By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

No matter what strategy you use to replace products, you first have to find new ones to add to your online business inventory that shine. Fortunately, you can look in certain places to narrow your choices:

  • Vendors: If you already work with regular suppliers, ask them what’s selling. Your vendors know which items they can’t keep in stock because of demand and which ones are lagging. Suppliers usually have a good idea of which type of new products are coming in, and can suggest ones that fit well with your site.

  • Customers: Your customers know best. Or, at least they know what they’re willing to spend money on. Do a little online polling or send a short e-mail survey to find out which products your customers want to see on your site. They’re usually quite willing to share an opinion or two.

  • Competitors: Check the clearance section of a competitor’s site to see which items didn’t sell, and take a look at deeply discounted items to see which items might be on their way out. Don’t forget to see which items are being heavily promoted.

  • Online blogs and product sites: A wide variety of blogs and sites are dedicated to every type of product. Often, these websites will include announcements about new products as well as rumors. Keep an eye on the conversations generated on these websites as well as their presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

  • Trade shows: These events are filled with product distributors showcasing their latest product offerings. Often, you can even detect a theme for upcoming releases. For example, you can see which colors are hot or which product categories distributors are pushing. Not surprisingly, manufacturers are all usually pushing the same items, so you can easily spot the next trend.

    Trade shows and markets are also an opportunity to chat with suppliers and gather detailed information. The atmosphere is much more casual, and distributors and members of their sales force are eager to talk.

Of course, after you make your decision about which products to add, the real proof is in the pudding (as they say). With that proverb in mind, it certainly doesn’t hurt to literally put your judgment to the test. You can run online tests for a product by using one of these methods:

  • Forced placement: Try featuring only a single product on your home page. This strategy forces visitors to view the new product so that you can more easily monitor click rates and conversions when you’re introducing a product. If you’re uncomfortable promoting one item, you can also place the promotion in a premium spot on your home page.

  • Rotate promotions: Alternatively, you can run internal promotions on your site and rotate new products with your popular staple items. Use banner ads, pop-up ads, product reviews, or testimonials, and then rotate the promotions throughout your site (not just on the home page).

  • E-mail customers: Introduce new products in an e-mail campaign to your targeted customers. That way, you can quickly gauge customer reaction to your latest product selection.

  • Keywords: You can also place external advertisements to drive visitors for product testing. The most effective method is paid keyword searches. Because these target visitors are already searching for your particular type of product, or something similar, this method is an effective way to test the waters for purchasing behaviors.

  • Sample offline: Give a few samples to friends or family members, and ask whether they would buy the product or have bought one similar to it already. If so, find out where and for how much. You can even have an informal focus group check out your product online. You can watch as its members visit your site and search for the new product.

    Find out from them what they think of your product, whether the promotion you used was effective, and whether the product image on your site accurately portrays the product. Honest feedback offline can help put you on the right track online.

Even a well-researched and thoroughly tested product isn’t a sure bet. However, implementing these strategies as part of your product expansion truly helps you beat the odds.