There's an old adage that goes, "good business is where you find it." The trick to that little phrase, though, is to actually know where to find such good business. While the adage seems to suggest that anyone can stumble onto a business goldmine, it makes most sense these days that you would leave nothing up to chance—especially your business' performance and profit potential.
So when it comes to knowing what to sell, how to sell it and where to sell it, recognize how imperative it is to actively drill deep into the trends and opportunities of the online sales marketplace.
Don't worry that you'd need to wrest through a virtual mountain of data, but rather discover how some simple cyber-statistics can reliably guide you on your way to better results. There's handy information right at hand in the online setting, ready for you to quickly assess and interpret on your way to sustained and improved sales.
Launch your own mining effort by finding out who's selling the sorts of items you also intend to offer
Data at your fingertips
Perhaps one of the greatest contributions of the online marketplace (next to the ease with which we can all buy and sell goods) is the volume of real-time sales data, always available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There's a cache of data mining potential at your disposal online. It consists of current and historical details of sales activity—the sort that enables sellers to study the sales performance or products similar to theirs and determine the mood of the marketplace for such goods.
The easiest of the online data sources to mine are the online auction spaces where sellers can take a quick pulse of buying and selling trends. Launch your own mining effort by finding out who's selling the sorts of items you also intend to offer. Begin by checking other sellers' opening bid prices as well as any Buy It Now prices, determining which strategy and price point seems to be attracting the best sales conversions.
Next, check the bidding activity for auction items to see which particular goods similar to what you'll sell are actually commanding the most bidding. When you zero in on the listings that are generating the greatest "buzz," take note of the listing keywords that are used, and that seem to be most effective.
Beyond price and keywords, take a careful look at the listing descriptions, the images presented, the sellers' sales policies and the sellers' feedback ratings. In short order, you'll be able to quickly ascertain which sellers are successful, which products are drawing activity and garnering the best prices, and what overall sales style seems to attract the most customers.
But what about other sales destinations on the Web? Be sure to expand your data mining to the various "store" venues (such as at Yahoo and Amazon) and search those listings, too. Then perform a search engine query to comb the entire Web space to locate direct-sales merchant sites run by folks just like you.
Standing in the customer's shoes, ask yourself how well each destination you encounter motivates you to inquire further and possibly compels you to buy. Look around the site to determine if it's regularly being updated, or if it appears to have been overrun by virtual cobwebs. Don't be bashful about contacting the shop owner via e-mail (there's a simple and easy-to-find way to contact the shopkeeper, right?) and asking specific questions about their operation and their merchandise.
Counters are a good indicator of whether the seller's style and strategy seems to be successful with potential customers
Don't overlook the past
Some of the most telling statistics, naturally, are the historical sort. Again, the online marketplace has plenty of information to offer here. Back at the auction spaces, take a careful look at completed listings, seeking out final selling prices as well as determining if prices are holding steady, or if they're spiking and dipping in upward or downward trends. Be particularly attentive to listings that seem to appear as anomalies in the marketplace (with a final price being either noticeably high or low). These are the listings to closely scrutinize as you seek to determine what might have contributed to the spike. Was the item misplaced, priced too high at the outset, poorly presented, or what?
This sort of historical sales data is a bit more difficult to cull from fixed-price or merchant sites. Some sellers provide sales history (and you should, too), whereby you can ascertain what goods they've dealt with in the past and how much activity they've seen over a period of time. Again, inquire (politely) about recently sold items if you have questions.
Another way to gauge the appeal of products and the sales strategies that boost or bust them is to track public response by way of a page counter. Look for page counters—either at auction sites or at fixed-price venues—to indicate the popularity or appeal of an item up for sale.
Although these counters don't necessarily indicate unique page views or site visits (that is, they don't always discern if a same individual views a page or visits a site multiple times), they are still a good indicator of whether the seller's style and strategy seems to be successful with potential customers. If the counter numbers are low, then something in the seller's methodology could be amiss since it would seem folks are finding the item or aren't showing interest. If the counter number is high but the item hasn't sold, then, although it was viewed many times, something about it failed to convert an actual sale.
Mine your own business
While you're actively sifting through the items and actions of others around you, don't forget to carefully examine your own statistics, too. Keep close track of your sales history, determining where your items sell best, when they seem to be in greatest demand and which transactions encouraged a customer to make a return visit. By regularly watching others' results while monitoring your own, you'll have the conclusive data that will help you successfully navigate the ever-changing online marketplace.