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How to Know What They Want to Buy, Part 1

Tapping into the minds of today's consumers

What will your customers buy next week? Next month? Next season? These are questions on the minds of anyone who sells online.

Each year more than 30,000 new products come into the U.S. marketplace alone. Add to that the millions of existing products available to sell, and knowing what your customers want to buy becomes all the more important.

So how do you know which products to stock in your online store? And even more importantly, how do you know which ones will sell?

Fortunately, anticipating what your customers will buy next doesn’t require a crystal ball or a connection to the psychic trends hotline. What it does require is tapping into the minds of today’s consumers. And it all starts with understanding what drives people to make purchases.

The why of the buy

The first step in figuring out what your customers will buy is to understand why they buy. When you understand why people buy, it enables you to determine what your customers will purchase next.

People buy things for two primary reasons: to fulfill a want or to satisfy a need. Products either solve customers’ problems or bring pleasure to them. Your customers buy things to relieve stress, save time, save money, have fun, provide entertainment or improve their quality of life.

For example, a customer may need a pair of shoes to do some jogging, but he or she may want a pair of ultra-lightweight Nikes with the convenience of a built in iPod docking station. A customer might need a set of plain white sheets to outfit a bed (Cost: about $49). But he or she may want a new set of 1,500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets in azure blue with satin piping (Cost: about $349).

Which of these will your customer buy? Which should you source? It all depends on who your customer is.

Unless you know who your target market is—or who you want your market to be—you’ll find yourself sourcing products without a sense of direction

Who is buying?

No matter what you sell online, you’re selling to a certain type of customer. We call this your target market.

Using the example of the sheet sets above, you could sell sheets to several different target markets:

  • Entry-level market
  • Moving up market
  • Luxury market
  • College market
  • Kids’ market
  • Men’s market
  • Bed and breakfast owners’ market
  • Eco-friendly market
  • Summer-house owners’ market
  • Traditionalist-minded market
  • Fashion-minded market
  • Interior design market

I bet you didn’t realize there were so many target markets out there when it came to purchasing a set of sheets. Yet each of these customer types will be interested in purchasing a different type of sheets. They’ll be interested in different quality levels, price points, colors and styles. And they’ll buy accordingly.

Now, that doesn’t mean these groups won’t cross over and make multiple kinds of purchases. Those same luxury buyers may also purchase some traditional sheets for their summer home. But the styles, sizes, colors, models, brands, etc., of any product you sell will be determined by the likes and dislikes of your potential buyer (or the one you want to attract).

Unless you know who your target market is—or who you want your market to be—you’ll find yourself sourcing products without a sense of direction. You’ll make guesses as to what might sell, rather than focusing on what your customers want to buy.

For example, eco-friendly buyers may be looking specifically for sheets made from 100 percent renewable bamboo fiber, in earth colors like sage green and sea-glass blue.

On the other hand, luxury buyers may be looking for the 1,500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheet in a unique Iris purple to coordinate with their newly designed bedroom. Whereas the college student (or their parents) is looking to buy a set of sheets with a funky, edgy design to spiff up that college dorm room.

In order to find out what your customers want to buy, you must live in the world they live in

What are they buying?

What if you could hang out with your customers? Listen to their pre-purchase conversations at dinner? Look over their shoulders when they’re surfing the Internet deciding what to buy? Discuss their reasons for selecting one brand or product over another?

While you can’t make friends with and pal around with all of your customers, you can do the next best thing—and that is to frequent Idea Hotspots™.

Idea Hotspots™ is a term I coined back in 2002 when I made the move from offline retail buyer to online retail entrepreneur. I’ve spoken about Idea Hotspots™ worldwide. In fact, for four years the concepts earned rave reviews in my Product Sourcing presentations at eBay Live!

And when you see the power of Idea Hotspots™ you’ll see why you’ll never be at a loss as to what your customers will want to buy again.

Idea Hotspots™ are anywhere that provides an unending source of new product ideas, market trends, developing niches and customer-centric conversation or information. They can be places, publications or even people.

These are the places your customers hang out—and you need to be there, too. Here are some of the most commonly used Idea Hotspots™:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Radio interviews
  • TV shows
  • Shopping malls
  • Stores
  • Even your local coffee shop

Why frequent these places? Because in order to find out what your customers want to buy, you must live in the world they live in. Read what they’re reading. Watch what they’re watching. Spend time in the places they gather online and off.

Whether it’s an online discussion forum or a meeting of the local crafting association, if you want to know what your customers want and what they are buying, hang out where they do on a regular basis.

In Part 2 of this article, I’ll go into more detail on how to use Idea HotSpots™ to determine what your customers are likely to buy next.

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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