In e-commerce, you have two choices: Specialize in items you have a passion for or simply sell what generates sales.
We looked at both options to see if one tactic is the true recipe for success. We discovered two camps of equally successful sellers who have strong opinions about what works and what doesn't.
Passion is a must
Passion is a must-have trait for every successful e-commerce owner
Many online sellers credit the passion they have for their products as a top contributor to their success.
Lisa Chu, owner of Black N Bianco, a site that specializes in children's formal wear, is one of those merchants.
"It's very easy to stay focused and motivated when I enjoy what I do," she tells us. "I love designing and producing my own brand of clothing... In my opinion, passion is a must-have trait for every successful e-commerce owner. The essence of passion in business is believing what you sell is the best."
Alex W. of AlgosTrading agrees.
"My experience is from my past of trading stocks and contracts in the U.S. market. Now I also sell trading signals on my website," he notes. "I have seen a good deal of success thanks to the initial interest when I started the website. I have tried selling other items that I didn't have any interest in, but that did not work out.
"I simply didn't want to give it my all as I didn't find it interesting…" he continues. "Now, selling what I'm passionate about just makes it that much easier to continue improving my website and my product."
Bradley Arkell, who runs a radio-controlled vehicle shop called Dollar Hobbyz , also noted the correlation between passion and staying motivated.
Passion is a real boon, as it helps you to feel engaged and enjoy what you do, which makes a real impact on your customers. Just don't let passion overwhelm business sense
"Our own passion for the hobby keeps us constantly pushing toward improving our fellow hobbyists' experience—both with us as a customer and them as hobbyists," he says. "…Being passionate about what we sell is ultimately what has made us a successful e-commerce business."
Passion can work against you
While it seems like the obvious mantra should be "sell what you love," several sellers disagree. In fact, we received plenty of comments about why this may not be the best course of action.
Deborah Sweeney of MyCorporation, an online LLC building and protection service, works with many entrepreneurs and has seen plenty of them stumble when they sell what they love.
"Usually, the issue is that the business owner becomes more focused on what they want than on what their customer wants," she says. "The normal example I typically give when pointing out this problem is the comic book store owner who only buys comics they like, rather than comics that sell.
"It's too easy to forget that your customer needs to be the center of your attention, even though you're passionate about what you sell," Sweeney adds. "Passion is a real boon, as it helps you to feel engaged and enjoy what you do, which makes a real impact on your customers. Just don't let passion overwhelm business sense."
Mark Anthony, a self-defense instructor and the owner of Combat Tactics Group, had a unique perspective.
He runs an e-commerce business with a product he loves and because of that he can tell us why you shouldn't love your product when you start out, he says.
"When you first start out loving your product before the customers even begin purchasing it, your mind is clouded by preconceived notions that suggest everyone should want one as well…" he says. "I fell into this trap of believing people will love my product because I did. Boy, was I wrong!
"After pouring $7,000 into the drain, I finally realized my issue. I was writing my copy as if my customers shared my interest," Anthony says. "When I changed this around, my company sky rocketed with my sales and growth rate soaring."
Daniel Brady of Heavenly Hammocks Australia has a similar viewpoint.
If I chose a topic related to my hobbies, sure, I would have more of an expert insight, but the business metrics may not stack up
"Hammocks were a business decision rather than a personal one," he says. "I chose them because the market is relatively uncompetitive in Australia with reasonable prices and demand. If I chose a topic related to my hobbies, sure, I would have more of an expert insight, but the business metrics may not stack up as well. So I go with the numbers rather than my personal interest."
So, what's the answer?
For many sellers, the difference between building a successful e-commerce business versus an unsuccessful one comes down to the ability to sell your product effectively. This may mean that some sellers need to feel personally connected or even passionate about their items; this enthusiasm will be apparent from their "voice" to potential buyers.
What we learned is that this is by no means the only method for success, and some sellers strongly advise against specializing in something you have a passion for. Ultimately it comes down to what works for you. Another thing we learned is that the passion can grow over time.
Take Peter Friis, founder and CEO of ESSIO, the world's first aromatherapy diffuser for the shower, for example.
"When I got involved, I knew very little about aromatherapy and can't say it was a passion of mine," he explains. "However, over the last few years I have learned a ton about the benefits of essential oils and it has become a passion of mine over time."
So, perhaps, the best advice for those starting out or thinking of expanding their inventory offerings is to walk a line somewhere between passion and interest.
Note: Ethan Schepp contributed research for this article.