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How to Start an Online Clothing Boutique

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 clothing 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.

Let’s get started!

Step-1 Create a business plan and select best selling products

Another Statista’s research shows that U.S. clothing and accessories stores generated a revenue of $268.16 Billion in the year 2018.

Infographics on apparel market
Apparel market size in billions as per Statista 2018 report

There is a great demand in the apparel market even after so many variations of clothing products. And if you can find the supply-demand gap for your niche, you can make a highly profitable online boutique. 

Learn from your future competitors 

First thing you’d want to do is – selecting a very specific niche and learning from your future competitors. If you have no idea about the best clothing products to sell in your online boutique, simply head-on to KwFinder or Google Keyword Planner and check the search volume for the type of products you are hoping to sell. Or just look on Amazon fashion category for some inspiration. 

When it comes to starting an online boutique there is a variety of clothing and accessories that you can sell. Try to narrow down your product categories and target specific audience in the beginning. For instance, if you want to sell kids clothing, target it towards a particular age group.

Example-1

Little Fashionista Boutique(1)

A great example for a niche-specific store is Little Fashionista Boutique, a store generating over $12,000 by simply dropshipping children clothing (mostly girls clothing) for a specific age group.

Example-2

Chubby bubb ybear

ChubbyBubbyBear is an inventory based fashion store focused on trendy and vintage clothing for kids. One of the centerpiece products is knit sweaters.

Example-3

Bellitalia

Bellitalia generates over $3000 per month revenue selling high end bags, clothing and shoes. They focus on brand products.

Another great online boutique is Zevomi - an automated dropshipping fashion store that claims to generate $3000 in just two weeks. Their clothing line is minimal and mainly focused on cut and sew designs (with custom tags). Think of it as a fashion store inspired by Shein clothing.

Find out the best selling product category

Trends keep changing and so you need to find what makes your clothing unique. Like, in the beginning of the Corona pandemic, the most trending fashion product was high waist shapewear. You can use Google trends to see the trend rate for particular clothing. 

Google Trends

Optimize your products based on current trends. For example, many online brands customized their products to the Corona products line. You can also use keyword research tools for checking product competition. 

Do a quick analysis for target market

You can use tools like Google Trends to analyze the best performing products in the marketplace. Simply enter the type of clothing products to find out how popular it is.

Before you start selling, it’s better to know a little more about your customers, right?

  • Think about a relevant customer base – Think about who is most likely to buy this product? Is there a bigger brand to compete?
  • Check your customer base – Perform a quick analysis to find out how big your customer base is. Apparel market alone contributes to 1.5 billion US dollars. Similarly, you can use platforms like Statistia and other credible sources to see how big your audience is. 
  • Specify demographics – Try to figure out a demographics report featuring age, location, gender, occupation, income, etc about your target audience.

Note – Choose the products that you are going to sell. It could be anything from kids’ clothing to fashion accessories, but make sure it is unique and helpful to your customers. Here are some of the most trendy products you can sell in 2020 for some inspiration.

Step-2 Choose between wholesale or dropshipping model

Product sourcing is the second thing you’d want to do. You can either hold an inventory or ship the products directly upon order arrival (dropshipping).

What is a drop-shipping business model ?

Simply put, dropshipping is a business model where the supplier directly ships the product to the customer when the order is placed. As a dropshipper, you don’t need to keep any stock. Dropshipping is a good business model for those who don’t want to invest a lot of capital and want the room for multiple product variations.  

You can easily migrate the product listing from a supplier (AliExpress, for instance) to your store in just a few clicks. 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.

Both are popular in the dropship industry, but as a boutique owner, you’d like the print on demand model that gives you customization flexibility. 

Pros:

  • Get started with little investment
  • low initial outlay
  • Easily test multiple products
  • No inventory cost

Cons:

  • Limited control over shipment and packaging
  • Products you sell are out in the open

What is an inventory business model?

Inventory would require you to store the items shipped by the supplier 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. You can either work as a wholesale boutique or a retailer. For wholesale boutique, you’d need to order bulk clothing products directly from the manufacturers. Retailers on the other hand mostly work with wholesalers allowing them to get better clothing orders. 

More importantly, you’re gonna need a warehouse/storage space for the shipped items. Also, don’t forget to add the insurance fee to fully secure your products. 

Pros:

  • Better wholesale pricing and higher profit
  • Unique product line
  • Accurate stock status
  • Full-control over packaging and shipment

Cons:

  • Inventory requires a huge budget
  • More workload, i.e. shipment, tracking, management, exchange, etc
Drop-shipping vs Inventory: Which One Should I Go With?

If you choose inventory over drop-shipping, you will need to maintain the stock and storage area on a regular basis. The risk margin is greater considering that you cannot possibly foreshadow how much the product is going to sell. On the contrary, choosing drop shipping will make the shipment process much easier, and you won’t need to make any upfront payment.

Unless you craft your products by yourself, you don’t necessarily require putting up an inventory for your boutique clothing.

On a personal note, I’d recommend every beginner to go with drop shipping for their online boutique. This will let you test more niche items and save you the hassle (and stress) of managing an inventory. Because otherwise, if you go with the inventory approach, you would have to do everything from shipment and returns, to staff management and inventory stock on your own.

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 Choose a high quality clothing supplier 

Third important thing to do to ensure long term success for your online boutique is – choosing a reliable supplier. Your supplier can be- 

  • Clothing manufacturer – If you want to hold an inventory, so you have better control over product shipment process and quality; working directly with manufacturers is a good choice. While most of the manufacturers have a high minimum order quantity (MOQ), there are some custom clothing manufacturers that you can work with. 
  • Wholesale supplier – Wholesaler is the one that buys the products from manufacturers and sells it to customers or retailers. This means you don’t necessarily require a huge investment for your inventory. Wholesale clothing suppliers can give you cheaper prices for your order, lower minimum order value, but the scope for customization is quite limited. 
  • AliExpress Dropshipping supplier – Dropshipping as I mentioned before, don’t need you to make any investment for products. If you are hoping to sell boutique accessories, you can select lookout suppliers on AliExpress or Alibaba like verified directories, other dropshipping platforms for eCommerce.
  • Print on demand supplier – Print on demand is my favorite type of supplier for starting an online clothing boutique. You will be provided with an easy to use mockup generator. All you need to do is design the products and list it on your eCommerce store (with one click migration). Print on demand companies allow you to fully-customize your clothing and you don’t have to perform quality checks on your own. Plus they are extremely reliable for long term business and most of the POD suppliers provide custom branding and multiple print variations.

Step-4 Select an awesome eCommerce platform

Best ecommerce platforms

Next, you need to choose the eCommerce platform for your online boutique. There are multiple models for your online boutique. 

  1. Complete eCommerce solution – Most popular eCommerce platforms on the marketplace provide everything-at-one-place for starting and running an online boutique. 
  2. Website builder – A site builder allows you to create a business website with simple drag and drop. This is good if you want to design your site from scratch without learning coding. 
  3. Content management system – A content management system requires a little technical skill, but provides great functionality. You can use a third party plugin to add eCommerce functionality to your site. 

If I have to select the top 3 best platforms for starting an online boutique, Here are my picks:

S. no.PlatformShopifyWooCommerceWix eCommerce
1.OverviewShopify is a complete eCommerce solution with awesome scalability.WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin that changes a website into an ecommerce store.Wix is a drag and drop website builder that lets you design a store from scratch.
2.Standout FeaturesBeginner-friendly interface, free eCommerce tools, Unlimited file storageDynamic functionality, hosting flexibilityAI based features, Site design controls
3.SEO score4.8/54.9/54.4/5
4..Themes/templates1300+2000+300+
5.Ease of usage score4.9/54.7/54.8/5
6.Plugins/apps (for eCommerce)4,000+1,000+300+
7.Trial14 daysUnavailable14 days
8.Pricing (starts from)$29 per month$6.99 per month$23 per month
9.Support24/7 live chat, email and phone supportKnowledge base and support ticket24/7 support, knowledge base
10.Best forAll types of eCommerce storesInventory storesInventory stores
11.Business toolsYesNoYes
12.LimitationsShopify has limitations with blog page design and you'd need additional page building app..WooCommerce limit its payment gateway to a few regions around the globe,Wix eCommerce don't let you switch templates and you'd find a lot of ads on cheaper plans.

There are a lot of eCommerce platforms for starting an online store, but when its about an online clothing boutique, I’d say Shopify is the best . This is mainly because they have more custom clothing suppliers than any other platform, 24/7 support, budget friendly apps and everything-at-one-place interface. My personal recommendation is Shopify and you can try a free 14 days trial to try it out.

Step-5 Select a name for your online boutique 

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, short and unique – 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, unique domain name will not only be more memorable for your audience, but also good for SEO.
  • 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. You can use a boutique name generator to get some solid suggestions.

In order to get your boutique up and running legally, you’d have to do a few quick things. First, register your online store as a business identity:

  • Sole Proprietorship/LLP – A Sole Proprietorship is the simplest type of business to form. You’d need only a few legal documents.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – With an LLC, you can create a protection between you and your business store. But you’d need more additional documents
  • Corporation – Select this if you are looking for funding and investors.

Other legal documents you might need are:

  1. EIN – If you are not a sole proprietor, you’d need an EIN (employer identification number) for taxation. However, sole proprietors with no employees can use their social security number for this.
  2. ITIN – Individual tax identification number is required if you are a non-us resident with no SSN (social security number) for tax processing. 
  3. Seller’s permit – Seller permit or resale license or business license is required for selling merchandise. You can get it from your sales taxing authority
  4. DBA Doing business as is required if you are starting your business using a name other than the owner’s name, or a name that is different from your legal name. 
  5. Operating bylaws – A few states require LLC business identities to have operating agreements.

Step-7 Design 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.

Shopify theme for starting an online boutique

So when you are looking for a theme to represent your online boutique, think how handy your products will go based on design type (minimal, modern, etc).

After that you can use Hatchful, a free logo maker for adding to your store design. You will also need to create legal pages like a refund policy for providing information regarding your website policies. You can easily create these pages for free using Shopify business tools.

What to do after setting up an online boutique?

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. If you already have an offline store with great popularity and need a more sophisticated online platform, you can always upgrade to Shopify Plus.

At this point, the guide on how to start an online boutique is officially complete, but I’d like to suggest some eCommerce marketing strategies for the heads start: 

  • Create unique Facebook/Instagram ads – Facebook marketing is saturated, but you can still make a good conversion for your products.
  • Create a blog- Start a simple blog and search for target keywords in your niche using KwFinder.
  • Referral marketing – You will ask your customers to refer your store to a friend for a reward. 
  • Loyalty program – Pat your customers for buying from your store again and again. 
  • Influencer marketing – Find influencers in your niche and ask them to promote your product.
  • Affiliate marketing – provide a small commission on your sales for promoting your product.

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.

FAQs for starting an online clothing boutique

#1 Which are the most profitable online boutiques?

You can $1000+ in the beginning months of an online boutique, but you’d have to test out a few products and find the right marketing tactics. One of the most profitable online store is a single product business that made $680K in just three months.

#2 What are the different types of printing methods for clothing boutique?

You can get a lot of options when it comes to cloth fabrics and printing. Most of the print on demand suppliers, provide different printing options, some of the most common print methods are:

Sublimation printing 

When it comes to print on demand there is a huge variety of sublimation printing methods. Two of the most seen sublimation printing methods are dye sublimation (where the design is infused with the product surface) and digital printing (where the print remains on the material).

To cut it short, it is a printing method that offers quick turn around, higher-margin, print-design flexibility, and faster shipments. There are services like Printful, Printify, and many more for this type of business model.

Cut & sew

Cut & sew are pieces of colored fabric cut to shape and sewn together to create your garment. Instead of printing fabric, it is customized from raw fabric to give your clothing an aesthetically appealing, fine design. You can either work with cut & sew manufacturers like Contrado or print on demand and fulfillment services like Printful.

Stitching 

Stitching is when the thread loops are crafted on clothes to give your boutique products a unique design. Embroidered stitching is one of the most common among all. Stitching is for those who want to offer handcrafted clothing line on their online boutique. You can go to platforms like Apliiq for stitching products.

White labeling

White labeling is for those who want to have their brand name tagged on their clothing products. You can either choose print-on-demand services, or private label manufacturers; based on your business needs.

#3 How much will it cost to start an online boutique?

It totally depends on the number of features you want and the eCommerce platform you select. For instance, WooCommerce will cost you $7 per month for both domain and hosting. For additional features, you’d need WooCommerce addons. If you choose Shopify it will cost you $29 with a lot of apps available for free.

#4 Why Shopify is the best choice for starting an online store?

Shopify is a complete eCommerce solution with low transaction fees, more dropshipping suppliers and better ease of usage. You will get better price for app subscriptions, i.e. for instance, an extension that transforms your store into a mobile app will cost you much lower on Shopify. Plus you as someone with no technical skills, you can easily use Shopify.

#5#5 How to use Shopify? (adding products, posts, or pages)

Adding a product

You will find an “Add product” button on your dashboard. Alternatively, you can go to the Products menu and click “Add Product.” Click the button, and you will be redirected to the below page:

  • Title – This is where you will add the name of your product. Don’t forget to optimize it for SEO.
  • Description – Enter an eye-catchy description that tells how it is helpful to the users.
  • Media – High-quality product image is good for improving click-through rate.
  • Pricing – Add a price for which you want to sell the product. Then add the cost per item, so you can track your margin and profit. When you want to put this item on sale, simply change the ‘compare at price’ to the original price and ‘price’ to the sales price.
  • Inventory – If your store is inventory-based, you can add stock using the SKU and barcode.
  • Shipping – If what you are selling is a physical product. Go ahead with the shipment details.
  • Variants – This option is for items with color, sizes or other variations.
  • Search engine listing preview – You can use it for managing SEO.
  • Organization – Add the product type, vendor, collections and tags.

Adding a post or page

Using posts for the target keywords improves your ranking and sales, as the keywords represent what your customers are looking for. You can use a blog for optimizing your store and get organic traffic using keyword-based content. For instance, if you are selling t-shirts, you can post a case study on your blog featuring how t-shirt trends changed in recent years.

Adding a post and a page are similar, just go to the Online store > Blog posts in the left sidebar.

Similarly, to add a new page, go to Online Store > Pages, and click “Add page.” You will find separate fields to provide the title, description, choose a template, schedule the page, and edit the meta content for your page.

Shopify will automatically create the basic menus for your store. You can manage these menus or create a new menu from the Online Store > Navigation page.

Managing search engine listing

Before publishing the button, make sure that you have optimized the product appearance for search engine listing.

There’s a “Search Engine Listing Preview” that allows you to edit the title, meta description, and URL to help you get better ranking on the search engine result pages. By default, it will show the product title and description that you entered on the product page, but you can use the edit button to change it. To show you an example, I have added the product details:

You can change everything including URL slug (keep it short), title (make it catchy) and meta description (include your target keyword).