Starting an online business can be a great way to make money doing something you love. But what if you don’t want to or can’t stock physical products?

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to sell products online without inventory. In this article, we’ll discuss four of the best methods.

So, whether you want to start a thriving business or just make a little extra money on the side, these methods will help you get started!

4 Best methods to sell products without stock

Sell products online

You can use various strategies to sell products on the internet without keeping them in stock.

Considering there is no one-fits-all solution here, we’ve decided to discuss the most popular methods and guide you on the best pick for you!

The four best ways to sell products online without inventory are:

  • Dropshipping
  • Print on demand
  • Digital products
  • Affiliate marketing

You may have never heard of some of these, but you will surely learn something new even if you did.

Let’s start with the first one; dropshipping.

1. Dropshipping

If there is one business model most people immediately think about when someone mentions selling products online without an inventory, it’s dropshipping.

That’s because it literally fits in our definition of dropshipping:

Dropshipping is an ecommerce business model in which you sell products on an online store without carrying any inventory. Instead, you rely on a dropshipping supplier who stores the products you sell and ships them directly to your customers.

If this sounds confusing, don’t worry, it’s actually quite simple!

Here’s how the dropshipping model works:

And for the visual learners, here’s an infographic that explains it as well:

The dropship model - Infographic

Some dropshipping suppliers are the manufacturer of the products, but others aren’t.

However, there’s one thing all dropshipping suppliers have in common. They can store and pack the products you’re selling and ship them directly to your customer’s door.

Moreover, they send out the product in blank packaging, meaning your customers won’t know that a third party is involved.

There are even dropshipping apps like Spocket or DSers designed to send any new orders to your supplier automatically. This means that they completely automate your order fulfillment process!

Most people use Shopify as the platform to host their dropshipping stores.

You can use Shopify to start a low-, medium-, or high-ticket dropshipping store, as well as a one-product, niche, or general store.

Shopify homepage

One of the key benefits of dropshipping is that you can start selling a wide range of products online without having to invest in inventory.

It allows you to test many product ideas without any upfront costs!

And for this reason, dropshipping is a popular option for people starting to sell products online. It’s simply a relatively low-risk and low-cost way to launch a new ecommerce business!

Let’s check out the pros and cons of dropshipping:

Pros Cons
Low startup costs. The dropshipping mindset.
Quickly test products without an inventory. High competition.
Your supplier handles shipping and logistics. Less control over shipping and product quality.
Starting a new store doesn’t take long. Profit margins can be slim.
It’s possible to start earning profits in the short term. Refunds can be complicated.
Difficult to build a brand identity.
The pros and cons of dropshipping

Overall, dropshipping is an excellent option for those looking for an easy way to get started in ecommerce.

Yes, dropshipping, in general, has more cons than pros. However, there are always methods to deal with those cons and make them less apparent! (You can find more about these methods here.)

For example, you can brand your products to differentiate yourself from the competition by starting a private label dropshipping store!

Example of a branded product sold online
Example of a branded product (source)

If you are interested in starting a dropshipping store, you may want to sign up for our free 7-day challenge. It’s a step-by-step guide that will help you create a dropshipping store in just seven days.

Start dropshipping with out 7-day email challenge

Alternatively, you can also check out our dropshipping checklist here!

Dropshipping with local suppliers

You may know that many dropshippers use Chinese dropshipping suppliers like AliExpress.

Yes, products from China are very cheap, which is great for your profit margin. However, there are also many cons associated with dropshipping from China, the main one being long delivery times.

That’s why local dropshipping suppliers have become very popular lately.

Local dropshipping suppliers manage warehouses in the country of your customers so that you can offer them much faster shipping times!

Some of the most popular local dropshipping suppliers are Spocket and Syncee.

Homepage of Spocket

However, if you are interested in suppliers from a specific region, you can find them here:

Dropshipping with private agents

If you don’t mind your delivery times being a bit longer and you still want access to cheap products, then there is also a third option that may be suited for you; dropshipping with private agents.

A private dropshipping agent is a middleman between you and your dropshipping supplier. They will source, store, pack, and ship your dropshipping products. Furthermore, they ensure you get the best price, quality, and delivery times for your product.

What is a dropshipping agent - infographic

For example, a dropshipping agent can

Sounds pretty good, right?

Here’s an infographic of six reasons to use a private dropshipping agent:

Reasons to use a dropshipping agent - infographic

Some of the best dropshipping agents in 2022 are Eprolo, HyperSKU, and Wiio. Check them out if you’re interested!

2. Print on demand

Have you always dreamed of selling products that you’ve designed yourself?

If so, you can do it with print on demand (POD). And the great part is, you don’t need to keep an inventory for it!

Print on demand is a business model where you design graphics that are printed on products like T-shirts, hoodies, or mugs. Once you receive an order on your POD store, you forward it to your POD supplier, who prints your graphics on the product and ships it directly to the customer.

Here is an infographic on how it works:

The print on demand model - Infographic

As you can see, print on demand is one of the closest alternatives to dropshipping!

Products sold in POD stores are often apparel such as shirts and hoodies. But you can also sell products like mugs, towels, art prints, phone cases, and even notebooks or mousepads!

Premium print on demand product examples on Printful
Available products from the POD supplier Printful

Here are the pros and cons of the print on demand business model:

Pros Cons
A POD store is as easy and low-risk to set up as a dropshipping store. POD businesses generally struggle with tight profit margins.
Ability to (partly) design products yourself. It can be more challenging to deal with returns as the product is custom-made. (More info here)
You will never have to deal with any leftover inventory. Your store is only as good as your designs.
Often, you don’t have complete control over the product’s look.
The pros and cons of print on demand

When comparing print on demand to dropshipping, we see the following:

The main difference between dropshipping and print on demand is that with dropshipping, your supplier doesn’t make any changes to the product and the shipping time can be faster, while with print on demand, your supplier creates the product according to your custom design and the shipping time can be longer.

Here’s an infographic that summarizes all differences:

Dropshipping vs Print on Demand - Infographic

If you are an artist or graphic designer and would like to learn more about the print on demand business model, take a look at the following articles:

3. Digital products

This one may be very obvious to you, or it may come as a total surprise!

When most people think of selling products online, they typically envision a physical good like a phone case or a piece of clothing.

However, an increasingly popular type of online product is digital content.

When selling digital content, your products are stored on your computer or in the cloud and can be copied without additional costs. In other words, you can sell digital products online without an inventory!

Digital products are items that can be downloaded or accessed online, such as ebooks, software, or online courses.

For example, Shopify’s Business Name Generator is an example of a digital product in the form of software:

Shopify Business name generator

However, this ebook about getting great ideas is also a digital product:

Digital product example in the form of an ebook

And there are many more kinds of digital products! Just think about things like Shopify themes, stock photos, or music.

The best thing about selling digital products is that there are no production or shipping costs – once you create the product, you can sell it an infinite number of times.

Here are the pros and cons of selling digital products:

Pros Cons
It doesn’t cost you anything extra to sell an additional digital product (once it’s developed). Someone can easily copy and sell your digital products without your permission.
You are in complete control of the pricing. Digital products may require ongoing support and maintenance.
Digital products can instantly be sold and delivered to anyone with an internet connection. Marketing digital products can be more difficult.
The pros and cons of selling digital products

4. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is another excellent way to sell products online without inventory.

Have you ever clicked on a link for a product or service from a blog, social network, or someone’s website?

Well, it could’ve been an affiliate link!

Affiliate marketing is a business model you can use to generate revenue through affiliate links. These are your own custom links that link to someone else’s product or service. When someone clicks on your link and buys that product or service, you receive a part of that revenue.

How does affiliate marketing work - Infographic

So, with affiliate marketing, you can sell products online without keeping an inventory. You do the marketing part, and someone else takes care of all the rest!

According to statistics, 38% of marketers think affiliate marketing is one of the top customer acquisition methods, and 81% of brands use affiliate marketing programs!

If you want to get started with affiliate marketing, there are several ways to promote your affiliate links and start earning commissions.

One way is to start a blog around a niche you are interested in. For example, you could create a tennis blog, write an article like ‘The best tennis rackets to use in 2022,’ and add affiliate links to Amazon product pages for each item:

Example of affiliate links on a blog
Example: all links in the red box are Amazon affiliate links (source)

Or, if you have a significant following on social media, you can start doing influencer marketing campaigns to promote products for ecommerce brands.

Pros Cons
After the initial hard work of setting up your affiliate marketing channels, this business model can turn into a passive income. You must respect the terms and conditions of the affiliate marketing program you cooperate with.
You don’t have to think about customer support. It may take a while to build up a significant income.
Starting an affiliate marketing business does not require a significant upfront (money) investment.
The pros and cons of affiliate marketing

Tip: If you doubt between this and dropshipping, you can learn about the differences between affiliate marketing and dropshipping here!

The pros and cons of selling products without stock

Selling products without keeping them in stock is definitely a feasible way to start an online business.

However, you could also choose to sell products online from your own inventory.

So, how do these two strategies compare?

Let’s find out!

Pros of selling online without inventory

  • Relatively few startup costs. You don’t have to purchase hundreds of products beforehand (when you don’t even know if they will sell).
  • Sell a wider variety of products. You’re not limited by the amount of physical space you have.
  • No inventory maintenance or storage fees. Once you buy the products, they are shipped directly to your customer!
  • No risk of being stuck with leftover inventory. If you stop selling a particular product, you don’t have to worry about getting rid of excess inventory.
  • More time to focus on the rest of your business. There’s no need to pack, ship, and manage your inventory.

Cons of selling online without inventory

  • Lower profit margins. Buying products one by one will always be more expensive than buying them in bulk.
  • Potentially longer shipping times. If your supplier is located far away from your customers, you may experience longer shipping times.
  • Quality control issues. You will have to trust your supplier that they sell high-quality products and perform quality control before shipping to your customer!

Should you sell products online without inventory?

People in a row waiting for their order

The internet has created a new world of commerce, making it easier than ever to sell products online.

But should you sell products without keeping an inventory?

As we just discussed, this approach has pros and cons, and it depends on your circumstances whether or not you should do it.

If you’re just starting, selling without inventory may be the best approach. It’s easy to start, and you won’t have to worry about storing, packaging, and shipping the products.

But if you’re established and looking for more control over the quality of your product, keeping an inventory may be the better option.

FAQs about selling without inventory

Is there something keeping you on edge to start selling products online? If so, we hope your question is answered below!

How do you sell something without stock?

You can sell something without stock using a business model like dropshipping or print on demand. Here, your supplier ships the product directly to your customer.

What is the best way to sell online without inventory?

The best way to sell online without inventory depends on your personal goals. However, if you’re a beginner, dropshipping may be one of the best approaches because it’s relatively easy to start and doesn’t require a significant investment!

How do I become a dropshipper?

You can become a dropshipper by finding a supplier, choosing a product, creating an online store, and advertising your product online.

Do you need inventory for Shopify?

No, you don’t need to keep an inventory to sell products on Shopify. You can use Shopify for all business models mentioned in this article!

How can I sell online without a website?

You can start selling online without a website by advertising and selling your products on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Summary

Before we go to the final verdict, we’ve created a quick summary of this article for you, so you can easily remember it:

  • You can sell products online without keeping an inventory by doing dropshipping, print on demand, affiliate marketing, or selling digital products.
  • The main pros of selling without inventory are that you don’t have to make a large investment or worry about being left with excess inventory.
  • The main cons of selling without inventory are that you may experience lower profit margins and longer shipping times.

Conclusion

In conclusion, selling products online without keeping an inventory can be a viable business model.

It can save on costs associated with keeping an inventory, such as warehouse rental and staff, and you to offer a broader range of products.

However, it is essential to consider the potential downsides of this approach as well, such as lower profit margins and longer shipping times.

Overall, selling products online without keeping an inventory can be an intelligent way to operate, especially if you’re just starting out.

Good luck with everything!

Want to learn more about ecommerce?

Ready to move your online store to the next level? Check out the articles below:

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Author

Hey! My name is Patryk and I've been dropshipping for 2+ years now! After being exposed all the time to dropship "gurus" trying to sell their courses and learning from my mistakes, I decided to help build Do Dropshipping and make all information you need to succeed in dropshipping available for free to everyone!

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