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Free vs. Paid e-Commerce Solutions - Which One is Right for You?

Free vs. Paid e-Commerce Solutions - Which One is Right for You?

It probably comes as no surprise that the e-commerce marketplace is booming! Consumers expect to pay less when they shop online, and that is what is driving the surge in online sales. According to NAB’s November 2014 report: “we estimate Australians spent $15.9 billion on online retail in the 12 months to September 2014”, this is 12.8% higher compared to online spending in 2013.

If you want to start an online shop, then you have two choices: opt for a free e-commerce platform or use a paid solution. 

There are many options available, from the Wordpress-based WooCommerce, to Zen Cart, Magento, PrestaShop and many others. Today, I’ll provide an overview of the options so you can determine which solution is best for your needs.

The Set Up Process

When it comes to creating your web shop with a free e-commerce shopping cart platform, you generally need to oversee the entire set-up process. Conversely, many paid e-commerce platforms tend to offer hosting and do much of the set-up process on your behalf.

Paid Platform

There are many pros and cons associated with a paid e-commerce solution for your web shop.


• All paid platforms offer help and support for virtually any problem that arises.

• Easy set-up and installation is typical for hosted e-commerce solutions, which means you don’t need the technical savvy, nor will you need to hire a developer to assist with anything that’s over your head.

• Security is quite robust on hosted e-commerce platforms. Security updates don’t rest on your shoulders; they’re the company’s concern.

• You can choose from 1000s of free site designs or themes.

It’s important to remember that if you pick a template for your shop, there may be hundreds or even thousands of other shops using that same theme. This can be dicey in terms of branding.


• You may be tied into a contract with a monthly fee of $30 or more per month.

• There’s less flexibility when it comes to site design and features. You generally don’t have access to the core files, making it impossible to fully customize your site.

One of the worst possible scenarios of using a hosted site is the risk of the platform going out of business. In the case of Yahoo! Geocities, this is exactly what happened. In 2009, Yahoo announced that it would shut down Geocities – and at least 38 million user-built pages on GeoCities were shut down.

Free Platform


There are lots of pros of opting for a free e-commerce platform, including the following:

• It’s free!

• There’s no commitment, so if the platform isn’t quite what you expected or needed, then you can walk away and find a new solution.

• You maintain full control over your e-shop.


• You’re largely on your own when it comes to developing the site, which could be a problem if you run into a question or dilemma while setting up or managing the e-commerce site.

• Many free platforms require a fair amount of technical knowledge in order to alter the look of the shop (also called a theme) or perform updates. Some not-so-technical folks may need to hire a developer to assist with updates or alterations.

• Unless you know what you’re doing, security may not be as robust as with paid platforms.

As with many things in life, there’s no one-size-fits all solution. When choosing between a free or a hosted e-commerce solution, it all depends upon your unique needs, preferences and technical abilities. If you’re a fairly technical savvy individual who prefers total flexibility/control of your own online shop, then a free e-commerce platform may be right for you. If you have limited technical skills and want easy, efficient integration, then a paid solution may be the better option.