Selling online without holding inventory can seem daunting for new ecommerce entrepreneurs. However, various business models allow you to run an online store on Shopify without stocking your own products.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the most popular techniques for selling on Shopify without inventory—including dropshipping, print-on-demand, white labeling, and more. We’ll also provide tips to help you choose the right model for your business goals and avoid common pitfalls along the way.
What is Inventory?
Inventory refers to the products you purchase, store, and sell through your online store. When you hold inventory, you take on all costs and risks associated with:
- Purchasing products upfront in bulk quantities
- Storing those products in a warehouse or other facility
- Managing and shipping inventory to customers after they place an order
Holding your own inventory gives you more control over product quality, branding, packaging, and shipping times. However, it also requires significant upfront capital and ongoing overhead expenses.
With the inventory-free models we’ll cover, you can launch an ecommerce store with minimal startup costs. Your suppliers hold the inventory and handle order fulfillment, freeing you to focus on sales, marketing, and branding.
How to Do Online Business Without Inventory?
Great question! The cool thing is you can launch an ecommerce store on Shopify without needing to purchase and hold any inventory yourself.
The business model that makes this possible is called dropshipping. It works like this:
You create and list products for sale in your online Shopify store. When a customer places an order, instead of you shipping it from your own warehouse, you simply purchase the item from a third party supplier.
Then you provide the customer’s shipping details to that supplier, and they’ll ship the product directly to your customer for you.
So with dropshipping, you don’t pay for inventory until after a sale occurs. The supplier handles storing it until it’s ordered. This lets you start selling products without any upfront inventory costs.
Shopify makes dropshipping easy to set up. There are apps like Oberlo that let you import and list products from suppliers like AliExpress.
So, let’s find out Shopify dropshipping (No Inventory). Before proceeding Shopify dropshipping, you may interested finding more on dropshippng legality in shopify? Check this guide:
Do You Need Inventory to Sell on Shopify?
Inventory is not required to sell products on Shopify. The platform supports various inventory-free ecommerce models, including:
With dropshipping, you sell products from a third-party supplier who handles order fulfillment. You browse their catalog, import product listings to your Shopify store, and set your own pricing.
When customers purchase from your store, you forward their order details to the supplier. The supplier handles packing and shipping each order directly to the customer. You keep the profits from the sale and pay the supplier only after the sale is complete.
Print-on-demand works well for customizable products like t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, and art prints. You design the products and upload them to your Shopify store. A POD supplier manufactures them only after customers place an order.
POD helps minimize wasted inventory since you produce only the exact items customers request. The supplier prints your design onto a product, packages, and ships orders for you.
White labeling involves purchasing finished products wholesale from a supplier and reselling them under your own brand. The supplier handles inventory, fulfillment, and shipping while letting you control branding and marketing.
This model works well if you want to sell an existing type of product but with custom packaging and branding. For instance, you could white label health supplements, cosmetics, or pet products.
Benefits of Selling Without Inventory on Shopify
Operating on Shopify without holding inventory offers several advantages for new entrepreneurs:
Lower Upfront Costs
Launching a business without buying inventory means you avoid those major upfront expenditures. With dropshipping, POD, and white labeling, you can start selling products right away without large investments.
When you don’t hold inventory, you avoid expenses like warehouse rentals, storage fees, inventory management systems, and extra staff to handle fulfillment. Your monthly overhead costs are lower.
Excess inventory that goes unsold leads to wasted money. By selling products only as customers order them, you eliminate the risk of getting stuck with obsolete, slow-moving, or expired stock.
Flexibility & Agility
With your supplier holding inventory, you can test new product types faster. If something isn’t selling well, you can quickly swap it out for a more popular item to meet customer demand.
Focus on Sales & Marketing
Time spent managing inventory can take away from critical sales and marketing activities. By removing fulfillment operations, you gain more time to promote your business and perfect your branding.
Now let’s explore the most common techniques for selling on Shopify without holding any inventory.
Dropshipping on Shopify
Dropshipping provides an easy entry point into ecommerce for entrepreneurs with limited capital. With this model, you sell products from a wholesaler who handles order fulfillment and shipping.h
A video Guide of Dropshipping
As the store owner, your responsibilities include:
- Building your Shopify store
- Selecting products to sell
- Marketing your store to attract customers
- Processing orders and payments
- Providing customer service
You forward completed orders to your supplier, who packages and ships products directly from their warehouse to your customers. This saves you from buying any inventory upfront or managing fulfillment in-house.
How Does the Dropshipping Process Work?
Here are the typical steps to fulfill an order using Shopify dropshipping:
- Browse supplier inventory. Your dropshipper provides a catalog of their wholesale products for you to review. Browse their selection to find appealing products for your target audience.
- Import products. Add desired products to your Shopify store using a dropshipping app or manual data entry. Upload images, descriptions, variants, prices, etc.
- Market your store. Use ads, SEO, social media, email marketing, and other tactics to promote your store and products across channels.
- Receive customer orders. As customers purchase products on your Shopify store, orders are logged under the Orders section.
- Forward orders. For each completed order, submit the required info (like shipping address) to your dropshipper so they can fulfill it.
- Supplier ships order. The supplier packages up the product(s) and ships them directly from their warehouse to your customer.
- You get paid. Shopify processes payments from the customer when they submit the order. The supplier gets paid afterward.
Tips for Success with Shopify Dropshipping
Follow this advice to maximize your chances of success with a Shopify dropshipping business:
- Find reliable suppliers. Vet suppliers thoroughly and order samples to check product quality before selling them.
- Focus on fast-shipping items. Products shipping from China or taking over 2 weeks can lead to high abandonment rates.
- Avoid overcrowded niches. Consider narrow niches and unique product offerings to stand out from competitors.
- Provide excellent customer support. Building long-term relationships leads to repeat purchases and positive word-of-mouth.
- Automate order forwarding. Apps like Oberlo can automatically send new orders to your preferred supplier with one click.
- Keep order fulfillment centralized. Use a single supplier if possible to ensure consistency in packaging, branding, shipping times, etc.
- Monitor inventory. Occasional stock-outs are inevitable. Remove out-of-stock items promptly to avoid issues.
Top Shopify Dropshipping Suppliers
These wholesale distributors have large product catalogs suitable for dropshipping:
- AliExpress – Over 100 million affordable products from Chinese suppliers with bulk ordering available.
- Salehoo – Directory of vetted suppliers with a user community to share intel.
- Doba – US-based catalog with over 2 million products across all categories.
- Spocket – Curated selection of products shipping from US and European Union suppliers.
- Modalyst – Focused on fast-shipping dropship items from US and UK warehouses.
Some additional places to find potential dropshippers include:
- Business directories like SaleHoo and WorldWideBrands
- Manufacturer websites
- Platforms like Alibaba and GlobalSources
When vetting new suppliers, order samples to verify product quality and shipping speed. Test customer support responsiveness by asking questions. Start small with new suppliers until they prove reliable.
For a more in-depth look at the top Shopify dropshipping suppliers and how to choose the best one for your business, check out shopify detailed guide.
Print-on-Demand with Shopify
Print-on-demand (POD) is another popular method of selling products through Shopify without holding inventory.
It works especially well for customizable apparel, art prints, phone cases, mugs, accessories, and stationery. You design the products, while your print provider handles printing and shipping completed orders.
When setting up a POD Shopify store, you’ll need to find a suitable print provider and integrate their catalog into your store using a POD app.
How Print-on-Demand Order Fulfillment Works
Fulfilling POD orders involves the following steps:
- Create designs. Use graphic design skills or tools like Canva to design custom artwork and upload image files.
- Add products to your store. Select product types like t-shirts, mugs, etc. Upload designs and mockups using your POD app.
- Customer places order. When someone purchases the item from your store, the order info syncs to your print provider.
- Print provider fulfills order. They print the artwork onto the chosen product, package it, and ship directly to the customer.
- You get paid. Shopify pays you the order revenue minus the printing/shipping fees charged by your provider.
POD handles fulfillment automatically based on orders – you produce only what customers have already paid for. There’s no risk of getting stuck with unsold merchandise.
Tips for Launching a Print-on-Demand Shopify Store
Follow this advice when getting started with print-on-demand:
- Choose product types carefully. Consider profit margins and restrictions that providers may place on artwork, colors, locations, etc.
- Create high-quality designs. Hire a professional graphic designer if needed to make compelling artwork people will want to buy.
- Pick the right print provider. Vet potential partners closely and order samples to verify quality.
- Configure your POD app properly. Take time to thoroughly set up your app with accurate pricing and product info to avoid issues.
- Automate order forwarding. Apps like Printify can automatically sync new orders to your provider for fast fulfillment.
- Provide mockups. Showcase products attractively on your store using mockup generator tools.
- Market aggressively. POD products have lower margins, so you must market vigorously to drive high sales volume. Leverage social media and influencers.
You can read our comparison of the top Shopify POD apps – Shopify vs Printify.
White Label Dropshipping on Shopify
White label dropshipping involves purchasing finished products at wholesale prices for resale under your own brand. The supplier warehouses and ships the inventory.
This model allows you to create a perceived brand and unique product lineup without manufacturing anything yourself. You get the independence of branding and marketing the items as your own creation.
White labeling works especially well for specialty products in categories like:
- Nutritional supplements
- Pet products
You place product orders with the supplier after customers purchase to avoid holding excess inventory. The supplier packages orders in custom boxes and shipping materials branded with your logo and designs before dropshipping to customers.
Be sure to communicate detailed specifications like:
- Product packaging design
- Instructions insert
- Custom labeling
Order smaller quantities to test product demand. Scale up purchases once you’ve validated profitability.
Keys to Success with White Label Dropshipping
Follow this advice to maximize your success and profitability with white label products:
- Find niche products not widely available on major marketplaces to avoid direct price comparisons.
- Negotiate low MOQs (minimum order quantities) so you can test product demand before over-investing.
- Order samples from suppliers to check product quality before agreeing to a large order.
- Work with the supplier to create polished, unique packaging that reinforces your brand image.
- Focus on marketing the product benefits and your brand story vs. the products themselves.
- Ensure your supplier can handle scaling up order volume as your customer base expands.
Using white labeling, you can give products mainstream appeal while controlling the branding, packaging, and end-to-end customer experience.
Multi-Level Marketing Companies with Shopify
Multi-level marketing (MLM) provides another inventory-free avenue for selling products online. MLMs function through networks of distributors who purchase products upfront and sell them, often leveraging direct sales and referrals.
While MLMs get a bad rap due to shady practices at some companies, many legitimate MLMs follow ethical business standards. They offer a simple way to sell products without managing your own inventory.
- You sign up as a distributor for an MLM company and gain access to their product catalog.
- The MLM ships a starter set of product samples so you can demonstrate them to prospects.
- You market the opportunity to friends, family, social media followers, etc. and get them signed up as distributors under you.
- When your recruits place wholesale orders, the MLM ships products directly to them.
- You earn commission based on the sales volume of your recruits.
Tips for Success with MLM and Shopify
- Choose an MLM with products you feel good about personally recommending.
- Create a Shopify store to sell starter kits or product bundles to new recruits.
- Leverage social media to find prospects and share product reviews and lifestyle content.
- Focus on building personal connections and helping recruits succeed vs. aggressive sales pitches.
- Provide new distributors with marketing collateral, training, and support.
- Remain ethical and honest when promoting income potential. Emphasize effort required.
Though MLMs can expand your reach exponentially through distributor networks, take care to avoid shady companies. Vet the MLM thoroughly and consult legal counsel when needed.
Selling Services on Shopify
Selling services through Shopify provides another option for starting an online business without physical inventory.
Examples of popular services people offer through Shopify include:
- Graphic design
- Web development
- Video production
- Fitness coaching
- Music lessons
Set up your services like tangible products in your Shopify store. For instance, create “products” for 30-minute consultations, video editing projects by length, social media post packages, etc.
Describe exactly what customers get with each service product. Show customer testimonials, service provider bios, examples of work, etc. to build confidence.
After checkout, follow up with emails to schedule service delivery based on the type of service purchased. Logistics are easier for virtual services fulfilled via chat, video, or file transfer.
Tips for Selling Services through Shopify
Follow this advice when using Shopify to operate a service-based ecommerce business:
- Clearly define each service deliverable so customers know what they’ll receive.
- Be extremely responsive to inquiries and service requests to provide top-notch customer service.
- Under-promise and over-deliver. Exceed customer expectations at every opportunity.
- Ask customers to leave reviews and testimonials that you can showcase on your store.
- Specialize in a niche area vs. general services to stand apart from freelancing marketplaces.
- Consider packaged deals for popular service combinations customers request regularly.
- Hire additional service providers as customer demand grows to avoid getting overloaded.
Using Shopify for selling services allows you to scale quickly and efficiently. You can book and track orders, enable customer logins for appointments, offer packages and subscriptions, and automate repetitive tasks.
Building a Membership Site on Shopify
Offering memberships is another inventory-free ecommerce model that Shopify supports seamlessly.
With a membership site on Shopify, customers pay a recurring fee to access gated, premium content. This content provides ongoing value that persuades members to renew month after month.
Popular types of memberships include:
Digital Content Memberships
Give paying members access to your library of content assets like videos, courses, podcasts, ebooks, templates, private forums, Q&A calls, and more.
Physical Service Memberships
These provide members access to an in-person service on an ongoing basis. Examples include gym memberships, golf/country club memberships, coworking spaces, etc.
Some memberships combine digital content access with real-world perks. For instance, an online fitness program could provide workout videos, nutrition plans, plus discounted access to in-person training sessions.
SaaS companies use memberships to provide access to their software applications. Members gain access to premium software features and continual updates.
Tips for Building a Profitable Membership Site
Follow these tips when creating a membership site on Shopify:
- Provide premium content that’s highly useful for members and not readily available elsewhere.
- Release new content frequently to encourage members to stay active and renew continually.
- Make cancellation straightforward while touting membership benefits in reminder emails.
- Offer multiple membership tiers. Upsell members to higher tiers offering more value.
- Use membership management apps like MemberPress or Recurring Orders for Shopify to handle renewals, content dripping, etc.
- Gate some content to encourage non-members to sign up for access.
- Leverage discounts and exclusive offers to incentivize membership signup.
Memberships are a scalable way to earn reliable recurring revenue. By continually expanding your content library, community, and available member benefits, you can retain and grow your subscriber base month after month.
Other Inventory-Free Models
While dropshipping, print-on-demand, and similar models cover the most popular ways to sell inventory-free on Shopify, you have a few additional options as well.
With affiliate marketing, you earn commissions by promoting and selling other companies’ products. For instance, you could build a Shopify store focused on reviewing and curating the best golf products across major brands.
When site visitors click your links and make purchases, you earn an affiliate commission on those sales. The companies handle product fulfillment while you focus on content and marketing.
If you hold licensing rights to products featuring popular characters, brands, movies, etc., you can design licensed products like t-shirts, toys, homewares, and other merchandise featuring that intellectual property.
You sell those products on Shopify without holding any inventory. The license holder handles manufacturing products on-demand as you make sales. Customers recognize the characters and buy based on that emotional attachment vs. your own branding.
Selling Used Products
Selling used or vintage products you source locally on Shopify provides another inventory-free option. For instance, you could visit garage sales on weekends, curate interesting vintage decor or clothing finds, then resell those items through your online store.
The limited quantities and uniqueness of these items helps fetch higher prices. You fulfill orders yourself by packing and shipping items as they’re purchased on your Shopify store.
With pre-orders, you sell products before officially launching them based on mockups, interest lists, and traction from your marketing campaign. This ensures demand exists before you invest in manufacturing products.
You collect payment when customers pre-order. After reaching your minimum quantity needed for production, you manufacture the products and ship orders.
Avoiding Common Mistakes Selling Without Inventory
While inventory-free ecommerce provides many advantages, mistakes can sink your business quickly if you’re not careful. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:
- Relying on untrustworthy suppliers – Vet all suppliers thoroughly and order samples before selling their products. Ensure they are responsive and capable of high-quality fulfillment.
- Hidden fees eating up profit – Calculate all supplier fees, platform fees, and payment processing fees accurately so you price products to yield a sufficient profit margin.
- Poor branding and marketing – Great branding and marketing is crucial when selling products you don’t make yourself. Perfect this to establish a connection with customers.
- Overpromising on shipping – Underpromise and overdeliver on shipping times. Factor in supplier/platform handling time into estimates so customers aren’t disappointed.
- No quality control – Even if you don’t hold the inventory, implement a returns process for defective products and inspect samples periodically to catch issues.
- Low barrier to entry – Expect stiff competition selling popular products online. Differentiate yourself through stellar branding, content, and customer service.
By understanding the unique risks and challenges involved with selling online without handling fulfillment in-house, you can make strategic decisions to avoid common pitfalls.
Selling through Shopify without managing your own inventory opens the door to entrepreneurship for those lacking capital and facilities for buying, storing, and shipping stock.
Choose a model like dropshipping, print-on-demand, memberships, services, or white labeling that aligns with your business goals. Carefully vet partners and automate order fulfillment. Focus aggressively on branding, marketing, and customer experience to compete effectively.
Inventory-free ecommerce provides tremendous opportunities today. But you must lay the right groundwork and meet customer expectations to turn those opportunities into a thriving Shopify business.
Use this guide to gain clarity on the options available for selling online without handling your own fulfillment. Determine the best approach for your target customer, product types, and budget. Then leverage Shopify’s powerful ecommerce features to run your inventory-free store smoothly and efficiently.
With the right model and execution, you can launch and grow an online store on Shopify without ever touching a product yourself.
Here are some frequently asked questions about selling on Shopify without inventory:
What is the easiest way to sell on Shopify without inventory?
The easiest approach is usually dropshipping. With dropshipping, you don’t have to purchase, store or ship products yourself. Instead, you find a supplier, list their products on your Shopify store, and when an order comes in, you forward it to the supplier for fulfillment. Apps like Oberlo can automate the order forwarding process.
How profitable is selling on Shopify without inventory?
Profitability varies widely based on your business model, product markup, marketing tactics, and more. However, inventory-free models can certainly be profitable if you run your Shopify store effectively. For instance, popular dropshipping stores generate 6-7 figure revenues. Just don’t expect instant profits – it takes consistent effort.
What should I sell on Shopify without holding inventory?
Almost any type of product can be sold profitably on Shopify without inventory. However, some categories work especially well, like customized apparel, art prints, phone cases, specialty supplements, jewelry, and small accessories that suppliers can easily dropship. Unique or customized products also help minimize competition.
What risks are involved with inventory-free Shopify models?
The main risks include unreliable suppliers, shipping delays and errors, lack of quality control, high competition, andChargebacks. Vet all suppliers thoroughly, provide accurate shipping estimates, monitor product quality, and offer great support. Also, focus on product uniqueness and excellent branding to mitigate risks.
How do I choose the best suppliers for inventory-free Shopify selling?
When evaluating potential suppliers, order samples to verify product quality firsthand. Test their support responsiveness by asking questions. Ensure they have sufficient product selection and inventory capacity to support your scaling sales. Start small with new suppliers to assess reliability before committing bigger orders.
How can I be profitable dropshipping cheap products from China?
Success dropshipping cheap Chinese products requires finding untapped niche products, highlighting product benefits compellingly in listings, shipping only fast packet options, providing excellent customer service, automating processes, and scaling order volume to earn bulk discounts from suppliers. With the right strategy, dropshipping inexpensive products can be very profitable.
What other questions do you have about selling on Shopify without your own inventory? Let me know and I can provide additional details!