Building an e-shop: Free open-source solutions (part 1)

Zen Cart: features, benefits & disadvantages
 online_shopping Decided to build your e-shop on a free open-source e-commerce platform? Great, that will save you money for popularization of the e-shop in the future. Still, you’ll need to have your own web server, and some technical and development skills. But the next important question is: which platform should you choose? Let’s go through the features and benefits of one of the best known brands in free e-commerce solutions – Zen Cart. Zen Cart is possibly the best open-source solution you can choose; it’s easy to use and install, with a large support community and a wide variety of features. Be aware though, that if you want to use it, you should be at least a mid-level PHP developer, or you should be willing to pay someone to configure your e-shop and sort everything out for you.   What are the benefits for you, if you choose Zen Cart?

  • Open-source solution. This means you can customize the source code as you wish. Zen Cart is based on the popular osCommerce shopping cart, but it’s been modified, so that it can be installed more quickly and modified more easily.
  • Quick and easy installation process.
  • Support for almost all hosting environments.
  • Free to download and install on as many websites as you wish. So you can maintain a couple of e-shops if you like. You’ll only have to leave the “Powered by Zen Cart” link open in the footer.
  • Add as many products as you wish. Creating a product is easier via the web interface than the administration interface though.
  • Multiple currency support, payment system and gateways, shipping methods. This is the area where Zen Cart is perfect. You have so many options for currencies, payment gateways and shipping requirements that it would be really hard not to find whatever you need.
  • Great tax management system. Configuring taxes is flexible and supports different regions.
  • Easy creation of custom themes. For a developer, of course.
  • Large support community, which is constantly buzzing. In forums you can search for the solution to your problems or just ask other Zen Cart users for advice.
  • Additional budget for popularisation of your e-shop. The solution is free after all.
  • Multiple language support.

  But what are the disadvantages of using Zen Cart – besides the obvious one related to open-source software?

  • Basic analytics. The reports that you get from Zen Cart provide only the most essential information you need – e.g. sales, order status, clients, most popular products. If you’re expecting in-depth analysis, you’ll be disappointed.
  • Confusing admin interface. The administration interface is not really well structured. It looks user-friendly, but the large number of installed contributions and options can confuse you. It has a search tool though, so that you can find what you need quickly and easily.
  • Security. As an open-source platform, Zen Cart doesn’t provide you SSL encryption, PCI compliance or anything else related to the security of your site. This is your concern. So if you don’t have a clue about security and you don’t want your user’s data to become public at some point, hire someone to set it up for you.

  If you don’t have mid-level PHP skills and knowledge and you want to hire someone to do the development work for you, re-consider whether or not you should choose Zen Cart, or any open-source solution. Yes, it’s free, but if you’re going to pay for a PHP specialist, it might be cheaper for you to choose a hosted e-commerce solution. Learn more about hosted solutions in the following series of posts.

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