For businesses, being able to sell online is more important than ever. Why? Well, for one thing, the growth of digital sales has meant that fewer people are shopping in actual shops.
In 2017, approximately 1.66 billion people bought stuff online. Staggering numbers, right? Well, an ecommerce platform lets you tap into this internet trend. Essentially, they allow you to build an online store and sell products easily, without knowing how to code.
However, we know running a business is expensive. You may not have a big enough budget – or any budget at all – to build an online store. Or, like most people, you just don’t have the time to search for the best brands.
Well, we’ve done the research for you and found the best free ecommerce platforms, saving you time – and most importantly for your business, money.
Before we start, though, let’s go over the basics. When it comes to choosing an ecommerce platform, there are two categories – those that offer free plans, and those which limit you to a free trial.
Free plans will let you build a website and sell your goods for absolutely nothing. However, you’ll tend to find their sales tools are really restricted.
On the other hand, most platforms offer a free trial where you can try before you buy. Free trials mean you can test all the premium benefits for free (no surprises there), but only for a limited time. Take note – if you take a shine to the platform, once your time runs out, you’ll have to pay to keep using it.
Using our research, we’ve listed the best free ecommerce platforms below:
After reading this article, you’ll know which ecommerce platform is best for you, and which of them offers a free plan or free trial.
Also, from our research, we’ve analyzed and compared each builder’s features and pricing plans – so you’ll have a clear idea on what you’ll get for your money.
|Ecommerce Platform||Free Plan or Free Trial||Product Limit||Product Type||Payment Gateways||Transaction Fee|
|Big Cartel||Free Plan||5||Physical||PayPal, Stripe, Square||0%|
|Shopify||Free Trial||Unlimited||Physical & Digital||PayPal, Stripe, Amazon, Apple Pay||0% (Only when using Shopify Payments)|
|Wix||Free Trial||Unlimited||Physical & Digital||PayPal, Stripe, Square||0%|
|BigCommerce||Free Trial||Unlimited||Physical & Digital||PayPal, Stripe, Square, Amazon, Apple Pay||0%|
|Squarespace||Free Trial||Unlimited||Physical & Digital||PayPal, Stripe, Apple Pay||0%|
|Volusion||Free Trial||Unlimited||Physical||PayPal, Stripe, Amazon, Apple Pay||0%|
- Only platform that allows you to sell for free
- Helpful prompts when building site
- Perfect for artistic products
- Features lack depth and quality
- Poor themes
- Hardest platform to use for building a website
Big Cartel is the only ecommerce platform we tested that offers a functional free plan. Yes, they have some paid plans, but you can set up shop without spending a single dollar. This means that if you’re a cost-conscious business owner, Big Cartel could be perfect for you.
However – and it should go without saying – with no cost comes fewer features.
Firstly, on the free plan, you’re only able to list and sell up to five different products on your site. You will also need third party apps for selling digital items, and you’ll have the sub domain ‘.bigcartel’ after your URL – which doesn’t look too professional.
Want more from Big Cartel, but worried about costs? You shouldn’t be – Big Cartel averaged as the most affordable ecommerce platform in our testing.
The Big Cartel paid plans are as follows:
- Personal ($9.99 p/m)
- Diamond ($19.99 p/m)
- Titanium ($29.99 p/m)
The biggest difference between these plans is the amount of products you can sell – 25, 100, and 300, respectively. You’ll also get your own domain, discount codes, and inventory tracking on each plan.
So, if you’re looking to sell more than just a few products, you’ll likely need to upgrade.
Big Cartel is best for… small businesses that are happy to stay small.
- Best all-round ecommerce builder
- Brilliant inventory system
- Sell across all social media channels
- Monthly costs add up with apps
- Transaction fees for other payment gateways
- Need to reformat site when switching themes
Shopify is our top rated ecommerce platform. It has the most comprehensive range of sales features, a large app store, and you can sell across loads of different channels. It’s easily the best all-around ecommerce platform.
Best of all, it offers a 14-day free trial. During this time, you have access to Shopify’s world class sales tools, at no cost at all.
Afterwards, if you love Shopify – and we certainly did – you’ll need to upgrade. After all, this is where you can really see the long term effects of its superb business tools. Better yet, our ‘features vs pricing’ test revealed Shopify offers excellent value for money.
The Basic plan covers everything you need for a successful online store, at a cost of just $29 per month. It lets you sell unlimited products, throw in loads of useful apps, and sell across 10 different channels, all for just six dollars a week.
What’s more, you can save even more by signing up to a whole year. This reduces the monthly cost to just $26.10 – quite the bargain when considering it’s the best ecommerce platform around.
Shopify is best for… any business looking to scale quickly and easily.
- Mobile editor
- Add product videos
- Sell supplementary products
- Cannot sell across multiple channels
- No abandoned cart recovery
- Poor inventory system
Wix is an ‘all-around’ website builder first and foremost. This means it comes with ecommerce functionality on top of its popular web design tools.
With Wix, you can build a stunning online store using its free plan, without time limits. On this plan, you can enjoy its easy drag and drop feature, choose from over 500 templates, and have access to the excellent Wix Help Center.
So you’ve built your store and are now ready to sell. While the free plan lets you design to your heart’s content, you’ll need to spend money to earn money. Don’t panic, though – Wix’s paid plans start from just $16 a month.
Better still, if you sign up for two years and pay in full, the Basic Plan comes down to just $15 per month. Just think about that – you can sell your products on a professional looking website for the same cost as a monthly takeout pizza.
On this plan, you get loads of excellent features. These include unlimited bandwidth, a free custom domain name (removing the ‘.wix’ subdomain), and apps like Ecwid giving you the ecommerce power to rival Shopify and BigCommerce.
Wix is best for… users looking for creative control
- Sell across Facebook and Instagram
- Fantastic SEO tools
- Most inbuilt features
- Editing interface is confusing
- No mobile app
- Uses complex terminology
BigCommerce really lets you dream, well, big. It’s the most scalable ecommerce platform, providing the best inbuilt features around. It has everything you need to build an ecommerce empire.
It also offers one of the longest free trial periods, at 15 days, during which you can test all its brilliant features. After this, you’ll need to upgrade. You can even request a demo to see how BigCommerce can help your online store.
After your trial, you can continue selling with BigCommerce from $29.95 per month (billed annually). You can even save 10% when you pay for the year upfront.
Why should you bother? It simply comes down to what you get. On all its paid plans, you can sell unlimited products across multiple channels like Facebook, eBay, and Amazon, create coupons, get 24/7 support, and more. These features will really help your business flourish.
BigCommerce is best for… business owners looking to scale massively
- In-depth features
- Best design of ecommerce builders
- Great inventory system
- Lacks payment methods
- No app store
- Hardest non-ecommerce-specific builder to use
Squarespace is the industry leader for design, offering the best templates on the market. It really lets your products shine, and it’s ideal for users looking to sell a few items while looking great doing so.
Like Wix, Squarespace is a non ecommerce-specific website builder. So, as you’d expect, the ecommerce price plans are more than affordable. Yes, there is a 14-day Free Trial, but you can sell with Squarespace for as little as $18 per month afterwards.
Squarespace is, on average, cheaper than Shopify and BigCommerce, but it still provides really strong ecommerce tools. You can sell unlimited items, upload products in bulk, view revenue reports, and receive direct emails when stock is low.
Couple that with the sensational themes you can use, and Squarespace really looks like an affordable – and attractive – option for your online store.
Squarespace is best for… users with an eye for design
- Lots of payment methods
- Great analytics tools
- Mobile app
- Cannot sell digital products
- No blogging function
- SSL certificates cost extra
Volusion has a really extensive backend, letting you sell unlimited products with clear instructions, prompts, and lots of app integrations. It also provides some excellent analytics features. Like the sound of that? Good news: you can try Volusion for free with a 14-day trial.
As we said, Volusion prides itself on consumer analysis. For example, you can view what customers are searching for on Google. During your trial, you also benefit from zero transaction fees, ‘suggest products’ for shoppers to add to their baskets, and throw in loads of third party apps.
Like every other free trial, after the 14 days, you’ll need to pick a paid plan. Volusion’s cheapest option costs just $15 per month. With this plan, you have access to all the great inbuilt features we mentioned, but you can only sell up to 100 products.
However, with all Volusion plans, you’ll need to purchase SSL (fraud protection) certificates separately. These cost $89-99, and come as standard with other platforms.
So if you have grander ambitions, you should probably think about a grander plan. We recommend the Professional Plan, where you can sell up to 5,000 products at a reasonable $75 per month.
Volusion is best for… data driven business owners
Unlocking extra features is key for a successful online store. And, with the website builders around today, it’s cheaper than ever to do so. Remember – Volusion’s plans start from just $15 per month, while Big Cartel’s start from a mere $9.99 per month.
In short, upgrading to a paid plan will upgrade your business. How is that so? Well, like any subscription, if you pay more, you get more. And we’ve listed below five of the best features you can get on a paid plan…
- No ads – makes your site look more professional
- Better sales tools – features like abandoned cart recovery will bring more money in
- Sell more products – gives customers more choice
- Get better support – lets you fix issues more easily, minimizing profit loss
- Increase payment methods – lets you sell to more people
Why are these features important? It’s quite simple, really. Think of them as the perfect combination for growing your business, allowing it to flourish.
When it comes to building an online store, you have two options. You can choose a free plan like on Big Cartel – where you don’t pay a thing to sell online – or pick a paid plan like on Shopify or BigCommerce.
Deciding on a platform really depends on two simple things: your budget and your needs. How much are you willing to spend on upgrading your store, and what features do you require to grow?
The Best Free Ecommerce Platforms are:
While free plans make perfect sense for money-conscious business owners, they do have their limitations.
Firstly, with Wix, you can only build your store for free. In other words, to actually make money, you’ll need to spend some.
Secondly, on Big Cartel’s free plan, you can only sell five products. This isn’t really feasible for businesses looking to scale; If this is your aim, you’re better off trying BigCommerce or Shopify using their free trials.
So why should you think about upgrading? Because, for just a few extra dollars per month, you’ll have access to a wide range of features. The most important include more sales tools, better customer support, and the ability to actually sell more products.
Overall, we recommend signing up to a free ecommerce plan today – or testing a free trial – to really get the most out of selling your products online.