What Products Can I Sell?

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.

 

2019-02-23T19:27:34+08:00February 28th, 2019|E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship|0 Comments

4 Essential Tools for Your e-Commerce Operation

As a small business, we don’t have the luxury of hiring a team of developers to develop and customize the tools we really want. Fortunately, the app marketplace fills this void with lots of choices.  The key is to ensure that these tools which are created by different developers are able to work seamlessly together to deliver the results we want.

Here is a list of tools which I’ve used to run my web business for the past 7 years.

1) Xero – accounting
This should be the most important decision you make for your business operation other than the brand of coffee you buy for your pantry. We chose Xero because there is a huge amount of integrations with other tools. This will make it easy for you to automate and reduce redundancy in your day-to-day operation.

2) TradeGecko – inventory management
We started using TradeGecko since 2015 and so far it has proven to be a critical component required to keep track of our inventory, orders, shipping and returns. It has a powerful reporting tool which is very useful to help in forecasting procurement. TradeGecko pushes sales and purchase orders to Xero automatically and saves us a lot of time.

3) OpenCart – shopping cart system
Simple one of the best shopping cart system out there. The core system is free but to get the most out of OpenCart, you need to purchase some extensions (add-ons) to suit the type of products you sell.

4) MailChimp – newsletter
E-mail has always been one of the most effective selling channel and MailChimp makes it very intuitive for us to launch campaigns and tracking their effectiveness. MailChimp connects to our Xero contacts which makes managing our mailing list easier.

There are a lot of other tools that are crucial in my daily operation workflow such as content creation and logistics solution. I did not include them here because these tools are usually business specific and company specific.

As a general guideline, the tools I mentioned above can be used for 90% of all small to mid-sized e-Commerce operations.

If you would like to find out how you can improve your efficiency for your e-commerce operation, drop me a line at yowchuan@meshio.com

2019-02-23T19:05:29+08:00February 19th, 2019|E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship, OpenCart|0 Comments

This versus That

Ever since we started setting up e-commerce stores 6 years ago, we’ve been using OpenCart – one of the most popular open-source shopping cart systems. And the more we use OpenCart, the better we get at maximizing the features it has to offer. We also realized some of the stuff that OpenCart doesn’t do very well.

And then it comes to a point where you start evangelizing the product you use. Because you now understand the products much better, you become more attached to it. Which is a good thing, in my opinion.

However, it only becomes not-so-good when you start to spend time trying to convince someone who’s using Shopify or Magento (both of these are also shopping cart systems) on why OpenCart is superior than theirs. It’s like the whole Android vs Apple thing. Pointless. A solid profitable e-commerce business depends not just on the shopping cart system, but a lot of other factors as well. You need a good selection of products, photography skills, copy writing skills,  inventory system etc.

Just a few minutes ago, out of curiosity, I attempted to setup my first WordPress-based Woo Commerce store. I am actually quite impressed with the whole setup process. There’s a lot of things I think Woo Commerce has got it right. Of course the Woo Commerce team knows what they are doing- they got bought over by WordPress and I don’t remember any other theme or plugin developer who got to that status.

So, instead of cheer leading for just one particular product, your perspective will be expanded much more when you attempt to solve a problem with a variety of other solutions. Sometimes, this also forces you to look at the problem from a different angle, which you’ve never thought possible. Let the fanboys fight among themselves.

It’s what you ultimately produce that really matters.

2016-11-26T03:06:28+08:00November 26th, 2016|E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship, OpenCart|0 Comments

Malaysia Online Marketplaces

It seems everyone wants to play the markeplace game. Who doesn’t?

A marketplace is extremely scalable. You don’t own inventories, you don’t need to spend money on warehouses and security. You don’t need to hire people to pick and pack. A wonderful business model. But like any businesses, if what you offer is pretty much the same thing your competitors offer, it won’t be long you start playing the price war game to get market shar. That’s when you start racing your way to the bottom of the food chain.

If you have been selling on Etsy, you would realize these people are not just out to make money on your transactions or to use your sales data against you (marketplaces are known to source products that are hot-selling and compete against their own sellers). Etsy is serious about helping sellers make a living.

Etsy made a compelling product for the supply side of the marketplace, the supply then unlocked the demand through white hat social media. Etsy’s incredible organic channel is the entrepreneurial drive of its sellers.

The underlying strength of this organic channel is evidenced by Etsy’s repeat purchase rate. That is, the majority of Etsy’s GMS is generated from repeat purchases. Incredibly, in 2014, 78% of purchases were from repeat customers.

Higher revenues for sellers => Higher seller retention => Higher seller personal promotion through social media => Higher visibility for Etsy’s products => Higher GMS => IPO

Nicolò Ungari, What Etsy’s S1 Filing Taught Me About Marketplaces

I totally agree with >Nicolò. And from my experience, eBay is exactly the opposite of Etsy and that’s why eBay is becoming irrelevant in today’s e-commerce marketplace.

On another note, Etsy has seldom, if ever asked their sellers to offer their products at deep discount to attract customers. They understood the economics of things. You cannot keep giving discounts and expect to run a healthy long term business. Let’s face it, all business needs profit to survive and thrive. But marketplaces in Malaysia doesn’t seem to think so- they are always offering vouchers, deep discounts and pricing gimmicks just to get the transaction, often at the expenses of their merchants.

If you are doing your business so you can win the title for ‘The Most Popular Merchant on ABC Marketplace’, by all means keep offering discounts and reduce your margins. If you are like most of the other normal business, then I strongly suggest that you be very careful with the marketing campaigns these marketplaces are requesting you to participate.

You should continue to sell on online marketplaces as long as it justifies the resources you invest in them.

I have been selling on major marketplaces, and the good ones will make sure sellers can thrive using their platform. Because in the grand scheme of things, as an online marketpalce, your merchants are also your customers.

2015-10-11T18:18:52+08:00October 11th, 2015|E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship|2 Comments

OpenCart Extension: Total Import Pro & Special Characters

OpenCart

If you are using OpenCart and you have like 1000+ inventories, you will do yourself a great favor by using this tool called “Total Import Pro” written by these great people @ HostJars.com. You can thank me later.

As with all great piece of software, you also get your share of annoying little bugs that somehow got shipped along with the good stuff. And today, I just wrote to them about the possibility that their importer could be causing special HTML characters not parsed correctly in OpenCart.

Hi Guys/Gals,

I’ve been using Total Import Pro for the past 3 years, and I must say you guys have saved hours of my life. For that, I would like to thank you for such a great piece of software.

However, I recently noticed a Total Import bug that would eat up at least 50 hours of my life if I am to fix them manually. So, I really want to reach out to you and hope you can once again save my life (50 hours of it).

Here’s what happened:

1) I have a product with the title “K&N Performance Air Filter 33-2922”. Notice the special character & in there.

2) When I import using Total Import Pro, what happen next is, I am not able to find the product after I type the character “K”. So, imagine the number of products I have with the starting letter K…

3) However, I could fix the problem if I manually save the product again using OpenCart. Somehow when I save using OpenCart, the ampersand is properly parsed in the database as a valid character. In other words, when I import using Total Import Pro, the symbol ampersand is not treated as such.

4) This also leads to the problem of generating a valid sitemap for Google, because each time I tried to load my sitemap, Chrome will tell me the “Sitemap is not well-formed”. Well-formed or not, I am not looking for a kick-ass, bootylicious XML, but at least one that will not return any errors when parsing special characters in the product title.

As such, I would really appreciate it if you could tell me how I can import my products with the special characters registered normally in OpenCart.

Name a price for 50 hours of my life.

I will post it up here once I get a response from them.

*****

And on Sep 22, I got a reply from Matt of Hostjars.com

Thanks for getting in touch! It looks like you have discovered a bug, as we offer bug fixes for free this will not cost you anything to have fixed! In fact, our developers have just released a patch for this issue this morning. It is still undergoing our internal review process, but to save you any further delay while this happens I am going to send you a copy of the latest version of Total Import PRO which contains this fix.

Follow the installation instructions and overwrite your existing files to update your installation.

Once you have updated please try your import again and let me know if you have any further problems.

Warm regards,

Matt
HostJars

Can’t wait to install the new patch on my OpenCart.

2015-09-23T19:20:16+08:00September 17th, 2015|E-Commerce, OpenCart|0 Comments

Amazon’s Customer Metrics

If you are selling on Amazon, you would be familiar with the following metrics Amazon uses to benchmark your customer service.

Customer Metrics
Customer satisfaction is one of the most important performance measures we use to determine how well you are doing as a seller on Amazon. The Customer Metrics page provides reports that give you greater insight into how you are doing with respect to customer satisfaction.

The following performance metrics are included in the report:

Perfect Order Percentage (POP): The percentage of orders that are perfectly accepted, processed, and fulfilled.

Order defect rate (ODR): The percentage of orders that have received a negative feedback, an A-to-z Guarantee claim or a service credit card chargeback. It allows us to measure overall performance with a single metric.

Pre-fulfillment cancellation rate: This measures your in-stock rate for items sold with Amazon.com.

Late ship rate: On-time shipment is a promise we make to our mutual customers. Orders confirmed after the expected ship date are considered to be late.

Percentage of orders refunded: High refund rates may be an indicator of item stock-outs.

And if you use these metrics on all your other online sales channels, it should give your sales a very good boost in the long scheme of things.

2015-09-15T02:57:36+08:00September 15th, 2015|E-Commerce|0 Comments