So you have decided to start your own online clothing store. It’s no surprise why: with online clothing stores being a multi-billion-a-year industry, it’s by far one of the most popular eCommerce niches. With sales expected to reach $713 billion by 2022 and emerging worldwide middle classes with disposable income, there is a lot of potential business to cash in on.
However, starting a successful online clothing store is more than just buying a domain and placing an ad. A successful store is dependent on the niche you choose, the branding you create, the quality of not only your clothing products but your site, the customer service you provide and fulfillment strategies.
Just because a niche is popular doesn’t mean you have instant access to potential customers. In fact, the opposite is true. With increasing popularity comes increasing pressure to differentiate your store from the millions of others already online.
If you’re new to the eCommerce game or looking to add clothing and apparel to your growing business portfolio in 2020, then this post is for you! In this guide, we will take you through the steps you need to take to start a successful online clothing business. Additionally, don’t forget to check out our Top Apparel Online Stores post, for inside tips on how to build a successful brand once you’ve set up your clothing brand.
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Choose Your Online Clothing Store Niche
Before you can choose your products, you need to decide which clothing and apparel niche you want to sell in. Choosing your niche ensures you choose products and create your whole business plan around the type of potential shoppers you want to appeal to and ultimately ensures you are able to position your store in a unique way.
The trick is to be very specific and really drill down your niche, as this will enable you to identify and market to your potential shoppers more easily. This will also help you develop your product list to appeal to your specific target market, allowing you to limit your competition and increase your chances of customer loyalty long-term.
An awesome example of this is the online apparel store HUMAN. Their niche? Pop culture. How do they cater to it? By using bold humor: unique expression that appeals to what they call ‘pop culture nerds.’ And what appeals to potential shoppers in this niche? Not fancy chiffon skirts or name brand shoes, but tees, hoodies and socks.
Their site has so much awesome going on, but it’s their slogan that sums up their niche perfectly: “Dress Yourself To Express Yourself.”
So how do you choose your niche? Here are the four most important considerations when choosing your niche:
- Be as unique as possible to stand out from the crowd
- Choose a niche that interests you and you’re passionate about
- Ask yourself whether you can add value and/or position yourself as an authority
- Make sure the niche has earning potential
Bonus Content: How to Find a Profitable Niche for Your Online Store
Step 2: Choose Your Online Clothing Store Products
Once you have a niche, it’s time to choose your products. Will you be selling short-sleeve shirts or dresses? The clothing and apparel market is almost infinite, and you can be sure there are a bunch of options within the niche you’re selling in.
However, if you’re tempted to jump in and sell everything, this could be your undoing before you’ve even started. When you’re starting an online store, it’s always advised to start off small and slow and then branch out your lines as you grow.
A great example of this is one of our top merchants, Mrs Bow Tie. Mrs. Bow Tie made a name for themselves selling bow ties that are uniquely ‘Made in Britain’. Their success with just one product line was so big that within three years they have added neckties, pocket squares, cummerbunds, suspenders and cufflinks to their product lists and sold to over 300,000 customers.
Say you have decided to open an online clothing store aimed at the yoga fitness niche. Instead of putting a variety of products on your proposed list, isolate the must-have products you can launch with. Each kind of product – whether it’s a hoodie or a pair of socks – has a wide potential of building your new clothing brand.
What should you consider when choosing your products? Here are our top three tips!
1. Start Small
As Mrs Bow Tie did, start small and simple as you get your product list off the ground. Adding too many products upfront will not only add extra admin costs every step of the way – from product photo shoots to web setup – but it can add complications when you first launch. Complications can affect the service you give, and as a new store in a very competitive market, customer service, or the lack thereof, can make or break your business.
2. Think Ahead
As we know, fashion and clothing fads are ever-changing. Choose stable products at first that can be easily changed to suit the changing styles, such as bow ties or t-shirts as shown above. If you do decide to go more mainstream fashion, plan for the changing styles by creating a store that adapts, such as dropshipping orders, which will ensure you’re not stuck with unsellable stock. Ultimately, in the clothing game, there will always be shifts, so success will depend on your ability to think ahead and be innovative and creative in dealing with the changes.
3. Set Your Focus
Yes, be as specific and narrow as you can at the beginning, but have an eye on the end goal. Think about where you see your online clothing brand extending in the future, and make sure that you’re focusing on the end goal. This will ensure that, as you add products to your range or line and grow your store in your niche, you will be able to implement new or trending products onto your store more seamlessly.
Step 3: Choose Your Online Clothing Store Business Model
Now that you know your niche and have an idea of the types of products you want to sell, it’s time to pick a business model for your online clothing store business. There are four types of business models that online clothing and apparel stores fall into:
- Custom cut-and-sew
- Private label
Each business model has its own pros and cons and choosing between them should be based on your overall objective, budget and skills.
Let’s look at each of them more closely.
1. Print-on-Demand Clothing Store Business Model
Print-on-demand is the easiest type of online clothing business model as well as the cheapest. In fact, custom t-shirt printing alone is expected to reach $10 billion in sales by 2025.
These are the types of stores where you print your logo and design onto blank apparel, and everything is automated.
There is enough variety in types and colors within this business type and it’s your most cost-effective option when dealing with small numbers of orders.
A good example of a company that offices this is Printful, which has grown into a mega print-on-demand brand, launching a variety of new products and services this year including activewear and warehousing and fulfillment.
The biggest drawback of this model is that these types of stores generally have lower profit margins and offer few options in the way of branding tags, labels and other finishes.
Bonus Content: How to Find Private-Label Manufacturers for Your Products
2. Custom Cut-and-Sew Clothing Store Business Model
Best for those of you who want to launch their very own clothing brand and design.
This type of online clothing store business model is for those of you who want to build your own clothing line from scratch. Meaning, you do everything from designing your clothing to manufacturing and fulfillment – yourself.
The biggest advantage here is that you are selling something very unique and can customize as you see fit. However, custom cut-and-sew businesses come with a lot of management, as you will be responsible for finding and coordinating your own pattern-makers and manufacturers, sourcing your own fabric, etc. This means a lot of upfront budget and time needed to launch your first line.
Pro Tip: Looking for pattern-makers? Here are three vetted suppliers to get you started:
3. Private Label Clothing Store Business Model
Private label business models are essentially the middle point between print-on-demand and cut-and-sew. They provide more customization than the former but less ‘work’ and needed budget than the latter.
This kind of model is when you buy blank or label-less clothing items and then add your custom design, label or tag before selling them in your store. This can prove to be a lot more cost-effective than print-on-demand, as you can negotiate better rates for bulk buying.
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks, such as having to deal with fulfillment and inventory management yourself. However, there are platforms that will help you streamline the process, such as Threadbird, where you can buy and custom-finish your apparel and clothing. They also offer fulfillment services for those of you who prefer to hold your own stock.
4. Dropshipping Clothing Store Business Model
Similar to print-on-demand, dropshipping clothing stores allow you to sell clothing that is fulfilled from wholesalers. This is a cost-effective route, as you don’t have to deal with buying stock up front, storing, packing or shipping. The disadvantage is that your products won’t be as unique and there could be a variety of stores selling the same products as you.
However, it can be pretty easy to set up. With apps such as Oberlo, you can find and coordinate a lot of suppliers and integrate them into your online store.
Step 4: Outline Your Online Clothing Store Business Plan
You have your niche, products and business model; it’s time to outline your business plan. You should be outlining your:
- Market (drilling down your potential shoppers into segmented markets)
- Products (deciding what makes them unique)
- Biggest competitors (listing your top competitors)
- Business model/fulfillment strategies
- Brand/company description (how you want your target market to view your brand)
When it comes to eCommerce strategy, you want to make sure you’re answering questions such as where your traffic (potential shoppers) will be coming from and what will make your products appealing to that traffic.
Additionally, and very importantly, part of your business plan should also include your pricing. Budget the price per product with these important cost considerations:
- Equipment, web development, hosting, etc.
- Design and development
- Production cost per product, including that of samples
- Labor and transportation
Once you know the costs, you are then able to work out your margins, where you’re looking for a margin of around 30-50% if using cut-and-sew models. However, at this stage you should also be looking at your biggest competition for pricing, ensuring you are not pricing yourself right out of the market.
Bonus Content: Want to Know How to Spy on Competitors? 12 Tools & Hacks
Step 5: Creating Your Online Clothing Store
Now comes the fun part: creating your online store.
The first thing you will need is your domain. We suggest buying this separately upfront as soon as you have your main idea. You want to make sure that the domain is still available after you have designed your range and built your site. For this, we would recommend Namecheap.
Alternatively, you can buy your domain directly through eCommerce platforms such as Shopify or WordPress.
Next, you will want to choose your platform and then your theme (or vice versa). This is one of the most important decisions you will make when creating your store.
Because your website, its design and user-friendliness are as important as the product you are selling and shouldn’t be rushed. If you don’t have the budget to hire designers or the time to teach yourself WordPress, then we suggest something like Shopify.
Need help choosing an eCommerce platform? These guides will help you choose the right one for your business.
- Main Differences Between Shopify and Shopify Plus, and How to Choose
- Magento Commerce vs. Shopify Plus – Who Comes Out On Top?
- Shopify, WooCommerce or Magento: How to Choose the Right Platform
Pro Tip: Another important part of setting up your store that deserves special mention is your product pages. Online shoppers only have product photos and pages by which to judge the quality and details of your products, so make sure that product photos and pages are of good quality – even when you’re dropshipping. Visit our How to Create Perfect Product Pages for Conversions post for more tips!
Step 6: Launching Your Online Clothing Store
Once your products are in place, business plan is set up, fulfillment is organized and site is done, it’s time to launch your online clothing store. Here are some launch tips to help you get started.
1. Define Your Launch Strategy
Are you going to run a promotion? Do a Facebook Live video? Use an existing email database to push teaser mailers? Whatever strategy you decide on, have it in place to roll out step by step as you launch. This should include tasks such as proofreading and testing your whole store’s functionality before launching.
2. Prepare Your Social Accounts
Before you launch your site, make sure your social account pages are set and ready. In fact, have these active – with content – before your big launch. This will enable you to run your social ads with the launch and market your new store to an already-growing following.
3. Have Your Email Marketing Strategy and Automation in Place
Make sure all your automation emails are set up and tested and that you have an email marketing strategy planned out for your first three months.
Pro Tip: Install a well-designed popup so you’re ready to collect email addresses, using discounts and coupons as incentives.
4. Make Sure Your Google Analytics and Google Ads Accounts are Set Up
Next, you will want to ensure that you have set up your Google Ads and Google Analytics accounts before launching. This will enable you to track traffic to your store during your launch in real-time and drive traffic through SERP ads.
Step 7: Bringing Traffic to Your Online Clothing Store
The last step? Bringing traffic to your newly-launched online clothing store. The biggest traffic drivers are email marketing, PPC, content marketing, social media guest posts on popular blogs, and influencers.
For a new store without a brand name, established SEO or email database list, you will want to concentrate on Google and social ads – particularly Facebook and Instagram – to get potential shoppers to your new store. Here are the 5 Best Ways to Increase eCommerce Traffic to get you started.
Although traffic campaigns are the most important factor in the success of your online clothing business, it doesn’t need to be as daunting as it sounds. With apps such as Traffic Booster, you can hand over the hard work, so to speak, so that you can concentrate on fulfilling your new orders and generating eCommerce traffic with real-time ad optimization.
There you have it: how to start a successful online clothing business in 7 steps. If you’re looking for some more inspiration for your clothing store, then these posts are for you:
- Ultimate Guide to Product Photography for eCommerce
- How to Scale an Online Clothing Business in 12 Steps
- Top Challenges eCommerce Entrepreneurs Face and How to Overcome Them
- How to Build Awesome Product Pages That Convert
- 26 Cart and Checkout Optimization Hacks to Boost eCommerce Sales
If you’ve just launched a clothing store or have questions before launching, post them in the comments below!
Nicole is a content writer at StoreYa with over sixteen years experience and flair for storytelling. She runs on a healthy dose of caffeine and enthusiasm. When she's not researching the next content trend or creating informative small business content, she's an avid beachgoer, coffee shop junkie and hangs out on LinkedIn.
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