Congrats, you’ve completed one of the most important steps as a business owner—you picked your niche!
You’ve found the perfect niche and you’re itching to start building your store and making product designs. But before you go all in, you need to validate your niche and find out whether you’ll make any money in this niche.
Let’s get started!
There are three key things you need to do to be sure you’ve picked the right niche.
Facebook has more than 1.84 billion users that visit the site daily, so it’s a great place for marketing your products. Facebook is also a handy source that can show you how many people are in your target niche.
Cynthia Ly, the creator of Ecom Dominators, a YouTube channel that’s dedicated to inspire and help people to start their own online print-on-demand business, explains:
“Pick a niche that has a large audience size, preferably over 1 million people that are interested. This is for scalability reasons. Simply go to Facebook Audience Insights to check the audience size.”
You need to market your store to a large audience to give Facebook the best chance to find people potentially interested in your store, whether you’re running paid ads or posting updates about your products. The smaller your audience, the fewer people will come across your products.
As Cynthia points out:
“When entering a new niche, you should know your top 5 to 10 competitors.”
Pay attention to:
Go to your competitors’ stores and check their product catalog. Sort by best sellers to see which products are the most popular among shoppers. Cynthia advises to start with best-selling products, and then add your own unique designs.
Explore your competitors’ social media accounts and see what kind of questions their customers ask. This information will help you pinpoint what’s important to your potential customers and then offer that as well. Perhaps customers often ask about free shipping or the type of fabric that’s used in apparel products. Take note of those questions and use this information in your FAQs and product descriptions.
This tip comes from Deby Coles, a print-on-demand expert and a creator of a course that teaches artists how to sell their art on Etsy with Printful. Here’s what Deby says:
“You can even read some of those reviews and see if you get ideas for how this product can be improved, and that can inspire you to create products that exactly meet the needs of those customers in that niche.”
Pay close attention to bad reviews in particular, they’ll show your competitors’ weaknesses. You’ll know what to avoid or focus on to ensure that your customers are happy.
Take a look at how your competitors respond to these bad reviews. If you notice they’re not polite or quick with their replies, then this is your time to one-up your competitors and offer better customer service.
This is a tip from Richard Lazazzera, the owner of A Better Lemonade Stand, an online ecommerce incubator that educates and supports business owners in the early stages of their journey.
Paid advertising is a type of online promotion where you pay the platform owner to display your ad. Paid ads usually appear on social media platforms, news sites, search engine result pages, and so on.
Richard advises using paid ads because they’re a sure way to test whether there’s a demand for your products.
Place ads on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok, depending on where your niche audience spends the most time. You can also experiment with Google Ads. People make more than 160 billion searches per month on Google alone, so placing your ad on top of the search engine results will help you reach a wide audience.
You don’t need to place ads on every single platform you can think of. To start, pick one platform and run a couple of paid ads to see if you get any sales.
You’ve validated your audience, now the next step is to research current trends to become a true expert of your niche. Staying on top of current trends will help you tailor your product selection and adjust your designs whenever a new trend arises.
There are dozens of tools and resources you can use to catch up on trends, but I’ll mention the three most popular ones.
Google Trends is a search feature that shows the popularity of a search term on Google. You can view whether a trend is on the rise or decline. You can also find demographic insights, related topics, and queries to help you better understand what’s trending.
As Richard Lazazzera advises, kick off with Google Trends:
“A great starting place for general market research is Google Trends. It’s simple, but it works. It’ll give you a birds-eye view of whatever market, niche, or product you search and you can narrow it down from there.”
When you start your trend research, use a wide timeline, for instance, “2004–present.” You’ll see clearly whether the search volume is increasing or decreasing. You might also notice seasonal trends that you should be aware of. For example, if you sell t-shirts for dog lovers and notice that designs with corgis are becoming more popular, it’s a good sign to add a new corgi-themed t-shirt to your store.
Michael Essek, a t-shirt designer and illustrator, suggests:
“The best research tool to use is whatever your target customer will be using. So if you’re trying to sell on Etsy—the best research tool is the Etsy search bar.”
As Michael points out, the search bar auto-complete feature is particularly handy. It lets the search engine predict the user’s query and provides suggestions as the user types. So when you type in any word, the possible questions or phrases the search engine creates are based on what’s been typed in by millions of other shoppers.
Suggested searches reflect the potential in the market. For instance, when typing the word “ballet” in Etsy, you’ll get suggestions like “ballet shoes,” “ballet flats,” “ballet positions,” and many more ballet-specific terms. These suggestions will show you the products customers are looking for that you might offer as well.
As Michael points out, ecommerce platforms and marketplaces are “pretty good at showing you what’s currently trending and selling on their platforms.” It’s a great way to spark new ideas for a product.
Even if you’re not selling on Amazon, this marketplace is a great resource for researching current trends.
Firstly, look for products with lots of reviews. As Deby Cole explains, a high number of reviews means that “there have been a large number of sales for that product.” But don’t assume that popularly reviewed products are good, because often people are more likely to review bad quality products.
Secondly, explore Amazon’s Most Wished For page.
The Most Wished For page is compiled of the most popular products added to shoppers’ wish lists. Most Wished For products are also broken up into categories, so you can find something as specific as “the most wished for women’s jumpsuit”.
Richard from Ecommerce Platforms, a copywriter with expertise in print-on-demand and email marketing, explains that the Most Wished For page will show what products are in high demand.
The page is updated daily, so products are constantly changing. There are a few popular items that have been there for months, so pay attention to those in particular. If they’ve been on wish lists for so long, it means that there’s high demand for these products.
Thirdly, use extra tools to research popular products on Amazon.
Ryan Hogue, a multi-million dollar Amazon seller, recommends the free Chrome extension AMZ Suggestion Expander. The extension expands the number of search suggestions shown in the Amazon search bar and shows the keywords that Amazon would suggest placing before and after the keywords you entered. The AMZ Suggestion Expander will be handy to pinpoint specific products potential customers are looking for.
Another tool for exploring new trends on Amazon is Flying Research. The tool has a variety of features including niche research and analysis, keyword research, best seller lists, and more.
Open Flying Research and enter a keyword or the niche you’re targeting. You’ll see a list of average sales for different products and how different niches have performed within a given period.
Now that you’re confident about the niche you’ve picked, it’s time to figure out your product selection. There are three ways to do that.
Keywords are the words or phrases people type into search engines like Google when looking for information.
Keyword research is a term that describes the process of finding keywords people use to look for something on the Internet. Your goal as a store owner is to use the most relevant keywords in your store’s website so that your store ends up in the top positions of Google.
As Richard Lazazzera explains,
“Keyword research is a super quick and easy way to get an actual ballpark idea of how many people are searching for this product and its related keywords every month so you know what you have to work with.”
You’ll discover what products people actually look for and what keywords you should include in your product descriptions and website.
To find out whether there’s any demand for your product, look at the search volume of each keyword when using the tools Richard recommends. Search volume is the number of keyword searches at a selected period. The higher the search volume, the better.
For more tips and tricks on how to do keyword research, have a look at our blog article on SEO (search engine optimization).
After you do keyword research, the next step is to check what’s trending on online marketplaces, like Amazon, Etsy, or eBay, according to Michael.
Michael advises starting with the Best Sellers page on Amazon. Amazon is one of the world’s largest ecommerce companies, so it’s an ideal resource for doing your product research. Use the links in the left sidebar to browse best sellers in a specific niche.
Apart from the Best Sellers page, you can find trending Amazon products in a special list of items that have experienced the biggest rise in sales over the past 24 hours. It’s called Amazon Movers and Shakers and it’s updated on an hourly basis.
Etsy is home to unique, hand-crafted items with more than 80 million buyers. It’s also a great resource to explore what type of items are trending. Have a look at the Trending now section for inspiration.
If you don’t want to spend hours browsing Etsy, check out Craftcount. This platform keeps a record of the top 10, 50, and 100 Etsy shops in various categories. By going to Craftcount and filtering by category, you can see which sellers have the most sales in their category.
Explore the Trending section on eBay. You’ll find a list of trending products, as well as the number of searches, and product page URLs of these products.
There are also tools like eBay Watch Count. This tool helps you discover which eBay items have attracted the most interest. You can see how many users have bookmarked a certain item or added it to their Watch List. The products with the highest watch count are the ones you need to pay attention to.
Even if you don’t sell on Amazon, Etsy, or eBay, you might get some insight into what customers are looking for. As an added bonus—when you poke around trending products, you’ll also learn about your competitors and the products they offer.
You’ve done keyword research, you’ve explored trending products, and you now know what products you want to sell. Now the final step to validate your niche is to order product samples, says Richard Lazazzera.
You’ll shoot two birds with one stone when you get your samples.
You’ll be more confident about the quality of products you’ll offer to your customers. And you’ll know if your design looks good on the product you chose. Plus, at Printful, you get a 20% discount on sample orders with free shipping to select destinations!
Besides, you can also use your samples to create unique product photos to showcase your beautiful designs.
Good product photos will create a professional feel to your store. If customers can picture the products you sell, they’ll be more likely to buy them. Check out our blog article on product photography trends for some inspiration.
Cross-niching is finding a way to combine two different niches to reach even more potential customers and make more sales. Or, as Cynthia puts it:
“Cross-niche designs are much more unique to a specific group of individuals. For example, a person may be interested in both dogs and coffee. The benefit of cross-niche is that you can easily target a precise audience on Facebook that is interested in both dogs and coffee. Your design will stand out from the crowd as your design will be unique and it helps to lower the competition.”
There are different ways to find cross-niche ideas, but here are the two most common ones, as explained by our ecommerce experts.
Message boards can be a gold mine of new niche ideas. As Cinquanta Cox-Smith, an entrepreneur with 10 years of print-on-demand experience, explains:
“By hanging out in forums with like-minded people, you’ll be able to create endless sub-niches and cross-niches that could potentially reach more people.”
While it’d be impossible to list all the message boards, here are the three most popular places you can start with:
Reddit is a news and discussion website that allows users to vote on content that other users have submitted. Reddit has thousands of subreddits—sub-sections or niches that cater to different topics and areas of interest.
You can take a very popular category, subscribe to that community, and ask questions, answer questions, browse, and search until you get a good vibe for that topic. Become an active member and you’ll soon develop a gut instinct for what’s in demand with that audience.
Quora is a question and answer site, divided into a variety of topics. Users can ask and answer questions about any topic, industry, or niche. To give you an idea of how specific Quora can be, there are entire topics dedicated to questions on birdwatching, Harry Potter, and medieval manuscripts.
Users can follow “spaces” that consist of questions about a certain topic. Similar to Reddit, users on Quora can also “upvote” answers that best fit each question.
Quora is a great platform because you can learn more about your potential customers by asking questions. You can also get fresh product ideas by seeing what other topics users are interested in.
Depending on the niche you’re targeting, there may be specific message boards that you can tap into for cross-niche product ideas. For example, gaming is one industry that has an active online community, and you can check out forums like GameFAQs, NeoGAF, or Geeks to Go.
Have a look at related items or products that customers frequently purchase together in that niche. These item sets will give you a deeper insight into customer interests and you might get ideas for new products to add to your catalog.
For example, if you’re selling women’s apparel, it’s a safe bet that your customers would be interested in accessories like sunglasses or hats.
Go to Amazon and explore frequently bought together products. Amazon has more than 310 million active users and thousands of products, so it’s a handy resource to find out about your shoppers’ interests.
This was the not-so-short guide on all the steps you need to take to be confident that you’ve picked the best print-on-demand niche. I hope you’ve picked up a thing or two that will make your ecommerce journey a bit easier along the way.
Have you already validated your niche? Let us know in the comments what worked (or didn’t) for you!
Marta is a Content Marketing Specialist at Printful with a background in Social Anthropology. She's passionate about marketing, UX research, and the Oxford comma.