The Ultimate Guide to Starting an Online Clothing Store
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So you want to start an online clothing store. Great! You’re in luck — ecommerce offers an excellent opportunity to get a business off the ground without the overhead that can come with traditional brick and mortar operations.
However, thinking about a store and actually starting a store are two very different things. It’s easy to contemplate a world where customers flock to your brand and you become a household name overnight, but getting to this point takes a lot of work on the back end.
Paul Graham, the programmer behind Y Combinator, a seed funding resource for startups, puts it best: “You can’t wait for customers to come to you. You have to figure out where they are, go there and drag them back to your store.”
This is what you need to know about starting the very best online business clothing store you can — including finding customers and dragging them to your store.
Selling Clothes Online vs. Offline
Selling clothes online versus offline is hardly an age-old question — after all, ecommerce is a relatively new trend in the long history of clothing stores — but in the modern business world, the differences are certainly something to weigh.
Brick and mortar stores have retained a strong foothold in the industry, with a majority of purchases still happening in a standard retail environment. However, the grip on offline stores has been weakening: ecommerce now holds over 27% of the market, and that number is growing every year.
One study found that 67% of Millennials and 56% of Gen-Xers prefer shopping online to shopping at a brick and mortar outlet, opening the door to a huge audience of potential consumers. While 15% of shoppers say they don’t purchase online versus just 6% who don’t shop at in-store retailers, more people shop online every week than in traditional retail outlets.
The biggest advantage of selling online is, of course, the lower barriers to entry. Establishing a storefront can take a few days or weeks online, while getting started in a more traditional environment can take a lot longer with a much higher initial investment.
Opening a clothing boutique averages between $50,000 to $150,000, while most online clothing business models require substantially less. Further, operating a traditional retail space means hiring employees to physically keep the store open on a limited time table, while an ecommerce venture can be run as a solo operation that is available to anyone 24/7.
It’s Time to Sell Clothes Online
The best time to start selling clothes online was about 15 years ago when the market was first beginning to grow, and early players in the ecommerce game were able to solidify themselves as leaders. The second best time is right now.
The online clothes sale marketplace is a large one, and it’s only continuing to grow and evolve. Ecommerce revenue from the clothing, footwear, and accessories sector reached over $100 billion in 2019 in the United States, with projections predicting almost double this amount by 2024. Globally, this number is expected to reach $756 billion by 2022.
With so much potential on the horizon, taking a leap into the world of online clothing stores now can help you capitalize on these trends rather than letting an opportunity pass you by.
Steps for How to Start an Online Clothing Store
A little more thought and research beyond “it’s time to start a store” needs to occur before you begin listing your wares for sale. First, you need a foundation that will steer you in the right direction from the start. These seven steps can help you prepare in the best way possible for online sales success.
- Choose a clothing niche.
- Determine your business plan.
- Select your ecommerce platform.
- Find your domain name.
- Choose your templates and customize your store.
- List your products.
- Publish and market your store.
Choose a Clothing Niche
Everyone needs clothes, but not everyone needs the same clothes. Instead of making it your mission to sell clothing for everyone across every demographic, hone in on something a little more specific that’s based on your personal interests and business goals.
So, what does this mean for you, and how do you narrow things down? When considering your options, keep these four points in mind:
- Be as unique as possible to stand out from the crowd. Ecommerce clothing stores are a dime a dozen, and if your brand is the same as hundreds of others, you’re unlikely to get ahead.
- Choose a niche that you’re passionate about. An idea that excites you is the most likely to succeed. Think about the kinds of clothes you buy, the items you’d love to see on the market, and what types of products you’d be eager to share with friends or family members.
- Ask yourself whether you can add value and position yourself as an authority. Your unique background plays a big role in your store, and that includes prior career goals. For example, if your history is in nonprofits, consider clothing lines that may relate. If this kind of strategy isn’t relevant, examine where there are holes in the current market in which you can make a difference or add value.
- Make sure the niche has earning potential. You may love women’s sundresses, but countless brands already sell in this area, so your climb toward making a name for yourself will be steep indeed. Instead, find a place to insert yourself — or a unique value proposition — that allows for quicker growth and the ability to earn money.
Whether you want to focus on high-quality, sustainable hiking gear or minority-manufactured women’s athletic wear, you need to determine the right niche for you and the specifics required to succeed within it.
Determine Your Business Plan
A well-thought-out plan is a must for starting any big or small business — and a good business plan goes far beyond “sell items, make money.” Instead, it delves into the specifics about how your business will operate, including:
- A high-level executive summary that provides an overview of what your company hopes to accomplish.
- A company description, including products, customer demographics, and plans to remain competitive.
- A market analysis that looks into the data and statistics of the marketplace, including average sales, the number of other sellers, and projected growth rates.
- A competitive analysis that focuses explicitly on competitors in the same space, including their strengths and weaknesses, and ways in which a new company can gain the edge.
- A description of management and the organization of the company.
- A breakdown of products and services offered.
- A marketing plan covering details of online and offline marketing strategies.
- An examination into planned sales strategies.
- How funding will be obtained, including how much funding is required and how it will be sourced.
- Financial projects both for the near future and from a long-term perspective.
A big part of creating your online retail business plan involves choosing a business model. Selling clothing can be handled in a few different ways, so you need to ask yourself how you’re going to start and what model will allow you to grow the fastest without draining your bank account. In the ecommerce clothing retail world, there are four common choices:
- Print on demand.
- Custom cut and sew.
- Private label clothing.
1. Print on demand.
A print on demand business prints or otherwise alters pre-existing clothing based on customer orders. This can be a custom process — for example, company logos — or based on a predetermined selection of designs. When a customer places an order, either you or a third-party printer will create products as ordered.
There’s no stock of products ready to sell in a print-on-demand business, outside of t-shirts, pants, or other attire which designs can be transferred. For stores that use a third-party printer, overhead can be very low.
2. Custom cut and sew.
Custom cut and sew, as the name implies, refers to companies that design and sell their own products. This can be a costly venture and requires a significant investment in the acquisition of materials and manufacturing space, but can be the best opportunity to launch a truly unique brand.
Some custom cut and sew businesses produce all clothing in-house while others outsource to plants outside the country. Starting this kind of online clothing store can require more funding and a true understanding of design principles.
3. Private label clothing.
Private label clothing companies partner with established manufacturers to order unique products marketed under their brand. These products aren’t usually designed in-house but rather designed, produced, and branded for individual sale by a selected third party.
The investment in private label clothing is higher because it requires finding a reliable manufacturing partner and paying an upcharge for branding. However, this method can allow for more flexibility in batch size and sampling, letting stores evaluate products and fine-tune strategy without breaking the bank.
Dropshipping is arguably the easiest of the business models. Dropshippers essentially act as middlemen; when an item is ordered, the dropshipper then orders from a third-party company for delivery directly to the customer. Many dropshippers work with sites like Alibaba and Wish to have access to low-cost products that can be sold at a markup.
There’s little investment required to start a dropshipping business as there’s no inventory kept in stock or a need to spend money on orders in advance of customer activity. However, it’s often hard to stand out from the crowd as a dropshipper as products are generally not unique and can be purchased from other vendors.
Select Your Ecommerce Platform
If you want to sell online, an ecommerce platform is a must-have. A good ecommerce platform enables you to quickly and easily list items, upload photos, add product descriptions, and create a fast, easy checkout process. You could build your own, of course, but why would you when so many existing options are available?
The market is full of comprehensive and high-performing solutions that can support your own storefront, but the choice you make should depend on a lot of different factors. What works for your competition may not be right for you, so a lot of due diligence is the key to success. Instead of choosing the easiest or the cheapest option, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do I want to run my business? Do I need a lot of support, or will a straightforward and hands-off platform meet my needs?
- How much technical knowledge do I have? Am I prepared to do any kind of coding to bring my site to life?
- What kind of features do I want my platform to provide, like email marketing strategy, search engine optimization, domain name choices, or SSL certifications?
- What can I afford to spend on an ecommerce platform?
Some platforms are bare-bones, providing a blank canvas, so to speak, to customize a storefront. Others are more comprehensive, providing a wealth of tools that can do things like monitor sales trends, generate email marketing messages, host a blog, and organize customer accounts.
These products have a higher price point than a DIY template but offer amazing support to users that can provide an immediate leg up. With an optimized platform like BigCommerce, you can get started with a professional ecommerce retail site in next to no time.
If you’re still not sure where to go, most options offer free trials. This can give you the chance to explore features and functions while evaluating the available opportunities varying products have in store.
Find Your Domain Name
Your domain name should align with your business name as well as your ultimate business goals and available products. Be sure to choose a domain name that’s logical, easy to remember, and easy to access. Short names are always better than long ones, and confusing names with multiple repeating letters or letter sequences can leave prospective buyers lost on the web.
When choosing your domain name, keep these tips in mind:
1. Avoid hard-to-spell names.
if your customers can’t spell your domain name, they’re going to have a hard time finding your site or sharing it with others. Stick with basic words or known phrases to avoid letting confusion alone send prospective buyers into the arms of your competition.
2. Choose a name that is scalable.
The state of your business when you start it may not be the same as what it evolves to be down the road. As such, you want a name that can accommodate potential growth in the future. For example, if your initial business model involves selling rain boots exclusively and you name your domain name accordingly, it will seem out of place when you expand to selling boots of all kinds. Think about your needs in the present as well as potential goals for the years to come.
3. Be unique.
A lot of brands already exist in the retail space, so you need to make sure your domain name speaks to your brand and your business without the risk of being confused with the competition. It can be hard to strike a balance between clever and scalable while staying unique, but finding the ideal option can truly benefit your business.
Choose Your Templates and Customize Your Store
A good ecommerce site is easy to navigate, is easy to use, and fits the specific branding you have in mind for your site. For those new to web design, this can seem like an impossible journey, but depending on the ecommerce platform selected, finding the right fit can be a fairly easy task.
Most ecommerce platforms have templates that can help you get started with customization options to meet your unique needs. Browse through your options, find a template that includes as many necessary features as possible, and be ready to make as many adjustments to meet the vision you have for your site.
Quality templates can make it easy to put together a store, offering ways to customize everything from navigation to product pages for a site that works well and speaks to your vision as a brand.
List Your Products
Once you have the framework of your site established, you’re ready to list the products you have for sale. This isn’t quite as simple or straightforward as it sounds; however, how well you list your products, the quality of your descriptions, and even the navigation of your ecommerce page can directly influence your sales.
1. Product descriptions.
Product descriptions sound mundane, but quality content can make a huge difference. On ecommerce sites, product descriptions are the primary driver for SEO: when your descriptions aren’t robust and fail to make the best use of keywords, you’re not going to show up in search engine results.
Product descriptions also play an incredibly important part in telling customers what you have to offer and why they should buy from you.
When writing product descriptions, use colorful, high-quality language that paints a picture for customers. Because buyers can’t physically handle your merchandise, product descriptions are effectively the next best thing. Think about the kinds of details you look for when making purchases online and use this as your guide for drafting content that impresses.
Around 20% of potential purchases fail because of a lack of details surrounding products sold online, so be absolutely sure that your descriptions hit the mark.
2. Product display.
Product display should complement product descriptions completely, providing a way to show and tell shoppers what to expect. A single photo won’t cut it; modern ecommerce shoppers want to see items from all angles, up close and at a distance, to make an informed decision.
Clothing should be photographed on models where possible, or a mannequin when not. Photos should be high quality and showcase fabrics, front, back, and side details, and even styling options when possible.
Don’t just get out your iPhone and snap some photos; pictures should always be professional. When your site looks amateur, shoppers may assume that your products are amateur, too.
A site’s navigation is an integral part of making sales. When a site visitor is completely overwhelmed with menus, dropdowns, and navigation options, going through the effort to find the right products can be very overwhelming.
Regardless of how many products you sell or categories you have, keep navigation clean, simple, and easy to use. User experience is a key part of satisfying shoppers; 79% of web users say that a poor experience on one site will lead them to search for another to meet their needs.
Checking out is a big part of making money; after all, if your shoppers don’t finish a transaction, you’re not going to earn anything. The checkout process may feel a bit like an afterthought, but a problematic point of sale is a primary driver for cart abandonment.
An estimated 21% of customers will abandon a sale if the checkout process is too complicated. In addition, 23% of users will abandon a cart if checking out requires an account, so make sure a guest checkout option is a part of your process, too.
To make your checkout process as fast and painless as possible:
- Make guest checkout options easy to access.
- Accept auto-filled details when possible, like credit card info stored in Chrome.
- Accept a variety of payment options, including gift cards, credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, and PayPal.
- Keep everything on one screen instead of making customers constantly hit “Next.”
When customers want access to information quickly, a search is the easiest way to do so. To minimize the frustration felt by customers who just want to know more about you or your products, make sure your search function is effective and easy to use. Far too many sites have clunky, awkward, or inefficient search functions — and that completely destroys the user experience.
Publish and Market Your Clothing Store
Your store is up and running, your product descriptions and photos are stellar, and your page is optimized for success, but where are your customers? In an ecommerce marketplace, the best way to get them to you is through the effective use of marketing. These three basic tools are the catalyst you need to get your shop off the ground.
1. Email marketing tools.
Email marketing is one of the single best ways to target customers, providing significant value — email marketing has an average ROI of $42 for every dollar spent — in a low-cost way. Email messages introduce your brand to new customers and, in time, keep your fan base coming back. Promotions are among the best ways to get recipients to open emails; 72% of consumers are more likely to open an email if it contains a discount.
Effective email marketing doesn’t stop at standard promotional emails, either. Cart abandonment emails, for example, are a popular tool for closing sales, converting around 9% of customers who otherwise would have let their time on your site go to waste. There are plenty of directions to go with emails that can tackle many of your marketing goals, so don’t let a strategy focused on just the basics cause you to miss the forest for the trees.
2. Social media marketing.
Social media is among the most important strategies for launching a new business. Generally, marketing needs a launching point — you can’t send emails to a nonexistent address book, for example — but the promotional power of social media can get your message to your target audience to help you hit the ground running.
Sponsored and promoted posts can be very effective, particularly when special attention is paid to how these posts are used to target audiences. Around 27% of web users admit to finding new products and services through social media advertising, so using promo posts to grow your presence and find new buyers is a very viable strategy.
Once you have the foundation in place and have amassed a large following of fans and friends, your social media posts can do everything from engaging customers with quizzes and contests to advertising upcoming sales. As an easy, affordable way to encourage community, social media marketing has a lot to offer.
3. Content marketing.
Want customers to find you online? You want great content marketing. Everything you put on the web, from your product descriptions to your blog, should speak to your overall mission as a business. Strong content is at the foundation of SEO, too, so the more you can do to publish effective writing that touches on the right keywords and phrases, the better.
An estimated 49% of customers use Google as a starting place when looking for new products and services. The right approach to content can ensure your name appears as close to the top of the list as possible.
Best Practices for Your Online Clothing Store
If you want to succeed, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. Yes, breaking out of the box can sometimes be a benefit, but sticking to these best practices is among the most critical things you can do to move your business forward.
1. Simplify your menus.
If you’ve ever clicked on a dropdown on a website and found yourself confused by menus inside of menus, you’re not alone. Massive, monstrous menus can be downright confusing, scaring customers off before they ever have a chance to see your products. When in doubt, simple menus are always the best. By narrowing the focus down to the key points, even if this means artificially simplifying product categories, your customers can enjoy a better user experience.
2. Prioritize SEO.
Do you want your potential customers to find you online? You want SEO. Utilizing search engine optimization techniques can ensure shoppers find you in search engine results pages when looking for your products. From your home page to your product descriptions, be sure your content prioritizes the keywords and phrases that both align with your products and your branding.
3. Have engaging web design.
It may sound a little shallow, but appearance matters a lot online, and poor site design can cost you more than you realize. It takes less than a second for visitors to form a negative opinion about a website. Further, almost all negative feedback for websites are design related. Bottom line? A bad website won’t sit well with your buyers. Make sure your design is engaging, responsive, and attractive.
4. Provide popular payment options.
Credit cards have long reigned supreme in the world of online payments, but they are no longer the only option customers want to see. In today’s diverse world of payments, just the basics won’t do. Around 760 million people worldwide utilize Apple Pay, while checkouts that offer Paypal have a 70% higher conversion than checkouts that don’t. The more payment methods available, the more likely it is that customers will buy.
5. Advertise where your audience is.
Is your target audience on Facebook? Put your money there. Instagram? That’s the best format for you. Unlike the old days of advertising, where customers from all demographics saw ads on TV or heard them on the radio, today’s marketing methods are more targeted than ever before.
When you want to make sure your advertising dollars go toward the right people, you want to advertise in the right place. Rather than throwing money into the wind, figure out where your customers are and follow them there. Without honing in on your audience, you’re effectively wasting money with little to gain.
Examples of Successful Online Clothing Stores
The following BigCommerce online clothing stores find ecommerce success in various ways.
B-Wear Sportswear leverages social media (see the screenshot of their Instagram below) to stay connected with their customers and show off new products and reviews. They also have a field in the footer of the website for customers to enter their email addresses. With that growing list, B-Wear can stay top-of-mind with customers, offer special deals, and increase retention and loyalty.
Revelry’s online store is designed for brand-building. They have a clearly defined aesthetic with beautiful, engaging photography, the homepage does a great job of highlighting their differentiating features, and even the use of short video to bring the imagery to life.
Starting any kind of business can be a big gamble, but the online clothing sales market is a good place to be. With upward trends and numerous business models that allow for flexibility in an affordable way, starting an online store can be an easy recipe for success. When backed by the perfect ecommerce platform and a strong business plan, there’s never been a better time to bring your clothing store dreams to life.
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