9 Best Free Ecommerce Platforms in 2021: Save While Selling Online

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There’s more than one way to start selling online. That’s why we’ve split the best free ecommerce platforms into three groups: free online store builders, great online store builders with free trials, and free ecommerce software. Use our interactive comparison charts to compare the platforms in each different group side by side – it’s easy!

If you want to build an online store without spending a dime, you’ve come to the right place.

After hours of testing and research, we’ve awarded Square Online the title of best free ecommerce platform because it offers the most generous free plan, with BigCartel taking second place as the best platform for independent artists. Wix comes in third place for its excellent free trial, although you will need to upgrade in order to start selling.

We’ve tested all of the platforms on this list, meaning they’re the best of the best. Use the drop-down menus at the top of the chart to compare and take a look at each builder in more detail. We’re confident that we can help you find the one that’s perfect for your business!

Compare the Best Free Ecommerce Website Builders

square online logo

4.2

out of 5
Unlimited
Physical & Digital
4: Credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Square

3.9 out of 5 stars

None
50+
big cartel logo

3.1

out of 5
5
Physical
5 including: Venmo, Apple Pay, Stripe

3.7 out of 5 stars

None
18
wix logo

4.7

out of 5
Unlimited
Physical & Digital
50+ including: PayPal, Stripe, Square

4 out of 5 stars

None
500+ free
shopify logo small website builder

4.6

out of 5
Unlimited
Physical & Digital
100+ including: Shopify Payments, PayPal, Klarna

3.5 out of 5 stars

0% - 2%
10 free
squarespace logo

4.5

out of 5
Unlimited
Physical & Digital
3: Stripe, PayPal, Square

4.2 out of 5 stars

0% - 3%
113 free
bigcommerce logo

4.1

out of 5
Unlimited
Physical & Digital
36 including: PayPal, Square, Stripe, Klarna

3.3 out of 5 stars

None
12 free
constant contact logo

3.6

out of 5
Unlimited
Physical & Digital
2: PayPal, Stripe

3.8 out of 5 stars

1.5%
Flexible layout
woocommerce logo

4.2

out of 5
Unlimited
All
100+

3.5 out of 5 stars

2.9%
Unlimited
magento logo

4

out of 5
Unlimited
All
Unlimited

2.5 out of 5 stars

None
Unlimited

Our overall ratings are based on the average score of all ratings combined.

Our scores give you an at-a-glance overview of which service offers you the best features, value, and more.

square-online-store 4.2 / 5
big-cartel 3.1 / 5
wix 4.7 / 5
shopify 4.6 / 5
squarespace 4.5 / 5
bigcommerce 4.1 / 5
constant-contact 3.6 / 5
woocommerce 4.2 / 5
magento 4 / 5
square-online-store Unlimited
big-cartel 5
wix Unlimited
shopify Unlimited
squarespace Unlimited
bigcommerce Unlimited
constant-contact Unlimited
woocommerce Unlimited
magento Unlimited
square-online-store Physical & Digital
big-cartel Physical
wix Physical & Digital
shopify Physical & Digital
squarespace Physical & Digital
bigcommerce Physical & Digital
constant-contact Physical & Digital
woocommerce All
magento All
square-online-store 4: Credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Square
big-cartel 5 including: Venmo, Apple Pay, Stripe
wix 50+ including: PayPal, Stripe, Square
shopify 100+ including: Shopify Payments, PayPal, Klarna
squarespace 3: Stripe, PayPal, Square
bigcommerce 36 including: PayPal, Square, Stripe, Klarna
constant-contact 2: PayPal, Stripe
woocommerce 100+
magento Unlimited
square-online-store 3.9 / 5
big-cartel 3.7 / 5
wix 4 / 5
shopify 3.5 / 5
squarespace 4.2 / 5
bigcommerce 3.3 / 5
constant-contact 3.8 / 5
woocommerce 3.5 / 5
magento 2.5 / 5
square-online-store None
big-cartel None
wix None
shopify 0% - 2%
squarespace 0% - 3%
bigcommerce None
constant-contact 1.5%
woocommerce 2.9%
magento None
square-online-store 50+
big-cartel 18
wix 500+ free
shopify 10 free
squarespace 113 free
bigcommerce 12 free
constant-contact Flexible layout
woocommerce Unlimited
magento Unlimited

You’ve Got Three Options

We’ll try to keep this short and sweet: There are three different ways to start an online store for free. In this post, we’ll cover:

Option 1: The best free ecommerce platforms – these builders let you sell with absolutely no costs, but will come with strict limits and/or charge commission fees. We’d only really recommend these for people selling “on the side.”

Option 2: The best ecommerce platforms with free trials – these are builders that offer more powerful paid plans, which you can try out for free. Free trials usually last for about two weeks, so these platforms are perfect for testing out a plan and deciding if it’s worth paying for.

Option 3: The best free ecommerce software – Software tools are different from website builders because they’re more powerful, more complicated platforms that are free to install, but will require some additional costs to get up and running.

We’ve split this page into three sections, so you can compare the best free ecommerce platforms in each of these categories. In each section, you’ll find a side-by-side comparison chart of each builder, plus individual reviews where we get into more detail. These are the platforms you’ll see on this page:

The 9 Best Free Ecommerce Website Builders

  1. Square Online (free plan) – Most generous free ecommerce plan.
  2. Big Cartel (free plan) – Best for independent artists.
  3. Wix (free to build, not sell) – Best for small online stores.
  4. Shopify (free trial) – Best for larger businesses.
  5. Squarespace (free trial) – Best value for money.
  6. BigCommerce (free trial) – Best for a purely online business.
  7. Constant Contact (free trial) – Best for selling on the side.
  8. WooCommerce (free to install) – Best WordPress ecommerce plugin.
  9. Magento (free to install) – Best for enterprise-level businesses.

Let’s get started!

Option 1: Best Free Ecommerce Website Builders

In this section: 

1. Square Online

Most generous free ecommerce plan

Square Online

Most generous free ecommerce plan

Very Good

4.2

out of 5
  • Quick setup
  • Easy to use
  • Not very scalable

Free plan available

Paid Plans: $16 - $79 / month

Pros

  • Easy to track sales and abandoned carts
  • Responsive help and support
  • Seamless payments system

Cons

  • Limited design freedom
  • Few payment processing options
  • Not great for large volume selling
Read Review

Overview of Square Online

As far as free online stores go, you can’t beat Square. It’s easy to manage inventory and design a professional site. Square templates aren’t super customizable, but that means you can get online quickly with a template that’s guaranteed to look good. Plus, Square offers a remarkable amount of features on its free plan. We recommend Square if you want to grow your business as much as possible before you start paying for a website.

Setting up a Square Online store is very quick and easy. Square uses Artificial Design Intelligence, or ADI, which is basically technology that can automatically create a site for you based on your answers to a few questions (it’s more convenient than creepy, we promise!).

Other website builders, like Wix and Weebly, offer ADI as an option. But with Square, it’s the main route. ADI means you’re guaranteed to end up with an ecommerce-optimized design, with minimal work on your end!

Because Square is so easy to use, its website design process can be completely hands-off if you want it to be – but the tradeoff is that you won’t get a ton of design freedom.

Don’t get us wrong, you can customize Square templates in all of the most important ways, like:

  • Changing color schemes
  • Picking fonts
  • Repositioning page elements
  • Importing your brand logo
  • Uploading photos

We just mean that if you’re really looking to get your hands dirty and create something unique, then you’re better off with Wix or Squarespace (both of which offer free trials for ecommerce).

Square templates are professional, just not completely unique.

If you already have a brick-and-mortar store, and just want to test the ecommerce waters, Square is a great option – especially if you’re already processing your payments through Square’s POS system. You can integrate it with your website so that online and in-person orders are always in sync.

And even if you’re not already using Square products, its free plan comes with some great sales features:

  • Sell unlimited products (rare for a free plan!)
  • Automatic tax calculator (US only)
  • Easily add products with different variations
  • Simple inventory management
  • Set free or flat rate shipping, or customize by weight, quantity, or order cost

Still, one drawback of the free plan is that you can only use Square’s in-house payment processing system. It’s a high-quality system, but if you (or your customers) would rather have more options (like PayPal or Apple Pay), then you may get a little frustrated.

Square topped our research as the best free online store builder because it’s incredibly easy to use, and still doesn’t skimp on features.

If you start on the free plan and find your store growing, then you’ll want to consider what the cheapest paid plan can offer – including a free custom domain for your first year, and no Square ads clogging up your store’s branding.

Square’s cheapest paid plan costs $12/month, which is right on par with the best paid builders like Wix and Squarespace.

square online logo

Want High Quality at No Cost?

Square offers a rare combination of ease of use and excellent features – we were very impressed!

More Information


2. Big Cartel

Best for independent artists

Big Cartel

Best for independent artists

Standard

3.1

out of 5
  • Good for artistic items
  • Useful onboarding process
  • Very limited free plan

Free plan available

Paid Plans: $9.99 - $29.99 / month

Pros

  • No platform transaction fees
  • Helpful tips throughout design process
  • Individual products get the spotlight

Cons

  • Five product limit on free plan
  • Features and designs lack quality
  • Difficult to customize your store
Read Review

Overview of Big Cartel

Big Cartel is harder to use than Square, and its templates are still not very flexible. Still, Square is kind of an outlier when it comes to completely free ecommerce website builders – Big Cartel is a little less impressive, but it’s what you can typically expect for the price (or lack thereof).

Plus, BigCartel does have some impressive sales features, and its paid plans start from very cheap. We recommend Big Cartel if your store sells less than five products, and you don’t plan to expand in the near future.

Big Cartel didn’t perform very well in our ease of use testing. It has plenty of strengths, but getting online quickly and simply is just not one.

Big Cartel themes aren’t very customizable, unless you know how to code (which you can’t do much of on the free plan, anyway). So if you’re in the majority of us without a computer science degree, you may want to stick to Square instead.

But something we did like about Big Cartel is its onboarding process when you first sign up, which uses pop-up prompts and tips to walk you through your dashboard. You’ll be shown all the basics, from adding products to creating discounts – it’s more the design process that we found clunky!

Big Cartel’s template designs aren’t very customizable if you can’t code – so at least they’re stylish to begin with, right?

Well… kind of. Big Cartel’s themes are similar to Square’s, because they’re simple and professional, but lack originality. The difference is that Square’s templates are easier to set up, and you can customize them a little more without any knowledge of code.

Big Cartel doesn’t charge any transaction fees, which is a major perk of using this platform. You’ll still have to pay fees to whatever payment processor you use, but unlike many ecommerce builders, Big Cartel won’t take a cut of your sales for itself.

The drawbacks of Big Cartel’s sales features are that:

  • You can only sell up to five products on the free plan – any more than this and you’ll have to upgrade
  • You can only upload one image per product, so multiple angles are a no-go
  • You can’t sell digital items (like downloads of artwork) without a separate app, which comes at an additional cost of roughly $6/month

Big Cartel’s cheapest paid plan costs $9.99/month, which is very cheap for an ecommerce builder. You’ll get more features (and better templates) with the $12+ builders, but Big Cartel offers great value for the price: it comes with inventory and shipment tracking, and lets you upload five images per product.
big cartel logo

Trying to Run a Small Store Successfully?

Big Cartel will help you out with small-scale inventory management and no transaction fees.

More Information

Option 2: Best Ecommerce Website Builders With a Free Trial

In this section

1. Wix

Best for small online stores

Wix

Best for small online stores

Outstanding

4.7

out of 5
  • Plenty of design freedom
  • Powerful features
  • Easy to use

Free trial available

Paid Plans: $14 - $56 / month

Pros

  • Can sell Wix products on Instagram
  • Product videos add credibility
  • Mobile editor for on-the-go changes

Cons

  • No automated low stock alerts
  • Not the best for very large stores
  • Can’t change templates once site is live
Read Review

Overview of Wix

88% of the Wix users we spoke to would recommend it to a friend, and for good reason: its templates are extremely flexible, but still easy to use, and its ecommerce features are perfect for any small or midsize store. If you can’t identify any one category that means the most to you (i.e., you can’t choose between features and ease of use), we recommend Wix for creating a well-rounded store.

Wix is an easy-to-use builder with a true drag-and-drop template editor. In other words, Wix expertly combines beginner-friendliness with flexible design.

In fact, there’s so much design freedom that you might feel overwhelmed at first – but you’ll get the hang of Wix’s template editor in no time.

You can get your hands dirty with code if you want to, but it’s by no means required to create a unique, professional design.

Wix’s 500+ templates – over 80 of which are specifically designed for ecommerce – are stylish to begin with. And as if that weren’t enough, the huge amount of design flexibility you get with Wix (which requires no coding) means you can customize your template and make it a unique representation of your business.

We were impressed with Wix’s wide range of templates and generous design freedom – it’s hard to find both of these qualities in one builder!

Wix offers a great range of sales features on its cheapest paid plan:

  • Sell unlimited products
  • Automatically send abandoned cart recovery emails
  • Let customers create accounts for faster checkout
  • Sell on Facebook and Instagram

Wix isn’t a dedicated, ecommerce-specific website builder – it’s a regular website builder with some ecommerce-specific plans – so it doesn’t have the most scalable features on the market. But for small-to-medium sized stores, you’ll have all the features you need and then some.

If you want to get the hang of Wix before committing to a paid plan, you can either:

  • Design a site on Wix’s free plan, then upgrade to a paid plan to start selling
  • Sign up for a paid ecommerce plan, and get all of your money back if you cancel in the first 14 days

If you finish the 14-day trial period and like what you’ve seen, then you can stay on Wix’s cheapest ecommerce plan for $23/month.

wix logo

Do You Value Creative Freedom?

Wix is an easy and flexible online store builder, meaning anyone can design their dream site.

More Information

  • Read our full Wix Ecommerce Review for more information.
  • Wix vs Shopify – A deep dive into the key differences between these two platforms, and which will be better for who.

2. Shopify

Best for larger businesses

Shopify

Best for larger businesses

Outstanding

4.6

out of 5
  • Built for large stores
  • Great inventory tools
  • Recommended by real users

Free trial available

Paid Plans: $29 - $299 / month

Pros

  • Sell across many social media channels
  • Abandoned cart recovery on all plans
  • Easily track stock levels and orders

Cons

  • Some features come separately as apps
  • Transaction fees for most payment tools
  • Switching themes is a hassle
Read Review

Overview of Shopify

Shopify is a builder with powerful features and a wide range of themes. It has excellent inventory management support, so it’s a really reliable option for an established business. We recommend Shopify as a relatively easy way of building and maintaining a large store.

Shopify is a “dedicated” ecommerce builder, meaning all of its plans are built for selling online (as opposed to just running a regular website). Many dedicated ecommerce platforms sacrifice ease of use for powerful tools, but Shopify strikes a really nice balance. 

Whether it’s setting up your store’s pages or managing your inventory, Shopify has a clean and logical interface that makes every task as simple as it can be.

We also liked that Shopify’s dashboard is full of useful tips to help you get started – you won’t be left to learn your way around alone!

Shopify’s themes are well-designed and come optimized for selling products effectively. However, there are only nine free themes. The rest cost between $140 and $180, which, even though it’s a one-time fee, can be a frustrating additional cost.

Each of Shopify’s free themes comes in multiple styles, so you still get a decent range to choose from. The main difference between a theme’s styles is the color scheme. For example, the Venture theme comes in three styles: Snowboards (blue), Outdoors (orange), and Boxing (black).

Shopify offers some great sales features, even on its cheapest plan:

  • Sell in 133 currencies and up to 5 languages
  • Sell unlimited products
  • Set up two staff accounts with access to the Shopify admin
  • Sell on multiple channels (sync with online marketplaces and social media accounts)

One glance at these features, and it’s clear that Shopify is equipped to handle larger stores. Plus, we were really impressed with its inventory management, which makes it super easy to track stock levels and update product listings.

However, it’s worth noting that you’ll have to check out some third-party apps from the Shopify App Store in order to really maximize your store’s potential. That’s where you’ll find features like email marketing and dropshipping.

You’ll also have to pay transaction fees unless you use Shopify’s in-house payment processor, Shopify Payments. That means popular third-party tools like PayPal will cost you up to 2% of each sale!

In short, Shopify can offer tons of features for larger stores, you’ll just have to download some of them yourself!

Shopify’s free trial lasts for 14 days, after which you can choose a paid plan starting from $29/month. This is more expensive than Wix and Squarespace, but pretty on par with BigCommerce – which makes sense, since Shopify and BigCommerce are more suited to larger stores.
shopify

Want Your Online Store to Thrive?

Shopify is the overall best ecommerce platform on the market, and it has the tools to accommodate a bigger business.

More Information

Like to know more? Read our full Shopify review.

Or, if you’d like to branch out, discover the best Shopify alternatives.


3. Squarespace

Best value for money

Squarespace

Best value for money

Very Good

4.5

out of 5
  • Great management features
  • Best designs
  • Great built-in tools

Free trial available

Paid Plans: $12 - $46 / month

Pros

  • Powerful features included with plans
  • Industry-leading ecommerce templates
  • Insightful analytics tools

Cons

  • Easier than BigCommerce, but not Wix
  • Fewer payment methods
  • Editor doesn’t autosave your changes
Read Review

Overview of Squarespace

Squarespace isn’t as powerful as BigCommerce, but it has the best-designed templates on the market, and offers great ecommerce features for a low price. We recommend Squarespace for businesses in a creative industry, because you can really walk the walk with its amazing template designs.

Squarespace is easier to use than BigCommerce, but not as simple as Wix. It sits in the middle of this category, and the payoff is that you’ll end up with a beautifully designed store, even if it takes an extra hour that you wouldn’t have spent with Wix.

Squarespace’s drag-and-drop template editor is better than BigCommerce’s, because you can see the changes you make to each page in real time as you make them.

But it’s not as good as Wix’s, because Squarespace’s editor is more section-based. This means you have to figure out where you can and can’t place different elements, rather than dragging them absolutely anywhere.

Squarespace has the best template designs of any ecommerce website builder. Its online store templates expertly combine style and ecommerce capability.

As we mentioned in the ease of use section, Squarespace’s template editor is section-based, meaning that you can customize and reorder different parts of a page, but you can’t completely overhaul the actual layout.

You won’t get quite as much design flexibility as you would with Wix, but the benefit is that you won’t have to worry about making a design faux pas or not following ecommerce best practices. Once you choose a Squarespace template, you can customize it “inside the lines,” without having to worry about messing up the general style.

Squarespace offers excellent features, especially for a builder whose main reputation is in design. One the cheapest plan for selling online, you can:

  • Sell unlimited products
  • Sell digital gift cards
  • Accept donations

Squarespace’s ecommerce plans also come with seamless inventory management. Managing products and variants is super simple, and you can even automatically display “limited availability” labels when your stock levels are low.

 

Just note that this plan charges a 3% transaction fee, and you’ll have to upgrade to a more advanced ecommerce plan in order to waive it.

Squarespace’s free trial lasts for 14 days. After that, you can start selling on the Business plan for the cheap price of $18/month. Top Tip: this reduces to just $16.20/month if you use our exclusive Squarespace discount code.
squarespace logo

Wow Your Customers With a Squarespace Design

On top of its ecommerce features, Squarespace offers expert designs that are both stylish and professional.

More Information


4. BigCommerce

Best for a purely online business

BigCommerce

Best for a purely online business

Very Good

4.1

out of 5
  • Scalable features
  • Not reliant on apps
  • Helps businesses grow

Free trial available

Paid Plans: $29.95 / month

Pros

  • Fantastic SEO tools
  • No in-house transaction fees
  • Seamless multi-channel integration

Cons

  • Not the easiest to use
  • Uses complex terminology
  • No mobile app
Read Review

Overview of BigCommerce

BigCommerce is extremely scalable, with tons of built-in apps to help you reach your full potential. It’s not the easiest ecommerce builder to use, but if you can get the hang of it, then the sky’s the limit. We recommend BigCommerce for stores planning for growth in the long term. 

BigCommerce isn’t the simplest ecommerce platform ever – the users we spoke to found it 14% more difficult to use than Shopify. It excels in other areas, like sales features.

Users’ biggest complaint with BigCommerce was that its product management dashboard and actual storefront section feel like two very separate areas. While builders like Shopify offer a better integration between the two, BigCommerce makes products and design feel a little disconnected.

This setup can be a little frustrating, but it’s by no means too difficult to use – BigCommerce’s interface just takes more getting used to!

BigCommerce offers 12 free themes and over 100 paid themes, which range from $145 – $235. You can filter themes by industry and store size to narrow down your options.

Each theme comes in multiple shades, so you can have some control over the general color scheme. When it comes to customizing each page, BigCommerce’s editing tools allow you to make changes to the layout and style.

BigCommerce’s template editor isn’t as seamless as Wix’s or even Shopify’s, but the templates themselves are perfectly suited for ecommerce success.

BigCommerce has the best built-in sales features of any builder on this page. You’ll have everything you need to grow your store, including:

  • Optional digital wallet payments (like Apple Pay)
  • POS integrations (sync your online and offline payments)
  • Create 70+ native discounts and promotions

BigCommerce’s built-in tools mean that you won’t be as reliant on third-party apps as you would be with Shopify. But if you ever want to add even more functionality, then BigCommerce’s Apps Marketplace has you covered with over 600 apps to choose from.

BigCommerce’s free trial lasts for 15 days, after which you can commit to a paid plan starting at $29.95/month – a great price for midsize and large stores.
bigcommerce logo

Reach Your Potential With BigCommerce

This powerful builder has the in-house tools and ecommerce-ready themes to help you succeed.

More Information


5. Constant Contact

Best for selling on the side

Constant Contact

Best for selling on the side

Standard

3.6

out of 5
  • Beginner-friendly
  • Limited features
  • Least user-recommended

Free trial available

Paid Plans: $20 - $335 / month

Pros

  • Plenty of help with website design
  • Great in-house email marketing tools
  • Easy-to-understand analytics

Cons

  • 3% transaction fee on all sales
  • Three product limit on free plan
  • Very limited customization
Read Review

Overview of Constant Contact

Constant Contact is a pretty limited platform, but the features it does offer are high quality. We recommend Constant Contact for small projects and side gigs, because it has quality features but limited growth potential. 

Contact Contact uses an ADI tool similar to Square’s, so getting your website up and running is no problem. Tweaking the resulting design is also a simple, step-by-step process. You’ll get to:

  • Write a website title
  • Add a main image
  • Add your business’s logo
  • Choose colors and fonts

Editing your site after it’s been set up can be a little frustrating, because you have to choose between a few specific layouts for your page elements (by “elements”, we mean things like text boxes and images). You won’t get the freedom of a true drag-and-drop builder, but on the whole, Constant Contact is still really easy to use.

Constant Contact is not a very flexible website builder, so you can’t change much about the template you choose. The templates are very structured, so the best opportunity you’ll get to put a personal spin on things is by adding a cover image and picking from a generous range of font styles.

Constant Contact is actually primarily an email marketing tool – its website builder is kind of like an additional offering. But the upside to this is that its website templates are made with good brand-building and marketing techniques in mind!

Constant Contact’s online store builder comes with all of the sales necessities you’ll need, like:

  • Accept payments through PayPal and Stripe
  • Group related products into categories, like “Under $10”
  • Use mobile-responsive product layouts

We also really liked its LogoMaker tool, which will generate a stylish logo for your business based on just the industry and name. It’s free to test out this tool, but if you end up wanting to use one of these logos, you’ll have to sign up for a paid plan and then purchase the logo separately.

Constant Contact isn’t a very standout builder for features, and it charges a 1.5% transaction fee for each purchase. But you can sell unlimited products on its paid plan, which is a nice plus.

Constant Contact’s free trial lasts as long as you want it to – you’ll just need to upgrade to a paid plan when you’re ready to start selling.

Plans start at $10/month, which is a really good price for selling online. If you’re not concerned with growth in the near term, then this is a good place to start!

constant contact logo

Want to Get Started With a Side Hustle?

Constant Contact’s quick setup and useful feature make it perfect for selling a few items on the side.

More Information

3

Option 3: Best Free Ecommerce Software

In this section: 

1. WooCommerce

Best WordPress ecommerce plugin

WooCommerce

Best WordPress ecommerce plugin

Very Good

4.2

out of 5
  • Very WordPress-compatible
  • Extremely scalable
  • Helpful setup wizard

Free plan available

Paid Plans: $12.95 / month

Pros

  • Huge variety of plugins
  • Lots of payment options
  • Tools for selling internationally

Cons

  • Have to install most features yourself
  • Cost of plugins and tools can add up
  • Only works with WordPress
Read Review

Overview of WooCommerce

WooCommerce requires more technical skill than a website builder, but it’s still pretty easy to install. You’ll have to rely on extensions for most features, but there are seemingly endless options to choose from. We recommend WooCommerce for anyone selling on WordPress.

Website builders are the easiest way to start an online store, so WooCommerce naturally can’t compare to the likes of Wix or even BigCommerce.

However, if you need the more advanced capabilities of a WordPress site, then WooCommerce is as easy as ecommerce will get. WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress, meaning you can add it as an additional feature to any WordPress site. It comes with a helpful setup wizard, so you won’t have to worry about learning the ropes on your own.

Once you’ve successfully installed WooCommerce, adding and managing products is really straightforward.

There are only three free themes in the WooCommerce marketplace, but they’re extremely customizable – as long as you have some knowledge of HTML and CSS code, which is basically the norm for open-source platforms.

If you’re willing to go for a paid theme, you can expect to pay between $39 and $79 for one.

WooCommerce comes with a decent amount of features built-in, like the ability to add unlimited products and users. But the real benefit of this software is the huge amount of additional functions you can add if you want to. 

The WooCommerce Extensions Store covers everything from abandoned cart recovery to multi-channel integrations, so the sky’s the limit in terms of features. Just note that not all of these extensions are free, so be sure to budget for the ones that you really want!

If you’re running a WordPress site, then you’ll need to pay for your own web hosting (a web host is a company that manages the server where your website’s content is actually stored). No website can get live on the internet without a host, so even with a free software like WooCommerce, you’ll have to pay a separate hosting fee (this is already included in the cost of a website builder).

We recommend using Bluehost with WooCommerce, because it’s an officially recommended provider by WooCommerce itself.

Bluehost has plenty of WooCommerce-specific plans, starting at $12.95/month.

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Want to Start Selling on WordPress?

WooCommerce and Bluehost are a powerful combination for an online store, and they’re surprisingly easy to use.

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2. Magento

Best for enterprise-level businesses

Magento

Best for enterprise-level businesses

Good

4

out of 5
  • Very customizable
  • Very scalable
  • Not very easy to use

Free plan available

Paid Plans: $6.99 / month

Pros

  • Powerful features to support huge stores
  • Can manage thousands of products
  • Trusted by brands like Nike and Samsung

Cons

  • Difficult setup and installation process
  • Beginners will need to hire a developer
  • No help and support
Read Review

Overview of Magento

Magento is not for small stores, or beginners – it’s pretty difficult to use if you don’t have some level of tech skill going in. However, the payoff is that Magento is the most powerful ecommerce platform on this list. We recommend Magento for very large stores who already have a strong base of loyal customers.

We’ll be honest: Magento is not for beginners. It’s a hugely powerful platform, but it’s also complex – so the amount of effort required to use Magento just wouldn’t be worth it for a small store that doesn’t need so many heavy-duty features.

If you can’t code, we don’t recommend Magento. It’s aimed at developers and enterprise-level businesses, and it shows.

If you can code, Magento offers scalability and customization that’s unrivalled by any other ecommerce solution, open-source or otherwise – but don’t expect the setup to be easy. In fact, unless you have experience in web development, you won’t be able to set it up at all, far less customize it to your liking.

Only one of the themes in the Magento Marketplace is free, and the rest cost anywhere from tens to hundreds of dollars. Once you’ve chosen a theme, you can customize it yourself – if you’re comfortable with CSS.

If you’re not super tech-savvy, then the best way to get the most out of your Magento design is to hire a web developer to tweak the theme for you. Just note that you can expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars for this option!

Magento comes with some built-in features – more than WooCommerce, in fact – but for real power and customization, you’ll still need to add extensions from the Magento Marketplace. These can be pretty pricey (its multichannel integrations alone can cost up to $499 each), but there are 1,970 free ones to choose from, so you have plenty of options.
Just like with WooCommerce, you’ll need to pay for your own web hosting in order to get your Magento site up and running.

There aren’t many hosts that cater for Magento, which is why installation can be so difficult. We recommend SiteGround’s Magento hosting plans for easy installation – it’s one of the few hosts with Magento-specific plans, and prices start at a modest $6.99 per month.

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WooCommerce and Magento are the standout ecommerce software providers – they’re powerful and each integrate with a variety of tools. Plus, they’re very popular – so if you ever get stuck, chances are someone on an old help forum will have been through the exact same thing.

Still, they’re not the only ecommerce software options available. So if you’d like to broaden your horizons before making a decision, here are a few software options that are decent, but didn’t make our top two.

OpenCart

If your store is too large for WooCommerce, but too small for Magento, then OpenCart is worth a look: it’s a powerful platform, with a ton of scope for customization and additional features. In fact, there are over 13,000 OpenCart integrations available.

Just keep in mind that OpenCart itself is very light on built-in features, so you’ll need to make use of these add-ons. There’s a fairly steep learning curve though, and unlike WooCommerce, you probably won’t be able to ‘muddle through’ without any developer experience.

PrestaShop

PrestaShop is an open-source software that pitches itself as more of a website builder. As you’ve seen with the platforms above, ease of use can be a real sticking point when it comes to using open-source software, so combining open-source power and potential with website builder simplicity sounds like a winning recipe.

Unfortunately, while a good platform, PrestaShop kind of misses the mark on both fronts. If you’re set on an open-source software, pick from one of the platforms above (depending on your business size). And if you’re after something that’s as easy to use as a website builder, why not pick… a website builder! The ones we featured at the very top of this article will be a safe bet.

Is It Worth Upgrading to a Paid Plan?

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 – Constant Contact’s plans start from just $10 per month, while Big Cartel’s start from a mere $9.99 per month. So if you’re wondering whether it’s worth upgrading to a paid plan, the answer is almost definitely: yes!

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. Below, we’ve listed five of the best features you can get on a paid plan…

1. No ads

You may be a really small or totally new business, but nobody will actually know that – unless, of course, you’re using a free plan on an ecommerce builder, and your site is plastered with ads as a result. There’s an element of ‘fake it till you make it’ as a new business, and an unprofessional website isn’t going to give off the right signals.

free website with ads
Free website builder ads can really take away from your site’s professional credibility.

It can feel daunting to pay for an ecommerce platform before you’ve got any guarantee of customers and income, but think of this as a small but necessary investment. And remember, all these platforms will allow you to pay month by month, so there’s no pressure to commit to something long term if you’re not sure it’s going to work out.

2. Better sales tools

A paid plan won’t just make you a website that looks more professional – it will make you a website that acts more professional, too. Ecommerce platforms withhold premium features, like the ability to send abandoned cart recovery emails, for paying members – and with good reason. In fact, 69% of online carts are abandoned (i.e. the customer leaves the site without paying for the items they have collected in their cart). Emails sent to these customers can have an impressive open rate of 45%, and are hugely effective in re-engaging these customers.

squarespace email marketing
Squarespace has its own in-house email marketing package that we were really impressed with.

Even upgrading to the cheapest ecommerce plan will get you a ton of better features. For example, Wix’s Business Basic plan piles on features like five hours’ worth of video and a free domain name for the first year.

3. Sell more products

Most free ecommerce plans put a cap on the number of items you can sell. By opting for a paid plan, you’re giving yourself more freedom, and your customers more choice.

4. Get better support

Paying customers tend to be able to access support in more ways, such as over the phone. Even if you get the same help and support options as premium customers, you better believe you’re not going to be top of the priority queue when you need help. Don’t wait until your site is down, or until you can’t get an answer to something that’s driving you nuts, before you upgrade – do it now, and your future self (and site) will thank you!

5. Increase payment methods

Paid plans typically allow you to connect more payment methods. This in turn makes for an easier shopping experience for your customers, increasing the likelihood that they’ll come back.

6. Don’t forget your hosting

If you choose to build your ecommerce store using one of the open-source software we have listed here, you’ll know that you need to arrange hosting separately. We recommend Bluehost across the board for this, although SiteGround also has brilliant Magento-specific plans.

bluehost woocommerce plans
Bluehost is a great hosting provider in general, but its WooCommerce-specific plans set it apart from the pack.

Our top tip would be to review your hosting plan on a regular basis, rather than signing up and considering it a job ticked off.

As your ecommerce business grows, this can put a strain on your hosting plan, which in turn can lead to problems such as:

  • A slow-loading website, or users being timed out
  • Your site crashing when too many people are using it

Providers like Bluehost are great because they cover websites of every size, and offer excellent customer support to walk you through the different stages.

Best Free Ecommerce Platforms: The Verdict

This post has walked you through the key pros and cons of the best free ecommerce platforms and software on the market.

By now, we hope you have a really clear idea of which will work for your budget and your store. Here’s a quick recap:

The 9 Best Free Ecommerce Website Builders

  1. Square Online (free plan) – Most generous free ecommerce plan.
  2. Big Cartel (free plan) – Best for independent artists.
  3. Wix (free to build, not sell) – Best for small online stores.
  4. Shopify (free trial) – Best for larger businesses.
  5. Squarespace (free trial) – Best value for money.
  6. BigCommerce (free trial) – Best for a purely online business.
  7. Constant Contact (free trial) – Best for selling on the side.
  8. WooCommerce (free to install) – Best WordPress ecommerce plugin.
  9. Magento (free to install) – Best for enterprise-level businesses.

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 Shopify or BigCommerce 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.

Still unsure about which platform to choose? We've done the research for you, and written this quick quiz to help!

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Best Free Ecommerce Platforms: FAQs

Yes – nearly all ecommerce platforms offer a free trial, so you can start building an online store for free. Big Cartel and Constant Contact let you build and sell for free, while Wix lets you build a store at no cost, but in order to sell products you’ll have to upgrade.

According to our research, Shopify is the best all-around ecommerce platform. It has the most comprehensive range of sales tools, a huge app market, and excellent customer support. It’s also worth trying Wix, offering the most creative control, and BigCommerce which supports the most built-in features on the market.

It depends on the platform. Creating a Shopify store takes a couple of hours, thanks to the visual cues and simple language, BigCommerce normally takes a day or two, owing to the initial learning curve, while GoDaddy uses ADI (Artificial Design Intelligence) to build your store in minutes.

10 comments

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  • Diamond
    Is Wix a good website to use for a fitness business that allows customers book and pay for appointments for trainings and classes but also allow you to sell products.
    1 reply
    • Jordan Glover
      Hi there, Thanks for getting in touch! Yes, you can use Wix for a fitness business – it would be a good option for this kind of website! You can use Wix Bookings to allow clients to book training appointments, however, if you want to accept payments (or sell products), you'll need to upgrade to a Wix Business plan. I hope this helps! Jordan
  • Nomsa
    Good day I have my own online store website. Can i use wix for my clothing store.and how much is a monthly fee .
    1 reply
    • Maura Monaghan
      Thanks for your comment! Yes, you can use Wix for your clothing store -- in fact, we actually recommend Wix specifically for anyone trying to start an online clothing store. You can choose a fashion-specific template when you sign up, and ecommerce plans start at $23 per month. I hope this helps! Maura
  • Rachel
    Hi Dan. Your article is so helpful and very informative. I just have a question, what may be the best platform to sell CBD online if I live in Canada. Thanks
    1 reply
    • Maura Monaghan
      Hi Rachel, good question! We recommend Shopify for selling CBD online in Canada -- some of the world's largest licensed producers of cannabis already do! Maura
  • Hannah Whitfield
    Hi Dan, Thanks so much for your comment. The ability to sell on Weebly's free plan is currently only available in the US, and we have now updated the article to make this clearer. Sorry for any confusion. Best, Hannah
  • Dan
    Please update...Weebly for example DOES NOT LET YOU SELL WITHOUT PAID ACCOUNT (cannot sell even one item for free)!
  • MJ
    very informative holistic review. Definitely an excellent short-cut and a starting point for shortlisting platforms. Thanks for writing it !
    1 reply
    • Lucy Carney
      Hi MJ, Thanks so much for the great feedback, I'm so glad you enjoyed the article! Feel free to share it on if you think others would find it useful too. Best, Lucy