The challenge of choosing the top open source eCommerce platform for 2019
Long ago, in a galaxy far far away, businesses willing to sell their products to customers had to use custom, on-premise eCommerce solutions. Companies needed to not only purchase rather costly software for different tasks (e.g., you might need Program A for adding items to cart, Program B for managing orders, Program C for maintaining communication with the customers, and so on), but also sustain a whole team of developers to customize, manage, and assemble them into a working platform.
Nowadays, eCommerce runs on software combining front-end and back-end functionality. Due to the simplistic design and user-friendliness, modern eCommerce platforms enable users possessing no special knowledge to supervise commercial operations and run the business in general. Since there are so many of them, we need to cover the most popular ones in an extensive open source eCommerce software review.
Why choose open source eCommerce platforms?
But first, let us also take a look at the so-called open source eCommerce platforms. What does it mean, “open source,” in the first place?
Unlike proprietary eCommerce platforms (Shopify, BluCommerce, Hybris) which are sold “as is,” open source solutions are flexible in terms of how you want them to look and work. The code on which they run is freely available. It makes open source eCommerce solutions cheap, easy to set up and adjust, and reliable.
Since the code can be viewed and tweaked by anyone, bug fixes and patches appear much faster than in the case of proprietary software. Whatever function or design solution you might need, you can easily implement it yourself or with the help of a freelance web developer. And besides, open source platforms are better optimized for search engines.
In a nutshell, you need an open source platform when you are not content with just pre-built functionality, but want to have full control over what your website does and looks like.
Read further for our extensive open source eCommerce platforms comparison.
Magento is one of the top eCommerce platforms created in 2007. It provides users with all the functionality necessary to run an online store and is known for its flexibility in terms of customization. Magento is written in PHP and can be tweaked and modified to meet customers’ needs.
- A large community of developers. In practice, it means the ever-increasing quantity of all kinds of plugins and extensions to the core functionality. It also means that any problems occurring during the usage of the Magento services are addressed quicker, and are solved more efficiently.
- Architecture. Magento is designed in a way that makes debugging, maintenance, modification, and integration into the third-party systems simpler.
- In-built SEO features. Integration with multiple Google services (Google Analytics and Google Checkout, for example) will help you manage your online business more effectively.
- Advanced customization options. If no extension or plugin match your needs, you can always create your own, given that you are familiar with PHP, of course.
- Resource-intensive. Magento applications can consume large amounts of system resources. It utilizes several caching systems simultaneously, and you might want to run it on powerful servers.
- Complicated and difficult to learn. To make the most out of Magento, you need to be proficient with PHP and object-oriented programming. Of course, you can hire one or several web developers, which leads us to the next downside of Magento.
- Maintenance costs. If you are content with the scales and functionality of your online store, Magento might not require additional investments from you (although software maintenance and keeping it up to date will still cost you, if you are employing web developers to do this for you). If you plan to expand your business, add new functionality and features, and so on, prepare to pay more as well.
Magento Community Edition (CE) is free to use.
Magento Enterprise Edition (EE) costs start from $22,000 annually.
OpenCart is an open source eCommerce store management system. Powering over 340,000 online stores, OpenCart is a popular B2B eCommerce solution utilizing fraud management software such as FraudLabs and is responsible for more 6,42% of the global eCommerce volumes.
- Easy to set up and use, due to extensive technical documentation guiding new users through every stage of creating their online store using OpenCart software
- Over 13,000 extensions and plugins. Many of them are free, and those you need to pay for are quite affordable (prices fluctuate within $20-60 for an extension)
- User-friendly interface which makes it easy even for inexperienced users to run and manage their online stores.
- The absence of in-build SEO tools makes it difficult to track the efficiency of one’s business. Users may need to purchase additional SEO plugins to mitigate this.
- There have been numerous reports concerning duplicate pages when the same page has different URLs. This is an SEO catastrophe because in this case, Google does not know which URL to prioritize when displaying search results.
- If you want your online OpenCart-based store to have advanced functionality, you need to either delve deeper into PHP and MySQL or hire experienced programmers. And even in the latter case, OpenCart stores are difficult to customize.
You can run a fully functional OpenCart-based website for free. Advanced features can be purchased as extensions.
WooCommerce is not a standalone eCommerce solution. It is a free plugin for WordPress, allowing users to sell whatever they want directly from their WordPress-based websites. It is currently one of the most popular eCommerce solutions across the entire Internet, powering more than 30% of all online stores and being one of the best online store platforms 2019.
- Integrated user-based reviewing system
- It comes connected to a number of payment gateways such as PayPal or Cash On Delivery
- Users can sell any kind of products
- Geo-location detects your customers’ addresses, which allows flexible adjustment of the shipping options, and more accurate calculation of taxes.
- It is seamlessly integrated into WordPress, so you get all the benefits of CMS, plus eCommerce functionality.
- There is no universal support service. Whatever theme, extension, or hosting-related problem you might have, you will have to wait for it to be processed by a separate support channel.
- Although the plugin is free to download and install, you will still need to pay for hosting separately, as well as for themes and extensions.
- Does not update as often as WordPress. This may cause software conflicts and lead to your plugins not functioning in the way they should.
- The setup process is overly complicated, so even if you are not new to WordPress, you might still require the assistance of a programmer.
Hosting costs start at $3.95 for single sites and end up with $5,000 for enterprise websites. Along with this, you will need to pay $20-100 for themes annually; there are free themes as well, but they are too dull and do not differ much). The most useful communication, security, and SEO extensions must be paid for as well.
PrestaShop powers over 270,000 online stores in 195 countries. Like many other open source eCommerce solutions, PrestaShop is freemium software, meaning that the initial startup and basic functionality are free. Although it is a nice and easy-to-start option for a small business, it might be not suitable for bigger online companies.
- Easy installation and setup. You do not run PrestaShop in your browser. Instead, you download a file and install the program on your computer or gadget. An installation wizard will guide you through the setup process, and deploying a fully operational online store on PrestaShop is a matter of minutes.
- Simplistic design and user-friendly interface. Even those users who are unfamiliar with open source code and the software written in it will find it easy to use and maintain a PrestaShop-powered online store.
- All the necessary features come out-of-the-box. Basic functionality needed to start selling products on the Internet is available right from the start.
- PrestaShop lacks the functionality to power larger businesses. Merchants using PrestaShop could make use of the features such as multi-vendor or multi-store support, but they are absent in PrestaShop.
- Limited customization options available for free. Essential features that come free on other eCommerce platforms may need to be paid for on PrestaShop.
- No support team. Or, no official support team, to be precise. There is, however, a large community of active users working together on eliminating bugs and mishaps.
PrestaShop is a freemium software, meaning that its basic functionality is available for free. However, like any other company, PrestaShop needs to gain revenues. They have two sources for this: strategic partnerships with industry leaders such as Google or PayPal, and paid functionality modules, some of which may be rather expensive.
CS-Cart is an open source software for eCommerce written in PHP and utilizing MySQL database management system. It is suitable for either small businesses or large multi-vendor online stores and is known for its flexibility and versatility. CS-Cart comes in a variety of versions (CS-Cart, CS-Cart Ultimate, Multi-Vendor, Multi-Vendor Plus, Multi-Vendor Enterprise).
- Convenient administration panel. It allows users to add and modify items in their online store, change themes, and add extensions without requiring any coding skills.
- In-built CMS, allowing users to add, edit, and manage content such as blog posts, polls, articles, lists, etc.
- Drag and drop interface making module management intuitive and easy.
- Neat but free features such as availability in 11 languages, single page checkouts, statistics, age verification, detailed product descriptions, selling digital and physical products via the same store, tax calculator, and so on.
- It is self-hosted. Which means that once you pay for the software, it’s yours forever.
- A ridiculous principle of the support service organization. A user initially has 50 tickets, which they can spend on contacting the support service for troubleshooting. The number of tickets spent depends on the complexity of a problem, and on the amount of time spent on its solution. Once you run out of free credits, you will need to pay $45-295 to replenish them.
- Yearly upgrade fees. Although CS-Cart does not require you to pay for hosting, you will have to pay for updates.
- Can be resource-intensive.
Each of the editions costs differently. CS-Cart (the most basic edition) costs $385; its Ultimate version comes at the price of $895. Multi-Vendor edition will cost you $1,450, and its Plus version is $3,500. For more information on the features coming with each of the editions visit CS-Cart pricing page.
There is a popular Drupal content management system, and there is a plugin turning it into a full-scale eCommerce solution. Drupal Commerce is an open source software allowing users to organize and maintain online stores, keep track of orders and payments, ship products to different locations, and so on.
Drupal Commerce Pros
- Drupal is claimed to be the most secure PHP-based CMS. Respectively, the eCommerce platform based on it is equally safe.
- Supports multiple languages and currencies from the start.
- It is a part of a highly modular and customizable open source CMS. Whereas many other platforms are focused mostly on eCommerce, Drupal allows you to make use of both CMS and eCommerce functionality.
- Developer-friendly. Drupal Commerce was designed with developers in mind. Whatever functionality you need, you can implement it without the need to purchase additional plugins, if you know what you are doing.
Drupal Commerce Cons
- Users without technical skills may find it difficult to use Drupal Commerce. Installation and the initial setup are complicated and easy to mess up if you aren’t a tech-savvy user.
- Steep learning curve. Although you can use Drupal Commerce without being a web developer, you may have to walk the path of trial and error to learn how to use the platform. A supportive community and extensive documentation will probably make it less of an ordeal, but you might want to hire a web developer anyways.
- Can cause heavy server loads in the case of large websites with a plethora of utilized extensions.
Drupal Commerce Prices
Drupal Commerce is absolutely free to use.
VirtueMart was designed as an open source eCommerce solution for Joomla CMS, which makes it similar to WooCommerce and Drupal Commerce. Currently, there are over 269,000 retailers running VirtueMart-powered online stores. It can be used in two forms: as a shopping cart, or as a catalog for showcasing products (without the customers being able to purchase them).
- Easy to post and view product reviews. This is a huge benefit over competitors, as numerous studies prove people often browse online reviews before making a purchase.
- Custom fields for product descriptions. You can provide customers with any details on the sold products, not just with those defined by the platform.
- An unlimited number of product categories and items you can upload to your online store. Although this feature is not unique to VirtueMart, some eCommerce platforms do not provide this opportunity.
- A highly responsive community can help you solve technical problems quickly and more efficiently than the official support service (which may be unhelpful in the case if you use third-party plugins or templates).
- Many core features turned into paid plugins. Users report having had to install a number of paid add-ons and plugins after upgrading to newer versions of VirtueMart, although the functionality these extensions provided used to be free previously.
- Adding new plugins, as well as products to the online store, can be a pain in the neck if you are not a tech-savvy user.
- The lack of themes available out of the box can be frustrating. Some users reported that using certain templates could obstruct the website’s functionality, and required additional adjustments.
- Payment processing is complicated and may require installing special plugins (e.g., those allowing your store to accept payment cards).
VirtueMart is free to download and install. However, many useful (and sometimes even basic) functions are available only as paid add-ons, most of which cost around €10-127.
BigCommerce is an eCommerce software solution distributed via the SaaS model, which means that you need to pay a regular fee in order to use it. The company reported of having had processed $16 billion in total sales and is currently powering numerous brands known worldwide, such as Toyota or Gibson.
- An unlimited number of user accounts that you can create. If you are running a bigger company with many employees, being able to create accounts for multiple staff members is a great benefit.
- BigCommerce strives to be an all-in-one solution. It means that once you pay for the software, you gain a plethora of tools aimed to help you build up your online store business from scratch: over 60 payment gateways, templates and themes, blogging platform, multi-channel selling, and more. It is also self-hosted, so you do not need to pay extra for all this.
- Nice in-built SEO and image optimization. BigCommerce offers a number of ways to optimize your online store for search engines. It relies on the Akamai Image Manager to decrease the time that your web page takes to load, and lets you add keywords to your product descriptions with ease.
- Competitive prices for small business. Monthly subscription prices are comparatively low and start from the affordable $29,95 for a standard plan. If you choose to pay for an annual subscription at once, you get a 10% discount.
- The annual threshold of sales. If your yearly volume of overall sales exceeds a certain limit, you will need to upgrade to a more advanced – and more expensive – subscription plan. Depending on a subscription plan, this limit can equal $50,000, $150,000, or $400,000.
- Geographic restrictions. Some functions are available exclusively within the territory of the United States.
- The lack of free templates. If you do not plan to pay for themes, get used to the thought that your website will look more or less similar to a number of other BigCommerce stores. Each template has several variations, but mostly they look the same.
- Fees for exceeding sales thresholds. This is not the same as having to upgrade. It means that if you go over the allowed limit of orders or annual revenues, and choose to not upgrade your account, you will have to pay fees. Rather drastic, sometimes.
There are four subscription plans available for BigCommerce customers:
Standard: %29,95 per month
Plus: $79,95 per month
Pro: $249,95 per month.
There is also a free 15-days trial for those willing to check BigCommerce out before making the final decision.
Zen Cart is a PHP-based system for managing online stores, utilizing HTML elements and relying on MySQL database management system. Its out-of-the-box appearance may not look appealing, but due to powerful customization possibilities and continuous support of Zen Cart’s devoted community, it remains a competitive option even among newer eCommerce platforms.
Zen Cart Pros
- It is completely free. No monthly payments, no subscriptions, no paid extensions. You just start using Zen Cart and pay nothing, that’s it.
- Unlimited growth potential. Zen Cart does not impose any limitations on its users. Regardless of how many products you want to add to the store, you can do it.
- Compatibility with a number of SSL certificates. In practice, it means that Zen Cart is a secure platform to run an online store on.
- A variety of features such as a customizable shopping cart, advanced product management, and multiple languages supported.
Zen Cart Cons
- One of the most significant drawbacks of Zen Cart is its old-fashioned interface. For those who got used to modern trends in UI/UX, Zen Cart may look discouraging. It can be fixed with the help of custom themes and templates.
- Self-help support system. There is no centralized support service. If you need help troubleshooting, you are on your own – which looks rather strange in 2018-2019. Unless you know how to code, it is advisable that you address the community for assistance: Zen Cart Wiki, YouTube channels, etc.
- Zen Cart requires a great deal of PHP knowledge to make use of all of its potential. Otherwise, you might need to hire a PHP developer to work with this eCommerce platform.
Zen Cart Prices
There are none. Zen Cart is entirely free to use.
X-Cart is a relatively new competitor on the market of eCommerce platforms, which has already gained popularity among the merchants in 111 сountries. Currently, more than 35,000 online stores are powered by X-Cart, and this number is growing. X-Cart is different from its competitors due to the unique distribution model and possesses several novelty features which make it stand out.
- Users are free to choose the distribution model they wish to follow. Depending on their technical skills, users can opt either for downloadable licensed software or a cloud-based version of X-Cart. The former option is free, but all the technical support and maintenance is laid upon their shoulders. The latter, in its turn, lets you access more features and support, but is costly.
- X-Cart software has been out long enough to have earned a good reputation among web developers.
- Advanced features such as convenient interface, great customization options, drag-and-drop editing, or in-built SEO-friendly catalog makes X-Cart a powerful eCommerce tool.
- Both downloadable version and the cloud-based one come with limitations. For the former, it is the technical skill necessary for comfortable and efficient usage. The latter is limited with bandwidth, storage space, and the number of products which can be sold via the online store. Different subscription plans have different limitations.
- The cloud-based version of X-Cart is relatively new and may require further updates to gain its full potential.
- Software upgrades and customer support need to be paid for.
X-Cart 5 downloadable version is free. X-Cart hosted version is available via purchasing a lifetime license. It grants merchants with functionality depending on the chosen subscription plan, and one year of free access to software upgrades. After this, X-Cart charges an annual fee for upgrading and updating software.
Subscription plans look as follows:
Gold Plus: $495
eCommerce platforms comparison
For a more comprehensive and brief open source eCommerce software comparison check out the table below.
How to choose the right eCommerce platform for you?
“What is the best eCommerce platform 2019?” If this is the question bugging you, we have some clues that might help you find a solution. To choose the best open source eCommerce software, we advise you to make your decision based on the following criteria:
- your technical skills, if you are planning to run the store on your own
- the possibility to hire a skilled web developer, if you lack technical skills
- the anticipated scales of your online business
- your budget.
All of the open source eCommerce solutions listed above share almost the same functionality. Therefore, you should instead choose based on the aforementioned criteria and subjective factors such as convenience. You can also check out our comparative analysis article on Shopify vs. WooCommerce.
Anyways, if you are thinking “Open source eCommerce platforms vs. open source eCommerce website builder,” we would recommend you opt for the former. They mainly include everything you need to start a full-scale online store, and their potential is often almost unlimited.
Let us help you
Since running an online store on requires technical skills and knowledge, you might need a developer to set up, adjust, and maintain an eCommerce platform for you. Whereas there is often no need to hire an in-house professional for this purpose, a regularly available freelance web developer would be of great help when dealing with upgrades, settings, and troubleshooting.
Here at Coding Ninjas, we employ highly skilled experts able to help you set up and run an online store on any of the aforementioned eCommerce platforms. We carefully test each of them for their proficiency and expertise, so that you get to work only with the best pros available on the market. Our vetting process is tough but fair, and generally looks like this:
If you need any help – consultation, maintenance, whatnot – contact Coding Ninjas now, and we will quickly find you a solution to your problems.