Before discussing how to start an eCommerce clothing business, let’s look at the opportunities that lie in the clothing industry.
Globally, clothing is a whopping 3,000 billion dollars industry!. And, it accounts for almost 2% of the world’s GDP.
What makes the fashion industry click is the fact that it’s an evergreen industry. So, there isn’t any seasonality or demand issue. Also from the profitability point of view, clothing business is one of the best out there.
But, everything that shines isn’t gold. In today’s world, clothing merchants are fiercely competing against each other. In fact, in the US alone there are more than 1,00,000 clothing retail stores.
So, what is the solution to this ever-increasing competition?.
Try going online!. Yes, differentiate yourself by starting an eCommerce clothing store. There ain’t many retailers doing it.
Let me explain the 6 simple steps required to start an eCommerce clothing business.
Step #1: Get A Domain Name
At the outset, you need to get a virtual address (i.e domain name) for your online clothing store.
Example: If your business name is XYZ then your domain name may be:
- XYZonline.com etc.
I prefer buying domain names on NameCheap. Their simple dashboard, easy setup & robust documentation are a few things that I like.
Just make sure that you pick a domain name that’s:
- Easy to remember & pronounce
- Having a .com domain extension
- SEO-friendly (So that your online store gets easily found on search engines like Google)
- Avoiding special characters like !, - ,#, & etc.
- Available (You can't buy a domain name that's already bought by someone else)
- Unique & eye-catching
Buying a domain name hardly takes around a few minutes. No, you don't require to submit any documents or papers. It's a simple process where you select your preferred domain name & checkout by entering your credit card details. That's it.
Step #2: Build An Online Clothing Store
Building an online store is not that difficult as you think.
Enter Shopify. Period.
They make it extremely easy for anyone to build an eCommerce site from scratch by simply dragging & dropping web elements. No coding or programming skills required.
Here're a few benefits of using a drag-and-drop eCommerce builder like Shopify:
- Easy to get started
- No technical or coding skills required
- Customizable (You can install a theme to change the look & structure of your store)
- Ability to connect custom domain (More on this later)
- 24*7 customer support via phone, chat & email
- Value-added features (You can extend the functionality of your store by adding Shopify Apps)
- Affordable (Click here to check the current pricing of Shopify)
- Unlimited number of products & visitors supported
- Free SSL (Keeps your customers' payment information secured)
- Free CDN (This helps your online store to load faster)
- Robust security system (Ensures your store doesn't get hacked)
- No hosting required (Shopify already comes with hosting. So, no need to mess with servers)
It won't be wrong to say that Shopify has revolutionized the eCommerce world. Earlier one needed to pay thousands of dollars to programmers to build a basic eCommerce store. But now, with Shopify, you can create an online store within a matter of few minutes. Yes, literally.
And, look at these Shopify stats:
- As in 2020, more than 1 million eCommerce stores run on Shopify!
- In total, Shopify merchants have made $155 billion in sales!
- Shopify merchants are spread around 175 countries worldwide!
Here're are the steps you need to take to build an eCommerce clothing store:
Create a Shopify account > Connect a domain name > Install website theme (gives a look to your website) > Set up payments > Add Products
Let me explain the aforesaid steps in detail.
Create A Shopify Account
Then, you need to enter the following details to help Shopify figure out your requirements. It's optional though. You can skip this step if you want to.
Now, you need to enter the following basic store details like Name, address, country, phone number, etc. These details will be printed on invoices sent to customers. Yes, you can edit these basic details later.
After you click on "Enter my store", you'll be taken to your store dashboard where the real action happens. Using the dashboard, you can complete the initial set up.
The first set up that you need to do is – connect the custom domain (that you bought at step#1) to your Shopify store.
Connecting a custom domain will give a unique identity to your store. Example: https://www.yourclothingstore.com
Connect A Custom Domain
Alternatively, you can also skip the Step #1 & buy your domain name directly from Shopify. However, that's not recommended. Why?. Because buying a domain name from Shopify will somehow lock you in the platform (What if you decide to leave Shopify & try another platform in future). Therefore, I advise you not to buy your domain name from Shopify.
Install A Website Theme
A website theme gives a look & structure to your online store. Adding a website theme will help you differentiate your store from others. Yes, you can also customize various elements of theme like colors, menus, banners, etc. in Shopify. Makes sense?
Shopify comes bundled with FREE & premium themes. Free themes, as the name suggest are FREE of cost. Whereas, premium themes come with a price tag. I recommend you to try the Streamline Theme (best suited for clothing businesses).
Set Up Payments
Now, you need to set up your payments. Setting up payments will help you collect payments from customers.
Shopify supports the following popular payment gateways:
- Shopify Payments
First, you need to have an account with the aforesaid payment gateways. Don't freak out. It's easy & takes a few minutes. Follow the instructions on their websites.
Add Product Descriptions & Images
Once you have your site up & running, start feeding the product images & descriptions into it.
Product images & descriptions play a vital role in conversions. So, make sure you get them right.
With images, you would like them to be:
- High definition
- Covering maximum angles
You may Google & find a good eCommerce photography firm. If budget permits then get some product videos done as well.
With product descriptions, you would like them to be:
- Telling a story
- Focusing on benefits
- Stating technical details
- Answering product questions
- Answering shipping & payment related queries
- Clearly stating the return & refund policy
For inspiration, here're a few examples of awesome product descriptions.
Last but not least, you can add value-added features by installing Shopify Apps. Here's a list of a few popular Shopify apps that you can try out:
- SEO Booster (Helps improve your online store SEO)
- Smart Search & Instant Search (Adds advanced search functionality to your store)
- Frequently Bought Together (Adds up-sell & cross-sell products on product pages)
- Privy -Popups (Abandoned cart recovery, exit intent popups & email marketing)
- Oberlo (Adds dropshipping feature to your online store)
Done. All set ups have been covered.
Following is the step by step video tutorial to help you set up a Shopify account:
Step #3: Source The Products (Buy Wholesale)
After creating an online clothing store, you should focus on sourcing your target products.
Remember that pricing is one of the most crucial success factors in online commerce. So, make sure that you buy & sell your inventory at the best possible prices.
FAQs related to sourcing of clothing products:
- Is sourcing compulsory?. I don’t have enough money.
Not at all. You can start an online clothing store without keeping a single unit of stock. How?. Simply by drop-shipping.
But, please note that drop-shipping won’t help you to build your name in the clothing industry. If your objective is simply to earn some quick bucks then yeah you may try drop-shipping.
- Where do I source products from?
You may source your products either domestically or internationally.
If you plan to source from within your country then you may find manufacturers or suppliers on platforms like WorldWideBrands. Alternatively, you may explore some wholesale or industrial markets in your country.
Whereas for the import of products from outside your country, Alibaba is a trusted platform.
- What factors do I look into while shortlisting suppliers?
Make sure that you look into the following factors:
- Quality certification (like TuV & SGS certifications)
- The strength of R&D department
- Private labelling capability
- Production or supply capacity
- Terms of payment
Sourcing platforms like Alibaba already come equipped with various filters that can help you spot verified & vetted suppliers easily.
- Do I need to hire a warehouse to keep stock?
Initially, you should not commit to any fixed cost like rent or salary. Your first priority should be to get some initial sales & see how things stack up.
Till then, you may keep stock in your house or garage itself.
- What is an ideal order quantity for initial sourcing?
To avoid market risk, keep the initial order quantity to minimal. Once you start to understand the audience taste, you can always shoot up the order volume.
With sourcing, it’s all about learning while doing. Try out different strategies & see what works the best for you.
- I want to have my own clothing line. How to go about?
This should be a long-term goal. At the outset, your primary goal should be to get some actual paying customers. Once you have a strong base of customers, you can always opt for your own design & branding.
Also, please note that most manufacturers need large scale orders before they can commit to working on your design.
- How do I keep myself updated with the latest trends or fashion?
You can do that by simply following some top clothing brands on social media platforms like Instagram.
Step #4: Tie-Up With A Delivery Partner
You will need to find a courier partner who will pick up & deliver orders for you.
FedEx, DHL & UPS are some of the top eCommerce delivery companies. To make things easy for you, make sure you opt for “pick up” services while creating an account with them.
Negotiation is the key to getting the best shipping rates. Make sure that you convince them of the viability & future of your project.
Alternatively, you may opt for shipping aggregators like GoShippo. They help you to generate shipping labels from top shipping companies from one single dashboard. Best of all, they integrate seamlessly with Shopify.
Step #5: Get The Legal Thing Right
Now, you need to give a legal identity to your business.
Follow these steps (general for most countries):
- Name your business
- Register your trademark (optional)
- Register with tax authorities (using your business name)
- Open a business bank account
- Get the import license (if you plan to source your products from outside of your country)
Depending on your country, the aforesaid requirements may change. Please consult a lawyer for professional advice.
Step #6: Market Your Online Clothing Store
With everything else done, now is the time to promote the heck out of your new online store. Yes, this is the most important step out of all. You need real people visiting your store, right?. And, buying as well.
Look, the biggest strategic difference between an online & offline store is the 'discoverability' factor. That means an offline retail shop can easily be discovered by people passing by the store. Hence, all you need as a retail store owner is to grab attention of those people (like promoting with fancy banners, advertising on a local newspaper or bill board). That's it. However, with an online store, you first need to worry about making people aware about your store. Next, comes promotion.
The good news?
It isn't as difficult as it seems. You can promote your store through various ways I'm gonna discuss here. Ready? Here we go:
Position Your Store As "Unique"
Why should people care about shopping on your online clothing store rather than buying on Amazon? Yes, Amazon has some cool fancy shipping & delivery promises. Can your store match those features?
Think about it.
How can you compete with Amazon?. Don't freak out. It's easy-peasy.
Make your products different. Way different than those listed on Amazon. You can always differentiate your clothing store with a focus on:
- Product designs (Make your designs REALLY unique. The ones that will make people say "WOWWW!")
- Niche market focus (Example: A clothing store exclusively for 5 year olds)
- Branding (Get a cool name, tag line & logo for your store)
- Vision & mission (Tell people why you started this store, preferably with a story - that's gonna add emotion)
It's a noisy world. Lots of online stores like yours are trying to grab attention of the same people. Therefore, until & unless your store stands out & differentiates itself, your target audience won't even care to look at your catalogue (forget about buying).
And, as you may know, the secret of successful businesses is their repeat customers. Right?. Now, you know the recipe of creating these repeat customers - UNIQUENESS. The customers who would buy from you again, again & again... Making your store unique helps people remember & stick to your brand.
Enough of theory, let's back my advice with a success story.
Success Story of Black Milk Clothing:
The best example on uniqueness is an eCommerce store named Black Milk Clothing(blackmilkclothing.com).
Back in 2009, James Lillies, based in Brisbane (Australia), started an online clothing store from his kitchen. James's wife was also a part of this venture.
The challenge for the couple was to position their store as unique as possible. Or else, as I explained earlier, their store won't even stand a chance to take off. After all, you can't compete with the world's richest person, Jeff Bezos.
So, they started brain storming the ways to differentiate their store. After hours & days of research, they finally found their mojo. They decided to focus only on "Black Leggings for Women". And, the core idea was to sell only break-through designs. Yes, that's how niche the couple went to make their store UNIQUE.
Black Milk Clothing is now a million dollar brand with more than 150 employees. They now serve customers globally.
So, this story teaches us a very important lesson: Work hard to differentiate your brand & products.
I would like to end this story with the following quick recommendations:
- Think about making your store unique from both brand & product perspectives
- Hook people by telling your startup story
- Build a tribe (Black Milk Clothing founders, since the start, have been very active on Facebook - they operate more than 80 private facebook groups)
- Scale your business by hiring more people
- Think global
- Don't try to target everyone. Pick a target profile & focus on it
Be Active On Social Websites & Forums
Talk about your new clothing store wherever you can. I mean on social websites and forums like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Quora, etc.
The idea is to hang out where your target audience likes to hang out. Be with them, help them with your opinion & answers. In the process, you can pitch your online store as a solution.
Here's an example from an answer from Quora:
Note, you shouldn't be spamming these websites with your store product links. Or else you may risk getting banned by those social platforms. Instead, write an awesome answer & add a link to your store preferably at the end of the answer.
Similarly, you can answer questions as:
- Answers to private posts on Facebook groups
- Blog comments on fashion-related blogs
- Replying to Twitter posts
- Tagging fashion influencers on Instagram
- Uploading new products as "stories" on YouTube or Facebook
The opportunities are limitless. The more time you spend on these platforms answering questions or helping people, the more visits you would get to your online store.
Run Pay-Per-Click(PPC) Ads
Want a quick way to get a lot of people visiting your new clothing store? I bet you do. And, who doesn't?
That's where PPC ads come into picture. Using these ads, you can get a lot of eyeballs of your store in matter of seconds. Let me explain how this works.
You can place PPC ads on popular social or search websites like Google, Facebook, Reddit or Quora in various formats.
Here's an example of running PPC ads on Google search engine (aka Google Adwords):
Using Google adwords, you basically run ads for your target keywords like "clothing store", "best store for t-shirts", "jeans online", etc. So, as & when people search using these keywords, your store will show up at the top of the search results.
Another popular PPC ads platform is Facebook. Using Facebook ads, you can target & show ads to people who're interested in your product categories (Facebook is really good at figuring this out).
They'll cost you money. And, that's self-explanatory. Isn't it?. Either you invest your time to build an organic following for your store OR use the power of money to get things fast. Either way, you're investing something.
And, do you know the best part of running PPC ads?. They're scalable. If it works, then you can scale your ad campaigns as much as you can. There isn't any limit.
However, as I said earlier, you need to build a fan base or tribe for long-term success. You simply can't rely on PPC ads forever. They're great for short-term success, though.
Coupons & Door To Door Campaigning
Every shopper loves discounts. Isn't it?. That's the reason brands have been using this marketing technique since ages.
You too can use this discount marketing strategy to promote your new clothing store. Here's how:
- Print around 500 to 1000 discount coupons
- Mention your startup story & your store URL address in the coupon
- Announce a massive discount of around 50% as "Launch Discount"
- Fix a deadline date. People have to buy before that day to avail the "launch discount"
- Distribute these coupons in your local neighbourhood. You can even target high end shopping destinations like malls.
This is a very cost effective strategy & works like charm. Therefore, I do recommend you to give this a try.
You must be aware of this. We see these ads everywhere starting from newspapers to banners or hoardings.
To start with, you need to tie-up with local advertising agencies. They can help you place print ads near important spots across the city. Of course, print ads are costlier than PPC ads & therefore shouldn't be used at the beginning phase of your store.
Affiliate marketing is a new-age marketing technique that connects affiliates(bloggers, YouTubers, social media influencers, etc) with sellers or brands like yours. The idea is simple. Affiliates will help promote sellers' products to their audience & in return will get an affiliate commission on each sale generated.
There're numerous affiliate marketing marketplaces that connect affiliates with sellers or brands like:
- Share A Sale
- Rakuten Marketing
- Commission Junction
- Impact Radius, etc.
To get started, all what you need to do is register your store as a brand on the aforesaid marketplaces. Thereafter, the affiliates listed on these marketplaces may decide to promote your products to their audience if your offer is attractive enough.
Example: On one fine day, an online clothing store XYZ.com decides to promote it's products through affiliate marketing. For that, it quickly registers itself on an affiliate marketing marketplace & announces 30% affiliate commission on each sale made. Next day, they get $ 1000 worth of sales from affiliates. So, the affiliate commission that the store needs to pay to affiliates for that day is $ 300 ($1000 * 30%)
The beauty of affiliate marketing is that – you don't need an upfront investment. You'll pay commission to affiliates only & when they refer an actual sale.
Pro Tip: Go for an attractive commission structure or offer. That's a great way to lure affiliates from your competitors.
Doesn't your email inbox get flooded with eCommerce offers everyday?. Yes, I know it's annoying. But, hey, they do work. That's the reason why many eCommerce players (including Amazon) regularly send these cold emails.
Cold emailing is a marketing technique that involves sending mass ad campaigns to your target audience via email. It's an effective way to reach out to millions of potential customers' inboxes within a matter of seconds.
So, how do you get started with these cold emails?. For that, you need to get in touch with a digital marketing agency that specializes in cold email campaigns. They can give you access of hundreds & thousands of email addresses of your target audience. Not only that, they can also help you craft a winning email marketing campaign.
Warning: Make sure that the agency has taken requisite consent from the email recipients. Or else, you'll risk violating privacy laws.
Word Of Mouth Marketing
Do you know the secret of 6-figures eCommerce stores?. That's their customers. Their super-fans. Their tribe. Their brand ambassadors.
If your product & service are awesome, your existing customers will not only buy again & again from you but also refer a lot of their friends to your store. All without expecting any benefits.
That's the power of customer satisfaction.
So, what's the recipe of customer satisfaction? Here're a few things you can work on to delight your customers:
- Focus on product quality
- Be obsessed about improving delivery time & packaging (Amazon is really good at this. Isn't it?)
- Offer a strong guarantee (Example: No-question-asked return & refund policy)
- Ask for customer feedback & work on it
- Offer unique designs
- Regularly email your customers (Don't spam with offers. Tell stories, hook them with what's happening in your business & your upcoming plans)
- Offer referral incentives
- Offer loyalty discounts to regular customers
Word of mouth can change the game for your clothing business in long run. Therefore, you need to work & keep improving on the same.
Yes, that's the only 6 steps you need to take NOW to start your eCommerce clothing business.
So, what're you waiting for?.
Get started with the first step & you'll be amazed with how other steps fall in place.
After you implement each of aforesaid steps as suggested, you'll have an eCommerce clothing shop with actual orders flowing. Your dream will finally turn into a reality.
Dream. Hustle. Succeed.