Best Free Ecommerce Platforms
Whether you’re launching an online-only business or you’re expanding your brick-and-mortar business into digital territory, you need an ecommerce platform to do it. Better yet, take advantage of one of the best free ecommerce platforms. They’ll enable you to build, manage, and grow your online store for a zero-dollar monthly fee.
It’s important to note, though, free doesn’t necessarily mean 100% free, 100% of the time. True, you won’t need to pay a monthly subscription fee to use the platforms on this list, but you’ll still be responsible for paying standard payment processing fees. Some ecommerce platforms provide the option to take advantage of add-on features, as well, which might cost additional fees.
With this in mind, scroll on to learn more about four of the best ecommerce platforms with free subscription plan options, and three more with free trial periods. Whichever route you go, rest assured that you’ll be equipped with industry-leading selling tools, management features, and security to build the best ecommerce business possible.
Free Ecommerce Platforms: The 7 Best Options
Ahead, we’ll walk you through seven of the best free ecommerce platforms for your consideration. The first four platforms on this list offer truly free service plans. The last three offer free trial periods of up to three months, after which you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription fee as low as $9. Let’s get to it.
1. Big Cartel
Big Cartel is made “for artists, by artists,” so its intention is to help makers of all kinds build a simple online store to sell their goods. It’s the same intended audience as Etsy, essentially, though your Big Cartel online store is exactly that: Its own, standalone online store, rather than a storefront hosted by a third-party ecommerce platform. Big Cartel offers four subscription plans, including a totally free plan.
One of Big Cartel’s biggest advantages is its super-simple setup process, as there aren’t a ton of themes or features to choose from—though that’s also a potential downfall, depending on how much you’d like to customize your store. You’ll also see that their free plan isn’t conducive to scaling. But their paid plans offer a developer API, so graduating to a more advanced plan will give you the ability to customize your store however you see fit, as well as sell more items.
Here’s what’s included on their free ecommerce plan, known as the Gold plan:
- Five product selling limit
- One image per product
- Free customizable themes
- Sell online and in-person
- Real-time stats
- Use a custom .bigcartel domain
- Offer discounts and run promos
- Shipment tracking
- Product option groups
- Sales tax autopilot
- Mobile app
- Dozens of third-party integrations
Also note that Big Cartel partners with Stripe and PayPal to facilitate online payments, and you can choose which payment processor you’d prefer to work with.
After their free plan, Big Cartel’s three paid plans cost $9.99 per month, $19.99 per month, and $29.99 per month, respectively—all very reasonable, as far as ecommerce subscriptions go. Available features and selling capacities increase accordingly, as well. The most expensive plan maxes out at the ability to sell 500 products.
WooCommerce is a free, open-source ecommerce plugin that enables WordPress users to sell both digital and physical items on their websites. Obviously, you’ll need to have an existing WordPress website (or build one first) in order to use WooCommerce. Since it’s open-source, it’s infinitely customizable and scalable, though that also means that you need to have some programming experience to fully take advantage of this option.
WooCommerce’s free plugin offers thousands of free themes and free add-ons. You can also expect things like automatic tax calculation, discounts and coupons, inventory management, analytics, shipping options, and the ability to add a blog to help boost your SEO (though all WooCommerce stores come with built-in SEO tools). Perhaps most importantly, their free plan enables you to sell unlimited products and include unlimited pictures in your product listings, so it’s a much more scalable option than most other free ecommerce platforms out there.
WooCommerce uses their own payment processor, WooCommerce Payments, to facilitate online payments. Though you can also choose among other popular payment gateways (think Stripe, PayPal, and Authorize.Net) through the platform’s extensive add-on library.
Keep in mind that WooCommerce’s initial plugin is totally free, but you’ll need to pay a good amount of additional fees. For example, you’ll need to pay for your domain name, web hosting, and SSL certificate. You might consider paid extensions, as well, like advanced shipping, customer communications, and SEO tools, among tons of others. These are optional, of course, but those costs are worth considering if you plan to grow your store.
3. Square Online Store
It’s safe to assume that you’ve heard of Square’s suite of tools for small business owners. They also offer an ecommerce platform, known as Square Online Store, that enables users to sell digital and physical goods—and, it’s free to use. The only costs you’re responsible for here are Square’s payment processing fees, which cost 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. (But you can choose Stripe or PayPal as your payment processor instead.)
Like others on this list, Square’s ecommerce platform offers paid plans for more advanced features, though their free plan offers very small ecommerce business owners all the tools they need to get their online stores up and running.
Square Online Store provides users free templates to build their stores, which are built-in with SEO tools and optimized for mobile. Their online shopping cart is fully kitted out with features like an automatic tax calculator, shipping and pickup options, and the option to offer discounts and gift cards.
Other features available with Square Online Store’s free plan include an Instagram and Pinterest integration, free SSL security, and tons of marketing and analytics tools. Also important: Their free plan allows you to sell unlimited products, so it can grow with you.
Square Online Store automatically syncs with Square POS, which allows you to sell in person and gives you access to store management tools. Of course, your Square Online Store will integrate with any other Square tools you’re using, as well, from payroll to appointment scheduling software to capital.
If you’re thinking of upgrading to a paid plan, either now or in the future, Square Online Store’s three paid subscriptions cost $12 per month, $26 per month, or $72 per month when billed annually.
Another great free ecommerce platform is Weebly. While maybe not as well known as some of the other platforms on this list, Weebly’s ecommerce capabilities are powered by Square, so you can be sure you’re getting an excellent product.
Weebly offers a completely free ecommerce plan; however, it won’t allow you to connect your own domain name and will display Weebly ads—which isn’t the most professional look for a small business. However, you will still have a beautifully designed website with ecommerce functionality, marketing tools, and more.
Ecommerce features in the free plan include shopping cart functionality, items (including badges and options) and quick shop, inventory management, in-store pickup option, automatic tax calculator, coupons, and Square gift cards.
If you opt for a paid plan instead, Weebly offers greater functionality with their Personal, Professional, and Performance plans, which cost $6, $12, or $26 per month when billed annually, respectively. For more information on what you can expect with their paid plans, check out our Weebly pricing guide.
Now that we’ve exhausted the best totally free ecommerce platform options, let’s move onto the best ecommerce platforms with free trial periods. And who better to kick it off with than Shopify, the unofficial champion of ecommerce platforms? Or, if nothing else, it’s certainly the most popular, feature-heavy, flexible, and scalable option out there.
We’d highly recommend reading our guide to selling on Shopify and our Shopify POS review for a comprehensive understanding of how Shopify works, and an overview of its industry-leading selling tools. For the purposes of this article, here’s what you need to know: Shopify offers four subscription plans. All of them are paid, but they also all offer a fairly generous 14-day free trial period. During that time, you can build a website, get a feel for the interface, and explore Shopify’s many features without spending a single cent.
From there, you can decide which of the following plans you’d like to sign up for (if you’d like to sign up at all):
- Basic Shopify: $29 per month
- Shopify: $79 per month
- Advanced Shopify: $299 per month
Alternatively, you can opt for Shopify Lite, which costs just $9 per month. This plan allows more casual ecommerce entrepreneurs (read: side hustlers) to sell items on their existing websites or blogs. Enterprise-level businesses can opt for Shopify Plus, which has quote-based pricing.
In addition to your monthly fee, you’ll be responsible for Shopify Payments’ transaction fees. And depending on how complex you want to get with your store, you may run into additional costs for add-on features such as advanced store themes, Shopify Shipping, and Shopify POS. You’ll need to pay for a domain name, as well, though Shopify makes it easy to buy your domain directly through the platform. That said, you can cancel your plan at any time without incurring early cancellation fees.
BigCommerce is another eminently popular ecommerce store builder among small and enterprise-level business owners alike, and it’s the platform of choice for major companies like Skullcandy, Ben & Jerry’s, and Camelbak. Here again, consider reading our BigCommerce review for a full list of their features, which involves everything you need to build, manage, and grow your online store. Also useful: With BigCommerce, you can sell your items on sales channels well beyond your own storefront, like Facebook, eBay, Amazon, and Instagram.
Typically, BigCommerce offers a 15-day free trial plan. But they’re currently running an offer that gives new users their first three months for free. That gives you more than enough time to build your store, get your bearings, start selling, and decide whether you want to move forward with a paid plan.
BigCommerce’s plans grow according to sales volume, rather than product limits, as all three plans (plus a fourth, customized plan, which is suitable for large businesses) allow unlimited products. Something to keep in mind when you’re considering which of their plans to sign up for. Those three, core plans cost as follows:
- Standard: $29.95 per month
- Plus: $79.95 per month
- Pro: $299.95 per month
Unlike Shopify, BigCommerce doesn’t carry a ton of additional costs—all their features (of which there are many) are built into each subscription plan. Plus, you’re not beholden to one, particular payment gateway; rather, you can take your pick among over 65 integrated payment processors. If you opt for PayPal, however, you’ll enjoy discounted payment processing fees.
Rounding out this list is Squarespace, another major name in both business websites and ecommerce stores. Assuming you’re interested in the latter, Squarespace offers two plans, which cost the following:
- Basic Commerce: $26 per month paid annually
- Advanced Commerce: $40 per month paid annually
Both of these ecommerce plans give you all the functionality of Squarespace’s advanced website-building and marketing tools. Of course, you’ll also get selling tools like a shopping cart, analytics, merchandising tools, the ability to sell on social media, and a Squarespace POS system for online and in-person selling.
In addition to your monthly subscription fee, you’ll need to pay for standard payment processing fees from Stripe (Squarespace’s integrated payment gateway), as well as a domain name. Whichever plan you choose, you can take advantage of a 14-day free trial period.
The Bottom Line
All of the aforementioned ecommerce platforms are some of the best ecommerce platforms out there, period. So the quality of your ecommerce host doesn’t need to be a criteria when you’re evaluating which platform is right for you. Instead, you’ll need to consider which features you want or need, the type of business you’re running, and, of course, how much you’re willing to spend.
The great thing about free platforms or trial periods, of course, is the lack of financial risk. So if you’re not yet sure which of these ecommerce platforms is right for you, go ahead and give them a spin—without worrying about your bottom line.
Christine Aebischer is an editor at Fundera.
Prior to Fundera, Christine was an editor at the financial planning startup LearnVest and its parent company, Northwestern Mutual. There she wrote and edited on topics such as debt, budgeting, insurance, taxes, investing, and retirement. She has written for print and online on topics ranging from personal finance to luxury real estate.