When you want to set up an online store, you’re going to examine all your options. There are numerous ecommerce platforms available to build your website and some are free. At least, at the outset, they appear to be, and you might be tempted to go that way. But what’s the reality?
Is a Free Online Store Really Free?
You need a good platform to build your store on. You don’t start a new business every day, and as long as you take well calculated risks, you’re likely to be successful. A good platform has to provide you with all the tools and resources necessary to set up shop, start selling and to grow and manage your shop. So, let’s take a look at a paid solution like Shopify and some of the free solutions.
Shopify and Its Pricing Plans
Shopify offers you a free 14-day trial period, after which you have to pick one of the paid plans. The plans begin from Lite and go up to Advanced and then a solution for large enterprises.
|Plan Name||Price Per Month|
|Shopify Plus||Price by Quote|
There’s no free plan with Shopify only a free trial. The others we are going to look at, offer free plans enabling you to build a free online store. But, to what degree is it free?
Is Free Really Free?
Weebly is a great website builder that offers both free and paid plans to build an online store.
|Plan Name||Price Per Month|
Weebly and The Free Plan
You get a good website builder and you can put up an attractive website for your business, under a Weebly subdomain. If you want your own domain name you have to buy it from Weebly. You can’t connect an external domain name to your website under the free plan. As for an online store, you get an ecommerce facility for selling up to five products. For a full-fledged ecommerce site that lets you sell unlimited products with inventory tracking and other essential features, you have to choose the Business plan.
Magento Community Edition
Magento is a free, powerful, standalone ecommerce platform. It has its own CMS, inventory system, storefront features, and all other tools to set up and manage an ecommerce store.
However, the real costs come when you begin setting it up:
You need to find a robust web host for your business, one with good uptime, security features, enough bandwidth, storage etc. You also need to take care of installing, setting up, and customizing the platform.
If you don’t have the technical background, you need to hire a developer and tech staff to keep it up and running. The costs add up and you might eventually end up paying more than you’d pay for an affordable plan like Shopify’s. Scaling can be challenging as you need to upgrade resources provided by the hosting company which may not work as smoothly as a cloud-based SaaS like Shopify.
Magento is an excellent platform and has the capacity to support any size of ecommerce business.
But, you don’t really get a fully-functional free online store.
WooCommerce is another hugely popular ecommerce platform which also offers the promise of a free online store. If you have some experience with WordPress, you may find it easy to set up and use this software. WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress and uses WordPress CMS.
However, you face all the issues you have to deal with as in the case of Magento. Find a web host and take care of installing and configuring the software. Like Magento, you get an easy and intuitive interface to build your site on. But, you have to make a lot of investment in web hosting and other aspects as discussed while looking at Magento.
So, while the software may be free, you still don’t get a fully functioning online store for free. And with these solutions, you can’t really be sure about what the actual costs will be in the long run.
In the case of Shopify, the costs are more upfront and clear.
Shopify doesn’t offer a free online store but you get a cloud-based SaaS that takes care of hosting, software deployment, backend tools, and management. The maintenance, upgrades, and platform security are all taken care of by Shopify. You can choose the Shopify Plan you need right now and upgrade to higher plans as your business needs grow. The upgrade and scaling are transparent and your shop keeps functioning without interruptions or hiccups. You need minimal infrastructure and in-house staff.
So, while Shopify doesn’t promise a free online store, you get transparency when it comes to costs. Choose Shopify for a full-fledged ecommerce site and scale the resources smoothly as your business expands without worrying about huge investments and unexpected costs.