The global T-shirt industry is quite an established market but it’s still further poised to grow within the next few years. The worldwide custom T-shirt printing market alone is projected to reach a hefty 3.1 billion U.S. dollars by 2025.

If you’re reading this, we’re betting you want a piece of that market. And with the rapid penetration of eCommerce, the future outlook of online T-shirt business is positive. But, this also means a competitive industry to venture into.

To help you stay ahead of the online T-shirt market, we’ve included the best-in-line marketing strategies and selling tactics to attract and convert online shoppers. You’ll also expect to read the first critical steps before setting up your online store up to the challenging tasks to create a successful online T-shirt business.

Here are the only 5 steps you need to start a successful online T-shirt business:

1. Discover your online T-shirt business niche

We’ve established that the online T-shirt business is such a competitive market to enter. This is why finding a niche for your store will be necessary for you not just to stand out but also sustainable. You don’t want to be just like any other online T-shirt stores out there.

But, before you proceed, it’s important to watch out for all potential risks before deciding which items to sell. Future threats like fads or small market share could potentially impact your business operations and profitability. So carefully plan your steps to mitigate any possible risks.

If you build an online T-shirt store that is remarkably unique, you’ll have higher chances for success. In finding your niche, you will have to devote much of your time by doing a thorough research of the following:  

Assess your internal and external environment

As a start, you will need to make some assessments of your internal and external environments. Understanding these two factors might potentially birth to several product ideas that could become your niche.

At this point, answer the following checklists with full honesty. Just simply write down your answers and if it sparks a niche make sure to take note of that too: 

  • Interests or passions: Following your heart might lead you to the best online T-shirt business to sell. What do you like to do? Any type of business must begin with your interests and passions. Do you like sports, movies, or fashion, etc.? 
  • Experience or expertise: What are your skills? What are you good at? Do you to paint or do some graphic arts? Why not design your T-shirts?

Primadonna

For example, the founders of Primadonna had extensive experience in the fashion industry before deciding to launch their online clothing store, focusing their niche on women clothing. 

  • Market demands and consumer needs: Identify what shoppers are looking for online or what they are passionate about. Know the popular T-shirt designs. Are they looking for novelty or statement shirts? 

By doing just a simple Google Search of popular T-shirt designs, you’ll already see the most feasible T-shirts to sell online. Alternatively, you can also do a keyword search to identify what search terms do people include when searching for T-shirts online. 

Alternatively, you can use Google Trends to identify trending and popular search terms. Simply go to Google Trends, then type T-shirts on the search bar. You can localize the results by filtering by the desired country. You can also filter by date range and topic category. 

Google Trends

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the ‘Related queries’ section. This will show you the queries people searched for together with the term “T-shirts”. When you click on the ‘Top’ filter, you will see the most popular search queries. Scoring is on a relative scale where a value of 100 is the most commonly searched query.

Google Trends - related queries

As you can see above, custom T-shirts, long T-shirts, and men’s T-shirts are the most popular items that shoppers look for online. Explore the results to see which niche is possible for you. 

  • Market gaps: What are the T-shirt designs that are currently not in the online market? Go to a department store or any physical stores, do you see some T-shirts that can’t be ordered online? Identifying market gaps between physical and online stores give you a glimpse of what the market needs online.

Bench/

For example, Bench, a popular clothing retailer in the Philippines, opened a small store selling men’s T-shirts in 1987 because it has found out that the Philippine market has no clothing lines specifically catered for the youth. Today, it’s a seasoned online store not just for T-shirts but other clothing and fashion lines. 

Find profitable T-shirts to sell online

Whatever your chosen niche is, it’s important to take note of the profitability of the products you’re going to sell. Start by analyzing the sales data of the largest global eCommerce stores out there.

To do this, simply look at their best-selling T-shirts, trending T-shirt designs, and even their least popular items. This will help you gauge which T-shirt products to include or exclude in your store. 

Here are popular eCommerce stores to check: 

  • Amazon: The biggest eCommerce market share in the U.S., Amazon has become the global standard for budding online store owners. Thus, its sales data has a realistic view of what online shoppers demand.

Amazon's best sellers

Watch out for ‘Best Seller’ tag on the category page, the number of customer reviews, and the average customer rating.

  • eBay: Just like Amazon, eBay is a multinational eCommerce store which helps facilitate online sellers. It’s a great place for you to look for profitable T-shirt items to sell.

T-shirts in eBay

Take note of the number of items sold. Highly demanded products usually are more likely to sell out faster. But, this could also mean that you’ll have more competitors. 

2. Design your T-shirts

Well, if you’re an artist yourself, you can design your T-shirts. However, in the long run, this could be detrimental to the growth of your business. You can truly operate the business if you’re busy designing your T-shirts too.

The best way is to find a sustainable strategy to offer new T-shirt designs over time. Here are the best ways to design your T-shirts: 

  • Hire a designer

If you don’t have the technical skills, hire a graphic designer who can execute your design visions.

Check out the designers’ portfolio and see if their past projects match your brand style and design needs. If yes, then message them to see if they do freelance projects.

To find a suitable graphic designer to help you with your T-shirt designs, check out the following: 

a) Behance

b) Dribbble

c) Upwork

d) Freelancer

  • Buy pre-made T-shirt designs

Aside from designers, you have the option to buy already pre-made T-shirt designs. The drawback, however, is that other stores could also be selling the same design. This will prevent you from standing out.

If you choose this route, go to the following T-shirt graphic marketplaces to see which T-shirt designs are suitable for your online T-shirt business:

a) GraphicRiver

b) Creative Market

c) Designious

d) T-shirt Factory

3. Partner with the right printing service provider

There are various business models that you can apply in your online T-shirt business. The most popular is print-on-demand. What is does is you enlist a third-party company to print and ship your T-shirts to your customers.

Any customization like patterns or prints is already applied before they are shipped out to your customers as your orders come in. This way, you won’t have to store inventory or even manage the fulfillment side.

This makes it one of the fastest and most convenient ways to set up your online T-shirt business because you won’t have to spend on printing equipment, storage, or inventory. However, this also yields the lowest revenue because you’re sharing much of your profit with the third-party service. 

Here’s a shortlist of print-on-demand service providers:

Take note that each print-on-demand service provider can either have a fixed or custom profit margin per T-shirt sold. 

4. Set up your online T-shirt store

Now that you’re done with the most serious tasks that you have to plan out, it’s time to build your online presence. Your online T-shirt business website will be the most crucial part of launching a successful store. This is like building a brick-and-mortar store, only all digital.

Setting up your website seems a daunting task, but there are already so many tools out there to help you out. To summarize quickly, here are the things you need to do: 

Select an appropriate eCommerce platform

Also known as eCommerce website builder or shopping cart solution, this is the software that will help you create a website to sell your T-shirts online. It usually houses everything that you need to sell conveniently online: manage inventory, calculate shipping/taxes, handle orders, etc.

You can select among these popular eCommerce platforms:

From here, you also need your web hosting service if you opt for a self-hosted platform. Then, other aspects like securing your website, choosing the right payment gateway, or ensuring automated backups should also be taken into consideration. You can read this definitive guide in creating an online store for more information.

Integrate your print-on-demand app/extension

Depending on what eCommerce service provider you choose, you can easily install and integrate your print-on-demand service provider’s app. This will allow you to automate certain processes like managing returns, inventories, and even customer support. 

Here’s a list of print-on-demand apps by eCommerce platform: 

Set your T-shirt prices

Most clothing brands use a cost-based pricing strategy, in which the final retail price will ultimately come from the cost-per-unit (how much it costs you to produce your T-shirts). From there, you can set a realistic markup. But today, keystone markups have been recommended for volatile businesses like the apparel industry. Keystone markup is simply applying 100% markup, meaning doubling the cost-per-unit. 

To illustrate: If a designer produces a T-shirt worth $3, then that shirt will wholesale at $6 (a 100% markup from the original price). Then, you as the online T-shirt business can sell it at $12 (a 100% markup from the wholesale price).  

Although, since you are in a competitive industry, there’s also the pressure of using markups under 100%. This means that aside from the cost-per-unit, you also need to consider the other aspects of pricing like competitive advantage and the perceived value of your product. 

To be profitable in your online T-shirt business, Toby Nwazor Toby Nwazor of Entrepreneur magazine expertly suggests targeting for prices 30% to 50% higher than your expenses

Design your online store 

At this point, you’ll decide how you want your website to look like. This involves the crucial user interface and user experience designs that will impact the shopping experience of your potential customers. 

An attractive and highly functional eCommerce website design is essential in creating a good and lasting first impression. It also assures your website visitors of your professionalism and legitimacy as a business.

Here are some design tips and best practices to make sure that your online store is optimized for conversion:

  • Display high-quality product images 

Shoppers rely heavily on product images when deciding to purchase a product online. This is because they can’t physically hold and inspect a product. It’s recommended to display high-definition photos because shoppers are three times more likely to convert when they see high-quality images. 

To display visually stunning product images, you can conduct a photoshoot of your T-shirts worn by models. However, this isn’t advisable for small and medium businesses. Instead, you can use T-shirt mockups by using online templates that you can edit with your designs. 

Aside from downloading Photoshop T-shirt templates that are available online, you can quickly use available T-shirt mockup templates online. Here are some of our favorites that produce high-quality product images: 

T-shirt mockup

Source: Place.it

  • Optimize your homepage with personalization

Personalization is a technique that most savvy online store owners use to increase the positive user experience of their shoppers. What it does is to simply make sure that their website will adapt according to who’s visiting the website. 

Start by personalizing your homepage. It’s one of the most crucial pages of your website because it serves as a gateway of your products to get discovered by your visitors. To personalize your homepage, make sure that you offer product recommendations. This is suggested to be displayed to first-time visitors because they’re not yet familiar with your products. 

Teespring

For instance, Teespring provides product recommendations right on its homepage. The moment you land their homepage, you’ll see different suggestion sections like “Recommendations For You”, “Staff Picks”, “Featured Collections”, etc. 

Personalize Recommendation

To make your life easier, you can use the Personalized Recommendation app to help you automatically display product recommendations on your homepage. Choose to display smart recommendations like “Bought this also bought”, “Handpicked products by you”, or “Bestsellers of the store”.

To get full design tips, visit these practical website design tips to know the effective best practices in designing your homepage, product page, checkout page, etc. 

5. Promote your online store and sell more

By going this far, you are now fully equipped to launch and market your online T-shirt business. Your next step is to build buzz and drive traffic into your website. How do you get people to talk about your online store? How do you convert your traffic? How do you increase your sales?

For budding entrepreneurs like you, start with these zero to low-cost strategies to generate and convert traffic:  

Drive traffic using social media

Social media is crowned as the number 1 driver to overall website traffic. With over 3.196 billion active social media users globally, use this free platform to promote your online T-shirt business. First, identify where most of your target audience is. Are they on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Here are the top social media platforms today: 

Social media users

Source: Visual Capitalist

What you need to do is to make you set up the following on social media: 

  • Add a link to your site on your social media accounts

It may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s still a significant number of online stores without properly filling out their social media accounts. This includes their website link. For instance, if you have a Facebook Business Page, ensure have correctly added your website link on the ‘Contact Info’ section of your ‘About’ tab. 

  • Include relevant hashtags in your bio and posts

Instagram has a feature of adding hashtags in your profile bio. So, if you are a T-shirt store, make sure to include #tshirts, #tshirtstore, or other terms relevant to your niche. This way, when people search these hashtags, they can find your online store easily. 

For example, OM Collections added relevant hashtags on their profile and posts to promote their online store.

Raise your average order value 

Maximize every traffic that comes into your website. To do this, make sure to increase your average order value by enticing customers to purchase not just one item. Offer them with upselling or cross-selling items whenever they’ve shown interest to buy a single product. 

You can upsell a superior or more expensive product or cross-sell supplementary items such as accessories to what the customer is currently considering to buy. For instance, when a customer adds a T-shirt on his/her cart, recommend adding more items with discounts. 

Using the technology from Boost Sales, you can already upsell or cross-sell more relevant products before the customer proceeds to checkout. You can also add promo discounts to make it more enticing, just like this one below:

Boost Sales app

Convert visitors with sweet welcome discounts

You want to quicken your visitors’ path to purchase, don’t wait for them to convert. Offer an irresistible welcome discount that they can use immediately for their first purchase. To do this, you can catch their attention with an entrance popup offer that will automatically be displayed the moment your visitors land your website. 

For example, Threadless even takes it further by displaying a gamified entrance popup where visitors are presented with a spin-to-win wheel abundant with discount offers and special prizes. You can implement this by using the gamified popup from SiteKit

You’re ready to sell your T-shirts online!

Setting up your own online T-shirt business is an exciting venture for budding entrepreneurs because it’s a highly in-demand industry right now. But, like any other clothing businesses, the risk of setting up an online T-shirt business is high. There’s a stock to purchase, printing service providers to go through, and even packaging issues to deal with. 

This is why non-traditional ways to start an online T-shirt business like print-on-demand service has a low barrier to entry. So, you can have more focus on designing unique and quality T-shirts. Plus, you have more time in driving and converting more traffic into your online store.

To be successful in the online T-shirt business, find ways to maximize every traffic that knocks on your door. We’ve mentioned marketing techniques like upselling and cross-selling strategies to increase average order value or offering welcome discount popups to new customers. If you have more ideas, feel free to let us know and we’ll discuss them next time. 

beginner guideprint-on-demandT-shirt business