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Blog / Beginner's handbook / How to Sell on Shopify Without Inventory Management

Beginner's handbook

How to Sell on Shopify Without Inventory Management

How to Sell on Shopify Without Inventory Management
Karlina Rozkalne

By Karlina Rozkalne

7 min read

Selling products online using traditional production methods takes a lot of effort. Managing inventory and storage space, crafting compelling product descriptions and marketing strategies, balancing shipping costs and profit margins . . . the list goes on. Don’t you feel like taking a nap already?

The good news is that there’s a way to eliminate physical inventory. Yes, it won’t automatically make running a Shopify store a walk in the park, but it will make your life much easier.

There are many ways to avoid holding your own inventory, but today, we’ll focus on the 4 most popular options. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to sell on Shopify without inventory.

How to sell on Shopify without inventory: 4 methods explained

Shopify offers several methods that allow you to build an online business and generate revenue without the hassle of managing any physical product. We’ll cover 4 popular methods to sell on Shopify without holding inventory: print-on-demand, supplier dropshipping, digital products, and affiliate products. You’ll get a brief overview, pros, cons, and tips to pick the best fit for your business needs.

What is it, and how does it work?

POD dropshipping is a business model where you personalize products with your design, and a print-on-demand service like Printful creates and ships your products to your customers.

Building an ecommerce business with POD dropshipping means choosing a reputable print-on-demand service, building an online store on an ecommerce platform or marketplace, and connecting it to your POD provider. You’re responsible for creating the designs, marketing products, and building a brand. Your POD provider handles the production and shipping logistics—when customers purchase something from your store, the products are shipped directly to them.

If you pick a print-on-demand dropshipping (also called private-label dropshipping) company like Printful, you sell white-label products. That means everything happens under your brand—Printful’s name doesn’t appear anywhere. You put your logo on labels, packaging, and even your order tracking page.

You can find the Printful app on the Shopify app store. You can also compare all the available third-party apps: see how many reviews each company has and what’s their rating.

a screenshot of a computerSource: Shopify app store

Valuable read: Connecting Your Shopify Store to Printful in 4 Simple Steps

Pros and cons

Pros

Cons

No inventory costs

Higher per-unit cost   

Customizable products 

Limited product types  

Easy to start and scale  

Longer fulfillment times 

Low upfront investment

Quality control can vary

Flexible product offerings

Dependence on POD provider

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Printful logo
Create and sell custom products online
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Choose POD dropshipping if

You enjoy creating designs and building a brand and want to outsource product creation and shipping to a reputable POD company like Printful. This method is ideal for those looking for a low upfront investment and the flexibility to offer customizable products.

preview play-button

What is it, and how does it work?

Supplier dropshipping model is what you could call “classic dropshipping.” You find a dropshipping supplier, add their products to your store with little to no customization, and the supplier then takes care of packing and shipping the products to your customer.

The dropshipping business sometimes gets a bad rep because it often involves sourcing products through dropshipping suppliers like AliExpress or Alibaba, where the product quality is poor and inconsistent. You can also dropship products from reputable companies that offer high-quality dropshipping services.

The Shopify dropshipping business model can look vastly different based on the type you choose: 

  • Print-on-demand dropshipping—designing products like custom t-shirts, mugs, posters, and custom hoodies

  • Branded dropshipping—means that suppliers manufacture products but carry your brand’s label and packaging

  • Supplier dropshipping—partnering with dropshipping suppliers who have ready-made products and handle the storage, packaging, and shipping process

  • Retail arbitrage dropshipping—sourcing products from other online retail stores (instead of manufacturers or suppliers) at a lower price and selling them at a higher price in your own store

  • High-ticket dropshipping—selling higher-priced, premium products with higher profit margins per sale

Valuable read: How to Dropship on Shopify: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Pros and cons

Pros

Cons

Low startup costs

Lower profit margins

Wide variety of products

Less control over product quality

No inventory management

Longer shipping times

Easy to add new products

Potential stock availability issues

Scalable business model

Reliance on supplier reliability

Choose Shopify dropshipping if

You prefer a wide variety of ready-made products made by third-party fulfillment centers and want an easy-to-scale business. It suits those who prioritize quick setup and the ability to add new products easily despite having less control over product quality and shipping times.

What is it, and how does it work?

Selling digital products on Shopify means selling non-physical items that customers can download or access online. This method eliminates the handling of a physical product. To sell digital products on a Shopify store, you set up your online store, list your digital products, and use apps like Digital Downloads or Sky Pilot to manage the delivery process.

a screenshot of a computerDigital download apps. Source: Shopify app store

Some digital product types you can sell on Shopify:

  • E-books

  • Online courses

  • Printables (e.g., planners, calendars)

  • Digital art or illustrations

  • Website themes and templates

  • Graphic design templates (e.g., logos, business cards)

  • Digital marketing guides

  • Fitness plans and workout guides

  • Recipes and meal plans

Before selling digital products, you must visit Shopify’s help center to learn how to remove shipping costs, create a download link, and more.

Pros and cons

Pros

Cons

No inventory or shipping costs

Can be pirated or copied

High profit margins

Requires technical skills to create

Instant delivery

High competition in digital marketplaces

Create once, sell unlimited times

Harder to build perceived value

Can be sold globally without shipping

Initial creation can be time-consuming

Choose digital products if

You have the skills to create valuable digital items like e-books, online courses, or graphic templates. This method allows for high profit margins and global sales. It’s excellent for those looking to create once and sell multiple times despite the challenges of piracy, high competition, and initial time investment in product creation.

Printful logo
man with jacket
Printful logo
Create and sell custom products online
Let’s go

What is it, and how does it work?

Selling affiliate products on Shopify means promoting products of other brands or companies and getting a commission for each sale made through your referral link. To do this, you place affiliate links in your Shopify store, directing visitors to your partner’s site to complete the purchase.

To find affiliate products, join affiliate networks like Amazon Associates, Printful Affiliate Program, or Commission Junction. These networks allow you to choose from thousands of products across various niches. 

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Printful

For the best results, select high-quality, trending products that align with your niche. Promote these products using engaging content and reviews, and ensure your website design is user-friendly to build trust with your audience. Use SEO strategies and social media marketing to drive traffic to your store and increase conversions.

Valuable read: 10 Tips for Affiliate Marketers to Make More Money in 2024

Want some guidance on how to do affiliate marketing? Check out Printful’s Affiliate Marketing Lessons.

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Printful

Pros and cons

Pros

Cons

No need to manage inventory

No control over product quality

Wide range of products to choose from

Dependence on the affiliate partner

Scalable with multiple affiliate programs

High competition

Passive income potential

Potential delays in receiving commissions

Easy to add and change products

Commission structures can vary widely

Choose affiliate products if

You want to promote products through engaging content and have a knack for marketing. It offers a wide range of products to promote and has the potential for passive income, even though it means depending on affiliate partners and facing high competition.

Your time to shine

Regardless of what people on the internet and so-called “experts” may say, selling on Shopify (even without the headaches of inventory) won’t be a golden ticket to freedom if you don’t invest time and energy into building a brand. So, pick something you actually want to go for.

Whether you design unique products with print-on-demand, curate a selection from suppliers, craft digital masterpieces, or cash in on affiliate marketing, pick a method tailored to your strengths and passions. We’re here to support you however we can: let us know in the comments if there’s anything you’d like us to cover.

Frequently asked questions

 

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By Karlina Rozkalne on May 29, 2024

Karlina Rozkalne

SEO Content Writer

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.