The best free ecommerce website builders and software for small businesses in 2021

Can you really create an online shop for free? We take a look at the 'free' ecommerce options available for thrifty entrepreneurs

Our experts

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If you run a fledgling business, and are low on capital, a free ecommerce website is a great way to prove your concept before shelling out for the whole shebang.

And during the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for small businesses to have the ability to sell online. Indeed, according to the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, total online sales increased by 36% in 2020 – the highest annual growth since 2007.

But can you actually sell for free?

Yes, with Square Online, our top free ecommerce platform, you can sell an unlimited number of products without signing up for a paid plan.

But that’s not the only way to have a free online store – many top website builders offer free plans or free trials.

In this article we’ll separate the ‘free forevers’ from the ‘free for a whiles’ and, based on genuine user testing and in-depth research, give our ranking of the best free ecommerce platforms you can use to create your first online shop.

We’ve been giving small business owners like you advice and guidance for more than 20 years, and we love helping you find great products and services that will help propel your business to success. That’s why we’ve tried, tested and ranked these ecommerce platforms. If you like the sound of any in particular, just follow the link to try out a free plan or a free trial.

Let’s get started!

Best free ecommerce platforms and software comparison

Ecommerce platforms

 Free for life?Best for..
Square OnlineYes, always freeBest for selling for free
Big CartelYes, always freeBest for small creative brands
Wix eCommerceFree trialBest for all-rounder
SquarespaceFree trialBest for creative control
ShopifyFree trialBest for sales-specific features
BigCommerceFree trialBest for multi-channel selling
GoDaddyFree trialBest for ease of use

Ecommerce software

 Free for life?Best for...
WooCommerceYes, always freeBest for small retailers on WordPress
OpenCartYes, always freeBest for medium-sized sellers
MagnetoYes, always freeBest for large, experienced sellers

The best free ecommerce website builders

The following two ecommerce platforms allow you to build an online shop at no extra cost. Both Square Online and Big Cartel allow you to start selling without any kind of paid-for or premium plan. This makes them perfect tools for small businesses, startups or freelancers and sole traders who are getting their online business off the ground or are moving an existing retail business online. But what the two ecommerce have to offer is slightly different.

 Free Ecommerce PlatformBest for...Find out more
square-online-logo-suSquare OnlineBest for ease of useVisit Square Online
big-cartel-logoBig CartelBest for selling for freeVisit Big Cartel

Square Online: Best for selling for free

4.3 out of 5
  • Website features
    3.3
  • Sales features
    3.9
  • Design flexibility
    3.1
  • Help and support
    3.6
  • Value for money
    4.6
  • Customer score
    3.6

If you’re looking for a simple, cost-effective free ecommerce platform, you couldn’t do much better than the Square Online Store builder.

With the Square Online Store builder, you can build an ecommerce site and start selling without signing up for a paid plan. There are no limits on the number of products you can sell, but you will incur a 1.9% transaction fee on every sale made (a little higher than most competitors).

Of course, there are limitations to the free plan, but it’s not all bad – you get access to automatic inventory, integration with Instagram and Pinterest, online shopping cart functionality, and order and item sync with Square POS. Generally, we’d say your online store will work best in conjunction with other Square features.

The Square Online Store doesn’t offer much in the way of design flexibility, and your storefront will be fairly simplistic. That said, the builder did earn the highest ease of use score of all the ecommerce platforms reviewed by our testers, and it does offer a range of ecommerce website templates specifically designed for online selling.

Once you move onto a premium plan, you gain access to a fairly comprehensive range of features, with the invoice creator add-on, abandoned cart emails, and revenue tracking deserving special mention.

We still have another 9 free ecommerce platforms to show you. But if Square Online sounds like the free ecommerce platform for you, why check out its free plan today?


Square Online pricing


Free

£0/month

Professional

£9/month

Performance

£19/month

Premium

£54/month


Square Online pros

  • You really can build an online store and start selling with the free plan
  • The easiest to use free online builder, according to our testers
  • Great value for money

Square Online cons

  • Free plan is fairly restrictive in terms of sales features offered
  • Design flexibility is limited

Wondering about the Weebly ecommerce platform?

If you're thinking to yourself, “Why is the Weebly ecommerce builder not featured on this list?” we'd understand! But it's because Weebly's ecommerce solutions are now offered by Square Online.


Big Cartel: Best for small creative brands

2.4 out of 5
  • Website features
    1.5
  • Sales features
    3.0
  • Design flexibility
    2.5
  • Help and support
    1.0
  • Value for money
    3.5
  • Ease of use
    3.0

Big Cartel’s offering is targeted specifically at small creative brands and businesses selling products like t-shirts, art, clothing, merchandise, prints, and jewellery. If you’re a service business, or you sell goods at a higher price point, it probably isn’t the platform for you. Otherwise, read on!

On the free plan, you’re able to list and sell up to five different products. To clarify, you can sell an unlimited number of those five products, not just five products full stop. And, unlike with Square Online, there’s no transaction fee. You can also sell digital products, but you’ll need to add on additional functionality from a third party provider.

The free version also grants you more useful features than would usually be available without a premium plan, including customisable themes, stats, discounts and promotions, and shipping tracking.

However, you’ll need to use the sub.domain ‘.bigcartel’ on your free Big Cartel online store – which doesn’t look very professional – and that five product limit is nowhere near generous enough for serious online sellers. If you do choose to upgrade, commerce plans start from a  very reasonable £7.95/month.


Big Cartel pricing


Gold

£0/month

Platinum

£7.95/month

Diamond

£15.90/month

Titanium

£23.85/month


Big Cartel pros  

  • If you’re a small creative seller, this ecommerce platform has been created especially for you
  • Very affordable if you do upgrade
  • No transaction fee

Big Cartel cons

  • Not suitable if you’re a larger ecommerce business
  • Only allows you to sell five products


The best ecommerce website builders with a free trial

The following ecommerce platforms are only free for the duration of their free trials, and none of them allow you to sell until you upgrade to a paid plan.

Having said that, during the trial period, you'll be able to build your online store and get a feel for whether the ecommerce platform you’ve chosen is worth the investment.

 Ecommerce platform with free trial Length of free trialTry it out
wix-logo-suWix14-day free trialTry Wix for free
squarespace logoSquarespace14-day free trialTry Squarespace for free
shopify-logomark-logoShopify14-day free trialTry Shopify for free
bigcommerce logo suBigCommerce15-day free trialTry BigCommerce for free
godaddy-logoGoDaddy30-day free trialTry GoDaddy for free

Wix eCommerce: Best all-rounder

14-day free trial

4.7 out of 5
  • Website features
    4.5
  • Sales features
    4.0
  • Design flexibility
    4.0
  • Help and support
    4.7
  • Value for money
    4.6
  • Customer score
    4.5

Wix, our top ecommerce platform for small businesses, offers its customers a 14-day free trial, which is fairly standard in the industry.

But what can you actually do in those two weeks? Well, you can build a great online store using Wix’s intuitive drag-and-drop website builder, and you can give a decent portion of its quality features a test run.

When you consider its range of ecommerce features in conjunction with the cost of its plans (which start from just £13/month), you’re looking at one of the best value ecommerce platforms around.

It might not have the same depth of sales features as ecommerce-specific builders like Shopify and BigCommerce, but the Wix App Market provides all the functionality most small to medium online sellers could ever need (though you’ll have to pay more for third party apps).

Your online store will look fantastic as well – Wix has an unparalleled 71 ecommerce templates to choose from, with virtually no restrictions on customisation.

We should also mention that, as of June 2020, Wix has improved its ecommerce offering even more. Ascend by Wix is a brand new CRM and marketing suite that helps you drive sales and boost loyalty all from one central hub. Elsewhere, you can design and launch data applications using its comprehensive web development platform. And that's not all: Wix has also improved everything from its order fulfilment and management to its templates and payments solutions.

There are a few downsides: you can’t change templates once your store is live, and there’s currently no option to integrate with other sales channels.

But if you’re looking for a great all-round ecommerce platform that’s easy to use, Wix is for you. We bet you’ll want to skip the free trial and move straight onto the main event!


Wix eCommerce pricing


Business Basic

£13/month

Business Unlimited

£16/month

Business VIP

£22/month


Wix eCommerce pros

  • Our top ecommerce platform for small businesses
  • Offers great value for money
  • An unparalleled 71 ecommerce specific templates to choose from

Wix eCommerce cons

  • You’ll have to pay for some additional third party features
  • You currently can’t integrate your online store with other sales channels


Squarespace: Best for creative control

14-day free trial

4.5 out of 5
  • Website features
    3.9
  • Sales features
    3.8
  • Design flexibility
    4.2
  • Help and support
    3.5
  • Value for money
    4.4
  • Customer score
    4.1

Squarespace is another non-ecommerce-specific website builder with a 14-day free trial, and another one of our top ecommerce platforms for small businesses. However, it distinguishes itself with a laser focus on design.

To get started, you can choose from a selection of the best-looking ecommerce templates on the market, which our testers described as “sleek, stylish, and modern”. Then, thanks to Squarespace’s almost unlimited design flexibility, you can customise your shopfront to your heart’s content.

Squarespace’s free trial doesn’t require any credit card information to sign up. Once the trial is over, you just need to upgrade to a paid plan. If you don’t, your online store will still be there – you just won’t have access until you go premium. You can even extend your trial by seven days if you feel you need more time to decide.

And you can use nearly all of Sqaurespace’s premium features during the free trial, so you can really get a feel for how the platform works before you sign up.

But what are those features like? Well, Squarespace offers a solid, if limited, range of tools and sales features.

You can sell unlimited products and services, which can be managed with a drag-and-drop sorting tool, and managed from the inventory space. There’s a handy Checkout Style Editor, and you can set up custom emails to be sent to customers when they take a particular action.

However, Squarespace only supports a limited number of payment options, and doesn’t allow you to sell in multiple currencies. It also offers very little in the way of accounting functionality.

Nevertheless, look no further than Squarespace if you want a beautiful, professional-looking online store.


Squarespace ecommerce pricing


Business

£15/month

Basic Commerce

£20/month

Advanced Commerce

£30/month


Squarespace pros

  • Hands down the best-looking ecommerce templates around
  • Free trial allows you to use nearly all premium features, and doesn’t require a credit card to sign up
  • No limit on the number of products and services you can sell

Squarespace cons 

  • Supports a limited number of payment options
  • Doesn’t support selling in multiple currencies


Shopify: Best for sales-specific features

14-day free trial

4.5 out of 5
  • Website features
    4.2
  • Sales features
    4.6
  • Design flexibility
    3.8
  • Help and support
    4.1
  • Value for money
    3.4
  • Customer score
    4.7

Shopify has been built from the ground up to help you find customers, drive sales, and manage the day-to-day admin of running a busy, growing online store.

You don’t need credit card details to sign up for Shopify’s 14-day free trial, which begins the moment your account is active, not when you start building your store. Your account will be frozen at the end of the trial, unless you’ve selected a premium plan.

During the free trial, you can sample nearly all of the features offered by whichever pricing plan you choose other than taking payments – and those features are top of the range.

As an ecommerce platform first and foremost, Shopify’s sales features are second to none. You have the freedom to sell as many (and as many types of) products as you want, and it’s easy to manage in the backend, with excellent stock management, monitoring, and analytics tools.

You can integrate with a multitude of sales channels, giving you the ability to sell on everything from Facebook to Pinterest, and Shopify supports more payment options than you could ever need.

Shopify’s accounting offering is also top of the range, with automatic tax calculation and invoice generation. The only areas our testers marked it down for were its SEO support and marketing tools, which are both limited.


Shopify pricing


Basic Shopify 

£23.48/month

Shopify

£63.95/month

Advanced Shopify

£242.04/month


Shopify pros

  • Top quality sales features designed to help with every aspect of creating, running, and scaling a successful online shop
  • Can check out nearly all the premium features during the free trial

Shopify cons

  • Quite pricey when you do upgrade to a paid plan
  • Its SEO and marketing tools leave something to be desired


BigCommerce: Best for multi-channel selling

15-day free trial

BigCommerce backend screenshot

4.1 out of 5
  • Website features
    4.1
  • Sales features
    4.5
  • Design flexibility
    3.8
  • Help and support
    3.1
  • Value for money
    3.7
  • Customer score
    3.5

Bucking the two-week trend with an unusual 15-day free trial is BigCommerce, the ecommerce platform for online shops that are serious about scaling.

The great thing about BigCommerce is that, even though its plans are more expensive than most of its rivals, all its features are included in that cost, so there’s no need to rely on third party apps.

BigCommerce is a great option for online shops with big and/or global ambitions. It offers more in-house features than any other builder, as well as unparalleled support for businesses that want to grow internationally, including the ability to sell in multiple currencies at one time, and support for 12 languages.

However, if you’re looking for an easy way to start your online shop, this isn’t it. The editing interface can be very challenging to use, and, for non-tech literate customers, it uses quite unfamiliar terminology.

Also, the design control is quite restrictive, leaving you to rely on the templates, features, and functionality offered by BigCommerce, rather than really making it your own. And it’s the only builder not to have a mobile app, so you can’t edit/sell on the go.


BigCommerce pricing


Standard

£24.45/month

Plus

£64.72/month

Pro

£242.82/month

Enterprise

Contact sales/month


BigCommerce pros

  • Currently offering three months free after your free trial ends
  • Offers more commercial and non-commercial features than any other builder
  • Unparalleled support for international growth

BigCommerce cons 

  • The editor isn’t that easy to use, and the language might be too complicated for non-techy customers
  • Design flexibility is limited


GoDaddy: Best for ease of use

30-day free trial

3.9 out of 5
  • Website features
    2.5
  • Sales features
    3.5
  • Design flexibility
    2.7
  • Help and support
    3.3
  • Value for money
    3.6
  • Customer score
    4.0

At 30 days, GoDaddy offers the daddy of free trials. And there’s no credit card needed to sign up. That’s a month to test your online store with no-obligation at the end.

We ranked GoDaddy sixth in our list of the top ecommerce platforms for small businesses, but as the number one easiest to use, thanks to an accessible editor, and an Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) system that does a lot of the hard work for you. All you need to do is answer some questions about layout, text, and proposed images.

On average, our research participants only spent 75% of the allocated hour creating their GoDaddy online store, while often exceeding the hour with other builders.

That very helpful ADI function does, however, come at the cost of creative control, and some users may find the design tools very restrictive. Also, GoDaddy lacks the depth and quality of features offered by its rivals, and fails to provide some of the sales specific features you’d expect from an ecommerce platform, like digital product sales.

With just one ecommerce plan at £19.99/month, it’s not the cheapest builder, but it’s pretty reasonable and very transparent – everything you need is included in the cost.

That goes for its excellent SEO and marketing, neat templates, and analytics tools. If you need to get your online store up in a flash, there’s no faster product to use than GoDaddy.


GoDaddy pricing


Ecommerce

£19.99/month


GoDaddy pros 

  • Fastest and easiest for creating an online store thanks to its ADI function
  • Restore Hero prevents errors or mistakes from causing you any added stress by allowing you to create five backup versions
  • No surprise fees

GoDaddy cons

  • Limited creative control, since the ADI function takes the majority of this away from its users
  • Lacks depth and quality in the features offered (but supports the basics to get you going)


The best free ecommerce software

 Free Ecommerce SoftwareBest forVisit
logo-woocommerceWooCommerceBest for small retailers using WordPressGo to WooCommerce
opencart-logoOpenCartBest for medium-sized retailersGo to OpenCart
magento-logoMagnetoBest for large retailersGo to Magneto

Ecommerce software operates as an open-source platform that you can install for free.

Open-source software is computer software released under a licence that gives anyone access to the source code, and allows them to use, change, or distribute it for any purpose.

This means it’s only suitable if you’re planning to self-host your website, by which we mean pay for hosting services separately.

This means that, while the software is free, there’ll be additional ongoing costs.

Unlike with the above platforms, we haven’t conducted thorough user testing on the following ecommerce software providers, but we’ve done in-depth research and selected three of the best.


WooCommerce

WooCommerce is a fully customisable, open-source ecommerce platform built specifically as a WordPress plugin. This means that you’ll first need to create a WordPress website, and then add WooCommerce to it.

In comparison to the sprawling complexity of Magento, this makes it a good option for smaller ecommerce operations.

It only takes a few minutes to set up, and instantly gives your site essential ecommerce features, including secure payments, order management and shipping, and marketing. If you need additional functionality, the WooCommerce marketplace grants you access to hundreds of free and paid extensions.

WooCommerce doesn’t require the skills of a developer, but if you do have more bespoke needs, the software is fully open to edit and extend – virtually any service can be integrated with your online store.

WooCommerce pros

  • Seamless integration with WordPress
  • Hundreds of integrations to increase functionality

WooCommerce cons

  • Cost of extensions can add up
  • No dedicated support

OpenCart – Best for medium-sized online retailers

OpenCart is a free open-source ecommerce platform for businesses, offering everything you need to start an online store.

A great option for medium-sized ecommerce businesses, OpenCart has great scope for customisation, and thousands of integrations available. The software itself doesn’t offer many proprietary features, so you will have to rely on those integrations (which you have to pay for).

OpenCart isn’t as straightforward as some of the other open source platforms. You’ll most likely need to hire a developer, or have some development experience yourself, in order to make the most of the software.

That said, the running costs are lower than many other platforms, and you won’t have the hassle of having to deal with unnecessary features.

OpenCart pros

  • Running costs are relatively low
  • Thousands of useful integrations to add specific functionality
  • A lean software with few unnecessary features

OpenCart cons

  • You will have to spend more on additional features

Magento – Best for large online retailers

Let’s get one thing straight: Magento is not for beginners. It’s a formidable product, offering unrivalled scalability, customizability, and capability for online stores with grand ambitions.

Used by big name retailers like Nike and Samsung, Magento is an extremely advanced ecommerce platform with the capacity to handle thousands of transactions a minute. It incorporates a next-level drag-and-drop page builder, business intelligence services, multiple sales and advertising channels, and countless third party integrations.

With Magento, you can create the online store you’ve always dreamed of – but if you don’t have any development skills, or you haven’t hired a developer, those dreams will be hard to achieve.

It all comes down to how much you’re willing to invest in your online store. It might be free to download, but you’re going to end up spending a lot on hosting and development. HostGator actually has a Magento-specific plan.

Magento pros

  • Unrivalled capacity to scale and customise
  • Can support businesses making thousands of transactions per minute
  • Free to install

Magento cons 

  • Will require you to have development skills, or to hire a developer
  • Doesn’t offer much in the way of help and support


Is a free ecommerce site enough for small businesses to succeed?

When it comes to ecommerce, that old adage ‘you’ve got to spend money to make money’ holds true.

For a start, with most of the ‘free’ ecommerce website builders listed above, you won’t even be able to start taking payments until you upgrade to a paid plan. As you can see, many of the premium plans on offer are very affordable, with the option to scale up to a more expensive one if necessary.

But it’s not just the facility to take payments that makes upgrading to a paid plan worth it. Often, essential ecommerce functions like store management, and the marketing and SEO features you need to actually get visitors to your site, are only available with paid plans.


Final Verdict: The best free ecommerce solution

If you want to start selling without signing up for a premium plan, Square Online is the free ecommerce platform for you. Its free plan allows you to sell an unlimited number of products, and gives you access to shopping cart functionality and social media integrations.

Sure, its features and design flexibility are limited, but our researchers found it to be the easiest platform to use. And you can pay to upgrade whenever you’re ready for the full ecommerce experience. 

There are alternatives. If you’re not fussed about selling for free, but you want to set up your store before you pay for a plan, give Wix a whirl – it’s a great all-rounder. Or, if design is more your bag, Squarespace is a great shout. Both offer a 14-day free trial.

If you’re planning to self-host your ecommerce site, we think WooCommerce is the best open source platform for smaller businesses. It’s easy to add to your WordPress site and it offers countless integrations.

So there you have it. 10 very different but equally valid ways to create a free online store. 


FAQs

What is the best free ecommerce website builder?

As the only one of our top website builders to allow you to start selling without paying for a plan, Square Online is the best free ecommerce website builder. You just have to pay a standard 1.9% fee on all transactions. You can find out more by taking a look at Square Online's freemium and premium plans and what they offer.

Can I create a good ecommerce site with a free ecommerce website builder?

Yes, with most ecommerce website builders, you can design and create a professional-looking online store without spending a penny. But, other than with Square Online or Big Cartel, if you want to take payments, you’ll have to upgrade to a premium plan.

Are free ecommerce platforms always completely free?

There are very few ecommerce platforms that are completely free. You can sell products on Square Online’s free plan, but you will be charged a transaction fee. On most of the other ecommerce platforms we’ve reviewed you can’t take payments until you upgrade to a premium plan.

Is Magento free for ecommerce?

Yes, it is free to download. However, you’ll probably have to hire a developer to actually build your online store if you want to make the most of all that Magento has to offer.

Is Wix eCommerce free?

Wix eCommerce is only free to use for 14 days, after which you’ll have to either upgrade to a paid account or abandon your lovingly created online store. You can, of course, always give the Wix free trial a go as a way to test premium ecommerce functionality for free.

Is there a free version of Shopify?

There’s no free version of Shopify, but it does offer a 14-day free trial that allows you to sample most of the features available on its premium plans except for taking payments.


Henry Williams headshot
Henry Williams Content Manager

Henry has been writing for Startups.co.uk since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also acted as project lead on many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Business Ideas, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides.

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