I know the products and the market I sell in extremely well, yet I’ve only laid hands on a small percentage of the items I offer because I’m drop shipping all my products.
Sound impossible? If you’re willing to get creative and put in a bit of work, you can become a bonafide niche expert while enjoying all the conveniences of drop shipping. Here’s how:
Talk to Your Customers
There’s one fear you need to overcome if you want to become a niche expert: potentially sounding dumb to your early customers. Talking with customers is one of the best ways to quickly learn the ins-and-outs of a market.
You’ll inevitably be faced with lots of questions you can’t answer, but don’t panic! When asked questions I didn’t know early on, I always told my customers “I just started here – do you mind if I do some research and get right back to you?”. You’ll be being honest (you are just starting!), and the customers will almost always appreciate your initiative. Often, interacting with customers directly is the only way to find out what issues they’re really struggling with and have questions about.
Early on, I always pro-actively ask customers what they think of a product they ordered. This could be as casual as asking when they call you, or as intentional as calling every customer after purchase to ask about their product experience. Either way, you’ll quickly start to see trends emerge about which products are well loved and which items are pieces of junk.
Getting quality product pictures is anther big challenge with drop shipping. To get quality shots we offered a customer incentive: send in high-res pictures of your radio installation and we’ll issue you a $5 credit on your purchase. This small investment resulted in loads of quality pictures of products being used in their natural environment – shots that would have been extremely difficult to re-create on our own.
A Customer Submitted Photo
Order a Few of Your Products
No amount of online research will ever replace using an item, so it’s a good idea to order a few of your products to understand exactly how they work. And if your product line requires complicated setup or installation, it’s a must to order at least one package to install on your own.
The first things I did when starting Right Channel Radios was to order a complete radio kit and install it on my own vehicle. Just the experience of picking components, installing the antenna, seeing how everything worked and struggling with troubleshooting issues taught me an incredible amount that was applicable to all of the products I sold.
Doing a Radio Install on My Old Truck
Strongly consider purchasing just your best sellers so you can get your hands on them. It’s likely that 80% of your questions from customers will be directed toward just 20% of your most popular products, so getting experience with those best sellers will pay disproportionate dividends. It also allows you to take quality product photos for the products on your site that will be seen the most.
Leverage Your Suppliers
An experienced supplier representative may be your most valuable asset when striving to become a niche expert. It’s so important that I’ll specifically consider how knowledgeable sales reps are when considering a supplier or a new niche.
In the early days of my stores, I spent hours and hours asking questions, getting clarification on confusing issues and learning which products were most popular. While we don’t rely on them nearly as much today, we still contact our reps at least once or twice a week for help with questions from customers.
Building a strong rapport with a knowledgable drop shipping rep is incredibly valuable for fast-tracking your journey to niche expert.
Get Serious About Research
Most people dramatically underestimate the time and effort required to become an expert in a niche. It’s not something that’s going to happen on a lazy Sunday afternoon while you’re watching the football game. For even relatively basic niches, going from newbie to expert requires weeks and weeks of research.
You need to bring the same intensity to the research process that you did the last time you made a big, fun purchase. Remember how you spent two months straight reading reviews on new big screen TVs before you pulled the trigger? That’s starting to approach the right level.
Here are a few places I’ve found that are especially helpful when it comes to online research:
Hobbyist Forums: There’s nothing quite like forums to get the unfiltered, real-world questions and struggles end users are having with your products. Even if your niche doesn’t have a dedicated community, you can find discussions about your products by identifying end users. For example, there aren’t too many trolling motor specific forums but there are lots of fishing forums with plenty of threads on trolling motors inside.
Manufacturer Websites: One of my niche selection criteria is picking a manufacturer who provides great information about their products, and ideally an information rich website. For any major product line you sell, you should have read every single thing available from the manufacturer. Product manuals, which are often downloadable from a manufacturer’s website, can be an exceptionally good learning tool.
Reviews: Reading product reviews are a great way to leverage the heavy-lifting others have done. While this isn’t always possible – especially with more obscure niches – it’s incredibly effective if the information exists. Amazon is an especially good place to find lots of reviews, but you might want to think twice if all the products you’re selling are also sold with ample information on Amazon as it may be difficult to compete.
It’s Harder, But Not Impossible
Becoming an expert while drop shipping products is definitely harder, but it’s by no means impossible! With a bit of creativity and some dedication you can become a trusted, knowledgable expert in just about any niche – even if you never see most of the products.
Have questions? As always, let me know in the comments below!