Starting an online boutique is an insanely profitable business venture for entrepreneurs.
Statista estimates that the apparel and accessories online retail sector will generate over $153 billion in revenue by 2024.
Digital innovation, technology, and changes in consumer spending have given online boutique owners an edge against the big players. No longer can corporate retailers dominate sectors and swallow up online businesses.
The best part? You already have the tools to start an online boutique. You have access to the internet, which means you can create a beautiful online store and sell products at low cost.
This article will walk you step by step through how to start a successful online boutique, with insights and firsthand experiences from online boutique owners.
Start your online boutique 🕶
Things to consider before starting an online boutique
There’s no sugarcoating it: Starting an online boutique is stressful. Planning is an important part of launching a small business, as it decides how your business takes shape. The best online boutiques owners aren’t just creatives, they are also driven entrepreneurs.
Some things to consider:
- Starting an online boutique takes sweat equity. You won’t make your first sale overnight. But with dedication and by focusing your energy on the right tasks, you’ll approach your business with a sense of purpose and come out on top.
- You’ll be faced with challenges, especially if this is your first business. It’s important to stay motivated and manage expectations about your progress.
- Consider legal aspects of your industry. Look into what business licenses and government regulations you need to operate. While there’s no specific license for owning a boutique, you may need a city, county, or state permit for taxes, purchasing inventory, and trademarking a brand name for your business.
A little planning can go a long way to launch an online boutique successfully. Let’s look at how you can take the next steps toward starting your business.
🎯 TIP: If you’re interested in writing a business plan but turned off by stodgy paperwork, we’ve developed a sample business plan template that you’ll actually use. Thousands of people have made a copy to repurpose for their own plan, and it’s completely free to use.
How to start an online boutique
The best online boutiques in the industry weren’t thrown together overnight. Even with a little trial and error, these owners had a business plan and process for getting started.
- Choose a niche you’re passionate about
- Identify market gaps
- Write a business plan
- Develop your products
- Choose a brand name and logo
- Price your products
- Create your online store
- Figure out shipping
- Market your online boutique
1. Choose a niche you’re passionate about
Most people don’t start an online boutique because they think they can’t come up with a great business idea. Turns out, that’s not the obstacle you think it is.
You already have things you’re passionate about in your everyday life, be it gardening, crafts, cycling, skincare, etc. By considering starting a business around something you’re passionate about, you’ll do everything possible to make your online boutique a reality.
Julie Clark, founder of Province Apothecary, said it best in an interview with Shopify. After enrolling in school for aromatherapy and treating clients in her classes, the glimpse of working in skincare she received solidified her decision to pursue it as a career:
I just fell in love with doing it all and just wanted that to be my life.
To find a niche market for your online boutique, ask yourself:
- What do you like to do in your spare time?
- What’s a common frustration you have?
- Are they any products you can sell related to your hobbies?
By narrowing down your passions and exploring those ideas, you’re already building your business. It also helps you do market research and decide how to position your boutique for success.
Pick a small but growing market and learn everything you can about it. Build expertise and share everything you learn. If you can create a body of content that connects with your audience, you’ll be well positioned to capitalize on it and grow your online boutique.
2. Identify market gaps
A successful online boutique won’t prosper on passion alone. Consider a problem in your niche market that isn’t currently being filled. Is it a natural skincare cream that cures eczema? Or a line of handcrafted tableware from local artisans in your area? Figure out what products should exist that aren’t being offered by big and small competitors.
Rhiannon Taylor, founder of RT1home, says in an interview with Shopify that when starting her home and gardening supplies boutique, she “quickly saw a need in the market for an indoor potting tarp. At the time, there were no high-quality products to prevent a mess when repotting plants.”
In her research, Rhiannon discovered a greater need for more high-end gardening supplies. “When I started RT1home, you couldn’t find nice supplies anywhere in the US, online or in-store. It was all cheap mass-produced stuff from Home Depot.”
I started creating accessories like tarps and coverlets because they didn’t exist. I was making stuff I wanted to use for myself because I couldn’t find it.
Rhiannon also saw a need where “urban dwellers needed premium indoor gardening tools that were practical and functional.” Most city dwellers don’t have the space (or matching aesthetic) for clunky gardening tools. To combat this, she began curating premium Japanese gardening tools and reselling them in her store, which has proven to be a big hit with her target market.
Identifying market gaps isn’t a one-off thing for any entrepreneur. Rhiannon’s employee in Japan is regularly looking for new tools to sell, while she continuously tests and prototypes new products in the U.S. based on the needs of the brand’s ideal customers.
3. Write a business plan
A business plan will guide your journey when creating an online boutique from home. It also validates your idea and helps you think through things efficiently. Take the time to solidify your strategy, spot potential obstacles, understand what resources you’ll need, and clarify your business idea before launch.
Ask yourself: What is the goal of my online boutique? Do I want to be a brand sold in retail outlets like Urban Outfitters? Do I want to be a high-end brand sold exclusively in my ecommerce store?
If you want to start an online boutique, it’s critical to learn how to write a business plan. The following template will help you get there.
Free: Business Plan Template
Business planning is often used to secure funding, but plenty of business owners find writing a plan valuable, even if they never work with an investor. That’s why we put together a free business plan template to help you get started.
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4. Develop your products
It’s clear you’ve got a lot of choices to make when starting your online boutique. Beyond the products you want to sell, the biggest decision you’ll make is what business model to follow. Your business model helps determine what products you’ll offer and your future operational expenses.
Common models for developing products are:
- Dropshipping, where a third party makes products and fulfills orders. You never hold inventory.
- Manufacturing, which involves an overseas company that develops your product and ships to your home or warehouse.
- Reselling, which involves buying other brands’ products through a wholesaler and selling them in your store.
- Handcraft, or creating products and fulfilling orders on your own.
- Print on demand, which is similar to dropshipping, but you design the products (like t-shirts or pillows) and the third party makes it and fulfills the order.
Online boutique owners can mix and match different models to meet their needs. As we saw with RT1home, the boutique resells Japanese goods and designs its own products from scratch.
In Rhiannon’s case, local manufacturing was non-negotiable for her. “After a decade working with big corporations who heavily manufacture overseas, I have no interest in producing products like that.”
Even as RT1home has seen record sales over the past year, it’s stayed true to its local production business model. Rhiannon continues manufacture certain products in-house, while also working with sewers and local producers to turn mock-ups and sketches into reality.
If your boutique will rely on manufacturers, here are some tips for finding the best fit:
- Research Google, Yelp, and manufacturing directories to find local producers.
- Reach out to a few candidates at once. Email or call direct to set up an appointment.
- Meet potential producers with professional mock-ups and prototypes. Communicate that you have a vision for your business. Don’t show up with rough sketches and random ideas.
When you’re first starting out, you have to prove yourself to producers. Most don’t do one-off projects. They won’t waste their time on your business if they don’t think you’ll be a long-term client. You need to show them you have a great vision and solid product ideas.
Sourcing suppliers and manufactures is a unique process, but it’s one of the costs of starting a business. Sometimes it’ll feel like you’re hitting a brick wall, but with patience and perseverance, you’ll find the perfect partners for your online boutique.
5. Choose a brand name and logo
If it looks like your products can be created with reasonable costs, you’re ready to start building a brand. This means choosing a business name, a logo, and a slogan, if needed. Customers like brands with a captivating story, so include that in your public profile.
Let’s look at the story behind Silk and Willow, an online textile boutique.
Silk and Willow’s story connects with many of us who’ve searched for creative outlets in life. We’ve all had jobs we weren’t too thrilled about and knew there was something more we could be doing. It’s inspiring and relatable.
Its business name embodies the feeling of the brand. It’s simple and memorable. Potential customers can easily find the brand online and help tell their story.
You could pay some agency thousands of dollars to find a name that’s fresh, relevant, and on-trend. Or you can use Shopify’s business name generator and find relevant, untrademarked business names for free.
6. Price your products
Choosing a price point for your products is one of the cornerstone decisions you’ll make. It affects every area of your business, including deciding on a target audience cash flow and profit margins, sales tax, and understanding what expenses you can manage.
Figure out a pricing strategy that aligns with your market. Decide on a price that funds your production costs, but don’t dissuade the customers you’ll need to launch a successful online boutique.
7. Create your online store
At this point, your new boutique needs a place to sell online. Shopify is a popular platform for this, with over one million businesses building and launching their online stores to date.
Starting an online store may seem like a daunting task compared to simply listing on online marketplaces, but it’s more profitable and rewarding when done right. You don’t pay high fees for making a sale or have to abide by any rules but your own.
For RT1home, Rhiannon recommends building your online store first, then listing on online marketplaces like Etsy. She says, “I built my first storefront on Squarespace, but as I started to grow, the website builder couldn’t adapt with me. I was constantly struggling to make changes to my store and integrate with other business tools. I’m not super tech-y, so it wasn’t for me.”
Rhiannon’s experience with Squarespace motivated her to find a new ecommerce platform. “Getting set up on Shopify was so easy. I chose a Shopify Theme, customized it to fit my brand, and migrated my products over in no time. It was the best decision I made for my ecommerce business.”
She also recommends getting on social media to build awareness. RT1home was a brand started on Instagram, and Shopify’s social media integrations were key to helping it sell more online.
In addition to an online store, Rhiannon recommends new boutique owners “not put all your eggs in one basket.” While she began on Instagram, it’s important to build a presence across multiple social media platforms, like Pinterest, Facebook, and TikTok. Rhiannon has also found success in writing blog articles and sharing tutorial videos on her ecommerce website.
No one will click on an Instagram post from two years ago and buy something. Evergreen content like blogs and videos, however, can drive leads and sales for years to come.
Free: Shopify Store Trust Checklist
Shopify’s research team conducted a series of in-depth interviews with North American shoppers to learn how customer trust is formed in online stores. This checklist is a summary of their findings, created to help business owners understand what essential aspects of their online store experience creates trust among customers, along with the trust-busting mistakes to avoid.
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8. Figure out shipping
So far, you’ve put a ton of effort into creating an incredible customer experience. You’ve done the research, developed your products, and built an online store for your boutique—all to keep customers happy.
But one thing that can ruin all your progress is a bad shipping experience. Shipping is a key part of your online boutique, from representing a major expense to how long an item takes to reach your customer. That’s why it’s so important to decide on a shipping strategy before you start marketing your new boutique.
Don’t sell yourself short on shipping. People want free shipping and shipping deals, but it’s expensive. I’ve seen a lot of new business owners lose money this way. Make sure you factor shipping into product costs if you go that route
One way entrepreneurs are curbing shipping costs is by using Shopify Shipping. By using the service, you’ll get:
- Discounted rates and save up to 88% on shipping rates with USPS, UPS, DHL, and more carriers.
- Faster order fulfillment by buying and printing shipping labels in Shopify so you can prepare packages in advance (and skip the post office lines).
- Manage everything together by fulfilling orders in the same place you manage products, inventory, and customers.