Whether you are launching a lingerie line of your own or are interested in becoming a lingerie retailer selling the products of other designers and manufacturers, becoming an e-commerce retailer is a popular avenue for entrepreneurial success. Starting a lingerie business online can, in some ways, be easier than starting a brick-and-mortar lingerie shop, but it is by no means a simple undertaking.
For many consumers, buying lingerie online is an attractive alternative to purchasing it from a store. In some cases, the buyer feels uneasy trying on the products in a store where they have to interact with a salesperson. For others, it is because lingerie products can be discreetly shipped to an address, eliminating the possibility of shopping bags and receipts being found by the buyer's parents, children, roommates or partner.
Understand Operating an Online Business
Starting a lingerie business online has some overlaps with operating a brick-and-mortar lingerie shop, but there are also numerous considerations an online retailer has to make to succeed in e-commerce. While you don't have to pay rent or utilities or worry about cleaning and maintaining a shop when you're an online-only retailer, you do have to consider issues like:
- Paying for website hosting
- Choosing the best platform for your shop
- Conducting effective digital marketing
The profit margin in lingerie sold online is likely to be different from the profit margin in lingerie sold from store shelves because of the comparative lack of overhead with an online business. Price your products according to the prices you find for the same and similar products in other online stores. Pricing them the same as they are priced in a physical shop can mean lower sales volume and thus lower profits for you.
If you are selling lingerie online as a new segment of your existing lingerie business, rather than an entirely new business venture, price your products the same online and in-store. A price difference can confuse and upset buyers.
Marketing an online business is different from marketing a brick-and-mortar shop. When you run an online business, all or almost all of your marketing is done digitally, such as through content marketing, social media ads and your email list. Understanding SEO principles and effective digital marketing strategies are a must for any online business.
Develop a Clear Business Vision
Before you can write a business plan, create a fleshed-out vision of your business. Ask yourself the following questions and any follow-up questions that logically arise from the answers:
- Am I starting my own lingerie line or reselling other designers' products?
- Is this an online-only business or will there be physical shopping locations, such as a store, a chain of stores or occasional pop-up shops?
- What is my startup budget?
- Who is my ideal buyer?
- How is my ideal buyer currently being served by the online lingerie market?
- How will I source my products?
At this point in the business development process, brainstorm names for the business. Then, check online to see if there are already other online lingerie shops — or different kinds of companies — using the names you're considering. You cannot register your business in your state with a name that's already in use by another registered business in the state.
Write a Business Plan
One of the first steps in starting a lingerie business is writing a business plan. A business plan is a comprehensive document that outlines everything necessary for a business owner, partner, investor or potential buyer to know about the company, such as:
- Where the company is headquartered
- The business's day-to-day operation
- How the business startup will be funded
- The company's leadership team
- How the company is incorporated
- The business's debts and projected expenses
- The business's projected earnings
- Which products and services the company sells
- Information about the target market
Register the business with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and with your state. Although you may be able to operate a business without registering with the IRS or your state if you operate as a sole proprietor, it is usually in your best interests to register your business and legally separate yourself from it. When a business is unregistered, the business and the business owner are legally the same party. Therefore, the owner is personally liable for all judgments made against the business.
Set Up Your Online Store
The next step in starting a lingerie business online is determining exactly where and how you will sell your products on the internet. This decision factors into your profit margin. Options for online retailers include:
- Opening a store on an established retail platform, such as Amazon or Etsy
- Building an e-commerce website through a platform like Shopify
- Building an e-commerce website from scratch
Creating a seller account on a platform like Amazon, eBay or Etsy is the easiest way to open an online lingerie shop. With this method, you have no technical responsibilities and can list your items and make sales through the platform. The drawbacks to this route are the fees collected by the platform and your lack of shop customization options.
Building your own e-commerce website grants you the creative freedom to make your shop look how you want it to look. The primary difference between using a platform like Shopify and going the "from scratch" route is the amount of technical expertise involved. With Shopify, you do not need to know how to code to build a website, nor are you responsible for hosting or web security; these are included in the fee you pay to Shopify. Conversely, you need to cover these with a fully independent website, but with them comes total freedom and no need to worry that you'll lose your shop if the hosting platform goes down.
Source Products for Your Business
You need one or more wholesalers from which to source your products unless your plan is to start a lingerie line of your own and only stock your products for sale. Popular wholesale lingerie vendors include:
- Lingerie Mart
When determining how to source your products, also determine how to handle fulfillment. If you purchase wholesale stock, you need somewhere to store it, such as a warehouse or a self-storage unit, until it is sold. Alternatively, you can work with a fulfillment business that stores items for you and then ships them on your behalf after they are sold.
Promote Your Online Lingerie Business
If your online lingerie shop is an extension of your existing physical store business, promote the online store at your physical location. You can do this with flyers and banners advertising the website around the store and with in-store-only promotions, like 15% off the buyers' next online purchase when they spend $50 or more at the store.
Regardless of whether you also have a physical location, digital marketing is likely the most effective way to market your business. If you don't have the skills or the time to market the business on your own, work with an online marketing agency to get your name and products on screens in front of millions of potential customers.
Lindsay Kramer has been a full-time writer since 2014. In that time, she's experienced the ups, downs and crazy twists life tends to take when you're launching, building and leading a small business. As a small business owner, her favorite aspect about writing in this field is helping other small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs become more fluent in the terminology and concepts they face in this role. Previously, she's written on entrepreneurship for 99designs and covered business law topics for law firms.