This question gets asked a lot especially since anyone can now become an online seller simply by just opening a store using one of the many available marketplaces we have in Malaysia.

However, the question that one should be asking is, “What would people want to buy from me?” Although it might seems like I’m just paraphrasing the original question, but there is an important distinction.

When you ask “what would people buy”, you are thinking in terms of the demand. Every business transaction always start with the demand, although some hard-selling salesman might not agree with that, but that’s true for most of the cases. Traders who ask “what products can I sell” will be focusing on their perspective of what the market should buy from them. It’s sort of like an inventor mindset, where you go about creating a demand for a product that is likely not in the market yet. Not an easy path especially if you haven’t got much experience and not a lot of marketing dollars to burn.

On the demand side of things, it’s a lot more straightforward. You can use the reverse-engineer approach to work out a sourcing plan. Look at the items that are selling like hotcakes. It also likely means that they are a lot of competitors. But competition is a good sign because it means you are at least on the right track. Study the trend. If competition is too fierce and margin is razor thin, it’s probably better to switch your attention to something else. Also, it’s good to stay in the category where you are familiar with or products will shallow learning curves. Sourcing the right product is a numbers game- the more you try the better you get. Some people get lucky within the first few rounds of sourcing, while some would have to source down to their last dollar. So, it makes sense to source according to the capital you have. The idea is to increase the number of products you’re sourcing until one of them gain traction. This is the part where you cannot cut corners, you have to pay your dues. If a product fails to perform, try to understand why it didn’t fly. It usually always boils down to the issue of pricing, traffic and customer service. Every transaction and customer enquiry is an important learning experience.

You don’t necessary need to know your products in-depth because in the first few selling attempts, you should be concern with identifying the demands. Once you can identify a good niche, that’s when you double down on it.

As a final reminder, always source products according to your available capital and resources. The idea is to stretch your money for as long as you can until you hit your best-seller. A seller with RM10,000 and another one with RM100,000 will have a very different sourcing strategy.

Worst case scenario would be that you exhaust all your capital and still did not manage to identify a rift in the market. All is not lost, you can still give your unsold inventories during Christmas or use your experience to write a book on how not to source products.

Just like any business ventures, there’s no shortcuts. Do the work and keep learning.