That billion-dollar lightbulb moment could strike anywhere – follow these 10 tips and tricks to make sure you're ready to get the ball rolling.
1. Your kitchen. Your closet. Anywhere close to you.
A great idea doesn’t care when it happens or who it happens to. The seeds of it could be lying anywhere. The trick is to make a connection between something in your life (or your family’s) that could be better, and its potential as an e-commerce opportunity.
2. Trend publications. Yes, they’re a thing.
Browsing the latest trend publications such as PSFK, Trend Hunter, Trend Watching and the weekly AOB news wire, shows you the new products coming to market and gives you a sense of what consumers are interested in. It can also spark ideas off the back of other people’s – for example, the growth of smartphones directly led to the invention of the selfie stick. For better or worse.
3. Social media networks
OK, so Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the rest probably might now reveal a brand new product idea to you on day one. But you can work social media to your advantage if you already have a product category you'd like to explore. Regular visits to the explore pages on Snapchat are also great sources of inspiration.
4. B2B wholesale marketplaces
These are all about connecting e-commerce wholesalers, distributors and retailers so that each can benefit from buying and selling online. Browsing the sites can be a bit daunting at first as they reveal the sheer size and variety of global online commerce. However, they can make selling your product a lot easier once you've got to grips with each platform.
- Alibaba is the Asian equivalent of Amazon.
- Oberlo is a Shopify-owned marketplace.
- Global Sources is a Hong-Kong based B2B site.
5. Your notepad
Whether you have an ideas notebook, where you regularly write things down, or leave yourself voice message listing your new ideas, US entrepreneur and author James Altucher thinks you should jot down ten of your ideas every morning to start developing your ‘idea muscle’.
The finer details and practicality of each idea can come later; what you’re after is the confidence that you can create on demand. And if you can’t generate ten ideas? “Focus on generating 20,” says James.
6. Key influencers
Again, you first need to gain insight into the niche you’re interested in. There are various tools to discover the influencers in your sector, which can help you and set up steady flows of carefully curated content from people in the know. Here are a few tools to help you discover the influencers in a particular sector or niche:
AllTop – aggregates all of the top news and information in real time. Find a topic and learn what's happening from trusted sources.
FollowerWonk – helps you explore and grow your social graph. Twitter analytics to find, analyse, and optimise for social growth.
“An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements,” James Webb Young in A Technique for Producing Ideas, published in 1940.
7. Online consumer marketplaces
Another potentially daunting prospect. However, each of the big consumer e-commerce sites has pages showing what’s popular and trending to save you wading through millions of products. Try eBay Market Research, Amazon Best Sellers and Amazon Movers & Shakers, Kickstarter Discover and Etsu Trending Now.
8. Your vacations
Traveling the world is a great way of discovering commonplace things that may be unheard of in your own neighbourhood. See what’s popular on the streets and in the stores, and make a point of visiting local craft markets.
9. Social forum communities
Here’s where you can find inspiration from people talking about new and/or popular products. The largest is Reddit, the self-proclaimed ‘front page of the internet’. It has sub-sections called ‘subreddits’ that cater for almost every interest under the sun. One subreddit displays clever and useful products that people are very keen to buy: check out 'Shut Up And Take My Money'.
Quora is where people go to ask questions and provide answers. You can follow feeds such as New Products and Services or discover questions and answers that may inspire your own e-commerce business ideas. Here are a few:
10. Lifestyle magazines
If your interest is in DIY or practical mechanics, make sure that you subscribe to the online and offline consumer magazines in that sector. Here, your ideas and opportunities can spring not just from the main articles, but also from readers’ responses to them. So study the comments, shares, and letters pages to see what’s currently delighting or vexing consumers in that field. Devour the display and classified ads too. Is there a way you can improve on something that’s already being offered?