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If you love curating rate items or are passionate about creating one-of-a-kind statement pieces, starting an online boutique business might be perfect for you.

The apparel and accessories market continues to enjoy lucrative growth. According to Statista, it is estimated to bring in over $153 billion in revenue by 2024.  

Here, we give you a step-by-step guide on how to start an online boutique.

What is an online boutique?

An online boutique is an eCommerce business that sells curated, artisan and locally-produced goods online. They offer more specialized products and services in limited quantities, which might fetch higher prices.

How are boutiques different from retail stores?

A retail store is a place that sells various goods. It’s a go-to store that carries everything from health and beauty products to home improvement, pet products and sports gear.

While they may lack the personalized touch of a boutique, they make up for it with low prices and the convenience of selecting from a wide array of products.

In contrast, online boutiques are a specialized type of retail store.

Differences between an online boutique and a retail store.

Should I start an online boutique? Considerations before starting one

Starting an online boutique is easy, but running it successfully requires a lot of hard work. Here are some things to consider before starting an online clothing boutique:

Why are you starting an online boutique?

There are many reasons to start an online boutique. Perhaps you see an opportunity in the market. After all, eCommerce is expected to account for 20.8% of total retail sales in 2023 and will go up to 24% in 2026.

Maybe you want to own your time, learn new skills or like the idea of being your own boss. Or you just want to launch an online clothing store to share your passion for fashion. Plus, the potential for above-average earnings doesn’t hurt.

Regardless of the reason behind launching your online boutique, know that you’ll need different degrees of commitment depending on your goals. 

How much do online boutiques make?

According to April 2023 data from ZipRecruiter, online boutique owners make an average of $80,170 annually. Most boutique owners make anywhere between $32,500 to $100,500, with the top earners making over $160,500 annually.

But note that this is the expectation, not the norm. Overall, how much you take home depends on revenues and expenses.

What does managing an online boutique entail?

Starting and sustaining a successful online boutique business requires two very different skill sets.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 20% of small businesses fail in their first year. So you will need preparation, skill and a pinch of luck to succeed. Some of the skills successful entrepreneurs have include:

  • Networking
  • Problem solving
  • Financial management
  • Time management

How to start an online boutique

If you have what it takes and feel strongly starting your own online boutique, here’s how to get started.

1. Choose a niche.

A common misconception when starting an online boutique is that you should already have your niche figured out, but it’s okay if you don’t.

Jennifer Leach of eCommerce and Prosper shares that figuring out what to sell is the most important part when starting this type of business. Part of your online store’s success depends on choosing a winning category, so she advises small business owners to take time researching products, especially if you’re new to eCommerce.

Some tips for picking a niche:

  • Consider your target audience. Which market segment are you aiming to sell to? For example, you’ve identified that you want to sell men’s clothing.

Imagine the kind of people who’ll buy your products. Are they bodybuilders, athletes or the outdoorsy type? Try to be as specific as possible — imagine their age, educational attainment, hobbies and income levels to create an ideal customer persona.

  • Choose something you’re passionate about. Few people would argue that choosing to monetize what you’re passionate about can suck the joy out of it, but its converse is that the best work doesn’t feel like work.

Plus, if your business is centered around something you love, you’ll already know the market’s ins and outs and be able to share your expertise with customers.

For example, founder Wendy Okiriguo shared with Bluehost that she believes a woman’s hair is her way of making a statement to the world. That’s why she founded Wendy Luxe, which specializes in wigs made of virgin human hair.

Homepage of Wendy Luxe online boutique.
  • Identify market gaps. Another advantage of selling something you love is noticing gaps in the market. You can center your business on filling a need your competitors aren’t offering but think should exist.

Bucha Brewers founder Kristie Burritt told Bluehost she started looking into making her own kombucha because she “wanted the benefits of kombucha without the high store-bought price.”

She added, “I realized there was a business opportunity in simplifying the process for others.”

Tip: Don’t try to appeal to everyone when choosing a niche. Remember, when you’re selling to everyone, you’re selling to no one.

2. Find products and suppliers.

After deciding on a niche, the next step is choosing what to sell and where to get it. Selecting the right suppliers is crucial because it factors in your pricing strategy and spells the difference between inventory delays and payment terms.

Here are some things to consider when vetting suppliers:

  • Product quality: Products should be of the highest quality. Test multiple suppliers and request samples.
  • Minimum order quantity (MOQ): Wholesale suppliers sell products cheaper but have large MOQs, which can wipe out your budget if you’re not careful.
  • Turnaround time: Does the supplier always have stocks on hand? How fast can they restock inventory?
  • Communication: Are they responsive to queries and complaints?
  • Payment terms: Do they allow you to get items on credit? How long until you have to pay? 

Tip: You can use Google search, online directories, forums and Facebook or LinkedIn groups to find suppliers. 

3. Create a business plan.

A business plan is a roadmap that guides you as you start an online boutique. It describes the business idea and strategies for building and operating it.

No idea how to write a business plan? Here are some things you should include:

  • Target market: Who will you be selling to?
  • Market analysis: Is there a market for your product?
  • Types of products to sell: Will you be selling physical or digital products, maybe both?
  • Business model: How will you sell? You can mix and match business models. Here are a few that are applicable online:
    • Dropshipping, where a third party manufactures products and fulfills orders so you don’t need to hold inventory.
    • Direct-to-consumer (DTC), where you manufacture products and sell them to the consumer.
    • Reselling, where you buy products wholesale from manufacturers.
    • Handcrafting or making your own product in small batches.
  • Financing: How much will you spend on startup costs, and how much are you expecting to make? Where are you getting the funds? What are the shipping costs?

Need more info? Check out our guide on how to create a business plan.

4. Build your brand.

There are over 2.1 million retailers in the U.S. (as of 2022). You must develop a brand to stand out and differentiate your online boutique from others.

A brand is more than just a logo and color scheme — it also includes your purpose, mission, vision and what you stand for. 

For example, Patagonia has a strong brand. Whenever you hear their name, you immediately think of someone adventurous, outdoorsy and someone who saves the earth.

Patagonia homepage.

Some parts of brand-building include:

  • Choosing a business name. What you call your online business matters. Besides being your identifier and helping with name recall, you’ll also need to check whether the domain name for it is available. When you get your domain, get all the popular top-level domains (TLDs) to own the brand name and avoid future brand-related confusions.
  • Signing up for accounts on social media platforms. Once you’ve decided on a name, lock in your social media accounts.
  • Conceptualizing visual design. Choose logos, colors and themes for your website and social media accounts. If you don’t have artistic skills, hire a designer. Check their graphic design portfolios for past work.
  • Developing brand values. Brand values are the principles that shape how potential customers see you. If consumers connect with your message, they’ll choose you over the competition. 

5. Select an eCommerce platform.

Once you have most details ironed out, choose where to set up your online platform. There are several eCommerce platforms available, each with different features to suit individual preferences. 

Consider the following criteria when choosing the right eCommerce platform:

Criteria to consider when selecting an eCommerce platform.

One of the most popular eCommerce platforms that fits the bill is WooCommerce.

WooCommerce is a plugin that lets you add eCommerce functionality to WordPress, a popular content management system. Thanks to WordPress’s influence, WooCommerce is also the largest eCommerce platform, with a 23% market share.

WooCommerce homepage.

Users opt for WooCommerce because of its many advantageous features:

  • Scalable and stable: It supports big and small online clothing businesses.
  • Low-cost: WooCommerce costs less over time compared to SaaS platforms.

Check out our comparison reviews to see if WooCommerce is best for you:

Just note WooCommerce may require some setup if you’ve chosen it as your eCommerce platform, including:

  • Getting a web hosting provider and domain name
  • WordPress installation (if you don’t have a WordPress site yet)
  • Installation of the WooCommerce plugin

When choosing a web hosting plan, your eCommerce store might be better off with a WooCommerce hosting plan, which Bluehost offers. It’ll help you find everything you need in one place to get started quickly.

For a more in-depth tutorial, you can check out our guide on how to use WooCommerce.

6.  Set up your online shop.

Once your WooCommerce store is up, set up your online shop by:

  • Creating product pages
  • Setting checkout, payment and shipping policies
  • Establishing payment methods

Tip: Spend extra time and care adding products to your store. That is the primary way the audience interacts with your products. Take high-quality product photos from all angles, and follow the best practices when writing product descriptions, just like Numi:

The Numi product page includes different product photos, describes the product and includes a sizing reference so customers can pick the right size.

7. Promote your online boutique.

Once your website is up and running, share it to build awareness. Use the following marketing strategies to promote your website:

  • Use search engine optimization (SEO). That involves following best practices so your website becomes visible on the search engine results pages (SERPs). That way you rank higher because of organic traffic — which you don’t have to pay for like companies do with ads.
  • Leverage content marketing. Content marketing is a marketing approach that uses valuable and relevant content to drive customer action. It’s also one of the ways to optimize for SEO.

Underfit owner and CEO Leigh McKenzie shares his best advice for content marketing:

Quote from Leigh McKenzie, owner and CEO of Underfit.

When asked, McKenzie cites online menswear boutique Huckberry as one of the brands he looks up to for content as they focus on content and building a strong brand voice. He adds, “Their pieces ooze with passion and feel very intentional and curated.”

Huckberry’s newsletter has over one million subscribers.

Content marketing comes in different forms, such as influencer marketing, email marketing, public relations (PR) and social media marketing.

One of the best examples is the cult beauty brand Glossier, which has successfully grown its brand using social media.

Glossier’s Instagram page has millions of followers.

Tip: You don’t have to sign up to every social media platform. Pick a few types and platforms that work best for you.

Final thoughts

It’s never been easier to start an online boutique, but sustaining it takes more than desire and passion — it requires hard work.

Besides hard work and skill, the tools you also use factor in your store’s success. Bluehost’s hosting plans include everything you need to start an online store — including larger storage and faster web hosting.

Sign up for WooCommerce hosting and start selling today.

  • Devin Sears

    Devin is a Senior Event Marketing Manager for the Bluehost brand. He is our brand steward for all things Bluehost and WordPress. You'll always see him supporting Bluehost at WordCamps around the world!

    Brigham Young University
    Previous Experience
    Social Media, Customer Experience, Field Marketing, Sponsorships, Event Coordinator
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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for guiding us in this digital era
    It’s frightening and super difficult to start a business online to people like us who are a little older
    I am a knitter ..I make beautiful knitting products by hand in top of a full time job.i need help from beginning to end products are stored away..I am able to sell by consignment 3times a year. Which doesn’t yield much..
    Everyone is advising me to be online…

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