Coming up with a great idea for a product to sell online will occasionally strike when you least expect it. Many times though, it’s something you need to be proactively on the lookout for.
The internet contains a wealth of ideas and inspiration, but as a new entrepreneur, where do you begin? Aimlessly searching online will only get you so far, so we’ve compiled a list of the best resources to give you direction and get you started.
17 Places to Find Ecommerce Business Ideas:
- Start with what you have
- Your local community
- Online consumer trend publications
- Industry leaders
- Product and trend discovery sites
- Social curation sites
- B2B wholesale marketplaces
- Online consumer marketplaces
- Social forum communities
- Social media networks
- On-site and third-party customer reviews
- SEO analytics and insights
- Consumer lifestyle publications
- Your competitors
- Audience surveys
- Look to the past
As you go through all the resources listed in this post, it’s vital to keep two things in mind:
While searching for new product ideas, make sure to look beyond the products themselves. It may sound cliche but as we learned in the previous post, there is heavy competition in the most common and popular product categories. Choosing a different or unique angle can be instrumental to your success. Try not to just look at products, rather look for potential in the product category. Consider new markets, new features and new ways to use the products.
Don't be afraid to look at smaller product categories and niches. Even though a niche is a smaller subset of a larger category with less potential customers, it makes up for that by way of less competitors and a more targeted audience. Less competition makes it easier to get to the top of Google, and is usually more cost effective and efficient to advertise to your customers.
In this post we’ll go into detail about the best places to look for product inspiration and ideas. We’ll start with some broad ideas to get your head in the right space to start your search and then get into more specific resources closer to the end of the post.
As you go through this post and the list of resources, it’s best to capture all of your ideas on paper. Once you have all of your brainstormed ideas recorded, you will be able to return to them later and evaluate them for viability and potential.
1. Start with what you have
Before you begin searching the depths of the internet for business ideas and the ends of the earth for product and niche ideas, it’s always best to start with the ideas you already have. Maybe it’s a product or idea you’ve had for years. Maybe it exists in a half-written business plan sitting in a folder somewhere on your computer. Even if you’ve discounted it at some point prior, it’s worth taking a fresh look at it. At one point you thought it was a great idea, right?
Here are a few questions to consider when making your list of internet business ideas:
- What products, niches or industry you are particularly passionate about or interested in?
- What products, niches or industries are your friends passionate about?
- What pain points do you have in your own life?
Example: Sisters/entrepreneurs Lisa Kalberer and Allison Hottinger are passionate about family and tradition. They instill these values in their homes by assembling a manger during the holidays. When friends were interested in starting their own traditions, The Giving Manger was born. The product born of passion attracted the attention of influencers that made the brand a nationwide hit, online and in stores.
Identify pain points and challenges
If there’s a problem, solve it. Consider which pain points you have in your life, or even the pain points of those around you. Active Hound, for example, stepped in to solve the challenge of dog toys that were easily chewed and destroyed. Dog owners would become frustrated with unreliable products, and the expenses can quickly add up. The market for that product was based on this one specific pain point.
2. Your local community
Sometimes, you don’t need a new idea at all. Traditional brick and mortar businesses have been around much longer than their ecommerce counterparts. Paying attention to trends in brick and mortar retail and adapting them to ecommerce can be just the ticket you need to create a profitable and unique internet business idea. Look around your community and take note of what new or interesting retail concepts people are talking about. Your local newspapers can also be a great resource for this type of news and information.
Example: Grocery-delivery service InstaCart is a perfect example of a company that saw a way to take a brick and mortar concept and put it online. Most grocery shopping happens in-store, according to PwC’s 2017 Total Retail Survey, but with the growing popularity of services like Amazon Pantry, there’s an opportunity to drive and capture online sales. Though many consumers may be apprehensive to online grocery shopping, InstaCart partners with brick and mortar retail stores so customers are still shopping from the same grocery store they know and love. This also supports the small business movement, allowing customers to buy from select local grocers.
3. Online consumer trend publications
A great place to start your search for product ideas is to look at some top consumer product trend publications. Following trend publications is great way to begin getting a sense of the direction consumer products are going and the ideas other entrepreneurs are introducing to the market. Following these publications can also expose you to new product categories and industries that you previously didn’t know about. Following what’s trending can help you to dream up new goods, services and experiences for your online business.
There are several popular trend publications online including, but not limited to:
TrendWatching: TrendWatching is an independent trend firm that scans the globe for the most promising consumer trends and insights. TrendWatching has a team of professionals in locations like London, New York, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Lagos who report on worldwide trends.
Trend Hunter: Trend Hunter is the world’s largest, most popular trend community. Fuelled by a global network of 137,000 members and 3,000,000 fans, Trend Hunter is a source of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and the insatiably curious.
Jeremy, the founder of Trend Hunter says, "Like many of us, I was an entrepreneur at heart, but I didn’t know what idea I wanted to pursue. I chose careers that I thought would lead me to my business idea... but after years of searching, I was still hunting for inspiration. It was then that I started Trend Hunter — a place for insatiably curious people to share ideas and get inspired."
PSFK: PSFK is a “business intelligence platform [that] inspires creative professionals as they develop new products, services and experiences across retail, advertising and design.” It analyzes research-based consumer trends and insights that you can use as a jumping-off point and validation for ecommerce business ideas.
Example: A great example of someone who noticed a trend from another country and brought it home is Dan and his product, Inkkas. Inkkas are beautiful, unique shoes made of authentic South American textiles. The idea came about when Dan noticed the trend for these style of shoes in Peru. Determining this was a great product that would also do well in the North American market, he brought the idea home and successfully funded his Kickstarter project, raising over $77,000 in pre-orders.
4. Industry leaders
If you know the industry or niche you would like to be in you can use various tools to discover the influencers in the industry. Following the right people on social media can help inspire new ideas through a constant stream of carefully curated content from the people in the know. It’s up to you to uncover the opportunities.
There are several online tools you can use to discover the influencers online for a particular industry or niche:
5. Product and trend discovery sites
Product review and discovery sites can also be a fantastic source for product and internet business ideas. Sites like Uncrate (men’s products) and AHALife (luxury products) are great ways to see new curated product trends daily. What better way to get inspired than to get a daily glimpse into the new and interesting products other entrepreneurs are bringing to the market.
Here are just a few examples of popular consumer product blogs to get you started:
Don’t just look at the big and popular sites but explore niche reviews sites as well. Consider what types of products and niches you’re particularly interested in and search for consumer product review blogs in those niches.
6. Social curation sites
Polyvore and other similar image curation sites can be a goldmine for product and niche ideas. Many of the images contain interesting, new and trending businesses and consumer products. Using the built in social signals you can sometimes get a sense almost immediately of their popularity. This could be your first clue if there is a market for the product or niche.
Several of the larger social curations sites that may inspire niche business ideas are:
- Polyvore: Polyvore is a way to discover and shop for things you love. Polyvore’s global community has created over 80 million collage-like “sets” that are shared across the web.
- Fancy: Fancy describes themselves as part store, magazine and wish list. Use Fancy to find a gift for any occasion and share your favorite discoveries with all your friends.
- Wanelo: Wanelo (Want - Need - Love) describes itself as a community for all of the worlds shopping, bringing together products and stores in a Pinterest-like product posting format. You can start by checking out out trending people.
- Wishlistr: Wishlistr is a way to collect, organize and track products you want, as well as share that list with others. More than 9 million “wishes” have been listed to date.
7. B2B wholesale marketplaces
What better way to get product ideas than right from the source? This has been a popular option amongst ecommerce entrepreneurs for a while, and this list wouldn’t be complete without it. Wholesale and manufacturer sourcing sites expose you to thousands of potential products ideas. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of products available, so take it slow.
Alibaba: Alibaba is one of the biggest ecommerce companies in the world, up there with Amazon and eBay. The platform connects consumers all over the world with wholesalers and manufacturers from Asia. With hundreds of thousands of products, there’s not much you can’t find on Alibaba.
Although it’s generally accepted that Alibaba is the largest online wholesale and manufacturer database, there are many other sites similar to Alibaba you can use for inspiration and to find product ideas.
Oberlo: is a marketplace owned by Shopify where you can purchase products to sell on Shopify from suppliers. These suppliers provide automated order fulfillment services, so it’s a popular turnkey option for many entrepreneurs deciding what to sell on Shopify. Browse what’s available and review Oberlo’s trending products to help come up with your own ideas.
Some other B2B wholesale marketplaces include:
8. Online consumer marketplaces
Another rich source for product ideas are online consumer marketplaces. Millions of products is probably an understatement, so you may want to begin your search with some of the popular and trending items and branch out into other interesting categories that catch your eye from there:
eBay: eBay is the largest online consumer auction site. Use eBay Market Research to find some of the most popular product categories on eBay.
Amazon: Amazon is the largest internet retailer.Amazon Best Sellers shows Amazon’s most popular products based on sales. Amazon Movers & Shakers displays the biggest gainers in sales rank over the past 24 hours. Both are updated hourly.
Kickstarter: Kickstarter is the largest crowd-funding website. Browse all projects by popularity, funding, staff picks, as well as many other options with Kickstarter Discover.
Etsy: Etsy is a marketplace for handmade items. Look up what’s trending to find the most popular listings.
9. Social forum communities
Reddit is the largest social media news aggregator. It describes itself as the front page of the internet and is enormously influential. Reddit has thousands of “subreddits” which are sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and and areas of interest. It’s within these subreddits that you can find lots of inspiration for your next product or business idea.
If you have an idea for a particular industry, niche or product category, it’s worth doing a search and finding a suitable subreddit community to join and actively become a part of.
There are also many product focused subreddits that are packed with ideas.
Here are a few examples:
- Buy It For Life: For practical, durable and quality made products that are built to last.
- Shut Up And Take My Money: Interesting, clever, useful products that people want, badly.
There are also several subreddits for curated Amazon products, make sure to check out the following:
- The Best of Amazon
- The Best of Amazon Canada
- Weird Stuff on Amazon
- Find It On Amazon
- Amazon Under 25
If you’re active on Reddit and pay close attention, occasionally you have come across interesting posts like this one, which asks commenters to share their best purchases for under $50.
No matter which approach you take, Reddit has been and continues to be a valuable source of ecommerce business ideas and inspiration, coupled with a great and supportive community.
Quora is a community question-and-answer site, “a place to gain and share knowledge,” as the company says. Essentially, users come to Quora to ask and answer questions about pretty much anything and everything. Like Reddit’s subreddits, Quora has topics that you can choose to add to your own customized feed. Consider adding some product- or industry-related feeds, as well as anything else inspired by online business.
Quora also shows which topics and questions are trending, as well as a count of the total number of answers (each with a number of upvotes and downvotes from the community).
Once you populate your feed, you’ll start to discover questions and answers that may inspire ecommerce business ideas. Here are a few:
- What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
- What’s your favorite product?
- What would you buy from Amazon?
Industry and niche forums
Depending on the industry you’re targeting, there may be niche forum sites that you can tap into for product ideas to sell. Gaming is one industry that has an active online community, and you can check out forums like GameFAQs or NeoGAF. Here are a few other industry forum sites for niche product ideas:
10. Social media networks
There are a few ways you can use social media to search for product and niche ideas.
Hashtag: If you have a particular interest in a product category or industry, you can try searching for applicable hashtags. Another great option is to do a search on social media for hashtags that indicate buyer interest and intent like #want and #buy.
Product curation accounts: There are many accounts on Instagram that post curated product content. Like many other examples above, you’ll likely want to search for and find accounts within the niches you are particularly interested in.
Audience insights: If you already have a business page on one or more social media platform, you may be able to use your audience data to find ecommerce business ideas. Understand which pages, hobbies, interests and other characteristics they have in common and brainstorm products based on those insights.
Instagram isn’t just pictures of food and dogs, it is also an interesting option for inspiring product and ecommerce business ideas. Because it’s photo-based, it’s easy to scan through many ideas and photos quickly.
Facebook still has the most active users out of any social media platform. If there’s a market you’re trying to reach, there’s a chance they’re on Facebook. In addition to hashtags, trending topics and popular pages, check out which Facebook groups are popular in your niche. You may be able to participate and find inspiration through those communities.
The average order of value of sales coming through Pinterest is higher than any other social channel. This indicates that Pinterest users are browsing, shopping and buying, making it an ideal spot to research popular products and trends. Another visual platform, it’s easy to scan and find inspiration for ecommerce business ideas. Don’t forget to check out the popular section for what’s trending.
Especially ideal for a younger demographic, Snapchat admittedly has more limited capabilities in terms of identifying trends. Use the Discover option to find out what the Snapchat community is talking about and follower influencers in your niche to gain more insight into their needs and motivations.
Twitter trends will be helpful in finding new ecommerce business ideas. You’ll be able to see what’s popular in your network or a chosen location. You’ll find these trends on the left-hand side when you log in at twitter.com, or look for the Explore option when you’re on the mobile app.
Niche social media sites
If you’re searching for niche product ideas, social media sites dedicated to related topics and hobbies are another way to gain insights into new product ideas. Here are a few, as examples:
11. On-site and third-party customer reviews
If you already have a business (online or in real life), check out your own customer reviews. Savvy entrepreneurs consider customer recommendations, the motivation behind it, and respond accordingly.
If you don’t have any reviews of your own to consider, look at reviews of companies and products in your niche. Identify commonalities, paying careful attention to customer complaints, and determine how you can create a product that will address those concerns. Amazon is an especially great place to find honest customer reviews.
12. SEO analytics and insights
Search engine optimization (SEO), insights can show you what’s trending on search globally or targeted to specific geographic locations. Google has a number of free and paid tools you can use
Google Trends: Find out what’s trending, globally and regionally, and choose from specific topics like Business, Health and Sci/Tech. You can also browse Top Stories to see what’s most popular. If you have a specific market or idea, you can also research keywords to find common related searches, as well as anticipated peaks in search volume (which can help dictate timing for your product launch).
Google Keyword Planner: Keyword Planner will help you find average search volume and related keywords to your chosen phrases. You can also look at AdWord competition to gauge whether someone else is bidding on your targeted phrases for your ecommerce business idea.
Google Analytics: If you already have a website, use the data from Google Analytics to find out which terms users are searching to find your site. Volume isn’t always important: There may be a longtail, descriptive search phrase that makes you think of your next big idea! You can also use data from your onsite search to find the same insights.
Google search: Google.com is an often-forgotten tool to use in your SEO research. There are a few key areas to look when you’re look at a search on Google.com: predicted text (as you type your query in the search bar), paid ads at the top and on the side rail, suggested searches (at the bottom of the page), and Google Shopping results. Remember to check out images and news, too.
13. Consumer lifestyle publications
Consumer-facing publications in your industry can reveal a lot about a market segment and what’s trending. Consider what these publications are talking about and which articles resonate most with the audience. To find out which articles are most popular, look at how many comments, social media engagements, or social media shares the content has received. The more popular articles could inspire niche market ideas.
14. Your competitors
Learn from the successes of your competitors and popular businesses in your chosen industry. Which products have they launched with the most success? Why were they so successful? Sometimes, brands will share the why and how behind new products.
Beyond your competitors’ products, examine their community. Who is their audience and why do they love those products? Look at what the brand is saying to consumers, as well as how customers are interacting with them online. Identify gaps in your competitors’ product offerings and look for ways to fill those gaps with your new product.
15. Audience surveys
Surveys are one of the best ways to get qualitative and quantitative insights into an audience. Craft questions about the problems and challenges they face, which products they love most and why, and what they wish they had to enhance their everyday life. Keep a mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions that will let you inside respondents’ heads. Use this information when you brainstorm your ecommerce business ideas.
Here are some tools you can use to create and distribute your survey:
Crowdsourcing is along similar lines as surveying, except when it comes to crowdsourcing, you’re asking for ideas more overtly. LEGO Ideas is a prime example of a brand that uses crowdsourcing to find new product ideas to sell. Consumers can submit their ideas for LEGO sets, and the site also features popular and successful ideas. Create your own crowdsourced ideas or look to those hubs for inspiration.
If you want to organize your own crowdsourcing campaign for product ideas to sell, check out the following:
17. Look to the past
One way to learn is from the past. Through examining history and old trends, you can come up with a list of revived product ideas to sell. This is one tactic that Dogfish Head Craft Brewery came up with their product series of Ancient Ales, which uses old-school brewing techniques.
But history doesn’t necessarily mean historical events and techniques. It’s also about pop culture trends. In fashion especially, we often see the resurgence of trends, and consumers love nostalgia. Choker necklaces have made a comeback, and countless movie and TV show reboots have created renewed interest and passion for consumers. You can evoke this sense of nostalgia through a product that is no longer available or highlights a seemingly forgotten subject likely to inspire fond memories.
Read this next
Now you’re equipped with resources to help you come up with a great list of initial products ideas to start. Next up, we’ll look through all of the resources ourselves and share some interesting product ideas with you. Keep the journey going by reading the next article in the series: What To Sell Online: 10 Interesting Product Ideas Trending Right Now.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.