Thinking about launching an ecommerce business, but don’t know where to start? Well, an ecommerce business idea would be helpful.
Of course, that’s just for starters.
While you can peruse books and guides on how exactly to start a successful, long-term online store –– every entrepreneur everywhere has to start at the exact same place.
And that place requires you to answer this 1 question:
What are you going to sell?
From there, you’ll then launch into competitive reviews and building your online store –– just 2 more steps on the way to building a long-term, successful venture.
But it all starts with what your product is. And, some even argue, the ultimate success of your business is also all about your product.
Marketing, social media reviews, customer lifetime loyalty –– all of those are easier when your product speaks for itself.
So, while some of us are lucky enough to have online store ideas find us, others of us –– well, we have to search.
Top 16 Ecommerce Business Ideas of 2018
To help save you time and energy, we picked the brains of some of the industry’s most trusted and successful entrepreneurs, marketers and researchers to get their thoughts on business opportunities with huge growth potential. Dive on in and learn more about their favorite ecommerce business ideas for 2018.
1.) Niche fashion communities build fast and sell well.
Niche fashion sites are a huge ecommerce opportunity. Niche fashion communities serve those audiences with hard-to-find or hard-to-fit needs. Those communities can also serve up coming mindsets and trends –– like minimalism or the Great Return of Bell Bottoms (emphasis my own).
Here are a couple of site examples for you before we dive in what the experts have to say:
While the fashion and garment industry is incredibly crowded, I’ve been having trouble finding minimalist clothing without branding and with quality fabric.
I shop at James Perse and Everlane, but I’d love to see a store that just focused on selling incredible-quality monotone-colored clothes that you could order in pairs of 5 or 10.
This would appeal to a very niche audience, but I think creating an incredible quality brand that only specializes in simple outfits could possibly do well with people like millennials who are looking to dress more minimally and worry less about making choices regarding their clothing.
Brett Owens, Marketing Director & Co-Founder, LeadDyno
Clothing, clothing, clothing. There is an endless demand for clothing products of all types!
Nearly 40% of the affiliates and influencers in our ecommerce affiliate network have this checked off as a category of interest for them.
Find a niche apparel product and sell it. There are plenty of influencers out there who would love to help you promote it, and plenty of folks who are waiting to buy it.
2.) Digital health services are on the rise.
Digital health services here means a couple things:
The ecommerce capabilities for patients and others affected to buy items previously only sold in office
Products that help people prevent health issues, including more education around health in general
So, before we dive into the advice, let’s look at two that do these 2 things.
National Autism Resources creates a community-like online space for parents and practitioners, as well as offers helpful items and education to help people find what they need, and then get it delivered to them.
Jigsaw Health is highly committed to education around magnesium for their customers and potential new customers. They write frequently on their blog, use videos to help spread the word on YouTube and Facebook and ultimately have turned the product they sell into an educated community.
I would say the most underserved niche is the digital health market.
Digital health has been emerging for a long time and most products are not being sold online due to the regulations.
There are a lot of ecommerce business opportunities for health-care companies to evolve in the online space and increase their revenues. An idea I would recommend to an entrepreneur is around building a product that helps digital health products become more readily available for those in need.
It may be a smaller niche than Amazon that just focuses on health care products but it would make it easier for providers and patients to get things at their convenience.
3.) Go Industrial for high margins with little competition.
Launching in B2B or the industrial ecommerce industries is hard. It has a high barrier to entry –– but then again, the margins you make from it are also much higher. And, you typically spend less on marketing to boot!
Best yet –– few other B2B brands have figured out how to sell something online well and at scale. That means that if you have any ecommerce chops at all, this market is ripe for you.
Most people don’t dream of owning a business selling generators. That is, unless it’s highly profitable. With few others on the market to compete, thanks to a high barrier to entry as well as costly shipping and storage, AP Electric nearly owns the market.
What I love the most about 1-800-Stencil is that this B2B brand is *very* good at Facebook marketing. I see their ads often, and the comments on them are the only social proof any B2B buyer would need to pull the conversion trigger.
By focusing on a niche, B2B market and trying out various B2C growth tactics, 1-800-Stencil leads the industry in their vertical.
The most underserved niche for ecommerce is in B2B.
As B2B buyers become younger and younger, more opportunities are opening up for B2B brands to sell their products online and turn ecommerce into a viable online business for their brand.
In many cases, B2B brands think of themselves as regional businesses, but with technology today, there’s opportunities to reach new marketers with a simple website, shipping processes and understanding of how their customers are using Google to find solutions like theirs.
From telephone providers and bottling equipment to sensors and interior design services, B2B is one of the most underrated yet high-potential opportunities for ecommerce entrepreneurs.
An industry that is underserved by ecommerce is the industrial equipment and industrial pharmaceutical equipment industry.
A lot of companies that sell expensive equipment stay away from online stores, but I’ve worked with clients who were selling tons of very expensive equipment online without doing almost any marketing.
4.) Think micro-niche such as gluten free or nurses who CrossFit.
Trying to come up with unique ecommerce business ideas for your store? The more niche you can get –– the better. Why? Because with Facebook’s targeting power, you can spend less to perfectly serve a unique audience no one else is touching.
WholeMe sells healthy, gluten-free snacks –– which as our expert below and yours truly can attest to –– do not exist enough in the wild! They are serving a very badly needed market, and one ripe to buy!
I think people can see big success by combining two or three niches into a highly specialized micro-niche. For example, male nurses who are into CrossFit. Just an example!
Donald Pettit, Sales & Partners Manager, SalesWarp
I think the next wave of businesses who will emerge on the ecommerce scene are the service-oriented businesses that can personalize products at a high level.
Think about the companies that make a Lego replica of your home & family or the custom-printed M&Ms.
Customers are increasingly demanding high levels of customization and personalization: they want a unique experience and a unique product.
For any emerging brand, I would almost demand they have a micro-niche strategy to reach the small clusters of devoted customers with ultra-personalized products and services.
5.) Planners have a massive following.
This advice comes from Suzy Moore, the founder and former owner of So Suzy Stamps –– an online stamping community she grew to valuation within 3 short years. If she says something has community power, you better believe it does.
Here’s an example of a site to help you visualize what Suzy says.
Planner supplies. They have an almost cult-like following that is INSANE!
Instagram followers are in the 100K range. There are planners, bullet journals, accessories, stickers, traveler’s notebooks, pens, stickers, washi tape, bookmarks and so much more.
Most of the suppliers reside on Etsy and it’s rare to find one single location that offers EVERYTHING.
This is such a creative endeavor that it would be fabulous to have a company or site that could utilize these budding entrepreneurs and carry their items. Think outside of the box and get creative!
6.) Today’s retirees are tech savvy (and shop online).
More people than ever are reaching retiree age, and continuing to live long, healthy and happy lives past their retirement date. And with that trend comes a boom in older generation technology and products.
Here are a few.
Soundwall has seen incredible success in nursing homes and the homes of older people. Why? Because it looks like art (AKA it’s really nice) and it plays music as well as lights up when something in the room moves.
So, for instance, you may want to get up to go to the restroom in the middle of the night –– and want to make sure you don’t jam your leg on anything.
Soundwall will help you.
To be fair, this product isn’t only for retirees. It seems to work well for just about anyone.
Again, Expression Fiber Arts doesn’t sell only to retirees, but they don’t overlook them either. Their product suits users of all ages well, and the brand has a particular hand-me-down feel that goes from one generation to the other as the skill is passed down and picked back up.
In my opinion there’s a massive underserved niche in the older generation. Many of the people who retire now have grown accustomed to using computers at work.
This means we have an older generation who knows how to use computers and feel comfortable shopping online.
5-6 years ago this consumer group would not be targeted online, but rather through traditional marketing channels such as TV and radio.
Now and in the next 5-10 years this group will grow and increasingly shop online. For instance, yarn, which often appeal to the older consumer segment, can now target potential customers online as well.
7.) Appeal to people’s ideologies.
No, this doesn’t mean go crazy and appeal to people’s crazier sides. Instead, it means use the communities people are already forming around you to sell them things that help them identify.
Offensive or contentious products. I’m shocked by how rigid people are becoming in their view of other political groups as we take our social media soap boxes to the real world.
There’s huge opportunity to develop products espousing a particular soap box stance in a very aggressive (and hopefully humorous) manner. Lots of ecommerce sites cater to offensive humor, but very few play to particular ideologies or soapbox topics exclusively.
8.) The education industry is getting big investor bucks.
It’s true –– online education is booming as brands old and new alike turn to ecommerce as the next channel of growth.
Rand McNally has come a long way from just supplying the atlas in your classroom. Today, the brand pushes out new technology and GPS connection software –– all utilizing its atlases and mapping systems, of course.
Nelson Education has taken to ecommerce in 2017 to sell both B2C and B2B, allowing parents and educators to get exactly what they need from the brand when they need it.
David Feng, Co-Founder and Head of Product, Reamaze
The education niche seems fairly underserved by ecommerce. One great example is the company Wonderbly which recently secured a $8.5 million round from investors.
Ecommerce entrepreneurs with a background in education publishing, and personalized content creation will have a significant advantage here.
9.) Do what Amazon can’t.
We’ve talked about this a bit so far in this article, but needing customizations or specifications on products isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it is those things that a mass site like Amazon can’t do well. And where smaller, more knowledgeable brands like yours can really blossom.
Discount Electronics offers detailed laptop and computer customization unparalleled nearly anywhere on the web. It’s what keeps their customers coming back –– and forgoing Amazon in favor of their low prices for a custom-built item.
Dazadi, the founder of which is quoted below, ships ping pong tables and other large household items not just to someone’s house, but coordinates to have the truck drivers take it out and build it in the customer’s home.
Why do they win in this vertical? Because they take those extra steps few others are willing to do. (Hint: ShipperHQ is how they make it happen).
Same as Dazadi above, Sam’s Furniture ships furniture from their Dallas warehouse around the U.S., coordinating with LTL freight to get large items where they need to go.
The furniture vertical isn’t an easy one for ecommerce –– but Sam Furniture has been able to spread out their hometown love and loyalty to the nation as a whole, all by figuring out the shipping issues.
An underserved market is custom-built items, mostly because there is an expense involved in adding a product to the site and then taking it down.
With custom-built items, you can have a higher margin to allow for more work.
It could be a car, furniture, jewelry or something that gives people one-of-a-kind goods.
My advice is to start an ecommerce business with unique items and figure out a way to work with designers or other providers to create an online business outlet that is really known for high-quality one-of-a-kind pieces.
Plus, you have to have an easy process for people to submit their ideas for their items and get them made.
It’s not what the specific product is, but how poorly competitive products are doing at bringing out the value of the product.
I would look for products where there is question about how to install or use the product.
Be the seller that comes along with a much richer experience that includes how-to videos, proper documentation, and carefully thought-through effort to address the top 10 problems/issues a customer is likely to have when buying or using the item.
That seller is going to do better than everyone else.
We see hundreds of brands that exist only on Amazon, where those brand owners know how to do a better job merchandising and clarifying the benefits of their products to Amazon customers. National brands need to start thinking more like those Amazon-only sellers.
11.) Passion is the most important part!
All in all, no matter the product you sell, the very first thing you have to be is passionate about it.
Because the days will get hard. They always do. And the only thing that’s going to keep you going is your passion for the product, the people and the community you are building.
Here are a few brands that take passion to the next level.
I agree with Seth Godin on this one. There is no end of people who will sell you a lackluster gadget or a ho-hum service.
What we need more of in this world is people who offer their unique “art” to the world.
To would-be entrepreneurs: whatever makes you come alive, whatever makes time disappear, if there is some activity you engage in that you wouldn’t trade for anything else in this world that brings value to others, do that.
Creating a business model around your passion is not the difficult part.
I wouldn’t recommend any one niche to anybody. I would recommend any entrepreneur to go with what they’re passionate about.
If you’re passionate about a specific niche, you’ll put in the extra effort needed to put yourself ahead of your competition. If you start an online store in a niche that is underserved, but you’re not passionate about, you’ll end up burning out before it becomes worth your while.
Do what you are passionate about. The niche is not really what I would focus on. Just focus on doing what you love better than someone else.
Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, you have to love it. If you want a hobby or quick cash, find untapped niches and sell fast and get out!
12.) Remove the middlemen to win big.
Retail isn’t dying –– but a lot of distributors are. Why? Because they can’t offer the lowest price or the highest quality. Who can? The manufacturers. The owners. The real people behind the real business.
Sure, these folk have had to learn a few marketing chops to take their product to the masses, but now without the middlemen they are seeing skyrocketing profits.
Oyin Handmade used to only sell through distributor sites or drugstores. Today, the brand is still sold there, but there’s no reason not to have a homepage both B2B and B2C consumers can love (and shop!).
A sunscreen that is a brand all its own? Yeah, the world has changed! Sun Bum promotes healthy living and SPF protection, and sells both B2B and B2C so their loyal consumers can get the lowest possible price.
The FlexFire website has more information than Wikipedia when it comes to strip LED lights. This is because the founder has invested time into building out the most helpful site he possibly could on the topic –– and today, it wins him the business of Google, Disney, Ford and more.
Do/sell what you know better than anyone else. Either your special knowledge comes from your previous working life or your specialist hobby.
If you’re able to effectively communicate your deep knowledge and passion for a specific product/market, you will find others who are willing to engage with you, and hopefully buy.
14.) Solve your own problem.
Necessity is the mother of invention. And that’s a good thing. Just like Andie Swim above, and the example below, think through your pain points and figure out how to solve them. Likely, others have had the same issue too (and are looking for your solution!).
“Our story began with salad dressing,” writes the founder of reCAP Mason Jar lids. “After creating yet another oily mess with the lid and ring, I searched for a pour cap that would fit my Mason Jars and allow me to shake, pour and store dressing.”
Today, the brand has tutorials on fermentation and take-to-work salads, among many other things!
Taking their brick-and-mortar brand online, Obscura recreates their in-store cool home vibe in a series of never-ending online windows with beautiful photography. It’s an online store presented as an online magazine.
I think the key nowadays is to stop focusing so much on demographics and niches and instead focus on psychographics within a niche.
For example, someone buying a high-end leather bag might fall into a couple categories:
I buy high-end leather bags to feel elite.
I buy high-end leather bags because I want quality that will last.
The more you hone in on just 1 or 2 of these, the more you’ll connect with that group of people, and you’ll become the “go to” for that psychographic.
With our coding agency, Reliable PSD, that’s essentially what we did. We came in to an insanely over-saturated market, but we were the only ones to speak to a specific psychographic within that market, making us the instant obvious choice to people within it.
It doesn’t matter how crowded anything is. If you come in and you’re cooler than the other kids on the playground, people will want to hang with you.
Identifying an online store idea with growth potential is an important part of starting asuccessful ecommerce business. What you sell matters. How you land on what you sell does too. Whether you come by your ecommerce idea through passion or by luck, be sure you focus on product quality and customer service above all else.
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