In 2017, global retail eCommerce sales amounted to more than $2.3 trillion - and for a good reason.
Nowadays, starting an online business is more affordable than ever and allows you to reach a much broader audience. Plus, who doesn’t want to run their business from home in their pajamas, right?
With the above in mind, I’ve created this article on how to start an online boutique. As an example, I'll be using Shopify - a very popular, powerful, and simple eCommerce platform. But many tips and hints on this list apply to any platform of your choice.
So - here is how to start an online boutique:
- Look into the business laws in your state/country
- Choose a unique niche for your boutique
- Research and vet your suppliers
- Choose an eCommerce platform to create your boutique
- Buy a domain name
- Customize your online boutique
- Add products to your boutique
- Set up your preferred payment options
1. Look into the Business Laws in Your State/Country
Before starting an online boutique, you need to check the business laws in your area. If you plan on making this a full-time gig, I recommend you form a business in your state. By doing so, you’ll get all the information you need regarding licensing and paying taxes.
In the United States, a lot of information on documentation and taxes can be found on the IRS Small Business section.
Additionally, you may find out about funding options you didn’t know were available.
If you decide to start by storing them yourself, you need to check the zoning codes in your state. This will depend largely on the amount of inventory you’re storing.
2. Choose a Unique Niche for Your Boutique
When designing your boutique, it’s important you choose a specific niche. You can do this by considering your target audience. Ask yourself who your products are aimed at and hone in on that idea. Be as unique as possible.
The more unique and concentrated your products are, the more you’ll be able to charge. If your competition is small or better yet, non-existent, there is no benchmark for your customers to compare your prices to. By investing time into identifying your niche, you’ll be able to charge more money in the long run.
3. Research and Vet Your Suppliers
Now comes the important part - products.
Depending on what your business is like and what does it do, you may have several different options.
- You can choose a wholesaler. Selling merchandise of a bigger company is a common route for many online boutiques.
- You can be using a dropshipper - which will also take orders and do all the shipping for you.
- Or you could make your own merchandise.
The issue with getting the products out in the wild will mostly be the creation of the supply line. By making sure you always have products available to purchase, but don't overstock, you can really help your business stay competitive.
With wholesale purchases, you're likely to have more direct communication with your chosen supplier, as well as preferable rates. The issue is very simple - wholesaler will most likely ask you to pay a lot of products in advance, making your business less flexible, and the initial investment - much more sizeable.
If you wish to avoid that, check out dropshipping suppliers.
While looking at individual suppliers may give you more choice, dropshipping companies are a lower risk option. This is because you only have to pay for a product if a customer places an order. Also, you won’t have to deal with any of the hassle associated with handling and shipping products.
And of course, if you choose to make everything yourself - make sure you can keep up with demand. Don't make too much stuff at once, but always have spares. And price yourself accordingly! Grinding for weeks to make barely any money isn't much fun after all.
Whatever supply option you choose, you will need to receive products and test them out. Order several pieces of goods you wish to sell on your boutique - that way you can inspect the quality, style, and durability first hand.
4. Choose an eCommerce Platform to Create Your Boutique
As mentioned above, I used Shopify to create my shop. However, there are dozens of other options some of which include BigCommerce, Volusion, Wix, WooCommerce, and many others. Whichever one you go for, make sure that it offers enough space for you to add all of your products.
Also, check that it’s compatible with your preferred payout method and that it comes with good security features.
Once you’ve chosen the right one, sign up for a free trial or choose your plan. Then, follow the sign up instructions. Shopify offers a 14-day free trial.
To get started, simply navigate to the Shopify website and click on “Start free trial”. Then, fill in your credentials and you’ll automatically get redirected to your Shopify dashboard.
5. Buy a Domain Name
The majority of eCommerce platforms allow you to buy a domain once you sign up. With Shopify, you have 3 options.
- You can either buy a new domain
- Transfer the domain from another website to your new one
- Connect an existing domain that you bought elsewhere.
You can view all of these options by clicking on the “Domain” tab followed by the “Domain” button.
If you don’t have a domain, click on “Buy new domain”. I recommend you go for your business name with .com TLD.
That being said, Shopify gives you various alternative domain extensions to choose from if the .com one is unavailable. Once you type in your preferred domain, it'll either give you the option to buy it or it'll say "Unavailable" next to.
6. Customize Your Online Boutique
To customize your site, click on “Home” followed by the “Customize theme” tab and the “Customize theme” button. You’ll automatically be assigned Shopify’s signature theme “Debut” which you can edit by clicking on “Customize”. That said, a boutique store should be unique from other online shops.
As you’re targeting a specific niche, explore the free themes or, if your budget allows, visit the theme store. This will give you options that may align better with your vision and branding. To add a new theme, click on the one you like followed by “Add [theme name]”.
Alternatively, if you've had a theme designed specifically for your boutique, you can upload it to your Shopify account.
7. Add Products to Your Boutique
Products, of course, should be the focal point of your new boutique. So, navigate to “Products” in your dashboard and either click on "Import products" or click on “Add product”.
Here, you have the choice to start from scratch or use a list of existing products from an excel sheet. If you do import products, you can click on "Download a sample CSV template to see an example of the format required".
If you do click on "Add Product", you'll be redirected to a page where you can add each product’s title, description, and any relevant images. You can also input the price, shipping, and inventory information. If you have variants of the same product, you can also add this information on the same page.
8. Set Up Your Preferred Payment Options
Yes, getting customers to your store is important but, once you’ve achieved that, the next step is to get paid. To enable payment providers, click on “Settings” on the bottom left-hand side of your screen. Then, click on “Payment providers”.
To start receiving payments, you first have to click on “Complete account setup”. Here, you’ll be asked for your business details (these vary based on your location), personal and product details, as well as customer billing and banking information. Once you’ve filled in all the information on this page, click “Complete account setup”.
Now that you’ve finished setting up your account, you can receive payments from customers. The type of payments you accept will completely depend on your individual preferences. Shopify allows you to accept Paypal and Amazon Pay payments. You can also choose from a list of alternative options and set up manual payments so that customers can pay you outside of your online store.
Additional Steps on How to Start an Online Boutique
So, visitors are flying into your Shopify store and you’re bank account is booming! Now it’s time to send your lucky customers their merchandise. The key to maintaining a good reputation is to deliver your products to your customers on time and calculate the shipping costs in advance.
Whether you’re using a dropshipping company or putting packages together yourself, complete the following steps to make expectations clear for your audience:
- Click on “Settings” on the bottom left-hand side of your screen
- Select “Shipping”
- Check your shipping origin and select “Change shipping origin” if it’s not correct
- Click on “Add shipping zone”
- Select “Add countries” to tell customers which parts of the world you deliver to
- Click on “Add rate” to change the shipping price based on a customer’s order
- Finish by clicking “Save”
From the Shipping page, you can also customize the packing slips for orders and add a custom fulfillment service to your account.
Do you run your own boutique store online? If so, I’d love to learn more about your experience as a shop owner in the comments below.