Thinking about launching an e-commerce business, but don’t know where to start? Well, an e-commerce business idea would be helpful.
Of course, that’s just for starters.
While you can peruse books and guides on how exactly to start a successful, long-term online store –– every entrepreneur everywhere has to start at the exact same place.
And that place requires you to answer this 1 question:
What are you going to sell?
From there, you’ll then launch into competitive reviews and building your online store –– just 2 more steps on the way to building a long-term, successful venture.
But it all starts with what your product is. And, some even argue, the ultimate success of your business is also all about your product.
Marketing, social media reviews, customer lifetime loyalty –– all of those are easier when your product speaks for itself.
So, while some of us are lucky enough to have online store ideas find us, others of us –– well, we have to search.
Top 16 Ecommerce Business Ideas of 2018
To help save you time and energy, we picked the brains of some of the industry’s most trusted and successful entrepreneurs, marketers and researchers to get their thoughts on business opportunities with huge growth potential. Dive on in and learn more about their favourite e-commerce business ideas for 2018.
- Niche fashion communities build fast and sell well.
- Online digital health services are on the rise.
- Sell Industrial b2b products for high margins with little competition.
- Identify super niche products (think gluten-free).
- Planners have a massive following.
- Target tech savvy retirees (who shop online).
- Appeal to people’s ideologies.
- The education industry is getting big investor bucks.
- Do things Amazon can’t.
- Find confusing products (and provide useful instructions).
- Passion is the most important part!
- Remove the middlemen to win big.
- Deep knowledge has the most power.
- Solve your own problem.
- Use KickStarter for research.
- Sell something cool.
1.) Niche fashion communities build fast and sell well.
Niche fashion sites are a huge e-commerce opportunity. Niche fashion communities serve those audiences with hard-to-find or hard-to-fit needs. Those communities can also serve upcoming mindsets and trends –– like minimalism or the Great Return of Bell Bottoms (emphasis my own).
Here are a couple of site examples for you before we dive in what the experts have to say:
ONYCHEK is a great example of a niche fashion brand serving hard-to-find communities. In this case, that community is Luxury Fashion from Africa.
Tucker Blair serves both customizability as well as a niche audience –– that of New England nostalgia.
With both brick-and-mortar and digital locations, the Bygone Brand has leveraged nostalgia and advertising lore for a niche fashion site geared toward those looking for prints no longer available.
Below are more ideas.
Daniel Wallock, Marketing Strategist, Wallock Media
While the fashion and garment industry is incredibly crowded, I’ve been having trouble finding minimalist clothing without branding and quality fabric.
I shop at James Perse and Everlane, but I’d love to see a store that just focused on selling incredible-quality monotone-coloured clothes that you could order in pairs of 5 or 10.
This would appeal to a very niche audience, but I think creating an incredible quality brand that only specializes in simple outfits could possibly do well with people like millennials who are looking to dress more minimally and worry less about making choices regarding their clothing.
Brett Owens, Marketing Director & Co-Founder, LeadDyno
Clothing, clothing, clothing. There is an endless demand for clothing products of all types!
Nearly 40% of the affiliates and influencers in our e-commerce affiliate network have this checked off as a category of interest for them.
Find a niche apparel product and sell it. There are plenty of influencers out there who would love to help you promote it, and plenty of folks who are waiting to buy it.
2.) Digital health services are on the rise.
Digital health services here means a couple things:
- The e-commerce capabilities for patients and others affected to buy items previously only sold in office
- Products that help people prevent health issues, including more education around health in general
So, before we dive into the advice, let’s look at two that do these 2 things.
National Autism Resources
National Autism Resources creates a community-like online space for parents and practitioners, as well as offers helpful items and education to help people find what they need, and then get it delivered to them.
Jigsaw Health is highly committed to education around magnesium for their customers and potential new customers. They write frequently on their blog, use videos to help spread the word on YouTube and Facebook and ultimately have turned the product they sell into an educated community.
Ryan Pfleger, Founder, PayWhirl
Digital services like online personal trainer sessions and digital classes are on the rise and are worth noting!
Sweta Patel, Director of Demand Generation, Cognoa
I would say the most underserved niche is the digital health market.
Digital health has been emerging for a long time and most products are not being sold online due to the regulations.
There are a lot of e-commerce business opportunities for health-care companies to evolve in the online space and increase their revenues. An idea I would recommend to an entrepreneur is around building a product that helps digital health products become more readily available for those in need.
It may be a smaller niche than Amazon that just focuses on health care products but it would make it easier for providers and patients to get things at their convenience.
3.) Go Industrial for high margins with little competition.
Launching in B2B or the industrial e-commerce industries is hard. It has a high barrier to entry –– but then again, the margins you make from it are also much higher. And, you typically spend less on marketing to boot!
Best yet –– few other B2B brands have figured out how to sell something online well and at scale. That means that if you have any e-commerce chops at all, this market is ripe for you.
Here are a few examples.
AP Electric Generators
Most people don’t dream of owning a business selling generators. That is unless it’s highly profitable. With few others on the market to compete, thanks to a high barrier to entry as well as costly shipping and storage, AP Electric nearly owns the market.
What I love the most about 1-800-Stencil is that this B2B brand is *very* good at Facebook marketing. I see their ads often, and the comments on them are the only social proof any B2B buyer would need to pull the conversion trigger.
By focusing on a niche, B2B market and trying out various B2C growth tactics, 1-800-Stencil leads the industry in their vertical.
Eric Carlson, Co-Founder, 10X Factory
I think there is a HUGE opportunity in construction supply related e-commerce.
There are several brands in construction that drop ship and have websites that simply take people to a request form.
In my opinion, the construction supply niche has big dollars, decent margins and very few sophisticated players.
Ross Simmonds, Founder, Foundation Marketing
The most underserved niche for e-commerce is in B2B.
As B2B buyers become younger and younger, more opportunities are opening up for B2B brands to sell their products online and turn e-commerce into a viable online business for their brand.
In many cases, B2B brands think of themselves as regional businesses, but with technology today, there are opportunities to reach new marketers with a simple website, shipping processes and understanding of how their customers are using Google to find solutions like theirs.
From telephone providers and bottling equipment to sensors and interior design services, B2B is one of the most underrated yet high-potential opportunities for e-commerce entrepreneurs.
Daniel Wallock, Marketing Strategist, Wallock Media
An industry that is underserved by e-commerce is the industrial equipment and industrial pharmaceutical equipment industry.
A lot of companies that sell expensive equipment stay away from online stores, but I’ve worked with clients who were selling tons of very expensive equipment online without doing almost any marketing.
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4.) Think micro-niche such as gluten-free or nurses who CrossFit.
Trying to come up with unique e-commerce business ideas for your store? The more niche you can get –– the better. Why? Because with Facebook’s targeting power, you can spend less to perfectly serve a unique audience no one else is touching.
WholeMe sells healthy, gluten-free snacks –– which as our expert below and yours truly can attest to –– do not exist enough in the wild! They are serving a very badly needed market, and one ripe to buy!
Part of serving a niche audience is often allowing for insane customization. This way, you only produce 1 item –– and you know for sure it will sell.
Diamond Exchange is the master of this strategy. Their site allows for above and beyond engagement ring customization from the comfort of your home. They get a sell. You get something no one else has.
Now that is niche.
Kaleigh Moore, Freelance writer
Gluten-free products! As someone who’s always searching for them, I can vouch for the fact that the current online business market is lacking.
Ryan Bemiller, Founder, Shopping Signals
I think people can see big success by combining two or three niches into a highly specialized micro-niche. For example, male nurses who are into CrossFit. Just an example!
Donald Pettit, Sales & Partners Manager, SalesWarp
I think the next wave of businesses who will emerge on the e-commerce scene is the service-oriented businesses that can personalize products at a high level.
Think about the companies that make a Lego replica of your home & family or the custom-printed M&Ms.
Customers are increasingly demanding high levels of customization and personalization: they want a unique experience and a unique product.
For any emerging brand, I would almost demand they have a micro-niche strategy to reach the small clusters of devoted customers with ultra-personalized products and services.
5.) Planners have a massive following.
This advice comes from Suzy Moore, the founder and former owner of So Suzy Stamps –– an online stamping community she grew to valuation within 3 short years. If she says something has community power, you better believe it does.
Here’s an example of a site to help you visualize what Suzy says.
Beatific’s site is fun, inspirational and they’ve grown their social media audience to more than 100,000 is just a little over a year.
Suzanne Moore, Narrator, All About Suzy
Planner supplies. They have an almost cult-like following that is INSANE!
Instagram followers are in the 100K range. There are planners, bullet journals, accessories, stickers, traveller’s notebooks, pens, stickers, washi tape, bookmarks and so much more.
Most of the suppliers reside on Etsy and it’s rare to find one single location that offers EVERYTHING.
This is such a creative endeavour that it would be fabulous to have a company or site that could utilize these budding entrepreneurs and carry their items. Think outside of the box and get creative!
6.) Today’s retirees are tech savvy (and shop online).
More people than ever are reaching retiree age, and continuing to live long, healthy and happy lives past their retirement date. And with that trend comes a boom in older generation technology and products.
Here are a few.
Soundwall has seen incredible success in nursing homes and the homes of older people. Why? Because it looks like art (AKA it’s really nice) and it plays music as well as lights up when something in the room moves.
So, for instance, you may want to get up to go to the restroom in the middle of the night –– and want to make sure you don’t jam your leg on anything.
Soundwall will help you.
To be fair, this product isn’t only for retirees. It seems to work well for just about anyone.
Expression Fiber Arts
Again, Expression Fiber Arts doesn’t sell only to retirees, but they don’t overlook them either. Their product suits users of all ages well, and the brand has a particular hand-me-down feel that goes from one generation to the other as the skill is passed down and picked back up.
Emil Kristensen, co-founder & CMO, Sleeknote
In my opinion, there’s a massive underserved niche in the older generation. Many of the people who retire now have grown accustomed to using computers at work.
This means we have an older generation who knows how to use computers and feel comfortable shopping online.
5-6 years ago this consumer group would not be targeted online, but rather through traditional marketing channels such as TV and radio.
Now and in the next 5-10 years, this group will grow and increasingly shop online. For instance, yarn, which often appeals to the older consumer segment, can now target potential customers online as well.
7.) Appeal to people’s ideologies.
No, this doesn’t mean go crazy and appeal to people’s crazier sides. Instead, it means to use the communities people are already forming around you to sell them things that help them identify.
Let’s look at an example.
Nine Line Apparel
Nine Line does this incredibly well. Founded by two veterans, this brand brings patriots together in clothing and household items –– speaking to them as part of the community and ideology.
Jordan Brannon, President and COO, Coalition Technologies
Offensive or contentious products. I’m shocked by how rigid people are becoming in their view of other political groups as we take our social media soapboxes to the real world.
There’s huge opportunity to develop products espousing a particular soapbox stance in a very aggressive (and hopefully humorous) manner. Lots of e-commerce sites cater to offensive humour, but very few play to particular ideologies or soapbox topics exclusively.
8.) The education industry is getting big investor bucks.
It’s true –– online education is booming as brands old and new alike turn to e-commerce as the next channel of growth.
Check out a few below.
Bridgepoint Education runs Forbes’ online boot camp –– and uses a site to gather interest through SEO as well as to sell the courses.
Rand McNally has come a long way from just supplying the atlas in your classroom. Today, the brand pushes out new technology and GPS connection software –– all utilizing its atlases and mapping systems, of course.
Nelson Education has taken to e-commerce in 2017 to sell both B2C and B2B, allowing parents and educators to get exactly what they need from the brand when they need it.
David Feng, Co-Founder and Head of Product, Reamaze
The education niche seems fairly underserved by ecommerce. One great example is the company Wonderbly which recently secured an $8.5 million round from investors.
E-commerce entrepreneurs with a background in educational publishing and personalized content creation will have a significant advantage here.
9.) Do what Amazon can’t.
We’ve talked about this a bit so far in this article, but needing customizations or specifications on products isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it is those things that a mass site like Amazon can’t do well. And where smaller, more knowledgeable brands like yours can really blossom.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Discount Electronics offers detailed laptop and computer customization unparalleled nearly anywhere on the web. It’s what keeps their customers coming back –– and forgoing Amazon in favour of their low prices for a custom-built item.
Dazadi, the founder of which is quoted below, ships ping pong tables and other large household items not just to someone’s house, but coordinates to have the truck drivers take it out and build it in the customer’s home.
Why do they win in this vertical? Because they take those extra steps few others are willing to do. (Hint: ShipperHQ is how they make it happen).
Same as Dazadi above, Sam’s Furniture ships furniture from their Dallas warehouse around the U.S., coordinating with LTL freight to get large items where they need to go.
The furniture vertical isn’t an easy one for e-commerce –– but Sam Furniture has been able to spread out their hometown love and loyalty to the nation as a whole, all by figuring out the shipping issues.
Vladimir Gendelman, Founder and CEO, Company Folders, Inc.
An underserved market is custom-built items, mostly because there is an expense involved in adding a product to the site and then taking it down.
With custom-built items, you can have a higher margin to allow for more work.
It could be a car, furniture, jewellery or something that gives people one-of-a-kind goods.
My advice is to start an e-commerce business with unique items and figure out a way to work with designers or other providers to create an online business outlet that is really known for high-quality one-of-a-kind pieces.
Plus, you have to have an easy process for people to submit their ideas for their items and get them made.
John McCann, CEO, Spectrum Audio, & Co-Founder, Quote Ninja, Inc.
The keyword here is niche. Pick a narrow lane, and own it. I’ve struggled with this myself, trying to sell more products than we can possibly keep track of.
Our goal this year has been to cut all of that excess fat and narrow our lane substantially.
Sell items that require a little bit of expert knowledge, and be that expert.
If someone needs to call and ask a few questions before ordering, I don’t see that as a bad thing anymore. It gives you an edge over Amazon, and the other big guys.
If it’s an item that anyone can order without calling, or needing some assistance with, rest assured you’re likely to lose the battle against Amazon and friends in the long run.
Jason Boyce, Co-founder & CEO, Dazadi
Anything heavy online that ships via LTL freight is relatively underserved.
Shipping large freight in the U.S. is very difficult.
We’ve spent a decade and a half mastering freight shipments and we still have much to learn, but we see our skills in this area as a competitive advantage.
Amazon and others are also trying to figure this out, but it’s still very much a work in progress.
10.) Find confusing products (and include instructions).
Whether it’s FAQs or additional spec information drawn out in an easy-to-digest way, do whatever you can to make sure your product is the most consumer-friendly on the market.
Annesley does a lot on their product pages right, but one of the best parts is allowing you to spin the board around and showing you exact length and measurements based on your own surfing level.
James Thomson, President, PROSPER Show
It’s not what the specific product is, but how poorly competitive products are doing at bringing out the value of the product.
I would look for products where there is a question about how to install or use the product.
Be the seller that comes along with a much richer experience that includes how-to videos, proper documentation, and carefully thought-through effort to address the top 10 problems/issues a customer is likely to have when buying or using the item.
That seller is going to do better than everyone else.
We see hundreds of brands that exist only on Amazon, where those brand owners know how to do a better job merchandising and clarifying the benefits of their products to Amazon customers. National brands need to start thinking more like those Amazon-only sellers.
11.) Passion is the most important part!
All in all, no matter the product you sell, the very first thing you have to be is passionate about it.
Because the days will get hard. They always do. And the only thing that’s going to keep you going is your passion for the product, the people and the community you are building.
Here are a few brands that take passion to the next level.
Founded by husband and wife duo Evan and Jackie, this robe company takes pride in its ethical roots, as well as its very, very photogenic friends.
It all started with a work trip to a local beach. That’s when Melanie realized she didn’t have a suit she’d feel comfortable wearing around co-workers.
So, she set out to find one, and per usual, the experience was terrible.
Awful lighting in dressing rooms. Gross tags in the crouch. Really awful suit fits that nearly changed her mind about going to begin with.
That’s when she had some conversations with friends –– and everyone she spoke with had the. Exact. Same. Experience.
And that’s when she launched Andie Swim.
Christopher Cowden, Director of Operations, Grace and Lace
I agree with Seth Godin on this one. There is no end of people who will sell you a lackluster gadget or a ho-hum service.
What we need more of in this world is people who offer their unique “art” to the world.
To would-be entrepreneurs: whatever makes you come alive, whatever makes time disappear, if there is some activity you engage in that you wouldn’t trade for anything else in this world that brings value to others, do that.
Creating a business model around your passion is not the difficult part.
Jason Ehmke, Senior Client Data Analyst, AddShoppers.com
I wouldn’t recommend any one niche to anybody. I would recommend any entrepreneur to go with what they’re passionate about.
If you’re passionate about a specific niche, you’ll put in the extra effort needed to put yourself ahead of your competition. If you start an online store in a niche that is underserved, but you’re not passionate about, you’ll end up burning out before it becomes worth your while.
Greg Johnston, Managing Director, Be A Part Of
Do what you are passionate about. The niche is not really what I would focus on. Just focus on doing what you love better than someone else.
Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, you have to love it. If you want a hobby or quick cash, find untapped niches and sell fast and get out!
12.) Remove the middlemen to win big.
Retail isn’t dying –– but a lot of distributors are. Why? Because they can’t offer the lowest price or the highest quality. Who can? The manufacturers. The owners. The real people behind the real business.
Sure, these folk have had to learn a few marketing chops to take their product to the masses, but now without the middlemen, they are seeing skyrocketing profits.
Here’s an example.
Oyin Handmade used to only sell through distributor sites or drugstores. Today, the brand is still sold there, but there’s no reason not to have a homepage both B2B and B2C consumers can love (and shop!).
A sunscreen that is a brand all its own? Yeah, the world has changed! Sun Bum promotes healthy living and SPF protection, and sells both B2B and B2C so their loyal consumers can get the lowest possible price.
Max DB, Founder, HeyMaxDB – Content Strategy
Any company giving a limited offer at a reduced price in an industry dominated by middlemen. Companies like Dollar Shave Club, Everlane, those get me really excited.
If you can corner the same kind of situation, definitely go for it. And call me.
13.) Deep knowledge has the most power.
Want people to buy from you? Prove to them you know the most about it.
Trust breeds trust –– and conversions.
What topic do you know the most about? That’s the one you should get in to!
Here’s an example.
The FlexFire website has more information than Wikipedia when it comes to strip LED lights. This is because the founder has invested time into building out the most helpful site he possibly could on the topic –– and today, it wins him the business of Google, Disney, Ford and more.
James Brown, Client Engagement Manager, RANDEM
Do/sell what you know better than anyone else. Either your special knowledge comes from your previous working life or your specialist hobby.
If you’re able to effectively communicate your deep knowledge and passion for a specific product/market, you will find others who are willing to engage with you, and hopefully, buy.
14.) Solve your own problem.
Necessity is the mother of invention. And that’s a good thing. Just like Andie Swim above, and the example below, think through your pain points and figure out how to solve them. Likely, others have had the same issue too (and are looking for your solution!).
reCAP Mason Jars
“Our story began with salad dressing,” writes the founder of reCAP Mason Jar lids. “After creating yet another oily mess with the lid and ring, I searched for a pour cap that would fit my Mason Jars and allow me to shake, pour and store dressing.”
Today, the brand has tutorials on fermentation and take-to-work salads, among many other things!
Daniel Wallock, Marketing Strategist, Wallock Media
If I were a new entrepreneur, I wouldn’t think about what product I want to offer or sell. Instead, I would think about what is a problem I can solve and/or what is a product I can make better.
At the end of the day, people want to buy a product that will make their life better.
I would think about creating something that adds real value to people in need or has better unfair advantages than other related products that already exist.
Bill Widmer, eCommerce SEO & Content Marketing Consultant
I’m good at growing eCommerce businesses, but I’m not so great at coming up with products to start them.
My advice to an entrepreneur? Solve your own problem. If you do that, you’ll have a better understanding of your target audience (people like you), which will make EVERYTHING much easier.
15.) Use KickStarter for research.
Kickstarter is a wealth of information on what consumers want, right now. In fact, even established brands use it to launch new products.
That’s exactly what Native Union did –– launched a Kickstarter project to get funding for a new gadget for their line. Check it out.
Bill Bailey CEO, Nodal Ninja
I suggest staying abreast of the newest gadgets and technology.
Follow Kickstarter and project funding sites and look for projects that “spark” your attention.
Talk to the developers and ask for the first shot at reselling their products once they are ready to go to market.
16.) Cool products matters (here’s why).
And in the end –– no matter what you sell –– selling it better than your competition is going to depend on how you build a community and relate to your audience.
You need them to think you are cool. That you know what you are talking about. That your products should be trusted over all others.
Here’s how a couple brands do that.
Fun visuals and an organic online atmosphere blend aesthetics with sustainability, and the RAD audience loves it.
Taking their brick-and-mortar brand online, Obscura recreates their in-store cool home vibe in a series of never-ending online windows with beautiful photography. It’s an online store presented as an online magazine.
David Tendrich, CEO & Co-Founder, Reliable PSD
I think the key nowadays is to stop focusing so much on demographics and niches and instead focus on psychographics within a niche.
For example, someone buying a high-end leather bag might fall into a couple categories:
- I buy high-end leather bags to feel elite.
- I buy high-end leather bags because I want quality that will last.
The more you hone in on just 1 or 2 of these, the more you’ll connect with that group of people, and you’ll become the “go to” for that psychographic.
With our coding agency, Reliable PSD, that’s essentially what we did. We came in to an insanely over-saturated market, but we were the only ones to speak to a specific psychographic within that market, making us the instant obvious choice to people within it.
It doesn’t matter how crowded anything is. If you come in and you’re cooler than the other kids on the playground, people will want to hang with you.
Identifying an online store idea with growth potential is an important part of starting a successful ecommerce business. What you sell matters. How you land on what you sell does too. Whether you come by your ecommerce idea through passion or by luck, be sure you focus on product quality and customer service above all else.