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How to Start an Online Clothing Boutique for Free (Ultimate Guide)

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 a few simple steps, as well as some legal documentation that you might need.

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 & select a niche

Another Statista’s research shows that U.S. clothing and accessories stores generated a revenue of $268.16 Billion in the year 2018. So, the #1 step for my guide on how to start a boutique is all about selecting your niche.

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 

Next thing you’d want to do is – selecting a specific niche for starting an online boutique. 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.

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

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

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.

Step-2 Choose between inventory or dropshipping

Now that you have a boutique niche in mind, or atleast have an idea about the type of products you’d like to sell. Its time to move to next section of our guide on how to open an online boutique that is product sourcing. You can either hold an inventory or ship the products directly from supplier 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. If you are starting a boutique with dropshipping model, you don’t need much investment and would get more room for testing multiple products.

Now you will have an option to choose what type of clothing dropshipping would you like to do. This is something that you need to know before finding out how to start your own boutique.

  • Branded dropshipping – Many clothing dropshipping suppliers offer branded dropshipping, which means you get to select from a pool of branded clothing and dropship them directy.
  • Non branded dropshipping – If you want you can start an online boutique like Romwe that is more about trendy, niche-specific (swimwear) clothing.
  • Print on demand dropshipping – If you want to open online store with your custom branding and want more control over the design, then you can go for a print on demand model. The POD company basically gives you a mockup generator and let you create the design you want, they will then create and ship it for you on pay per order basis.

Now, before I talk how to open an online store with inventory, let me discuss the pros and cons.

ProsCons
Start creating custom clothing with little to no investmentLimited control over shipment and packaging
Design and sell any boutique product you want
Create a semi automated business for better lifestyle

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. 

ProsCons
Cheaper product priceInventory requires a huge budget and higher risk
Full-control over packaging and shipmentMore workload, i.e. shipment, tracking, management, exchange, etc
More accurate stock status

Step-3 Select an eCommerce platform

shopify boutique

Now that you know why dropshipping clothing is more liked by boutique owners, let’s jump to the next step of our “how to start an online store” guide.

There are tons of eCommerce platforms for starting an online boutique business, but for starting an online boutique, there is no better platform than Shopify. The three big reasons I prefer Shopify for opening an online boutique are – Multiple clothing suppliers on Shopify app marketplace, beginner oriented dashboard and recommendations by most successful online boutiques.

Here’s a quick table for reference –

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.

Another huge reason why we are choosing Shopify is that it integrates swiftly with some of the best dropshipping suppliers. This means you don’t have to time waste your time in uploading products manually. You can automate your online boutique and focus more on scaling it. Plus there is an app on Shopify app marketplace for literally every feature you want to have. You will get a 24/7 premium support(phone/chat/email) for easing up the boutique management process. They offer 14 days free trial if you’d like to know how it feels.

Step-4 Select a high quality boutique supplier 

Next thing to do for opening an online boutique is finding a supplier. You can work with either one of these boutique suppliers –

  • Custom clothing manufacturer – If you want to keep an inventory for a few units, working directly with manufacturers is an option for higher margin. While most of the manufacturers have a high minimum order quantity (MOQ), there are some custom clothing manufacturers that you can work with and get higher profit. 
  • Wholesale supplierWholesaler is the one that buys the products from manufacturers and sells it to retailers to start a clothing business online. Wholesale clothing suppliers can give you cheap price and lower minimum order value, but the scope for design customization is quite limited. Some of the wholesalers even ofer dropshipping.
  • Boutique Clothing dropshippersClothing dropshippers allow you a wide variety of clothing options that you can import to your site and start selling easily. Some of them offer branded supplies for starting an online boutique, and others offer custom branding (mostly the print on demand dropshippers).

Some Dropshipping suppliers you might like:

A quick question I’d like to answer here is how to open an online boutique with the right supplier? There is no specific boutique supplier that fits all your needs. You will have to look over multiple clothing dropshippers for finding your fit.

Note – Try to find a boutique supplier that is located near your target region so you can offer fast shipping to your customers. But if that’s not possible, you can use a warehouse and fulfillment service like Printful for storing your products near your customers.

Step-5 Select a name for your online boutique 

Next in step on “how to start an online clothing boutique” guide is selecting a brand 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, 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.

Step-6 Register your boutique business

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

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. Even if you don’t know how to start a clothing boutique with right design, just try to customize your design with small changes that customers might like.

Shopify theme for starting an online boutique

So when you are looking for a Shopify theme to represent your online boutique, think how handy your products will go based on design type (minimal, modern, etc). You can also see what theme top Shopify boutiques are using for some inspiration.

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 open an online store 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


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