With surprisingly few limitations, Square Online is our top pick based on our demo store testing. Read more of our top picks below.
This article is part of a larger series on Retail Management.
We compared free ecommerce platforms based on on-site builder tools, sales and product features, and ease of use—making sure to consider features only found in their forever-free plans. We also tested their free versions by building the same demo stores on each. Lastly, our team of retail and ecommerce experts also weighed in, and we considered online user reviews.
Based on our evaluations, the seven best free ecommerce website builders for 2023 are:
- Best overall: Square Online
- Best free Shopify alternative: Shift4Shop
- Best for WordPress users: WooCommerce
- Best for developers: PrestaShop
- Best for Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace users: Ecwid
- Best for artists and creatives: Big Cartel
- Best for international sellers: Mozello
While all of the above are free to use, you will have to pay a credit card processing fee, typically 2.9% plus 30 cents, when you make a sale. Besides that, none of these charge commissions or have any hidden fees. There are optional paid upgrades, and we’ll cover those in more detail below.
Free Ecommerce Website Builders Compared
If you’re serious about growing an ecommerce business, we recommend paying for the best ecommerce platform. Our recommended solution, Shopify, offers robust features in a user-friendly online store for as little as $39 per month.
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Square Online: Best Overall Free Ecommerce Website Builder
- No shipping integrations without upgrade
- Square branding on footer
- Multiple languages not supported
What We Like
During our evaluation, we tested a lot of free ecommerce website builders and realized most of them were riddled with limitations—missing features, product limits, or ad displays on website pages. What we like about Square Online is that it has shockingly few limitations. It’s the closest you can get to creating a complete and professional web store without even needing to enter a credit card, making Square Online the best free ecommerce website builder for small businesses.
The setup is intuitive and quick; we were able to build a full demo site in a few hours when we tested this platform. However, you cannot edit the layout or add integrations as easily as other platforms. What Square Online lacks in layout customization, it makes up for in speed.
Overall, Square Online earned the highest score, 4.4 out of 5, in our evaluation. It earned perfect points for having no product limits, one-click checkout options, and the ability to sell digital products. It is also the only platform that allows you to sell online or mobile through its POS products, even on a free plan.
Square Online’s forever-free plan lets you list an unlimited number of products (physical or digital), track inventory, and manage SEO. It also integrates marketing software like Mailchimp—things you might not need right away but are very nice to have as you grow.
- Unlimited products: List and sell unlimited physical and digital products like e-books and videos with no website storage or photo upload limits.
- Full website: You can create the usual main navigation pages a website has, such as a Contact Us page, then customize it with your logo and colors. You can also add blank pages, a gallery, and email capture forms.
- Coupon codes: Create coupon codes that visitors can enter to receive a percentage or dollar amount discount or free shipping. Coupons can be valid for all orders, orders over a certain amount, or specific items.
- Subdomain: Free plans come with a customizable “square.site” subdomain, so your website will appear as “yourstore.square.site” on the address bar.
- Square branded footer: Free websites also display “Powered by Square” on the footer of each page. It’s subtle and doesn’t look too bad compared to other free websites. However, you’ll need to upgrade to at least the Plus edition ($29 per month) to remove it.
- Customer support: Support for Square Online is a little tricky to reach. You have to chat with its support robot and request to speak with a representative. Phone and live chat support are available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time and weekends from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. During our evaluation, it took about 30 minutes to connect to a live support agent and one business day to respond through email.
- Use a custom domain: One of the main reasons to upgrade from the free plan is to use your domain name instead of yourstore.square.site. To do this, you’ll need to upgrade to Square Online’s Plus ($29 per month), which includes a free custom domain that’s good for a year.
- Shipping tools: With a Premium account ($79 per month), you can use a shipping calculator to charge customers real-time rates from USPS, UPS, FedEx, or DHL. Transaction fees are also discounted. If you aren’t ready to upgrade yet, note that with WooCommerce and Ecwid, you can access some of these shipping tools for free.
- Customer reviews: If you want to give customers the ability to leave reviews of your products, you’ll need to upgrade to at least the Plus plan ($29 per month).
- If you’re ready to get started, create a free Square account and follow our guide on setting up a free Square Online store.
Shift4Shop: Best Free Shopify Alternative
- Shift4Payments is the only payment gateway option for free users
- Complicated, difficult to use
- No mobile app
What We Like
During our evaluation, we were surprised that Shift4Shop (formerly known as 3dcart) offers several advanced ecommerce features, which are available in Shopify’s higher tiers, for free. Some of its features include search engine optimization, mobile website templates, sales tracking, and free domain name registration.
Sounds too good to be true? Don’t worry, Shift4Shop doesn’t have any hidden charges. Note, though, that Shift4Shop’s free End-to-End plan is only available for US merchants, provided they use its built-in payment provider, Shift4Payments.
Shift4Shop scored 4.22 out of 5 in our evaluation. It earned high marks in almost all of our criteria—pricing and payments, features, and web builder—but missed a lot of points because of mixed reviews about its customer service and complicated user interface. When setting up our own account, we also ran into issues, such as error messages and pages not responding.
- Free domain
- Website builder: 50-plus mobile-ready website themes with a built-in blog.
- Product management features: Sell an unlimited number of products—even digital goods—categories and images. You can also set up upsell and cross-sell for your products and create waiting lists.
- Multichannel selling: Sell your products on sales channels, such as Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, eBay, and Google Shopping Feed.
- Marketing tools: There is a wealth of marketing tools available on the free plan, including product reviews, Google customer reviews, wish lists, gift certificates, affiliate programs, coupons and discounts, and Mailchimp or Aweber integrations.
- SEO: This is an area where the software excels. It lets you set up 301 redirects, navigation and breadcrumb links, and customizable meta descriptions. Integration with Google Analytics is also available. What we like is that it has pop-ups and prompts that remind you to fill in fields like image alt tags and meta descriptions.
- More payment provider options: If you would like to have the freedom to choose another payment provider that is a better fit for your business, you need to upgrade to a paid tier.
- Automation features: Shift4Shop’s highest plan, Pro ($229/month), unlocks automation features, such as auto-shipping, autoresponder email campaigns, pre-orders, and back-in-stock notifications.
- Read our Shift4 Payments review for more information on pricing and how it works.
WooCommerce: Best for WordPress Users
- Hosting not included
- Lengthy setup time
- No free customer support
What We Like
WooCommerce is one of the few free ecommerce platforms that offer jam-packed features, earning a 4.19 out of 5 score, in our evaluation. WooCommerce’s extensive third-party integrations and unlimited storage earned this high software mark. However, the need to pay for customer support and a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate prevented it from reaching a perfect score.
WooCommerce requires you to use WordPress, which is free but can be complicated to set up and requires hosting. Square Online and Big Cartel are simpler options if you’re looking for something you can set up quickly.
Based on our experience setting up a demo store in WooCommerce, we definitely agree that the platform has endless customization opportunities. WooCommerce can accommodate most features your online store might need, but this would usually come as a paid add-on. It can also be overwhelming if you’re unfamiliar with WordPress, installing plugins, and coding. However, for tech-oriented people who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, WooCommerce offers unparalleled options.
- Unlimited products: List an unlimited number of products, including physical and digital goods (like e-books and videos). WooCommerce also includes tools to manage your inventory, such as low stock alerts.
- USPS integration: Calculate the shipping price in real time when a customer checks out, then print discounted USPS postage straight from WooCommerce with the customer’s name and address already filled in. You can integrate other carriers like UPS and FedEx for an additional fee.
- Coupon codes: WooCommerce lets you create coupon codes for discounts on the customer’s order. You can also create special rules, such as requiring a minimum spend and excluding certain items.
- Product reviews: Allow customers to rate and submit reviews of your products.
- Support: WooCommerce does not have customer support available to free users, although there is a help forum where you can ask other users questions.
WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin and offers several third-party integrations. You can choose to pay for the following integrations:
- SEO: WooCommerce does not include great SEO tools out-of-the-box, so many users will install an SEO plugin like Yoast to help them edit search engine titles and descriptions for their products and pages.
- Multilanguage capability: An extension is required to display your site in multiple languages, and this can cost around $200 per year.
- Marketing: Another common way users upgrade WooCommerce is by installing one of the dozens of marketing extensions. You can sell on Facebook, start an affiliate program, or create targeted email campaigns with unique offers based on a customer’s previous purchases. Prices range from $0 to hundreds of dollars per year.
- If you are keen on using WordPress to build your ecommerce store, we have outlined how to set up WooCommerce in eight steps.
PrestaShop: Best Open-source Platform for Developers
- Expensive customer support
- Developer skills required
- Limited scalability
What We Like
PrestaShop earned a 4.02 out of 5 in our evaluation. It earned perfect marks for the quality of its native integrations—most features are already available in the software, eliminating the need for paid add-ons from its app marketplace. However, PrestaShop’s steep learning curve and the need to pay for customer support prevented it from earning a perfect score.
Like WooCommerce, PrestaShop is free to download and install as long as your computer and hosting meet its minimum requirements. The software provides features for store customization, inventory management, payment processing, and marketing campaigns. You can also build your features as needed but will need to code them yourself or use a developer since most of its features are open-sourced—specifically built for developers.
- Inventory management: PrestaShop offers basic and advanced inventory management solutions. Once you enable advanced stock management, you can specify quantities for every product (or combination) in your store, select the warehouse in which the product is stored (with multiple carriers), track inventory movements, current product status, and more.
- Payment processing: Set up payment methods, such as payments by invoice, COD, check, bank transfers, credit cards, subscriptions, and POS or payment via physical stores.
- Marketing: You can enable features for promo codes, coupons, and discounts, as well as have price rules like special offers based on product, customer, or order. You can also make abandoned cart recovery and engagement emails.
- Customer support: Support is a premium (paid) service. However, PrestaShop has a large and supportive community that contributes to its forum or help center.
- Customized website themes: While PrestaShop offers free website templates, most free offerings have limited customization abilities or unappealing designs.
- Marketplace selling: If you want to connect your store to common marketplaces, such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Google Shopping, you’d need to pay for an extension module.
Ecwid by Lightspeed: Best for Wix, Squarespace & Blogger Users
- Limited to 10 products
- No coupon codes
- No inventory tracking
What We Like
Based on our evaluation, Ecwid scored 3.53 out of 5. Free shipping calculators and the ability to sell anywhere contributed to Ecwid’s high score. Ecwid’s free plan, unfortunately, is limited to 10 products and doesn’t provide the ability to track inventory or offer coupon codes. These features are only unlocked when you upgrade to any of its paid tiers.
The strongest advantage of using Ecwid’s free plan is it lets you sell online in various ways—through its storefront, an existing site, and via an embeddable Buy Now button. This option makes it a good fit to add an affordable checkout to your existing website.
We found Ecwid’s interface very easy to use when we built our demo store. You can set up product variations and related products despite the product limit. It has detailed instructions on how to embed the Ecwid store, depending on the website platform you are already using. Its free standalone website, Instant Site, lacks a lot of customization options but can do a decent job if you are less concerned about additional design features and just want to sell products.
- Up to 10 products: Free users can list up to 10 unique products at a time. Customers can pay with a credit card, which can be processed through PayPal, Stripe, Square, and more than 60 other payment gateways. Free users cannot sell digital items like e-books and videos.
- Link to website: While Ecwid can be set up as a free standalone site, most users integrate it with their existing website. Ecwid has official integrations with Wix, Weebly, and WordPress, allowing you to add your free Ecwid store with just a few clicks. For other website builders like Squarespace, you can integrate Ecwid by copying and pasting HTML code.
- Shipping calculators: Ecwid is the only free ecommerce website builder that has free shipping calculators for all the major US carriers, Canada Post, Royal Mail, and more. This means you can charge customers actual shipping rates based on their location and package weight. However, you cannot purchase shipping labels straight from Ecwid unless you integrate an app like ShipStation.
- Support: For free users, there is only email support available. Live chat and phone support are available to paying customers.
- List more products: A Venture plan ($19 per month) lets you list up to 100 products at a time, whereas a Business plan ($39 per month) allows you up to 2,500. Meanwhile, an Unlimited plan ($99 per month) enables you to post unlimited products.
- Custom domain: If you’re using Ecwid to host your website, you can use a custom domain, such as www.yourstore.com, instead of the storename.company.site domain that’s included for free.
- Multichannel selling: One of the big perks of using Ecwid is that you can integrate your online store with more than one website—and you can do that even with a free account. However, with a Business account ($39 per month), you can also list your products on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Facebook, and Instagram. Some additional fees may apply.
- Multilanguage: Ecwid offers multilanguage functionality for users on the Business plan ($39 per month).
- Coupon codes: Another perk for paid users is creating promotional coupons for customers to use at their store. Ecwid gives you a lot of control over coupons as you can specify the number of times a coupon can be used, require a minimum order amount, only allow it for certain customers, or only allow it for certain items/item categories.
- If you have a WordPress website, follow our guide on how to use Ecwid to sell on WordPress.
Big Cartel: Best for Artists
- Limited to only five products
- No inventory tracking without upgrade
- Limited SEO tools
What We Like
Its product limit and nonexistent inventory tracking resulted in Big Cartel only earning a 2.77 out of 5 in our evaluation. While Big Cartel is not ideal for scaling an ecommerce business, it’s an ideal and popular choice for selling limited product runs or unique items.
Big Cartel was originally designed for artists and artisans and, as a result, it works best for businesses with a relatively small inventory. If you only need to sell a few products at a time, Big Cartel is tough to beat. Its templates are stylish and modern and, unlike many competitors, don’t include pesky ads. Typically, there’s a subtle Big Cartel logo on the footer, which you can remove using code.
- Use a custom domain: Besides WooCommerce and PrestaShop, Big Cartel is the only free ecommerce website builder we’re aware of that lets you connect a custom domain, such as www.yourstore.com. If you don’t own a custom domain, you can use a Big Cartel subdomain, like yourstore.BigCartel.com, for free.
- Up to five products: Free plans list up to five unique products at a time, with one photo per item. Customers can check out using a credit card, which is processed through PayPal or Stripe. Free users cannot sell digital items like e-books and videos.
- Full website: Create a complete website with multiple pages and a contact form. Big Cartel lets you choose from many stylish themes that you can customize with your own logo and colors. Big Cartel gives you a surprising amount of control over your website’s layout and lets you integrate a small but solid set of apps, including Mailchimp, ShipStation, and live chat apps.
- Support: Big Cartel has email support available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, including weekends. During my evaluation, I submitted a question after hours and received a helpful response first thing in the morning.
- More products and photos: The most prominent reason to upgrade Big Cartel is to add more than five products and upload more than one photo per item. The $9.99 per month edition lets you sell up to 50 products, with the $19.99 per month edition 500 products. All paid versions of Big Cartel also let you sell digital items.
- Coupons: All paid versions of Big Cartel allow you to create digital coupons for customers. This can be a percentage or dollar amount discount or free shipping.
- More SEO options: Neither free nor paid versions of Big Cartel allow you to edit the SEO title and description of products. For most users, this won’t be an issue since Big Cartel simply generates them automatically. However, those looking for more SEO control should consider Square or WooCommerce instead.
Mozello: Best for International Sellers
- Limited to only five products
- No coupon codes
- No SSL (except during checkout)
What We Like
Mozello is one of the few free ecommerce platforms that let you display your website in multiple languages. Choose from more than 60 languages and let your customers change the language by clicking a link at the top of your site.
Based on our evaluation, Mozello earned a 2.35 out of 5 score. Mozello is extremely easy to use and is a solid website builder; however, this also translates to limitations on more advanced ecommerce features—related products and marketing integrations, for example, are not available.
- Up to five products: Free users can list up to five unique products at a time. Unlike Big Cartel, you aren’t limited by how many photos you can upload, but there is an overall storage limit of 500MB for free accounts.
- Full website: Mozello makes it easy to create a full website with multiple pages and a contact form. Along with Square and Big Cartel, it’s easily the fastest ecommerce website to get up and running. That said, its design options are considerably more limited, and it has very few integrations.
- Multilanguage: Mozello is the only free ecommerce website builder on our list that supports multilanguage sites, and it’s the only one we’re aware of that covers more than 60 languages worldwide. Simply choose which languages you want to support and write your website content, like product titles and descriptions for each language. At the top of your site, visitors will click on which language they want to see.
- Subdomain: Free websites come with a customizable mozello.com subdomain, so your website will appear as yourstore.mozello.com on the address bar.
- Mozello footer: Free websites also display a small message on the footer that reads, “Created with Mozello—the world’s easiest to use website builder.” While it doesn’t stand out too bad, it makes the website a bit less classy than the others on this list—particularly Big Cartel, Ecwid, and WooCommerce.
- Support: Mozello has free email support in English. I sent a few questions during my evaluation and received a detailed and personalized response three hours later. While there is a phone support line, the office is based in Eastern Europe, so you will have to call early in the morning to reach them, and may incur international charges.
- More products and storage: One of the main reasons to upgrade is to add more products and increase your storage for photos, videos, and other types of files. The $8 per month plan allows up to 15 items and 50GB of storage, while the $16 per month plan allows unlimited items and unlimited storage.
- Custom domain: Another key reason to upgrade is to use a custom domain instead of the yourstore.mozello.com subdomain, which is provided for free. All paid users can do this (starting at $8 per month), and a custom domain is even provided for free for one year. However, you can also connect a domain purchased from an outside registrar.
- SSL certificate: Paid users (starting at $8 per month) can enable SSL encryption, make your website more secure, and change your URL from HTTP to HTTPS. This makes your website more appealing to search engines and can help you rank higher in the results. Free accounts get HTTPS during checkout automatically to secure credit card information, but the rest of the site is HTTP.
- Coupon codes: Paid users can create promotional coupons for customers to use at their store.
All quoted prices require an annual subscription.
How We Evaluated Free Ecommerce Website Builders
As mentioned above and similar to how we evaluated ecommerce software, we compared these ecommerce platforms based on their forever-free plans’ on-site builder tools, sales and product features, and ease of use. Building the same demo stores on each weighed in on a huge part of our evaluation.
Based on the above criteria, Square Online is the best free ecommerce platform for small businesses. Square Online received the highest overall score (4.4 out of 5) according to our grading system. We have also personally found that Square Online is one of the most straightforward solutions to use, allowing you to create an online store in a few minutes.
Click through the tabs below for a more detailed breakdown of our evaluation criteria. Note that we only evaluated the free plans of each software:
40% of Overall Score
First, we looked at the product limits on each of the software’s free plans and whether there are paid options that small business owners can upgrade to when their businesses grow. Finally, we gave points to platforms that integrate with the most popular payment solutions like Stripe, PayPal, and Apple Pay, with bonus points for one-click checkouts because we find it’s a more user-friendly and revenue-driving option for small businesses. Square Online and PrestaShop earned perfect marks in this category.
15% of Overall Score
A solid ecommerce website builder is the foundation of every small ecommerce business’ online store. Thus, we considered the available templates, customization options, and the overall flexibility of the site builder. We also considered if the software includes an SSL certificate, unlimited storage and bandwidth options, and built-in SEO tools and site analytics. We granted additional points for platforms that allow connecting to a custom domain. We also reviewed the quantity and quality of third-party extensions compatible with the software. PrestaShop, Shift4Shop, and Ecwid were winners in this category, with PrestaShop and Shift4Shop benefiting because they can connect your online store to a custom domain.
15% of Overall Score
We assessed features significant to online stores, including the ability to sell digital (downloadable) products, easy product set up, catalog and stock keeping unit (SKU) management, tools for selling in-store and mobile, integrated social media selling, and marketplace selling, such as Amazon. We also took a look if its shipping solutions included discounts and label printing. Many small businesses also perform marketing themselves, so we looked into the availability of built-in marketing tools, such as abandoned cart recovery and promotions and discounts. WooCommerce, Ecwid, Shift4Shop, and PrestaShop were the top rankers in this category, primarily because of their many integrations and highly customizable sales features.
20% of Overall Score
Because online stores operate 24/7, we gave higher points to platforms that offer 24/7 customer support and have multiple customer touchpoints, such as phone, email, and chat—even on free plans. We also awarded points to easy solutions to set up or have guided prompts and a comprehensive help center. Square Online was the winner in this category because it provides phone and live chat support even to free plan users.
10% of Overall Score
Finally, our retail experts considered any standout features of each individual platform and whether or not the software offers a good overall value for their free plans. We also rated each platform’s popularity with small businesses and its compatibility with other small business software. We also awarded points based on our personal experience interacting with the software and the company’s customer support. Square Online and WooCommerce got our votes.
Meet the Experts
The following retail and ecommerce experts contributed to this article:
Meaghan Brophy is a resident retail and ecommerce expert at Fit Small Business with over 10 years of retail experience and 7 years of experience delivering actionable content to independent retailers. She has spent the last 4+ years at Fit Small Business testing retail and ecommerce software.
Agatha Aviso is Fit Small Business’ resident ecommerce software expert. She has spent years testing and evaluating different platforms and building online stores.
Brigitte Hodge is a retail specialist at Fit Small Business with several years of experience managing a retail store. At Fit Small Business, Brigitte deep-dives into retail software like Square and Shopify to find the best solutions for small businesses.
Best Free Ecommerce Website Builders Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A website builder is a tool that helps create websites without the need for coding knowledge. A good website builder has an intuitive drag-and-drop editor, with changes reflecting almost real-time when building.
Among the free online ecommerce website builders we tested, Square Online is the easiest to use. You can build a full standalone online store in a few hours. However, if you wish to invest in an ecommerce platform, Shopify is tough to beat in terms of ease of use and scalable features.
We recommend Square Online if you are looking for a free website for ecommerce. It is the best free online store builder we have tried and tested among all the free ecommerce platforms in the market because of its few limitations.
Yes, you can. Note, though, that all free website builders come with limitations. These might not be a problem when you start out but can present significant challenges as your online store grows and your business needs to scale.
Building a free ecommerce website can be difficult. You want an online store that looks professional and includes essential features like inventory management and marketing integrations. However, you don’t want to spend hours setting up your store, only to realize your free ecommerce website will have pesky ads unless you pay for a $15-per-month “upgrade.”
All free website builders come with limitations, such as only allowing the sale of a certain number of products or certain features being “locked” until you upgrade. These limitations might not be a problem when you start out, but they can present significant challenges as your online store grows and your business needs to scale.
Among the free ecommerce platforms we have reviewed, Square Online has the fewest limitations while also being completely free with no hosting fees or commission. This is why we recommend using Square Online as the best free ecommerce website builder. To start setting up your Square store, click the button below. There’s no credit card required.