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7 Steps to Highly Successful Product Sourcing

Learn to find the right products and suppliers to fuel your business.

Your product line is the engine of your business. Without the right products to sell, all the best marketing efforts and top selling strategies won’t result in a consistent online income.

Knowing how to source products successfully is at the center of every profitable online business. Yet the matter of “what to sell” or “what else to sell” is the No. 1 question I hear from both new and experienced sellers. Because even though there are millions of products to sell online, people often find themselves at a loss for ideas, or unable to build the supplier relationships they need to grow their business.

Fortunately, successful product sourcing is not a matter of luck or guessing. It’s the result of implementing some very specific steps that will allow you to source the products buyers want and develop ongoing, profitable relationships with your suppliers.

To begin on the path to successful product sourcing, let’s start with the seven steps that lead directly to highly successful product sourcing:

1. Become an expert in your niche

No matter what you sell, the fastest way to product sourcing success is to become knowledgeable in your niche, your category and your product line. Without an in-depth knowledge of the niche you sell in, an understanding of your target customer market and the products that are available in this niche, you’ll be at a disadvantage when it comes to bringing in-demand merchandise into your store.

As an independent online retailer, your primary key to success is to provide your customers with product selection, to become a destination site in your category or niche. And that means offering your buyers products they won’t find at their local “big box” store.Become an expert in the category you sell in and in the people who are interested in buying those products

To do this, you must become an expert in the category you sell in and in the people who are interested in buying those products. It’s only then that you can start to delve in and build a robust and dynamic product line.

2. Go far beyond surface sourcing

One of the most common problems I see with product sourcing is what I call “surface sourcing.” Surface sourcing is sourcing only the top one or two most popular products in a category rather than going “vertical” in your niche to unearth the unique, in-demand products that buyers shop for online.

A recent survey of online shoppers revealed that a top reason people shop online is selection. The seller who only practices surface sourcing will not stock the variety of products today’s online buyer demands.

In addition to limited selection, surfacing sourcing also tends to bring with it the products that carry the least profit margin. So it’s worth your time to go deep in your niche and find those products that not everybody is selling.

While it will take a bit more digging to go beyond surface sourcing, remember that most of your competitors will never get past this point. So the rewards for you are always worth the additional effort.

3. Live in the world in which your buyers live

Successful product sourcing is never done in a vacuum. Rarely will you get an idea for a great product to sell right off the top of your head. To find the products buyers want, you must live in the same world your buyers live in. Read what they read. Watch what they watch. Frequent the spaces where they gather online.

At, we call this “living the Product Sourcing Mindset™.” Here’s an example: Tony is an avid seller of boating accessories. He gets many of his best product sourcing ideas from a popular boating forum in which he participates. Because he’s an expert in his niche, Tony both shares his expertise in the forum and receives tremendous insight into what his target market is buying.

The most successful product sourcing comes not from trying to “think of a product to sell,” but from looking outward. Turn on your radar and pay attention to what people are talking about, what’s going on in the world. Make a habit of being in the Product Sourcing Mindset™, and you’ll find yourself in the enviable position of having an ongoing stream of options for products to sell.

Being able to spot trends is the key to knowing what people will be buying six, 12 or 18 months from now

4. Make friends with the trends

Mark Twain wrote: “The secret to success is to find out where everyone else is going and get there first.” Never has a truer statement been made when it comes to product sourcing. No matter what category you sell in, being able to spot trends is the key to knowing what people will be buying six, 12 or 18 months from now.

And contrary to popular belief, trends are not about products. Trends give you a window into what is happening in the hearts, minds and lives of the consumer. It’s these social and lifestyle trends that drive what people will buy next.

Trend information is all around you. Trade shows, consumer magazines and industry Web sites are just a few of the places that offer a plethora of insights into the trends in your particular category.

The time you spend researching trends upfront will greatly guide you in sourcing the right products down the road.

5. Create a win-win partnership with your suppliers

Once you’ve identified the products you want to source, the next step is to find the right suppliers. If you implement the previous four steps, by the time you’re ready to locate product sources, you’ll be better positioned to create a successful relationship for both you and your supplier.

Suppliers are motivated to work with sellers who know how to move their merchandise. The more knowledge you have about the products you sell (and how to sell them), and the better you can convey this expertise to a potential supplier, the more likely it is they’ll want to work with you.

When you initiate contact with a new supplier, focus on finding out what they have to offer you and on how an alignment with your business can benefit them.

6. Build a relationship with your suppliers

A good supplier rep will be able to tell you which of their products will be hot for next season

In the age of online retailing, it’s tempting to want to take advantage of the ease-of-use of online supplier catalogs and online ordering. But by dealing with a supplier solely through online mechanisms, you’re missing out on what can be one of the most profitable relationships in your business: your supplier relationships.

In a good supplier relationship, your supplier contact should be the “go to” person for updates on new merchandise, upcoming specials, trending information, even contacts with other suppliers. A good supplier rep will be able to tell you which of their products will be hot for next season and even help you determine the right mix of products to order.

You can develop a relationship like this when you make a habit of connecting periodically by phone for some “person-to-person” time. E-mail makes it difficult to establish this kind of relationship, but a phone call will help you get to know your supplier and make sure your supplier knows you.

We’ve all heard the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” This definitely holds true for product sourcing. So take some time to build a relationship with your most important suppliers.

7. Test the market for viability

Once you’ve found suppliers for your products and have set up your accounts, it’s tempting to go full speed ahead into placing a bulk order. But before you commit to a large inventory purchase, there’s one more important step you have to take: You’ll want to test-market your new products to get an initial indication of how well they will sell on your site.

Work with your suppliers to see what their minimum order policy is. You can even let them know that you want to introduce a small sampling of their products to your customers to determine which models, colors and styles will be the best fit for a subsequent reorder. Some suppliers will be willing to provide sample products to you at a slightly increased cost.

Keep in mind that even if you pay more to get a few product samples, in the long run you’ll save money over buying a large quantity of products that don’t sell.

By following these seven steps, you’ll be solidly on your way to profitable product sourcing that will result in a thriving online business.

About the author

Lisa Suttora
Lisa Suttora is an internationally known e-commerce expert, internet marketing strategist and veteran trend spotter. As founder and CEO of, Suttora has helped thousands of enterprising entrepreneurs build successful, niche-based online businesses. Since 2004, has provided premier education and a global community for online retailers. To get the latest on hot product niches and trends, subscribe to Suttora's free trend sheet Hot Trend Alerts. Suttora also has a 15-day e-course to help sellers make money on today's eBay. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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