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Going back to the beginning, Spencer's Amazon business has now eclipsed $800,000 in total revenue. While we've done some private label products, the vast majority of that revenue has come from creating our own unique products and selling them through Amazon's FBA program.
Today I want to share some insight into how we come up with product ideas and hopefully help you take the leap towards creating your own product.
What Do You Mean By “Unique?”
I'm really glad I asked myself this question.
For the purposes of this article, I just mean that the product is unique to Amazon. So that technically could be a product that is sold other places and probably would sell on Amazon, but nobody is selling it there currently. More commonly, our approach is to find products that already do sell well on Amazon and then add/change things that give us at least one unique selling feature so our product isn't just a carbon copy of other things out there.
Ideally, we want to find some evidence that people would actually want to buy our unique version of the product. In this article I'll be sharing details of how we do that.
Why Unique Products?
There's no doubt about it, coming up with a brand new product that has unique features takes much longer than simply private labeling a product that already exists.
Besides the time it takes to come up with the idea, you then have to find a manufacturer that can actually make the product. (Hint: every manufacturer will say they can make your product).
You'll then get samples of the product, likely want some revisions and then get an updated sample before ordering.
In my experience, this process takes at least several months from idea to having a product ready to sell on Amazon.
So with all the extra work and hassle, why mess with doing a unique product?
The answer for us is that it's where the money is.
Amazon is so saturated with products that your best chance to stand out from the crowd is by having a widget that does something different.
Maybe it's a feature no one else has, maybe it's the biggest of its kind, maybe it's the smallest of its kind – you get the idea…
We've found that we can often rank for long tail searches much easier, and ultimately carve out a little niche inside of a product category by offering something your competitors do not.
But Don't You Need a Patent?
I don't really coach people on Amazon, but I do have casual conversations with friends and family who are interested in the business. One of the first questions I hear is “Yeah, but don't you need a patent to do that?”
(I'll stop here for my disclaimer that I'm not an attorney and this shouldn't be a substitute for legal advice.)
To many people, this whole concept is a bit intimidating and overwhelming and ultimately prevents them from ever taking action.
Here's what I've learned:
The answer is usually “no” you don't need a patent to create a new product and sell it.
Patents in the US are generally a way for someone to protect a unique function (utility) of a product, or in some cases a particular design (which is harder to defend).
For us, our primary concern isn't acquiring a patent for our own product, but rather making sure we aren't violating the patent of someone else.
There are many ‘generic' products you can create and not really worry about violating a patent. For instance, anybody can make a baseball bat. That's why there are tons of very similar bats out there in every size, color, material, etc. So if you wanted to create a new brand of baseball bat – have at it.
Although the baseball bat has been around forever, some people have made specific innovations and types of bats that are patented. One I'm familiar with is the Axe Bat which has a handle that is shaped like an axe, and not round like virtually every other bat out there. A quick Google patent search shows the patent they have on this design.
So while you could make your own brand of bat, you wouldn't be allowed to make your bat with a handle shaped like an axe.
If you're thinking about making a product that also uses a somewhat unique function you've seen elsewhere, I'd suggest doing a little Google Patent search of your own and if it's not crystal clear, getting a patent attorney to check into it and advise you if it's safe to move forward.
It's better to spend $100 upfront and have peace of mind than to purchase thousands of dollars in inventory and then find out you've got a problem.
Here's an example:
One product I was looking at making a unique variation of is this collapsible popcorn bowl. Before we went too far down the road of working on our own version of it, I noticed there weren't many other bowls out there that could collapse flat like this – which made me wonder if they had a patent on that particular functionality.
I went to Upwork and hired the services of an experienced patent attorney (for about $100) and he did a search and provided the document to show that the parent company did in fact have a patent on the utility of a bowl that would collapse flat – which was the key feature of this bowl.
Notice the distinction that this patent didn't mean we couldn't make our own popcorn bowl, we just couldn't make a collapsible one or we'd be violating their patent.
So, we simply moved onto the next idea.
(Here is a link to the patent attorney we used on Upwork, he was very fast and thorough for us.)
How To Come Up With Product Ideas
As the old saying goes, there is no reason to re-invent the wheel. But that doesn't mean you can't and shouldn't make a wheel that looks better, lasts longer, or meets a demand that is currently underserved.
When it comes to creating products to sell on Amazon, we don't really think of ourselves as “inventors.” We're mostly looking for simple modifications to uncomplicated products that we can launch, market and sell.
One of the best ways to get the ideas flowing is to start reading reviews online.
Listen to Buyer Feedback
Many times, you'll find some absolute gold inside of negative customer reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Even in some cases when people like the product, they'll throw in suggestions like:
“it would be even better if it could…”
“The only thing I would change/add…”
“I would have given 5 stars if it…”
One way to do this quickly is to scroll down to product reviews on Amazon and click the link to view all reviews. From there, you have a search box where you can look for keywords in the reviews that might go along with this kind of feedback.
Below, I was looking at a grill cover and searched the hundreds of reviews for the word “wish” and found some useful ideas about how I might make a better grill cover:
Other searchable words could be “Suggestion”, “Better”, “Improvement”, and anything else you can think of.
Stack Your Ideas
Once you start finding some ideas based on buyer feedback, start making a list of possible features/improvements your product.
Personally, I like to “stack” several ideas together to give my product a number of advantages and perhaps unique features compared to the competition.
So for the grill cover above, I might find a better solution for straps that can clip on the legs but I'm going to keep looking through reviews of other top selling grill covers and hear what else customers are looking for.
Find Ideas Off of Amazon
We use a tool called Jungle Scout Pro that helps us estimate how well products are selling on Amazon, so we get a sense for what our ceiling might be if we created that product ourselves.
Below is a look at Jungle Scout data for meat claws:
While starting by looking at what's selling on Amazon isn't a bad idea, I've also found that looking for ideas elsewhere can be super helpful.
By searching Google for a solution to the problem your product will solve, I've found product ideas in 2 different ways:
- DIY Solutions
DIY videos and “hacks” are everywhere. Buzzfeed is full of lists of hacks for just about every purpose, and generally you can expect to see people who have cleverly repurposed one product to make it solve an unrelated problem.
Here's an example from a Buzzfeed list of kitchen cleaning hacks where the folks at OneCrazyHouse.com used a pair of tongs and microfiber towels to clean their blinds:
If hacks like this work well, it could be a launching point to go create and brand the best blind cleaner out there.
2. Not Sold on Amazon
Another thing I've found when just googling different solutions is products that exist, but just aren't sold on Amazon. In fact, one of our more recent successful products is based off of something I saw being sold on a sporting goods site in the UK.
While there were other products selling well on Amazon that addressed the same problem as this product, I couldn't find any products on Amazon or any US retailer that were similar to this product I found being sold in Europe.
So the market/need definitely existed in the US, and we were able to work with a manufacturer to create something similar to what we'd found selling overseas and then we became the first to launch that kind of product on Amazon US.
Amazon Suggested Searches
If you've searched products on Amazon, you've likely noticed that like Google, they try to complete your thought for you by providing suggested searches.
These suggestions have led to some useful product ideas for us. Here is what the suggestions look like if I type “waterproof” searching all categories:
By simply looking at these suggestions I've got some product ideas that I know people are searching for.
Since “All” is the default category when you search on Amazon.com, you may not have noticed that if you change the search category the auto-complete suggestions will change to reflect that category.
Here's what “waterproof” looks like when I change the category to Home & Garden:
Obviously you could continue this process for different categories and start searching different words to see what comes up.
My next step is to start clicking on some of the results that sound interesting and then use Jungle Scout to see what sales look like for those products.
Let's say that “waterproof apron” seemed like a promising idea, you can then take this whole thing a step further and see suggestions for that specific product:
Maybe there are tons of waterproof aprons for women, but there aren't many good “extra long” waterproof aprons. That's when you'd start doing what we talked about earlier and see what reviewers are saying about the extra long aprons and see if you can figure out ways to make yours stand out from the crowd.
Maybe the other ones aren't long enough…
Maybe all the extra long aprons are focused on men and you could make a more feminine version…
Scratch Your Own Itch
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That is, when you've got a problem you'll work hard to find a solution – even if it's a solution you have to create yourself.
Though I'm listing this idea last, maybe it should be the first place you start when brainstorming unique product ideas.
Who knows, maybe you will come up with something truly unique and patentable.
The very first product that Spencer launched on Amazon came from his own personal preferences about a common household product. He had trouble finding one that was designed to his liking, so he basically started contacting manufacturers on Alibaba who made these kinds of products already and said “I want one that looks like this ________.”
Ultimately, that lead to samples being sent, revisions being made, and a very successful product being launched a few months later.
Unless your “itch” is really weird and obscure, the odds are that other people are out there having the same problem or frustration you are – so if you can create product that works, you'll likely find others who want to buy it too.
What I've shared with you isn't by any means an exhaustive list of ideas. However, we've had a measure of success launching products on Amazon and these are some of the exact methods we've used to come up with new ideas.
My best advice is to get out there on Alibaba or even talking to a local manufacturing company where you live and at least have a conversation about what it would take to bring your sample to life.
For my last product, I literally sketched a certain kind of bag design on a piece of paper, took a picture with my iPhone, and sent it over to a bag manufacturer I had a relationship with from Alibaba. A few weeks and $120 later I had the bag I had drawn sitting in my living room.
Maybe your unique product idea won't be a homerun, but if you strike out – at least strike out swinging.
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