The Cheapest Possible Way to Launch an Ecommerce Store (Mar 2021)

You've seen (or maybe heard about) the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank. Half of them walk in front of the sharks talking about the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars they have spent on their startup, only to be in a situation where they need more money from the billionaire investors to keep their dreams alive.

It may give you a sinking sensation in your stomach, knowing that you would never be able to gather together that type of money or have the collateral to backup that sort of loan from an investor or bank.

But do you even need all of that in order to start a business?

I mean, can it perhaps be possible to launch a successful online business – e.g. an eCommerce store – without any (or very little of) starting capital?

Although your expenses are likely to increase as your sales increase, I want to remind you that many of these entrepreneurs started off with nothing more than a simple eCommerce website, spending small amounts of money to gradually expand and make money to pay for upgrades.

But right now, you need the cheapest possible way to launch an eCommerce site. You have either a little money in your pocket, or even zero money to start selling, so we want to show you a few methods that will keep cash in your pocket for investing in other facets of your business. Keep reading to start saving!

Method 1: WordPress

wordpress - Cheapest Possible Way to Launch an Ecommerce Store

WordPress has been the go-to solution for 27% of all website owners on the web. Or, to say this another way, more than one in four websites run on the WordPress platform.

And luckily for all of us, WordPress is also perfectly capable of running an eCommerce website. More than that, actually more than 42% of all eCommerce websites (latest 2016 data indicates) run on WordPress.

The benefits of going that route and launching your store on WordPress are really enticing:

  • WordPress in itself is a free and open source platform. This means that you can not only get it for free, but even tweak its inner workings to suit your needs 100%.
  • The best eCommerce tool for WordPress – an eCommerce plugin called WooCommerce – is also free and open source.
  • You can get a great and reliable hosting plan that's been WordPress-optimized for as little as $4/month. (Later on, as your site grows, you might want to switch to a higher-tier plan at $12/month.)

Sticking with that last thing for a minute – the hosting – yes, using WordPress as the core of your eCommerce store requires you getting a hosting account on your own. This might sound complicated, but it's actually a fairly straightforward thing. All you need to do is sign up with one of the popular hosting providers and give them some basic contact/business information about your website.

When it comes to specific hosting providers that we could recommend, SiteGround is one of the top-rated and optimized solutions for WordPress on the market. Their high quality has been confirmed by multiple customer reviews and hosting survey results.

And the best news, like I mentioned above, is that you can get a WordPress-ready hosting plan for as little as $4 a month. Just click here.

During sign-up, you can tell SiteGround to create a blank WordPress website for you. They will take care of that for free, so you won't have to get your hands dirty with the technical setup.

Another element of your eCommerce setup is WooCommerce – the free WordPress plugin that will give you all the online store functionality that you need. It can be installed just like any other WordPress plugin, and there are no costs associated with getting it.

The last element of our WordPress+eCommmerce puzzle is your WordPress theme – the website design that you will show to your customers.

There's a load of options available online – there really is – but if you don't want to get flooded with all the possibilities, you can check out this short-list over here. All of the themes showcased on that page have been pre-selected due to their structure and optimization for eCommerce websites (and WooCommerce in particular).

(Let me just emphasize that it's really crucial to work with a WordPress theme that has been optimized for eCommerce websites. Otherwise, you're risking your products not displaying properly, and thus costing you sales.)

Now, everything I'm saying here might seem like a lot of work at first, but it really isn't so. Once you start going through the steps, you'll quickly realize that all of them can be done in under one hour and that everything is pretty easy to grasp as you go along.

That's the whole power of WordPress … you can launch basically any type of website with it (including eCommerce or other online business), and do so at a really low cost and with small time investment.

Summing it all up, setting up your eCommerce store on WordPress will cost you:

Method 2: BigCartel (For Stores with Not Many Products)

If you plan on selling up to five products, the Big Cartel system offers a plan that's completely free, forever. The only problem with this is that you're limited to five products, and the features are rather limited. Not to mention, if you start upgrading to other plans, you'd be better off going with a solution like Shopify, since the feature base is better.

However, the BigCartel Gold plan looks like this:

  • Free for up to five products
  • Order management
  • Five images per product
  • Inventory tracking
  • Digital products
  • Sell on Facebook
  • Discount codes

If you'd like to upgrade your account in BigCartel, here are the plans to choose from:

  • Titanium – $29.99 for 300 products
  • Diamond – $19.99 for 100 products
  • Platinum – $9.99 for 25 products

Method 3: Shopify (Quickest Method with Simple and Powerful Tools)

Shopify homepage

The final method for building a cheap store is to go with Shopify. It's by far the easiest and quickest method out of the three, and I highly recommend it for beginner developers.

You start with a 14 day free trial for testing things out, and the Shopify Lite Plan is only $9 per month. This is a wonderful price considering you also receive a domain name and hosting, and you can choose a free theme.

This plan doesn't have an online store, but you receive unlimited products and a Shopify Buy button to start selling.

Even when you start upgrading the prices are pretty reasonable:

  • Shopify Lite – $9 per month
  • Basic Shopify Plan – $29 per month
  • Shopify Plan – $79 per month
  • Advanced Shopify Plan – $299 per month

Method 4: Magento Open Source (For Experienced Developers)

Similar to WordPress, Magento offers an opensource option for building your online store. The primary difference between Magento and WordPress is that Magento is truly meant for developers with lots of experience. Magento has a huge learning curve, so you will either need extensive development experience or pay someone to join your team. Otherwise, you're better off going with one of the hosted e-commerce platforms or even something like WordPress.

Having said that, you shouldn't completely rule Magento out. It's the most popular e-commerce platform in the entire world. Some of the largest, most rapidly growing brands start with or transition to Magento, and for good reason.

What's the cost like?

To start, Magento is completely free to download and create your own online store. This is advantageous for smaller startups that have to stick to tight budgets.

You could technically figure out a way to build a Magento store without paying any money. However, you will have to find a host so that your website can be seen online. The hosting expenses might range from $3 per month to $100 per month. It all depends on how rapidly growing your website is and what type of performance you are looking for from your hosting company.

Themes and extensions

Other than that, you may want to pay for things like themes and extensions. The good news is that Magento pretty much comes with all of the features you would need for a high-powered online store. However, some of the themes are far better than others when you start searching online. You could end up paying $1 for a theme, but you're most likely better off looking for something around the $100 range.

Finally, the most expensive part of Magento is the fact that you may have to hire a developer. If this is the case, Magento probably isn't one of the most cost-effective ways to make an online store. However, if you have a partner who's a developer, or you have development experience yourself, you may not have to find a freelancer or a full-time employee to run the website for you. In that situation, Magento is one of the best values for building an online store.

Method 5: Easy Digital Downloads (For Selling Digital Products)

Although this won't apply to everyone looking to sell online, the Easy Digital Downloads platform is perfect for those who want to sell digital products. This might include audio files, music, video, and e-books. There are plenty of digital sales opportunities, especially considering they don't take much upfront capital to create. This makes it all the more affordable.

For instance, if you would like to make an online video course covering the basics of WordPress, and how to build a WooCommerce store, all that requires is your time. You may need to shell out a little bit of cash for screen capture software and editing tools, but there are also free solutions for those as well.

Back to Easy Digital Downloads.

This is a completely free online sales platform that integrates with WordPress. All you have to do is go to the website and download the plugin for free. Once you install it on your website it almost instantly transforms the frontend into an online store. You can post digital products, collect payments, and send out automated emails with the files to your customers.

Are there any costs?

The Easy Digital Downloads plugin is free but it also integrates with WordPress. Since WordPress is an open source solution, you will have to go and find your own hosting. This might cost you anywhere from $3 per month to $50 per month. I wouldn't imagine that most digital product websites will grow past that, but you never know. There are gigantic digital marketplaces that definitely spend more than that for hosting.

You also might decide to pay for a WordPress theme or any of the many add-ons from the Easy Digital Downloads website.

Some of the most popular add-ons include:

  • Recurring payments
  • Stripe Gateway
  • PayPal Gateway
  • Software licensing
  • Frontend submissions
  • MailChimp
  • Many more

The prices vary for all of these add-ons. For instance, the recurring payments add-on costs $199 for a single site license. It goes all the way up to $419 for unlimited sites. The Stripe Payment Gateway starts at $89 for a single site license and goes up to $209 for unlimited sites.

Overall, you're under no obligation to purchase any of these add-ons. Therefore, you could technically make a beautiful website with full digital product selling support. The Easy Digital Downloads plugin has all of the features you would need, and the only required expense would be for a hosting account.

Method 6: 3dCart (For unlimited products at a low price)

Although this practice is going to the wayside, some of the cheaper ecommerce platforms will limit the number of products you can have on your store. A good example of this is BigCartel. That platform limits the number of products you can have for several of its pricing plans. Most notably, you can only have five products on your store for the free plan. That's obviously why we recommended it for smaller stores.

When looking at 3dCart, it's a wonderful value with powerful website building tools. Not only that, but the pricing looks extremely reasonable compared to some of the other options in this article.

Unlimited Products All Around

The 3dCart platform has the following pricing plans. All of them give you unlimited products:

  • Startup Store – $14.25 per month
  • Basic Store – $21.75 per month
  • Plus Store – $59.25 per month
  • Pro Store – $171.75 per month

Note that all of these prices are promotional rates. They last for the first 12 months. However, the monthly pricing doesn't go up that much after the first year, and it's still extremely competitive with other platforms.

Your plan dictates the number of users you can have on your account. As mentioned, all of the plans allow for unlimited products, leaving you with no limitations on the number of items you can sell. In addition to that, there are no transaction fees for any of the plans. This seems like a great value for anyone interested in building an online store!

Over to You…

Now that you've had a chance to check out the cheapest possible ways to launch an eCommerce store, let us know in the comments if you've had a chance to work with any of these platforms. Were you able to keep costs low throughout the process?

Feature image courtsey of Katya Prokofyeva

Joe Warnimont

Joe Warnimont is a freelance writer who creates tools and resources to help other writers get more productive and market their work.