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In this Shopify dropshipping guide, I’m going to explain how dropshipping on Shopify works, the best way to get started with it and the key pitfalls to avoid.
There are two ways to use this resource. You can read the whole article (which contains the most detailed information) or alternatively watch our quick start video guide to dropshipping with Shopify below. For the best overview, we recommend doing both!
Let’s kick things off with a key question…
What is dropshipping?
Dropshipping is an ecommerce model where you don’t manufacture, purchase, store or deliver any of products you sell. Instead, you take orders for products via an online store, and pass them onto a supplier. The supplier then charges you, and delivers the products to the customer.
(For a more in-depth overview of the dropshipping business model, along with a comprehensive look at all its pros and cons, you can read our ‘What is dropshipping?’ guide or watch our video about dropshipping, below.)
But what does Shopify’s approach to dropshipping look like?
How dropshipping on Shopify works
Given that Shopify is fairly synonymous with dropshipping these days, you may be thinking that dropshipping with the platform is simply a matter of creating a Shopify account and listing a bunch of products on your store.
It’s not quite that simple, though.
First, Shopify doesn’t actually give you any dropshipping features out of the box: you always need to connect it to third-party tools to dropship (more on this shortly!).
Second, to dropship effectively with Shopify, you’ll need to give a lot of thought to finding a lucrative niche to sell products in, and marketing your store once it’s live.
To start a successful dropshipping business on Shopify, you need to do four key things:
- Set up a Shopify account.
- Identify a niche to operate in.
- Install a dropshipping app and select the products you’d like to sell.
- Market your dropshipping business.
Let’s look at these steps in turn.
1. Set up a Shopify account
Most people who are thinking about starting a Shopify business normally head over to the Shopify website and hit the free trial button.
Now, while this is a perfectly good way to get going with Shopify, dropshippers are better served by signing up to Shopify in a specific way — namely, by accessing Shopify’s free dropshipping starter kit.
The starter kit gives you:
- a free trial of Shopify
- a host of free training materials to help you get started with dropshipping.
Once you’ve signed up to the starter kit, you’ll start to receive emails containing your free training resources. Make sure you read any guides or watch any videos these contain before launching your Shopify store, as they are produced by experienced and successful Shopify dropshippers, and will arm you with the knowledge to put your best foot forward in the dropshipping world.
Once you’ve set up your Shopify account and studied the dropshipping resources it contains, it’s time to think about what you’re going to dropship (and to who!).
This is where finding your niche comes in — so let’s take a look at that.
2. Find a niche
No business becomes a success unless it successfully manages to tap into the right niche — and dropshipping on Shopify is no exception.
In fact, getting your niche right is particularly important when it comes to Shopify dropshipping. This is because setting up a dropshipping business is a low cost, low risk affair; and if you pick a really ‘saturated’ niche, you’ll find yourself competing with a host of established dropshippers selling the same items as you, extremely cheaply!
There are a three main ways to identify a good niche to dropship in:
- Via keyword research
- Using Google Trends
- Using data available from online advertising services (Facebook and Google Ads)
Let’s drill down into each of these.
As its name suggests, keyword research helps you understand what people are searching for on the Internet — and how hard it will be to appear highly in search results for the phrases that they’re using to do so.
Keyword research also gives you a great way to identify potentially profitable niches: if you find out that a lot of people are searching for a particular product each month, but that it’s going to be relatively easy to get your store to the top of the search results for that item, then happy days: you’ve just found a niche.
But how do you actually do keyword research?
Well, it involves a three-step process:
- Finding out how many people are searching for a particular phrase each month.
- Establishing how difficult it is going to be to rank in search results for that phrase.
- Getting suggestions for other phrases that it might be easier to rank for.
Once you have this data you can then make a decision as to what keywords (and by extension inventory) are going to work best for your dropshipping business — and optimize your online store around the relevant phrases.
To perform keyword research, you’ll need a dedicated SEO tool like Ahrefs or Semrush. These will tell you how many people are searching for a particular phrase; give you a keyword difficulty score that lets you know how hard it will be to rank in search for it; and give you a list of other terms that you might want to consider targeting.
Tip: if you’d like to try Semrush for free, for a limited time you can grab an extended 30-day trial here (the standard trial lasts just 7 days).
To understand the basics of keyword research, I’d suggest taking a look at our short ‘quick tips’ video below: this shows you how to perform simple keyword research with Ahrefs.
Another way of identifying potentially lucrative dropshipping niches involves using the free Google Trends service.
Google Trends analyzes the popularity of top search queries in Google Search across various regions and languages, and then displays charts showing the search volumes for these queries over time.
There are two main ways to use Google Trends to identify niches: first, you can enter phrases into the tool and see how popular they are (and how popular they’ve been over time).
A ‘related queries’ list underneath the main Google Trends graph helps you identify phrases and products that you might not have considered initially.
Alternatively, you can use Google Trends’ ‘Shopping Trends’ section to identify shopping-related searches that are particularly popular, right now.
Helpfully, these searches are broken down into various categories —clothing, video games, toys etc., giving you more dropshipping product ideas to play with.
The key thing to watch out for when using Google Trends is not to be sucked into starting a dropshipping business on the basis of a product search that’s trending right now, but might not realistically do so in future.
Think about the fidget spinner craze of 2017: as the spike in the Google Trends graph below shows, this amounted to a one-off explosion in popularity of an item that wasn’t essential to everyday existence — and for which there wouldn’t necessarily be long-term demand.
So, when using Google Trends data to identify niches, always look at the past performance of a particular product search phrase (was there demand for the product before a craze started?) and ask yourself if the product is something that fulfils a genuine need, even when the craze is over.
Remember: the best business ideas tend to be those that solve a problem — for it to work well in practice, your dropshipping business idea should too!
Now, unless you are very lucky (and very good at SEO), it’s unlikely that a brand new dropshipping store is going to rank highly in search results particularly quickly. You’ll need to show adverts to potential customers that encourage them to buy your dropshipped products.
This is where the advertising data comes in — it tells you how big the audiences for particular products are likely to be, and how expensive it will be to display ads to these audiences.
In other words, this data can help you decide upon the niche you decide to operate in.
When it comes to online ads, there are a lot of services out there that can be used to promote products. However, the two that most new dropshippers gravitate towards are Google Ads and Facebook Ads.
There are two main reasons for this.
First, they have a huge reach. They both let you put your products in front of huge audiences, and relatively easily too.
Second, they give you access to a vast amount of data that you can use to find niches and plan campaigns.
With Google Ads, you get access to a keyword planner — this shows you how many people are searching for particular phrases, and how much it is likely to cost to display an advert for one of your products in the search results.
Significantly, it also gives you a list of really useful keyword ideas — and these can help you firm up your niche selection.
With Facebook Ads, you’re not dealing with particular search phrases but interests — you’ll be advertising your products to people who have indicated to Facebook in one way or another that they like particular items or brands.
Facebook gives you a tool, ‘Audience Insights,’ that lets you learn more about its userbase.
Using this tool, you can explore…
- demographics: age, gender, lifestyle, education, jobs, relationship status and so on
- page likes: categories and topics that Facebook users are interested in
- location: where people live and the language they speak.
…and more besides.
The Audience Insights tool won’t give you data on how much it will cost to advertize to particular groups on Facebook (to get this, you’ll have to run some test ads). But it will definitely tell you if there’s likely to be demand for your products amongst a Facebook audience.
Once you’ve identified your niche, and decided what sort of products you’d like to sell online, it’s time to find a supplier. This involves installing a dropshipping app.
So, let’s go through doing just that.
3. Add a dropshipping app to your Shopify store
As mentioned earlier, you can’t technically dropship ‘out of the box’ with Shopify — there’s no built-in dropshipping tool available from the platform that lets you source products or pass orders onto anybody for fulfilment.
Instead, you have to work with a dropshipping supplier.
Now, you could just find your own supplier, get some product photos from them, put them on your store (along with relevant details) and then email any orders onto them for fulfilment.
This approach is fine, but it involves a fair bit of admin work, which in turn makes it harder to scale up your dropshipping business.
Accordingly, most Shopify dropshippers turn to a dropshipping app to do the heavy lifting. Dropshipping apps simplify the whole process by
- letting you pick and choose the products you want to list on your site
- importing all the relevant product details onto your site automatically
- notifying your dropshipping suppliers every time there’s a sale.
There are simply LOADS of Shopify dropshipping apps available: you can access all these in the Shopify app store.
Now, given the quantity of dropshipping apps available (505 at time of writing) it can be quite hard to choose which ones to use!
But a couple of particularly popular apps worth highlighting are DSers and Spocket — these two apps are commonly used in conjuction with a lot of ecommerce platforms in general, not just Shopify, and they let you dropship a vast range of products (including via the online retail giant Ali Express).
If you’re interested in print-on-demand dropshipping — which lets you add your own custom designs to products — Printify and Printful are popular, well-established choices.
When choosing a dropshipping app there are some key things to watch out for, however.
You should ensure that…
- any dropshipping supplier you use is reliable
- the goods you’re dropshipping are ethically produced (a lot of dropshipped products are manufactured in countries that don’t have a great track record when it comes to workers’ rights / preventing forced labor)
- the shipping costs are not going to be excessive (if your dropshipping suppliers are located very far away from your customer base, shipping fees can become very high)
- delivery times will be swift
- the cost for using the app is not excessive (most Shopify dropshipping apps involve a monthly fee).
Dropshipping apps on Shopify come with a ‘support’ section where you’ll find a contact email address and FAQs section (pictured below). Use both to perform due diligence on your potential app and its suppliers.
Once you’ve installed a dropshipping app, you can now select the products you’d like to sell on your ecommerce store: obviously, what you list on your store should reflect the niche you picked earlier.
The exact process for adding products and managing inventory will vary depending on the dropshipping app involved. However, using most dropshipping apps involves a process in which you browse products, select the ones you want to list on your store and then simply ‘push’ them to Shopify (with all their details — product images, descriptions and prices — being brought automatically across to your Shopify site).
For a quick example of how this works on the popular dropshipping app DSers, please watch the video below.
When you’re finished adding products, it’s time to market your dropshipping store.
Let’s move onto that!
4. Market your Shopify dropshipping store
At this point you’ve got your Shopify account, found your niche and have added all your products.
But unless you have a strong marketing plan in place, your lovely new ecommerce business isn’t going to make any sales.
There are four things that you’ll typically need to focus on to make a success of a Shopify dropshipping store:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Content marketing
- Online advertising
- Email marketing.
Let’s take a quick look at each.
SEO may sound scary, but it’s actually easier than you might think, and there are lots of resources available online to help you with it.
For a basic understanding of Shopify SEO, I recommend that you watch the below video, and read our Shopify SEO guide — these will give you a good foundational understanding of the key SEO steps you’ll need to take to get a new Shopify store ranking in search results.
Shopify SEO — a video guide
As its name suggests, content marketing is a way of using your content (typically blog posts and videos) to attract visitors to your site. If your content is strong enough, it’s likely to perform well in search, and if it’s trustworthy and informative enough, it’s likely to encourage people to buy from you.
The sort of content that ticks these boxes isn’t really sales pitches or product information, though — think instead of quirky blog posts, how-to-guides, tips and advice, best-of roundups and so on. Stuff that engages, basically.
To learn more about how to create great content that brings people to your website, take a look at our ‘What is Inbound Marketing?’ guide, and watch our video below on how to increase blog traffic.
How to create great blog posts that drive traffic
While you can technically perform SEO and content marketing for free, online advertising always involves an investment. However, the good news is that this investment can be small to begin with — the trick to online advertising is to spend small sums of money on test adverts, see which ads are delivering a return on investment (ROI) and then invest in these more heavily.
There are lots of platforms that let you run ads online, but Google Ads, Facebook and Instagram end up being the starting point for many dropshippers; they are easy enough to use and command huge audiences (there are also lots of resources available online to help merchants make the most of them).
For help getting started with Google, Facebook or Instagram ads, check out the below resources:
Email marketing is a hugely effective way to generate sales (especially repeat sales). Newsletters let you place your latest products right in front of the people that are most likely to buy from you, and have a really great ROI.
How to create a newsletter — video guide
Using email marketing to promote a new dropshipping store is tricky however — because you won’t have an existing mailing list to send any newsletters to!
But it’s still worth spending time on developing an email marketing strategy, and there are two key ways to build an email marketing list:
- By running online ads that point people to a squeeze page (where you offer visitors an incentive for signing up to your mailing list)
- By capturing email addresses on your website (for example, via a promise of a discount code upon signing up to your list).
If you can build a large and high-quality email list, you’ll find that promoting new product ranges and making sales becomes much easier over time.
And you can also use your mailing list to promote any new videos or posts that you produce as part of your content marketing strategy.
Tip: Shopify provides an app — Shopify Email — that lets you send up to 10,000 messages to your subscribers for free. You’ll find it in the Shopify app store.
For more information on creating a successful email marketing strategy, check out our guide to e-newsletters and email marketing.
To learn more about advanced applications of email marketing, our guide to email automation is worth investigating.
Shopify dropshipping — further reading and resources
I hope you’ve found our guide to Shopify dropshipping helpful!
A quick reminder that if you want to dropship on Shopify, you should really start by accessing the Shopify dropshipping starter kit — it gives you some really excellent resources to make the most out of the dropshipping model.
You may also find our YouTube video on how to dropship with Shopify useful.
And finally, if you have any queries about setting up a Shopify dropshipping business, please let us know in the comments section below! We read them all and will do our best to help.
Good luck building your dropshipping site 🙂
Shopify dropshipping FAQ
Can I dropship for free on Shopify?
Although a free trial is available for Shopify, you can’t use the platform to dropship for free. To dropship, you’ll need to purchase a Shopify subscription and a dropshipping app, both of which involve monthly fees.
What are the risks of dropshipping?
The main risks of dropshipping are ending up with suppliers that don’t deliver high quality products to your customers (or deliver goods late) and — due to the popularity of dropshipping as a business model — low profit margins.
Is dropshipping on Shopify easy?
Dropshipping on Shopify is relatively easy — it’s fairly straightforward to set up a Shopify store, install a dropshipping app and start selling online. However, it can be hard to learn how to promote your store effectively — you’ll need to master basic SEO and online advertising techniques to make your dropshipping store a success.
How do I start dropshipping with the Shopify platform?
The best way to start dropshipping with Shopify is to sign up for the free dropshipping starter kit, start building your store and then add a dropshipping app to it (many are available from the Shopify app store). Your dropshipping app will let you choose what products you want to sell and send order notifications to their suppliers automatically.
Do alternative ecommerce platforms let me dropship?
Shopify isn’t the only leading ecommerce platform that lets you dropship — key competing platforms like Wix, Squarespace and BigCommerce all provide dropshipping features too. You can learn more about how these tools stack up against Shopify in our Wix vs Shopify, Squarespace vs Shopify and BigCommerce v Shopify comparisons.