With the number of active users on the internet ever on the rise, more and more people are turning towards online shopping as compared to regular market shopping. As a result, several e-stores are coming up, including ones that function entirely as a web-based eCommerce store, or others that have both physical outlets and eCommerce solutions. If you are planning to start your own eCommerce website, or intend to sell your products and services online via your site in an easy manner, you have come to the right place. In this article, I shall be evaluating the pros and cons of some of the most popular and well-known open source eCommerce Content Management Systems and solutions.
Even though the number of free and open source solutions for eCommerce websites is quite high, we shall restrict our discussion to some of the most popular ones, namely, Zen Cart, Magento, osCommerce, OpenCart and PrestaShop. So without further ado, let us get started with the first option on our list!
Picking The Ideal Open Source eCommerce Option
1. Zen Cart
Zen Cart is a highly customizable eCommerce solution which is generally aiming at advanced users. It offers several marketing tools and customer management features, such as coupon codes, promotional offers, email order confirmation, gift certificates, and so on.
Managing a website using Zen Cart can be a complex business. Considering the fact that the software itself is geared more towards the advanced user base, a novice will not find it easy to accomplish even some of the most basic tasks, such as updating the installation, editing or removing templates, and so on.
Zen Cart is a good software — that is if you are an expert with it. All said and done, it seems to be losing out to other solutions (such as PrestaShop) in terms of usability.
Also, even though the software itself is free and open source, unless you yourself are an expert with Zen Cart, you will probably need to hire someone who knows his or her way around with this eCommerce solution. Thus, you should consider Zen Cart only if you can hire a Zen Cart professional, or you yourself have the required skills for creating a template, managing the CMS, etc. Otherwise, you will probably be better off with some other solution.
2. Magento (Community Edition)
Magento is one of the world’s most popular eCommerce solutions, with over 150,000 websites running it. It offers support for mobile eCommerce, and comes in various versions, including a hosted solution and an enterprise version.
However, since our focus is on free and open source solutions, we shall limit ourselves to Magento Community Edition, which is an open source software. While the Community Edition is available as a free download, unlike the Enterprise version, it does not have premium support to back it up. At best, the only support that you have access to includes the community forums.
All said and done, using Magento Community Edition, even without support, means that you are employing the code base of one of the world’s most reputed eCommerce solutions, and this in itself is a good decision.
Magento Community Edition offers you unlimited control over almost every aspect of your online store. If you are looking for a solution that offers just the right balance between scalability and ease of use, Magento might just do the trick for you!
Also, you should surely consider Magento if you are managing multiple stores from a single interface and/or database.
There is a good collection of ready-made templates which you can employ to customize your own online store. However, if you intend to tweak the appearance of your store, you may require advanced skills. Thus, even though Magento is a user-friendly software, setting it up and managing it at a level which is higher than just basic will probably mean you will either need to hire an expert or become an expert yourself.
osCommerce is a veteran when it comes to eCommerce tools and solutions, for this German product has been around for almost 12 years now.
osCommerce is a modular system that can be enhanced out of the box via add ons. Speaking of add ons, the repository boasts of over 7000 add ons. Furthermore, osCommerce powers 12,800+ websites and has 273,710+ community members. Naturally, with experience, osCommerce also has the numbers’ game on its side.
osCommerce has had its share of security issues, such as this major attack in 2011. Of course, malicious intent is something that you can have no control over, and even WordPress goes through the ordeal every now and then.
That said, osCommerce, even though it has been around for over a decade and does not seem to be fading anytime soon, seems way too dated for mainstream usage. In my opinion, if you are setting up an online store, you should consider the newer and more power-packed alternatives, in lieu of osCommerce.
OpenCart is a simple, relatively younger, and easy to use eCommerce platform. Generally speaking, OpenCart’s primary niche includes small to medium-sized online business ventures and stores.
The repository contains well over 8000 addons and extensions, alongside thousands of eCommerce themes and templates. OpenCart also comes loaded with features such as multi-store capabilities, product reviews and ratings, PCI compliance, discount coupons, tax settings and invoicing tools.
OpenCart is probably one of the most intuitive and easy to use eCommerce platforms out there. If you are looking for a no-nonsense solution, OpenCart is meant for you!
On the downside, it is still a relatively newer product and thus the size of the user base and additional features such as documentation may not be as detailed or diverse as one would want it to be.
PrestaShop, the last eCommerce platform on our list, offers just the most essential and oft-used eCommerce features. Just like Magento and OpenCart, PrestaShop too lets you manage multiple stores via one admin panel. The software itself has been translated into 56 languages so far.
Furthermore, PrestaShop offers features such as one-page checkouts, product reviews and ratings, analytics, catalog management, tax settings, and so on. It is over five years old and has a loyal community with over 500,000 registered members and detailed documentation.
The USP of PrestaShop lies in its user-friendly approach, which sets it apart from solutions such as Zen Cart and Magento Community Edition. It is not entirely targeted towards web developers, and thus, even if you have relatively limited technical skills, you can manage a small-sized store using PrestaShop. Thus, if you find Magento CE or Zen Cart to be outright too complicated, PrestaShop might be the product meant for you.
Just to help you put things in perspective, here is a chart that I generated from Google Trends:
What do you think of these open source eCommerce solutions? Used any/all of these? Any most loved or hated one? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below!
Sufyan bin Uzayr writes for various magazine and blogs, and has authored several books. He blogs about technology, Linux and open source, mobile, web design and development, typography, and Content Management Systems at Code Carbon. You can learn more about him, follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook and Google+.