Back in the day, if you wanted to start selling products, you had to have a lot of resources, including inventory. This meant either manufacturing or buying products in bulk from a wholesaler or supplier.
You’d also need to pay overhead costs for your business, such as rent for a physical space to store all of your inventory and salary for employees to staff your store and help customers. All these costs would usually require you to get a loan from a bank, thus putting you in debt.
Thankfully with the advent of eCommerce and online shopping, it’s easier than ever to start selling products via an online store. And, believe it or not, you can actually start an online store with zero inventory.
With the right approach, you don’t need to worry about any overhead costs traditionally associated with a physical store. Instead, you can reach a global audience in a matter of weeks. This means even those with limited financial resources can start an online store.
This article will show you how to start an online store without inventory and what you need to consider before taking the plunge.
Let’s dive in!
No-inventory Methods for Making Money in eCommerce
It may seem counter-intuitive to run an eCommerce business without any inventory, but it is possible and sometimes even preferable to inventory-based models.
Here are a few eCommerce models that online entrepreneurs use to make money without having any products of their own:
Dropshipping is a business model in which you sell products sourced from a supplier. When a customer orders at your store, the supplier will ship the product directly to the end user’s doorstep. Typically this all happens without the customer knowing that you don’t have the inventory in-house.
You are essentially the middleman facilitating the transfer between manufacturer and customer, and you don’t have to deal with or store any inventory whatsoever.
Sounds pretty great, right? Well, there are some downsides. For one, it’s extremely competitive. It’s also challenging to maintain a good standard of quality control since you’re not actually physically seeing and shipping the products.
Additionally, many manufacturers won’t handle returns or refunds in the case of unsatisfied customers, which will likely fall on your plate.
It’s still a very profitable business model you can manage with nothing but a laptop and an internet connection if you’re willing to put in the time and work.
How to get started in dropshipping
Find a niche
Before you can start your store, you’ll need to choose a niche. Think about what kind of products you’re interested in selling, and consider your target market. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, you can start researching potential suppliers.
Pro Tip: When trying to find your niche, identify your passions, know your customers’ problems, and research the current competition for opportunities.
Find a supplier
There are a few different ways to find dropshipping suppliers. You can start by searching Google for “[niche] + dropshipper.”
For example, if you’re interested in selling pet supplies, you would search for “pet supplies dropshipper.” This will bring up a list of potential suppliers that you can contact.
You can also find suppliers on directories like SaleHoo and Oberlo. These platforms list dropshipping suppliers that have been vetted, so you can be sure you’re working with a reputable company.
Choose a platform
Next, you’ll need to choose an eCommerce platform to build your store. Which platform to choose all depends on your budget, technical expertise, and preferences.
If you’re just starting out and on a tight budget, we recommend using Shopify. It’s an all-in-one platform that includes everything you need to launch and run your store. However, you can read our full guide on choosing the best eCommerce platform to start your business to decide for yourself.
Set up your store
Once you’ve chosen your platform and found a supplier, it’s time to set up your store! This process will vary depending on your platform, but Shopify has a great setup wizard that will guide you through the process.
The final step is to start driving traffic to your store. You can do this through social media, paid advertising, or creating content (such as blog posts or YouTube videos) that ranks high in search engines.
For more information on getting started with dropshipping, read about eCommerce dropshipping beginners’ mistakes to avoid and the best dropshipping products.
If you’re looking to start an online store without any inventory, Fulfilled-by-Amazon services (FBA) is a great option. With this method, you sell products on Amazon, which is ultimately responsible for storing, packing, and shipping the products.
You’re still responsible for ordering products from suppliers, but you don’t have to store that inventory. You can ship the product to Amazon FBA, which will handle all the logistics for you.
To start with FBA, you’ll need to create an Amazon Seller account and list your products on the platform.
Amazon will then provide you with shipping labels that you can use to send your products to their warehouses.
Can I dropship with Amazon FBA?
The astute automation wizards among you may wonder if you can stack dropshipping with Amazon FBA to save even more time. The answer is yes. Amazon FBA is actually quite a popular dropshipping channel.
Amazon FBA is a great way to start dropshipping because it takes care of storage, shipping, and customer service for you. All you need to do is find a supplier and send them your products.
Then, when someone orders from your store, Amazon will pick, pack, and ship the products for you. They’ll even handle customer service!
Print-on-demand is another great way to sell products without having any inventory of your own.
In this business model, you partner with a print-on-demand company that will print and ship your products on a per-order basis.
You supply the design for the products, which are often t-shirts, mugs, and other customizable apparel, and the company takes care of the rest.
How to get started in print-on-demand:
The first step is to create designs for the products you want to sell. This can be done with a graphic design program like Adobe Photoshop, or with an online tool like Canva.
If you’re not a designer, you can also hire artists for cheap on sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and 99Designs.
Choose a print-on-demand service
Once you have your designs, you’ll need to choose a print-on-demand company to partner with. We recommend Printful, as they are one of the largest and most reputable companies in the space.
Set up your store
The next step is to set up your store and connect it to your print-on-demand company. This process will vary depending on which platform you’re using, but Shopify has a great app that will automate the process for you.
The final step is to start driving traffic to your store. You can do this through social media, paid to advertise, or by creating content (such as blog posts or YouTube videos) that ranks high in search engines.
Selling digital products is a great way to start an eCommerce business without the hassle of any inventory whatsoever.
It’s also a great business model for generating passive income since digital products require almost zero overhead after they’re created.
Digital products are great for entrepreneurs with high levels of expertise in a particular field of study. With rising college tuition costs coupled with a skill-based economy, more and more people are turning to online education and “info products” to further their careers and personal lives.
Examples of digital products to sell include:
eBooks aren’t as popular as they used to be, but many people will still pay for a digital book that helps them accomplish a particular goal or outcome.
Many content creators will package their pre-existing blog content into an eBook format, give it a professional design and layout, and sell it.
The worldwide e-learning market is projected to be worth $325 billion in 2025. If you have expertise in a particular subject matter, there’s a good chance that you can create a course on it and sell it online.
If you don’t like being on camera, that’s no problem. Many online courses are filmed with free screen capture software, Google slides, and a voiceover. Websites like Udemy.com, Teachable, and Thinkific supply the platform, so all you need to do is upload your course files and start selling.
Graphics and design elements
If you’re good with Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, you can create graphics, logos, or other design elements and sell them on sites like GraphicRiver or Creative Market.
Many creators are willing to pay good money to have a reusable Adobe Photoshop or Premiere template to produce content more quickly.
Plugins and apps
If programming is more your thing, you can create WordPress plugins or Android/iOS apps and sell them on sites like CodeCanyon or AppBrain.
Selling small products like Chrome extensions or WordPress plugins is a great way to dip your toes into the very profitable SaaS (software-as-a-service) world.
Start an affiliate marketing site
Affiliate marketing is the process of earning a commission by promoting other people’s products. You find a product you like, promote it to others, and earn a piece of the profit for each sale that you make.
In eCommerce affiliate programs, you’re the unofficial marketing department for a particular brand. You don’t have to store products, deal with customer complaints, or make business decisions. All you need to do is market the product through your website.
How to start an affiliate site:
Choose your niche
The first step is to choose a niche for your affiliate site. This could be anything from weight loss and fitness, to fashion and beauty, to electronics and gaming.
Research affiliate programs
Once you’ve chosen your niche, you need to find products eligible for affiliate marketing. This means researching affiliate networks (such as Share-A-Sale or Amazon Affiliates) and determining which product categories are the most profitable to promote.
Be sure to check the affiliate commission tables as well, as not every product category will earn the same percentage from a sale.
Choose your platform
Next, you’ll need to choose a platform for your site. We recommend WordPress, as it is the most popular and easy-to-use platform out there for publishing content. And trust us, you’ll need to be posting a lot of content to run a profitable affiliate site.
Start creating content
The final step is to start creating content for your site. This could be anything from blog posts and product reviews to video tutorials and infographics. Most of your traffic will likely come from organic search traffic, so it’s important to do good keyword research.
Also, keep in mind that blasting posts with transactional intent isn’t a great way to build an audience. You also need a solid mix of informational content with zero selling intent. This not only builds trust but helps you rank for more keywords in organic search.
Best practices for starting an online store with no inventory
Go with an audience-first approach
If you’re not sure which model to choose, try an audience-first approach. This exercise involves choosing an audience you want to target rather than a particular product.
This could be busy moms aged 28-35 in suburban areas. Or retired military veterans living in rural areas.
Once you’ve chosen your target audience, research the products that they’re interested in and look for affiliate programs (or bulk manufacturers in the case of dropshipping) that offer those products.
The next step is to create content for your site that will appeal to your target audience. Once you’ve built up a good amount of traffic, you can start promoting affiliate products to your visitors. Or, set up an online store for dropshipping.
Finally, it’s important to track your results and analyze your traffic so that you can see what’s working and what’s not. This will help you adjust your strategy and continue to grow your online store.
Try a product-first approach
On the flip side, you can start with a product-first approach. This exercise is about starting with a profitable product and finding your audience along the way.
For example, let’s say you’re really passionate about backyard pizza ovens. You don’t know exactly who likes backyard pizza ovens as much as you, but you’re certain they’re out there somewhere.
You can start a site about backyard pizza oven reviews with affiliate links, and start building your audience as your site traffic increases. Then, you can move into dropshipping, FBA, or even monetizing your site with ads.
There are a few reasons why studying competitors is helpful for starting an online store without inventory. First, it can give you an idea of what products are selling well and which ones aren’t. This can help you make better choices about the products you promote.
Second, it can give you ideas for content and marketing strategies that you can use to help your store stand out from the crowd. Finally, it can help you track your progress and see how well you’re doing in comparison to other stores in your niche.
If you don’t have competitors in your space, there are two possibilities:
- You’re the first person to ever think about selling whatever you’re selling (not likely).
- There isn’t enough demand for that particular product or service.
In the latter case, you’re better off expanding your niche or choosing another product type.
Build and retain an audience
Transient traffic is great, but if you really want to grow your online store, you need to focus on building and retaining an audience.
This means creating content that they’ll actually want to read or watch and offering products that they’re interested in.
It also means staying active on social media and engaging with your audience regularly.
Email marketing is a great way to build and retain an audience because it allows you to stay in touch with your subscribers and send them regular updates about your store.
This can help you build a relationship with them and keep them coming back for more. Plus, it’s a great way to promote new products and drive traffic to your site.
Reinvest capital into your own products and inventory
The great thing about starting an online store without inventory is that it has a very low barrier to entry. You can build up an eCommerce store, even a highly-profitable online business, without any sort of inventory management.
Once you’ve chosen a business model that works for you and gotten your feet wet with selling products online, you can start reinvesting those profits into actual products.
It’s not uncommon for affiliate marketers in a particular niche to develop products of their own. Or for successful online stores to eventually open up physical locations.
When that time comes, make sure you’re equipped with solid inventory management software to stay on top of all your logistics.
If you began this post totally clueless about how to start an online store without inventory, you should now have a much better idea of where to start.
Remember, the key is to find a niche that you’re passionate about and focus on building an audience that will appreciate your products.
When in doubt, study your competitors, do good market and keyword research, and always be looking for ways to improve your store.
Remember, in competitive spaces like eCommerce, the folks who persevere are the ones who win.
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To learn more about SkuVault, our all-in-one inventory management platform, check out our features page.