In our previous articles in this series we considered the need to sell online, the 10 most important considerations to keep in mind before we set up an e-commerce business and deciding on one of the three available platforms for our e-commerce business.

In today’s article we will consider the most widely used open source e-commerce platforms available, have a look at their origins, ease of use, available support and versatility.

We will consider the above to make an informed decision when we get to the point of actually getting an e-commerce website built and go online.

As with most programs, platforms, services and software there are always a large number of companies that offers different solutions. Choosing between the available options can sometimes be difficult. Although we will make our recommendation towards the end of this article, our arguments should only be considered as guidelines. It will be perfectly normal if you come to a different conclusion based on the information shared here. We will consider only the top 10 available open source e-commerce solutions.

In case you are wondering why we are referring to South Africa in the above heading; it is important to note that functions such as currency settings, tax rules, available payment gateways, shipping integration etc. will need to be specific to the South African environment. We will consider this in applying our minds throughout this article.
Before we kick off, we need to clear up something important immediately. Although Open-Source Software is often referred to as free software it is not completely free. As we will see in the below discussion there will be some expenses to keep in mind.

Let’s kick off and have a look at the best open-source e-commerce platforms available today.

1. Magento Community Edition

magento shopping cart

It is necessary to immediately differentiate between Magento Enterprise Edition and the Magento Community Edition we will consider. The Magento Enterprise Edition is Magento’s flagship edition which is used by blue chip companies such as Nike and Samsung at an average cost of R254 708.00 per year.
I am sure we are interested in the functionality of the flagship edition but not at that cost.

Magento Community Edition is free to download and install on your webserver and is normally available for immediate installation via your website’s administrator’s panel via Softaculous scripts which assists us with installing the software and creating the necessary database where your products will be kept and your sales computed.

Magento is a very popular platform with a huge number of users and it offers constant new plugins and extensions.

The downside however is that Magento is not easy to navigate and there is a huge learning curve involved in understanding the software and more importantly to keep it running without the help of a dedicated specifically skilled employee (tech wizard). The plugins and extensions also come at a cost which can see you spending some unexpected bucks pretty soon.

2. Prestashop

Available as both a cloud service and a free software. The free software we will consider is also normally available for immediate installation through the website’s administrator’s panel via Softaculous.

Prestashop boasts a large number of users due to its large number of extensions available. Although Prestashop is not as difficult to master as Magento it still requires some technical skills as you may have to resort to coding to change certain features of your Prestashop online store.

Prestashop’s themes are rated amongst the best but comes at a steeper price than its competitors. Although Prestashop may be a good choice the smaller businesses may need to look elsewhere due to the costs involved to personalise your store.

We also need to consider that Prestashop, due to its sheer size, can be taxing on your web server. In order for it to run quick and smooth we may need to fork out a bit more for a faster web server.

3. OpenCart

OpenCart is popular with small businesses as it does not require a dedicated tech wizard with programming experience in our full time employ.
It is fairly simple and straightforward which unfortunately leaves the user without some of the functionalities other shopping cart software offers.

It is seen as a double edged sword and if we consider the lesser complexity of this software it also means not getting as much out of the software as we would like.

This does not mean we should discard OpenCart. As opposed to Prestashop, Opencart is considered as lightweight and therefore does not drag on the server.

Because of its lightweight “out of the box” it means we will have to download and install more plugins than will be the case with its competitors. Being reliant on plugins can lead to expenses as well as having to rely on plugins that may need urgent updating which never happens. Outdated plugins may lead to compatibility issues which may mean more downtime of your online store and even worse security issues.

4. Spree Commerce

Spree Commerce is an open source e-commerce platform built with a programming language titled Ruby on Rails.

In order to setup Spree Commerce you need to have a decent understanding and knowledge of this programming language. In principle it is free although we will have to pay for hosting and service integrations such as payment gateways, security and other functionalities.

Spree Commerce has a large community of developers which in turn results in more features being brought in and that new innovations are constantly created.

Due to its complexity in certain aspects it is the choice of larger companies compared to entry-level stores.

5. osCommerce

Being around for almost 16 years osCommerce has been one of the most trusted open source ecommerce platforms for many companies. It has more than 7 000 add-ons (plugins) available created by a large community. As a result there is a wide range of customisability in the functionality and design/layout of our storefronts.

Although osCommerce boasts more than 260 000 store owners, developers and service providers which ensures excellent resources and support it must be said that the software has become a bit old. This means it does not quite have the same punch as its competitors.

As osCommerce ages it is becoming less popular as newer platforms are becoming available.

6. Zen Cart

Zen Cart has set itself apart from competitors with its great product management system. At the store owners’ fingertips lies the ability to control the inventory and creating specials and sales. We can actually say we get total control with Zen Cart.

The downside, unfortunately is that Zen Cart becomes a bit sluggish as soon as a large number of new products are added to the store.

The biggest problem with Zen Cart however is the fact that it is not aesthetically pleasing out of the box. It can be pimped with available templates and a talented programmer can soup it up (obviously at some cost) but it lacks the out of the box cosmetic appeal of some of its competitors.

7. simpleCart

simpleCart, unlike most other open source e-commerce platforms is built with JavaScript. This means that simpleCart gets embedded in your existing website’s HTML code via JavaScript scripts.

It is further different from its competitors in that it does not require a specific database on your hosting server.

Without going into too much detail, JavaScript is not a very safe option. It can easily be hacked which means that clever hackers can hack into your website at the point of paying and create havoc with prices, number of items being sold etc.

8. VirtueMart

VirtueMart is the most widely used e-commerce plugin (extension) for the Joomla Platform. Joomla is a popular CMS (Content Management System) which allows for store owners to make changes to its website and online stores themselves.

VirtueMart lacks some of the features of some of its competitors. Its simple integration with Joomla however requires some initial learning to understand the cart system. It also offers a nice invoicing and inventory managing system.

VirtueMart will not work on its own. It needs a hosting Joomla website to which it is plugged into. Although the VirtueMart extension is easy to learn it is the underlying Joomla system that may need the attention of a skilled programmer.

9. Drupal Commerce

As is the case with Joomla, Drupal Commerce is a plugin that need a hosting software. In this case it is Drupal which is also a very popular CMS.

Drupal Commerce will also not work on its own and needs to be plugged into the Drupal website itself. Drupal Commerce is very flexible and importantly also SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) friendly.

Drupal Commerce boasts an easy-to-use administration system which is capable of handling more complex payment models such as those that are subscription based.

Out of the box it is unfortunately very basic but a large number of add-ons are available within the Drupal Community.

As long as you have mastered the Drupal CMS software (which has a steep learning curve) Drupal Commerce may be a viable option whether you want a basic e-commerce solution or a supercharged store with third party add-ons.

10. WP e-Commerce

WP e-Commerce is a popular application for the third CMS platform on our list, WordPress. WordPress is the most popular blogging/website platform available and yes it is free. Due to its popularity WordPress has different e-commerce solutions available.

WP e-Commerce, the first solution we will consider has nearly three million downloads. As with its WordPress platform software all of its features are customisable.

As standard features WP e-Commerce have multi-tier pricing for quantity discounts and integration with social networks etc. It has a huge support network with many video tutorials and different forums.

All in all WP e-Commerce is a good choice for both the newcomer and the established company.

11. WooCommerce

As mentioned above WordPress is an extremely popular choice for websites and an extremely popular platform on which online stores are built. It can safely be said that it is the most popular platform out there today. As also mentioned above, WordPress has more than one application up its sleeve when it comes to building online stores.

WooCommerce is by far the most popular WordPress e-commerce application and has the largest community of developers of all platforms. WooCommerce is the result of a previous e-commerce application, Jigoshop, which has been around for some time. WooCommerce adopted all of the great features of Jigoshop and developed into the extremely popular extension it is today.

As a result of its rapid growth and development WooCommerce integrates seamlessly with WordPress. This makes it really easy to install and manage. WordPress and WooCommerce integrated into it, has a very user friendly administration panel. WooCommerce has a very large number of plugins/add-ons which make it one of the most functional e-commerce solutions.

WordPress does not have as huge a learning curve as other Content Management Systems and therefore does not require the services of a dedicated developer/programmer.

Conclusion

Having had a look at some of the most popular open source e-commerce platforms we need to consider picking the most suitable one for our new online store. In doing this we need to consider our individual needs. As this will differ from one store to another this is something that every store owner-to-be will have to consider for him/herself.

None of the above platforms are completely free. They may be free to download, but we are going to need specific functionalities which we will have to pay for. We will also have to consider the ease of use. If costs and ease of use are considered, we can look at this simple example: If we choose Prestashop we will get a free platform developed specifically for an online store. It will have little support for normal website functionality which goes hand in hand with an online store. To change the look of your store you will have to fork out real money as these templates are not cheap. To tweak these templates requires a developer which can also be very pricey. If WordPress and WooCommerce is selected (both are free) you will have access to a complete functional website, a complete e-commerce solution with tons of free quality templates (freemium templates). Although some plugins have to be bought for specific functionalities they are not extraordinarily expensive. The bottom line however is that with WordPress and WooCommerce as our choice we will have little need for a developer or programmer after the system has been installed and set-up.

Given the above, WordPress is WebScripto’s platform of choice when we create websites for clients. Should the client need an online store it is so easy and quick to add an online store to the existing WordPress website with the use of WooCommerce.

Our aim at WebScripto is to have satisfied clients who are in control of their own stores and only need minimal support, if any at all.

We therefore recommend WordPress and WooCommerce as the go to solution.

We would like to hear from you. We will appreciate your inputs, questions, opinions or experiences with e-commerce platforms.

Take care

Eitel Bock WebScripto (PTY) Ltd

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