Starting an Online Store: Product Sourcing 101
Finding a reliable product source is one of the most significant milestones when starting a business online.
Dependable partners will make your brand shine, while unreliable product sources may end a company prematurely. The issue is even more pronounced for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.
But fear not, as we’ll assist you in product sourcing – explaining the best methods and listing resources and partners.
Ultimately, you’ll learn how to source products to sell online confidently and profitably.
In This Article
What Is Product Sourcing?
Product sourcing is finding products to sell, usually from a third-party supplier.
When looking for product sources, you must have a clear idea of three main factors:
- Are you going to buy in bulk, hold inventory, and take care of logistics?
- Are you going to merely resell merch or customize it?
- Are you going to manufacture your products from scratch?
With the combination of these factors, there are different forms of sourcing products for your store.
Common Ways to Source Products
Let’s go through the most common methods to source products.
1. Dropshipping & Print-On-Demand
Dropshipping is one of the most popular and profitable ways to source products, especially for those with online stores.
With dropshipping, you sell merch manufactured by a third party only when an order is placed in the store, making it one of the most sustainable fulfillment methods.
The supplier also ships the product to the end customer. An online store will act as a middleman between the customer and the supplier. Dropshipping is also a fulfillment method that frees businesses from handling inventory and shipping.
Print on Demand is the cherry on top of dropshipping. With this method, suppliers also print and customize the merch according to the store designs.
Successful dropshipping + POD depends on trustworthy partnerships, as outsourcing logistics makes it harder to check product quality directly. Print Providers should be selected carefully and constantly evaluated. Also, store owners must always order samples of new products before selling.
- Businesses willing to sell sustainable custom merch without holding inventory.
2. Manufacturers & Wholesalers
Manufacturers and wholesalers are third-party suppliers.
Manufacturers either make custom products according to your specifications or sell their stock with customizations. Wholesalers supply goods they sourced from other providers.
These arrangements require inventory upfront costs as manufacturers and wholesalers have minimum order quantities. But they allow the parties to negotiate discounts, especially when commissioning bulk orders. And there is competition among multiple suppliers in the same sector.
Finally, product sourcing through manufacturers gives store owners more control over the product.
Some companies resort to a direct-to-commerce fulfillment service – ordering goods from manufacturers and suppliers, who ship the product to end-consumers. That route approximates the method of dropshipping.
3. Trade Shows
Trade shows are events where companies showcase their products and services. Usually occurring in convention centers over a few days, trade shows make it easier for buyers and business owners to source and purchase products from a potential supplier.
Entrepreneurs can significantly benefit from attending such events, as they provide networking and expose businesses to new developments and technologies in the sector.
Smaller trade shows can also help stores to connect suppliers and source products from local manufacturers.
Producers exhibiting in trade shows must be careful in securing copyright and trademarks, as the exposure may lead to piracy of new product ideas and rights infringements.
In-person or online marketplaces are excellent for unique product or raw material sourcing.
Traditionally fairs, local and farmer’s markets, or garage sales are places for discovering handmade items, vintage goods, collectibles, and merchandise otherwise unavailable in larger retail businesses.
Those physical places still retain that relevance, besides providing a space to connect potential suppliers with prospective buyers and developing long-term supplier relationships.
Modern sellers count on the additional benefits of online marketplaces such as Etsy, eBay, AliExpress, or Amazon Handmade for trading vintage and unique goods.
Additionally, niche online marketplaces are available for sourcing quite specific goods, such as Discogs (vinyl, CDs, DVDs), AbeBooks (books, both new and second-hand), Reverb (music instruments), or StockX and Taobao (apparel, shoes, electronics).
5. Handcrafting & DIY
Consider making your own products if you have specific skills or are artistic. This business model suits family businesses and creatives’ workshops well – and generates considerable profits within several niches.
Handmade products and DIY include a broad range of merch, from jewelry and apparel to carvings, ceramics, sculptures, or even electronics.
This approach allows entrepreneurs to sell truly unique goods, but it’s time-consuming, requiring steady sourcing of raw materials and space for production and storage. Scaling can also be troublesome.
Finally, an alternative approach to DIY business is selling supplies and DIY kits. That would require sourcing mainly raw materials and components, while it may generate additional income by selling printables such as patterns, plans, and diagrams.
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Product Sourcing: A Step-By-Step Guide to Sell Products Online
Now that you’re acquainted with the major product sourcing methods, let’s go over a step-by-step guide for effectively selling profitable products online.
1. Define the Target Audience
Before picking adequate product sources, do market research and define a target audience for your product line.
Research competition, including their strengths and weaknesses. Check market prices and elaborate a plan to outperform them – that includes picking the right products and design choices but also sourcing products efficiently.
2. Decide How to Source a Product
Taking your target market and possibilities into consideration – including an initial budget, facilities, personnel, time, skills, shipping challenges, and sufficient demand – it’s time to decide on how to get products for an online store.
- Source products from dropshipping services and print-on-demand suppliers if you want to start selling online without upfront costs or handling inventory – but still have options for merch customization.
- Start selling with wholesale suppliers if you already have the experience and capital to commit resources to a product line.
- Go for manufacturing. Both with large-scale manufacturers or in a small-scale business – if your product is unique and the current options don’t cover your needs.
- Source products from marketplaces to cover certain needs, including raw materials, vintage, or boutique goods.
3. Verify and Test Products
Always order samples to check the quality. That’s especially important when dealing with dropshipping sources and Print on Demand. Fortunately, these methods allow you to order product samples.
However, ordering samples for quality assurance also applies to wholesale suppliers and manufacturers. In that, commission small test orders before spending considerable sums.
4. Have Backup Suppliers
Always have a plan B for dealing with out-of-stock issues. Keep alternative suppliers if you deal with manufacturers or wholesale suppliers, as their inventory is out of your control.
When dealing with dropshipping suppliers and Print Providers, we recommend networks like Printify that allow order routing and offer various Print Provider options.
In the case of handmaking and DIY, keep strict control over your raw materials and plan for special periods like holidays.
8 Services to Source Products for Your eCommerce Business
Printify works with a dropshipping and print-on-demand model, freeing merchants from inventory management or any upfront investment.
The platform connects a network of Print Providers worldwide, totaling more than 90 facilities.
Merchants select which Print Provider to source the products from but can opt to use the Order routing and Geographical routing features, which allow automatic redirection of production to centers closer to the end-consumer. The features are handy in the case of stock shortages but also allow cost and shipping time reduction, benefitting the merchants.
The Print Providers are ranked according to several factors, including quality, delivery time, and the number of reprints. The Printify Quality team regularly inspects them to ensure the quality meets the merchants’ standards.
The Printify Quality team also regularly orders samples and performs tests to keep the Printify quality promise. The platform’s multichannel approach maintains contact with the merchants over social media, chat, and email, answering immediately to the user’s demands.
Printify allows creating storefronts via integrations with Etsy, eBay, Walmart, Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Wix, Squarespace, PrestaShop, or via a custom API.
- Free – Up to five stores, unlimited products, free Mockup Generator.
- Premium – $29 monthly or $24.99 per month, if paid yearly – up to ten stores, 20% discount on all products.
- Enterprise (custom pricing) – Unlimited stores, 20% discount on all products. Intended for merchants with more than 10,000 orders per day.
Over 90 facilities in Australia, Canada, China, the EU, the UK, and the US.
The Printify Catalog has over 800 products and is divided into the following categories: Men’s clothing, Women’s clothing, Kids clothing, Accessories, and Home & Living. Accessories include Face masks, Socks, and Hats, to Tech and Car accessories, while Home & Living ranges from Mugs, Bottles & Tumblers to Games, Canvas, and Posters.
DSers is AliExpress’s official dropshipping tool. It allows users to easily export products to Shopify, WooCommerce, and Wix stores.
DSers pricing varies according to the integration. The dropshipping service sources products from thousands of suppliers, mainly from China.
The DSers find suppliers tool makes it easier to find dropshipping suppliers by listing the best quality and a “proven record of past sales.”
However, that means the user has little to no control over the search parameters and can only select products from the main categories. DSers recommends searching AliExpress directly for specific suppliers with the manual search for more information.
That lack of transparency, filters, and choice may become an issue for merchants with many products, especially with packs of international sanctions changing global commerce – some products, for instance, are shipped from Russia.
Price (variable according to the platform):
Shopify (paid per month)
- Basic – Free. 3,000 products, three stores.
- Advanced – $19.90. 20,000 products, ten stores.
- Pro – $49.90. 75,000 products, 25 stores.
- Enterprise – $499. 100,000 products, 50 stores.
Wix (free) – 1,000 products, unlimited & bulk orders; automated pricing rules, shipping templates, order, and tracking sync.
WooCommerce (paid per month)
- Basic – Free. Up to three stores, 3,000 products, unlimited orders.
- Standard – $1.99. Up to five stores, 7,500 products.
- Advanced – $19.99. Up to five stores, 7,500 products.
Undisclosed number of suppliers, mainly from China.
More than 20 categories, from Women’s clothing to Cellphones & Telecommunications.
Handshake is a wholesale marketplace created by Shopify.
The platform strongly focuses on the US, offering profitable wholesale products sourced from curated and handpicked independent creators.
Most products require a minimum order. Handshake requires sellers to store inventory and fulfill customer orders. It offers free shipping on $100+ opening orders.
The platform is recommended for US merchants willing to sell niche products and manage their own inventory.
All US States and territories, from Alaska and Hawaii to Texas.
Accessories, Apparel, Beauty & Wellness, Food & Drinks, Home & Lifestyle, Jewelry, Kids, Stationery, and Pets.
Spocket is a dropshipping platform focusing on US and EU products. Besides that, the platform also sources merch from Australia, China, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Singapore, Turkey, and Ukraine. It integrates with WooCommerce, Shopify, Wix, AliExpress, Ecwid, Squarespace, BigCommerce, Square, Alibaba, eBay, and Felex.
The AliScrapper extension adds importing products from AliExpress, while Alibaba can be counted as a source via apps.
All these sources summed up, Spocket offers more than 10,000 products. However, only some of the US dropshipping suppliers ship worldwide.
The platform’s filters are handy and better than DSers’s, allowing one to search for the origin and destination locations, types of products, suppliers, or price range.
Spocket’s pricing is expensive compared to other platforms, especially given the shipping limitations of many suppliers. Still, the platform offers reasonable rates to the sellers and could be an option for stores trying to source products mainly from the US and EU and keep their brands apart from Made-in-China labels.
- Free plan – Only lets you browse Spocket’s Catalog of products. AliExpress Dropshipping, 24/7 chat support.
- Starter plan – $29 per month. Up to 25 products.
- Pro plan – $49 per month. Up to 250 products + 25 unique products.
- Empire plan – $99 per month. Up to 10,000 products + 10,000 unique products.
Thousands of suppliers from the US, EU, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Singapore, Turkey, and Ukraine.
About 17, from women’s clothing to automotive.
Modalyst is a powerful platform for profitable product sourcing with dropshipping and POD.
The platform is especially connected to Wix but offers integrations with Shopify, BigCommerce, and Alibaba.
Modalyst offers a solid selection of Ready to sell products from reliable suppliers organized into seven groups: Indie Brands, Name Brands, Trendy Items, CBD, Aliexpress, Alibaba, and Beauty.
Modalyst’s “suppliers” would be better named “categories.” They include branded products from indie stores and well-known companies like Gucci and Adidas to hundreds of Chinese manufacturers.
The Ready to sell filters let users search manufacturers by name, shipping settings, and price.
That section is the platform’s main strength, allowing merchants to have good profit margins by selling various brands for a reasonable price.
Modalyst has a new POD service with more than 900 products, elevating the total number of products in the platform to around 10 million.
There is no detailed information on the manufacturers or print providers and no filters – users must look exclusively at the categories and search bar to find products. In addition, they ship only to the US – without filters, we had to painstakingly scroll down the whole product catalog to discover that.
Price (paid every month):
- Hobby plan (free) – up to 25 products.
- Start-up plan – $35 per month. Up to 25 products.
- Pro plan – $90 per month. Unlimited products.
Suppliers all around the world, from Chinese manufacturers to name brands.
- Ready to sell – Women’s Fashion, Men’s Fashion, Kids & Babies, Beauty & Health, Home & Garden, Sports & Entertainment, and ten more (from Jewelry & Accessories to Toys & Hobbies).
- POD – Women’s clothing, Men’s clothing, Kids’ clothing, Accessories, Home & Living, Tech, Office & School, Special Collections.
Salehoo is a dropshipping and wholesale platform from New Zealand that offers 2.5 million products, including high-quality items and reputable suppliers selected through the Salehoo directory.
The products can be sold via integrations with Amazon and eBay or on a standalone website.
Salehoo filters allow you to select the best suppliers according to their minimum orders. The platform offers a competitive advantage regarding retail prices and a vast assortment of products, including well-known brands like Lego, Oakley, and Sony.
Unfortunately, the dropshipping supplier only lets subscribed users search its directory, hindering prospective new sellers from having a precise idea of their huge potential.
Salehoo offers a tool for niche and market research – customized according to the seller’s location – with trends, estimates, and competition data to avoid too many stores starting to sell the same trending products at the same time.
- SaleHoo Directory – $127 one-time payment, $67 billed annually).
- SaleHoo Dropship – Basic $27 paid per month – Import 500 AliExpress products; Premium $97 monthly – three stores, unlimited AliExpress products.
8,000 + suppliers worldwide.
About 30 categories, from apparel (accessories, for women and men) to electronics (consumer, components & supplies).
With women accounting for more than half of global spending on apparel, a specialized wholesaler for women’s fashion, such as Parisian Wholesale, is a must.
The supplier is the leading online wholesaler dedicated to women’s apparel. Based in the UK, Parisian sells dresses, skirts, tops, coordinated sets, playsuits & jumpsuits, jeans, pants, blazers, knitwear, coats, and jackets.
Parisian doesn’t require minimum orders. However, all products are sold in packs of six to nine pieces containing the full range of sizes. The supplier gives fast-tracking delivery worldwide.
Requires applying for a trade account but no monthly fees or minimum order quantity.
The UK and China.
Don’t be deceived by the flamboyant and somewhat outdated aesthetics – Doba is a legit top contender among wholesale marketplaces.
The platform provides reasonable prices and fast shipping. Its extensive catalog provides staple products from Chinese suppliers, unique merch, and quality products from reputable sources and popular brands, including Ralph Lauren and Nina Ricci.
Doba offers storefront integrations with Amazon, eBay, Shopify, Wix, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, eBay, Newegg, Wix, Square, Walmart, and Shift4Shop, besides a custom API – that requires subscribing to a paid plan.
Payments are processed easily through PayPal.
The dropshipping supplier is recommended for merchants with some experience in business online and a standalone website able to properly market their brand and the same products sold by competitors. Experiment with Doba’s free trial before subscribing to a plan, as they can be expensive for users without regular traffic.
- Startup (free) – 100 products per month. No storefront integration.
- Business – $49.99 paid monthly. 2,000 products per month, up to five storefront integrations.
- Enterprise – $299.99 paid monthly. Unlimited products.
US and China.
Up to 16 categories, from home, garden & tools to clothing, shoes & jewelry.
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Decided on What to Sell?
Now you’ve learned how to get products for an online store and the best product sourcing methods – from dropshipping & print on demand to handcrafting & DIY.
This article also covered a basic strategy from sourcing products to starting an online business. And presented you with eight of the best product sources for an online store.
Take your time, plan your business strategy, pick the best product sources, and engage with eCommerce. Count on Printify to assist you on that journey.
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