How To Start An Online Boutique In 8 Steps
Learn how to create a business plan, source inventory, and secure financing to start your online boutique with our step-by-step guide.
Starting an online boutique seems too good to be true. How many small business owners can say they’re making their customers more stylish while bringing in an income? In the past, boutique owners faced challenges, such as securing financing, finding retail space, and acquiring necessary business licenses, but the internet has made opening an online boutique easier than ever.
Of course, it still takes hard work and a little know-how for entrepreneurs to successfully set up, fund, and operate an online boutique. Whether you’ve delved into the world of online business before or you’re new to entrepreneurship, this post is for you. We’ll break down the critical steps on how to start an online boutique, explore how to secure funding for your new business, and give other tips for running your online store.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- Before Starting An Online Boutique
- Step 1: Decide What Your Online Boutique Sells
- Step 2: Create A Business Plan
- Step 3: Source Your Online Boutique Inventory
- Step 4: Register Your Business
- Step 5: Choose An eCommerce Platform
- Step 6: Choose A Payment & Shopping Cart Solution
- Step 7: Build Your Online Boutique Website
- Step 8: Establish Shipping Logistics
- How To Start An Online Boutique With No Money
- Funding Sources For Your Online Boutique
- Successfully Starting An Online Boutique
- FAQs About Starting An Online Boutique
Before Starting An Online Boutique
Planning for your new online boutique is an exciting process. There are choices to make about what your boutique sells, how you will build a boutique website, ways to fund your new boutique if you have no money to invest, and more. But before you set out on any new business venture, it’s important to consider the market data.
Is Owning An Online Boutique Profitable?
Owning an online boutique can certainly be profitable. Overall, the online retail market is growing considerably, and there is still much room for growth. Data from Statista shows that, in 2021, retail eCommerce revenues from apparel and accessories sales in the US totaled $180.5 billion, up from $144.8 billion in 2020 and from $117.7 billion in 2019. Statista estimates that by 2025 the market revenue will increase further to $295.7 billion.
On an individual level, online boutique profitability can vary considerably, but it is possible to pull in six figures with his career choice. ZipRecruiter data shows that as of May 10, 2022, the average annual pay for an online boutique owner in the United States is $72,160, well above the national average wage of $58,260 (as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). And if you run an online boutique as a side gig, this figure looks even more appealing.
Overall, ZipRecruiter data shows that annual salaries in the online boutique space can be as high as $132,500, but as low as $17,000. Of course, boutique owner salaries will skew higher than other salaries in the online boutique industry.
Step 1: Decide What Your Online Boutique Sells
In order for your online boutique to be a success, you have to make sales. (Obviously.) However, before you can start bringing in money, you need to first decide exactly what your boutique will sell. In other words, you need to find your niche.
It may be tempting to go overboard and carry a little something for everyone. However, especially in the early stages of starting an online boutique, it’s wise to start small and hone in on one particular area. If your focus is on designer clothes, plan to carry only women’s clothing or only children’s clothing. Or maybe you want your boutique to feature custom jewelry and accessories. In that case, don’t muddy the waters with random sweaters and leggings.
Narrow Down Your Boutique Niche
Once you’ve got a broad overview of the customers you want to attract, it’s time to narrow down your niche further. For instance, do you want to offer affordable yet trendy styles for the 13-18 crowd, or would you rather sell high-end, classic pieces for professional women? Remember, you want to start small. If your boutique becomes a success and you see a demand for other products, add them. For now, though, take the time to find out what’s a hit…and what’s a miss.
Deciding what to sell will not only help you determine what inventory to keep on hand and what products to promote, but it will also help you determine your branding strategy, from the colors you use on your website to the design of your logo.
Step 2: Create A Business Plan
Whether you operate a traditional retail store or an online boutique, there’s one thing all businesses need: a good business plan. Think of a business plan as a map for your business, outlining your goals and the steps you’ll take to reach those goals. A solid business plan is critical for new businesses seeking financing from investors or traditional lenders like banks and credit unions.
Your online boutique business plan should include:
- Executive Summary: A brief, 1,000-foot view of your business plan and what’s in it.
- Company Description: As you might have guessed, a short description of your company and what it does.
- Market Overview: Information about the industry you’re entering and competitive analysis.
- Sales & Marketing Strategy: How you plan on making money.
- Operating Plan: Your org structure, facilities and equipment needed, staff required, and how your day-to-day operations will look.
- Organization & Management Team: How management will be structured and what your management team brings to the table.
- Financials: An estimate of your starting and operating costs.
Step 3: Source Your Online Boutique Inventory
With your niche selected and your business plan in place, you’re getting closer to opening your boutique. However, before you launch your website and begin to make sales, you have to find out how to get inventory for your online store. There are a few ways to source inventory.
Sourcing From A Wholesaler
- A good way to purchase in bulk at a reduced rate
- Wholesalers are easy to find online
- Gives you more control over shipping & branding
- Minimum purchase requirements may apply
- Can be expensive
Through a wholesaler, you can purchase items in bulk at a reduced rate. Typically, the more you purchase, the more you save. Wholesale suppliers can easily be found in the U.S. and overseas with a quick online search.
One of the biggest benefits of purchasing from a wholesaler is that you will have more control over shipping your products to customers. You’ll be able to control how products are shipped, as well as the packaging that your customers receive. This offers a better opportunity for branding your business.
However, purchasing your inventory through a wholesaler also has its drawbacks. This option may be more expensive based on minimum purchasing requirements. Packaging and shipping your own items could add to your expenses. You may also incur additional overhead costs for the storage of your inventory.
Dropshipping Your Online Boutique Products
- Less work since supplier handles packing & shipping
- No additional expenses for packing & shipping supplies
- No control over branding & personalization
- You’re liable for mistakes made by the supplier
With dropshipping, a third-party supplier fulfills the orders of your customers. Your customer places an order, the order is manually or automatically sent to your supplier, and the supplier is responsible for packing and shipping the order to your customer.
There are a few drawbacks associated with dropshipping. The supplier or manufacturer handles packaging and shipping, so you won’t be able to personalize the packaging and branding of your shipped orders. You may also encounter some issues with inventory. If you house your own inventory, you’ll be able to better account for what’s in stock. A miscommunication with your dropshipping supplier could result in canceled orders or backorders, which could lead to unsatisfied customers.
Also, you have to consider that if something goes wrong, you are ultimately the face of your brand and you will be liable. If the wrong item is sent or there’s another issue with an order, this reflects poorly on you, even if it’s the supplier’s fault.
Sourcing Inventory: Best Practices
No matter what route you take, it’s important to properly vet any supplier you’re using for your boutique. Request samples to check out the quality of products, find out if you’ll have a dedicated contact to reach when there is a problem, and work with reputable businesses with a history of success in their industry.
Step 4: Register Your Business
Before you start peddling boutique items, you’ll need to register your business. For an online boutique, the process isn’t too difficult.
Step 5: Choose An eCommerce Platform
To boost your odds of running a successful online boutique, it’s important to choose the right eCommerce platform. Your shopping cart software serves as a storefront for your customers while also providing you with the back-end tools you need to keep your business operating smoothly.
Most entrepreneurs opt for a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform. The main benefit of a SaaS platform is that you don’t have to download, host, or install anything on your own server. Instead, you pay a monthly subscription fee that covers hosting and software updates.
There are multiple eCommerce platforms to choose from, and you can narrow down your choices by considering what factors are most important to you, such as pricing, add-ons and features, ease of use, and design options.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
Step 6: Choose A Payment & Shopping Cart Solution
Before launching your online boutique, you need to set up your payment processor to allow customers to pay for the products in their online shopping carts. Many eCommerce platforms come equipped with tools for shipping and payments, including shipping calculators, built-in payment processors, and dropship integration.
Step 7: Build Your Online Boutique Website
What do you think when you walk into a brick-and-mortar store that’s cluttered and disorganized? Does it make you want to spend hours shopping there, or do you immediately run for the door? The same principle applies to your online boutique. No customer wants to browse a website that’s a complete mess. Here’s what to keep in mind when building your online boutique.
Choose The Right Website Builder Solution
The good news is you don’t have to be an experienced web designer to get a professional-looking website. There are plenty of great startup website builders available online. You can even set up your store in just minutes with your eCommerce software.
Platforms like Shopify have tools that make it easy for anyone to build their online store, even if they have no design experience. With SaaS platforms, you can take advantage of features including drag-and-drop interfaces, mobile optimization, color and font customization, and your choice of store theme.
Best Practices For Creating A Website
When building your website, keep in mind your branding and your audience. You want your website to reflect the type of items you sell in your boutique. If you cater to the professional male, a pink floral theme will completely miss the mark.
Step 8: Establish Shipping Logistics
Before you unveil your online boutique to the world, another critical step is to determine how you’ll ship your orders. Will you offer only domestic shipping, or will you ship internationally? Do you plan to offer a flat rate, or will you charge by weight? Will customers be able to choose from several shipping options (such as next day), or will you offer just one option? Look into costs, explore your options, and make your decision before taking on your first customer order.
How To Start An Online Boutique With No Money
You may be wondering, how much does it cost to start a boutique online? Is it even possible to start an online boutique with no money to invest?
Starting an online boutique is more cost-effective than opening a brick-and-mortar store, but it doesn’t come without its costs. Sure, you don’t have to lease commercial space or purchase a point-of-sale system, but your business will have start-up and operational costs.
Unfortunately, as a new online business, you’re going to run into some obstacles when it comes to loans and other financial products. Traditional financing routes like bank loans will be unavailable to you because of time in business and annual revenue requirements. This doesn’t mean you’re stuck funding everything out-of-pocket, though. If you’re wondering how to start an online boutique with no money or how to access additional funds for your business, keep reading!
Funding Sources For Your Online Boutique
Explore our list of funding sources below to find the right match for your online boutique.
Successfully Starting An Online Boutique
With careful planning, strategic financing, and a little hard work, you can start and operate your own online boutique. Take the time to learn about local regulations, build your brand and website, and curate a collection of high-quality products, and you’ll soon be on the road to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
If you want to learn more about starting an online store, download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Starting an Online Store. Then, when you’re ready to scale your business, take some helpful tips from The Advanced Guide to Growing Your Online Store. You can also check out our boutique POS options for point of sale and eCommerce platforms that have the best features.
How To Start An Online Boutique [Video]