Top Five Open Source E-commerce

By Shane Paulsen 06 June 2017

Open source e-commerce platforms are mainly for small-to-medium-sized businesses, establishing an online presence to sell products or services is an absolute must to stay competitive in today’s (and tomorrow’s) marketplace.

Your premium e-commerce platforms come at a price and can run up to thousands of rands a year. Although there is the option to some of the open source platforms that have paid edition to their platforms.

Of course, opting to use a free open source e-commerce platform to manage online transactions might be an easy decision for your business as you look to get your feet wet in the online marketplace. Choosing the best open source e-commerce platform, however, will prove to be far more difficult. After all, they all have their various strengths and weaknesses.

In this article, we will be talking about the top ten open source platforms for your business all in terms of popularity, utility, and features.

 No 1. Magento Community Edition

Who’s Magento best suited for? 

Magento is a great platform for a shop that you know will do well. If you’re an ultra-small business making your first move into e-commerce, there may well be less heavyweight solutions that can do the job. But if you have an established model, the funding to back it up, and the time to mold and sculpt Magento to fit your needs, it may well prove the perfect platform for your online store.

Magento is also optimized to work with thousands of products, tons of traffic, and a big number of sales. In other words, it’s for the bigger e-commerce stores out there.

You may have heard of Magento’s Enterprise Edition – their flagship e-commerce platform that’s used by the likes of Nike and Samsung, and costs about R226 000 a year. Well, if you’d like a lot of the same features, but at no cost, they also offer the Magento Community Edition.

The great thing about the Magento Community Edition is that it has tons of features, many of which aren’t available on other open source platforms. For example, you can manage multiple stores, choose from a variety of languages, and offer different currencies.

They’re also one of the most popular platforms, and they have lots of users constantly designing new plugins and extensions. This also helps to make their platform extremely flexible and infinitely scalable, which is one of the reasons why Magento is often considered by many to be the premier e-commerce platform.

The biggest downside to Magento is actually an inverse to one of its features: because the community is so big, it’s a beast to navigate. This could mean that you spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the platform, and you may need to be a tech wizard to do everything you want to do.

Also, while the Community Edition is free, there are lots of plugins and extensions you can purchase, so you could still end up spending a pretty penny on this software.

Features in Magento

Here are the most important features of Magento:

  • Inventory management.
  • Handling shipping charges.
  • Coupon management.
  • Multiple payment gateway options.
  • API for web services.
  • 5,000+ extensions available.
  • Built-in multilingual support.
  • Optimized for mobiles and tablets.
  • SEO features built-in.
  • Customer groups.
  • Product bundles.
  • Newsletter management.
  • Marketing tools.
  • Site management features.
  • Order processing.
  • Customer service.
  • Gifts.
  • Analytics and Reporting.


Review conclusion – Magento online store platform

Pros of Magento

User-Friendly: As a starting point, Magento is a user-friendly solution for those without the technical expertise to code a unique solution off their own back. The admin area is designed to be accessible to those without extensive knowledge or experience, so you should find it easy to piece together the basics of your online store yourself.

Scalability: One of the biggest advantages of Magento is that it’s a perfectly scalable system, so you can switch up your game from 10 products to 100,000. Magento is built with scalability in mind, so you can expect to find it easy to ratchet things up when the time comes.

Feature-Intensive: Because Magento has the capacity to be such a huge product, it can get pretty feature intensive. This is good, in the respect that you can make Magento do pretty much whatever you need it to do. However, be aware that this can increase the complexity of the system, which can make it difficult should you need to draft in the help of a Magento developer.

Cons of Magento

Development, Support and Maintenance Costs: Magento is expensive on the tech support side for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a complex system in the background, and this means it often takes even experienced Magento developers time to learn how to do what you need them to do. If you want to go for the enterprise option, which includes support directly from Magento, you are looking at around $15,000 / year (with the most expensive Premium Enterprise package clocking in at a staggering $50,000 / year.

Hosting: Due to the complexity and scalable design, you pretty much need to host a Magento store on its own dedicated server. This means additional expense to get things started, and an extra online monthly cost to boot.

Time-Intensive: Because the learning curve is so much longer for developing in Magento than in other applications, it can be a time-consuming process trying to get modifications made, or otherwise relying on input from a Magento developer. This means it’s less nimble than certain other solutions and less speedy to get it where you need it to be.

No 2. PrestaShop

Who’s PrestaShop best suited for?


With over 250,000 stores using the e-commerce platform, PrestaShop is very popular due to its ease of use.

It is easy to both install and customizes the software, and everything is very intuitive. How much work you’ll put into creating a store using PrestaShop is up to you: you can either download a fully-hosted or self-hosted version, so you can determine your own level of technical control (both are free).

That leads us into the biggest downside of PrestaShop: there’s not a lot of customizing that you can do. If you like tinkering with a bunch of graphics, you’ll likely be disappointed, as you’re not given a lot of leeway with graphic elements.

If you are entirely new to e-commerce, PrestaShop will be a lot to take on at once. For those with the knowledge or resources to make full use of PrestaShop, there are clear benefits. Your store will be totally customizable. Any tool or function can be added to a third party integration.

If you want to really customize your site, you’ll have to purchase additional themes and templates or delve into the code.


Features in PrestaShop

Here are the most important features of PrestaShop:

  • Create Products.
  • Product Navigation.
  • Run Stock.
  • Configure your Store.
  • Content & Navigation.
  • Comply with Laws.
  • Run Taxes.
  • Create special offers.
  • Highlight your Products.
  • Reinsure Customers.
  • Increase Engagement.
  • Get Traffic.
  • Advertise in your Store.
  • Run Orders.
  • Inform your Customers of the Evolution of their Orders.
  • Increase Loyalty.
  • Run your Customer Database.
  • Run your Customer Service.
  • Get Insights about Customers, products & Marketing Performance.
  • Run Multiple stores.
  • Go international.
  • Extend your Store with modules & themes.


Review conclusion – PrestaShop online store platform

 Pros of PrestaShop

PrestShop Build: There are plenty of reasons to choose PrestaShop. Apart from what we’ve already mentioned above, PrestaShop offers numerous options for your e-commerce site through a multitude of available modules and themes that are often free. If you prefer a more customized look, you can also create your own themes and modules.

Features: This platform offers many great marketing features, including loyalty programs, email follow-up automation, coupons, and vouchers. It has multiple languages and currency support, different payment providers and also has overrides, which enable you (or your developer) to alter the software’s functionality safely and create bespoke features. It’s also reportedly very SEO-friendly.

Cons of PrestaShop

Usability: Probably the main issue with PrestaShop is its usability. If you’re not an experienced developer or don’t have the programming expertise, getting the functionalities you want will pose a challenge. In these instances, you will more than likely have to spend more for additional modules.

Bugs & Security: Another prominent complaint about this platform is the presence of bugs. Many of the bugs and issues that have been reported involve time zones, product attributes, order removals and security hacks. There are also incompatibilities with different versions of PHP (the scripting or programming language) which causes bugs. Right from the download page, you’re already provided with a list of PHP versions that are bugged and exactly how they prevent PrestaShop from working correctly. While the warning is helpful, many users agree that it would be more helpful if these issues were fixed, seeing as the people behind PrestaShop already know how each version is affecting the platform.

Customer Service: Last but certainly not the least, there have been several complaints about their customer service and support, with some customers claiming that there was absolutely no support for previous versions of the software.


No 3. OpenCart

Who’ OpenCart best suited for?


OpenCart is especially popular with small businesses that don’t have anyone on staff with a lot of programming experience. It’s fairly simple, without a lot of the other functionalities found in other shopping cart software. This, of course, is a double-edged sword, as less complexity means it’s easier to use, but you might not get as much out of it in the end.

That being said, you can still do a lot with OpenCart, though to really open this program up you’ll need a programmer to help you get around some of the code. You can also choose from a bunch of different plugins to give your site more flexibility.

One of the other great things about OpenCart’s simplicity is the fact that it doesn’t drag on your server. You can slow everything down by adding a ton of plugins, of course, but for most people, this should be one of the faster options.

The biggest downside, besides the simplicity, is the fact that it’s so reliant on plugins. That means you may have compatibility issues with different plugins, or you might need an update that may never come. You’re putting yourself at the mercy of plugin developers much more with OpenCart than other software.


Features in OpenCart

Here are the most important features of OpenCart:

  • Unlimited Categories.
  • Unlimited Products.
  • Unlimited Manufacturers.
  • Multi-Currency.
  • Multi Languages.
  • Product Reviews.
  • Product Ratings
  • Open Source.
  • Free Documentation.
  • Other Templates can be used.
  • 20+ Payment Gateways.
  • 8+Shipping Methods.
  • Fully Responsive Design.
  • Bootstrap 3 Integration.
  • Font Awesome Support.
  • Intuitive Dashboard.
  • Extension Installer.


Review conclusion – OpenCart online store platform

 Pros of OpenCart

Ease of Use: Opencart is easier to setup and work with.New users would go through an easy learning curve, which means they could set up and start using OpenCart quite fast. This is because the interfaces offered by this solution are very straightforward and simple ones.

Features: It offers users a good set of features, including a powerful catalog functionality and a good mechanism for order processing.

Documentation: OpenCart comes with some very good documentation, which guides users through all the initial setup and other functionality. Screenshots are also included to make the documentation more efficient.

Design: Well-Designed Admin Interface

Setup Cost: The cost of setting up a store with OpenCart is quite approachable even for small businesses.There are a huge number of add-ons for OpenCart and many of them are free – you would be able to get a site up and running using different payment gateways for no costs, where on other platforms you would need to pay for these.

Cons of OpenCart

Performance: OpenCart does not promise a very high performance unless users opt for additional plugins such as for SEO.

Store: A store that is set up with OpenCart is not very easy to customize, and might be constricting for some businesses.


No 4. osCommerce

Who’ osCommerce best suited for?


osCommerce has been one the most trusted open source e-commerce platforms for the last fifteen years. With more than 7,000 community-created add-ons available for the platform, you’ll enjoy a wide range of customizability in designing and enhancing the appearance and functionality of your storefront.

With more than 260,000 store owners, developers, and service providers, osCommerce offers a vast support network, which serves as an excellent resource when things go awry. If you’re having problems with your software, it’s virtually guaranteed that someone else has experienced – and solved – that very same issue.

The downside to older software, of course, is that it’s old – and in osCommerce’s case, that means it doesn’t quite have the horsepower that other, newer options do. It’s not as scalable, and others have more features and just a little more “oomph.”

Features in osCommerce

Here are the most important features of osCommerce:

  • 7,000 free add-ons
  • Massive integrations
  • Payment processing
  • Customer service and technical support
  • Co-compatible with all PHP 4 versions
  • Supports unlimited products and categories
  • Products-to-categories structure
  • Categories-to-categories structure
  • Add/edit/remove categories, products, manufacturers, customers, and reviews
  • Support for physical (shippable) and virtual (downloadable) products
  • Administration area secured with a username and password defined during installation
  • Contact customers directly via email or newsletters
  • Easily backup and restore the database
  • Print invoices and packaging lists from the order screen
  • Statistics for products and customers
  • Multi-currency support
  • Automatically update currency exchange rates

Review conclusion – osCommerce online store platform

 Pros of osCommerce

 Large Community: There are hundreds of thousands of people involved in the wider osCommerce community, so there’s no shortage of casual support if you need it. The forum has over 1.5 million individual posts, so chances are high you will be able to answer anything that comes up reasonably quickly.

Easy to Hack and Modify: If you want to hack, modify and manipulate the site for more control, osCommerce is particularly easy to break open, and you will find with a basic understanding of what’s going on, you can make modifications yourself. Alternatively, if you want to source a developer, you will be able to do so relatively easily to make the tweaks you need.

Supports Additional Plugins and Add-ons: Due to the size of the community and the sheer number of websites running the osCommerce software, there is a wide range of plugins and add-ons available, which you can use to pack out the features of your site. Some of these are paid, but a large number are still available free of charge.

 Cons of osCommerce

Can Be Error-Prone: osCommerce can be prone to bugs and breakdowns, particularly once you’ve gone as far as hacking the code yourself. This can be a problem if you’re doing a lot of volumes – no one wants the shop to be broken when a customer gets to the checkout.

Requires More Manual Intervention: As a result of the way some of osCommerce features are built, more manual intervention is required than with other software options. This means more of your time in managing and updating the site, to keep things relevant and well-targeted to your customers.

Doesn’t Always Scale Well: Scalability is a much bigger concern with osCommerce than, say, Magento. Where Magento is built to scale, osCommerce is built for smaller-time applications. That isn’t to say osCommerce is any worse – just that it is not quite as neat to scale. If you do find yourself with an osCommerce shop that’s doing well, it may even be worth moving to a more powerful software to take things to that next level.


No 5. Zen Cart

Who’ Zen Cart best suited for?


As an open source platform, Zen Cart is completely free to use. Typically, this means that there are definite limitations when it comes to services. However, that isn’t the case with Zen Cart. Fans of the platform claim that it is robust enough to compete with commercial platforms.

The other unique advantage of Zen Cart is that its founders envisioned it as an accessible platform. They didn’t want a platform that could only be used by those with an IT degree. While you will need to know PHP and there is a certain learning curve involved, Zen Cart does manage to be more user-friendly than other open source options.

Zen Cart has one big advantage going for it: it’s got a great product management system. You can do almost anything – and do it easily – in Zen Cart, from controlling inventory to creating specials and sales. It’s total control, right at your fingertips.

However, the system does tend to slow if you’re adding a bunch of new products, so it may not be great for businesses that do massive amounts of volume.

The biggest drawback to Zen Cart is that it’s ugly – at least out of the box. You can gussy it up with new templates, and a talented programmer can make it dance, but if you just want to install and go, your storefront won’t exactly have the cosmetic appeal that the alternatives offer.


Features in Zen Cart

Here are the most important features of Zen Cart:

  • Mobile/Responsive Store.
  • Adding Products.
  • Product Display Options.
  • Cart Functionality.
  • Apps Integration.
  • Integration with eBay and Amazon.
  • Content Management.
  • Language Management.
  • Backups and Site Exporting.
  • Payment Processing.
  • Shopping Cart Plugins.
  • Order Management.
  • Inventory Management.
  • Payment Card Industry PCI Certification.
  • Gift Certificates, Deals or Coupons.
  • Tax and Shipping Calculators.
  • Shipment Tracking.
  • CRM Features and Reports.
  • Blogging.
  • Built-in Promotion Options.
  • Site Statistics and Analytics.


Review conclusion – Zen Cart online store platform.


Pros of Zen Cart

Flexibility’s:  Cart has many add-ons available, but they all cost extra. Depending on what is needed, the system can be set up to function like any other shopping cart.

It makes for a good product management system by allowing several product options that include:

  • The ability to sort products into categories and sub-categories
  • Enter in the stock level of products
  • Create attributes for products that include color, size, and more
  • Add products in bulk
  • Create coupons and specials
  • Feature products
  • Collect and display reviews of products

The software is flexible enough to turn off and on each function as you need it.

Templates: There is many templates to choose from and installing the software along with a website template of your choice. There are many free and paid ones.


Support for Using Zen Cart: The support forum is responsive to those seeking help with this software on their site. Once it is set up, a business owner can manage it with the help of support. Updates are needed often for the platform and are something the business owner, web master, or web programmer can perform.

Cons of Zen Cart

Appearance :The site appearance of Zen Cart is not visually aesthetic. Just out of the box, the appearance is lacking. Instead, our web developers have experience in customizing the look of Zen Cart to match the custom design of the website or to give it a look of its own.

Reporting System:The site reporting system is very basic and keeps track of the viewable products, purchases, and orders. This feature could be improved to provide more specific product sale reports and profit. The reporting does give an overview for managing the information in terms of how much.

Upgrade & add-ons: The most difficult aspect of Zen Cart e-commerce solutions is when you have to upgrade or add an add-on. The modifications can take a long time and sometimes require a start-from-scratch. Any upgrade and add-on cost of money to improve upon the basic foundation.

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