How to Start an Online Boutique: The Progressive Guide

Take a look at our step-by-step guide on how to start an online boutique with a few marketing tips.

How to start an online boutique store is one of those questions that will never get old. Fashion constantly changes over time, and clothing allows you to choose from a large collection of different items, for both women and men. By the end of this guide, you'll know how to start an online boutique using Shopify, along with the Oberlo app- the ins and outs of the business, ways to find good dropshipping suppliers, while also exploring the supplier vetting process.

Two other useful articles you might like:

OK, here's a fact:

Clothing typically has steep markups, allowing you to make some mistakes along the way without destroying your profit margins.

For instance, jeans often have a 100-350% markup, leaving a significant cushion in there for you to discount products and compete with the big dogs of fashion retail.

Likewise, clothing is similar to jewelry. You can make a lot of money since much of the pricing is subjective based on the look, and you get to choose from thousands of niches within the market.

Let's not forget- you'll want to know the best tools and techniques to build online fashion boutiques from scratch.

Finally, I'll share some tips for creatively promoting your boutique brand.

Btw, I've done a video version of the tutorial for you in case you want to hear my voice 🙂

YouTube video

So, without further ado, here's our guide on how to start an online boutique.

Step 1: Find the Best Ecommerce Platform for Your Online Boutique

We mentioned above that one of the most important components to consider when you begin your boutique, is making sure that you have the right tools. The best eCommerce platform is a must have for any online store, boutique or otherwise.

Although there are a lot of options out there to choose from, it’s often a good idea to start with some of the most popular recommendations. Each of our suggestions below are great for taking a range of payments through PayPal and credit card. What’s more, they give business owners the tools that they need to design their ecommerce website with very little effort.

Shopify

Shopify is probably one of the best-known tools on the market for any ecommerce business or boutique. This fantastic tool makes it easier to launch a successful online boutique, with access to everything from a custom shopping cart, to access to dozens of integrations.

The great thing about Shopify is that it comes with a huge selection of apps and themes, perfect for making your site stand out. What’s more, the website builder makes it simple to add products to your store too.

👉 Features include:

  • Unlimited products
  • Full site and blog with your own domain name
  • Free SSL certificate
  • Payment solution integrated
  • Discount codes and gift cards
  • Support for large inventory syncing
  • Access to Facebook stores

Shopify comes with a 14-day free trial, with no credit card required. What’s more, integrated payments means making money is easy. However, the fees of the premium package s can quickly add up. Additionally, the blogging platform isn’t nearly as advanced as the one that you get from WordPress.

👉 Read our Shopify Review.

BigCommerce

BigCommerce is another excellent solution for those who want to start an online boutique. BigCommerce can help anyone to open an online store, whether you’re a big company or a small brand. The standard plan comes packed with functionality, and 24/7 live agent support.

There’s a huge selection of out-of-the-box features to choose from with BicCommerce, including a plug-in that allows you to connect your store directly to your WordPress website. That means that you can use WordPress for your blog, and just stick with BigCommerce for your sales and checkout process.

👉 Features include:

  • Point of sale access for your mortar store
  • Unlimited access to staff accounts
  • Single-page checkout
  • Social channel integrations
  • Amazon and eBay connections
  • Unlimited products and bandwidth
  • Mobile wallet services
  • Built-in blog

Although BigCommerce isn’t the cheapest option on the market, it does come with a range of benefits to explore, including no transaction fees for your company. This helps to limit the costs of your clothing boutique or small business.

👉 Read our BigCommerce Review.

Square Online Store

Another excellent choice for boutique stores that want to limit their startup costs is Square Online Store. This solution comes with everything you could want to fulfil your business needs, no matter whether you’re running a clothing business, or another kind of creative boutique.

Square online store is user-friendly for both brick and mortar companies and online brands alike. You can use the online store solution online to build a presence for your boutique for free. What’s more, the service offers access to endless support for your offline payment strategies too. Square even has its own POS systems.

Although you can use the Square POS with other tools like Wix, having everything you need in one place can be a huge benefit.

👉 Features include:

  • Quick and easy to use editor
  • Endless website designs and themes
  • Pricing to suit your business
  • Secure payments online and in business
  • Support to suit different business licenses
  • Affordable pricing
  • Easy online shopping
  • Integrations with top services

Although the Square Online Store makes it free to create your boutique store online, you will have some expenses to pay, such as transaction fees. However, this is typical of a lot of online store creators.

👉 Read our Square Online Store Review.

Step 2: Create a Business Plan

First things first, all businesses, whether you’re an offline boutique or an online store, need a business plan. This document is essentially your compass and guide to success in a complicated business environment, designed to help you determine how you’re going to make money going forward.

Provided that your business plan is logical and distinctive, you can pitch the concept to various financiers, including banks and investors, making it easier for you to get the funding that you need. To get started, your boutique business plan will need:

  • Extensive market research: You’re going to need to know everything about your customers and your competitors before you dive into things like choosing a domain name or designing your storefront. Figure out what your customers need most from you.
  • Information on your marketing strategy: How are you going to reach out to your target audience? What kind of advertising will connect best with them, from social media, to content marketing.
  • Financial planning: How are you going to keep your cash flow running smoothly. What kind of expenses do you expect for your business?
  • Choice of the correct sales channel: Are you going to be selling exclusively online, or do you think it could be a good idea to open the occasional pop-up shop?
  • Information on your business model: How are you going to run your boutique? Do you want to design your items from scratch, or work with a dropshipping brand?

As well as telling you what you need to do to earn money, how you’re going to keep cash flow moving smoothly, and what you can do to grow your business, your plan will also offer insights into your “exit plan” too. This means that it will help you to determine which steps you can take to sell your business if you decide to get rid of your boutique.

You can get an in-depth guide to creating your own business plan here.

Step 3: Finding a Name and Domain for Your Business

If you want to create a profitable business in the online world, then you need to create a presence that’s easy for your customers to find and remember. A good business name that describes what your company stands for is essential.

There’s no one-size-fits-all guide when it comes to deciding which kind of name you’re going to choose. Some people opt for descriptive titles, while others, like Google, explore more creative terms. The most important things that your business name needs is:

  • Originality: The last thing you need is for your customers to associate your company with another brand. Make sure that your title sticks in their mind as an original descriptor of your specialist brand.
  • Meaning: Your name needs to resonate with your customer on a deeper level, highlighting the values and mission of your company. For instance, the name “Amazon” denotes an expansive place – excellent for an online sales platform.
  • Simple and memorable: Your name should be simple and easy to remember. Short and sweet titles are often easier to recall than their complex and lengthy counterparts. Make sure that you choose something that rolls easily off the tongue, and is easy to spell.
  • Personality: Your name should have a personality that matches the image that you’re trying to create for your company. Consider Innocent Smoothie and their charmingly sweet name, for instance.
  • Availability: Ensure that no-one else has claimed your name upfront before you start selling products on your Boutique. You don’t want to end up in any legal issues.

If you need some help with how to start your online boutique with the right name or domain, you can check out our full guide here.

Step 4: Locating the Right Clothing Suppliers

Since clothing comes from all sorts of suppliers, it can be difficult to figure out exactly where you're going to locate the best items.

The first order of business is to decide on a niche.

It may sound like a good idea to take an approach similar to that of large fashion companies by selling everything from men's clothing to jewelry, pants, shirts, and socks. But, the most successful brands start with something much smaller.

By smaller, I mean to say- concentrated niches.

For instance, you may cater to women who are interested in a high fashion look from the 1970s. These items are going to be much harder for the average consumer to find, and there's no telling what price tags you could slap on these products.

After all, there's no benchmark for people to compare.

Let me tell you a secret- if you've found a supplier that sells special products like the one mentioned above, you're already ahead of the curve.

Invest some quality time for research and trust me, it'll bear fruit.

Going the Wholesale (Or Storing Your Own Items) Route

This is the more traditional route to take- where you contact one or two suppliers, agree to buy a certain amount of inventory, then store that inventory in your basement, garage, storage facility, or warehouse.

Wholesale suppliers are more common than dropshippers (covered in later sections), so you should be able to easily spot them by completing a quick Google search.

Here's an example of a search query that's easy to remember: “insert niche here” wholesaler. Use variations of this and you'll have a list in no time.

You can also browse renowned websites like Alibaba and contact some of the more reputable suppliers who would be willing to send you batches of goods at cheaper rates.

Don't Forget About the Flexibility of This Industry

Fashion customers are looking for the element of awesomeness. It doesn't necessarily have to be new. Numerous online clothing stores have been launched by those who sell used items through eBay, after scouring through pre-used clothing stores to find some precious gems.

The reason I've grouped this in with the wholesale category is that it requires you to store the products in your home or warehouse. The only difference is that you can typically find the items much cheaper, but you also have to put in much more legwork.

One final thing to consider when shopping for a wholesale supplier is the sales pitch.

Most wholesalers are completely open to speaking with new businesses. In addition to that, some solid relationships are built this way. Therefore, focus on both local and international wholesalers to understand the differences in pricing and shipping costs.

Before we go to the next step, take a look at the pros and cons of working with wholesale distributors.

Benefits of Wholesale

  • Clothing is often easy to store and can be packaged in a way that it doesn't take up too much space.
  • You have the opportunity to control shipping and the packaging that the clothing goes into. This is crucial for branding purposes.
  • You have more control over the quality of your products since you can look at the items before sending them out.

Downsides of Wholesale

  • You have to put in more effort for shipping and packaging.
  • Although you save money by buying in bulk, it appears to be costly in the short term since you have to purchase many items.
  • Wholesale has lots of overhead because of storage, shipping, and packaging.

Step 5: Consider Dropshipping for Your Fashion Boutique

Dropshipping is slightly more difficult to setup for your online boutique.

This is mainly because of the fact that not all clothing suppliers dropship. However, AliExpress (retail platform owned by Alibaba) is a great place to start since you can search based on the type of clothing and for suppliers with good ratings.

If you're not fond of Chinese suppliers, you can look for local suppliers online and call them to see if they provide dropshipping services. This isn't a strange question, so don't feel bad asking it right off the bat.

Likewise, here are a few things you should know about dropshipping.

Benefits of Dropshipping

  • There's no need to pay for or worry about storage.
  • Things like shipping and packaging are all taken care of.
  • You often end up spending far less money when starting out.

Downsides of Dropshipping

  • You might have problems with customer service since the packages aren't being sent back to you and you have less control over the entire process.
  • Products cannot be individually inspected before sending out.
  • It may take a very long time for your customers to receive their products.

Step 6: Designing Your Boutique Products

Remember, as well as software for your boutique online store that allows you to accept payments, you’re also going to need other forms of software to transform your company too. For instance if you want to increase your chances of attracting your ideal customer, you’ll need a site that’s packed with support for social media platforms, SEO tools, and email marketing.

You’ll also need software that allows you to design and stock your boutique products. That’s where a service like Printful comes in handy. Printful is a print on demand service that allows companies to access all the tools that they need to create a boutique brand.

Rather than designing your boutique items from scratch, you can use Printful to find dropshipping companies to work with that will design custom items for your clients, and ship them to you on your behalf.

Step 7: Vetting Your Suppliers

Can we agree on the fact that it doesn't matter whether you choose wholesale or drop shipping? Because both of these methods have their fair share of ups and downs.

More importantly, you'll want to vet suppliers to see if it's going to be a worthwhile partnership before committing to them.

Check out AliExpress or Alibaba and you can typically locate contact information on the supplier's main page. Sometimes it's not there, but you always have the opportunity to communicate through the site itself.

Ideally, you want to get someone on the phone so you can ask questions, learn more about the supplier and make notes in the process.

The same goes for when you're chatting with a local supplier. I recommend going through some of the following concerns to make sure your online boutique has found its perfect supplier:

  • Is the quality of the clothing up to your boutique's standards? If so, will the suppliers send some samples for you to test out?
  • Are you going to have a point person to speak with every week or month? This is essential for managing a long-lasting relationship. Otherwise, you'll have trouble finding someone to speak with when something goes wrong with shipping or the products.
  • Does the supplier have a history of success? Is it compliant, financially healthy, and reputable in the industry?

Some of these questions can be answered by completing some online research, but most of the time you can go through the steps while on the phone with your point person.

Step 8: Designing the Best Online Boutique Store

WooCommerce, BigCommerce, Shopify, Volusion, and many other e-commerce platforms make templates just for online boutiques.

Since it's a popular industry, all you have to do is go to the clothing or fashion category and choose the template that suits your brand.

Yep, it's as simple as that.

If you're just getting started, we recommend using Shopify, along with the Oberlo app.

This way, you can use a Shopify boutique template, then automatically pull product information from AliExpress using Oberlo. This includes product images, descriptions, pricing, and more.

It's configured for dropshipping, but it makes the most sense for saving money and getting your site running fast.

Step 9: Begin Mass Marketing

Marketing your online boutique is a little easier than doing so in other industries since social media users generally love seeing fashion products on the most popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Therefore, here are some tips that I'd like to share for success in your marketing endeavors:

  • Create Instagram and Facebook accounts and share pictures of models (or regular people) wearing your merchandise.
  • Temporarily pause ads when your social media posts perform well.
  • Capture visually attractive photos of your clothing, both on and off models.
  • Think about channels like eBay, Amazon, and Etsy.
  • Launch an email list to send out coupons and rewards.
  • Try reaching out to influencers like bloggers and famous people who might be willing to wear your clothing.

Consider using a tool like HubSpot CRM (read our HubSpot CRM review) to grow your contact list and engage with your current and potential customers. The information stored in your CRM will allow you to create highly targeted email campaigns that will delight your customers.

How to Start an Online Clothing Boutique

Tools like Printful are particularly useful for boutique companies that want to sell online clothes. After all, if you want to become a fashion retailer, the traditional method of launching your business would require you to track down everything from designers to marketing experts.

However, you can easily start an online business with a combination of Printful and Shopify. The two tools integrate seamlessly together, to give you everything you need for both an online store, and a business go-to-market plan.

With Shopify, you can build your website from scratch, integrating all the tools required for things like accounting and calculating sales tax. Once you’re ready, you just:

  1. Install the Printful app on Shopify: Log into your Shopify account and choose the Apps menu from the dashboard. Click on the option to visit the Shopify store, and search for Printful. Click on Add App to confirm that you want to use it.
  2. After the app is installed, log into both your Printful and Shopify apps and connect them.
  3. Add the products that you want to your online store. This will take you to the Printful push generator, where you can decide exactly which products you want to sell. This makes it much easier than having to add all of your items one-by-one

The Printful and Shopify combination comes with a clipart and text generator that you can use to design and build your product pages. However, you can also import and upload images to your online boutique too.

Don’t worry, Printful allows you to set your own prices, so you can decide exactly how expensive you want your items to be.

How to Start an Online Boutique for Free

If you like the idea of starting your online boutique with Printful, but you don’t want to work with Shopify, then there’s an excellent alternative for those who are low on a budget. Square’s online store is completely free to use when you’re setting up your online presence.

Although there are transaction fees to pay, you don’t have to pay a monthly price for your online store creation tools, which is a nice bonus. It’s important to remember that you’ll also need to pay for certain features from Printful too.

Like Shopify, Printful integrates seamlessly with the Square Online Store solution, so you can add in your products within a matter of seconds. Once again, all you need to do is visit the Square online store marketplace and choose to add Printful to your boutique.

Once Printful is installed, you can begin to simply copy/paste assets into your Square Online Store, ready for your customers to explore. It’s one of the easiest ways to get started online when you’re developing a boutique on a budget. You can continue to expand and grow your online store as much as you like over time.

What’s more, one of the best things about starting an online store for free with Square is that if you decide to take your boutique offline from time to time, you can. There’s nothing stopping you from paying for a selection of custom products from your dropshipping partner in advance and hosting a pop-up store in your local area.

Since it's clothing, there is no necessity to obtain a special license to launch your online boutique. Therefore, you'll just need to look into the small business laws of your state and figure out the type of licensing that's required in the area. This comes in handy for tax purposes and for avoiding any problems that may arise in the future.

In general, you want to officially form a business in your state.

The only other thing to worry about is whether you're going to be storing your own merchandise or not. I'll discuss the benefits and downsides of doing so in the section below, but most businesses that hold onto large amounts of inventory will have to double check the local lease or zoning codes.

For example, they probably won't care if you have only a few hundred pairs of clothing crammed into your basement. But, it gets messy when that number turns into thousands and you're trying to make it work in a small apartment.

You never know when things take a turn for the worse. So, make sure that you don't overlook these two important points.

Are You Ready To Kickstart Your Online Business?

Learning how to start an online boutique efficiently relies on your research of suppliers and the aforementioned factors. The primary goal is to maintain optimal costs as you're getting started so that you can comfortably set foot in the industry.

There are tons of great ways to get started with your online boutique in today’s digital environment. You can easily start small, with free online store creators like Square, and work your way up. Alternatively, you can jump straight into selling full-throttle online with various tools like BigCommerce and Shopify.

With a little bit of guidance and the right software by your side, you’ll find that creating a successful boutique is a lot easier than it seems.

All you have to do is work hard and strive for greatness and you'll be the next Jack Ma.

If you have any questions on how to start a boutique, let us know in the comments below.

Featured Image by Lea Poisson

Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a freelance writer who creates tools and resources to help other writers get more productive and market their work.