Product Sourcing Guide: Where to Find Products to Sell Online
Pst . . . you . . . yeah, you! Come learn the magical art of sourcing products for selling.
Elders consider it to be the most essential of all ecommerce arts. It’s an art that teaches you how to summon products that you can sell online and make a profit.
As a sourcing-meister, I’ve already summoned some products that’d look dazzling on your online store. But we’ll get to those at the end of the blog. As for now, young mage, I’m here to teach you the basic product sourcing spells so you know how to source products.
Master the spells, and your store will always be stocked with exciting items that attract customers.
Product sourcing ABCs
First things first—what is sourcing?
Product sourcing is the process of finding and getting products you want to sell on your storefront.
The goal of product sourcing is to find quality products and get them for a reasonable price. That’s how you maintain a premium feel for your brand and still make a profit from a sale.
But how does one get quality products? Unfortunately, there isn’t a single spell for that. However, there are five great methods you can use to source products, so let’s start with those.
Drop shipping is one of the most popular product outsourcing methods. It’s a business model where you sell third-party products without keeping inventory.
Yes, the magic of selling products online without inventory is real. The products are kept in third-party warehouses and shipped to your customers on your behalf.
Let’s say you have an online store and use a drop shipping service. When a customer orders from your store, your drop shipping company receives the order, fulfills it, and then ships the product to your customer. Ta-da!
- No upfront investment
You don’t need to buy inventory beforehand: you pay for the product only when a customer orders it.
- Jumping on trends is easy
Most drop shipping companies follow trends and make sure they offer desirable products. You can list those trendy products and sell them right away.
- Stiff competition among online sellers
Many store owners use the same drop shipping companies so there’s a high chance you’re selling exactly the same products as everyone else.
- Long shipping times
If the drop shipping products are warehoused overseas, it can take months for orders to reach customers.
The following product sourcing method is similar to drop shipping, but has its own charm.
Print-on-demand (POD) is a business model similar to drop shipping—you sell third-party products on your storefront without keeping inventory. What makes POD companies different, is that they also print on the products. You can create as many designs as you want and have them printed on mugs, embroidered on bags, engraved on jewelry, and much more.
The way print-on-demand works is—say you have an online store and use a POD company like Printful. When a customer orders something from your store, your POD company receives the order and notifies you. The company then prints, packs, and ships the product to your customer on your behalf.
- No upfront investment
Just like with drop shipping, you pay for the products only when a customer orders them.
- The freedom to create
You can make your own designs and sell original products that nobody else offers.
- No impact on production and service quality
As with drop shipping, you don’t see what’s sent out to your customers. That’s why it’s important you trust your POD company and order product samples before you sell them.
- Return policy
Most print-on-demand companies don’t accept returns because of buyer’s remorse. It can be challenging to explain it to your customers.
Both print-on-demand and drop shipping product sourcing methods allow you to sell products without owning stock. But there are other sourcing spells out there—ones that empower you to sell products you have on hand.
Wholesale is the business of selling products in large quantities at low prices. When you use wholesale to source products, you buy items in bulk and then resell those goods to customers with a markup.
To source products for your online store, you must first find a wholesaler that offers products you’re interested in. You then have to buy the products in bulk and either:
- ship the inventory your way if you’ll fulfill customer’s orders
- ship the goods to a third-party logistics (3PL) company that will warehouse and ship products to customers under your brand
- Bulk discounts
Buying in large quantities means getting a bulk discount on products. You’ll have more room to mark up their price and earn a profit.
- Control over your stock
You can’t always monitor stock levels when working with POD and drop shipping companies. Since you own the inventory, you can follow stock levels and make sure you don’t sell more items than you have.
- Upfront investment
You’ll have to spend money to buy inventory and make sure you can sell the products to earn back the money you spent.
- Storage space
Wholesalers don’t warehouse and/or ship the products to customers like POD and drop shipping companies do. When you buy from a wholesaler, you must have someplace to store the stock and a way to ship it to customers.
The next product sourcing spell is similar to wholesale. Come closer, and I’ll show you how it’s just a bit different.
A manufacturer, just like a wholesaler, is a company that sells products in large quantities and at low prices. The difference between a manufacturer and a wholesaler is wholesalers resell products made by someone else, but manufacturers sell the products they made themselves.
The way you work with a manufacturer is similar to working with a wholesaler. You find a manufacturer that makes the products you want to sell. You then order the products, the manufacturer produces them, and, depending on who handles your customer order fulfillment, ships the inventory either to you or your 3PL company.
- Low product base price
If you buy from a manufacturer, you’re likely to pay lower product costs than wholesalers offer.
- Unique and premium products
You can come up with your own exclusive products and have them made by an expert manufacturer.
- Upfront investment
All manufacturers work with bulk orders. You’ll have to invest money in products and hope you’re able to sell them all.
- Storage space
Manufacturers, similarly to wholesalers, don’t warehouse and/or ship the products to customers, so you’ll need someplace to store the stock and a way to ship it.
Alas, we’ve come to the final product sourcing method to learn about. And this one is all about making magic with your own hands.
If you don’t want to work with a company to source products for your online store, you can create the products yourself. Decide if you’ll want to make them per order or pre-make in bulk.
Depending on which product-making method you’ll use, you can then either ship the ordered products yourself or entrust a 3PL company to do the work for you.
- Made with love
“Handmade” is definitely a selling point because customers see the item having a higher value than a mass-produced one.
- Control over quality
You’ll be the product maker and likely its quality control specialist too. Making the products yourself is a sure way your customers get products you can 100% vouch for.
- DIY skills and supplies needed
Even though you’re going the DIY route, you’ll still have to cover some expenses, like craft supplies.
People can be impatient when it comes to getting their orders. You’ll have to explain that it takes time to produce your products.
And voilà! We covered the five sourcing spells: drop shipping, print-on-demand, wholesale, manufacturer, and handmade. Now that you know how to get products for your store, let’s take a look at the products I already conjured up for you.
Custom product suppliers for online stores
If you’re just starting an online store, it makes sense to sell print-on-demand items. POD products are relatively easy to customize, and you don’t have to invest in inventory.
But if you’re someone who already knows their way around drop shipping, I encourage you to take it to the next level—sell unique products manufactured according to your specs.
I present to you—5 manufacturers you can order custom products from.
1. Custom enamel pins from Wizardpins
The best part about pins is, they can be anything you want: classy, trashy, colorful, monotone, and they’ll still look great on almost anything! Plus they’re great to sell alongside apparel, bags, and jewelry.
Here’s what you can get with Wizardpins:
- 12 different pin styles, including print, enamel, die struck
- Multiple pin backing options
- Backer cards
- Sample kit of six pin styles for $4.99
Price per 1 pin if ordering 100
- $2.47 for a 0.75″ soft enamel pin
- Fulfillment centers in the US, production facilities in China for rush orders
- Ships internationally
P.S. Wizardpins has this handy pin designing guide if you’re down to make pins.
2. Custom business cards from Vistaprint
Business cards are great promotional freebies for your brand. Use them to promote your social media handles, brand values, or other things you want customers to remember you by.
To add promotional materials like business cards in your Printful product orders, you have to keep a stock of the cards at Printful warehouses. Then, once a customer orders from you, we’ll add the freebie to their order.
Here’s what you can get with Vistaprint:
- Paper or plastic card options
- Rounded or squared corners
- 14 paper finishes, including embossed and foiled
- Sample kit of 11 different paper types, finishes, and corners for $0 (yup, free)
Price per 1 business card if ordering 100
- $1.50 for a 3.50″ × 2.00″ business card with standard paper thickness, square corners, and a matte finish
- Shipping and manufacturing facilities in Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia
- Ships internationally, but with exceptions
3. Custom magnets from Sticker Mule
Magnets are a nice fit for almost any home & living product collection. You can market magnets for kitchens, office spaces, and anywhere else with a surface that creates a magnetic field.
Similar to pins, you can customize magnets to suit your brand and make them look funny, chic, inspiring, and everything in between. Here’s what you can get with Sticker Mule:
Disclaimer: Printful might earn a commission from signups or purchases completed via the above link. Read more.
- 4+ different magnet sizes, any shape available
- 10 custom 3″ × 3″ magnet samples for $9.00
Price per 1 magnet if ordering 100
- $0.80 for a 2″ × 2″ magnet
- Ships internationally
4. Custom bandanas from Printology
Bandanas are high in demand because of their versatility. You can use this piece of fabric for literally anything, even to blow out your nose (I don’t judge).
Here’s what you can get with Printology:
- Full-color printing or color screen printing (8 color options)
- 100% polyester fabric for full-color printing or 100% cotton fabric for screen printing
- Not specified
Price per 1 bandana if ordering 100
- Not specified, request a quote
- Fulfillment centers in the US
- Ships internationally if agreed beforehand
5. Custom scrunchies from Elastic Bands Co.
Scrunchies go well with activewear, leisure, and everyday outfits. They look good in both hairdos and on your wrist. Plus, they’re fun to style and market. What more could you ask for?
Here’s what you can get with Elastic Bands Co.:
- Text and/or image printing on fabric
- Not specified
Price per 1 scrunchie if ordering 100
- $2.95 for a satin scrunchie
- Production in the US
- Ships to the US and Canada only
Product order fulfillment options
So you’ve bulk-ordered your pins, scrunchies, and business cards. What next? You have two options.
1. Turn your living space into a warehouse and ship out the products to your customers yourself
- Pro: You’ll save money and get full control over your fulfillment process.
- Con: You risk wasting time you could’ve used on marketing or business development.
2. Mail the inventory to Printful and let us store it and ship it under your name
- Pro: You’ll be free to focus on business areas other than fulfillment and grow your brand.
- Con: You’ll have to cover storage and fulfillment fees.
Printful offers fulfillment warehouse services to business owners who look to outsource their inventory management. You can store your products and promotional freebies like stickers at Printful warehouses all over the world. International warehousing means your products won’t have to travel far and long to reach your customers.
Mastering product sourcing
Our marvelous journey to learn the art of sourcing products ends here. I’ve taught you the basics of product sourcing, and now you’re ready to find your way to products.
I’m confident that in no time you too will start teaching others the craft of product sourcing. However, should you become dumbfounded by some of the more advanced spells, like handling inventory, feel free to flip through this fulfillment warehouse handbook. Good luck!