The 9 best free ecommerce platforms for small businesses for 2024

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

Our Research

When recommending the best ecommerce platforms, our expert team of writers and researchers focus on the features that matter most to small businesses. We rate platforms on their value for money – including setup costs and ongoing transaction fees – design features, including store templates; inventory management; payment processing options; help and support, plus customer feedback.
Written and reviewed by:
Robyn Summers-Emler Grow Online Editor

Our independent reviews are funded in part by affiliate commissions, at no extra cost to our readers.

Building an online store needn't cost the earth, and there are some brilliant ecommerce platforms that will let you do it at remarkably low cost. But can you create an online store for free? As ever, the answer is “yes, but…”

With Square Online, our top free ecommerce platform, you can sell an unlimited number of products without signing up for a paid plan. Creating a store and product inventory is all free to do. Now for that “but” – you will need to pay a small percentage fee on your sales to Square. This may still be an attractive pricing model, depending on the scale of your business.

But that’s not the only way to have a free online store – many top website builders offer free plans or free trials. This includes Wix, our best ecommerce platform with a great free trial.

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 online shop.

Best free ecommerce solutions, at a glance

  • Square (Fully Free) – best overall choice for creating an ecommerce site free of charge
  • Big Cartel (Fully Free) – very limited, but a reasonable choice for small creative brands
  • Wix (14-day Free Trial) – an even better ecommerce platform than Square, though Wix only has a free trial period
  • Shopify (3-day Free Trial) – one of the best ways to create an online store, but there's a free trial, no fully free tier
  • Squarespace (14-day Free Trial): best for online store design
  • BigCommerce (15-day Free Trial): best for multi-channel selling
  • GoDaddy (30-day Free Trial): Easiest to use
  • WooCommerce (Fully Free) – best choice for WordPress.org
  • Magento Open Source (Fully Free) – Best for those willing to code

Best free ecommerce platforms comparison table

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10% off with code STARTUPS10

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Extra costs to watch out for

There aren't many ways of getting a fully functioning online store live and selling, without paying for something along the way. Square really is the only solution on the market we'd recommend, and even that has some limitations on its free plan versus what you'll get on the paid tiers.

If you're expecting to launch an online store at minimal or even zero cost, be conscious of some extra fees that could sting you on the way.

Domain costs – you'll need to purchase your business domain, if you don't own it already. This can often be done directly through your website builder. It's usually a low cost matter, and can be under £10 a year in some cases.

Hosting costs – your website needs hosting on servers, and it's very rare for this to be free. Often, you'll find that a website builder offers you an appetising deal of a year of free hosting, but you may need to pay for a multi-year hosting plan to get this. Costs can vary from around £20 per year for basic shared hosting (fine for a small to medium online store), to multiple thousands for the kind of hosting plans that huge businesses would want.

Transaction fees – almost all ecommerce platforms will charge transaction fees on the sales you process. It's very important to understand what these will be, and if they change depending on the payment tier you sign up to, or the number of transactions you process per month. Square, for example, may let you create a store for free, but it charges a 1.4% transaction fee + 25p on every sale made.

Business email address – if you don't have one already, then most ecommerce platforms will offer to bundle you in a business email address. This is particularly common upsell as you're purchasing the domain, for instance. Costs are typically low – it's £5 per account, per month on Google Workspace, for instance – but it's something to consider if you don't already have an email address for your site.

Integrations and extensions – ecommerce platforms such as Wix and Squarespace come into their own with their rich app stores. These offer a huge number of extensions for all sorts of purposes, from customer-facing tools on your site, to useful behind-the-scenes integrations for accounting software. Many of these are free, but you'll need to fork out for some premium extensions and integrations.

Square Online (fully free) – Best overall choice

4.3 out of 5
  • Website features
    3.5
  • Sales features
    3.5
  • Design flexibility
    2.7
  • Help and support
    4.0
  • Value for money
    4.6
  • Ease of use
    3.9
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
Cons
  • Free plan is fairly restrictive in terms of sales features offered
  • Design flexibility and customisability limited

Where other ecommerce platforms offer free trials, Square goes one better: it has a genuinely excellent free plan. If you’re looking for a simple, free way to make an online store, then Square is the best choice you can make.

With the Square Online builder, you can create 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 1.4% transaction fee + 25p on every sale made. Square has to make its money somehow…

What do you get with Square's free plan?

Without having to spend, Square still gives you all the tools you'll need to create and publish an online store. Generously, it even throws in free web hosting on its own servers. You will have to pay for your domain, if you don't own this already (eg yourbusinessname.com) and spend extra if you want a business email address. But, domain costs and email costs are the norm for all website builder plans.

On the free plan, you get access to automatic inventory, integration with Instagram and Pinterest, online shopping cart functionality, and order and item sync with Square POS. This makes Square Online a particularly good choice if you also run an in-person store (ideally using Square's devices there, too).

The Square Online Store doesn’t offer much in the way of design flexibility, and your storefront will be fairly simplistic. It does offer a range of ecommerce website templates specifically designed for online selling. There just isn't a huge amount of scope for customising them, unlike with Wix or Squarespace. But, this may yet be a merit if you'd rather crack on with getting a store live. If you've a keen design eye, we'd recommend paying for an ecommerce store through Squarespace (our design favourite) or Wix (which has a huge variety of highly customisable templates).

That said, Square is undoubtedly easy to use, which will appeal to any busy entrepreneur having to build a site for themselves on their own time. Here's a video overview of building a site on Square from the brand itself:

Overall, the free plan has plenty of great features to get your online store up and running. The fact you can even sell for free is something to shout about – some of the free trials below (for instance, for Wix) will let you create a store, but you won't be able to actually sell items and process transactions until you start paying.

What DON'T you get with Square's free plan?

Square's free tier is missing some key features that may compel you to spend on one of Square's paid plans as your ecommerce venture begins to grow.

Once you move onto a paid plan, you gain access to a fairly comprehensive range of features that are lacking from the free tier. An invoice creator add-on, abandoned cart emails, and revenue tracking deserve special mention.

As demand increases, you'll need to generate invoices, improve the customer buying experience, and market your products – all of which you can't do on Square's free plan.

The Premium tier is required for some pretty important features, such as accepting PayPal payments, tracking abandoned baskets, and allowing customers to add product reviews.

Here's a breakdown of Square's pricing plans.

  • Free – as it says, no upfront cost
  • Plus – £20 per month
  • Premium – £64 per month

Verdict: Should you build an online store for free with Square?

If you're determined to build an online store for free, then Square is pretty much the only game in town. And it's genuinely good – you'll likely be impressed at just how slick an ecommerce site you can create without spending any money.

Are there downsides? Sure. Without spending on a paid tier, you're locked out from being able to add customer reviews to your products; you won't be able to generate invoices; there's no abandoned cart recovery, and you won't be able to take PayPal payments.

But, there's no denying you can still get a professional-looking store live using Square without reaching for your wallet. Even the website hosting is thrown in for free. Provided you're happy with those transaction charges, then we'd recommend Square every time as our top choice free ecommerce site builder. You can give Square a try for yourself to see it in action.

Big Cartel (fully free) – a reasonable choice for small creative brands

2.9 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
    3.7
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
Cons
  • Not suitable if you’re a larger ecommerce business
  • Only allows you to sell five products

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!

What do you get on Big Cartel's free plan?

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.

This limitation is going to immediately trim down the types of business who might consider using Big Cartel's free tier. If you're selling a very small handful of merchandise options for promoting a business, then it could appeal. But, busier creative types with ambitions to grow and sell at scale will outgrow Big Cartel's limitations in a heartbeat.

Here's some welcome news, though. 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.

Here's an overview video from Big Cartel on adding an item to your online store – it's a helpful demo of how you would go about filling your site with products from your own inventory.

What DON'T you get on Big Cartel's free plan?

Unless you spend on a premium Big Cartel tier, you’ll need to use the sub.domain ‘.bigcartel’ on your free online store. This doesn’t look very professional, and is going to make sharing your web address with others that little bit harder.

Spending on one of the paid-for plans eliminates that pesky five product limit, which of course is nowhere near generous enough for serious online sellers. If you do choose to upgrade, ecommerce plans start from a reasonable $9.99 per month.

Big Cartel pricing

Here's how BigCartel's pricing breaks down:

  • Free – £0
  • Platinum – $9.99 per month
  • Diamond – $19.99 per month

Verdict: Should you build an online store for free with Big Cartel?

We're going to have to go with a “no” on this one. While this is a respectable free online store builder for a small niche of users – creatives with a very (very!) small number of items to sell – this is really a free trial in all but name. Sure, there's no official time limit on the ‘trial', but the taster plan for Big Cartel free will always have a ticking clock on it, as online sellers are al but guaranteed to outgrow its limitations.

At that point, you can of course spend on a paid plan from Big Cartel. But, since you're bound to be spending, we'd recommend looking elsewhere. There are far better paid ecommerce builders around – many with free trials. Speaking of which…

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.

Wix ecommerce (free trial only) – Best all round online store builder

4.8 out of 5
  • Website features
    4.5
  • Sales features
    4.4
  • Design flexibility
    4.0
  • Help and support
    3.8
  • Value for money
    4.2
  • Ease of use
    4.0
Pros
  • Our top ecommerce platform for small businesses
  • Offers great value for money
  • An unparalleled 71 ecommerce specific templates to choose from
Cons
  • You’ll have to pay for some additional third party features
  • You currently can’t integrate your online store with other sales channels

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

We'll discuss what you can and can't do during that trial period, below. In effect, though, it's an excellent no-commitment taster of what Wix has to offer. And, if you're looking to create a professional online store with best-in-class features, you really can't go wrong with Wix. Provided you're willing to pay after that trial.

It's worth stating that as well as a free trial, there's also a fully free Wix plan. But, this isn't something we'd recommend to business sites (it's really more for bloggers), and the free plan will never let you sell products online, so it's a no-go for would-be ecommerce stores.

What do you get with Wix's free trial?

What can you actually do in those two weeks of the free Wix trial? 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.

Without having to spend, you can create sections of your website for various product lines; add your product inventory; set up how you want your product summary pages to look, and create a checkout page and process.

When you consider its range of ecommerce features in conjunction with the cost of its plans (which start from just £14/month), you’re looking at one of the best value ecommerce platforms around.

Your online store will look fantastic as well – Wix has an unparalleled 71 ecommerce templates to choose from, with virtually no restrictions on customisation. You can use the AI-powered assistant to build a store for you, as well. Simply answer a few questions about what type of products you're looking to sell, and it will generate you a slick-looking storefront in minutes. From there on in, you can customise as much as you like. You can't, however, change template once you've chosen one and published your site.

Here's a helpful overview video from Wix demonstrating how to build a store on its platform:

So, all good news? Well, not quite.

What DON'T you get with Wix's free trial?

Here's one thing you can't do until you spend – actually sell any products. This fairly core aspect of ecommerce is locked out for Wix triallists until you choose a paid plan.

You also won't be able to put your chosen domain on the website until you spend – that means putting up with a web address that includes Wix's name alongside your own.

Once you start spending, you'll benefit from advanced ecommerce functions, as Wix has invested heavily in this area in recent years. You can also add on Ascend by Wix, a CRM and marketing suite that helps you drive sales and boost loyalty all from one central hub.

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). Elsewhere, you can design and launch data applications using its comprehensive web development platform. Wix has also improved everything from its order fulfilment and management to its payments solutions, making the premium tiers great value for money for online retailers.

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

For an ecommerce store processing even a modest volume of sales, you won't want anything less than the Business plan. At £20 per month (paid annually), that's still tremendously good value.

Here's how Wix's price plans break down:

  • Wix Core plan  – £14 per month
  • Wix Business plan – £20 per month
  • Wix Business Elite plan – £119 per month
  • Wix Enterprise plan – Bespoke quote

Verdict: Should you build an online store on Wix's free trial?

Using the Wix free trial is a great idea. The 14-day trial period is just about long enough for you to truly get a sense of whether you'd be happy running an online store through Wix, and we'd argue you'll be very pleased with the results.

You can't get a true online store fully live for free with Wix. As soon as you want to start processing payments, it's time to make a payment of your own for one of Wix's premium plans.

But, these are great value for ecommerce, and it's reassuring that you can spend two weeks refining the look and feel of your Wix site before you have to commit.

Shopify (free trial only): Best for sales-specific features

4.6 out of 5
  • Website features
    4.2
  • Sales features
    4.5
  • Design functionalities
    3.9
  • Value for money
    3.0
  • Help and support
    3.8
  • Ease of use
    3.5
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
Cons
  • Quite pricey when you do upgrade to a paid plan
  • Its SEO and marketing tools leave something to be desired

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. It's very nearly as good as it gets when it comes to ecommerce platforms. From our testing, we've a slight preference for the user-friendliness of Wix, plus Wix's better selection of templates. But, few can hold a candle to Shopify's advanced sales features – it really does give you everything you could ever need to run a growing online store.

Well, almost everything. It doesn't give you a free plan. Here's the run down on Shopify's free trial and full version:

What do you get with Shopify's free trial?

For one thing, you get to move quickly. That's because Shopify's trial period is seriously limited, at just 3 days. No, we didn't miss a zero out – that's three days before you need to commit to using Shopify for your online store, and choose one of its paid plans.

You don’t need credit card details to sign up for Shopify’s 3-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.

While on the free taster trial, you can select from Shopify's various themes and templates to design a store of your choosing. There are some impressive, modern-looking templates in its arsenal. We'd argue the ones you get from Squarespace are slicker, and the ones from Wix are a bit more natural to customise, but you're unlikely to be disappointed by the look-and-feel of an online store built on Shopify. Customers landing on it should feel reassured by the professional presentation, and Shopify can guide you through adding all the essentials such as checkout processes, contact pages, and individual product summaries.

During the free trial, you can sample nearly all of the features offered by whichever pricing plan you choose, other than selling items and taking payments

And those features are top of the range, though of course, you need to pay to really benefit from them.

What DON'T you get with Shopify's free trial?

Until you choose a premium plan, you don't get to truly run a store with Shopify. That means no processing payments, taking sales, or running multiple sales channels all through one powerful system. In short, until you pay, you don't get the true Shopify.

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

Check out our full page on Shopify Pricing Plans to better understand each of the below tiers:

  • Shopify Starter – starting from £5 per month, Shopify Starter is only an option for those selling on channels other than their own website. It lets you monetise product sales directly through social media, for example. This plan isn't an option for creating an online store.
  • Basic Shopify – from £19 per month (billed annually), this plan is great for small businesses with a low monthly sales volume. It includes basic reports, up to four reporting locations, and two staff accounts.
  • Shopify – from £49 per month (billed annually), the Shopify plan gives you more powerful reporting tools and the ability to create country-specific domains to optimise your international SEO. This is great for growing and international online businesses.
  • Advanced Shopify – from £259 per month (billed annually) you can get your hands on a custom report builder, lower credit card rates, and third-party calculated shipping rates. This powerful plan is best for large online stores with an international presence and a substantial customer base.

Verdict: Should you build an online store on Shopify's free trial?

Only if you're willing to spend some money afterwards. The three-day trial period for Shopify doesn't give you a ton of time to get to know the ecommerce platform. But, thanks to the speed of its template-based builder, you can get pretty far in three days. It's enough time to build a store, brand it with your own logo and imagery, and even populate a category or two with some of your inventory.

After that, reach for your credit card, as it's time to spend on a Shopify paid plan to really kick things up a gear and get your site live.

It may seem a shame that Shopify doesn't offer a fully free plan. But, with paid tiers starting from £19 per month for Basic Shopify, you won't have to spend big to get your ecommerce site up and running in earnest.

Squarespace (free trial only): Best for online store design

4.6 out of 5
  • Website features
    4.3
  • Sales features
    3.4
  • Design flexibility
    4.0
  • Value for money
    4.2
  • Help and support
    3.5
  • Ease of use
    4.2
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
Cons
  • Supports a limited number of payment options
  • Doesn’t support selling in multiple currencies

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

What do you get with Squarespace's free trial?

Even before you pay for a Squarespace premium tier, the free trial lets you choose from a selection of the best-looking ecommerce templates on the market. If you're a retailer with an eye on aesthetics – think fashion and accessories, cosmetics, art prints, or anything where you want to impress your customers with your visuals – then Squarespace is the brand for you.

Thanks to Squarespace’s almost unlimited design flexibility, you can customise your shopfront to your heart’s content. This goes beyond simply adding your logo and imagery. You can adjust layouts, resize elements, and drag and drop new components in and out. There can be a little bit of a learning curve compared to Wix, but the 14 day trial period is a great opportunity to test the waters with Squarespace and ensure you'd be happy to enter into a long term arrangement with this brand.

You can use nearly all of Squarespace's premium features during the free trial, so you can really get a feel for how the platform works before you sign up. What you can't do, however, is actually sell products on your site. You'll need to upgrade to a paid plan to do this.

Squarespace’s free trial doesn’t require any credit card information to sign up, so you don't have to worry about forgetting to cancel in case you change your mind about upgrading.

What DON'T you get with Squarespace's free trial?

Just as with Wix, Shopify, BigCommerce and GoDaddy, you won't get to sell any products on Squarespace until you pay up for a premium tier.

If you don’t upgrade, 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.

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.

There's a handy ‘first steps' guide to creating an ecommerce site from Squarespace, which we've embedded below:

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

Once your trial is over, you need to upgrade to a paid plan to actually launch the online store you designed during the trial. Squarespace pricing is pretty keen, with the Basic Commerce plan costing £23 per month, if you pick an annual payment setup. This is pretty solid value for an ecommerce platform. It's not as cheap as GoDaddy (see below), but Squarespace has better features and far better templates. You can save yourself 10% off any of Squarespace's plans by using the code STARTUPS10 at checkout.

The pricing plans for Squarespace break down as follows:

  • Squarespace Business – £17 per month (not a plan for online stores)
  • Basic Commerce – £23 per month
  • Advanced Commerce – £35 per month

We have a full article on Squarespace Pricing we'd recommend you check out to get the low down on how these plans are distinct.

Verdict: Should you build an online store on Squarespace's free trial?

A free Squarespace trial is time well spent. With the 14 day allowance, you'l be able to build a truly impressive-looking online store – again, those Squarespace templates are without equal.

You won't get to sell a thing on the platform, however, until you pay up for one of its premium tiers. After you've committed some initial time into designing your site, adding a product inventory and getting all of your branding ready, you may just be itching to go. Rest assured, launching an ecommerce website on Squarespace is a good idea. We've thoroughly tested the platform, and though we don't think it's quite at the level of Shopify when it comes to the sheer depth of sales features, most small to medium sized retailers will be satisfied with what they can do with a Squarespace online store.

BigCommerce (free trial only): Best for multi-channel selling

BigCommerce backend screenshot

4.2 out of 5
  • Website features
    3.5
  • Sales features
    4.6
  • Design flexibility
    4.0
  • Value for money
    3.0
  • Help and support
    3.9
  • Ease of use
    3.3
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
Cons
  • The editor isn’t that easy to use, and the language might be too complicated for non-techy customers
  • Design flexibility is limited compared to other, more affordable platforms

BigCommerce is an ecommerce platform for online shops that are serious about scaling. The tools are complex and the features are rich, which means you can rely on BigCommerce for creating a super-sized online store that handles a large volume of transactions.

But, it may be less appealing for smaller stores starting out, whose owners could prefer the improved ease of use and slicker design templates of something like Wix or Squarespace. Of course, neither of those platforms are free for ecommerce sites (outside of their trial windows). And neither is BigCommerce, which has a free trial only.

What do you get with BigCommerce's free trial?

For one thing, you get an extra day to make your mind up. Bucking the two-week trend, BigCommerce gives you an unusual 15-day free trial. 

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. This could be potentially off-putting for a store owner in that crucial free trial window, while they're learning the ropes and deciding whether or not to commit to a platform.

It has to be said, compared to the likes of Wix or Squarespace, the design control is quite restrictive. You're largely left to rely on the templates, features, and functionality offered by BigCommerce, rather than really making it your own through freestyle customisation and unlimited use of a drag-and-drop editor. And it’s the only builder not to have a mobile app, so you can’t edit/sell on the go.

The 15-day trial is, therefore, a particularly useful window for experiencing what it's like to set up a store on BigCommerce. If you see yourself as being largely content to use the ready-to-go templates, then it may have all you need. But, anyone keen to tinker with the design may find the free trial leaves a sour taste.

BigCommerce does, though, have an excellent inventory management system, and the 15-day trial period should give you an ample taste of what it's like to run your inventory through the site.

What DON'T you get with BigCommerce's free trial?

Stop us if you've heard this one before, but you won't be able to actually sell products during the free trial period. To unlock your store to the world and begin taking transactions, you'll need to pay up.

Here's why it may be worth spending on BigCommerce. First of all, it's a solid option for online shops with big or global ambitions to scale. It offers a huge range of features and sales integrations, and it's an excellent choice if you sell across multiple channels – on your site as well as directly through social media, for instance. There's also 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.

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 pricing

Here's the breakdown of how much BigCommerce costs:

  • Standard Plan $29 per month (around £23)
  • Plus Plan $79 per month (around £64)
  • Pro Plan $299 per month (around £240)
  • Enterprise Plan – custom pricing

Verdict: Should you build an online store on BigCommerce's free trial?

If you know you're likely to be processing a large number of sales, then BigCommerce is an excellent platform to rely on for the long term. The 15-day trial period is just long enough to give you a taste of what it's like setting up a store and choosing a design, plus managing your inventory through BigCommerce.

You won't get any further than this until you find a payment plan, of course. But, with an eye on the long game – a large number of sales, and deep use of its features – then BigCommerce could be a smart choice.

Smaller, boutique stores would do well to avoid the BigCommerce free trial and instead invest those crucial free two weeks learning the ropes on Squarespace or Wix, or, going fully-free with Square Online.

GoDaddy (free trial only): Easiest to use

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
  • Ease of use
    4.1
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
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)

If you need to get your online store up in a flash, there’s no faster product to use than GoDaddy. It may not be the most fully-featured online store builder (if you're looking to create something of serious scale, we'd point you towards Shopify or BigCommerce), but for a small site looking to get live without stress, GoDaddy is a great choice.

Of course, it's not fully free. As ever, we'd point you towards Square for a free-forever plan. But, GoDaddy outdoes most rivals when it comes to the length of its free trial…

What do you get with GoDaddy's free trial?

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 may not rank GoDaddy as the top ecommerce store builder when it comes to features, design, or integrations. But, for us, it's top of the pile when it comes to ease of use. Partly, this is 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.

You genuinely can create an online store through GoDaddy in under an hour. That leaves you the rest of the month on that generous free trial to customise it and add your products to the inventory.

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.

What DON'T you get with GoDaddy's free trial?

As with all the other free trials, you can't start selling your products on GoDaddy until you pay up for a premium plan. But, helpfully, there's only one plan to think about.

With just one ecommerce plan at £12.99/month, it’s pretty reasonable and very transparent pricing – everything you need is included in the cost.

Once you're spending on GoDaddy, you can process transactions on your store. You'll also be able to use its excellent SEO and marketing integrations and helpful analytics tools.

GoDaddy pricing

GoDaddy's ecommerce plan is simply priced at £12.99 per month (billed annually). For this, you get:

  • Product listings
  • Flexible payments
  • Flexible shipping options
  • Discount and promotional features

Verdict: Should you build an online store on GoDaddy's free trial?

With 30 days to play with, this is one of the most generous free trials you'll come across for an online store.

Thanks to the innate ease of use of GoDaddy's AI-powered design tool, you won't even need all 30 of those days to create a site – you could have the basics of the design ready on day one. With the rest of the month to invest in testing out the features and building up your store inventory, you may find yourself ready to pull the trigger on GoDaddy's low cost paid plan, too.

WooCommerce (free integration) – best choice for WordPress.org

Pros
  • Seamless integration with WordPress
  • Hundreds of integrations to increase functionality
Cons
  • Cost of extensions can add up
  • No dedicated support

If your website is built on WordPress, then WooCommerce is the best choice you can make for a free ecommerce platform. It's built in, ready to go.

What do you get for free with 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.

It isn't too difficult to get going with WooCommerce, provided you're comfortable with using WordPress. 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.

In comparison to the sprawling complexity of Magento (see below), this makes it a good option for small to medium ecommerce operations. But, we would caution that it's harder work styling up an online store on WordPress and WooCommerce, compared to using something like Squarespace, Wix, Square or Shopify. Those platforms are all more user-friendly for first-timers who never want to go near the coding. Squarespace and Wix, in particular, have a much richer selection of themes and templates to choose between, which are then very easy to customise.

Of course, to sell products on Wix, Squarespace and Shopify, you'll need to pay for a premium plan, and contend with transaction fees.

That latter point is another winning reason to choose WooCommerce – it doesn't levy any transaction fees. While that's great news, don't forget that you'l need to set up a payment gateway for receiving funds, and your payment gateway provider will have fees.

What DON'T you get for free with WooCommerce?

We won't be too much of a downer here, as there is a huge amount you can do with WordPress.org and WooCommerce without spending money. But, a few costs are going to crop up, as they will with most website publishing choices.

  • Domain costs – you'll need to pay to purchase your chosen domain (yourwebsitename.com)
  • Hosting costs – you can't host a site for free on WordPress, so you'll need to choose a web hosting provider, which will have an annual charge.
  • Payment gateway costs – as we mention above, while there's no transaction fee for selling on WooCommerce, you need to choose a payment gateway for receiving funds from customers. The provider will levy transaction fees.
  • Business email – while it's an optional extra, it's really not one to skip. With your domain purchased, you'll need to spend extra to get a business email account. This isn't a unique extra cost for WooCommerce, of course!

Verdict: Should you build an online store for free with WooCommerce?

Combining WordPress.org and WooCommerce is an excellent way to launch an ecommerce store for free…nearly. Be conscious of those extra costs we've listed above, and you won't be disappointed by the hosting and payment gateway fees.

Provided you're comfortable using WordPress, you can't go too far wrong with the WooCommerce integration. It doesn't have the hold-your-hand simplicity of a website builder, but with a little extra work from your own side, yo can create a fully functional ecommerce site and have plenty of cash to spare.

Magento Open Source – Best for those willing to code

Pros
  • Unrivalled capacity to scale and customise
  • Can support businesses making thousands of transactions per minute
  • Free to install
Cons
  • Will require you to have development skills, or to hire a developer
  • Doesn’t offer much in the way of help and support

Let’s get one thing straight: Magento Open Source is not for beginners. As the name suggests, this is an open source product, and that can mean it's uncharted waters for anyone lacking technical know-how.

If you get stuck along the way, there are plenty of online resources from avid users, but it can feel a bit Wild West compared to the innate usability of a website builder like Squarespace or Wix, or an ecommerce specialist like Shopify or Square.

However, the open source version isn't the fully-fledged Magento. That product has some serious backing these days – it was purchased by Adobe, and renamed as Adobe Commerce. This is a formidable product, offering unrivalled scalability, customisability, and capability for online stores with grand ambitions.

Used by big name retailers like Nike and Samsung, Adobe Commerce 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. Presuming you're not (yet) running a global ecommerce giant, you may be less inclined towards investing in Adobe Commerce. Even its payment plans would preclude small startups – you get quotes upon application.

This brings us back to the Magento Open Source alternative. Again, this is a technical platform to work with. If you don’t have any development skills, or you haven’t hired a developer, you're going to struggle. 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 need to invest a lot of your own time, or spend some extra money on technical setup support from a web developer to make the most of what's possible with Magento.

Buying guide: how to choose a free ecommerce solution

If you're determined to launch an online store free of charge, there are a few ways of going about this. None of them are absolutely zero cost – at some stage, you're going to have to spend on a domain or web hosting, for instance. But, these are your main options:

Free ecommerce builders

These are few and far between. In effect, Square is your only choice for a platform that lets you build a site beginning-to-end, publish it, and sell items, all without paying a monthly fee for the service. There's no hosting fee with Square, either.

This makes Square a great choice, provided you're comfortable with the transaction fees (1.4% + 25p per sale for UK cards).

Who should use this option? Small online stores starting out would do well to pick Square. As you scale there are low-cost paid plans that can give you extra features, including the ability to accept PayPal payments.

Free trials of paid ecommerce builders

Most ecommerce platforms charge you a monthly fee. While some services let you create a site for free – Wix, for instance – you won't be able to sell products on your site until you pay for a premium plan.

Free trials of ecommerce platforms are a good way to get a feel for using the service and designing your website. The trials range from just three days (Shopify) to 30 days (GoDaddy), with most offering 14 days for free before you need to select a payment plan to get any further.

Who should use this option? Ecommerce builders are an easy and accessible way of building your ecommerce site. Since they're intuitive, this is a great option for:

  • New businesses that want to quickly get their store live and online
  • Growing startups that want to keep their budget in check and don't want to invest in hiring a website designer
  • Side-hustlers who want to have an easily manageable ecommerce site
  • Dropshipping sites who want to smoothly manage their inventory
  • Established businesses who want to scale their ecommerce website

WooCommerce for WordPress

WordPress is different to a website builder, requiring a bit more technical know-how. While there are templates, you'll need to do more of the work yourself in customising your site, and you may need to get into the code, too.

But, WordPress.org lets you launch a site for free, and WooCommerce is a powerful, free ecommerce integration you can use for building an online store on the platform.

There are some costs involved for purchasing a domain and hosting your site, but WooCommerce has no transaction fees. You will though need to set up a payment gateway for receiving funds from customers, which will levy transaction fees.

Who should use this option? Small business owners who are comfortable with coding or have previous WordPress experience; those with large enough teams to have some dedicated resource for developing and upkeeping the site.

Open source ecommerce solutions

We wouldn't recommend choosing an open source ecommerce system to anyone but the most confident technical users. If you know what you're doing, then you may be willing to invest the time in putting together an ecommerce site using Magento or similar, but this is a long way removed from the user-friendly approach of Wix or Squarespace.

Who should use this option? Small business owners with time to invest in getting all the technical setup right. If you have budget for a web developer with Magento experience, then that will help, but weigh this up against the small expense of a monthly plan on a website builder.

How we test ecommerce website builders for small businesses

We tested eight ecommerce website builders to evaluate them in terms of functionality, usability, accuracy, and aesthetics so we can make the most useful recommendations to small UK-based businesses.

Our rigorous testing process means these products have been scored and rated in seven main categories of investigation and 47 subcategories – in fact, we covered 341 areas of investigation in total. We then gave each category score a ‘relevance weighting' to ensure the product's final score perfectly reflects the needs of our Startups.co.uk readers.

Our main testing categories for ecommerce website builders are:

Website Features: the capabilities and functionalities offered by an ecommerce website builder, e.g. blog functionality, SEO capability, and marketing capacity.

Sales Features: the sales capabilities and sales functionalities offered by an ecommerce builder, e.g. shipping, inventory capacity, and payment options.

Design: the aesthetic appeal and visual layout of a website created using an ecommerce website builder. It encompasses aspects such as page templates and customisable themes.

Customer Score: external customer opinion; the feedback and ratings given by customers who have used a particular ecommerce platform – the market position and reputation a builder holds.

Ease of Use: how user-friendly and intuitive an ecommerce website builder is for people with varying levels of technical expertise.

Value for Money: the balance between the cost of an ecommerce builder and the benefits it provides. It considers factors such as pricing plans, subscription models, and available features.

Help and Support: the assistance and resources available to users when they encounter issues or need guidance while using an ecommerce website builder.

The Startups product testing process

The Startups product testing process diagram

Final Verdict: 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.

Even when using our top free plan pick Square Online, there are limitations to the features at your disposal until you upgrade to a paid plan.

For example, you don't have access to advanced reporting, product reviews, or the ability to accept PayPal payments with Square's free plan. Whereas on its performance plan you get access to all of these professional features, and as your business scales using only free ecommerce plans could definitely do more damage than good.

To summarise, the best free ecommerce platforms for small businesses are:

  • Square Online – best free plan
  • Wix – best free trial
  • Shopify
  • Squarespace
  • BigCommerce
  • GoDaddy
  • Big Cartel 
  • Woocommerce with Bluehost 
  • Magento with Bluehost

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. 

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 and easily boasts the best free trial.

Shopify is also a strong contender, especially if you want access to the best range of apps and extensions to supercharge your online store.

Or, if design is more your bag, Squarespace is a great shout.

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. 9 very different but equally valid ways to create a free online store. 

FAQs
  • 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.

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Written by:
Ross has been writing for Startups since 2021, specialising in telephone systems, digital marketing, payroll, and sustainable business. He also runs the successful entrepreneur section of the website. Having graduated with a Masters in Journalism, Ross went on to write for Condé Nast Traveller and the NME, before moving in to the world of business journalism. Ross has been involved in startups from a young age, and has a keen eye for exciting, innovative new businesses. Follow him on his Twitter - @startupsross for helpful business tips.
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