Oftentimes, the tips on how to start an online boutique are so simplistic you’d think you’ll begin making big money in the next 24 hours. In other cases, these tips make the whole task look more difficult than building a nuclear reactor!
Luckily, neither of these cases is true.
You can plan, build, and operate profitably an online boutique without knowing a single line of code. Starting an online boutique is as easy – or as difficult – as starting any other business. The number of platforms, with specialized tools, makes opening an online boutique a great deal easier, but the hard work you need to put in remains the same as in any other business.
Since everyone else has access to the all the tools and platforms as you do, your success is dependent on detailing, on how you’ve used these tools and how you’ve deployed the technology therein rather than the tools. The better you understand things, from ecommerce website development to the legalities, the easier your journey becomes.
This post breaks down the entire process and explains how to open an online boutique in easy-to-understand parts and helps you through each stage.
1. Answer the what, who and why of your boutique.
You must begin by answering three types of questions.
What do you intend to sell? Retrograde fashion dresses? Formals? Special Africa designs? Or maybe just hair-bows for young girls?
Next, who are your target customers? 40+ males? 21-30 females? Work-from-home moms? Middle-level executives?
And finally, the why. Why should your target customers buy from you? What ‘special’ are you offering? What’s so special about you?
Answer all these questions as carefully as you can. It will help you figure out if your thinking is flawed, whether you’re really offering something unusual or whether you’re just another boutique. It will also help you package your marketing content better, since you know whom you are talking to and what desires you’re satisfying.
Profiling your customer – called building the buyer persona – has one more purpose. Your website design and color combinations must subtly reflect your target group’s. It’s like creating a design consistency. Surely you’ve noticed online stores selling products for babies heavily use pink and those selling to teens very often build with a denim theme.
This is also an amazing opportunity to do a skill audit: find what skills you already have and which ones you need to add. Adding skills means either learning fresh skills or bringing in an employee or even a partner.
This is more important than most people imagine. Don’t ignore this, but also remember your understanding will grow – and possibly change – as you get into the actual business.
At the end of this stage:
You’ll understand your product, your customers and your niche a good deal better. That will make your marketing smoother and more effective.
2. Spend a limited time on a name and logo design
It might sound counter-intuitive, but don’t spend too much time here. Shortlist a few names, pick one, register a domain and get moving.
That’s not to say your name doesn’t matter. You’ll want a name that can be spelt and remembered easily. And ideally it should cover the keyword, the product you’ll be selling. For instance, a name like “janebestbridaldresses.com” covers the designer / owner’s name (Jane) and the products the boutique specializes in (bridal dresses).
Why then do we urge you to be quick?
That’s because once you’ve decided to starting a clothing boutique, you’ll need to be agile – there’s so much to be done. A number of things (logo design, registering the domain name, hosting decisions, getting things printed etc.) can begin only after you’ve finalized a name. The longer you take in finalizing the name, the more these tasks get delayed.
As far logo design is concerned, keep your purse strings tight. You don’t need to go to the most expensive logo designer to get a cool logo. Feel free to go to sites like Freelancer, Logoshi, Squarespace or something similar and you can get a neat logo within a small budget.
Remember, your success depends upon how you make your customers feel about the product and the shopping experience, not on your logo.
It’s easy to get carried away and delay finalizing the name and the logo. Don’t fall into the trap of perfection. Accept what is practically decent and move on.
At the end of this stage:
You will have finalized the name – and the logo – of your boutique. A logo is not compulsory; a neat, typography-based design is just fine. If at all you want to have a logo, make sure you don’t overspend your money or time.
3. Go slow on deciding the hosting and design
There are four components of setting up a website: registering a domain name, getting hosting space, writing the code for the website and having the website designed. Typically, the last two go hand-in-hand and are handled by the same organization (not the same person). Apart from this, you’ll also be making a choice in terms of selecting the platform (e.g. Magento vs Shopify).
Maintaining your domain name is a yearly expense (typically, $6 to $10 a year). You can choose buying from either large companies (e.g. GoDaddy) or the local service provider your friend refers you to.
Make sure all the documents related to the domain-name registering clearly mention you (or your company you’ve set up) as the owner of the domain-name. This will avoid ownership issues down the line.
Next is the hosting service provider. The hosting company provides you the space (memory) wherein your online boutique runs, in addition to other features. If you have opted for a hosted service like Shopify, this service is already built in the fees they charge you, so there’s very little that needs to be done. Otherwise you’ll need to find your way around.
You’ll not want to go in for the least expensive hoster. Your entire business is going to depend on the speed of loading, security provided and whether the site is always running. This is not the place to cut corners.
Check around in various forums, ask all questions you can think of directly to the hosters and understand every feature. Mostly it’s good to have a hoster who offers multiple features. You may not use some of them right away, but it’s good to know they are available any time you change your mind.
Finally, the website coding and the design. Hopefully by this stage you would have browsed through a good number of online boutiques to know what exactly you want. If you’ve chosen to go with, say, Magento, hire Magento developer who has some experience in working with startups as well.
Keep four things in mind:
- One, the site must be pleasing and simple enough to navigate through.
- Two, the code should be robust enough to keep you and your customers protected.
- Three, have as many payment options as possible – you don’t want a customer turn away just because you don’t accept PayPal.
- And four, have a proper cart abandonment management feature in place.
Honestly, a poor choice at this stage can pretty much destroy your dreams. Don’t cut corners – at least not too many.
At the end of this stage:
You’ll have a site with the payment gateway and a shopping cart.
4. Research for your sourcing and logistics partners
The basic boutique model works this way: buy wholesale, sell retail and book profit on the price difference in the two. Therefore, this stage very directly and very visibly impacts your profits. Sourcing the right quality at the lowest price is something every boutique wants to excel at.
Make no mistakes, finding the right wholesaler is an uphill task. You’ll probably start with Alibaba and then find your way through. Sometimes asking around isn’t very productive, since you may be talking to your potential competitors, who may not be too keen to help you! That’s the fun part when learn the finer aspects of how to start an online clothing boutique!
Here are the four vital questions you should ask while looking for wholesale suppliers:
- Are you going to carry an inventory or are you opting for dropshipping?
- Would they be able to provide and sustain the quality you’re looking for?
- Does their pricing sound fair? Or is it too cheap to be unsustainable in the long run?
- How will you ensure the delivery will be as agreed upon?
Drop shipping means you don’t carry any inventory and the supplier ships directly to the customer when you instruct the supplier. While this can hugely cut your inventory costs, you have little or no control (e.g. a final quality check or the packaging quality) over the product before it is delivered.
Remember, your customer knows only you and not the supplier. Hence, even though you aren’t the manufacturer, you are going to be held responsible for the quality – or the absence of it. That means you need to be sure of what quality you are getting from the supplier satisfies your brand promise: elite, value-for-money, bargain and so on.
Often, shipping is called ‘the last lap in the entire race’. Making sure the shipping and delivery happen the way you promised the customer is critical. The shipping agency must be able to deliver satisfactorily or else you’re spoiling everything during the last lap.
This is pretty much do-it-yourself. Make sure you learn fast and keep improving. Delay from either of the two can hurt you deeply.
At the end of this stage:
You’ll have identified two kinds of critical partners: the suppliers and the shipping company. If you have done it right, you’ve won more than half the battle.
5. Understand and fulfill your legal obligations.
If there’s one small but critical tip someone can offer you on how to start your own online boutique, it’s about the fine print. There are two kind of legal obligations you need to fulfill: towards the customers and towards your local or regional authorities.
Towards your customers:
To begin with, you’ll need clear and accurate Product Descriptions. Decently written Product Descriptions not only drastically reduce returns but also help you in your marketing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) exercises.
It’s a good idea to keep revisiting and reviewing these from time to time.
Towards the authorities:
Thankfully, there won’t be too many licenses or permits involved when you’re selling clothes. Yet, you must check out with the state authorities – their websites are probably the best place to start from.
Since you’re in a startup mode, probably you may not be able to afford a lot of people to do your accounts. Therefore, keep track of every expense and every sale and file them appropriately. Periodically, an accountant can record them and keep your account books in order.
This is not something you’ll need on a day-to-day basis, so it’s easy to forget doing this. But remember, ignorance of law is no excuse.
At the end of this stage:
Once all these things are in place, you can now safely execute the first order. As a top-rated Magento development agency, we’ve been helping people realize their dream of setting up successful online boutiques, with everything that’s ecommerce. Why don’t you tell us more about your company? We’ll be happy to serve you!