Opening a boutique is a life-long dream for many young designers and fashion enthusiasts. In this day and age, there is no reason that you can’t do it. Forget about those sky-high overheads of a brick-and-mortar business and start thinking about how to start an online boutique.
While it basically serves a similar purpose to a conventional boutique, creating an online boutique is much cheaper and more manageable as well.
- Find your niche
- Create a business plan
- Own your brand identity
- Register your business online
- Source inventory
- Pick an eCommerce platform
- Get your boutique online
- Start marketing your online boutique
1. Find your niche
So, how to start an online boutique? Well, it’s the same as starting an online anything. The first thing you have to do is to find your niche.
Nowadays, it’s very simple to start an online store, and no matter what you want to sell you will always have competition. Before you get started with your online clothing boutique, you’ll also need to think about what kind of clothing business you want to start.
Luckily, the clothing industry is booming. Platforms like Alibaba and Amazon are wholesale suppliers that have never had a brick-and-mortar store are two of the most successful companies in the world. Obviously, your online boutique can’t compete with Amazon or Alibaba, and it doesn’t need to – but you might need to work with them (more on that later.)
If you want your online boutique to be successful, you need to know what your boutique business will sell. Are you going to sell high-quality hand made clothes, or are you going to carry affordable products that all customers could feasibly buy?
Your business should pick one niche and stick to it. The best advice on how to open an online boutique is to start small, know your business, and focus on building your brand.
Say you want to carry high-quality designer items. It is unlikely you will have the funds to source men’s, women’s, and accessories when you’re just starting an online boutique. So, why not focus on accessories. Designer sunglasses would be an example of a niche.
Recommended reading: Product Research Tips to Help You Build an eCommerce Business
2. Create a business plan
Another tip that should come as no surprise to anyone that wants to start an online boutique is that you’re going to need to make a business plan.
Making a business plan can seem daunting, especially if you have no formal business experience. Don’t be put off, though. The advent of eCommerce platforms has made things a lot easier.
Let’s run through the essentials you’ll need if you want to start making your business plan:
- Executive summary: This is the basic overview of your business idea. It should encompass your whole company plan.
- Competitor analysis: Take a look at the industry you’re moving into. Take the time to understand the products on the market and the products of your competitors. How does their business operate? What can you learn? How is your online boutique different?
- Marketing and sales strategy: How to start an online boutique that will actually make money. This is the core of your business plan and needs the most attention.
- Plan of operation: What does your day-to-day operation look like? When starting an online boutique, your business plan needs to include plans for eCommerce platforms rather than rent or staff costs.
- Financial estimates: What are the costs of starting an online boutique? How much will you need to spend on inventory? Will you have to rent a space to store your inventory? Which eCommerce platform are you using, and how much will it cost? Are you going to invest in advertising for your online store?
How much does it cost to start an online boutique?
Your business won’t get off the ground without solid financial planning. You’re going to need to seriously consider the start-up costs for starting an online boutique.
Luckily, overheads are at a minimum. There are free and paid e-commerce platforms out there, but realistically you’re going to have to pay something if you want to make an eCommerce platform that customers will want to use and will trust enough to enter their credit card details.
You’ll need to think about these costs:
- Website: Web hosting, custom domains, eCommerce platform subscription.
- Inventory: You can’t have an online store without clothes to sell. Successfully starting an online boutique is going to come down to this cost. Can you afford the products?
- Shipping: Shipping is going to be a vital part of your eCommerce business. Start weighing up your shipping costs as soon as possible.
3. Own your brand identity
In 2021, eCommerce businesses raked in $374,375,000,000 in the U.S alone. So, it’s fair to say you’re going to have a little bit of competition. Luckily, there is more than enough of the pie to go around. But, if you want to get a slice, you’re going to have to start thinking about your brand.
Your brand is more than your business name. A brand is more than your logo. A brand is a cohesive statement about the purpose, mission, and values of your business. And yes, you’re going to want to reflect that all in your business name.
Brand values will be the guiding light for your business. These days it is not enough to have a strong business name such as California Clothing LLC. Your brand needs to have a message and a personality that customers can get behind. If your business can successfully define a value system that customers identify with, then you’re already one step ahead of the competition.
Make a logo
Just like any business, your online store is going to need a logo. Remember that your logo needs to communicate your brand values just as much as your brand name does. Your logo is your identifier. It is the first thing that people will notice about your business, and it is the things that they will remember if you do it right.
4. Register your business online
Creating a charming and fully-functioning online boutique business is similar to creating a typical online store.
You need to choose a hosting provider, pick a CMS, get a domain name, and create your website.
Fortunately, Zyro simplifies the whole process by keeping everything in the same place. You will get hosting, a domain name, a template library, and everything else to get you started right away. In addition, as a website builder, Zyro also allows you to create a website easily with a drag-and-drop tool that makes your chosen template highly customizable.
All you need to do is choose a template, adjust it as you like, then go live. You don’t need to delve into the technicalities. Instead, you can focus all of your energy on creating your dream boutique.
Own your dream domain
Zyro provides a domain checker that allows you to find and purchase the perfect domain for your website.
If this is the first time, you’re creating a website, picking a domain can be quite intimidating. Since a domain name is vital for your site’s branding, you have to think carefully before registering it.
To help you decide, here are some tips.
- Pick a short, easy-to-type name. Most popular websites around the globe use short names, like Wikihow, Bing, or Bitly. Avoid using symbols, slang, or numbers because those are hard to remember and difficult to type.
- Mix and match words to create new ones, such as SoundCloud or Facebook.
- Use the exact name of your company/store/product, if you have one.
- Use a keyword related to your niche. For instance, if you want to start an online boutique to sell vintage sunglasses, you can use something like www.classicsunglasses.com or www.vintageshades.com.
5. Source inventory
The first thing we covered in step one was creating a niche for your business. That means your online boutique needs to sell products that make your business stand out from the competition.
Of course, the big questions are: where and how are you going to source your products?
If you run a small business on a social media platform or with an app such as Depop, it might be enough for you to scour the thrift stores all weekend for your products. But if you really want to know how to start an online boutique that can become a viable business, then you’re going to need a supplier.
At this point, you have essentially got two options:
- Wholesaler: In this case, you’re going to need to ship and store products yourself. This will require a physical rented space in most scenarios.
- Dropshipper: You sell a supplier’s products through your online boutique. The supplier handles storage and shipping.
Wholesale pros and cons
- Control of packaging and shipping: You can use this as a USP for your brand.
- Know your product: Since you will be storing and selling the products yourself, you have the chance to make sure that the quality is up to scratch.
- Choice of suppliers: You can weigh up the different costs of suppliers. Huge international companies like Amazon and Alibaba will be cheaper and can work for basic inventory. Consider using niche domestic suppliers for your more personal inventory.
- Overhead costs: You may need to rent a storage space or, at the very least, a new office space.
- Upfront costs: Wholesalers require that you buy products in bulk for your business. This can be a risk when you’re just starting out and might be unaffordable.
Dropshipping pros and cons
- Storage and shipping: This is taken care of by the supplier.
- You never actually see the products.
- A large part of your business is out of your control.
- A lousy supplier could seriously damage your business brand.
Recommended reading: How to Manage Inventory Effectively for a Small eCommerce Business
6. Pick an eCommerce platform
Now that you have a solid business plan and a reliable supplier, it is finally time to start building your online boutique. For that, you’re going to need to pick an eCommerce platform.
Your business is going to be represented by two things: the quality of your products and the quality of your online storefront. So, when you’re deciding on a platform for your boutique, you should take the decision very carefully.
Choose the platform that has the right tools for your boutique. Does the template fit to your brand? Do the subscription prices align with your business model forecasts?
With eCommerce platforms, there are two ways to go: paid and free.
Paid options are website builders that are specifically designed for eCommerce and come with fully integrated eCommerce functionality. That means they are already set up for credit card purchases, PayPal, and more.
Free options usually take the form of plug-ins that you can tack on to your site, for the sake of the credibility of your online business. It is a good idea to spend a small fee to have secure, integrated eCommerce functionality right off the bat.
Your boutique will benefit from using a website builder in most cases. Unless you have good knowledge of web design and coding or you, wish to pay an external designer for a bespoke site. Paying for a website that is unique to your business can be a great option for your boutique but be aware that the costs for this will be in the thousands of dollars.
Using an eCommerce website builder
A website builder is a tool that has been designed by professionals to be used by anyone regardless of your level of technical skill. More and more businesses are turning to these tools as a simple and affordable way to get their business online.
Just sign up, pick a template, customize it to fit your brand, upload images of your products, and you can publish it immediately. Zero technical knowledge is required.
With an eCommerce store builder, you can get your boutique online fast without any coding skills for a small investment.
How much does an eCommerce builder subscription cost?
Here’s the rundown on the pricing of the most popular eCommerce site builders:
- Shopify – $29-299 per month
- Wix – $23-49 per month
- Zyro – $8.99-13.99 per month
Each of these builders is a great option for getting your boutique online. But, consider which features you will actually need when you are first starting out. Sometimes too much choice can be overwhelming and make it difficult to actually ever get started.
7. Get your boutique online
It’s time to pick out the right template for your boutique. Ask yourself: what are you going to sell at your store? Knowing your own product before creating your online boutique will help you pick the appropriate template.
Zyro provides plenty of templates with various themes. The niches range from a wedding invitation website, personal profile, startup company to a photography template, and so on. Since your goal is to build an online boutique, you could choose a template specifically designed for fashion.
Zyro allows you to customize anything and everything within it. But, before making your choice, here are a few things you should keep in mind when setting up an online boutique.
- Make sure the template fits your products. For instance, if you will be selling wedding dresses, you may want to use a template that has good color contrast to bring out the color of the wedding dress.
- Make sure the template has lots of visual elements. When visiting an online boutique, people expect to see a handful of examples of your work. Thus, use a template that’s photo-heavy.
- Pick a theme with a simple layout. Keeping it simple is the best way to create an online boutique. You do not need a lot of features to sell boutique products.
All of Zyro’s templates have already been optimized for eCommerce and have a responsive design. That being said, Fashion & Apparel, Photography, and Bakery templates are particularly good for creating an online boutique store.
Zyro has a grid system with simple drag-and-drop functionality. You can edit almost all of the elements on the chosen template to create a website that fits your brand exactly. You don’t have to be a pro at web design to design a professional online boutique.
8. Start marketing your online boutique
Now that your boutique is up and running, it is time to attract some new customers and sell some products. To do that, you’re going to need to do some marketing.
At this point, you’re probably aware of the fact that marketing can take many different forms. However, it doesn’t have to be confusing, and in this section, we will run through a few essential marketing techniques that will benefit your boutique without being a drain on your credit card.
Promote Your Store
It goes without saying that promoting your store is the core aspect of your business. With adequate marketing efforts, you can expect your sales to increase over time steadily.
That being said, promoting an online store needs a solid combination of hard work, patience, and strategy. Since there are literally thousands of fashion stores on the internet, the competition is cut-throat.
Luckily, the internet is vast, and there are nearly 2 billion digital buyers around the globe. Even selling your product to a mere 1% of that number would make you a fortune.
To get closer to reaching that number, you need to start getting your site visible on the web. There are a few ways that your business can do this. One way is to invest in advertising.
Google Adwords pay per click advertising will probably be outside of your budget when you are first starting out as a new online business. That is because the keywords you are competing for are likely to be pricey, and the competition from large online retailers will be very high.
However, you might consider investing in advertising on social media where you can promote posts on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. You can also target possible customers in branded Instagram stories. Instagram and Facebook both allow for targeted advertising based on location and interest.
A small investment here could pay dividends down the line.
Use Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Since online businesses rely heavily on search engines to attract customers, you want to make sure that your store ranks high on search engine results.
There are about 3.8 million Google searches every minute or 5.6 billion per day to put it into perspective.
There are various ways to boost your site’s SEO. Here are some of the lowest hanging fruit:
- Use relevant keywords in your content. Nowadays, there is a variety of tools that can help you find the perfect keyword for your business, such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, and KWFinder.
- Make sure all links in your site are working. Broken links are known to have a very bad effect on SEO.
- Use internal links. Link your existing content pieces to articles that you’re writing now. Internal linking is simply better for SEO.
- Use the correct header tags. While it sounds trivial, using appropriate header tags does help you rank high in Google. Create one H1, then use the H2, H3, and H4 as you see fit.
- Create a mobile-friendly website. A website that works well on mobile devices ranks higher in Google. Luckily, if you build your site with Zyro, you do not need to worry about this because all of Zyro’s templates are mobile-friendly.
SEO is one of those things that you’re going to have to get to grips with at some point as an eCommerce business, and it can make a big difference to your profitability. However, when you’re first starting out, using a site builder is a great way to ensure that the basics of web design and site functionality have been taken care of.
Use Social Media
Social media has evolved to become more than a platform to express oneself. It’s becoming a personal branding machine and a reliable advertisement channel.
As an online boutique owner, unleashing the full potential of social media as a marketing tool is a must.
Data shows that 60% of buyers have been influenced by social media when buying a product. In addition, 40% of Twitter users made a purchase based on a tweet.
Social media tips
To make the best out of social media, follow these tips:
- Choose your platform wisely. You do not need to join all social media platforms. Just a few should be enough as long as they are relevant to your target audience and are managed properly. For an online boutique, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest should be a good start.
- Avoid over-promoting. Even though you have created a special account to promote your business, it is not wise to blatantly advertise your product in every post. Try the simple 5 to 1 rule – make one advertisement after posting five engaging content pieces.
- Be active and interactive. Posting on social media once every two months is unacceptable. You have to be active to boost your store’s online presence. You must also respond to your customer questions or suggestions on a daily basis. That way, your audience will grow much faster.
- Be creative. The very core of social media marketing is creativity. You will not get anywhere with a dull and generic post. Try creating a viral post, inventing a social movement, coming up with a funny catchphrase, or using colorful graphics.
- Invest. Social media, like Facebook or Instagram, allows you to launch Ad campaigns on their platform. Even though it is not free, paid-advertisement is effective in enhancing the spectrum of your business promotion.
Aside from these tips, it is essential to note that gaining social media attention needs time. All you can do is be consistent throughout the process.
Once you have started building a community, it is important to stick to those values. Hopefully, this will be something that has been defined in your brand strategy. For example, having a clear aesthetic is one thing that really helps an Instagram account to grow its followers.
Consider taking a little time to think about exactly how you’re going to represent your boutique on social media. Remember to keep a consistent tone of voice across your channels. This will help customers to become familiar with the personality of your brand, and aligning your self to customer identity is everything.
Recommended reading: eCommerce Marketing: 20 Tips to Sell More
Build an Email List and Create Frequent Newsletters
Email marketing is one of the best promotional methods in modern business. With around 3.9 billion users worldwide, email is the holy grail of digital marketing.
Building an email list is a must if you want to take advantage of this platform. To get started, you can create a subscription form or put a newsletter subscription column on your page.
You can also get your customer’s email addresses when they make a purchase, or persuade them to subscribe to your newsletter by providing a special discount or offers.
These methods are commonly used by lots of big brands, such as Nike, Adidas, and Zara.
Moreover, the email marketing service usually provides extra features to help you grow your business. For instance, Mailchimp gives you custom email templates, advanced marketing tools, and multiple marketing channels.
Give Discounts and Coupons
Conventional marketing methods, such as handing out discounts and coupons, are still effective in attracting customers from various groups. Thus, offering limited-time discounts on special occasions like Christmas, Black Friday, or Thanksgiving is a great way to promote your online boutique.
Discounts or special offers ignite the sense of urgency in the buyer’s mind. They also trigger the customer’s impulse by forcing them to make the decision to buy a product here and now.
From a psychological perspective, this phenomenon is known as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
Here are some great tips for using these marketing methods:
- Provide a free shipping option. There are lots of potential buyers out there having a hard time when it comes to making a decision to buy something, just because of the shipping fee. Providing a free shipping option when they make a purchase for a specific price is the best strategy to make that purchase happen.
- Offer a bundle product discount. This method allows you to sell the products that are less popular or piling up in the stockroom. Make sure that the products in the bundle are relevant to each other. For instance, if you want to sell a swimsuit, you can bundle it up with sunscreen or swimming goggles.
- Give a discount for the next order. Repeating orders from your customers is the best way to keep the cash flowing. Invite them to do so by giving a special discount for their next purchase.
- Give a special offer to the first order. Getting a new customer means that you get a new channel for gaining profit. So, give your customer a special offer for his/her first order. This method has been implemented by big brands like Adidas and Zalora.
Content is King – Handle With Care
Having a good-looking and functional website is not enough. You need to add content to fuel your site, but make sure that the content is original and exciting for your audience.
Original content is good for SEO, while interesting content generates the traffic you need by attracting your target audience and converting them into paying customers. Having great content is a perfect way to market your website to potential customers.
Content can be anything: images, text, video, multimedia, and more.
Here are some tips to have quality content on your website:
- Create a content post schedule. Do not let the weather dictate when to put out new content. Make an exact schedule or a content calendar and stick to it.
- Follow the trends. Being creative is all fine and dandy, but follow the latest trends and build on them too.
- Create SEO-friendly content. Good SEO quality ensures your content gets more traffic. Read up on some SEO optimization tips to boost your page rank on the search engine results pages.
- Update your old content. Content that’s getting lots of views needs to be refreshed or revised regularly to keep it fresh and keep it relevant.
Recommended reading: How to Take Product Photos for Your Online Store (Easy Steps + 9 Tips)
Start an Online Boutique Today
Now that you’ve understood the process step-by-step, there is no better time to start your online boutique.
Online is the most sensible way to realize your dream of running a boutique business without having to spend a considerable amount of money upfront.
That being said, developing an online business requires lots of hard work, patience, and relentless experiments on marketing strategies.
Before you go out and get started, take a second to remember the key points:
- Find your niche: Pick something that is manageable for a new business. Identify a need, refine it, then own it.
- Create a business plan: Take the time to work out what you have and what you need. If you’re going to need investors, then it is essential to have a watertight business plan.
- Own your brand identity: Separate yourself from the competition. Create a set of guiding brand values that consumers can identify with.
- Register your business online: Register a domain with your brand name and make the first steps towards getting online.
- Source inventory: Work out your supply chain. What kind of business are you going to be and how are you going to source your products?
- Pick an eCommerce platform: Define your needs. Successful online boutique businesses require an eCommerce platform but might not require the full range of options needed by a larger company.
- Get your boutique online: Make use of simple, affordable builders to get online as soon as possible.
- Start marketing your online boutique: The big one. Use all the tools at your disposal to bring in new customers and grow your business.