How to Start an Online Fashion Store in South Africa

How to Start an Online Fashion Store in South Africa

According to Biz Community, in 2019 the most products bought online were clothing apparel, which accounted for 53% of South African e-commerce sales.

The good news is that if you’re thinking of starting an online fashion store in South Africa, the stats show there’s demand for it.

The bad news is that just because you build it does not mean they will come - while people can see a physical brick and mortar store, they can’t see an online one if they don’t know about it, so your marketing is going to be key.

In this article, we’ll explore the steps needed to not only get going but also to start generating ROI.

Steps to Start an Online Fashion Store in South Africa

On a very simplified scale, you need to launch a website that contains your products, but first, you need to determine what you’ll sell. Then add the products to your website, and set up a payment gateway to enable payments, and finally, you will need to work out the logistics of delivery.

Once that’s done, you will need to find ways of getting your online fashion store in front of as many of the right eyeballs as you possibly can, and create a marketing strategy for sales.

Step #1: Build the Plan

Before doing anything, you’ll need to build a plan with steps detailing exactly what you wish to achieve, who your ideal audience is, and how you are going to achieve your goals. The purpose of your plan is clarity, which will give you an understanding of what you’ll need. 

For example, do you wish to use a dropshipping model, or to give proceeds of every sale to a charity perhaps? Do you want to sell used clothes or new, and where will you get them from? Will you sell clothes for women, men, or children, or all? 

Don’t forget about differentiation! The more targeted your idea, and the greater the differentiation factor, the more sales. You have to find a way to stand out from the competition.

In addition, be very clear about who your ideal customer is because this will facilitate the marketing process.

Tip! BPlans offers a free planning template to help guide you, and OGS Capital provides an example plan.

Step #2: Decide on the Platform

Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row, you’ll need to decide what type of platform you will feature your products. Here are your options, together with the pros and cons of each:

WordPress & Plugins

If you have the time for a steep learning curve, the WordPress platform using the WooCommerce plugin and a South African payment gateway is one option. 

WordPress dashboard

What’s great about this method is that it’s reasonably low cost. You’ll need to pay for a domain and a website host, but everything else is free unless you start wanting to improve the customer journey and tweak your processes so that they are streamlined; then you will need to fork out for premium plugins that push up your monthly costs.

We only recommend this method if you already have WordPress experience, or the time for a steep learning curve, as it’s the hardest and most time-consuming method.

E-commerce Platform

The fastest and most simplified method is to use an e-commerce platform like Shopstar

Shopstar dashboard

The reason why it’s so popular when first starting out is that it includes everything you’ll need to make it easy for prospective customers to find and buy from you. 

A word of caution about using platforms to start an online fashion store in South Africa: although there are quite a number of platforms to choose from, they can be costly to use, and if they are not specifically South African, things like payment gateways and South African specific logistics can get tricky. 

Shopstar however, is not only the most affordable option but also a South African platform built to make it easy for South African entrepreneurs to quickly and conveniently:

  • Build a professional-looking website using drag and drop blocks.
  • Create landing pages also with drag and drop blocks, to be used in targeted marketing (the price to use landing pages software is usually pricey, so this is a very nice feature to have access to. Landing pages increase conversion rates for any ad campaign you run, so you will need them.)
  • Publish blog posts for SEO - you will need this to increase traffic to your site via search engines.
  • Quickly list products and get paid. Adding payment gateways to a website can be difficult, but Shopstar has simple options that require only a click here and there, again simplifying things to get set up faster. You can even use dropshipping right from inside the tool.
  • Monitor insights from the dashboard, so that you know what’s working and what’s not.
  • Pay for professional services at a fraction of the usual cost (e.g. graphic design, copywriting, digital advertising experts, etc.)

Step #3: Create a Marketing Strategy

If it were easy to start an online fashion store in South Africa, everyone would do it. But too many would-be digital entrepreneurs find out that the hardest part of selling from a virtual shop is the marketing. 

Just a quick backtrack: People buy what they want to buy. But they need to know about your store. And they need to trust your website.

The key is offering products not easily found elsewhere, attracting would-be buyers by targeting the right audience via digital channels, and ensuring all the trust elements are in place.

How to do it:

Attract people to your online fashion store

Before you write any type of copy, it is critical to understand the people you are trying to attract. Marketing to all and sundry does not work because when you try to grab the attention of all, you get none. 

You need to understand those you are trying to attract as you would a friend. That way, you can compile words in your marketing activity that attract that particular audience.

Ways to attract people to your online fashion store in South Africa:

  • Search engine optimization. 

Image credit:

This is a long-term strategy because it requires adding content to your site regularly. Content must be educational, not promotional. If you are not a good writer, you will need to hire someone to write it for you. The better your content, the more search engines will refer traffic to it. 

  • Paid advertising. Using search engine or social media advertising, you can get instant results, but…you have to know what you are doing otherwise you will waste money. Unless you are prepared to learn all the elements necessary as to how to do it yourself, you will need to hire an expert. (If you set up your website on the Shopstar platform, using their Boost Services allows you to pay a pro to do it for you, and at an affordable rate.)

Shopstar’s Boost Service makes it affordable and easy to start making sales fast.

  • Social media channels. Create social media pages on the platforms your audience frequents, and build a strategy around what content to produce on each page. Avoid constant promotional posts, and aim to provide value to those who follow you. You could also combine digital marketing with conventional marketing.

This fashion store on Instagram boasts more than 37 000 followers.

For more details, have a look at cost-effective marketing strategies for small businesses.

Ways to build trust

Depending on a few factors, you may not be able to sell to most people the first time they visit your site. In this case, you will need to focus on building trust:

Website trust elements that increase sales. Image by eConsultancy.

  • Use trust seals and security certificates.

Trust seals and security certificate examples.

  • Add your physical address in prominent places, such as your contact form and in the site footer.

Physical address added to website footer

  • Product reviews.

Shein’s website allows customers to rate, review, add how well the product fits, provide their own measurements and upload a photo of themselves wearing the clothes. This all builds credibility to encourage sales.

  • Live Chat.

  • Updated blog. 

A regularly updated blog builds trust with your audience.

That’s It! What Now?

And so you have it - how to start an online fashion store in South Africa:

  1. Know exactly what you want to do by building a plan.
  2. Decide on the website platform you wish to use.
  3. Create a marketing plan to attract customers and make sales.

It can seem simple to set up an online fashion store in South Africa, but digital stores can be very complex because of the online factor. A simplified way of getting up and running fast is using the Shopstar platform; where everything you need to start and grow is right there on your very own dashboard.

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