According to Statista, global retail e-commerce sales would grow to $4.5 trillion by 2021. More than ever now’s the right time to know how to start an online boutique.
To get things rolling, I have created a super easy guide on how to start an online boutique, even if you’re someone with zero experience. This post is dedicated to just that, and it explains all that you need to do in 7 simple steps, as well as some legal documentation that might be useful.
In this guide, we have discussed the step-by-step process for starting an online boutique in a matter of minutes. I have also covered the legal aspects of an online boutique.
Let’s get started!
How to start an online boutique
Step-1 Select the products to sell
First step in our guide on how to start an online boutique is to select high selling products. Select what you are going to sell and try to make your online boutique niche specific.
The good thing is there are a lot of unique clothing accessories that you can sell. But before you go ahead with any of that, research your market. For instance, in January 2020 the most trending fashion products were high waist shapewear.
You can even checkout the Oberlo guide featuring 100+ best products to sell. You can go ahead with any niche that you like, including but not limited to:
- Women’s clothing
- Men’s clothing
- Fitness clothing
- Kids clothing
- sleep wear
- beauty products
The best part about starting a niche specific clothing collection like kids clothing is that you know your target audience and you can get better conversion for your boutique products. Once you grow in a particular niche, you can grow in other directions as well.
Step-2 Choose your product supplier
Once you know what you are going to sell, you can go ahead with your supplier. You have two options for suppliers, one is wholesale and other is dropshipping.
- Get the products from wholesale, but this would require you to maintain a stock inventory.
- Or get the products directly shipped from wholesale to the customer (also known as dropshipping).
What is drop-shipping?
Simply put, dropshipping is a business model where the wholesaler directly transports the product to the customer. It is a better choice than setting up an inventory especially if you are just getting started with an online boutique. This business model requires no upfront and you can easily move the product pages from third party to your stores using Oberlo.
There are two types of drop shipping businesses:
- AliExpress dropshipping – Choose from thousands of products available in the marketplace and re-brand, sell it on your store.
- Print on demand dropshipping – Sell your custom design products like mugs, t-shirts and phone cases using platforms like Printful.
- Get started with little investment
- low initial outlay
- Easily test multiple products
- No inventory cost
- Limited control over shipment and packaging
- Products you sell are out in the open
What is an inventory?
Inventory would require you to store the items shipped by the wholesaler and then package/ship the items on your own. Inventory also requires users to set up a wholesale account along with a complete credit application.
More importantly, you’re gonna need a warehouse/storage space for the shipped items. Obviously, there would be multiple employees (staff) for managing the process, so you have to get an EIN number (all legal documentation is mentioned at the end of this post). If you do opt to go with this method, don’t forget to get your products insured.
- Better wholesale pricing and higher profit
- Unique product line
- Accurate stock status
- Full-control over packaging and shipment
- Inventory requires a huge budget
- More workload, i.e. shipment, tracking, management, exchange, etc
Whether you are choosing inventory or dropshipping, be sure to thoroughly investigate your wholesale supplier, as well as verify the manufacturer details and access the brand reputation of your supplier. This can be done through their Google ratings, BBB+, online reviews and so on.
Step-3 Select an eCommerce platform
There are a lot of eCommerce like Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Magento, etc for starting an online boutique. But with my personal experience, I can tell you that these are the top 2 eCommerce platforms to start an online boutique:
- Shopify (dedicated eCommerce platform) – Shopify is a complete eCommerce solution. They have thousands of apps for improving different aspects of your boutique. Although you can use Shopify for both the inventory as well as dropshipping, their features are more targeted towards dropship stores.
- WooCommerce (WordPress plugin) – It is an eCommerce plugin for WordPress that helps a user to create an online store. WooCommerce is not good for dropshippers, but definitely a great choice for inventory models. The only reason for choosing WooCommerce over Shopify is if you want to create a content-heavy site, or if you won’t require 24/7 support.
|1.||Overview||Shopify is a complete eCommerce solution for online stores.||WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin that changes a website into an ecommerce store.|
|2.||Standout Features||Beginner-friendly interface, free eCommerce tools, Unlimited file storage||Extreme customization options, dynamic functionality, hosting flexibility|
|3.||Plugins/apps (for eCommerce)||4,000+||1,000+|
|5.||Pricing (starts from)||$29 per month||$3.95 per month|
|6.||Support||24/7 online support||Knowledge base and support ticket|
|7.||Best for||Dropshipping stores, inventory stores, high traffic businesses||Inventory stores|
|8.||Speed (tested for default stores)||1.03 seconds||1.56 seconds|
|9.||Live Examples||See Example||See Example|
My advice is, you should use Shopify as your eCommerce store. While Shopify charges more than WooCommerce, it also offers most of the eCommerce specific extensions for free, which are otherwise paid on WooCommerce marketplace. Shopify is a complete eCommerce solution, and will actually cost you less than WooCommerce on the long run, provided that you have to pay for every functionality you add on WooCommerce.
But if you want more control over every part of your online store, or want to fully customize your blog pages; WooCommerce is a better choice. Follow this guide to start an online boutique using WooCommerce, or to create a blogging website.
Step-4 Choose a catchy boutique name
Your boutique name aka domain name is the first thing your visitor will notice. When you are finding a name for your fashion boutique, make sure it is…
Brandable and short – A good, catchy store name will help you develop your brand (which is essential if you are looking for a long term business). A short domain name helps you rank better in the search engines too. Your boutique name should be unique and remarkable so that people don’t easily forget about it, which would ultimately help them get back to your store more often.
Relevant but specific – If you are launching a car website and your domain name is something like ABCvehicles.com, it might not be the best choice. Instead, if you go for ABC-cars.com it would be more specific and absolutely relevant. your audience would be able to know about your site. However, if you have to choose between relevancy and brand, go for the brand. One of the most common examples of this is Amazon.
Step-5 Sign up On Shopify
a. Sign up for a free trial
Shopify makes signing up and building an online boutique a cakewalk. All you have to do is visit their website and click the “Start free trial” button. In the beginning, you will get a free 14 days trial to get things going.
Provide your email address, a password, and your desired store name. Once done, proceed to the next step by clicking on the “Create your store” button.
The next page will ask you whether you are already selling, along with some information about your current revenue numbers. Choose the appropriate answers from the options given and click “Next.” Provide your name, address, phone number, etc. on the following page.
Lastly, click “Enter my store” to finish the registration process. This will take you to your Shopify dashboard.
b. Register a domain name
Shopify offers a free domain with shopify.com in the end. But one thing we’d all agree with is that ABCclothing.com looks more professional than ABCclothing.shopify.com. You will need a domain name for your eCommerce website to sell online. Shopify offers two ways to get the domain:
- You can purchase the domain from Shopify, or..
- Purchase the domain from Namecheap (or any other domain registrar) and connect it to your store.
To purchase the domain from Shopify, go to Online Store > Domains and click the “Buy new domain” button.
On the next page, type your desired domain name. Shopify will validate the availability of your entered name and show you all the available names as you type. Click the “Buy” button, and it will redirect you to the checkout page.
Alternatively, you can purchase a cheaper domain from Namecheap or GoDaddy, here’s how to connect an existing domain to your Shopify store.
Step 6: Designing your online boutique for brand aesthetic
Now that you have signed up your Shopify store, it’s time to make it look appealing. Giving your store a good aesthetic is important for building your brand’s reputation, trustworthiness and improving the overall user experience. So when you select a theme for your Shopify store, think how it will look on your store. Ask yourself, whether or not it will look good on your store niche.
a. Pick a theme
Another important thing that decides your sales is the template. Imagine the way you want to represent your brand aesthetic. You can select a design with a single product on the landing page or multiple product widgets. The visual brand aesthetic will help you in the long run and would affect your conversion rate.
To select a theme, go to Online Store > Themes on the left sidebar and customize the default theme. Shopify offers both free and premium themes. You can check out the available styles for the free themes and use any of these for your store.
The upside about premium Shopify themes is that they are built using professional designs, contain better code quality, provide premium support, and are jam-packed with lots of useful features. Make sure you are checking out the user reviews before choosing a premium theme just to evaluate how well it worked out for them.
b. Create a stunning logo
The web-store logo is an important aspect and you should take care of this part when launching your boutique. You can use a Shopify based logo maker to create a personalized logo. Hatchful is a free tool for designing a creative boutique logo from hundreds of pre-made templates.
Simply go to Hatchful and click on the “Get started” button. Choose your business space, template style, Boutique name and the place where you will use the logo. Once you select these options, the AI will show you some stunning logos on your screen. These logos are totally customizable and can be used for any type of online store.any type of online store.
Step-7 Ensure the legal documents
Setting a boutique online is similar to an offline boutique. There are only a few legal things that you need to take care of (similar to a brick and mortar store). Below, I have detailed the basic documents and registrations that you’d need when opening an online boutique to comply with the legal standards. However, there could be some additional rules based on your region that you may need to keep an eye out for. Read this guide Shopify guide featuring legal business laws.
Start with deciding a structure for your online boutique i.e., whether it is the LLC or the LLP business model. After selecting the business model, you can go for the following steps…
1. Employer identification number (for LLP company)
Once you have selected a structure, you would need to apply for an EIN (employer identification number). It is your registered id for taxation purposes. However, if you have an LLC company with you as a sole proprietor or don’t have an employee, an EIN would not be necessary. You can simply use your social security number for taxation. If you are not sure whether or not you need an EIN, read this post.
2. Seller’s permit
Seller permit or resale license is required for any business selling merchandise to multiple states. In some states, you’d also require a sales tax ID for paying quarterly sales taxes. Your state business department can help you know about the requirements for getting a seller permit.
To give you a head start, every state in the USA needs a seller permit except Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon. Have a look at this post on sales tax permits for different states to know the state-specific permit rules. Usually, there are online portals for seller’s permits. For instance, if you need to get a California state’s seller’s permit, visit this page.
And before you get confused by all these different terms, a resale id, a reseller ID, a state ID, a Sales Tax ID, a retail ID, and a wholesale ID are all the same thing. But usually, it is referred to as a seller’s permit.
3. Fictitious business name via local newspaper
If you are starting your business using a name other than the owner’s name, or a name that is different from the legal name, then it is said to be a DBA (doing business as). In that case, you need to file for a fictitious business name. It is necessary for those who want to operate their business under a pseudo business name.
For instance, if your name is John Hadlock and you want to start your business as Jclothingassociates, then you have to file for a fictitious business name. But if you start your business under the name John Hadlock collection, you might not need a DBA. Remember that your fictitious name cannot have something like INC. or Corp tailing it unless its a corporation registered under the Secretary of State.
A fictitious business name will help you open a bank account and receive payments in the name of your business. For LLC models, DBA or fictitious name helps in setting up multiple businesses. You don’t require a DBA if you are doing business as your formal entity.
4. Legal pages
You will need legal pages for providing information regarding your website policies. The most important legal pages for your online boutique are:
- Refund policy page
- Terms and conditions page
What to do after setting up an online boutique?
A few years back, it was a lot more difficult to sell online. Nevertheless, the new user-friendly platforms like Shopify have made it a lot easier. You can easily start an online store with a slim-to-none investment.
Now that you know how to start an online boutique, it’s time to take the next steps. Start by optimizing your online boutique and improving the overall Shopify SEO.
You can also get some help from your online boutique from eCommerce experts on Shopify marketplace.
If you already have an offline store with great popularity and need a more sophisticated online platform, you can always upgrade to Shopify Plus.
I hope this step-by-step guide on how to start an online boutique helped you, if you have any questions, feel free to let me know in the comments below, or reach me out via contact page.
written by Pulkit Bhardwaj
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