The Ten Worst Products to Sell Online

Bad eCommerce Products

Over the years, we've sold many products in our eCommerce stores, from impulse-buy dog hats to software to drop-shipped jewelry. In general we've done quite well, but we also learned a few tricks and lessons along the way. We thought we'd list a few for you, focusing on the worst products to sell.

That's not to say you couldn't or shouldn't sell them, not at all, but just to be extra careful you do your homework on your conditions of sale, product descriptions etc. 

These are essential requirements whether you are shipping from your own depot, shipping from Amazon FBA or drop-shipping. Of course, with Amazon FBA, the returns policy is marginalized by their overriding policy of 'the customer is always right' - which can cost you money! Here we go:

1. Electronics

Electronics are highly competitive and often have low-profit margins due to market saturation, rapid technological advancements, and the high costs of shipping and storage. Many consumers tend to shop for electronics online for better deals, but the downside is that they may be more prone to ordering different types of electronic devices and returning the ones that don't meet their requirements. According to a report by Appriss Retail, the return rate for electronics can be as high as 17.9%.

For instance, companies like Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart have historically experienced high rates of product returns and low-profit margins with electronic items. To succeed in selling electronic products, online retailers must differentiate their offerings and provide exceptional customer service.

Example: Amazon's electronics section

2. Clothing

Clothing is subjective and may have fit and quality issues. As a result, online retailers often experience high return rates and low-profit margins. Customers can order different sizes, colors, and styles online, and this leads to returns that can be challenging to resell or dispose of. According to Statista, the return rate for online clothing orders can be as high as 30%.

For example, clothing companies like J.Crew and Nordstrom have reported high return rates and low-profit margins with clothing items. To succeed in selling clothing online, companies must invest in proper sizing tools, accurate product descriptions, and quality photography.

3. Cosmetics

Cosmetics can have high return rates due to customer dissatisfaction with the product's performance, allergies, and skin irritation. Additionally, cosmetic items are difficult to resell or dispose of once they've been returned. According to a report by Digital Commerce 360, the return rate for cosmetics can be as high as 10-15%.

For instance, Sephora, Ulta, and other makeup retailers have experienced a high volume of returns and low-profit margins with cosmetic items. To succeed in selling cosmetics online, companies must offer detailed product descriptions, accurate colors, and formulations, and provide excellent customer service and consultation.

4. Fragrances

Fragrances can also have a high return rate due to customer dissatisfaction with the scent or product quality. As with cosmetics, fragrances are challenging to resell or dispose of once they've been returned. According to a report by Digital Commerce 360, the return rate for fragrances can be as high as 7-10%.

For example, fragrance companies like Sephora and Ulta have reported high return rates and low-profit margins with fragrance items. To succeed in selling fragrances online, companies must provide detailed scent descriptions, accurate colors, and formulations, and offer sample products or testers to allow customers to try before purchasing.

5. Jewelry

Jewelry is highly competitive, and online sellers often have to offer significant discounts to remain competitive, resulting in low-profit margins. Additionally, jewelry is subjective, and customer preferences can vary significantly, leading to high return rates. According to a report by Appriss Retail, the return rate for jewelry can be as high as 10.8%.

For example, jewelry companies like Tiffany & Co. and Blue Nile have reported low-profit margins and high return rates with jewelry items. To succeed in selling jewelry online, companies must offer unique designs and styles, accurate product descriptions, and quality product photography.

6. Pet products

Pet products can have a high return rate due to issues such as incorrect sizing or dissatisfaction with the product's quality. Additionally, competition is intense, and price sensitivity is high. According to a report by Digital Commerce 360, the return rate for pet products can be as high as 20-30%.

For example, pet supply companies like Chewy and Petco have reported high return rates and low-profit margins with pet products. To succeed in selling pet products online, companies must offer unique and high-quality products, excellent customer service, and accurate sizing information.

7. Home decor

Home decor is subjective, and customer tastes can vary significantly, resulting in low-profit margins and high return rates. Online retailers often have to offer significant discounts to remain competitive in this space. According to a report by Digital Commerce 360, the return rate for home decor can be as high as 20-30%.

For example, home decor companies like Wayfair and Overstock have reported low-profit margins and high return rates with home decor items. To succeed in selling home decor online, companies must offer unique and trendy designs, high-quality products, and exceptional customer service.

8. Furniture

Furniture is bulky and expensive to ship, resulting in higher shipping costs that can eat into profit margins. Additionally, furniture is subjective, and customer preferences can vary significantly, leading to high return rates. According to a report by Appriss Retail, the return rate for furniture can be as high as 11.3%.

For example, furniture companies like Ashley Furniture and Raymour & Flanigan have reported low-profit margins and high return rates with furniture items. To succeed in selling furniture online, companies must offer unique and trendy designs, high-quality products, and exceptional customer service, including online consultations and virtual room planning tools.

9. Outdoor equipment

Outdoor equipment can have a high return rate due to issues such as incorrect sizing or dissatisfaction with the product's quality. Additionally, competition is intense, and price sensitivity is high. According to a report by Digital Commerce 360, the return rate for outdoor equipment can be as high as 20-30%.

For example, outdoor equipment companies like REI and Cabela's have reported high return rates and low-profit margins with outdoor equipment items. To succeed in selling outdoor equipment online, companies must offer high-quality products, accurate sizing information, and exceptional customer service, including product recommendations and expert advice.

10. Food products

Food products can have a high return rate due to issues such as expired or damaged goods, dissatisfaction with the product's taste, or incorrect orders. Additionally, online retailers often have to offer significant discounts to remain competitive, resulting in low-profit margins. According to a report by Digital Commerce 360, the return rate for food products can be as high as 10-15%.

For example, food companies like Omaha Steaks and Harry & David have reported low-profit margins and high return rates with food products. To succeed in selling food products online, companies must offer high-quality products, excellent packaging, and reliable shipping methods to ensure that products arrive in good condition. Additionally, providing detailed product descriptions and nutritional information can help customers make informed purchases and reduce returns.

General Requirements for Success

To succeed in selling these products online, companies must offer unique and high-quality products, accurate product descriptions, excellent customer service, and reliable shipping methods. It is essential to conduct proper research and analysis to determine which products are suitable for your business model and target audience. While there are potential challenges in selling these products online, they can still be profitable with the right strategies and execution.

This clearly mitigates against drop-shipping unless you are prepared to do it at scale. The return rates we see above can literally kill your business!  Most of all, a strategy for minimizing returns is required! Here are a few pointers for each product.

1. Electronics

  • Provide detailed product descriptions, including technical specifications, dimensions, and compatibility information.
  • Offer customer service and technical support to help customers troubleshoot issues before initiating a return.
  • Use quality product photography and videos to showcase the product's features and appearance accurately.
  • Implement a user-friendly return policy with clear guidelines and restrictions to manage customer expectations and prevent abuse.

2. Clothing

  • Invest in accurate sizing tools, including size charts, fit guides, and reviews from customers who have purchased the same product.
  • Provide detailed product descriptions, including fabric type, care instructions, and measurements.
  • Use high-quality product photography to showcase the product's fit and appearance accurately.
  • Implement a user-friendly return policy with clear guidelines and restrictions to manage customer expectations and prevent abuse.

3. Cosmetics

  • Provide detailed product descriptions, including ingredients, application techniques, and suitability for different skin types.
  • Offer sample products or testers to allow customers to try before purchasing.
  • Use high-quality product photography and videos to showcase the product's performance and appearance accurately.
  • Implement a user-friendly return policy with clear guidelines and restrictions to manage customer expectations and prevent abuse.

4. Fragrances

  • Provide detailed scent descriptions and reviews from customers who have purchased the same product.
  • Offer sample products or testers to allow customers to try before purchasing.
  • Use high-quality product photography to showcase the product's appearance accurately.
  • Implement a user-friendly return policy with clear guidelines and restrictions to manage customer expectations and prevent abuse.

5. Jewelry

  • Provide accurate product descriptions, including metal type, gemstone type and quality, and dimensions.
  • Use high-quality product photography to showcase the product's appearance accurately.
  • Offer virtual try-on tools or 360-degree product views to allow customers to see how the product looks when worn.
  • Implement a user-friendly return policy with clear guidelines and restrictions to manage customer expectations and prevent abuse.

6. Pet products

  • Provide accurate sizing information, including breed-specific recommendations and measurements.
  • Use high-quality product photography to showcase the product's appearance and features accurately.
  • Offer expert advice and recommendations to help customers choose the right product for their pet.
  • Implement a user-friendly return policy with clear guidelines and restrictions to manage customer expectations and prevent abuse.

7. Home decor

  • Provide accurate product descriptions, including dimensions, materials, and style.
  • Use high-quality product photography to showcase the product's appearance and features accurately.
  • Offer virtual room planning tools or 3D visualization tools to help customers see how the product will look in their space.
  • Implement a user-friendly return policy with clear guidelines and restrictions to manage customer expectations and prevent abuse.

8. Furniture

  • Provide accurate product descriptions, including dimensions, materials, and style.
  • Use high-quality product photography to showcase the product's appearance and features accurately.
  • Offer virtual room planning tools or 3D

Obviously, these are good general guidelines, but your products each require their own consideration. For instance, furniture and all bulky goods: Make sure the customer understands that unless the delivered products are faulty, return costs are to the customer's account - you must have a solid, legally drafted terms and  conditions of sale on your website. Good luck! 

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About the author 

Keith Rowley MBA BSc (Hons)

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