How to start an online boutique

An online boutique can be a great way to make money online, whether you’re selling your own creations or curating items in a virtual store for customers. According to The Fashion Industry and Apparel Report, revenue in the e-commerce fashion industry is expected to rise from $481.2 billion in 2018 to $712.9 billion by 2022.

If you love choosing colors and fabrics, styling different outfits, and searching for just the right finishing touches, this is an ideal way for you to snag a share of those dollars.

So how can you get started with your online boutique? It takes planning, funding, branding, marketing, deciding where you’ll get your products, and creating a website where your customers can easily shop.

Here’s what you need to do before you open your virtual doors to the public.

  1. Create a business plan

  2. Before you start an online boutique, you need to have a foundation in place, in the form of a business plan.

    This doesn’t have to be a lengthy document unless you plan to take out a loan from an investor or a bank. You can keep it short and sweet, and stick to the basics. Think of it as a roadmap for your boutique that will help keep you on track as you open your store and grow your business.

    Here’s what your business plan should include:

    • Your value proposition, or what would make someone want to buy from you.
    • The market need for your online boutique. For example, you’re starting your store because you’ve noticed that there aren’t any sites selling rockabilly-style dresses for women under 5’4”.
    • How you will solve that problem. For example, not only are you curating rockabilly-style dresses from various manufacturers, but you’re also custom-making dresses and selling shoes in smaller sizes.
    • Competition, or where these customers are shopping now.
    • Who your target market is. In this case, it would be women under 5’4” who are part of the rockabilly lifestyle.
    • How you’ll market your online boutique, including how you’ll sell to customers, where you’ll advertise, and what social media you’ll use to get the word out.
    • Your budget and sales goals.
    • Who your team is, including business partners or wholesalers that you’ll use. Write a few quick bullet points about why you’re the ideal person to open this online boutique. If you plan to hire people in the future, list those positions, even if you’re not filling them right now.
    • Any funding needs you might have.
  3. Decide where you’ll host your online boutique

  4. The next step in opening your online boutique is deciding what platform you’ll host it on. While Etsy is a popular choice — and does a lot of the work for you in terms of website building and attracting traffic — you might want to have more control over your website, its layout, and the overall customer experience.

    If you decide to build your own website, you’ll need an e-commerce platform to handle transactions. These e-commerce platforms can be integrated into your website with plug-ins so that customers have the same experience shopping as they do browsing other sections of your site, or they can be standalone websites.

    There are a lot of platforms to choose from — Shopify, BigCommerce, 3dcart, WooCommerce, Weebly, Wix, and SquareSpace, to name a few. Find the one that’s easiest for you to use and fits your budget.

  5. Create a cohesive style

  6. For both your branding and your overall boutique, develop a unique style that fits what you’re selling. When you’re creating a style for your boutique, go back to who your ideal customer is.

    What colors, fabrics, jewelry, and types of clothes do they like? Some of these answers will be obvious. For example, your rockabilly customer will likely want red polka dot dresses with a 1950s-style full-skirted silhouette. Some may be more difficult, like choosing jewelry that incorporates cherries or lips, or another theme altogether.

    What your ideal customer wants will ultimately dictate the style of your online boutique.

    Your unique brand will also play a part in your boutique’s style. It will be a combination of your overall aesthetic, your ideal customer’s preferences, and how your website and social media platforms look and feel. Elements like colors, fonts, and the website layout will all contribute to your brand, as will the words you use.

    For example, ModCloth specializes in vintage-inspired clothes, but it takes a modern, tongue-in-cheek approach to describing its products. Think about what your ideal customer would respond to, and then design and write around those tastes.

  7. Figure out where you’ll get your products

  8. In your business plan, you listed possible sources for your products, including wholesalers. Even if you’re planning to sell only custom-made items, you’ll need to figure out where you’ll get your materials.

    If you’re looking for premade goods to sell in your online boutique, you can reach out to your favorite Etsy sellers, local crafters, and artists; search eBay for wholesale goods; or contact manufacturers directly. For those who want to add one-of-a-kind items to their boutiques, consignment and vintage shops are a great place to find these types of items.

  9. Decide how you’ll ship products

  10. Once you’ve sourced your products and decided how to sell them, you’ll need to figure out how to ship them. If you’re planning to simply package products and drive to the post office yourself, know that this method can get very expensive, very quickly.

    Shipping is actually part of your strategy; you need to be able to charge enough to cover costs but not so much that customers abandon their carts at checkout.

    You can charge a flat rate or embed a calculator on your site so that customers can pay what you’ll be charged. As your sales grow, you might want to use software that can automatically print labels for you, or even outsource your shipping to a third party.

Once you’ve got these basics squared away, you’re ready to start an online boutique. If you use the foundation you’ve built with your business plan and present your products in a way that appeals to your ideal customer, you’ll find that it’s a great source of income.

This article is originally published on Mar 30, 2020, and updated on Jan 22, 2021.

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