The Web is a huge marketplace that has attracted businesses with its potential for big-time revenues. Dizzying success stories of ventures started in a basement that grew to become stock market’s darlings are constantly parlayed in the media. Small businesses came to the Internet, tentative at first, and then in droves – eager to sell everything from fake estate jewelry to handcrafted tapestries.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, you read these stories with a tinge of envy as you begin to ask yourself how you can partake of the success other people are enjoying on the Internet. “What can I sell on the Internet?” becomes the crucial question.
Not all products can be sold on the Internet. Some products may be better suited for online sales than others; others simply will not work on this new commercial medium. According to an Ernst and Young study, the most popular online purchases are computer related products (40%), books (20%), travel (16%), clothing (10%), recorded music (6%), subscriptions (6%), gifts (5%) and investments (4%).
The kinds of products and services that sell best on the Internet are those that take advantage of the convenience of the Net. Remember that convenience is the primary reason why consumers flock on the Internet in the first place. People can shop any hour of the day at any site. They can avoid crowded stores, irritating sales clerks, and even avoid pickpockets.
The success of any business starts with the right choice of product or service. Small business owners need to keep an open mind about the suitability of products for Web sales. To increase your chances of success in e-commerce, you need to choose products or service that exhibit the following characteristics:
Offbeat or unusual products and services often attract online attention and sell strongly. You would not-in general try to sell items people can get at the corner store. Thus, few toothbrushes are sold on the Net; the same thing with daily food and beverage purchases. But special cheeses, rare cigars, Turkish plates, long-aged wines, even diamonds, can — and do — sell on the Net.
Products suitable for shipping by mail.
Most products sold by catalog and mail order also sell well on the Net. Choose products that could be shipped easily. Stay away from bulkier and heavier products that would result in higher shipping and handling costs. Higher shipping costs diminish the price competitiveness of online products and turns-off a lot of potential buyers. In fact, high shipping costs is the primary factor that discourages people from buying online more than any other single reason. Another Ernst and Young report shows that 53 percent of online shoppers are concerned with shipping costs that are too high, compared to only 19 percent who are concerned with credit cards being stolen.
Take for example dog food. A 40-pound dog food costs about $31 in one online pet store – a price that is in itself slightly more expensive than your neighborhood grocery store. While price differential may not seem much, add to that price the shipping costs of $8.99 and the gains from buying online diminish. Why pay more for shipping costs when you can easily run to your nearest grocery store to buy your dog food – at a significantly lower price? As the merchant, you need to rethink your product offering if your shipping cost will price you out of the market.
High shipping costs can be a deterrent to online sales — UNLESS — there is an additional value to what you offer. Are your products something that they won’t easily see and buy from the local stores? Are you bundling your product with other complementary products that buyers will think that they’re getting your bundled products at a significant discount? The key is to offer additional value, that buyers will be willing to overlook the high shipping fees.
The Internet is primarily used to communicate, entertain, educate and research. It is thus no wonder that nonperishable, information-intensive products – including computers and software, books, travel, consumer electronics, magazine subscriptions – are the most popular online products at present. Content-rich sites, subscription-based sites to advertiser-supported sites focusing on a wide range of topics, have been sprouting all over the Internet.
Downloadable products such as software, apps, music files, ebooks, photos and clip art, web design themes are ideal for the Web. You can sell downloadable products that will be made available to buyers as soon as purchased.
The challenge you will be faced is when customers want to ask for a refund and “return” the product for some reason. Given that you’ll never know if they have already saved the product on their computers, it is important to make your refund and return policies very clear to customers BEFORE the purchase. If no refunds are allowed for downloadable products, you need to make it clear with the buyer at the start.
Services such as hotel reservation, air travel and investments have successfully translated themselves to the Internet. A couple in California is earning big bucks from the surfing school business that they established online, where people pay and come to their place to learn how to surf.
The Web, however, is less effective when face-to-face selling is needed to close a deal. The Net can give lots of preliminary information that’s useful in setting the scene for the closing. But the actual closing takes place offline – i.e., not on the Internet. For service businesses, it is easier to use the Net to bring people into your home-office to complete the deal. Then you have the face-to-face meeting needed to present, and sign, papers and other documents.
The Internet offers a lot of growth potential and opportunities. Growth will come from new markets, as well as new categories of retail. Just a few years ago, selling apparel online was not considered appropriate on the Internet. Today, apparel sales are growing rapidly.
Whatever your product, a successful e-commerce venture will be those that are able to provide convenience combined with superb service and outstanding reliability of delivery.