Published on 26 January,2018
According to Statista, Global retail e-commerce sales would be $4.5 trillion by 2021. So, this could be the right time to get your boutique online. I have written a complete and easy guide to help you create an online store on your own. This post will help you know how to start an online boutique in just 3 simple steps and the legal documentation you might need to have.
Starting an online boutique is not as complex as you think. You can make an online boutique in few minutes. And legal documents needed for online boutiques are similar to one needed in brick and mortar.
What are the different ways of starting an online boutique?
Before I started with the steps to start an online store, let me tell you some important details. There are two different ways for starting an online store.
- Self-hosted online boutique- This means you will be provided with e-commerce software, but you need to get your hosting. For instance, adding the WooCommerce plugin to your website and getting hosting from another platform. Take a look at this guide for setting up an online store using WooCommerce.
- Hosted online boutique- This just means the company will be providing yours with the complete system including the e-commerce software and hosting server. For instance, Shopify is a perfect e-commerce solution for starting your online store.
Bottom line- Hosted online boutique is a better choice than the self-hosted store. This is because of the regular updates and list of regular (and essential) features offered by the hosted online store. Plus you don’t have to go different places for getting a domain, a hosting, setting-up your website and installing your online-store-software.
Which is the best platform for starting an online store?
Although, there are more than 20 popular platforms for starting a professional store, here are 3 of the best platforms offering complete E-commerce solution. Before you read the guide on how to start an online boutique, have a thorough look on the top 3 most popular boutique platforms.
- Shopify- is an e-commerce platform offering the best pricing to get started with an online store. Company designers have worked well in the UX and simplicity for providing a clean design. Since 2016, Shopify has become the most trending e-commerce platform and continue to rank one in the trends.
- WooCommerce- WooCommerce is an open source e-commerce plugin for WordPress that helps a user to create online store. You need to create a WordPress website and install the plugin. Follow this guide to make a boutique website using WooCommerce.
- Wix- Wix is a cloud based web development platform that allows the user to create a fully-functional website. You can design pages using drag n drop tool. This website builder is a bit pricy and is hosted, meaning you cannot use outside hosting for increasing speed. You can have access to pre-made design templates and fast support system. Get Wix now
Shopify is an online platform specifically designed for online stores.
WooCommerce is a free WordPres plugin that changes a website into an ecommerce store
Wix is a website builder that let a user create his own designs and build a customized web store
Easy Navigation and feature packed
Highly Customizable and more Secure
Wix Code for Advanced customization
24/7 online support
Knowledge base and support ticket
Knowledge base and support ticket
Speed (tested for default stores)
Shopify is undoubtedly one of the best platform for starting an online boutique. You can take a free 14 days trial to see for yourself.
How much does it cost to start an online boutique/store?
Here are the basic costs associated with building an online boutique using Shopify–
- Purchasing a domain - $10-$14 per year (based on the TLD you choose)
- Subscribing to a Shopify plan – from $29 to $299 per month (based on the plan you choose).
Other than these, you will have to pay a fixed percentage of the payments made by credit cards and external payment gateways. The percentage varies depending on your chosen plan.
However, there is a 14-day free trial to help you try out the Shopify features. We suggest you get started with the trial and upgrade to a premium plan later on.
Now that you know about the quick info, let's get started with our guide on How to start an online boutique.
How to start an online boutique - Video tutorial
Nataleh Nicole is a successful online boutique owner. She started her online fashion boutique, True Co Styles, in the beginning of 2018, in which she was able to start in just 3 weeks.
Those who are short on time, check out the video tutorial on how to start an online boutique. If you need more in-depth details for starting your online boutique, then continue reading.
Start an online boutique in 6 simple steps
Step-1 Choose a catchy boutique name
When you are finding a name for your fashion boutique make sure it is-
Brandable and Short- A good store name will help you develop your brand (which is essential if you are looking for a long term business). A short domain name helps you rank better in the search engines. Your boutique name should be unique and remarkable, so that people can get back to your store easily.
Relevant but specific- If you are opening a car website and your domain name is something like ABCvehicles.com, it might not be the best choice. Instead, if you go for ABC-cars.com it would be more specific and absolutely relevant, your audience would be able to know about your site. However, if you have to choose a name between relevancy and brand, go for brand.
Step-2 Choosing your Product supplier – Dropshipping vs Inventory
Choose the products that you are going to sell. It could be anything from kids clothing to fashion accessories, but make sure it is unique and actually helpful to your customers.
Here are the two structures for managing product supplies for your web-store.
- Get the products from wholesale, but this would require you to maintain a stock inventory.
- Or get the products directly shipped from wholesale to customer (known as dropshipping)
What is Drop-shipping?
A process where the wholesaler directly transports the boutique-items to customer is called drop shipping. It is said to be a better choice than inventory, especially for those who are just starting up with an online boutique. This system requires no upfront and the product details are provided by the wholesaler. You can add your own profit on the provided details and add the item.
- Quick and easy to get stared
- Low initial outlay
- save additional inventory cost
- No fund needed and you can test different niche
- No control over shipment and packaging
- Lesser stock accuracy
- Products you sell are out in the open
What is Inventory?
Inventory would require you to store the items shipped by the wholesaler and package/ship the items on your own. Setup a wholesale account along with a complete credit application. You will also need a warehouse/storage space for the shipped items. Obviously, there would be multiple people (Staff) for managing the process, so you have to get an EIN number (all legal documentation is mentioned in the end of this post). Don’t forget to get your products insure. This structure is good for those with excessive funding. Good thing about this inventory is that your products won’t be out in the open and your competitors won’t be able to copy it.
- Better wholesale pricing and higher profit
- Unique product line
- Accurate stock status along with more controlled packaging/shipment options
- Huge budget is needed for maintaining inventory
- It includes more workload, i.e. shipment, tracking, management, exchange and more
- You will be physically stuck with one location
Drop-shipping vs Inventory: Which one should I go with?
If you select inventory you need to maintain the stock and storage area. The risk is greater as you cannot possibly know what is going to sell. On the contrary, choosing drop shipping will make the shipment process much more easier, and you won’t need any upfront payment. Additionally, you can use Oberlo app and easily transport the product details to your shopify store. Oberlo not only helps you import products from suppliers to your shopify store, but also ship your products directly from suppliers to customers.
Unless you create your products, you don’t require putting up an inventory for your boutique clothing. Shopify offers drop shipping using Oberlo services. I would recommend every beginner to use a drop shipping for their online boutique. This will let you test more niche items and save you the hassle (and stress) of managing an inventory. You have to do everything from shipment and returns to staff management and additional documentation in case of inventory.
Nevertheless, if you decide to store clothing and accessories, adding insurance to it would be the right choice. Also, Inventory clothing will need you to properly investigate your whole sale supplier. Check the manufacturer details and access the brand reputation of your supplier. You can find it via their offline audience, or through BBB+, Google reviews and online pages.
Step-3 Signing up for your Clothing store
Shopify makes it very easy to sign up and build an online boutique. You just need to visit their website and click the “Get Started” button. Click on the below image and start the limited boutique trial. The period of this trial is one of the reasons for why I added it in my guide on how to start an online boutique.
Provide your email address, a password, and your desired store name and once you have provided the necessary information, click “Create your store.”
The next page will ask you whether you are already selling and your current revenue numbers. Choose the appropriate answers and click “Next.” Provide your name, address, phone number, etc. on the following page.
Lastly, click “Enter my store” to finish the registration process. This will take you to your Shopify dashboard.
You can manage your products, customers, orders, analytics, discounts, apps, and various store settings from the dashboard.
Our next task is to add products to the store.
Adding Products and Details
You will find an “Add product” product button on your dashboard. Alternatively, you can go to the Products menu and click “Add Product.” Click the button, and you will be taken to a page like the following –
First of all, there are two dedicated sections to provide the product title and description. Below, you can upload the product images. You can drag-and-drop the images to rearrange their position.
Next, you will find options to set the price, define the SKU, and configure the shipping options for this product. You can create different varieties of the product from the “Variants” section.
“Search Engine Listing Preview” enables you to edit the title, meta description, and URL to help you get better ranking on the search engine result pages.
The right sidebar enables you to schedule the product to be published at a future date, define the product type, and choose the vendor.
There is another option to add the product to a collection so that the customers can easily find relevant products. You can create new collections from the Products > Collections page.
Once you have provided the necessary information, click “Save” to add the product to your ecommerce website. Repeat the same process to add more products you want to sell online. You can manage your products from the Products > All Products page.
Alternatively you can use Oberlo app for adding products. This app helps transport the product details directly from the wholesaler page to your shopify store. You can then change the pricing and other details as you want.
Step 4: Designing your Online boutique for brand aesthetic
Once you have signed up on Shopify, all you need to do is design your boutique. You can easily find a good template for your online boutique. Giving your store a god aesthetic is important for building your brand reputation, trustworthiness and improving user experience. You can add a beautiful free or paid theme in few clicks.
Choosing a Theme for Your Shopify Store
Another important thing that decide your sales is template. Imagine the way you want to represent your brand aesthetic. You can select a design with a single product on the landing page, or multiple product widgets in a particular design. visual brand aesthetic will help you in the long run and would affect your conversion rate. so, you must choose it accordingly.
To select a theme, Go to Online Store > Themes to change the default theme. Shopify offers both free and premium themes. You can check out the available styles for the free themes and use any of these in your store.
On the other hand, premium Shopify themes offer professional designs with better code quality, premium support, and lots of additional features. There is a dedicated feature to let you try any premium theme in your store. Make sure you are checking out the user reviews before choosing a premium theme.
Getting a Domain Name
You will need a domain name for your ecommerce website to sell online. Shopify offers two ways to get the domain –
- You can purchase the domain from Shopify, or
- Purchase the domain from Namecheap (or any other domain registrar) and connect it to your store.
To purchase the domain from Shopify, go to Online Store > Domains, and click the “Buy new domain” button. In the next page, type your desired domain name. Shopify will show the available names as you type. Click the “Buy” button, and it will take you to the checkout page.
If you already have a domain purchased from elsewhere, here’s how to connect an existing domain to your Shopify store.
Creating a logo
Web-store logo is an important aspect and you should take care of this part when launching your boutique. You can use a Shopify based free logo maker to create a personalized logo. Hatchful is a free tool for designing a creative boutique logo from hundreds of pre-made templates.
Simply go to Hatchful and click on “Get started” button. Choose your business space, template style, Boutique name and the place where you will use the logo. Once you select these options, you will see a few stunning logos on your screen. These logos are totally customizable and can be used for any type of online store.
Using posts for the target keywords improves your ranking and sales. You can use this article for optimizing your store and come up with some great clothing keywords. Shopify enables you to add blog posts or pages to your e-commerce website. Go to Online Store > Blog posts to create a new post. You can provide the title, description, set a featured image, add an excerpt, and edit the meta information for SEO purpose.
To add a new page, go to Online Store > Pages, and click “Add page.” You will find separate fields to provide the title, description, choose a template, schedule the page, and edit the meta content for your page.
Create or Edit menu
Shopify will automatically create the basic menus for your store. You can manage these menus or create a new menu from the Online Store > Navigation page.
Step 5: Configuring final settings for your boutique
So far, we have created the store, added some products, and taken care of the basic settings. Now you are ready to handle the final settings and open your ecommerce website to the public. Tap the “Settings” icon located at the bottom-left corner of your dashboard to access the settings options.
Managing the Payment Gateway
Shopify supports various payment gateways including credit cards, PayPal, Amazon Pay, QuickPay, bank deposit, cash on delivery, and so on. You can configure the payment gateways from the “Payment” section from the settings page.
When choosing a payment gateway, make sure you are taking note of the associated charges according to your plan.
Setting Up the Tax and Shipping Options
The Settings page offers dedicated sections to help you set up the taxes and shipping options for your online boutique.
In the Taxes page, you can ensure that the taxes are included in the price, enable taxes on shipping rate, and use the EU digital goods VAT tax rates.
In Shipping, you can edit the shipper address, add shipping zones with different shipping costs for each zone, define the size and weight of your packages, enable third-party shipping, and manage the dropshipping and fulfillment services.
Congratulations! your online store is live now.
But before you start selling online, you might need some legal documentation for your store.
Step-6: Legal documentation
Setting a boutique online is similar to setting an offline boutique. There are a few legal stuff that you need to take care of (similar to a brick and mortar store). I have mentioned the basic documents and registration you would need when opening an online boutique. However, there could be some additional rules based on your region. Read this guide shopify guide featuring business laws.
Start with deciding a structure for your online boutique i.e., whether it is LLC or LLP business model. After selecting the business model, you can go for the following steps.
Employer identification number
Once you have selected a structure, you would need to apply for an EIN (employer identification number). It is your registered id for taxation purpose. However, if you have an LLC company with you as a sole proprietor or don’t have any employee, an EIN would not be necessary, and your social security number could do taxation. If you are not sure whether or not you need an EIN, read this post.
Seller permit or resale license is required for any business selling merchandise to multiple states. In some states, a sales tax ID will be necessary too for paying quarterly sales tax. Your state business department will help you know all the requirements. For California state seller permit, visit this page.
Every state in USA needs a seller permit except- Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. Have a look at this post on sales tax permit for different states to know the permit rules for specific states.
And before you get confused, a resale id, a reseller ID, a state ID, a sales Tax Id, a retail ID and a wholesale ID are all the same. They are all called seller's permit.
Fictitious business name via local newspaper
If you are starting your business using a name different than the owner’s name or different from the legal name, then it is said to be a DBA- doing business as. In that case, you need to file a fictitious business name. It is necessary for those who want to operate their business under a pseudo business name.
For instance, if your name is John Hadlock and you want to start your business as Jclothingassociates, than you have to file for a fictitious business name, but if you start your business as John Hadlock collection, you might not need a DBA. Remember that your fictitious name cannot have something like INC or Corp, unless its a corporation registered under the Secretary of State.
A fictitious business name will help you open a bank account and receive payments in the name of your business. For LLC models, DBA helps in setting up multiple businesses. You don't require a DBA if you are doing business as your formal entity.
Could I use a free platform for starting an online boutique?
The only reason I suggest users to not use a free alternative is the low amount of revenue it offers. Unlike a brick and mortar, these free platforms provide you lesser flexibility. Instead of all your generated income, it gives you a commission for every sale. For instance, Zindigo is a free platform for opening an online store but will provide 40% commission on every sale through your shop. Similarly, Personal shopper offers 5% and Fibie & Clo 15% only.
Whilst a free online platform will save you some money, it might not be the best idea if you want to create a boutique that generates nice revenue. It is because you have to miss of the support, marketing tools, SEO and other things. Here are few of the reasons for why I don't recommend free-
Slow load time and bad SEO
Many free website hosting providers have a lot of sites shared on the same server. This increases the website load time and would thus provide a bad user experience. And since loading time is one of the ranking factor for a website; using a free platform could affect your SERP.
Unprofessional domain and migration issues
Trustworthiness is an important factor, especially for online stores. A professional domain will make your store to look more brandable and it would thus be easier for visitors to trust your website. Most of the free store providers do not give you a professional domain. Also, if you decide to migrate your website to a different platform in future, you’d need to spend a lot of bucks as the migration process is way too complex for these free sites.
Popular platforms like Shopify and WooCommerce have a support staff to help you fix the glitches. However, if you decide to start your online boutique with a free platform, quick support is something you should not expect.
Both premium and free boutique platforms have great security. But the latter is more vulnerable than prior. This is because on free platforms there are not much tools for saving you from spamming and other security concerns. WordPress (WooCommerce) has a lot of plugins to fight spams, malicious attacks and so forth.
Platforms for starting an online boutique
Nevertheless, if you still decide to give free boutique platforms a shot, here are a few options that could be a fit.
Teespring is a free platform that offers you a storefront to design and promote your own custom made products. It offers you a commission for every sale you make.
Mozello is another company that lets you setup a free boutique and sell up to 10 products.
It do not offer a lot of payment options for customers, like Stripe is missing in the free plan. Also, the backend editor is not smooth, so you would have problem adding the product details, images and other media.
Start an online boutique shop using Zindigo. Once you do that, you will get 40% commission for every sale made through your storefront.
Nevertheless here are
Few years back, it was a lot more difficult to sell online, nevertheless the new user-friendly platforms like Shopify has made it a lot easier. You can easily start your online store with literally no investment. I hope this step-by-step guide to starting online boutique gave you some clear directions to get started with your online fashion boutique. Feel free to contact me if you are not sure about a particular step, or drop your queries in the comment below.
If you have a bulk clothing inventory, investment and marketing strategy for your boutique, you can try a Shopify Plus plan. compare Shopify vs Shopify Plus to know more specific details.