How To Sell Handmade Fashion Online – A Beginner’s Guide to E-Commerce

Posted on October 30, 2020

There has never been a better time to start selling handmade clothes and accessories online! If you spent most of lockdown stitching and crafting beautiful handmade products, then today is the day to get selling!

Online retail is a great way for startups and microbusinesses to sell boutique handmade goods. It doesn’t cost a fortune to set up an online shop, and you don’t even need to be awake to make your first sale! 

In this week’s article, we’ll walk you through the basics of your very first online sale. As soon as you’ve sold one product online, we guarantee you’ll be hooked! 

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Follow the steps below and with any luck you’ll be selling your handmade clothes and accessories online in time for Christmas!


Step 1: Decide on the kind of web shop you want

Before you can sell your product online, you need a shop to sell it in. 

There are basically two options when it comes to online retail. You can set up a seller profile on a large marketplace site, or you can create and operate your very own independent website. There are pros and cons to both types of web shop:

Marketplace:

If you set up a profile on a larger online shop or ‘online marketplace’ site (sites like notonthehighstreet.com, ebay.com and etsy.com), you take on fewer legal and technical responsibilities, and you can often get started much faster. 

Marketplace sites typically charge sellers a monthly fee and/or a commission on every product sold. In exchange, they will help market and promote your goods in their listings and handle most of the complex automated email and payment processing aspects of making an online sale. 

The simplicity and user-friendliness of most marketplace sites make them a great choice for absolute beginners to ecommerce, but there are two main drawbacks: 

  • Firstly, there is typically a delay between the moment a customer pays for your goods and the moment you receive the money. This delay varies from 3 to 21 days on most sites (see footnote 1)
  • The other main drawback is that you are tied into the marketplace’s ecosystem. If you ever need to move away from the marketplace, it can be hard to get your loyal customers to follow you onto your new online storefront. 

Owner-Operated Web Store:

You don’t have to operate under the umbrella of a marketplace site, of course; you can create your very own online shop. You need a bit of tech savvy and patience to do this, but these days you don’t need to be able to write code.

With an owner-operated web store, you own the website domain. What your customers see when they type that domain into their website is completely up to you. You have the power to customise every part of the buyer’s experience, from the homepage right through to the receipt email, and you can build up a loyal customer base that continues to buy from you for years.

Most boutique handmade retailers will use a third-party ecommerce platform (shopify.com, woocommerce.com or squarespace.com, for example) as the foundation of their online shop. The advantage of building your online shop on an ecommerce platform is that you can start with a template shop that has all of the product pages, ‘buy now’ buttons, email templates and payment technology you need, right out of the box. You can start with a very basic but perfectly functional ‘template’ site, then customise everything on that template to match your brand over time.

There are two main downsides to running an owner-operated store:

  • First, you might have to figure out how to take card payments yourself. There are some very good online payment processing services out there (PayPal, Stripe, SagePay and Worldpay for example), but they all take time to set up. It can take a few weeks just to pass the identity checks and get a fully-validated account that can accept card payments. Even after you’re set up, it can take weeks for that very first card payment to reach your bank account.
  • Second, you take full responsibility for keeping your site up and running (…and for driving new customers to it). You become your very own IT and marketing departments. This all takes more work than you might think!

As soon as you’ve decided whether you want a marketplace page or your very own online shop, you can move on to the fun part: listing and selling your first handmade product!


Step 2: Create Your Product Listing

Whether you choose a marketplace or owner-operated ecommerce site, you’ll need to ‘stock the shelves’ of your shop before you can sell anything. To do this, you create product listings pages.

A good product listings page should act as your handmade product’s very own 24/7 sales ambassador. It should show site visitors what’s so great about the garment or accessory you’re selling, and it should entice them to go ahead and push that ‘buy’ button! 

To create a good product listing, you’ll need to do the following…

Take Great Photographs: Every product you sell should have at least one photo of the product on its ecommerce page. Most ecommerce sites these days will have five or more photos, showing how the product works and looks from different angles. Diagrams and videos are becoming more popular, too. We’ve got some product photography advice on our recent Instagram article which is worth a read if you’re new to product photography. 

Write a Detailed Text Description:  Text descriptions should explain the product to the buyer in vivid detail. Your text description field should include anything a buyer is going to want to know. State the exact dimensions (and weight, if applicable) of the product, list the materials you made the item from, and explain whether it’s a one-off piece or a limited edition. If it’s something like a handbag, list out all of the pockets and compartments that the buyer can expect. Explain everything — even the types of buckles you used on the shoulder strap. Try to replicate the tactile experience of handling a product in a physical shop.

Categories: If you’re using a marketplace site for your online shop, then nothing is more important than categories. As a rule of thumb, the more searches you appear in, the more sales you will make, and categories are are what marketplace sites use to decide what products should appear in those searches. Marketplace sites also use categories to make ‘similar product’ recommendations to their shoppers. You need to make sure that you list every product under as many relevant categories as possible. If the marketplace site asks you to add tags and keywords to each product listing, do this too. 

Pricing: The price you put on your product is, of course, completely up to you. Only you know what your product costs to make, the margin you want to achieve and the price of similar items in your sector. There are two golden rules when pricing something for an online shop, however:

  • Don’t undercut your existing clients. If you’re already selling through a network of retailers and you value your relationships with those businesses, do your best to match their prices. If your retail network feel like they’re competing with you on price, they will be less keen to deal with you in future.
  • Make sure postage and packaging is covered. You need your buyers to pay enough to cover the cost of packaging, postage and return postage. Planning for return postage isn’t being pessimistic, by the way. Under the Consumer Rights Act (see footnote 2), you’re legally obliged to cover return postage costs if goods are faulty.

Inventory: When you’re selling handmade items online, you should always always keep accurate stock numbers on each product listing. If you only have 4 green bobble hats to sell, type ‘4’ in the inventory or stock box on your product listing page. This is very important. There are lots of peaks and troughs in ecommerce, especially in the early days. If a social media post goes viral, for instance, and you have a sudden spike in sales, you need to get every customer’s order into the post straight away. You don’t want to find yourself trying to hand-craft, pack and send 100 items from scratch in an impossible 48 hour timeframe — it’s better to show an ‘out of stock’ message and stay in control of the quality of your work


Step 3: Fulfil Your First Order!

After you’ve built your shop and created your product listings, with a little luck and marketing, you should win your first online sale. 

Whether you sell something for £100 or £5 doesn’t matter — when that first sale comes through the system, it’s a great feeling! Your online shop is officially in business, and all you have to do now is fulfil that order.

The key to fulfilment is to deliver the best possible experience in the fastest possible time. Just remember that your online customers haven’t met you, and they probably haven’t seen your handmade products in real life. They’re going to judge your business on the quality of the goods they have ordered and the speed at which you deliver those goods, so you need to get something beautiful into the post straight away

Take time to pack the product well before you send it out. Your parcel is going to take a beating when it enters the postal network, and you don’t want that beautiful handmade product to arrive crumpled or clumped at the bottom of the envelope. Part of the joy of buying handmade items is that they feel like they have been made with care, so do what you can to make sure your buyer still feels that way when they open your parcel. You can put some backing card behind a sweater or dress to help it keep its shape. You can wrap accessories in crepe paper, and you can also tie everything up with a length of ribbon. In fact, a lot of our clients who sell goods online use branded satin ribbons. Find out more about promotional ribbons here

Send every parcel out as fast as you can, on the fastest postage speed that you can afford, and always tell the customer as soon as you have dispatched their goods. If your courier or logistics provider gives you a parcel tracking ID, share it with the customer so that they can keep an eye on where their purchases are. 


Step 4: Listen Carefully To Customer Feedback

No matter how much effort you put into that first online sale, it’s very unlikely that you’ll get everything right. There will be parts of your online shopping experience that your customers don’t like or don’t understand, and it’s up to you to learn from this feedback. 

Follow up with your customers a week or so after they purchased from you. Ask them if anything about the purchasing experience bothered them. Ask them if they would recommend you to a friend, and beg them for suggestions on how to improve. 

Even negative feedback is valuable feedback. If a customer is unhappy with some aspect of your service, it’s almost always something that you can fix in time for the next customer. The key thing with customer feedback is to stay open-minded and try to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. 


Step 5: Above All, Keep It Simple!

That’s it — you’ve successfully handled your very first online sale! Now for the second sale … and the third sale … and the fourth …

Just remember that when you run your first online shop, you will most likely handle everything yourself, from new product listings to fulfilment and customer care. This all takes time and drags you away from the act of making more handmade fashion items.

It gets even harder as your shop grows and you need to start spending time on marketing initiatives and conversion rate optimisation, so you have to defend your time.

Our advice is to keep your shop as simple and as streamlined as possible from day one. There are hundreds of people out there who can help you build a website, but there’s only one person — you — who knows how to make handmade goods the way you do. Stay focused on what you do best and you won’t go too far wrong.

Get started today and see what you can achieve before Christmas!

Thanks for reading!

– Pete


Footnotes:

Footnote 1:

Payment terms vary depending on the marketplace you use and the contract you’re on. If you use Etsy Payments, you can get paid in 3-5 business days (see the first link below), whereas notonthehighstreet.com pay 15-21 days in arrears (see the second link below). If in doubt, check the terms and conditions page of the website for more information.

https://www.etsy.com/legal/etsy-payments#deposits

https://www.notonthehighstreet.com/about/seller-terms-and-conditions

Footnote 2:

“Whether or not the consumer has a duty to return the rejected goods, the trader must bear any reasonable costs of returning them, other than any costs incurred by the consumer in returning the goods in person to the place where the consumer took physical possession of them Under 20 (a) of the Consumer Rights Act 2015”. You can read the full text of this act at the link below:

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/contents/enacted

The Gov.UK site also has some great advice on distance and online selling which is worth a read. Take a look at the link below:

https://www.gov.uk/online-and-distance-selling-for-businesses

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