Making It Know

What Should I Sell Online?

What you choose to sell online can make the difference between getting silence when you launch or making record sales. Maybe you already know what you're looking to sell. In that case, you can move right into choosing your website template or perfecting your custom logo.

But if you're hoping to narrow down your passion and zero in on products and offerings, you’re in the right place. In the competitive ecommerce market, differentiating your new small business comes down to three elements:

  • Products or services you offer, and how they serve your customers or clients

  • Quality and professionalism of your ecommerce website and branding

  • Support and consideration of customers through their purchasing experience

While each of those factors play a crucial role in establishing and growing your business, product development is priority number one. 

Read on for the full guide on selling products, services, courses, and subscriptions online. From weighing the pros and cons to providing concrete examples, you’ll walk away with a stronger idea of the offer you’re bringing to market to make the most of launching your online store. 

Identify an idea

With limitless options for what to sell online, considering the variety of avenues open for ecommerce businesses can feel overwhelming. Rather than simply guessing at what may work best for you and your company, consider the following questions:

What do you enjoy doing?

If you don’t like doing the everyday work, it'll be difficult to keep investing the passion, heart, and consistency you need to help your business grow. Instead, make a list of the top five activities you like doing, or the products you enjoy creating. For example, if you’re an artist, you might list jewelry-making as your top activity. Rather than forcing yourself to figure out how to grow a business centered on an offer you don’t enjoy, invest that attention into a product you care about. It seems basic, but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget to take this important step.

What do you have experience in?

Starting with a baseline knowledge of your industry or craft gives you a cutting-edge advantage over less experienced competitors from the moment you open your online doors. Not only does your pre-existing skill set reduce the delay between developing your idea and launching, but it also means better-quality products that warrant higher prices. For example, pottery from an experienced artisan is much more likely to sell out — with higher profit margins — than a ceramic artist with lesser knowhow. 

Which industries are currently growing?

As ecommerce stores continue to gain more popularity, gathering data on your industry’s performance gauges the odds of your offer succeeding. While there are numerous tools out there that quantify a niche’s growth, it’s useful to start with a simple web search of: [your industry] industry trends 2020 or 2021.

Since many marketing agencies publish trend reports at the start of each calendar year, looking at 2020 results still provides useful data on the best product or service to develop. For example, if you’re a writer, you might search for: “Author book trends 2021”.

If research shows that the industry is declining, don’t get discouraged. Industries consistently ebb and flow, and there are plenty of success stories that stem from less likely business models that beat the odds. The data isn’t a definitive factor that determines failure or wins. Rather, it’s a useful baseline to consider when creating what you’ll sell. 

Consider selling physical products

Physical products are a powerful way to present your idea to the world and serve your customers with goods they can hold in their hands. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to the sort of physical products you can sell, although there are pros and cons that accompany concrete merchandise.

Pros of physical products

Generally, once physical products have hit the market, they’re relatively simple to price and sell. Since the customer knows they’re getting a concrete good in exchange for their money, physical products require fewer upfront explanations and justifications, plus they have a higher perceived value that translates to increased profit margins. 

Cons of physical products

While the perceived value and ease of sale can be easier with physical over digital products, physical goods come with considerably more costs — both financially and in terms of the time invested in business operations. No matter how efficiently you can produce your products, there are still external factors that influence your efficiency.  For example, physical products need upfront investment capital,  ample storage space, possible staff members to manage inventory, plus shipping and handling costs. However, there are ways to manage these logistics. 

Examples of physical products

Physical products are anything concrete that you can package and sell, but not all product-based businesses are created equal. 

As you’re weighing your options, consider products that:

  • Are created once, and sold multiple times

  • Can be managed by one or two people

  • Require little — or no — physical space for inventory storage

  • Don’t weigh much, for lower shipping costs

  • Have potential for product variety in the future

You can always optimize and expand later, but the initial goal is bringing your minimum viable product to market. Someone selling their photography and art prints is a perfect example of this.

If you have a quality camera or canvas, eye for composition, and a passion for capturing the world, selling prints of your work can work well. You can sell multiple prints from one original, prints don’t require very much physical storage, shipping costs are minimal, and you’re the main driver behind creating new products. All of these factors are why print-based businesses are scalable. 

Other options include launching your t-shirt shop, selling your original art, crafting jewelry, or creating custom greeting cards. There are no wrong answers — just products that are potentially better fits for your first endeavor.

Tips for selling physical products

Even though physical products come with a list of possible cons, there are seamless ways to automatically manage the logistics. 

Give your website design a headstart
Lock in your professional-looking online store using one of  these award-winning ecommerce design templates. They’re easily customized, and add a layer of polish that appeals to customers.

Import with integrations
Save time by integrating product listings directly into your ecommerce shop without manually entering each product detail. For example, Squarespace’s Etsy product import tool automatically syncs your catalog so you can sell from your new site.

Manage your inventory and product catalog
Decrease your back-end logistics by choosing an ecommerce platform that best organizes your merchandise — for yourself and your customers. With Squarespace, you can add unlimited product variants, set inventory panel alerts, provide rich product descriptions with embedded videos and related products, use product quick-views, and even schedule future product promotions. It’s a hands-off way of running your business, and you can try it for free.

Print on demand, dropship, and accepting returns
Manually shipping each order is one of the largest time investments ecommerce shops face. Instead of making multiple trips to the post office, partner with a shipping company that includes pickup, shipping, delivery, and accepting customer returns. As an added bonus, some shipping companies offer print-on-demand services, meaning you don’t need to store a physical inventory. Squarespace integrates with a variety of shipping and printing partners, depending on the size of your company and what you’re selling.

Offer subscriptions
Generate recurring revenue and build customer loyalty by selling subscriptions to your products on a weekly or monthly basis. This is great for products that customers need regular restocks of, like coffee beans. You can sell subscriptions and nurture customer loyalty directly through Squarespace.

Selling Digital Products

Digital products are virtual goods or services that can’t be shipped or held. Since the process of producing and selling digital merchandise is so straightforward, virtual goods are often the first step for many online stores, although the pros and cons vary.

Pros of digital products

Unlike their physical product counterparts, digital products or services need less logistical upkeep to continue selling well. For example, virtual offers have no shipping costs, no shipping restrictions, no necessary storage space, and no inventory to track. Your customers and clients get your product instantly, in real-time, meaning you’ll have consistent feedback on your product’s performance, with no inventory to clear out before optimizing your offer for next time. Digital products offer the flexibility that most physical products can’t match. 

Cons of digital products

Virtual products can be a harder sell since the clear value can be difficult to fully communicate. Since online, fully-digital products and services are physically intangible by definition, you may need to offer more information before customers and clients feel comfortable purchasing. Depending on the structure of your virtual offer, you may need to coordinate class times, email drip schedules, or service appointments.

Examples of digital products

Similar to physical products, the goal for digital product development is to deliver the least viable product to market in order to generate upfront revenue and see what’s working. For example, selling virtual goods can look like offering downloads of your music, copies of your ebook, or images of your artwork that customers print on their own. For virtual services, individual online coaching and group classes serve your clients while keeping your work socially-distanced. For more examples, see the full guide of how to sell time, expertise, and other digital offerings online

Tips for selling digital products

The most effective way to manage your digital products and services is by partnering with a service that streamlines many of the moving parts, and adds functionality that make your customers and clients feel cared for.

Improve the customer/client journey with email campaigns
Just like physical products need to be shipped, digital products need to be delivered. Beyond the initial delivery email, it’s important to keep engaging with your customers through a scheduled, automated email campaign. When you check in to see how they’re doing or promote relevant offerings, you’re staying top of mind while creating a complete customer experience. Squarespace’s built-in email campaigns make it possible to plan out your drip sequence, and ensure every customer feels cared for.

Allow clients to self-schedule their appointments
Instead of emailing back and forth with clients, let them self-schedule their appointments and classes with you, directly on your website. From confirmation emails to reminder texts, self-scheduling saves you the time of manually booking your calendar, while making it easier for clients to schedule. If you plan to sell your services, Squarespace Scheduling provides the functionality you need to scale without the administrative stress.

Add value for customers and clients with a space for members
Deliver an upscale experience and add tangible value to your offers by setting up a private space on your site, only for paying members. These spaces work well for any materials you want to protect behind a paywall, like hosting downloadable files, adding new digital workshop videos, or creating digital libraries of meditations or music. Squarespace’s Member Areas make this process simple to set up, so you can start selling memberships. 

Selling physical and digital hybrid products

The fundamental differences between digital and physical products are what make them so compatible for joint offers. Instead of only selling one of the other, it’s worth exploring combinations of both types of sales. For example:

Pair a digital course with the physical products that students need to succeed
For example, a photographer could sell a virtual workshop on headshots, plus a physical kit of the required materials, like a lightbox or tripod. This way, you’re supporting students from every angle while creating an opportunity for the upsell of the materials kit.

Offer gift cards for physical products
One of the main benefits of purchasing a digital product or service is the instant gratification, without waiting for shipping costs to deliver the merchandise. When you utilize gift cards for your physical products, you’re offering customers the same instant gratification and convenience of something digital — while ultimately still promoting your physical merchandise. Since gift cards are often last-minute gifts, making them available opens up a second stream for driving traffic to your store.

No matter what you decide to sell online, Squarespace is here to help.

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