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Beginner's handbook

Product Sourcing Guide: Where to Find Products to Sell Online

By on March 18th, 2021 Reading Time: 8 minutes

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.

custom-denim-visor-hat
Source: Printful

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

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!

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.
printful-fulfillment-warehouse
Source: Printful

The following product sourcing method is similar to drop shipping, but has its own charm.

Print-on-demand

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.

Pros:

  • 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.
custom-hoodie
Source: Printful

Cons:

  • 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

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
warehousing-sfulfillment-services
Source: Printful

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

Manufacturer

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.

manufacturing-process-printful
Source: Printful

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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

Handmade

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.

handmade-products
Source: Unsplash

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • DIY skills and supplies needed
    Even though you’re going the DIY route, you’ll still have to cover some expenses, like craft supplies.
  • Time-consuming
    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.

custom-pins
Source: Unsplash

Here’s what you can get with Wizardpins:

Customization

  • 12 different pin styles, including print, enamel, die struck
  • Multiple pin backing options
  • Backer cards

Sample order

Price per 1 pin if ordering 100

  • $2.47 for a 0.75″ soft enamel pin

Availability

  • 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.

custom-business-cards
Source: Leah Birhanu, LeahBirhanu Creative

Here’s what you can get with Vistaprint:

Customization

  • Paper or plastic card options
  • Rounded or squared corners
  • 14 paper finishes, including embossed and foiled

Sample order

  • 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

Availability

  • 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.

custom-magnets
Source: Sticker Mule

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.

Customization

  • 4+ different magnet sizes, any shape available

Sample order

Price per 1 magnet if ordering 100

  • $0.80 for a 2″ × 2″ magnet

Availability

  • 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).

custom-bandanas
Source: Pexels

Here’s what you can get with Printology:

Customization

  • Full-color printing or color screen printing (8 color options)
  • 100% polyester fabric for full-color printing or 100% cotton fabric for screen printing

Sample order

  • Not specified

Price per 1 bandana if ordering 100

  • Not specified, request a quote

Availability

  • 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?

satin-crunchies
Source: Unsplash

Here’s what you can get with Elastic Bands Co.:

Customization

  • Text and/or image printing on fabric

Sample order

  • Not specified

Price per 1 scrunchie if ordering 100

  • $2.95 for a satin scrunchie

Availability

  • 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.

As a small brand, being able to ship quickly in today’s market gives me a competitive edge. The warehouse fulfillment option is helping me build a presence and a reliable reputation.

Chelsea Cosby, Sunset Empire Apparel

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!

Una specializes in third-party logistics and knows Printful's Warehousing & Fulfillment services from A to Z. She enjoys digging deep into marketing psychology and developing her creative writing skills.

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Comments

  1. Dorothea Mathews

    i am going to be honest with you all. i am SCARED OF THIS! I WANT TO DO THIS BUT I FEEL LIKE AM JUMPING INTO A POOL UNABLE TO SWIM. I have lots of designs i copywritten and i can visualize them on t shirts (i ordered a t shirt with my design and when i got it the first tim the design was too small so thanks to your fabulous customer service rep who helped me out expanded the image for me and it looked a lot better) so i did another order of the t shirt. so when i get the shirt this will determine my decision on what to do. is this the right thing for me or not. i am 61 years old and i am currently unemployed and i am keeping busy by putting my designs on tote bags and embellishing them. i have been checking out a lot of youtube channels on how to start an online business selling t shirts and i know its a competing business out there. so when i get my t shirts i will see if this is the right thing for me to do. i love you Printful! you are a great company. i just need to do more thinking step out on faith and do this.

    1. Una Savcenko Post author

      Hey Dorothea! Starting an online business is exciting (sometimes scary exciting), but I think you got this. 🙂 Keep designing and learning all things ecommerce. If you’re ever unsure about something, feel free to reach out to us!

    2. Michael

      Check out the Life Hacker Couple on YouTube. They have a TON of videos about integrating Printful with Etsy. I started using their methods to design and sell shirts late last December, and my shop is nearly doubling its sales each month.

      This is the first video of theirs that I watched, and its not hyperbole when I say it was a game-changer for me: https://youtu.be/yyhZ71UUsmA

      I hope this helps you as much as it did me, and good luck with your shop!

  2. Robin Reah

    I enjoyed reading this but am still undecided as to whether I go for the Print on Demand business. My stumbling block at present is no working laptop until we come out of Lockdown and ready money. But I intend to keep learning via everybody’s help. Many thanks,
    Robin Reah.

    1. Una Savcenko Post author

      Hey Robin, having a working laptop is definitely handy to create designs for POD products and set up your store. Keep watching videos and reading our blogs to be all set for launching your store when you have that laptop. Wish you all the best!

  3. Robert Banks

    I am dealing with the same thing. I should have been selling months ago. I must have seen at least 500 YouTube Videos on everything from POD, dropshipping, Facebook ads, Facebook and Google Business Managers, Social Media Marketing (I’m not a social media person, I didn’t even know what Pinterest is, but I’ve created a business account, as well as one for Faceboook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok), product sourcing, SEO, graphic design (from no design experience to learning on Canva to now having Adobe Creative Cloud, e.g. Photoshop, Illustrator. I have chosen items to sell to only later see YouTubers feature the same products in their videos. I know that bot only can I sell my POD items in my Shopify store, but also on Etsy, Amazon, Redbubble, and Teespring as well. I have my logo, brand, mission, concept. Yet. I alternate between vision, enthusiasm, paralysis, fear, lack of motivation and all over again. I must open my store soon. I am carrying the subscription, apps, hosting, and all business related costs from my own pocket. I can’t continue to do that. I also have the concept and items selected for my second store and a blog already worked out in my head. One of the hardest and longest decisions to make besides what to sell was which POD provider would be my main production partner. Profit vs Quality vs the Unknown…there are so many providers out there. I obtained an LLC on January 1. I pay for a virtual office address, business phone numbers (local and toll free), I have an EIN and a business bank account. I know once I start everything will work itself out. There is no real success without failure…experiences we learn from as we go along. I think it is important to find a mentor or someone with experience to help guide you on your first steps. I have applied to join several POD, dropshipping, eCommerce social media groups. I think it would be helpful to exist in those arenas. I’m such a perfectionist. I want everything to be perfect. But if have to find a way past this blockage. I spent a decade in college and university training to become a counselor. In my life’s plan I would have a private practice providing therapy in 50 minute increments. The pandemic altered those plans. I’ve rambled enough. Thank you for taking the time to read if you’ve made it this far. To everyone out there I have faith in you. It may bot be an overnight success but don’t give up. Let’s do this thing. We have experts at our disposal, like here at Printful. They are invested in our success, the same withe Shopify. There are so many resources out there. Good luck to all!

    1. Alise Zindiga

      Hey, Robert, thank you for being so brave and honest! Starting a business sure isn’t easy, and it’s good to know that you’re not alone out there. Keep strong and continue the hard yet so rewarding job that you already do!

    2. Vangie

      Good luck to you…I can definitely relate. I’ve been trying to juggle this new journey and avoid overwhelming myself with this process of entrepreneurship. Stay the course and don’t forget to take time out for yourself to just relax.

      Many blessings!

      Vangie

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