Zen Cart e-Commerce Shopping Cart Software Review

Free programs found on the Internet are often limited in features, unreliability and often times pale in comparison to commercial programs. Zen Cart is exceptional as it not only delivers useful features, but it is also constantly maintained and upgraded by an entire community that is passionate about building the best shopping cart for e-commerce.

Zen Cart

Zen Cart is an open source shopping cart built on PHP and MySQL, which means that anyone can download the software and tweak it according to their own preferences. When you think about it, this is a pretty essential feature as every shop on the Internet would have their own needs and preferences when it comes to integrating a shopping cart into their business.

Zen Cart was first launched in 2006, and the most recent version was released on 26th October 2010 (known as version 1.3.9h).

Why do we like Zen Cart?

No Licensing Fees

Zen Cart is free! There are no hidden fees and you don’t even have to sign up for any membership or mailing list. Simply click download and immediately enjoy applying your very own powerful shopping cart to your online shop. This is definitely the biggest advantage of an open source shopping cart.

Like osCommerce, Only Better

Users of the popular osCommerce may also find Zen Cart to be familiar as the latter software is based on the osCommerce shopping cart software, albeit Zen Cart is known as the more user-friendly version.

Among the best features excerpted from osCommerce is the product attribute managers, HTML editor for regular web page contents, built-in coupon code system, template system and the ability to select what types of credit cards is acceptable.

Do note however that you cannot install contributions directly from the osCommerce website into Zen Cart.

Awesome Important Features

If you want to boost sales on your site, then you should understand that the fundamental art of selling requires you to run sale campaigns. To make things less confusing for both you and the customer, your Zen Cart is capable of incorporating discount coupons, gift certificates, highlight featured products as well as enable bulk discounts. Users will also be able to select their preferred shipping and payment options.

A Library of Add-Ons

Look around the official Zen Cart website and you will find a section completely dedicated to cataloging all of the free software add-ons you can add to your own Zen Cart. The add-ons range from admin tools to language packs, marketing tools to payment modules and from pricing tools to shipping modules. At this point of writing, there are exactly 1,112 add-ons available on the website for free of charge.

An Active Forum that Works

If you require further evidence on the amount of love and support that is channeled into this software, browse through the detailed compendium that methodically documents every burning question users of Zen Cart come across.
As an example, you could learn how you can protect your e-commerce site from a malicious attack or find out how you can change or reset your Admin Password if you happen to have misplaced the said password. You can even find out whether or not you should charge taxes on your online shop!

Anything not so good with Zen Cart?

A Forum that Works but is Emotional

For some reason, if you do feel an overwhelming need to rant about how you’re stuck trying to configure your Zen Cart, it is highly unlikely that you will find any sympathizers on the forum. People who run the forum are also those who built the shopping cart so approach the forum in a sensitive and polite manner and show these programmers some well-deserved respect.

No Proper Support

Because Zen Cart is free-for-all software, it is completely reasonable to not have any toll-free line you can call to ask for help. The program itself is also stable enough that you wouldn’t experience software failure – that is, unless you broke something on your own.

In that case, you could either go through the source code and locate the problem or post your problem on the forum and hope that someone will come along to help you sort things out. Alternatively, you could also simply hire someone to sort out the problem for you. The good news is that Zen Cart experts can be easily found on the Internet, such as on Rent-aCoder.

Customizing Zen Cart is for experienced Designers and Programmers

Simply put, if you have weak or non-existent PHP programming skills, never try to customize your Zen Cart on your own. It is highly likely that you stand a greater probability of breaking the software rather than tweaking it the way you originally intended. Even the fundamental art of skinning your shopping cart could literally take you hours to attempt.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that you need a degree in programming to use this software. Zen Cart is designed such that anyone with basic computer skills can manage their own Zen Cart. Even the installation is automated and the Admin Panel is intuitive and user friendly.

Easy Populate Add-on is Problematic

If you have plenty of products you would like to upload in bulk, consider the add-on known as “Easy Populate“. This feature works by enabling the user the option of importing products from an excel sheet into the shopping cart, as well as exporting them out. However, do note that there are technical issues with this add-on, although most of the problems people have seem to be because of spreadsheet problems.

So Do I Need Zen Cart?

Every online shop has its own unique needs so everyone’s experience with Zen Cart would definitely vary. Luckily, Zen Cart is designed by shopping cart users for shopping cart users so it is highly likely that you will find suitable add-ons for your online store.

The problem is that the learning curve is pretty steep and the fact that Zen Cart is filled with plenty of extra features is both a bonus and a bane to its operation as it could get pretty confusing. On one hand, it’s definitely worth your time as the software is free and comes with plenty of features, features that you usually would have to pay for in a premium shopping cart. On the other hand, be prepared to sacrifice at least three to four days if you’re looking to personalize the layout of your cart.

In a Nutshell

If you have no problem with having a Zen Cart that looks similar like every other Zen Cart on other websites, then this shopping cart is great for you. If nothing else, it is free so test running this shopping cart would give you a better idea of what features you would need in a premium shopping cart.