How to Choose the Best Free eCommerce Platform
You’ve decided to launch an eCommerce business, or perhaps you’re finally taking your brick-and-mortar store online. Whatever the case, you will need an eCommerce platform to make it happen.
The good news is that there are many excellent free eCommerce platforms to help you launch your online store. They make it extremely easy to build, manage, and grow your digital storefront without a monthly fee.
While these free eCommerce platform options do not come with a monthly subscription charge, it is important to note some fees associated with running an online store. For example, your business will be required to pay standard payment processing charges.
In addition, some of the eCommerce platforms also provide upgrades and add-on features to make your online store more robust, which may include additional fees. You will be responsible for covering the cost of your domain name, web hosting, and other associated expenses.
In this post, we’ll compare 13 of the best free online stores to start your eCommerce business. Let’s dig in.
What Features to Look For When Choosing an Online Store
An eCommerce platform is a central hub for your online business.
When deciding on the best free eCommerce platform for your digital storefront, you’ll want to make sure the platform you choose offers a robust set of features.
Your free eCommerce platform should offer you the ability to:
- Purchase your domain name and create a mobile-friendly eCommerce site
- Customize your business’s storefront appearance with easy to use templates and themes
- Sell physical products, digital products, as well as services
- Make your website more functional through the use of apps
- Provide online security
- Sell your products via popular online sales channels and social media platforms, including Amazon, Instagram, Google, Facebook, and the Walmart Marketplace, among others
- Translate your storefront into multiple languages so you can sell your products worldwide
- Easily handle a high volume of sales and web traffic
- Process in-person sales with an integrated point-of-sale (POS) app
- Process both online and off-line sales utilizing a variety of payment gateway options
- Manage your inventory
- Create shipping labels
- Process both orders and refunds
- Automate your tax information
- Integrate seamlessly with your inventory management software
Most eCommerce platforms provide many, if not all, of these features. When choosing your free online store, it is key to select an option that will work best for your company’s needs.
Let’s look at some of the best free online store options.
WooCommerce is the most popular eCommerce platform in the world. This is most likely because WooCommerce is a free, open-source WordPress plug-in, not a standalone eCommerce platform.
It is free software that can be utilized with any web hosting provider.
You will need to have an existing WordPress website to use WooCommerce. Because it is open-source, it’s both scalable and highly customizable.
It offers thousands of free add-ons and themes and paid extensions for SEO tools, advanced shipping options, and specialized customer communications.
- It’s easy to integrate into your existing WordPress site
- It offers thousands of theme options
- You can sell unlimited products on the free plan, with unlimited Photos in your product listing
- WooCommerce doesn’t charge transaction fees. Your only payment processing charges will be those charged by your payment services providers such as PayPal, Square, Stripe, Authorize.net, or your bank.
- You can create an online store quickly, even if you have no prior experience
- A wide variety of different themes, allowing you to create a store that fits with your brand
- WooCommerce supports sales of almost every type of product you can imagine, including digital downloads, physical products, membership plans, drop-shipped products, and affiliate products.
- Offers SkuVault inventory management software integration
- Does not provide a domain name or web hosting, which can make it more complicated and more expensive to get started if you are new to selling online
- You will need to cover the costs for your domain name, web hosting, and your SSL (security) certificate.
One of the advantages of using the Web.com eCommerce platform is that they will host your store with your own free custom domain, and provide you with a free SSL certificate.
While Web.com’s platform does not offer a free plan, it is only $1.95 for the first month, which is practically free. After the first month, the pricing remains extremely affordable, beginning at $3.95 per month for the eCommerce plan.
- The price point is very appealing when you consider that Web.com provides you with a free custom domain.
- Drag-and-drop store builder is simple and easy to use
- Ability to sell both physical and digital products through your store
- 24/7 email I live chat support is available
- Option to add a blog to your store website for free
- The eCommerce features are not as robust as other platforms such as WooCommerce or BigCommerce
- The free store blog offers only basic features compared to what you would find on WordPress
3. BuyNow Plus
Unlike our other options in this post, BuyNow Plus is not a full-featured eCommerce platform. It simply allows you to create ”Buy Now” buttons that you can utilize on any blog or website.
To use BuyNow Plus, you will need to set up a free Stripe account.
- It’s easy to set up recurring payments via credit card without requiring your customer to set up an account. This can be very useful if you are selling recurring memberships for offline items, such as coaching
- There is no limit to the number of products you can sell
- “Buy Now” button links may be placed on your website, on social media, and even on emails
- It only takes a few minutes to set up and start selling
- BuyNow Plus is free to set up
- BuyNow Plus charges a 3% transaction fee on top of Stripe’s transaction fees
- The platform does not offer inventory reporting or website creation
The BigCommerce eCommerce store builder is popular with both small and enterprise-level businesses. It offers a fully hosted eCommerce platform to create your online store, or a WordPress plug-in if you have an existing site.
BigCommerce is free for the first month, which gives you plenty of time to set up your store and get the lay of the land before you need to pay anything. It is exceedingly easy to get started on this platform.
BigCommerce offers a robust list of features that includes everything you need to build, manage, and grow your online business. One feature we love about BigCommerce is that you can sell your items on sales channels including Etsy, eBay, Amazon, Google Shopping, Jet, Facebook, and Instagram, and integrate with SkuVault to manage your inventory in one place.
- It offers a variety of different payment options and has built-in integration with 65 popular payment platforms, including PayPal, Stripe, and Authorize.net
- Plenty of third-party apps allows you to add additional functionality to your BigCommerce store.
- BigCommerce charges no transaction fees on top of your payment processing fees.
- You can upload an unlimited number of products, with the option for bulk uploading
- Customers can be segmented by location, demographics, and purchasing trends, enabling you to provide a better customer experience
- BigCommerce has an abandoned heart saver that emails customers who left items in their shopping carts.
- The platform offers 24/7 customer service via email, live chat, or phone
- Offers integration with SkuVault inventory management software
- While BigCommerce offers a free trial for a month, it is not free forever. Plans range from $29.95 per month for the Standard plan to $299.95 per month for the Pro plan.
- BigCommerce’s pricing plans are based on your stores in annual sales, which might impact your ability to scale your online store
- The platform has seven free themes you can use to design your store, but most require an additional expense as high as $200.
Shopify also offers a fully hosted eCommerce platform. They offer a free 14-day trial and do not require a credit card to build your store and get started.
Shopify is one of the most popular eCommerce platforms because of its scalability and wide variety of features.
The platform offers four subscription plans after the 14-day free trial period, starting at $9 per month for the most basic plan, up to $299 per month for the Advanced Shopify plan.
There are several additional costs associated with using the Shopify platform, including fees for add-on features, including advanced store themes, Shopify POS, and Shopify Shipping.
Shopify makes it fairly simple to purchase your domain names directly through the platform, but you’ll need to pay for it yourself.
- Drag-and-drop builder makes it easy to create your store
- Apps marketplace makes it easy for you to buy add-ons to add additional functionality to your store
- Shopify provides 24/7 support via phone, email, live chat, and Twitter
- Shopify built-in payment gateway charges 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction, which is similar to other payment gateways such as Stripe or PayPal
- Offers the ability to integrate with SkuVault inventory management software
- If you choose to use other payment gateways such as PayPal, Stripe, or Square, Shopify will charge you a 2% transaction fee on top of the fee charged by your third-party payment processor.
- The Basic Shopify plan starts at $29 per month, but if you want the Shopify Lite plan, you’ll have to hunt for it on the site.
Weebly is powered by the Square payment platform. While it is not as well-known as many other eCommerce platforms, it is a capable free eCommerce platform.
One of the biggest upsides of Weebly is that it offers a completely free eCommerce plan. That said, it does not allow you to utilize your own domain name, and it will display Weebly and Square ads on your online store.
The free plan does, however, provide your business with eCommerce functionality and a variety of marketing tools.
Several paid plans offer greater functionality, including utilizing your domain name.
The Personal plan starts at $6 per month, and the Professional plan, starting at $12 per month, offers you a free domain name and removes the ads from your eCommerce store for a more professional look.
- Offers a completely free forever eCommerce platform with robust features
- All plans offer the ability to sell both digital goods and physical products
- Offers an option for in-store pickup
- The free plan offers SEO, lead capture, and Instagram functionality
- Paid plans offer pop-up notifications
- Weebly charges a 3% transaction fee on top of the transaction fee your payment gateway charges
- No custom domains on the free plan
- Both the free and personal plan place ads on your eCommerce site
- No phone support for the free plan, but chat and email support are included
- Weebly has a 25 product limit, even with the paid Starter plan.
7. Big Cartel
Big Cartel touts itself as an eCommerce platform for artists and creatives and was named one of Forbes’ “best small companies.”
Big Cartel offers four subscription plans, including a completely free plan that allows you to post up to five products. The free plan allows you to run promotions, track shipments, and sell both in-person and online, among other useful features.
One interesting thing to note is that although Big Cartel’s primary market is creators and artists, there aren’t many themes and features to choose from, which limits your ability to customize your store.
That said, the themes they do offer are beautifully designed. It’s easy to see why this particular eCommerce platform appeals to creative types.
While the free plan is not particularly conducive to scaling, the paid plans offer customizability through a developer API.
- The free plan is free forever
- The platform offers simple and elegant themes
- There are no transactions Fees on the free plan, other than Stripe or PayPal processing fees
- The free plan offers the ability to customize your URL
- Only partners with Stripe and PayPal to process online payments on the free plan, although other payment partner options are available for paid plans
- The free plan only offers one photo per product
- To customize your store’s website theme, you’ll need to edit it in HTML, which can be challenging for beginners
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Wix is popular with online businesses because it is simple and easy to use. It offers a wide variety of beautiful and sleek website designs, plus eCommerce capabilities.
If you’re looking to add eCommerce to your social platforms (and vice versa), the Wix platform allows you to create social media content.
Businesses also appreciate that Wix is fairly responsive to customer requests for additional features and functionality.
One of the most useful features Wix offers is its wide array of eCommerce options. In addition to products, you can sell services, subscriptions, event tickets for concerts and shows, take online bookings, and schedule orders for pickup.
- The ability to design your site is an appealing option for those who want to fully customize
- One of the best options for businesses that want to sell locally, including service businesses, restaurants, and event promoters
- Strong functionality for selling digital goods and subscription access
- The platform is easy to use, even for first-timers
- Adding the paid service Ascend by Wix adds robust marketing functionality, including chatbots, marketing emails, and multilingual sites
- The platform offers integration with more than 50 payment providers
- The free plan includes Wix branding in your store
- The templates are not interchangeable, which can be frustrating for those looking to customize
- Tracking and analytics through Google Analytics requires a paid plan
Squarespace is an affordable and robust option for building your eCommerce store. It offers fantastic customer support and a great blogging tool for businesses that consider blogging a key component of their eCommerce sites.
In addition, your domain registration is free for the first year, but one drawback is that Squarespace can’t integrate domains registered somewhere else.
- Squarespace has beautiful templates that are easy to customize to your branding
- The blogging tool is rich with features
- More than 100 beautiful templates adapt easily to mobile
- Squarespace does not offer phone support which can be frustrating when you just want to talk to a human
- The platform is more complicated than many other options, so it may take you some time to get comfortable with building your store.
- Outside domain integration is not possible
Volusion was one of the original eCommerce platforms and remains one of the best options to build your digital storefront.
The platform provides everything you will likely need to sell online and offers a popular perk called Quick Wins.
Quick Wins not only provides personalized setup assistance for your online store but also provides you with training on key eCommerce tactics as well as available tools.
This helpful service is perfect for anyone building an eCommerce store for the first time, and those who want to make sure they fully understand how to use all of the tools and features Volusion has to offer.
- Quick Wins delivers personalized setup service to get your store up and running quickly
- Volusion offers built-in label printing for a variety of shippers, including USPS, FedEx, and DHL
- For other shipping options, Volusion integrates seamlessly with Shippo
- Offers a retail POS System
- Volusion offers 14 eCommerce store themes and customization options and assistance.
- Volusion integrates well with SkuVault inventory management software
- Volusion offers Stripe, PayPal, and Volusion Payments on the lower-tier plans, but Authorize.net is only available on the higher-tier plans.
- The Quick Wins service has per-use charges
11. Square Online
Square Online is a full-featured website builder and eCommerce platform that offers seamless integration with Square payment processing.
If you already utilize Square payment processing and want to expand with an online store in addition to your POS, Square Online may be an ideal solution for you.
Square online also offers a mobile app to manage your sales, marketing, and other functions.
If you are looking for multichannel sales features on sites like BigCommerce and Shopify, Square Online is probably not your best choice.
The platform offers a free plan option and has built-in shipping integration with Shippo.
- Square online offers multiple customizable themes
- Integrates with Shippo for built-in shipping integration
- There is a free plan option, and pay plans start at just $12 per month
- Square payment processing is already built into the platform, and paid plans can utilize other online credit card processors as well.
- Doesn’t offer multichannel sales features you get with other eCommerce platforms
- Square Online doesn’t match the blogging capabilities of other platforms like WooCommerce
If you are looking for a price-conscious eCommerce option for multichannel online sales, the Ecwid store builder may be the solution for you. The platform is free for up to ten items, and just $15 a month for additional items and more robust features.
Ecwid supports sales on websites including Amazon, Instagram, and Facebook. More good news: If you already have a website you’ve built on Wx, Joomla, Square Online, WordPress, or Square Online, your Ecwid store will integrate seamlessly with your existing site.
- Ecwid is an Economical eCommerce option, with up to ten items free
- You can connect Square, PayPal, Stripe, and many other online payment processors
- Ecwid stores look and feel like part of your website because it integrates well with most website builder themes.
- Unlike many eCommerce platforms, you can add your Ecwid store to multiple websites
- Product displays can be very restrictive
- Phone support is only available on higher-tier plans
- Multilingual features are only available on the higher-tier plans
13. Shift4Shop (Formerly 3DCart)
Last on our list is Shift4Shop (formerly 3DCart), one of the oldest eCommerce platforms online.
Shift4Shop gets high marks for thriftiness: it is free for US-based business owners. It is also relatively inexpensive for companies outside of the US.
Its templates are a bit old-school, but they are workhorses for selling a wide variety of products.
The platform is easy to use but sometimes lacks functionality. Some users have reported issues with SSL certificates and payments gateways other than their own in-house gateway, Shift4Payments.
- Free if your company is US-based
- Shift4Shop is easy to use, even if you are new to eCommerce
- Even though the platform is easy to use, templates are a bit dated
- 3rd-party payment integrations like PayPal and Stripe can be challenging, and we wonder if this is intentional to keep payment processing in-house
Don’t Forget Inventory Management for Your New Software
Inventory management software provides valuable data in real-time to help you stay on top of your inventory. This helps you to ensure you’re never under or overstocked. It also helps you sync your inventory tracking across all your sales channels and provides 24/7 inventory data reporting.
One key reason you’ll need inventory management software to work with your eCommerce platform is that it allows you to leverage valuable insights into your online store to take advantage of opportunities, boost your sales, and grow your eCommerce business.
Inventory management can help your business:
- See your inventory in real-time
- Provide insights into product trends
- Track all your sales across a multitude of channels in one place
eCommerce platforms including Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and Volusion all integrate seamlessly with SkuVault’s inventory management software.
There are many excellent free and affordable options for eCommerce platforms to help you successfully launch your online store. Many of these platforms make it possible for you to build, manage, and grow your digital storefront without a monthly fee.
Carefully consider all your options when choosing a free online store for your eCommerce business.
Whether you’re hoping to sell locally or internationally, make certain you’re selecting an option with features and integrations that will work best for your business as you grow.