren’t up to standard, or aren’t what you ordered. It’s also important to note that the supplier you first use, may not be the supplier you end up with down the line.

Dropshipping is becoming popular in South Africa, and while it is a great, inexpensive way to set your business up initially, this shouldn’t be your long term business strategy. Dropshipping to South Africa from abroad is expensive because of the high shipping costs, and it’s a horrible experience for your customers to wait extended times for their parcels to arrive. If you are going to dropship, make sure you understand the quality of the products your customers will receive before you send them out to your customers.

Step 5: Branding

Before you place your first order, consider branding your products. Branding your products will ensure a longer life for your business, and it will also mean you will be able to charge your customers more for your products because of your brand. Of course a great story, and excellent customer service should back your brand, but that will pay for itself later on. By branding, you can increase the lifespan of your product and your business in general. It’s a differentiator, a quality mark and your customers will pay extra for that association.

Step 6: Guarantees/Warranties

Don’t be afraid to offer guarantees on your products. That will help reinforce your brand, and will instill trust in your customer in terms of their choice to buy from you. Typically, businesses only ever see around 10-15% of their products coming back due to fault or guarantee claims. A guarantee will increase the amount of sales you make, sometimes by as much as 120%, so it’s a good trade off. Build the cost of your guarantee into your price if you need to and take the hassle out of dealing with angry customers before you have any.


Product choices are difficult, but if you dedicate your time to thinking about who you are, what products you like, and the entire process of selling those products online, you’ll eventually find something to sell.

Good luck.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.