Many fashionistas dream of opening their own online boutique or clothing store.
For those who are digitally inclined, it is the perfect choice for a business venture–less the overhead costs one would incur when running a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
But where do you begin?
Here, we will be discussing the steps you need to follow to build an online clothing store.
Our topics are:
- Why Put Up an Online Clothing Store
- Find the Right Product to Sell
- Find the Right Suppliers for your Product
- Choose a business model: Wholesale or Dropship
- Create Your Online Store
- Set up Terms and Conditions
- Market Your Products
We will also discuss the options you need to consider (as well as the pros and cons of each) in creating your own online boutique.
Let us get started!
When readers buy products and services discussed on our site, we often earn affiliate commissions that support our work.
Why Put Up an Online Clothing Store
An online boutique works much like your typical physical store: your products are displayed for the public to see; shoppers see clothing that they like, pay you for them, and you earn money.
However, unlike a physical store, your display is not just limited to your storefront and you’re not merely reaching out to people in your local area as selling online gives you a potentially global reach.
Setting up an online store costs much less than building an actual brick-and-mortar shop, which could include overhead costs such as rent, security, electricity, etc.
This does not yet include the capital you need for shelves, signage, and inventory.
With an online store, you do not need a lot of employees. You do not need a storage space and yet you can operate your store 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
A physical store is also risky, as you may not be able to sell your inventory. As you know, fashion trends come and go, and what you have not sold this year is no longer a popular choice next year.
With a web store, you do not need a huge capital. There is less financial risk, and yet the rewards are much more promising than brick-and-mortar clothing shop.
Find the Right Product to Sell
The first step is finding out what type of clothing you are going to sell. This decision depends on a number of factors such as:
- Your target market
- Your personal style
- Your preferences
- Your expertise
These four elements are critical, as they will influence your decisions later on.
Yes, you can sell anything online. However, it is advised to start out with a specific niche, and then niche up later.
If you start out with a wide collection of products, you will have a hard time marketing all of them later.
Whether you keep your own inventory or if you are dropshipping, putting up a huge store as a beginner is going to give you a lot of headaches.
Also, you will have a hard time establishing a brand if you do not niche down.
To choose the right products to sell, consider these two factors: clothing type and target market.
Clothing type and styles
There are a number of clothing categories that you can choose from. Some of them are the traditional casual wear, formal wear, sportswear, etc.
However, you can choose to sell something more specific, like formal wear, suits, ties, and blazers.
Or, you can also combine categories, like what other stores do. An example is athleisure where the type of clothing sold is great for casual wear and sportswear.
You can also niche down and only sell articles of clothing like shoes, pants, and accessories. From there, you can drill down your product type, sort them by material or by purpose.
For footwear, I recommend leather ones or boots—these products have a wide variety of options, and they can range from utilitarian to more fashionable styles.
An important factor to consider in your decision is the seasonality of the product. Things like swimming trunks could sell really well in the summer season, but would definitely not thrive during winter.
If you are dropshipping, you’ll find it much easier to adjust your collections accordingly every season because you do not keep inventory.
But if you keep your own inventory, shifting from one collection to another every season is not a great idea.
The target market is who you are selling to. This means that you need to consider the gender, age, size, and other factors like culture and personality of the people you want to sell to.
You might want to pick a target market based on your own preferences as it gives you a clear idea about what your target market wants and needs.
Or, you can seek out opportunities by looking at what type of clothing a specific person is likely to buy. You can also look for an underserved demographic.
Combining your clothing choice and the target market allows you to streamline your product selection process.
For example, if you choose to cater to women and focus on swimwear, you could be selling anything from full-body wetsuits to string bikinis.
You can choose to offer a full range of products for all ages, shapes and sizes, or perhaps you want to sell to a more specific audience and sell fun, age-appropriate swimwear for young girls.
Find the Right Suppliers for Your Product
The next step is to find a supplier. Now that you know what you want to sell, who you want to sell it to, you now need to figure out where that product should be sourced.
You can find hundreds of potential suppliers from online marketplaces like Amazon, AliExpress, Alibaba, eBay, China Brands, and many more.
Ideally, if possible, choosing a local supplier or one within your country is preferred to help you reduce your shipping costs.
Choose a business model: Wholesale or Dropship
The third step is deciding between the two main business models: wholesale or dropshipping.
Here is how wholesale works:
- You buy the products in bulk, and they get delivered to your warehouse or home.
- Since you are buying in bulk, you can get the items at a lower price.
- Wholesale allows you to have high profit margins, but you also need a huge capital.
The wholesale business model is the same with the traditional way of selling clothes in a brick-and-mortar store, albeit you are selling online.
In dropshipping, you will be displaying the products of your suppliers on your website. You do the marketing, and when a customer orders, you ask your supplier to ship the item to your customer.
The difference is that you do not keep inventory of the product. Once a customer makes a purchase, you receive the payment and then use that payment to buy the product they ordered.
Both of these models have advantages and disadvantages, which we shall explore below to help with your decision.
It is important to make a distinction because the way you will operate these two business models are completely different.
Understanding the wholesale business model
In wholesale, you are buying in bulk. Once the products are delivered to you, you’ll keep them in stock and then take care of shipping them to customers once orders are placed.
The pros of wholesale:
- Based on price per item, you are buying products at a much lower cost.
- You have more control of the inventory and knowing which items are still in stock and how much.
- If you stock up, you have more control on pricing since you control the supply.
- You can brand the product by changing the labels
- You can inspect the products prior to shipping and ensure quality
The cons of wholesale:
- Buying in bulk requires more money up front.
- You need to package your own product, which means you also have to spend on packaging material and labor.
- You cannot sell unless the item is on stock and you might have to wait for a longer for the supplier to complete your bulk order.
- Shipping the product yourself requires additional cost
- If there are low-quality or defective products sent back to you, you will be shouldering this extra cost.
- Keeping inventory requires more resources like space
- The cost of unsold product is considered income lost.
Some people prefer wholesale because of larger potential profit.
They also like being able to handle the products so that they can appropriately brand them.
While the profit can be higher, there is also a higher risk if the product doesn’t sell as well as expected, which leaves you with unsold inventory.
Understanding the dropshipping business model
In this model, you will buy products from your supplier only after a customer already purchased it from your online store.
Some people are new to online selling and do not have access to capital. As such, they prefer to do dropshipping because of the lower barrier to entry and lower risk.
To make it work, it is important that you find a supplier who dropship. It is also imperative that he supplier would pass on the goods to you at a low price.
The pros of dropshipping:
- Little capital required
- No need to worry about shipping; your supplier will ship the items
- You can manage your business anywhere
- No need to keep an inventory; no wastage
- Everything can be automated
The cons of dropshipping:
- High competition
- You have no control over quality
- You have no control over shipping and handling
One must really weigh these pros and cons carefully.
Choosing between wholesale or dropship depends a lot on how much responsibility you are willing to take on.
Both models are profitable if done right, but dropshipping has lesser risks than wholesale.
When it comes down to it, wholesale gives you more control and higher profit margins. However, it is much more difficult to manage.
Dropshipping, on the other hand, requires only a small capital, but you have no control over your products.
Create Your Online Store
After choosing a business model, the next step is to build your store. The business model you chose plays a crucial role on which platform you would build your online clothing store.
If you choose to wholesale, you can build your store from scratch. You can hire a web designer and developer to create what you want.
If you have enough technical knowledge or are a willing learner, you may also choose to build your website yourself.
There are website builders that allow you to build a website yourself for a fee and then host it for you.
For wholesale, I strongly recommend building your store on the WooCommerce platform.
It is free, and you will be using WordPress.ORG as your content management system.
The only thing you have to pay for is the web hosting service, which can cost at least $3.95 per month.
One of the most used web hosting provider is Bluehost. For as little as $3.95 per month, you can build a fully functional e-commerce store.
If you choose to dropship, it is better that you use website tools and platforms that were made specifically for it like Shopify.
You can also use Shopify to build your store in the wholesale model.
For dropshipping, I do not recommend WooCommerce as it does not have a lot of apps to support the dropshipping business model
Shopify costs at last $29 per month, while WooCommerce is free. To be able to set up a WooCommerce store, you need a hosting provider.
To learn more about Shopify pricing, read my blog: Shopify Pricing: What Are the Different Features Between the Plans?
To learn more about Bluehost, read my blog: BlueHost Review: Is this affordable host the best for you?
When it comes to ease of use and popularity, Shopify is number 1 among them. Even with little to no computer programming background, the Shopify platform allows you to:
- Create a customized professional-looking web store across multiple channels
- Take care of customer checkout through processing online transactions
- Use other features like multiple currency support, staff access, and even analytics
Shopify is great if you want an easy-to-use store builder and you have the budget to pay for a monthly subscription.
WooCommerce is great of you want to fully customize your store, and you want a lower cost online store builder.
Set up Legal Pages
Now that you have your online store up, it’s time to create your legal pages like Terms and Conditions (T&C), shipping, refund, etc.
This is the fine print people do not read. Nevertheless, you must protect yourself from legal issues.
Product delivery is dependent on the logistics provider or shipper. Establishing an estimated time of arrival (ETA) on this page is important so that the customer knows what to expect.
Make sure to specify a shipping period that your shipping partner or supplier can meet. This is crucial to effectively manage your customers’ expectations.
If the delivery takes longer than stated, you will end up dealing with a lot of complaints and returns.
It would also help to share where the products are sourced to help justify the stated amount of time it takes to ship.
It would help the customer understand why it takes that long for the product to be delivered.
Include details about shipping and delivery costs on this page, too.
Returns and Refunds
The rules when it comes to returns and refunds depend on a lot of things. And this leads to a lot of questions like:
- When does a customer deserve a refund?
- How does one go about requesting for a refund?
- Does customer need to return the product prior to a refund request?
- Who pays for the shipment of a return?
It is in this section that those dependencies are specified—including charges, timelines, responsibilities and more.
Knowing that nobody pays attention to the terms and conditions, important information needs to be noticeable on the site.
Highlight these key points in your product pages so you do not appear deceptive.
Market Your Products
Now you are ready to sell; it is time to market your products.
Your website is ready. You know your target market. Your products are waiting for buyers.
Your marketing materials should reflect what your target market finds attractive.
You should also build a brand, and you can do this by using similar colors on your products ads, product pages, and photos.
This requires an even deeper understanding than knowing certain demographic details about them like gender, age, etc.
If you choose to sell men’s clothing with on the R&B niche, you need lifestyle photos of people wearing this type of clothing.
Lifestyle photos are much more effective than simple product photos. I am not saying you should not have product photos, I am saying you need both.
This allows your target market to either see themselves wearing your clothes, or aspire to look like the person wearing your products.
Marketing through mainstream media (like radio and TV) and other traditional channels like billboards is too expensive.
Thankfully, Google ads, YouTube, and other platforms offer more accessible and more affordable options.
Find a blog or a YouTube channel whose owner is open to a deal. Look for influencers and ask what it would take for them to recommend your goods.
While the choice is yours, the most effective method is paid ads on social media. If you have no budget set aside for paying ads, you have to grind it and build your own community.
Launch a social media channel on Facebook, Pinterest, and other platforms like Instagram. These platforms allow you to connect not just to your locality, but worldwide.
Actions Going Forward
Stay involved in your business. Fashion is something that evolves rather quickly and it is cyclical. Today’s craze can easily fade by tomorrow.
That means that you should always watch for trends. This ensures that your online store is always up-to-date, and shoppers can depend on your shop to bring the freshest clothes.
If you choose to use the wholesale business model, keep a smaller number of products in stock for each design. Once sold out, you can now move forward with newer, on-trend products.
Keeping too much inventory is not a good idea. Once a product is no longer trendy, it would be very difficult to sell your extra products even at a lower price.
While this is less of a concern for dropshipping, you still have to change your product line-up as times change.
Doing your research is important. Look out for new products regularly, and see how the market is reacting. To do this research, you can use Google Trends.
Suggested reading: How to Use Google Trends
You can also subscribe to fashion magazines, visit fashion websites, see what your competitors are doing, and follow trendy influencers on social media.
Starting an online boutique is a great choice. People will always want to wear something. People love dressing up, too.
And this is not just an expression of sell, our fashion preferences, our love of comfort—clothing is one of our basic needs.
As such, selling clothing is different from selling specialty products like drones and other tech gadgets. With gadgets, you need people who really have a disposable income.
Try to anticipate any problems or obstacles you may encounter as you go along. Use these assumptions to think and plan ahead. Look for ways to mitigate these problems.
Each step and each decision comes with its own risks, so it is best to be ready for them.
Now that you know all the things needed to start your own online boutique, you can now get started on the first step to building your own clothing empire.
FREE eBook: The Beginner’s Guide to e-Commerce Pricing
My Favorite Tools
The first step to learning is exploration. Tap the images below to learn more about these tools that can help you:
- build your online store
- choose the right products to sell
- learn how to make money
- increase your web traffic
- improve your marketing strategy