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How to start an online boutique (15 step guide)

Have you ever wondered how to start an online boutique and create your own brand name?

If yes, this is the right place to be! By the end of this 15 step guide, you should know everything needed to start. From planning and designing, to running and finally promoting your new eCommerce store.

Thousands of new emerging retailers appear every year, why not you. According to etailinsights, there are 7.1 million online retailers in the world and 1.8 million of them alone, are based in the United States. The competition is strong, but the possibilities are endless.

To open a brick and mortar retail store from scratch, means that you have to find a physical space and renovate it. Moreover you have to deal with high monthly operating expenses such as, rent, employee salaries, electricity bills etc.

With an online boutique you don’t have to worry about all these expenses. You can literally create and run your business, at a fracture of the costs above. Above all, as your shop will be virtual, all you need to start, is a laptop and some basic computer skills.

However, as easy as it sounds, there are a lot of steps involved in starting such a project.

So, how to start an online boutique with success?

Step 1: Find a niche market

How to start an online boutique - niche market

To put it as simple as possible, a niche is a smaller and specific section of a market. It is highly recommended to focus on a niche market. You don’t want to compete with all around store giants such as Amazon, ebay, wallmart etc.

So how do you choose the right niche?

Your passion can be your niche! What do you like most? Is it the high heeled shoes? Is it fashion accessories like bags or even jewelry? Do you prefer classic or alternative clothing? Expensive designer brands or lower budget affordable clothing? Be creative. The options are limitless.

For example, let’s split the “shoe” niche market into 3 main sub-niches, such as menswear, womenswear and kids. Moreover, we can also split shoes into other micro-niches such as sport, casual, dress, work, etc.

Now, to be more specific we can choose “women dress shoes”. It is a much more focused niche market, than the broad term “shoes”. In this case, our virtual store will only be specializing in formal shoes for women.

Is there a demand for your niche and products?

Use the free keyword tool from Google ads, to check if people are searching for your niche and products. This will be very helpful to determine the size of your market. For example, as you see in the screenshot below, there are 1 to 10 million searches per month (worldwide) for the word “shoes”.

keyword search for starting online boutique
Monthly searches for “shoes”

Now lets see how many people are searching for “women dress shoes”, which is a much more specific term. The number got significantly down at 100,000 to 1 million searches per month.

monthly searches for women dress shoes
Monthly searches for “women dress shoes”

Moreover, If you scroll down the same page, google proposes 2,300 more keywords ideas, relevant to our search term. In the screenshot below, you can see that there are 10,000 to 100,000 monthly searches, for terms such as: “womens formal shoes”, “dress boots for women”, etc.

related keywords
Relevant keywords

Now write down your main keyword to see how many people are searching for it. In addition, look for relevant search terms, as proposed from google. This will help you identify the products or services related to your main niche. Save a list with your keywords, because you will use them later on, when looking for wholesale products and designing your online store (SEO).

Additional reading

Step 2: Look for wholesale suppliers and products

How to find wholesale suppliers

In the first step we have chosen our niche market and analyzed the demand for our products. Where there is demand, there will be supply. So the second step is to actually find wholesale suppliers and products for our boutique. There are quite a few options here.

Search for online suppliers

The quicker way to start is to search on google for “wholesale suppliers”. There are more than a trillion search results! Add your niche to the beginning of that search term and give it a go. For example “shoe wholesale suppliers“.

Start contacting companies through their official web pages. Meanwhile, here is some questions you might want to be asking:

  • Do they have a product catalogue?
  • Are they selling in bulk?
  • What is the minimum order?
  • Where is the company and products based?
  • How long does it take for your order to arrive?
  • What is their policy on defected products?

Check out your favorite designer brands

A lot of fashion designers will sell previous season’s stock at wholesale prices. So, go at their official website and contact them. Ask to see available products and wholesale prices. Finally, make sure they do not sell the same styles in their online boutique. You don’t want to compete with them.

Attend available fashion shows all around your country

This is a great way to source products in the long term. It will help you discover new brands and emerging fashion designers, which will differentiate you from the competition.

Design your products

If you got what it takes, that’s the best solution overall, as it has the largest profit margin potential. You will be selling your own designs, which gives you a distinctive and very original identity. Moreover, since you don’t need any wholesale suppliers, you are in complete control of your products. However, you need to work your way out with the materials needed.

Drop shipping

This is the cheapest way to start your boutique, because you don’t have to buy any stock at all. You are the intermediate. People will buy from your online boutique, however the product will be shipped from the drop-ship company’s store. So in case any mistakes are done you will get all the blame. Therefore, you loose a lot of control, so we wouldn’t recommend dropshipping, unless you find the perfect company.

Additional reading

Step 3: Decide what to sell

Online boutique startup - Decide what to sell

Steps 1 and 2 involved a market research on demand and supply. This step involves, hand picking the products that will be featured in your online boutique. In other words, now its the time to create a unique product portfolio that will very much define your brand character.

Create a unique and cohesive brand

Be careful when choosing what to sell. For example if you are opening a “women dress shoes” boutique, you want to focus on finding products relevant to your niche market, such as bridal, church, office shoes etc. Therefore, your aim must be, to establish a boutique that will be known for such footwear.

You cannot sell everything. That will confuse your customers and show an unclear image about your brand. For example Casadei, is a well known Italian shoe brand, operating in the niche of “luxury pumps”. In their official website you can find a great selection of elegant luxury pumps and that’s all.

Casadei shoes
Casadei luxury shoes – Official website

Focus on a specific price range

Are you going with low budget affordable footwear, expensive designer shoes or somewhere in the middle? For example you may choose to sell low budget products within a price range of $10 to $50. In any case, you need to identify the right wholesale products.

In our previous example with the Italian footwear brand, we can see that most of their styles range between $500 to $1000 (There was 50% discount going on when writing this post).

Determine your cost and sale prices

For example how much will it cost you to buy a lot of 16 pieces (lots consist of several sizes and colors of the same product). How much can you sell it? (Ask your supplier for selling prices). Moreover, check your competitors. What is their pricing? Also, you can try to find the same product in another site like Amazon or Ebay. How much is it listed for sale? That will give you an idea of how much to sell your products and what will the profit be.

Manage your budget for product orders

You should be wise in organizing your budget for wholesale orders. Do not spend all your yearly budget in one order. Keep in mind that fashion changes with the season. Therefore, for one year, you will need to renew your products on winter, spring, summer and autumn. That means, at least 4 orders during your first year.

You can still be flexible with the orders in case there is a spike in sales, which is good, as it means you are doing well! For example, if you notice a particular product doing really well in sales, then quickly ask your supplier for another shipment.

At this point, you should be ready to prepare a list of your first order. However, I wouldn’t recommend ordering yet, until you have structured a detailed business plan and have legally registered your company.

Additional reading

Step 4: Structure a business plan

How to start an online boutique - business plan

Think about your business plan, as if you are going to the bank to get a loan for your company. You will obviously need a clear plan of your new business. Do not get overwhelmed by the term “business plan”, as if you have to get back in school. Instead, think of it as a conversation with a close friend, trying to explain your new idea.

Mission statement

What does your boutique stands for? How do you want people to know you for? A company’s mission statement is short to the point and usually found in the title of your online boutique. For example Mytheresa boutique, advertise themselves as “Luxury Fashion & Designer Shopping”. So, what is your mission statement in one sentence?

mission statement
Mytheresa short mission statement – title

Business objectives

What are your short and long term objectives and how are you going to achieve them? For example, one realistic short term objective could be “to make it through the first year without any loses”. A longer 3 year term goal could be to “create a profitable business with emphasis on repeated customers”.

Strategy

How are you going to achieve these objectives? What is your short and long term strategy? One form of short term strategy, could be, taking full advantage of social media, which is free and can have instant effects. For instance a pic or video goes viral.

On the other hand, search engine optimization (SEO) could be a longer term strategy, as it might take much more time and effort to see its full effect.

Competition analysis

Analyse your competition from head to toe. Firstly, identify their strengths and weaknesses. Focus on their weaknesses. How can you do it better than them? Most importantly, what can you offer to the market that your competition doesn’t already offer? What problems do you solve?

Expected income and expenditure

Make a list of all expected income and expenses for a whole calendar year. For example, lets suppose that we start a small online boutique.

Expenditure:

  • Budget for wholesale orders during the first year is $10,000.
  • Moreover a premium eCommerce theme will cost us around $50.
  • Plugins for extra functionality (such as live chat, social sharing etc.) will cost us max. $200.
  • To register and renew your domain name, you need no more than $10 per year.
  • Even the best Host will cost no more than $300 yearly.
  • Lets add another $1800 (150 dollars per month) for advertising the whole year.

To sum it up we expect our total expenses for the first year to be around $12,360 more or less.

Income:

Now, calculate how much will you be making if you sell 100% of your stock. Lets suppose that the income in this case is $30,000. So there you have it, your profit is (30,000 minus 12,360) $17,640.

After that, do the same step again, assuming that you sold 90%, 80%, 70%, 60%, and son on. At what percentage are you getting even? In our example we need to sell around 40% of our stock to break even and start making profit.

To sum up, use your business plan as a guide to keep you on track. This should be an ongoing process. Similarly, review your strategy, be flexible and quickly adjust to any new challenges may appear.

Additional reading

Step 5: Seek for funding or investors

Apply for loan

A detailed business plan will indicate whether you need additional funding or not. If you are good to start financially, then you might want to skip this step. In case you are missing some or all the money, you might be looking for additional funding. In this scenario you might consider preparing a very clear business plan. Fortunately, there are quite a few options.

Apply for a loan

In this case you will need a very detailed business plan, especially in financial terms. Most companies will provide all documents to be filed by you. Make sure you review your start up costs and have all necessary documents ready. Finally, choose the right loan. If you apply for less money that you actually need, you might face problems in the future.

Seek for investors

A few people, might also want to invest in your idea. If you think your business idea is one of a kind, then you might want to seek for opportunity investors. Your friends and family might be the best place to look for additional funding. Otherwise you can look for online forums and groups dedicated to that purpose.

Additional reading

Step 6: Register your boutique

Register online boutique

This step involves registering your company both online and with the authorities. Even though this is an online business, you will have to go through some legal steps as if you are starting a new company. Your online name doesn’t have to be the same as your legal company. However it could be good for branding reasons, if you choose the same name. Before you choose a legal name for your company check if the name is still available online.

Prepare legal requirements

At this stage it is important to note that you should consult your lawyer on the legal procedures of opening an online store. Depending on the state or country you live the procedure might be slightly different.

Register your boutique’s online domain name

This should be the name of your boutique. For example, it could be elegantshoes or your name (Joannasboutique). If the name is taken, don’t get discouraged. Be creative and try to search for other relevant names. It is highly recommended, that you include words relevant to your niche. For example if you are opening a shoe boutique, include the word shoe or boutique. Also try to make it as short as possible.

There are a lot of sites to help you find available domain names. In this link we have just added the word “boutique” and the results are more than 500 hundred available domain names. Go through these names and try to find a name that best describes you and you are comfortable with.

Additional reading

Step 7: Arrange Shipping/Delivery

Shipping options for virtual stores

Arranging shipping is vital for providing a smooth customer experience. Having an affordable and fast shipping is essential. You could be loosing a lot of customers if your delivery is too slow or expensive. On the other hand if you charge below normal prices that will influence your profit. Its a fine balance you need to find.

Shipping as marketing tool

A lot of companies use shipping as a form of marketing. Consider giving free shipping when a customer orders more than a certain amount of money (for example, free shipping for orders larger than $100).

You could even personalize your items with a note, such as “thanks for shopping with us”. Moreover, you can offer a discount on the next purchase with a special coupon code. Consider doing the final packaging yourself. Use custom made wrapping materials with your logo and title.

Return policy

Returns are part of the business. In general terms a customer might return a product if its faulty or doesn’t meet expectations. Prepare your shipping and returns policy. Check your top competitors. What is their policy?

References

Step 8: Organize your office and inventory store

DIY Home office ideas

Even though this is a virtual store, you will still need some physical space to cover your needs.

Arrange for a desk

You will be spending quite a few hours in front of your laptop every day. Arrange an office in a quiet room. You might even consider buying a new laptop to be used exclusively for your boutique operation.

Organize your inventory store

Since you will be operating this boutique from home, you should provide for a room in your house and turn it your company’s inventory room. Moreover, keep a record of all your inventory list and make sure its always updated with the correct numbers.

Additional reading

Step 9: Choose a hosting company that supports eCommerce

Hosting

Finding a reliable hosting company is critical to your boutique and day to day operations. A network host is a computer or other device connected to a computer network. In other words, without a host you can’t be online.

The speed of your site will also be influenced from the condition of the host. You don’t want a slow site and choosing the right host is crucial to that. You have 2 options. Self hosted or eCommerce hosted platform.

Cost varies, but you can find a good host anywhere from $10 to $30 per month. Keep in mind that hosting costs are very much relied on your visitor count.

Ecommerce hosted solution

You can go with an eCommerce platform solution, which along with hosting will provide you with the building platform to create your online boutique. If you are not that expert with computers this might be the best solution for you. The website builder provided is very user friendly, plus you have support to help you all the way.

Recommended E-commerce hosting: Shopify

Self hosting

In this case you can use wordpress and woocommerce to build your store (both are free). You will still receive customer service for any hosted related issues. However if you face any problems with your wordpress theme or plugins you should try to find the information elsewhere. If you are a tech savy (or willing to learn), you should choose this solution, as it will give you much more control and flexibility.

Recommended self host company: Wpxhosting

Additional reading

Step 10: Choose an eCommerce platform builder

Ecommerce platform builders

Back in the old days you had to hire a professional web designer. However these days things got much easier. To design your website all you need is an eCommerce builder software. User friendly web builders, that will help you build a fully professional website.

Use an E-commerce platform like shopify

These are very user friendly and the most appropriate in case your computer knowledge is limited. If you are stuck at any point you can ask for help. Not to mention that there is an online tutorial for almost everything. If you choose to go with shopify’s builder then you will have to get their hosting as well.

A lot of online boutiques use shopify as its the complete solution. Its very easy to use, your site will always be online and they have excellent support, meaning that every time you have any issue they will help you sort it out.

Use Woocommerce

Woocommerce is a very popular eccomerce builder exclusively created for wordpress. The majority of online stores use this solution, as wordpress gives you much more freedom when designing your site. They are both free, however you might still need to buy a premium theme, which will cost you around $50. Moreover you might need to buy some plugins for extra functionality.

Hire a web developer

This will obviously cost you much more than the first 2 options, however prices have significantly dropped the last few years. You can hire a developer to build a fully professional boutique store for as low as $300.

One thing to consider, is that a lot of the times a developer will design your site, but then you are all alone. You have to handle everything by yourself and update the website with new products. In case any issues arise then you need to pay again and find a new developer to fix the problems. Make sure that you know the person very well and that they can help any time needed.

Overall go with option 1 if you are a complete novice in computers. The site builder is very user friendly and even if you have any difficulties there is always somebody there to help you. However, If you are willing to put some time and effort to learn how to use wordpress, then option 2 might be best for you.

Additional reading

Step 11: Design your online boutique

Design your virtual boutique

Think of designing your online boutique as if you are actually building or renovating a physical store. After all you have already invested so much time and money, you don’t want a creepy website.

Choose and customize your theme

There are thousands of free and premium themes to choose, however it is strongly recommended to choose a premium theme. Find any theme from Shopify that fits your niche and simply replace the pictures and text with your own material.

Ready made templates
Ready made templates from Shopify

Similarly, you can choose a premium wordpress theme and fully customize it to you liking. For example, Generatepress is free wordpress theme supporting woocommerce. If you buy their premium version, then you have access to their site library (ready made templates).

Wordpress themes
Generate press premium templates

Choose a template that fits your brand and give an aesthetic look similar to your niche. For example if you are building a bridal boutique avoid dark colors.

Create a logo

There are a lot of free logo designers available in the net. Choose one and create a unique logo relevant to your site name and colors.

Homepage

Your home page needs to explain what the site is all about. Think of it as a front mirror of a physical clothing boutique. Here you can promote any offers and showcase your best selling products with eye catching pictures. Check out your top competitors. How does their homepages look like?

For example, the first thing you see upon landing on Steve Madden’s homepage, is a huge discount up to 70%.

Steve Madden homepage
Steve Madden Homepage

How to add products

We briefly talked about seo and google search in step 2. If you want people to find you when searching for a specific term, it is very important to apply Seo (search engine optimization) when adding products.

So, lets assume you want to add a pair of black leather thigh high boots, with a 5 inch stiletto heel. We need to choose one main keyword. Lets choose the whole phrase “black leather thigh high boots” as our main keyword. That means when people search for this entire phrase, you should be in the search results. Include the same words in your url, title and description. For example:

  • url: black-leather-thigh-high-boots
  • title: 5 inch black leather thigh high boots
  • description: These amazing black leather thigh high boots are great for a wild night out in the club. Featuring a 5 inch stiletto and…

Next, select your featured image and add the rest of your pictures. When adding images make sure to include your main keyword to the title, description and alt text. Finally, resize and optimize your pictures, as larger files will slow down your website.

Videos are much larger files than pictures. Adding a video directly to your website is possible, however this will consume a lot of your bandwidth, slowing down your site. The ideal solution is to upload the video directly in to your Youtube account and then embed the code to your site.

Other pages

In addition to your product page, make sure to add the typical pages, such as, about us, shipping and exchanges, contact, check/out card, login/registration page, privacy policy. Moreover, an SSL certificate is a requirement since you will be accepting transactions. Finally adding a blog section will be a good strategy to attract potential customers through search engines like google.

Remember, you don’t have to be there when a sale is about to be made. Your store should be very user friendly and self explanatory. All the possible questions that a customer might probably have shall be answered in your website.

Consider adding a live customer service software on your website, with an automated message such as “hi, can i help you?”

Additional reading

Step 12: Take high quality pictures and videos

Lifestyle pictures

By now, you should have ordered and received your first products. The best way to showcase them, is by pictures and videos. Remember, this is not a physical store. People can only see. Enhance their visual experience with amazing pictures and high quality videos.

As soon as you receive your products try them and show your visitors how they look. Most of the new smart phones today have exceptional resolutions, which makes it difficult to say whether is a phone or a camera. If you don’t have a good smart phone then you might as well invest in a new camera. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, go for a model. It doesn’t have to be professional. You can ask your family members, friends etc.

How to take pics and videos

Pictures and videos are your chance to stand out from the rest of your competitors. Lets assume that you are in a store and you try a pair of shoes you liked. What do you normally do? Personally, I will stand in front of the mirror, then turn left and finally turn right. Sometimes I will take a full round just to see how the shoes look from the back. So there you have it. Take at least 4 poses for each product. Show your visitors how the product looks from different angles.

The pictures should speak for themselves! There are certain types of posing that attract more reactions, likes and comments, which is what you should be aiming for. Go through the shoes posted in our site and see how the models style the products.

Additional reading

Step 13: Create social media accounts

How to create social media accounts

You should create all your social media accounts as soon as you finish designing your online store. The most used social media are: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Youtube. Regarding Youtube, don’t underestimate it. It is the biggest video search engine and the second most visited site in the whole world (alexa). You can add your short video closeups, but you can also use it to do longer video reviews of your products.

How to create the profiles

When you create a new page in any social media, take your time and fill all the requested data. Use nice about us descriptions, add an impressive cover and use your logo as the profile picture. If you are not sure how to fill all boxes and pages, just check on your competition.

Manage your posts

Ideally, you should be posting 2 or 3 times per day. Choose the right time for each media and schedule your posts before hand. There is a very useful software, which is free to use for up to 3 media accounts, called Buffer. This will let you schedule all your postings for the whole 3 month period.

So, lets assume that you have started with 30 products and its the beginning of the summer season. You will not order any products again until the autumn season which starts in 3 months. Thus, you need material to last you for these 3 months. If you take 3 pictures and a video for each product, then you have 120 media files, all together.

I would handle my material like that: Post 2 pictures per day (or one picture and one video). That’s 2 months of posting. For the last month, I would choose my top 30 posts (most comments and likes) and re-post them (one per day).

Finally, at this point, some of your customers might have bought your products and posted styling pictures in their social media profiles. Find these pictures and re-post them in your profile.

Additional reading

Step 14: Promote your boutique

Promotional tools for online stores

So far we have discussed the 2 main ways to attract traffic to your site, which are Seo (search engine optimization) and social media. However that’s not all. There are much more ways and promotional tools available.

Create an affiliate program

A great way, widely used by online stores and boutiques. Amazon, the world’s largest online store, has one of the most comprehensive affiliate programs. So how does that work? In short, this is about offering commission to an affiliate website that sends you visitors, who eventually buy your products.

Myshoebazar is a perfect example of an affiliate website. To find affiliates you might need to join relevant platform programs. To invite us to join your affiliate program just join any of the platforms below and search for us. If you are having any difficulties finding us please contact us.

Popular affiliate platforms: Shareasale, Awin, Rakuten, Cj

Collaborate with fashion bloggers and brand ambassadors

There are literally thousands of fashion bloggers, posting styling pics of their favorite brands. A lot of them will gladly accept to promote your products through their social media. Send them a free sample of your product and ask them to write a blog post, styling your product. Moreover, invite them to join your affiliate program.

Free Giveaways

This is very effective, as it will help you grow your social media audience at much faster rates. Women love free giveaways – and who doesn’t. Create a simple giveaway every month. You should add a clear picture of the giveaway product accompanied with a simple text message attached on the picture. For example, Like, Share & Win. In the description page be more specific, like “Weekend giveaway. Like and share for a chance to win a pair of the shoes featured in the picture.”

Email marketing

Email is one of the top ways to directly approach your customers. Create a data base of your customers emails and send them promotional messages or special discount offers etc. Moreover, personalize the messages with their first names.

Create a review platform for your company

When a first time customer is about to make a purchase at your boutique, she will probably search the web for reviews of your boutique. Open an account in a trusted review platform site, like trustpilot and encourage all your customers to review your company. In addition, you could send them an automatic email after the purchase asking for their honest review.

Furthermore, make sure to visit your page and check all reviews. Thank people for their positive feedback. If there are any negative comments, reply with a proper, professional and polite way.

Advertise your store

Last but not least, You should provide for a small monthly budget for advertising your boutique. Google ads is a great option for targeted traffic, however it can be a bit expensive. You should definitely open an account with them as it will give you the ability to do your keyword research for free.

Another great option is facebook ads. It can be much cheaper and send you even more traffic, however its not that effective as google ads. You can combine both options and see what works better for you.

Additional reading

Step 15: Day to day operation

How to start an online boutique - Daily checklist

Starting an online boutique is just the beginning of a long road. Operating your online boutique on a day to day basis is your new task.

First, you must spend at least 2 to 3 hours per day to monitor most of the activities described on this post. This includes updating your website and social media with any new arrivals or blog posts, but that’s not all.

Additionally, you will have to keep in close contact with all your suppliers or other affiliate partners. Moreover, you will probably have to deal with customer service issues on a daily basis.

Provide excellent customer service

Customer service is crucial. I have seen a lot of online boutiques failing because of bad or non existent customer service. Reply to all emails and messages within a day and be extremely polite whatever is the case.

Moreover, you should also check your social media accounts and answer to all questions being asked in the same polite and professional manner. Most importantly, never get into an argument with a customer. For instance, even if they say something negative, try to turn it to positive. Be as polite as possible; apologize and assure them that you you will be looking at their case immediately. Remember, that all the comments are there for the public to see.

Additional reading

Conclusion

There is no doubt, that starting an online boutique has become significantly easier over the last years. The presence of popular web building platforms, such as wordpress and shopify, has simplified things.

However as you have seen in this 15 step guide, there are a lot of things to consider other than designing your website. Do not panic though. The key to success, is to take each step at a time.

Moreover, you should not expect to become rich overnight. It will probably take some time until you actually start earning from any new business.

In fact, if you open an online boutique with the only purpose of earning money, you will probably fail. Eventually, it all comes to a very simple rule.

“You make money from customers when you provide enough value for them”. The more value, the more money you make.

And this last phrase, brings us to the end of our guide “how to start an online boutique”. It was a long read, but I hope you found it useful. Now, you must have a much better idea of whats needed to start such a project.

Finally, let us know your thoughts. What other steps do you recommend? Have you tried to open a boutique in the past and failed? Where did you struggle?

About Pambos Tattaris

I have a master's degree in marketing and management and I love web designing.

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