Seller Handbook

Advice and inspiration for successfully running your Etsy shop

Seller Handbook

6 Tips for Generating Fresh Product Ideas

Will your next product be a winner? Use this handy checklist, written by a successful Etsy seller, as your guide.

By Angie Johnson 03 Jan, 2017
Letterpress print of lightbulbs
Photo by Quick Brown Fox Letterpress

I have new product ideas almost every day, but only a select few make it into my collection. There’s a middle ground between following every new idea that pops into my head, and knowing which ones are worth pursuing. Since I started selling handmade goods in 1996 and opened my Etsy shop Norwegian Wood in 2007, I’ve had a lot of time to fine-tune my approach to product development. I’ve found ways to narrow down my chaotic fountain of creative ideas into new products that echo the voice of my brand.

Using what I learned when I developed my best-selling product, I created this decision-making checklist as a tool that you can use to test new ideas and hone your approach to product development.

1) Is it consistent with your brand?

It’s important to edit your ideas to maintain consistency within your product line. This results in a stronger brand message and can act as your compass as you add new products. My shop runs the gamut from yoga pants to pillows. Though it might sound eclectic on paper, my modern bohemian aesthetic guides each addition of clothing, jewellery and homewares to the collection. This aesthetic is the roadmap for adding new products to my brand. The online world presents us with a glut of information every day. In this fast-paced environment, you need the customer to understand what your business is all about at a glance.

2) Do people want or need it?

As a creative person, sometimes it’s tempting to simply make stuff that you like making. But if your goal is to make sales (and not purely personal fulfilment), you have to know if people want or need the product. Ask your friends, family and coworkers for feedback. Sometimes if your idea is really new, the answer to these questions may not be totally clear, but it’s worth asking.

For example, maybe you absolutely love making ballgowns out of silk flowers. Creating a beautiful gradient of petals is the thing you dream about at night. Honestly, that sounds amazing, but realistically there are not a lot of people who need ballgowns made out of flowers. It doesn’t mean you should never make one. But will it be a mainstream best-seller? Probably not. Getting in touch with the reality of your product and what type and size of market it has is the first step for combining your creative mind with your business mind. Finding this balance is a huge challenge, and it comes with practice. Don’t be discouraged by the limits on your creativity this causes, but do recognise that some types of creativity are best saved for personal enjoyment and some are for selling. You can still have both in your life.

3) Is it profitable?

Some things are super-fun to make but are simply not profitable. For example, I love hand-embroidery and beading. I have ideas for things that would take more than 20 hours to make. But the odds of me selling that item for a price that would be profitable are very slim.

Do the math about the time and costs involved and the approximate retail price you would be able to charge. Take note of the cost of materials used (go ahead write it down or make a chart) and the time it takes you to make the item. At some point you’ll need to come up with an average hourly rate in order to figure out the labor cost for the item. Coming up with a rate for your own time can be tricky. For my business, I calculate this rate based on the cost that would be incurred if I paid someone else to do it. Even though I’m doing it myself most of the time, calculating your expenses in this way is a great way to figure out costs for making a particular item.

Being realistic about your costs and profits in the beginning can save a lot of heartache down the road. This step is also a great way to build the type of company that's able to grow, if you do end up needing to hire help someday. Don’t undervalue your own time!

Read How to Price Like a Pro and Are You Paying Yourself Enough? for more pricing advice.

4) Is the market saturated?

Is your idea actually new? Time to do some research. Check online to see how much competition you have and what the average price points are. Research the entirety of your competition — not just the handmade market. I start by searching Etsy, since this is the marketplace I’m primarily selling on, but I also search non-handmade sites to see if a very similar product is already being mass-produced. Sometimes being made by hand is enough of a selling feature to allow you to compete with mass-produced items. However, not all products are competitive in the same way. Sometimes you’ll come up with an idea that you think is genius, and you think you might be the first person in the world to have thought of it. But then you Google it and find out that someone is selling it in packages of 30 for £4.99. C’est la vie. Time to move on from that idea.

It’s just as important to see what isn’t currently available as what is. If you see an interesting gap in the marketplace, some niche that isn’t being filled, it could be the first step to creating a new product to fill it.

5) Will it sell well online?

I always ask myself, 'Does this idea translate to the online marketplace?' Some items are more challenging to sell remotely, and some are easier. For example, it’s much easier for me to sell leggings, which are made of a stretchy fabric and fit many body types easily, rather than tailored pants, which people prefer to try on in-person. Take a moment to think this over and ask, 'Will people be comfortable buying this item online?'

Handmade Pillows by Norwegian Wood
Adding special details, including a custom-made copper zipper, helps Norwegian Wood's pillows stand out from similar items. Photo by Norwegian Wood

6) Why is mine better?

To take your idea from good to great, make the best possible version of your product that you can. This doesn’t always mean making it flashier, bigger or bolder (although I personally love flashiness), but it can mean offering better packaging, better photo styling, better quality materials or even a better product description.

Over the years, I’ve had ideas that I thought were great that ended up being flops, and tiny inklings of a concept that grew into bestsellers. I see creating products as a game where the rules are always changing slightly — that’s the nature of business. Public preferences and tastes will change and new competition will enter and leave the marketplace. It’s like a living creature in some ways. As a designer and creator, it’s your job to keep an eye on this ever-changing market and use the knowledge you have about your particular niche to make the smartest, most informed business decisions that you can. Taking the time to ask yourself these questions before you begin will save you endless hours of frustration in the long run.

For more tips on developing a strong collection, read Angie Johnson’s article How I Developed My Best-Selling Product.

What’s your approach to developing a new product? Share your tips in the comments below.


Angie Johnson from iheartnorwegianwood

Angie Johnson is the designer behind Norwegian Wood. She’s been hoarding fabric and making clothing for as long as she can remember.


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