The fashion ecommerce industry is bigger than ever, and it’s expected to expand significantly in the next few years. If you’ve been wanting to become an online retailer and open an online boutique, why not get started now?
Planning, launching, and marketing an online clothing store takes time, so you shouldn’t delay.
Although it’s important to get started as soon as possible, it’s always helpful to start with a clear plan, as this may affect how much you can make in ecommerce. Before you build a website or create an email list, you have some other tasks to complete.
By following our complete guide to creating an online boutique, you can open a successful store without missing a step.
Advantages of selling clothes online
While it’s true that many consumers like buying clothes in person because they can see them first, there are several advantages to selling clothing online.
Ecommerce can be ideal both for the business owner and the customers. For entrepreneurs and shoppers who are motivated by cost savings, online retail is a great option.
The cost to start an online boutique is typically less expensive to operate than brick-and-mortar shops. You don’t need to rent a space or pay sales staff, and you can usually keep less inventory in stock.
The low barrier to entry makes it easier for you to establish a store. You can then pass some of the savings along to your customers. By offering lower prices, you can attract shoppers to your store who may otherwise not be interested in purchasing clothes online.
In addition, ecommerce stores are available at all hours. People can shop at night, on the weekends, and during holidays, so you don’t have to worry about losing out on sales outside of normal business hours.
Your store is also available to people all over the country or possibly even the world, so your pool of potential customers is much larger.
Shopping for clothes online is faster and more convenient for consumers as well. It isn’t necessary for them to drive to the store or walk around the aisles. People can instead browse from the comfort of their own home.
They can find multiple items from multiple stores in a matter of minutes. This added convenience improves customer satisfaction and may help to increase order size and frequency.
Clothing store business models
Not all clothing stores operate in the same way. There are numerous ways to structure a business, and they vary widely in their operations.
One of the first steps in establishing your online boutique is choosing a business model, so let’s examine the following four popular options.
Custom cut and sew
Custom clothing retailers create their inventory from scratch. With this business model, you act as the manufacturer and the seller.
A custom clothing line can be incredibly successful. The clothes are completely unique, so shoppers can’t find them elsewhere. What’s more, consumers who prefer high-quality clothing won’t mind paying the price for handmade items.
The biggest challenge with a custom cut-and-sew boutique is management. Before you can even list the item, your business has to handle everything from sourcing to pattern-making to manufacturing.
Unless you’re an expert at design and sewing, you’ll have to hire people to complete these highly specialized tasks.
If you choose this model, be prepared to sell fewer items at a higher cost each. Focus on quality over quantity. You’ll also probably have a smaller collection for shoppers to browse.
Print on demand
A print-on-demand store prints designs onto blank products like T-shirts, hats, or socks. The business sources its blank materials from a manufacturer and typically uses an ink-jet printer to place the designs on the products.
Print-on-demand stores are ideal for entrepreneurs who want to set up their store quickly and market a large range of products. The printing process is fairly quick, so you can offer a wealth of designs and print each product as the orders come in.
Items from print on demand stores are usually inexpensive. The downside to operating with this business model is that your profit margin may be low.
After buying the blank clothing items, the profits from each sale can be very small. For this reason, you’ll have to focus on increasing the quantity of your sales with marketing.
3. Private label
The private-label model splits the difference between the cut-and-sew and print-on-demand options. With this type of business, you plan a product line and hire a manufacturer to bring the idea to life.
This allows for more flexibility than simply printing a design on a blank item. You have more input into design factors like cut, color, and sizing.
You don’t carry the entire manufacturing burden, though. In addition, the production process is usually less expensive than that of the cut-and-sew model.
The drawback of using the private-label model is time. Before you launch your store, you must find a trustworthy manufacturer, put in the production order, and wait for your inventory to arrive.
For this reason, if you’re trying to launch your store within a week or two, the private-label model likely isn’t your best option.
Businesses that use the dropshipping model partner with a manufacturer or supplier. This supplier manages the storage, packaging, and shipping of the inventory. The retailer focuses on marketing the products.
Dropshipping is similar to the print-on-demand model in that you don’t carry completed inventory. You instead wait until the order is placed to take action.
This is especially helpful if you lack the space to store your inventory. With the dropshipping model, everything happens through your manufacturer.
Dropshipping is an ideal model for entrepreneurs who are starting on a tight budget. You don’t have to invest in inventory before you launch your site because the products are all in the hands of the supplier.
Branding is difficult with dropshipping, though. There will be numerous other stores selling exactly the same items, so it can be tough to stand out from your competition. This is particularly important for clothing retailers, as shoppers often like to purchase from unique brands.
9 steps for creating an online boutique
Starting an online boutique takes work, but breaking it up into smaller tasks makes the process feel much easier. Here are some helpful steps to take you from planning to launching your business!
1. Make a business plan
An online boutique requires careful planning. Although most plans need adjusting as they come to life, you still should begin by establishing your business model and setting your goals.
Your business plan will keep you focused and consistent as you make important choices for your store.
If you’re hoping to seek funding or a loan for your business, your plan should be very thorough. Your lender or investor will want an extensive financial plan as well as details about your marketing strategies.
Include your expected start-up costs and revenue along with potential problems you may encounter and how you’ll manage them.
If your business plan is solely for your own guidance, it doesn’t need to be quite so detailed. However, it should still contain the important financial information, some marketing ideas, and milestones you hope for your business to reach in its first few years.
Your business plan is also a great place to describe your vision. Before you open your online boutique, you need to determine how it will add value to customers’ lives.
This could be by solving a problem or fulfilling a want or a need. Why is your store valuable to shoppers? What makes your brand different from your competitors?
2. Decide what you want to sell
You probably already have a general idea of what you’re interested in selling. Now’s the time to narrow down what exactly you plan to offer.
There are so many different types and styles of clothing you can sell, so finding your niche can take a while. This is an opportunity to be creative and let your own passion shine through.
I recommend choosing a style or product line that you're personally interested in. When you truly care about your products, selling online becomes more enjoyable.
Think about what will make your brand stand out from the competition. The ecommerce market is thriving, so small businesses have to be unique to succeed.
In addition, avoid trying to sell too many products at the start. It’s better to focus on a handful of high-quality, high-selling goods than to stock a wide variety of items that aren’t going to perform well or are inconsistent with your brand image.
3. Choose a name for your online boutique
Once you’ve written your business plan and decided which products you’ll sell, you can come up with a name. It’s important that you have a clear idea of your brand image, business model, and niche first so that your name is a clear and accurate representation of your business.
You may not think of a name immediately. It’s also possible that you may think of the perfect name but discover that it’s already in use.
Patience is key during this step. Your brand name may come to you when you’re not even trying to think of it, so allow yourself time to brainstorm.
Keep your brand name short and simple so that your audience can remember it. A name with three words or fewer tends to work best.
The name should be both easy to pronounce and easy to spell. Avoid intentional misspellings that may make it difficult for an interested customer to Google your brand.
Alliteration can be a good tool as it sounds catchy and makes your brand name more memorable (e.g. “Fabiana’s Florals”). Only use this strategy if the name makes sense for your business, though. You don’t want to confuse potential customers as to what your store offers.
If you’re stuck, try using an online business name generator. These tools generate names based on a few keywords related to your business. They probably won’t give you a perfect brand name, but they may provide some ideas to jump-start your creativity.
4. Register your business with the necessary authorities
Before you make your first sale, your ecommerce boutique must be registered. If not, you may face significant fines and penalties. The registration process varies from country to country and even state to state, so you’ll have to look into the laws and requirements of where you live.
First, choose your business structure. This will affect your liability and taxes, so consider all of the options carefully. We’ll take a look at the possibilities for U.S. businesses below, but be sure to review your own country’s regulations if you’re located elsewhere.
With a sole proprietorship, you run the business as an individual. There isn’t a legal distinction between yourself and the business, so you’re personally liable for any business debts.
In most cases, registering a sole proprietorship is very simple. However, if your business has a different name than your personal name, you’ll have to register your DBA, which stands for “doing business as.”
A limited liability company (LLC) offers some liability protection to the business owner. With an LLC, you’re not personally responsible for all of your business debts.
To register an LLC, your state may require that your business name includes the term “LLC.” You’ll have to write your articles of organization, which outline some basic information about your company. Most states require LLCs to pay an annual fee as well.
A corporation is the largest and most complex type of business. It’s owned by shareholders, not individuals, and it’s seen as a completely separate entity in the eyes of the law.
Registering a corporation is also more complicated and expensive than registering an LLC or a sole proprietorship. Very few online boutiques start off as a corporation. You may transition from an LLC to a corporation if your business grows, though.
5. Develop your brand and its aesthetic
After choosing your business name and narrowing down the products you plan to sell, you can finally develop your aesthetic style. To create a strong brand image, you should be consistent with the style of clothing you offer.
To find your style, identify your target audience. Creating a buyer persona can be very helpful for understanding the shoppers who you want to attract.
Imagine one person who represents your perfect shopper. Define their age, gender, level of education, and economic standing.
Determine why they’re visiting your website and what they like to see in a store. By creating this detailed representation of your audience, you can figure out what aesthetic will appeal best to them.
Your aesthetic matters for more than your store’s clothing. Every element of your brand, including your logo, web design, and social media content, should be consistent with your style.
When everything is unified, your customers will have a better understanding of your brand. This makes them more likely to remember your store and revisit it in the future.
6. Research other online clothing boutiques to ensure that yours is unique
Ecommerce is a competitive industry. There are thousands of online clothing boutiques offering every item in every style.
Creating a unique brand requires careful research. Before you commit to a brand name, style, or products, make sure that your ideas aren’t too similar to another store’s.
If your store is similar to a successful competitor, you may have a hard time gaining customers. Shoppers who would be interested in your brand may already be loyal to the other store.
What’s more, trademark and copyright issues can also be concerning, especially if your brand name or clothing designs are too close to someone else’s.
For U.S. stores, you can do a trademark search with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if your brand name or any similar ideas are under trademark.
Search on Google and social media sites for your chosen business name as well. Then, check Google for keywords related to your niche and style, and browse the first few pages of results.
There's an important distinction between finding inspiration from other stores and copying them. While I recommend looking into your competition to see what works, you should always be thinking about what your brand can do differently to stand out.
7. Pick an ecommerce platform
For your online boutique to succeed, it’s critical to have a well-designed website. The ecommerce platform you select can make a big difference in how your online store functions, so be sure to evaluate all of your options before you select one.
Different platforms offer different levels of freedom and flexibility. If you’re familiar with web development or want to hire someone to build your site, you could use a platform that allows for more customization.
It can be helpful to have more control over your site’s structure as seemingly small elements can have a dramatic impact on customer behavior.
If you’re not experienced in web design, you could use a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution for website creation. With this method, all you have to do is select a pre-made template and make some adjustments so that the site reflects your aesthetic.
For instance, when you choose the WiziShop platform as your online store builder, you’ll have access to 400+ features and lots of different design templates for complete customization.
With our easy-to-use interface, you don’t need to be a computer engineer to create your website. In fact, it’ll be ready to go in a flash!
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For this reason, when you sign up with us, you’ll be guided through the store-creation procedure step by step. In addition, you’ll also be able to avail of free ecommerce training on all kinds of topics.
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8. Set up your website
Setting up your website is one of the most exciting steps, as you can finally see your store take shape. The process of building the site will vary depending on which platform you pick, but it always involves a few key steps.
First, you’ll have to select your ecommerce domain name. This is the URL that your shoppers will use to access your site.
Your URL should ideally be the same as your business name, but this isn’t always possible. If your business name has already been claimed as a domain, choose a URL that’s clear, easy to spell, and makes sense for your niche.
Your site should have separate product pages for each item you offer. Take high-quality photos of each item, paying careful attention to lighting.
Online shoppers rely on your photos since they can’t see, feel, or try on the clothing until they buy it. Product descriptions are also important. Keep them concise, and be sure to include details about sizing and materials.
Many shoppers visit an ecommerce site with an idea of what they’re looking for. Your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for your customers to find what they want.
Include a search bar at the top of every page, and allow shoppers to filter their search results by size, color, or other elements. Sort your products into categories and subcategories, too, and list these in your site menu.
Your product pages may be the focus of your website, but you should also add an “About” page and a “Contact” page. You could even start a blog on your site to offer helpful information to your visitors and let them know when you have new products or promotional events.
Finally, your site needs a checkout page with a payment processor. Some processors can integrate with your website so that the shopper stays on your site the entire time.
Others will take the shopper off your site to their portal to complete the checkout. What’s most important is that the processor is trusted and secure.
9. Get the word out about your online boutique through marketing
The work isn’t over when your site goes live. Now, the goal is to attract an audience by marketing your store.
There are a wide variety of online marketing strategies you can employ. However, the most popular options for up-and-coming clothing retailers are social media and emails.
Your brand should have at least two or three social media profiles. Instagram is especially effective for clothing boutiques, as it allows you to display photos of your store's merchandise.
Social media isn’t just an opportunity to share content but a valuable platform for interacting with your customers. You can communicate with your audience by encouraging them to leave comments, responding to private messages, and liking or commenting on posts that tag your brand.
Your email list is a powerful marketing tool as well. To build this list, you could send a discount code to customers who sign up for emails as an incentive.
I then suggest segmenting your email list based on demographic information or buying history. This way, you can send only relevant and engaging emails to each of your subscribers.
If you’re interested in the fashion industry, choosing to open an online boutique may be an excellent option to fulfill your business goals. Starting an ecommerce business is faster and less expensive than establishing a brick-and-mortar store, and it makes you available to a wider audience.
During every step, remember your brand image, goals, and target customers. This will help you make important choices about your products and web design.
If you focus on providing unique clothing items that fulfill a want or need for your shoppers, you’re sure to find your audience and develop a loyal customer base!