Selling clothes online: how to set up an apparel store

So you’ve been selling clothes on Instagram for quite some time now. As your business grows, social media features are not enough to meet the increased needs. Your next step is to expand your business and create an online apparel store.

Since clothes is a visually driven business, you need to find an online platform that can give you everything you need — from showcasing your items to promoting your store. If the platform offers intuitive setup and ways to expand your business to other markets — even better.

So, let’s cut to the chase in starting your online apparel store. In this guide, you’ll learn how to:

Start your online store
Create a catalog
Describe items to attract customers
Create options and variations
Add payment options
Ship and wrap like a pro
Set up discounts and create gift cards
Promote your store

Start your online store

First things first, you need to create a site for your store.

Try Ecwid — it is an e-commerce platform that you can use to start your apparel business online from scratch. You can use a forever-free Instant Site from Ecwid with a built-in store or you can add your Ecwid store to your existing site. With Ecwid you can showcase your products, accept online, POS, mobile and cash payments, run sales, create email campaigns, you name it.

Once you create your online store, you can set up product tagging on Instagram, so your customers can click a link to purchase that awesome sweater in your store. That way they can do it by themselves without writing you direct messages. When your followers tap the product tag, they will see detailed description, price and link to purchase the sweater. Note that your Instagram account has to be approved for tagging products. Learn about best practises of how to prepare your business account for a review.

Creating an online store is like a level-up for your business. Along with selling on Instagram, you can sell on Facebook or add your Ecwid store to your blog. Actually, you can add your Ecwid store on any website.

The best part is that you can sell on the go with the Ecwid mobile app for iOS and Android. That means you can add products, accept payments, manage your store, use the barcode scanner, and more.

Create a catalog

Initially, the Ecwid store will contain sample products to demonstrate how the catalog can look. It’s just sampling, so you need to delete them first and add your own apparel, accessories, and other products.

To delete demo products that appear when you create a new account, tick all products. Click Bulk Update that appears above the product list, then choose to Delete Selected.

With Ecwid, it’s possible not only to create a catalog from zero but to import existing one. It comes in handy if you are planning to open brick and mortar store oneday. Or maybe you already have one. In that case, if you use Square, Clover or Vend POS, you can import your products from your POS to Ecwid.

Make sure your catalog is up to date, and you have enough items for sale. The best way to avoid running out of stock is to turn on inventory tracking in your Ecwid store. It’s also helpful for limited handmade clothes or one of a kind products like rare vintage apparel. Purchased products will be marked as Out of stock or hidden in the storefront, depending on your setup.

Organize your store with categories

When it comes to apparel, the best way to organize your catalog is by creating categories. That will help your customers find the item they need right away, and your storefront will look neat. To learn how to create a category, check out our quick video:

The most obvious decision is to group your clothes into three categories Men, Women, and Kids. Depending on your business, you can create any categories that fit your purpose. For example, if you sell vintage, you may group all your items by the decade they represent: 50’s, 60’s, 70’s.

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This is how Fuchs Vintage organize their collections

Along with apparel, consider offering accessories, beauty products, shoes, maybe even pins and stickers. These categories usually sell well together, so you can upsell by showing them off as related products on the product page and at checkout. And since COVID is not over yet, consider diversifying your lineup with items that have seen the biggest jumps during the pandemic. Comforting and home-related goods might be well-received by shoppers these days.

For each category, you can create a subcategory. It comes in handy for wide-stock shops or if you sell shoes, beauty products, accessories along with clothes. For example, you can create the ‘Rings and Necklaces’ subcategory inside the ‘Dresses & Accessories’ category.

You can create categories and subcategories, add images and descriptions for them in your Ecwid admin by going to Catalog → Categories. It’s possible to assign one item to several categories/subcategories.

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Civil Alchemy has 7 subcategories in the Women’s Apparel category

Create intuitive navigation

Well-organized categories help customers find the right item faster. You can go extra mile and make navigation through your store even easier by adding product filters. With product filters, your clients can refine their search by prices, categories, availability, special offers, brands, colors, sizes, and more.

Product filters provide an excellent shopping experience and help grow your sales. It’s a must if you run a multi-brand store with a diverse inventory of 50+ items.

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Wear the peace provides price, size, availability, and special offers filters, helping customers find the right item in no time

For a small store, you can expand your categories and display products right on the front page. This way your customers will be able to see all the offered products and categories at once.

📖 Further reading: All sorted: introducing storefront product filters

Feature products

A category is a great way to highlight some of your products to sell them faster. The store’s front page is a perfect place to feature some of your products, wherever they are from the same category or different ones.

In your Ecwid store, you can easily catch your customers’ eyes by adding your hot deals or new arrivals to the Store Front page category. It is the main root category of the store that is created by default and displays to customers as the Featured products section as soon as you add any custom category and have at least one item assigned to the Store Front page category. You can rename the Featured products section and sort the products any way you like.

You can also display your clothes’ fabric right on the product list by using the product subtitles. This information will then be visible both on your product list and on your product details page.

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This is how subtitles will look on your storefront page

Speaking of the product details page, let’s dive into details of describing items.

Describe items to attract customers

With apparel, it’s all about the details really: size, color, materials, detailed description, and outstanding photos. The more information a customer gets from you, the more connected they are with your brand. Therefore, the chances of a sale are higher.

In Ecwid, you can add various information on your products – much more than just name, description, and images.

Add detailed and SEO-friendly description

The thing about selling apparel online is that customers can’t feel the fabric or try an item on. Nevertheless, you can boost their shopping experience by creating a product description to win them over. Start with the basics that you can find on the tags:

  • Clothing type (chinos, skirt, dress)
  • Style (V-neck, skater, long sleeve)
  • Sizing (include a chart if possible)
  • Fabric (90% cotton, 10% polyester)
  • Wash care instructions (if necessary)

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Here’s how A Little Lacey describes a coat

Describe not only materials or size but jazz up with sensation and experience of wearing the item.

Here’s an example of the phrases from a shoe description that the online shoes and clothes retailer Zappos uses:

  • Stain and water-resistant leather offers durability and lasting wear.
  • Genuine deerskin lining offers a great in-shoe feel.
  • Full-length, triple-density footbed features memory foam for all-day comfort.

While describing all the incredible emotions, your customers will get with your product, don’t forget SEO. Add title and keywords that will attract search engines. Use a little reverse engineering; ask yourself, “If I were searching for this product, what would I type into a search engine?”

In Ecwid, you can create custom SEO page titles and descriptions of products.

Include high-quality photos

We can’t stress this enough, how important the product images are when it comes to clothes. Sure, we buy clothes when we need one, but in many cases, it’s just because we can’t resist how pretty this dress is. And nothing says ‘buy me’ more than a high-quality photo.

Here are some tips on how photos can help you win your customers over:

  • Upload more than one photo from different angles, from the front and the back, so that customers can examine the item properly.
  • Provide a few close-ups to show the customer where they should look or draw their attention to beautiful details. Especially useful for lingerie or wedding dress stores.
  • Use white paper for the background and bright natural light or softbox. That way you’ll get clear photos where customers can see every detail. It’s also helpful for shooting small things like accessories.
  • Don’t just shoot the garment itself; show how it looks like on a model.

In e-commerce, photos support the product’s full value, so put all your efforts into creating breathtaking images. You can hire a photographer and a model for the shoot. This may sound out of your league, but you’d be surprised. There are plenty of resources where you can find models who would work for free just to add photos to their portfolio.

To save the budget, you can spend some time and learn how to showcase on your store by yourself beautifully. In that case, you can ask your friends and family to be models for the shoot.

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As you can see in A Little Lacey shop, a high-quality photo really is a game-changer

Remember to upload photos for each product variation you have (we’ll cover variations in the next section). Customers want to see exactly how a different color shirt looks, not just read about it. That means, yes, you’ll have to take a picture of every item in your store. That might sound intimidating, but having high-quality photos of your product is a game-changer for an apparel store.

You can use a 360° view with the Imajize app from the Ecwid App market, along with static photos. You can even put video to your product details page to good use.

Create options and variations

No matter if it’s a kid’s fashion or wedding dress, items in your shop will have several variations of size or color (maybe fabric, too). To showcase all possible variations of a product on one product page, you have to create product options and product variations (each possible set of options for a product makes a variation).

Create options

Size, color, material, or maybe even uploading a file for a custom print on T-shirt — it’s all options that you can add to your products.

Adding an option to an item in your Ecwid store is a simple process. Go to the Catalog → Products page of your Ecwid admin and choose your product. Then go to the Options tab, enter the option name, and choose the input type. For size, choose Size type. For colors, you can choose Radio Buttons and fill in the proper colors.

🎦 Watch the quick video guide on how to create options to learn more.

Let’s take a closer look at what you can set up with product options in your Ecwid store:

  • Size, colors, materials, sleeve length, and other variants of shapes and forms. You can include all these options on the product page. Enter the option name and choose Drop-down List, Radio Buttons, Size, or Checkboxes from the Input type drop-down in the Options tab. Check the Do not preselect default value box, so your customers can make their choice before adding the product to the cart.
    To change the price depending on an option (e.g., silk shirt cost extra $3 compared to cotton one), add a price modifier for each option’s values. You can assign price modifiers to drop-down, checkbox and radio buttons option types.
    You can cut your returns in half by adding a size chart. With the size chart, your customers can quickly select the correct size, which improves their shopping experience and saves time in answering size-related questions.
    💡To add a size chart, install the Size Chart & Product Option Descriptions app from the Ecwid App Market. You can also upload a size chart on a separate page of your site and add the link to this page at the description of every item in your store. Or you can use a picture with a size chart and add it to the description:

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    Turtle Hoodie uses a picture with size chart in all products descriptions

  • File upload for customers. Use this option to let customers design their own customized T-shirts. With this option, your clients can upload a picture or photo to print it on the clothes. To do that, enter the text into the option name field, like, Upload your photo, and choose Upload Files from the Input type drop-down. Check the Required option box, so your customers can upload a file before adding the product to the cart.

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    This is how options can look at the checkout

  • Custom text fields. This option can be used similar to the previous one, for customers to enter a phrase they want to be printed or embroidered on a T-shirt. To add this option, enter the option name like Front text and/or Back text, and choose Text Field or Text Area from the Input type drop-down. Check the Required option box if your customers must fill the text field/area out before adding the product to the cart.

Create variations

Each possible set of options for a particular product is a variation of that product. For example, M-size red T-shirt is one variation, and L-size red T-shirt is another.

In your Ecwid store, you can create an unlimited number of variations for every product, each with its own image. You can also set a separate SKU and quantity in stock for every product variation for better inventory management.

Of course, options themselves can be variations. Let’s say you sell black cocktail dresses. They all are the same color, but the size varies. In that case, L-size dress and S-size dress are variations of one product.

Product variations are significant for apparel stores since they help you:

  • upload different photos for every product variation to help your customers choose the right item
  • set different prices for different variations
  • track inventory with unique SKUs and stock levels of variations to prevent running out of stock or overselling
Don’t forget to take photos of each variation, so your customers can have a better shopping experience and make it easier to decide on what variant they want to buy.

Now, when we are all set with catalog, items, and variations, let’s dive into running a store, from payments to promotion.

Add payment options

Providing as many payment options as possible is always a wise move. With Ecwid, you can offer your customers multiple payment choices:

  • Online payment. PayPal, Stripe, Square, American Express, Clover, — you name it. In Ecwid, you can add one or more payment options to the checkout. Stripe comes equipped with Apple Pay and Google Pay, so your customers can pay online quickly when ordering through mobile devices, too. Check the full list of online payment systems in Ecwid.
    Make sure to include other countries' popular payment gateways if you sell abroad.
  • Offline payment. You can also add methods to accept credit cards offline or cash on delivery. You can accept payments with your mobile or tablet device via PayPal Here or Square reader through Sell on the Go app for iOS.
    If your delivery personnel use other contactless POS terminals, you can set up an offline payment method like ‘Credit Card offline’ in your store so that customers can choose it for their order.

📖 Further reading: Getting paid

Ship and wrap like a pro

Every time you make a sale, you’ll get an email notification, a push notification if you use the Ecwid mobile app, and the order will appear in your My Sales → Orders page. Before shipping the order, you can check the details of the order like size and color of the item, preferred shipping method, payment status and more on the Orders page in your Ecwid admin.

Your next step in order fulfillment is to ship the order to a customer. You may consider that shipping is something not so important to think through. But it actually is! A well-built shipping strategy can save you costs and achieve customer delight.

Choose a shipping strategy

Deciding on whether to charge your customers for shipping or not, depends mostly on your business size and budget. Here’s what you can do:

  • Free shipping. Most loved by shoppers but can burn a hole in your pocket. You can offer free shipping as a limited-time special offer. Another option is to slightly increase prices in your store to cover up expenses for free shipping. You can offer free in-store pickup or a curbside pickup for local customers, so they don’t have to pay extra.
    You can encourage customers to buy more by offering free shipping over a certain subtotal amount.
  • Charging your customers. You can charge buyers the exact shipping costs that you are paying to the carrier. For this, you can set up your store to receive automatic shipping rates from carriers (USPS, FedEx, etc.) at checkout. Or you can manually add any carrier’s shipping rates based on subtotal or weight.

Decide where to deliver

Depending on your business's size, you can choose how far you want to ship your goods.

For a small-sized store, it’s better to focus on the city where it's located. That way, it’s easier to plan your marketing activities, and it is also cost-effective since you don’t have to pay for extra stocks, showrooms, and long-distance delivery. So, the best options, in that case, are local delivery and self-pickup (or curbside pickup).

For a medium-sized store, you probably want to deliver across the country or even abroad. In that case, you can choose specific regions, cities, or blocks to ship your orders. In your Ecwid store, you can create any shipping zone by using countries, states, zip codes, or simply drawing it on a map.

Create a better customer experience

Shipping (alongside wrapping) can become your secret weapon to turn one-time buyers into loyal customers. Your goal here is to create a seamless shipping experience. To do so:

Reduce anxiety and keep up to date. One of the most common reasons for a customer’s concern is not knowing when their order arrives. To reduce your client’s worries, you can offer to track their package any time they want. Just assign a tracking number to a corresponding order, and your customers will receive them by email.

Even if a carrier doesn’t provide a tracking number, once you change the order fulfillment status to Shipped, your customer will get an email notification telling that the order is on its way. You can also show the approximate delivery date at checkout during the shipping setup, so your buyers will know right away when to expect their order.

Think of the wrapping. Beautifully made wrapping can get you word-of-mouth from a pleased customer. People tend to share aww-moments and wow-effects on their social media, so you can try to impress them.

Of course, it’s not always necessary to create an original wrapping, but if you sell trend-setting apparel, pop-stars merch, or accessories, creating outstanding wrap can be your thing.

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Think of using flowers, glitter, or ribbons in wrapping

In your Ecwid store, you can use the Arka app to help you come up with a unique package design for your brand.

📖 Further reading: How to use packaging as a marketing tool

Set up discounts & coupons

Probably nothing urges customers to update their wardrobe more than a good ol’ discount. Discounts can benefit your store in the way of gaining new customers, selling out last season items that are no longer in fashion, or increasing revenue.

Run a sale

You can set up a variety of discounts in your Ecwid store:

  • Sale prices to certain items
  • A cross-wide store sale
  • BOGO(F) — Buy One Get One Free (you can use the BOGO app for it)
  • Special discounts for groups of customers

What discount to provide and when depends on your business goals. You can run a cross-wide store sale at the end of a year when Black Friday and Christmas are around the corner. Or you can set up a limited-time sale for a specific category, for example, sell-out winter clothes in the summer. The best way to figure the right discount tactic is to try different tactics and see what works best.

Highlight the sale by adding a countdown timer that shows how many days or hours left before the sale ends. You can use the Countdown Timer app from the Ecwid App Market. The countdown timer will be shown in the product description at your product page.

You can also boost social proof by displaying the number of users that have purchased a certain item. With the FOMO: Boost Sales app you can show your site visitors that you have a busy store. Every time anyone makes a purchase, a little popup will appear with information about that. FOMO displays recent customer behaviors to your visitors in real-time.

Create coupons

You can not only set up discounts for all customers, but also offer a personal coupon for a discount, free shipping, or a combination (a discount + free shipping) on products and categories. A customer can enter this unique code at the checkout and get a personal discount.

Don’t forget to spread the word, otherwise how will your customers know about your hot deals? You can use product ribbons or banners on your site. But to fully drive more online traffic, you should speak directly to your customers through emails and social media. Let’s get right to it.

📖 Further reading: How to run a successful sale on Ecwid

Promote your store

Whether it’s about an ongoing sale, a new summer collection, or even your brick and mortar (or online) store has been opened today, the people should know about it. For that, you need to promote your store and acquire new customers.

Getting traffic on your website is based on three foundational strategies:

  • ads
  • social media
  • direct email marketing

Advertise your store

Let people know about you by running ads. All you have to do is choose a platform you want to run your ads on, and then set it up. Piece of cake, right? The hard part is to decide what platform to use. Here’re the top 3 choices for apparel stores:

  • Instagram. Your #1 choice since the clothes almost always represent a particular lifestyle, and lifestyle is all Instagram is about. So it’s an excellent way to promote your store here, especially if you sell one of a kind items.
  • Google Shopping. A comprehensive solution for your business, since most people would search ‘Winter scarf’ or ‘Buy bikini’ in Google to find items they would like to purchase. Make it easy for your potential customers to find your store. With Ecwid, we make this option simple: you can run a hands-free promotion of your products with Google Shopping ads.
  • Facebook. Suitable for both fashion-related products and daily wear. You can set up your ads precisely on your target market with affordable ad options for any budget. If you need step-by-step instructions to run ads, read the Ads campaign on Facebook article.
  • Pinterest. Not an obvious one but with a can-do attitude you can drive more people to your website from your Pinterest page. You can use a Pinterest tag for your Ecwid store and score customers on Pinterest with retargeting ads.
Running ads through social media, you should remember that people will open your site on their phones. So make sure your site looks good on any screen. You can always use Ecwid’s Instant site that was designed to fit any-size screen.

You can also create your own mobile app for your Ecwid store, so your customers could order from you any time, anywhere. Contact Ecwid team to learn more about creating a store app.

When you decide which platform you want to use, check the Marketing page in your Ecwid admin to explore more ways of getting more traffic. As you will see, you can not only bring new visitors but build loyalty with existing customers. Personal emails are great tools for this. Let’s take a closer look at email marketing.

Send personal emails

The first thing you need to do to start email marketing is to collect customers' emails. In Ecwid, your customers can accept to receive marketing from your online store by checking a checkbox at the checkout. Over time, you will form a list of opted-in customers to send out targeted promo emails.

Be smart about personalizing email and not sending one-size-fits-all emails. Create your strategy based on the audience:

  • Loyal customers. Reward them with discount coupons, secret deals, or early access to new products.
  • People who abandoned their carts. Remind them about their unfinished orders. Offer a discount or free-shipping coupon to increase chances for finishing the order.
  • Inactive customers. Remind them about yourself. For example, tell them about a new collection or items that might be interesting for them. It’s a good idea to include a special offer for them like free shipping or a percentage discount.
Offering benefits in personal emails is one of the best ways to drive visitors to your website.

Apart from sending automated notifications from your Ecwid admin, you can use Mailchimp integration to keep in touch with your customers.

Use the power of social media

Another great way to promote your store is buzzing in social media. Your #1 choice here is Instagram since your business is related to fashion and highly visual. Your key to success here is to create a visually stunning Instagram account that attracts fashion lovers.

Here are some tips on how to get organic engagement:

  • Showcase lifestyle, not just your products. Take photos of models in an environment that fits your brand identity the most. It creates a better understanding of your brand’s values and helps attract people who share the same aesthetic.
  • Benefit from user-generated content (UGC). Showcasing your followers builds social proof with future customers by showing them that your brand is popular. It also generates loyalty by making current customers feel special and loved. You can post reviews of your items to stories and then add feedback on your site to build social proof.
  • Add relevant hashtags. Use #promdress, #kidsfashion, #printhoodies, or whatever hashtag suits your product lineup.
  • Use different types of content. Post photos and videos, use stories, and reels.

You can also run ads on the platform and use Instagram as a marketing tool.

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Civil Alchemy shows not only clothes, but lifestyle

It’s better to focus on one or two social media platforms, so your next best choice is Facebook. You can follow the same rules for maintaining Instagram or use Facebook to announce new arrivals, significant sales, and company news. Don’t forget to add your accounts to your online store.

You can use both Instagram and Facebook to sell apparel. With Ecwid, you can add your product catalog to Facebook and use shoppable posts on Instagram.

Over to you

Apparel is one of the most popular niches for online business. Now you know how to start your apparel store from scratch and what to do at each stage of sales.

Use this guide and different Ecwid store tools and apps to create loyal customers, promote your store, and maximize revenue.

To get inspired, check these 13 breathtaking apparel stores built with Ecwid. May these success stories guide you to start your own business and improve your store.

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