Even before they've made their first sale, many online sellers dream of taking it big—growing their small startup into a full e-commerce store. Even established sellers are constantly on the lookout for ways to expand their offerings. No matter what stage your business is in, product-line expansion will fuel your business growth.
However, it can't be just any random product-line expansion. The way you expand the selection of products you offer can mean the difference between producing thriving new sales or overextending yourself financially and purchasing new products that don't sell.
To get started, I want to introduce you to a basic fundamental of product line expansion. For every product you sell, there are at least 10 other products or 10 related product lines that would be of interest to your customers. If you carry 1,000 products in your store, just think of the expansion possibilities! This fundamental is what I call "Power of 10 Product Sourcing."
Recently, I gave two standing-room-only presentations at eBay: On Location in Las Vegas on the topic of what to sell on eBay. Using an example of an eBay seller who was selling only refurbished sewing machines, I expanded their product line from one product to a full product line, live on stage.
By harnessing the Power of 10, I expanded their product line into a full e-commerce store stocked with more than 28 different categories of products. And each of those categories can be further expanded using the Power of 10 methods. Once you get into it, it's truly amazing what you can do with your store!
Identify your 'proven products.' These products will be your starting point for expansion
Before you expand
However, there are some things you need to do before you expand.
First, take a step back and identify your "proven products." That is, the top 20 percent that both sell regularly and are profitable. These products will be your starting point for expansion.
Too often, merchants skip this step and instead go in search of new products without a plan. This leads to a guesswork approach, rather than making informed expansion decisions based on what's already working.
You also need to stay in contact with your customers. This gives you ongoing feedback from your buyers on what they'd like to buy from you. Having a product suggestion box on your Web site or a link to a survey in your customer service e-mails is a great way to get customer feedback on what other products they would like you to carry.
Calling your best customers—those who shop with you the most—to ask them what else they'd like to buy from you is great way to get insight on what else your customers are shopping for. Once you know what's selling and you've been listening to your customer's suggestions, you're ready to take the next steps into expansion!
1. Go vertical in your niche
The easiest way to expand your product line is to go vertical in your niche. Expand your product line with products that aren't easily found elsewhere. In fact, this is one of the biggest advantages an independent online retailer has when it comes to sourcing: sourcing products that are not found at your local store or one of the major online sites.
For example, while Toys "R" Us sells mass market toys, a niche toy Web site can specialize in hard-to-find toys of unique styles and products that aren't found in the mainstream shops.
It's important to note that Amazon.com has recently revealed this to be its strategy for third-party sellers on the site. Amazon stocks the mainstream products while relying on third-party sellers to fill out the sites inventory and bring products to the market that Amazon doesn't stock.
2. Increase selection with level variations
Bringing in different levels of the products you currently carry is a great way to leverage your successful products, expand your product line and attract a different caliber of customer.
For example, if your current product line boasts mid-priced sheet sets, bringing in some high-end, deluxe sheet sets gives your existing customers the opportunity to upgrade from their intended purchase.
If your store sells high-end products, stocking some entry-level products can be a great way to expand your product line and give new customers an entry point to the products you sell.
3. Introduce the new and innovative
Consumers are always hungry for products that are fresh and new. As human beings, we quickly tire of the same old thing. Part of your role as an online retailer is to scout the new, innovative products available in your niche. This requires going online and shopping the competition, attending trade shows and connecting with new suppliers.
Adding a related product line that will attract new customers can breathe new life into your business
There are more than 50,000 new products that come into the marketplace each year. Keep your finger on the pulse of what's new and then connect your new finds with your buyers!
While existing supplier catalogs can be a great source of ideas for areas of expansion, limiting yourself only to known suppliers will deprive you of opportunities to expand to some great new products. Make sure you're constantly bringing new suppliers into the fold. Your customers will thank you with their purchases!
4. Branch out into related or complementary markets
In addition to sourcing new products to serve your existing customers, you also need to look at options for attracting a whole new customer set. We've seen this in action very successfully over the past several years with products redesigned specifically for women. Everything from bikes to camping backpacks to sports gear designed specifically for women have been expansion avenues for numerous companies.
Sporting goods stores that previously only carried traditional sports equipment and clothing now attract an entirely new customer base, and millions of dollars in sales, by adding women-specific products to their product line.
Stop and think—who is the next closest customer to your existing market that you could serve? Identify a few different options and then determine which one holds the most potential. Adding a related product line that will attract new customers can breathe new life into your business.
5. Introduce your own branded product
One of the biggest untapped opportunities for e-commerce entrepreneurs is creating their own branded product. When Jennifer Fallon couldn't find the right wedding favors for her wedding in a retail store, she decided to buy them wholesale. Before long, Fallon was selling them out of her Yahoo store.
But she didn't stop there. She began designing, importing and selling wedding favors under her own brand, Kate Aspen Brands. Today Kate Aspen Brands has grown to include not only wedding favors but baby products and more!
If you're not quite ready to expand to your own brand, you can start by creating an exclusive product bundle. Take a look at your existing inventory and see what you can combine into a set or bundle. This could be an urban garden kit or chef's toolbox for the dad who has everything! If you don't have everything you need to create a product bundle, purchase the inventory to complete your new product. The sky's the limit with exclusive product bundles!
There are many ways you can expand your product line, so be creative in your thinking. Product line expansion is an exciting process for your business. By doing your due diligence before expansion, applying Power of 10 to your product sourcing and thoughtfully expanding your product line, you can build the business of your dreams!