How to Start an Online Store for Free in 2021

Starting an ecommerce business and setting up an online store has never been easier in 2021. There are many ecommerce platforms to choose from, but in this article, we will take you through two of the finest, Ecwid and Square.

If you are just beginning in the world of ecommerce and are looking to start an online store for free then this article will help you do just that.

Before you begin to decide which of the two free ecommerce platform you will be choosing, there are two topics worth thinking about.

  1. The domain name for your online store
  2. Website security SSL certificate

Let's take you through how to sort those initially, before we deep dive into the store builders.

Choosing a domain name

Hopefully, by this point, you have an idea of what products you will be selling and what your company name will be. If not, that's fine, here are some good tips for picking the right domain name.

  • Relatable – ideally, customers will be able to understand what you sell just from seeing your name
  • Originality – seems obvious but type your idea into a search engine and see if it's currently being used
  • Availability – ensuring your ecommerce website domain name idea is available initially is important. Use a checker such as Name, to see what is on offer

With Square and Ecwid's free plan you will have the https://business-name.square.site / my-ecwid store format. However, if you want to have your own custom domain you will need to move up to the paid plan on either platform.

Web Hosting

As for web hosting, selecting a reliable provider is critical for the success of your ecommerce website. Hosting ensures your site doesn't crash, avoids unwanted hackers and also loads quickly for the user.

The pricing for web hosting can vary from $2.49 a month, right up to $900. This is dependent on how active your online store is and initially, you will only require the lower end of pricing.

If you decide to go for Square Online‘s free plan and are happy to use the URL format we mentioned above, then hosting is free. However, if you connect a custom domain then you will need to purchase web hosting. This rule also applies to Ecwid.

We recommend going for VPS hosting from SiteGround, as essentially this means you have your own dedicated hosting and you don't have to share your hosting with several other websites.

SSL certificate

Lastly is the issue around security. This is vital in ensuring your customers feel safe and secure when they checkout on your website.

It's worth checking when you select your online store whether this is already included in the pricing plan. With Square, this is included in the free plan, but it isn't with Ecwid.

What does this look like? Basically, it displays as a lock simple next to your name. In Google Chrome a little description displays to reassure customers that their information is secure. This is hugely important as customers may be worried when using their credit card online.

ssl website

There is also an additional SEO benefit to have a secure website. Google rewards sites that have an SSL certificate which helps when customers are using a search engine to find your products.

In this article, we are going to explore two methods of starting a store for free:

First, we will take you through how to do this in Ecwid and then with Square Online.

Method 1: How to start a free Online Store using Ecwid

Ecwid is a fantastic option for your online business.

However, the functionality does differ from your standard ecommerce platforms such as Shopify, Wix and WordPress. With Ecwid you are essentially bolting on own online store to an already existing online presence. However, they do offer a platform which we will discuss later.

Their main offering comes in the form of a widget, which is added to your website. It's where they get their name from, “Ec” – Ecommerce and “Wid” – Widget.

This may sound complicated, but it really isn't. No coding is required and not only can you begin selling on your store instantly, but the plugin allows you to integrate with social media platforms and marketplaces like Amazon.

Getting started

When you sign up for Ecwid you are instantly rolled on to their forever free plan. You can sign up via desktop, or the very handy Ecwid app which is available via Apple or Android.

Ecwid app

Before you are taking the dashboard to begin adding your product categories, you will need to consider the following steps.

  1. Store Name – what is your store called and what currency you will be dealing in
  2. Company Address – this is required to receive payments and also for setting up your delivery
  3. Ecommerce experience – Ecwid wants to know how long you've been selling online and what type of products you're selling. Be sure to fill this out and to tick the box to receive ecommerce tips from them, they're very helpful
  4. Website – as we mentioned, Ecwid is essentially a plugin. So they want to know if you already have a website. If you don't then you can Ecwid's platform

Once you have completed these steps, you will be sent to the dashboard where there is a handy setup guide to complete the following steps.

  1. Add products or services
  2. Review your regional settings
  3. Delivery/Shipping
  4. Payment options

It's important to point out that whether you mentioned if you had a website already, will determine if you do step 2. If you don't have a website then you can skip the next part and head to the product section.

Adding Ecwid to an already existing store

Step 2 is “Add your store to a website or a social network”. If you selected that you have your own online store, then you can select to integrate with Google, Amazon, eBay and many more.

ecwid integrations

Just click the “learn more” and you will be sent to the relevant marketplace to add your Ecwid. This step is incredibly easy to do.

If we look at the example below of connecting your Wix account to Ecwid. From the dashboard, click on “Main” and there will be an option to “Connect an Account”.

You will be asked to grant the app permission to work with Wix, just select “Accept” and you will see the image below to show it is now connected.

wix and ecwid integration

Adding Products

Regardless of whether you already had your own website, you can next begin adding products. If you have chosen to use Ecwid's platform, then this will take the form of product pages.

From the product's dashboard, you have the option to add products individually, import via CSV or you can begin editing the sample data that Ecwid has provided. These can all be deleted if you want to start afresh by selecting “Bulk update” and then “Delete Selected”.

adding products

When adding a product, Ecwid has arguably the cleanest interface of any ecommerce platform. Similar to Square you can add the product name, price, SKU, description and weight.

Ecwid gives some great pointers throughout. Especially when it comes to product imagery, highlighting all the different angles you should take of your image to ensure your product is purchased.

If you want to sell digital products then it's worth noting that you can untick the option below, which ensures the item isn't shipped.

ecwid product page

There are several other tabs at the top, which aren't required but should be filled out to give as much information as possible.

  • Attributes – if you have a universal product code or a brand name then you can enter it here
  • Options – this allows you to add a dropdown for different sizes
  • Files – you will need to upgrade to the VENTURE plan to use this and it allows you to upload e-books, videos or music. Handy if you are selling digital goods
  • Tax and Shipping – enter the weight and dimensions of your product. Set up the shipping option for the product and adjust how your items are taxed
  • SEO – unfortunately the option to adjust meta descriptions and titles isn't available in the free plan
  • Related Products – if you have products that are related to your item, you can highlight them on the page to make it easier for the user to click on
  • “Buy Now” Button – if you are selling through email, social media or the various marketplaces then you can embed this product

On the free plan with Ecwid you have a maximum of 10 products that you can display.

Regional Settings

Ecwid provides an estimate of how long each step takes in order to have your store setup. This is the quickest step which takes just 1 minute.

Most of your regional settings would have been completed in the quick setup at the beginning.

From this menu, you can adjust what currency you deal in and add any additional languages to your site, which will cost extra. It's worth noting that the date & time which automatically be set to New York time. So change that if that's not the case for you.

date and time in ecwid

Delivery / Shipping

Ecwid has great shipping options on the free pricing plan. Allowing you to add all or some of the choices below.

  • Shipping – choose from country or international shipping. Enable automatic shipping rates with couriers or adjust depending on whether your products have specific shipping requirements
  • Local Delivery – can you deliver orders yourself locally? If so, you offer free delivery for people in your postcode area
  • Pickup – add a pickup location and business hours. You can also ask customers to state when they will pick up the items

When you select “Shipping” you will see the most used options for your country, however you can also add other carriers manually.

shipping options in ecwid

If you set up a courier option in Ecwid and select the option to automatically calculate rates then it will pull through all the different shipping methods available from that courier.

In this case, Royal Mail offers 18 different options. These might not all be relevant to your business so you can simply click which ones you want to be enabled.

shipping methods in ecwid

If you want to add a handling fee on top of your product, to cover order fulfilment or any additional costs in packaging the good then you will need the VENTURE plan. Be aware that if you do decide to this it can be quite unwelcome and result in cart abandonment.

Payment Options

Ecwid has some fantastic payment options and even offers Paypal on their free plan, unlike Square. By default “pay by cash” is selected so you might want to adjust that if it's not applicable.

Ecwid allows you to connect with Stripe which accepts a range of major credit and debit card options as well as Apple Pay. However, there isn't an option for Google Pay through their Stripe and Square integrations.

If you want to add cash on delivery, phone orders, invoice or purchase orders then you can do this via the manual option.

Publishing your site

Differently to Square Online, any changes you make to your store after the initial setup will update in real-time. This means you have to ensure you have entered everything correctly.

Before you share your site then, it's worth going through the various website settings. Where you can update the theme, company information and add any customer testimonials that you have.

The choice of free themes in Ecwid is unrivalled by any other platform. They are divided up into different categories based on your business and all themes are customizable.

themes in ecwid

Dropshipping in Ecwid

Before we conclude it's worth highlight the dropshipping elements available within Ecwid. If you are interested in starting an online store for free, then dropshipping is a great option to further save on expenses.

In a nutshell dropshipping allows you to sell your products without having to keep them in stock. The order is placed with you and then the fulfilment is provided by a supplier.

Ecwid has a number of Dropshipping apps available to integrate with including Printful, Syncee or Wholesale2B.

Method 2: How to start a free Online Store using Square Online

Square Online is a great option for setting up your ecommerce website.

The beauty of Square Online is that it's incredibly easier for even a tech novice to set up. Square's free option allows you to sell unlimited products for pickup or delivery and offers a point of sale system. It has some great social media integrations such as Pinterest and Instagram and most importantly it offers an online shopping cart.

So how does Square make their money? You are essentially charged per each credit card transaction.

If you feel you are not quite ready for an online store yet and just want to sell individual items via links to test the water, then you can use Square Online Checkout links. This will allow you to sell your new products through social media or email.

Getting started

Firstly select the Free pricing plan from Square's options and set up your free account.

set up square account

You will then be prompted as to whether you would like a quick setup or a more thorough one. This is up to you, however, it's worth noting that you can add additional features and customize your setup at any point later on.

Square Online also has different options depending on whether you are an individual seller or a company. From this, you can enter your business name and personal details.

Whether you are taking credit card payments, using Paypal, or both, you can the option to receive payments the same day. If you are willing to wait up to 2 working days then the option is free. Once you have added bank details your initial setup is complete.

square online payments

Select a template

Square Online gives you 4 website builder options to help you create your ideal store, we have chosen “Retail” for this example. From here it will ask you more about the specifics of the product and how you intend to fulfil your orders.

customize square setup

What's great about Square's initial setup is that it allows you to choose from 4 options. The ones listed below where you can start small with a single shopping page, an Instagram page, or the full online experience. The 4th option is the checkout links we mentioned earlier which you can share on social media.

If you are unsure you can use their very helpful Q&A to help give you a suggestion as to what you should do. This will then setup your store, which from experience can take a few minutes.

Square website type

From here there are 6 steps to complete before publishing your website.

  1. Designing your website
  2. Setting up your domain
  3. Adding products
  4. Deciding shipping rates
  5. Shipping & Returns policies
  6. Checkout policies

Let's go through those in order.

Customize your website

This is where Square shows what an intuitive website builder it is. Simply by selecting/de-selecting features on the left-hand side it will begin your site for you.

designing your website

However, there isn't much flexibility with how your website will appear and there are no templates to choose from. You are only permitted to change the font and the colour of your calls to action. You would be able to customize your storefront much more with website builders such as Wix, Woocommerce or Shopify.

Setting up your domain

You are then prompted to set up your website domain. From here you have 3 options.

  • Custom domain – you can purchase a domain directly through Square for $12 a year
  • Domain I own elsewhere – if you have already purchased a domain through GoDaddy then you can connect it here. Be aware this will put you on a paid plan
  • Square subdomain – this is free and will include Square's branding in the URL e.g. https://richardsproducts.square.site

domain setup

Adding Products

Now for the fun part! Adding some products to your site.

Handily you have the option to individually or bulk upload products through Square. If you have a physical store and are already using Square's point of sale (POS) then the products will automatically sync.

When uploading your products there are a number of required fields to fill out including the type of item, its title, price and description. There are a number of optional fields which you should utilise including SKU numbers, product variations, SEO titles and descriptions.

adding products in square

Lastly, you need to upload a photo of your product. This is a crucial step as product photography can really make the difference between whether an item sells or not.

Shipping rates

In order to set your shipping rates, you will first need to register the address of where you are shipping from. As well as stating where you can ship to.

You then need to select your shipping rates. Adding a flat rate is the most obvious choice, however, you can also charge based on the weight of the product. We'd also suggest adding a free delivery incentive.

If you are in the United States, Canada or Mexico you can take advance of real-time shipping. Real-time shipping offers the most accurate shipping rates and ensures you are not under or overcharging for shipping.

shipping rates

Shipping and returns policies

Under the Checkout option, you have some open text boxes to select your shipping and returns policy.

Here's a list of suggestions for you to include in your shipping policy.

  • What couriers and services do you offer?
  • How long does it take for the order to be shipped once placed?
  • Is there a time that orders need to be placed before for next day delivery?
  • Are there any exceptions in regards to regions you deliver to?

As for your returns policy.

  • How long does a customer have to return an item?
  • How does a return work? Do they have to contact you?
  • How will long will the whole process take?
  • Are all products refundable? You might want to exclude sale items
  • Are there any alternatives to returns? Such as exchanges or in-store credit

Checkout policies

This is the stage where you choose your payment gateways for your ecommerce store.

Google and Apple Pay are automatically enabled and are a number of credit card payment options are available such as Visa, Mastercard and American Express.

However, if you want to enable Paypal for your site then you will need to upgrade to the Professional pricing plan which comes in at $9 a month. Flexibility is key and people like the option of different payment methods, so it might be worth the jump.

checkout policies

Related Article: Stripe vs Square: Summarizing Your Options for 2021

Publishing your website

You're almost there, now it's time to publish your site and sell products!

To avoid the hassle of constantly making changes it's worth previewing your website before publishing. You can get a share link to send out to your team for feedback. Also, you should check how the site looks in desktop and mobile.

previewing your site

Conclusion

It's never been easier to create your own online store in 2021. Most platforms require zero coding experience and you can get the publish stage in a matter of hours.

When comparing both Square and Ecwid it's different strokes for different folks. If you are just looking to sell the odd product want your ecommerce store to be a side hustle then Square's checkout links or Ecwid's plugin are equally good options.

If you are seriously looking at building a successful online store from scratch then we would suggest using Square over Ecwid. Square has SEO and blogging options built into the free plan, which Ecwid doesn't. Square also allows you to offer unlimited products on their free plan, whereas Ecwid only allows 10.

Ecwid does have some positives over Square though. The option of Paypal for free is great and the options to customize your store on the free plan is much more advanced. Although Square is much more scalable and offers far better integrations.

As a bonus let's check out a few of those integrations and what free marketing tools you can use for each platform.

Free Marketing Tools

Blogging

Unfortunately, Ecwid doesn't offer a blog option in its free plan. Square online does though in the form of their stories option.

Stories can allow you to share posts about your business, highlight new products, or share some personal updates. As we've mentioned before blogging is a great way to bring traffic to your website.

square stories

You can use Google's search engine to see what types of phrases people are entering around your products. Looking for questions is particularly helpful as you can then answer them with a helpful guide.

Let's say you sell terracotta pots, just enter that phrase into Google and check out what questions people are asking around it. Here's 4 great questions which you can answer with a helpful blog already.

people also ask questions

Social Media

Square has some great social media integrations on the free plan including Pinterest and Instagram.

From within the Square dashboard, you can connect your Facebook account to begin selling your products on Instagram.

instagram and square

From here you can either edit an existing product on Instagram or create a new post. You can tag up to 5 products within an image, however, we would suggest a less is more approach here.

Discounts

People love discounts. Whether that's a percentage discount, fixed dollar or free shipping. Through both Ecwid and Square, you are able to offer discount codes, although Square is the only one of the two that offers it on the free plan.

Square has some great automation built into its discount menu. For example, you can set a recurring discount that runs on a set schedule.

You can also set a limited time discount by adding an expiration date. You can also reward loyalty to your business and apply discounts to a certain “customer group” which you can assign in the back end of Sqaure.

discounts in square

 

Richard Protheroe

Content Marketer at Veeqo. Veeqo allows you to link your Amazon Seller Central account with your other sales channels to better manage your inventory and shipping.