In 2022, retail ecommerce revenues from apparel and accessories sales in the U.S. reached $180.5 billion, and by 2025, Statista projects this number to increase to $295.7 billion.
With drivers of growth such as digital channels, increased online access through mobile devices and technological innovations, it’s no wonder that the online fashion industry has skyrocketed — and if you’re an entrepreneur with an eye for fashion, there’s plenty of room to join in on the action.
For startups and large enterprises alike, ecommerce offers a huge opportunity to get your business off the ground without the overhead that can come with traditional brick-and-mortar operations.
However, launching an online business rarely happens overnight. And especially for business owners with little or no technical expertise, going digital may seem like more work than it’s worth.
But rest assured, you’re not alone — in this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about starting your own online clothing store and how your business can reach its fullest potential.
Selling Clothes Online vs. Offline
Although brick-and-mortar stores still retain a strong foothold in the industry, the grip on offline stores has been weakening: online apparel sales now make up 46% of all U.S. apparel sales.
Let’s take a look at some of biggest advantages of selling online versus offline:
- 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.
- Lower overhead costs: Opening a brick-and-mortar store can cost between $50,000 to $150,000, while most online clothing business models require substantially less.
- Convenience for shoppers: Customers can shop at any time of day, and it’s more convenient than traveling to shop in-store.
- Omnichannel marketing: Omnichannel commerce helps connect all channels, both in-store and online, to create a seamless customer experience, which could result in a 33% increase in revenue.
How to Start an Online Clothing Store
The perfect time to start selling clothes online was about 15 years ago when the market first began to grow — but the second best time is right now.
With so much potential on the horizon, taking a leap into the world of ecommerce stores now can help you capitalize on trends rather than letting an opportunity pass you by.
But before you start listing your wares for sale, 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 ecommerce success.
Choose a clothing niche.
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.
When considering your options, keep these four points in mind:
- Be unique. Ecommerce stores are a dime a dozen, and if your clothing brand is the same as every other, you’re likely to get lost in the crowd.
- Choose a niche that you’re passionate about. 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.
- Ask yourself whether you can add value and position yourself as an authority. Examine where there are holes in the current market in which you can make a difference or add value. For example, if you have experience in sustainability or social work, consider a fair trade or nonprofit clothing line.
- Make sure the niche has earning potential. Find a place to insert yourself — or a unique value proposition — that allows for quicker growth and the ability to earn money.
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 of 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 product lines, 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.
- A marketing plan covering details of online and offline sales and marketing strategies.
- Financial projects both for the near future and from a long-term perspective.
Another big part of creating your online retail business plan involves choosing a business model. In the ecommerce clothing retail world, there are four common choices: Print-on-demand, custom cut and sew, private label clothing and dropshipping.
A print-on-demand business prints or otherwise alters pre-existing clothing, such as t-shirts or hoodies, 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.
Print-on-demand is a good idea for business owners who have minimal retail experience or a limited budget to help build up profit margin.
Custom cut and sew.
Custom cut and sew, as the name implies, refers to companies that design and sell their own products. Some custom cut and sew businesses produce all clothing in-house, while others outsource to plants outside the country.
While this business model is a great opportunity to launch a truly unique brand, keep in mind that starting this kind of online clothing store may require more funding and a deeper understanding of design principles.
Private label clothing.
As a private label clothing company, you can partner with established manufacturers to order unique products marketed under your brand. Instead of being designed in-house, products are designed, produced and branded for individual sale by a selected third party.
The investment in private label clothing can be 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 ecommerce business models. Dropshippers essentially act as middlemen; when a customer orders an item, the dropshipper then orders from a wholesaler for delivery directly to the customer.
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.
Select your ecommerce platform.
If you want to sell online, an ecommerce platform is a must-have. Luckily, the market is full of high-performing ecommerce platforms that can support your storefront, but instead of immediately choosing the easiest or 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, SEO, a custom domain name or SSL certifications?
- What can I afford to spend on an ecommerce platform? Do I have the budget to pay for additional add-ons, themes or plugins?
Some platforms are bare-bones, providing a blank canvas, so to speak, to customize a storefront — these are often referred to as open source. With open-source solutions, the user has full control over the source code, thus allowing for complete customization, all the way from product pages to themes to check-out experiences. However, with more customization often comes more complexity, so any technical changes are best handled by certified web developers.
The other option, SaaS (software-as-a-service), is a subscription-based solution that is built and maintained by a third-party provider so that users can essentially “rent” the software, without the added complexity of building and developing the platform. Simply by paying a monthly or yearly subscription, SaaS users have access to an array of pre-designed themes, plugins, modules, templates and add-ons that allow users to quickly and easily customize their storefront.
Choose your domain name.
Your domain name should align with your brand 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:
- Avoid hard-to-spell names. Stick with basic words or known phrases so that prospective customers can easily find your site.
- 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 business name that can accommodate potential growth in the future.
- Be unique. Make sure your domain name speaks to your brand identity and business without the risk of being confused with the competition.
Choose your templates and customize your store.
Most ecommerce website builders have templates that can help you get started with customization options to meet your unique needs. 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.
With a BigCommerce store, merchants have access to a variety of free and paid themes and templates specifically designed for fashion brands. Plus, BigCommerce’s open template files allow you to bring custom design elements to your new store.
List your products.
Once you’ve established the framework of your site, you’re ready to list the products you have for sale. Remember that the display of products, the quality of your descriptions and even the navigation of your ecommerce page can directly influence your sales.
Product descriptions may sound mundane, but quality content can make a huge difference. On ecommerce sites, product descriptions are a primary driver for SEO, and they also play an incredibly important part in telling customers what you have to offer and why they should buy from you.
Use colorful, high-quality language that paints a picture for customers. Since buyers can’t physically handle your merchandise, product descriptions are effectively the next best thing.
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; provide images of clothing items from all angles, up close and at a distance, so that customers can make an informed decision.
Photographed clothing 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.
Seventy-nine percent of web users say that a poor experience on one site will lead them to search for another to meet their needs — which goes to show that site 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 different products you sell or categories you have, keep navigation simple and easy to use.
The checkout process is a crucial part of making money; after all, if your shoppers don’t finish a transaction, you’re not going to make a sale. In fact, 21% of online shoppers in the United States have abandoned their shopping cart due to a long, complicated checkout process.
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 processors, including gift cards, credit cards, debit cards, PayPal and buy now, pay later options such as Affirm or Sezzle.
- Opt for one-click checkout for a quick and easy checkout.
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.
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 top-notch digital marketing. These three basic tools are the catalyst you need to get your shop off the ground.
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. Emails introduce your brand to new customers and, in time, keep your fan base coming back. Offering promotions such as discounts and exclusive offers are among the best ways to get recipients to open emails.
Social media marketing.
Social media is one of 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 platforms can get your message to your target market 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 72% of U.S. online consumers 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.
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 a foundational element of SEO, too, so the more your writing touches on the right keywords and phrases, the better.
To help our merchants better focus on tailoring their frontend experience without jeopardizing the ecommerce functionality on the backend, your BigCommerce store can easily integrate with top content management systems such as WordPress, Bloomreach and Deity.
Best Practices for a Successful Online Clothing Store
As you’re preparing to launch your online clothing store, follow these best practices to help keep your business on track.
Simplify your navigation.
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, complex 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. Narrowing the focus down to the key points, even if this means artificially simplifying product categories.
Utilizing search engine optimization techniques can ensure potential customers find you on search engines when looking for your products. From your homepage to your product descriptions, be sure your content prioritizes the keywords and phrases that align with your products and branding.
Have engaging web design.
It may sound a bit shallow, but appearance matters a lot online, and poor site design can cost you more than you realize. To help keep customers coming back, make sure your design is engaging, responsive and attractive. Think personalized recommendations, chatbots and mobile compatibility.
Provide popular payment options.
Credit cards have long reigned supreme in the world of online payments, but they are no longer the only option on the market. With new payment methods such as Apple Pay, PayPal and mobile wallets, just the basics won’t do.
Another emerging payment trend is buy now, pay later, which gives customers the option to choose a financing plan and pay in installments instead of having to pay the entire cost up-front. Luckily, BigCommerce supports a wide variety of buy now, pay later (BNPL) options, such as Klarna, After Pay, Sezzle, Affirm and more.
Advertise where your audience is.
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, whether it’s Instagram, Facebook or even TikTok.
Starting any kind of business can be a big gamble, but the online clothing market is a good place to be. With upward trends and numerous business models that allow for flexibility (and affordable), starting an online shop can be an easy recipe for success. When backed by the perfect online 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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