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E-commerce is not only changing the way we buy products, but also how we sell them. Competition is fierce in the age of Amazon and Alibaba, and sellers must work even harder to make sure that their products don’t drown in the sea of identical private label and unbranded products.
In this interview, Pilar Newman – a leading Amazon and E-commerce expert based in Brooklyn, NYC – explains what you must do to ensure that your products stand out in a crowded marketplace.
She also explains why product selection is not only about data or statistics, and why the lowest price point is not always the key to success.
Before we get started, please introduce yourself to our readers
I’m an 8+ year veteran Amazon seller. I started off doing retail arbitrage as a means to supplement my income. Once I started to make a significant income on the site, I quit my job and took my business to full-time status.
That was 4 years ago. I pride myself on having learned how to sell on Amazon from the school of Trial and Error! This is also what gives me my unique perspective on finding profitable products to sell.
Now, I sell Private Label items across various niches on Amazon using the FBA program. The freedom that the FBA program has given me, allows me time to travel the world and work from my laptop.
Additionally, I’ve spent the last two years doing one-on-one coaching with Amazon Sellers of various levels. This experience led me to put together a comprehensive course for sellers looking to start and excel with selling on Amazon FBA. But before they can go through the course, I have them take my free Product Research Training Videos.
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Part of my self-described ‘job description’ involves traveling the world and educating myself on products out there!
There’s an infinite amount of ideas that come about when you open yourself to international travel. Plus, you never know who you’ll meet on the road that could potentially introduce you to a new business contact. But while I do offer products from both Spain and Japan, I still source the majority of my products in China.
This continues to be the most cost-effective option for my product needs.
I enlist sourcing agents in China to help cut down on the amount of time it takes to find a supplier or manufacturer of a product and take it to market. This is not the most economical way to buy a product, which is why most people overlook working with agents.
They don’t want someone to take a cut off the top to help them with the product sourcing process. I think of it differently and it has served me well throughout all these years.
My sourcing agents in China are my eyes and ears on the ground. The most helpful ones have a good understanding of what’s happening in the marketplace. Many times they have led me in the direction of some of my best selling items.
One of my agents even sells to a guy that sells his items to big box stores! That right there tells you the importance of fast turn around time rather than always going the route of lowest price point.
Ultimately, sourcing agents provide me with more time to work on marketing a new product. My healthy profit margins speak to the success of using this sourcing method to sell products online.
How do you go about finding the right product for your audience?
Truthfully – It’s a gut feeling. When I see something, I can almost immediately tell whether the item is worth testing out with my audience or not. I know. It’s not the type of answer one really wants to hear.
But this innate skill was built up over years of selling across various niches. During this time, I gained a better understanding of my audience’s needs and wants.
When I was creating my free products research training course, I was able to break down the process of doing product research in a more tangible manner. In a nut shell, it begins with understanding the platform one is selling on.
For example, Amazon attracts many bargain shoppers, and they love to use their Prime membership benefits for fast delivery options. Hence, it makes sense to offer key competitively priced items using the FBA program. In order to find a suitable product to sell, one must decide on which audience they want to serve.
If they don’t know much about the niche audience, then one can enlist various approaches in learning about them via social media gathering circles.
This can be as simple as joining a Crochet Knitting Social Group on a site such as Facebook. From there, one reverse engineers a product based on what they’ve learned about the niche buyers. I explain this in further detail and with examples in the free products research training course.
Isn’t there a risk that product niches get crowded very quickly, as more and more businesses apply a data driven approach to product selection?
If you really think about it, most all niches are already crowded with product offerings. But people continue to introduce products and profit from these niches. How is that? It’s definitely not by following the crowd! If I slap my Private Label logo on the same product you have, then price becomes the deciding factor for the buyer. It then becomes a race to the bottom with who can offer the better price.
When you use a logical approach to product selection, you are better able to accommodate to the needs of your customers in real time. You can do this by taking advantage of trends, creating more value-add products, introducing complementary items, or even inventing a new and improved product.
Once you’ve listening to your customers’ needs and created a product well-suited for them, the focus then turns to optimizing your product listing, Amazon Sponsored Ads and cross-selling them on another one of your items.
Assuming that you are in a relatively crowded niche, what can you do to make your product stand out?
In the Amazon world, standing out from the crowd means offering a product that doesn’t look exactly like your competitor’s products. That’s one way. Another way to stand out is to increase the perceived value of your product through offering e-books or enhancing the product through customization.
But I do find that one of the best ways to have your product stand out is to bring products on the marketplace that are not easily found online. For example, most people go to Aliexpress, lift an item from there and put it on Amazon to sell at a higher price point.
This is a common pitfall for new sellers. Other than going to something like the Canton Fair and seeing products that are not easily found online, your next best bet is to enlist your vendor to help with product suggestions.
I do this time and time again with great success! I’ll point out to my vendors in China an item I see online that is doing well and ask them for recommendations along the same product line or niche.
My vendors know that if I can find it on Aliexpress or Alibaba, then I don’t want to see it. They always come back with great recommendations that lead me to new product offerings. Leverage the resources you already have to bring new, relatively unknown products to the marketplace.
That’s one of the best ways to get your product seen in a relatively crowded niche.
If we all apply a data driven approach to product selection, wouldn’t that stifle innovation? Perhaps we would all be thinking within the same box, rather than update products.
Yes, I agree that a data driven approach to product selection could potentially stifle product innovation. One important piece of information to remember here is that many of us Amazon sellers are truly just marketers.
Most Amazon sellers aren’t selling products they’ve invented. As marketers, we recognize that the Amazon platform brings with it built in traffic of repeat buyers. Our job is to find a product worthwhile enough to test out the proposition, and then to maximize the traffic on the platform to bring maximum exposure and profits to our items.
Inventors are the real innovators. Some inventors are not good marketers. One way to make money on Amazon could be partnering up with an inventor and helping them market their item on Amazon FBA.
You’ve been selling on Amazon for years. Do you use any other sales channels?
I have a Shopify storefront for my items on my 2nd Amazon account. But I haven’t been as active with my Shopify storefront in sending traffic to it. When you have a ‘seasoned’ Amazon account for 8.5yrs, it’s easy to completely focus on that and continue building complementary items across my profitable product line niches. It’s almost automatic at this point.
I have to be one of the very few that’s been able to sell on Amazon this long and make a full-time income without having an outside storefront!
That’s been slowly changing though as I’ve tested out selling my products on FB with a private niche group and have seen good initial results from that. Ask me this question again in a year and I’m sure my answer will be very different from today.
Do you apply different strategies when selecting products for different marketplaces?
Yes-ish. I’ll explain. This is what I’ve noticed in my initial trials of selling products off the Amazon platform.
There are some products that require more touch points, or rather further education on them before someone decides to purchase it. For example, these types of products may be higher priced items or something in which you’re asking people to change their normal behavior or habits.
Those products would require a separate storefront where the brand story and the value of the product proposition could be better represented. As an example, I have an extra virgin olive oil that I’m selling in my second Amazon storefront. I also have a Shopify storefront and a FB fan page for it.
Not everyone is willing to part ways with their EVOO and try a new one! This sort of a product requires more attention.
For regular items I sell only on Amazon, there’s a definite strategic approach I take for product selection. Amazon shoppers tend to be bargain buyers. They are also used to fast shipping with their Prime memberships. With this in mind, my products mostly fall within a sweet spot price point of $15 – $25.
They tend to be light-weight and quick turnaround items. The price is good enough for them to simply add it to their cart and checkout without much thought. I also sell across multiple niches. Basically, I’m looking for the ‘holes’ in product offerings on the site and take advantage of those opportunities.
This is a continuous process and it doesn’t pigeon hole me into one particular product line offering or category. I often refer to this as “flipping products on Amazon.”
You recently launched an online course for Amazon sellers. Can you tell us a bit about this?
Yes, the course is something I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time. Essentially, it came about after hearing so many of my one-on-one coaching clients ask me the same question: “How do I find a profitable product to sell on Amazon?”
Most sellers that would come to me had spent so much time on implementing systems in order to sell their product that they completely neglected finding the best possible product to sell. No amount of systems in place will sell a product that no one’s interested in buying.
The other pain point I would commonly hear from sellers is that they were overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge needed to start an Amazon business. They felt it was necessary to have an outside website for their product as well as know how to run social media traffic to their product.
And while those pieces do become important to further scale one’s business, it’s completely possible to run a full-time Amazon business with simply knowing how to work within the Amazon eco-system. I’m a great example of that!
My course is focused solely around working within the Amazon eco-system in order to optimize for best results as well as finding the right product to sell. This makes learning the Amazon selling process more manageable and less overwhelming.
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Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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