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In a perfect world, you’d have an unlimited budget when launching your e-commerce store. You could start out with the best tools, from the highest quality providers, with no regard for their impact on your bank account.
Of course, most of us aren’t that lucky. Rather than being able to splurge on everything that catches our eye, we have to be judicious about where and how we invest our budget.
But just because we have to be careful doesn’t mean we have to give up quality.
Thanks to the following 25 tools, it’s possible to launch an e-commerce business with virtually zero financial investment. And do it well.
Your chosen e-commerce platform is the system that powers your store. Make your decision wisely.
WordPress isn’t an e-commerce tool itself, but as it’s responsible for 27% of the world’s websites, a number of shopping cart plugins have been developed that’ll turn your blog into a sales engine.
WooCommerce calls itself the “most customizable e-commerce platform for building your online business.” Pay particular attention to the company’s Storefront theme, which can help you get your shop up and running quickly for free.
If your e-commerce needs are more complex than what WordPress or WooCommerce can satisfy, Magento—which bills itself as the “world’s #1 e-commerce solution”—might offer the functionality you need.
An open-source e-commerce platform, osCommerce has been around for more than 17 years and boasts more than 20,000 live stores.
If none of these platforms meets your needs, Venture Harbour offers a discussion of paid alternatives, including Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion.
Beyond your chosen e-commerce platform, a number of free tools can enhance the usability and performance of your shop.
Though Shopify itself isn’t free, the e-commerce giant offers dozens of free tools to the public—including a logo generator, business name generator, image resizer, and more.
Not sure what to stock your store with? Oberlo connects would-be e-commerce sellers with drop-shipped products that make getting started with online selling as hands-off as possible.
Aftership makes it so e-commerce sellers can provide customers with real-time shipping and delivery updates. Though paid plans are available, the company offers a “forever free” basic plan for merchants shipping fewer than 100 products per month.
Mobile-friendliness has become an important ranking factor contributing to your site’s search performance. Check your site’s responsiveness across multiple displays with the free Responsinator tool.
In an e-commerce context, customer feedback can be used to inform everything from policies and procedures to future stock decisions. Capture this important insight with SurveyMonkey’s free plan, which lets you gather up to 100 responses per month.
63% of customers said they were more likely to return to a website that offers live chat as opposed to one that doesn’t. Zendesk Chat’s “Lite” plan can get you started for free.
Once you’ve built your store and added the necessary tools, it’s time to turn your attention to marketing. The free resources below will help you capture the customers needed to make your site a success.
According to VentureBeat, as shared on the Campaign Monitor blog, email marketing generates the highest ROI of all tactics for marketers. Start building your own list with MailChimp’s “Forever Free” plan.
Another email marketing provider worth considering is Drip.co, whose free plan provides access to some of the more advanced automation workflows excluded from MailChimp’s free offering (though Drip.co’s free version does stick you with the company’s branding until you upgrade to a paid account).
Sumo is so much more than an email marketing tool. After installing the system, you’ll also have access to heat mapping, content analytics, image sharing, and other tools—all for free.
Effective social media marketing requires a consistent, engaging presence. Use Buffer to schedule updates to your social profiles to ensure a steady stream of activity.
Not sure what to fill your social channels with? Free image editing tool Canva can help you quickly create engaging social graphics based on established templates—no matter what your level of design skill might be.
Pexels is a royalty-free, Creative Commons license-driven collection of stock photography that you can use to build out the pages of your e-commerce store. Just be sure to watch the attribution requirements listed with each image. Failing to follow them properly could result in major copyright infringement penalties.
Get ready to hear a lot about Google, which earned six spots on this list. But what can I say? The search giant’s free tools and services are must-haves for e-commerce merchants.
Start with Google Analytics, which is probably the best free website analytics provider available today. Shopify has a great guide on using it to track e-commerce sales.
Another key Google resource for e-commerce merchants is the Search Console. There, you’ll find warnings about any site issues that could be impacting your search performance, as well as data on your current search rankings, by keyword.
Page speed matters, for both SEO and UX reasons. Keep your site humming along smoothly—especially if you’re using a plugin-intensive WordPress e-commerce install, versus a more streamlined platform—with Google’s free PageSpeed Insights testing tool.
You need a Google AdWords account to access this tool (don’t worry—you don’t actually have to run a live campaign), but once you’re inside, the Keyword Planner will give you access to huge amounts of data regarding keyword search volume for the words and phrases your shoppers are using.
Whether you’re validating demand for your idea or trying to gauge what will interest your shoppers next, keep your eye on Google Trends to measure consumer interest.
LiveChat Inc. shares the following data, demonstrating the disconnect between customer service expectations and reality:
“According to data collected by Edison Research, at least 39% of people expect responses on social media within one hour, but the average response time from businesses is five hours.”
Some of these mentions will appear directly in your social feeds, while others won’t tag you directly–even if they still call you out by name. Ensure brand mentions online don’t go unnoticed with the free Google Alerts service.
The visual display of website engagement shown by heat maps helps reveal structural site issues that may be preventing conversions. Give them a try using Heatmap.me’s free version.
The free MozBar provides a wealth of data, but it’s especially useful for e-commerce sellers as a competitive intelligence tool. Use it to watch changes in the DA of competitors’ individual pages, as well as the keywords associated with their product pages.
Finally, use the free version of BuzzSumo—a content analytics tool—to identify the subjects your audience is most interested in. Building content around these topics can send a steady stream of new customers your way.
Got another free tool to add to this list? Leave me a comment below with your suggestions.