The Hidden Cost of “Free” Ecommerce Platforms


Free ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce have become enormously popular, luring merchants with the promise of easy-to-set-up online storefronts that don’t cost a thing.

Is it really that straightforward, though? When you take a closer look at many of these free options, it turns out that there are numerous added costs to consider.

Let’s examine some of the pros and cons of so-called free ecommerce platforms and unveil some of the less apparent costs you should expect when using them.

What Are Free Ecommerce Platforms?

Free ecommerce platforms—like WooCommerce, Gumroad, Ecwid, and Big Cartel—are beloved by merchants for their flexibility and affordability. There is zero cost to use the core functionality.

For example, WooCommerce is an open-source, self-hosted platform that you can install using WordPress (which is also free). For merchants looking to sell products or services without incurring high overhead costs, this seems like a cost-effective and easy way to reach consumers.

Although they may vary in terms of style and setup, such platforms ultimately serve the same purpose: They connect buyers to sellers. With such technology, everybody can become an independent retail store merchant—no Amazon needed.

Are These Platforms Free?

Platforms like these claim to be free—and they are, to a point. Many of these platforms operate on a freemium model, meaning you can access some basic functionality for no cost. However, if you want expanded functionality, you have to upgrade and pay.

For example, a free model might limit the number of transactions you can perform in a single month. If you want to sell more than X goods in a month, you’ll have to upgrade. If you’re looking to make a living as a retailer, this is a very limiting factor.

What’s more, if you want to run a successful online storefront through these free ecommerce platforms, you will inevitably incur other costs. Possibilities include:

  • Themes
  • Web hosting
  • Third-party plugins
  • Security features
  • Credit card processing

If you want to maintain a competitive edge in a crowded niche, you’ll also need to invest in ecommerce SEO and marketing services. This can be beneficial for any online business, but it may be especially imperative if you’re using a free, no-frills ecommerce platform that doesn’t have sophisticated built-in SEO capabilities.

What Are the Pros & Cons of “Free” Ecommerce Platforms?

Although these kinds of free shopping cart platforms inevitably come with added costs, that doesn’t mean that you should turn your back on them completely. Here are some pros and cons to help you decide if these outlets are for you.

Most free ecommerce platforms offer these essential advantages:

  • Free basic functionality
  • User-friendliness
  • Some payment processing may be built-in, like Stripe or PayPal
  • Total control over your data and visuals
  • Various plugins to optimize for SEO
  • Unlimited products and categories

Here are some of the disadvantages:

  • Open-source software requires you to pay third-party sites to run your store (e.g., SSL certificate, domain, hosting)
  • Setup can take hours
  • File storage is usually limited

The Final Word on Free Shopping Cart Platforms

Ecommerce is projected to continue its rapid growth, especially in home-related niches. If you plan to hop on the bandwagon, you may consider a free ecommerce platform.

Before you sign up, do your research. Figure out what added costs you can expect to incur. You can then make an informed decision as to whether it’s the right outlet for you.

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