Due to the growth in recent years towards online retail, there’s never been a better time than right now to start an online boutique.
Considering online sales made up 30% of all fashion commerce in 2019, and the ecommerce fashion industry is projected to grow by $100 billion in 2021, this is a great time to start a boutique.
Some may agree that starting an online retail store is much easier that starting a physical store. But both business models involve dedication and hard work. However, the benefit to starting an online boutique is you don’t have to worry about finding a brick-and-mortar location. You will save potentially hundreds and thousands of dollars in rent per month alone. This is what makes an e-commerce business model the best choice for lots of small business owners.
If you’re wondering exactly how to start an online boutique, you’re in the right place. This guide will cover the important steps for planning and setting up your business. Remember, much of the hard work happens before you open your business up to customers.
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How to Start an Online Boutique
1. Choose your target market.
One of the most important first steps is to choose your target market. A target market is a group of consumers that your products are marketed for. The type of customers you are selling to will help determine the type of products that you sell. It will even influence your business name and branding.
You may already have a firm idea of who your target market might be. This is great and might be the reason you have decided to start an online boutique.
The best way to choose your target market is through a combination of passion, research, and trends. Ask yourself…what are you passionate about? It is important to really like the products that you sell so that you do not lose interest in your business. Choose products that you believe in and want to stand behind.
Second, do your research. What type of hobbies does your ideal customer like? What is their gender and age range? Look at your competitors and see how they market to their customers for some ideas and inspiration. Then think about how can you use some of the same tactics. Make sure to make them unique and catered to your brand.
Third, pay attention to trends. Look at different social media platforms and see what type of styles and products are currently trending. Think of how you can apply these trends to the products you want to offer in your online boutique.
Determining your target market and audience will reduce competition and help you decide on your next steps.
2. Choose a boutique name.
Don’t underestimate the importance of branding. When you decide to start an online boutique, you need to put some thought into your business name. You want your business name to leave a memorable impression of your business.
Your business name should be:
You can check the availability of names online on the USPTO website to make so sure you’re not copyright infringing someone else.
Also, it’s best to keep your boutique name relatively short. Ideally one or two words, make it something that people can easily remember. If you can include words that describe what your business is about. Try to away from words that can easily be misread or misspelled. This is important because you will want to use your boutique name in your company URL, so don’t make it confusing or misleading.
3. Pick an ecommerce platform.
There are plenty of ecommerce platforms to host your website on when you decide to start a boutique. Some might be more suitable for your needs than others. Here is a quick rundown of the most popular.
Shopify is perhaps the most well-known ecommerce platform. They make it simple for anyone to get set up and start selling quickly. The basic service is $29 a month, but they also offer plans with more features. You can get a 14-day free trial here.
They have a payment system that already comes integrated with the website. This saves you the headache of having to integrate another payment gateway. It also makes it easier for your customers to checkout and saves you on additional fees.
Shopify also has over 4,100 integrated apps to choose from to improve your store’s functionality as you continue to grow. This would be my recommended choice if this is your first time setting up an online store.
Weebly is another great website platform. They have a free plan that offers basic functions and other higher level plans with more advanced features. One of the best advantages of using Weebly is they have an easy-to-use page builder tool. Which means even if you don’t consider yourself to be a whizz on the computer you can still build a clean and functional website with little effort.
WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress websites that allows you to sell products. This makes it a perfect option if you already have a blog or website that you want to use to start a boutique. Also, WordPress offers a wide range of options for those wanting deeper control over their site design and functions.
On its own, WooCommerce doesn’t charge. However, you will need added plugins to use its full checkout functionality, so keep this in mind.
The benefits of using WooCommerce are mainly linked to its integration into WordPress. It’s an open source, so you have complete control over how it is used. It also comes with access to hundreds of extensions so that you can personalize it however you wish.
When deciding on which website platform to use, be sure to look into all the options to see which one best suits your business model, skills, and desired level of control.
4. Get a domain name.
Getting a domain name is essential when you start a boutique. This is the url name for your online business and what people will type into search engines to bring up your website. If possible, try to make it the same as your business name. This is another reason why it is important to come up with a business name that is original, memorable, and easy to spell.
Another benefit of setting up your website using Shopify is that you can purchase a domain name with your website package. If you decide to set up your website using another platform then you can get an affordable domain name from namecheap.
5. Apply for your business license and EIN number.
In order to legally sell products, even online, you need a business license. To get a business license, you need information such as if you are a sole proprietor, a description of your business activity, and a sales tax license (which you get from your state agency).
Rules will differ from state to state, so check with your state’s licensing laws before you open up your store.
You will also need an EIN number. EIN stands for employer identification number. This number is issued by the IRS. It’s basically the business version of your social security number, and is needed to pay employer tax. You can sign up for an EIN number on IRS.gov
All this may seem like a lot a first but just take it one step at a time. Most of these things only need to be set up when you first get started and then you are done!
6. Get your reseller permit/certificate.
A reseller’s permit (also called a resellers license or certificate in some states) basically means you don’t have to pay sales tax on items you’re reselling to others. Instead, your customers pay sales tax and you forward it to the state on a routine basis.
Important: If you are a United States citizen many US wholesalers will require you to have your resellers license in order to purchase from them.
To get a reseller’s or sales tax permit, you need to contact your state department. The process is similar to getting a business license and requires a lot of the same information.
7. Find wholesale vendors and suppliers.
Finally, it’s time to discuss the FUN step…finding products for your online boutique! If you ever wondered how to get inventory for an online boutique, here are a few ideas.
- Search on Google for online wholesalers
- Trade shows
- Online directories
- Fashion shows
Online wholesalers are perhaps the easiest option for finding inventory online. You can find some by simply typing in the kind of wholesale suppliers that you are looking for into google search. For example “wholesale clothing vendors”.
There are also online directories that you can use to find overseas vendors such as Aliexpress and Alibaba. These directories host thousands of vendors from China and other countries that can provide all types of products and even offer your private label options for your brand.
Online Trade Catalog
Another great option is to use an online trade catalog such as Salehoo. Salehoo has a large directory of trustworthy, low-cost suppliers that will allow you to resell their products for larger profits. They have an annual plan that will give you access to over 8,000 suppliers for $67 a year. They also have a drop shipping plan for $97 a year.
The Salehoo drop shipping plan allows you to add products to your Shopify store and never have to hold any inventory at all. Once your customers place an order on your website the supplier will ships the product directly to your customers. This way you never have to worry about stocking and shipping out products. They do it all for you. Drop shipping is great option for new businesses that don’t want the risk of investing a lot of money upfront for inventory.
No matter which platform you choose to find your wholesale suppliers, make sure that you always do your due diligence. This means doing research on the company, search for reviews and ask for samples prior to placing a large order. You want to test the quality before you make a big investment. Trust me this will save you lots of wasted time and money.
Start an Online Boutique
These are the basics for how to start an online boutique. The key to success is in the planning. The more work you put into the earlier stages, the greater your chance of success once your website goes live. What type of boutique are you starting? Leave a comment down below.