Becoming a Niche Expert When Drop Shipping Products

DetectiveI 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

CustomerPic

 

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

AndrewTruck

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!

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Comments

  1. Leighton says:

    Hey Andrew,

    I found this post particularly applicable to me right now–I recently chose the niche for the online store I’m working on, and have been doing tons of research on the products I plan to dropship. I loved your suggestions to talk with your customers about the products and to offer them a credit in exchange for sending in photos–what a great way to get photos!

    I’ve also found hobbyist forums tremendously valuable in learning about products. Often, someone will ask a question in a forum like, “What’s the best ____,” and then by combing through the answers I’ll learn a lot about what knowledgeable customers look for in this type of product, and then I can tailor my product descriptions around those ideas.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks Leighton! Sounds like you’re on the right track with research. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read through “What’s the best ____” posts to learn about a market. :-)

      Best of luck with the research, and it’s been great seeing you in the forum!

  2. Dave says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Thanks for all the information, just stumbled across this site the other day and I’ve been educating myself for hours. Keep it up!

    Dave

  3. Great post Andrew! Heck, just creating product listings and going through the whole process of collect product pics, writing descriptions, and all involved in “Stocking” your online store can teach you a ton about your products. Great post!

  4. Paul says:

    Hi Andrew, I’m a dropshipper, I started out by accident really and started dropshipping last september on that big auction site we all know too well. I say by accident after my wife bought me a product I was interested in for my 40th birthday, it didn’t come from the guy based a few miles up the road, but a few thousand miles away in the Far East! I’m a quick learner and am always looking for ways to make extra money.

    One of your tips was to order from your competitors to find out where they source their stuff. I didnt know he’d be a competitor but eleven months on and he’s my closest one! To cut it short i wanted to build a website to get away from the vice like grip and £1000′s I was paying in fees so on your recommendation went with shopify about ten weeks ago.

    It’s took a while to get it going and it’s know where near done but I had my first sale three weeks ago and 4 more since then. I agree dropshipping isn’t for everyone and I’ve had some big ups and very low downs, as you may have guessed, all of my suppliers are also funnily enough also in Asia and the time difference and language barrier has been a problem but I put my customers first and always try to do the right thing.

    I think it’s paying off and I’m making money, and you learn fast. I like you have bought a few items and played around with them for photos and research etc, which you have to do no question, anyway for me it’s worked out but it’s tough selling something you don’t have immediate access to as weird as that sounds, anyway here’s to the next idea!

    All the best Paul

    • Andrew says:

      Congratulations on getting your first store up, and especially for that first sale! Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

      Best of luck as you’re growing the business Paul.

      • Joseph K says:

        How do you find drop shippers oversees? From alibaba and salehoo I found manufacturers, but they wanted to sell me pallets of product. How do I find suppliers in other countries that will drop ship individual products to US addresses?

  5. Shabbir says:

    Hey Andrew,

    I completely agree with you and Leighton about forums. They are really treasure troves of information. You do need to be a little careful though because people are generally really, really mean if you ask a stupid question! It seems the internet brings the best out of bloggers and the worst out of forummers! :D It’s sometimes easier to passively glean everything you can.

    Youtube(and perhaps all online video sites) is another place that’s an amazing resource. People seem to love posting videos about them unboxing and showing off their latest toys, and their comments are really insightful at times. I’ve written many articles for my Resources page from stuff I’ve learned from watching YouTube videos!

    Cheers,

    • Andrew says:

      Agreed, Shabbir! YouTube is an amazing place to learn about your product. I’ve done this as well, too.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. Patrick Brennan says:

    This is a great article, especially for those of us trying to add value in a particular sector.

    Lately my experience has been that a good supplier who is willing to educate, provide resources, and be a real partner in helping you is a big challenge. They really are hard to come by.

    However, I find manufacturers, being geeks about the products or services themselves, are usually very helpful in getting information if their websites don’t have it. Some larger manufacturers are not so great, but if it’s a targeted enough niche, you’ll find some great people willing to help! Plus, you never know when establishing that relationship will be of value down the road, especially if you ever want to move to a stocking/fulfillment model down the road.

    The idea you had about offering a credit for pictures is excellent! Not only do you get awesome pictures, but your customers are more engaged and your website is more of a “community” if you can show “customer pics” on your site. It’s a psychological sales tactic that leverages the social aspect of buying, and it works the same way having lots of informative customer reviews does! Can’t wait to implement this one.

    Thanks again, Andrew. As always your stuff is very high quality & you’ve saved me years of research & mistakes.

    • Andrew says:

      I’ve found the same – manufacturers can be a GREAT source of information. Thanks for the comment and kind words, Patrick!

  7. Tiffany says:

    This was a very helpful article for me. We are looking to break into ecommerce and are thinking of drop shipping for our first store. I am curious, is there a way to create a “brand” while also drop shipping? We wouldn’t have the funds to physically brand things until we are able to get started with a little profit coming in to re-invest.

    • Andrew says:

      While it might be harder to brand the products, you could definitely create a brand by the type of service and support you offer people. Hope this helps!

  8. Kyle says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Just found yout AMA on reddit as I was looking for info people posted about ecommerce. I got lost in all the comments you ended up yielding. Good info!

  9. Kevin says:

    Hey Andrew

    I just wanted to say great site as I’ve been following all your posts.

    I found an opportunity to purchase an e-commerce site but it almost seems to good to be true. Now, what kind of questions should I be asking the seller for besides monthly revenues, profits, etc? Are there certain red flags you look for when something looks almost too good?

    Any advice would help, thanks!

  10. Hello,

    I’m a dutch dropship-entrepeneur. In holland Dropshipment isnt al that big and there isnt alot of information about the subject. I really enjoyed reading this post, thanks for the info.

  11. atua inko-tariah says:

    Hey, am a Nigerian and live in nigeria west Africa, a practicing lawyer but always had the dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Gladly, I stumbled onto your post and have being stock. Africa is a large market and would love immediately go into dropshipping beauty products in Africa. You have beig of great help in my final decision. Thank you, Atua

  12. Martin says:

    Dropshipping sounds like a good opportunity to “get your feet wet” with e-commerce.

  13. rajashree says:

    Hi Andrew,

    This one is the first blog i am reading of yours and I cant stop reading 2 more within few mins.. Good info as i am in marketing field it is very much helpful to me and yes it motivated me too .Thanks

    With warm regards
    Rajashree Dowarah

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