I like many things about Zen Cart, such as the open-source structure, which brings a lot of flexibility, and a wide range of features and add-ons.

However, Zen Cart is not without its drawbacks. It has an outdated interface and a non-intuitive platform. Customizing might prove difficult for beginners. In terms of shopping cart solutions, you have plenty of options. We have investigated, reviewed, and compared the most popular shopping cart software, and despite the limitations, Zen Cart is the most comprehensive open-source shopping cart solution.

Now I’ll take a deep dive into the pros and cons of Zen Cart, its features, alternatives, and my recommendations.

Zen Cart standout features
Support
  • Community forum
  • Paid support
Best forBusinesses of all sizes with technical expertise seeking open-source shopping cart software
Strengths
  • Powerful built-in features
  • Modification possibilities are endless since Zen Cart is an open-source e-commerce platform
  • Strong community of active users
  • Most hosting services are compatible with Zen Cart
  • Zen Cart’s appearance and functionality can be modified and enhanced in many ways with plug-ins
Weaknesses
  • Codebase can be difficult to customize
  • Lack of support
PromotionFree to use and flexible

What Are the Pros and Cons of Zen Cart? 

As one of the most popular shopping cart solutions in the market, Zen Cart is known for its flexibility, security, and strong community.But it also comes with some cons, such as its learning curve, which can be steep for beginners. Read on to know what works and what doesn’t.

Pros of Zen Cart

  1. Great for programmers: Zen Cart is great for programmers who know how to code. The code is clean and organized, which makes it easy to understand and work with.
  2. Strong community forum and self-help options: One of Zen Cart’s biggest selling points is its strong community forum, filled with experts to help fix any problems. Those without technical skills, however, may be frustrated. In that case, you should pick an easier option, like Shopify or WooCommerce.
  3. Highly customizable: There are dozens of templates and plug-ins to choose from. You can find plenty of templates and plugins to customize your shopping cart, which benefits business owners.
  4. Free to download: If you’re looking for a free, open-source shopping cart solution, this is a great choice.

Cons of Zen Cart

  1. Outdated interface: The interface is not as modern as others in the market and can be confusing for beginners.
  2. Lacks support: Since Zen Cart is free to use, it lacks the resources to provide proper support to its users, which would help them resolve problems more quickly. Those who lack programming skills or are beginners may find this a deal breaker.

Zen Cart may be the best e-commerce platform for: Businesses that want flexible and customizable shopping cart solutions for their online needs. Zen Cart’s many features and open-source nature allow it to be used in an infinite number of ways.

Zen Cart review
Despite Zen Cart’s outdated home page, the platform has everything you need to start.
Basic
PriceFree
Best for
  • Developers and businesses with technical knowledge
Basic features
  • Open-source shopping cart
  • Thousands of add-ons and plug-ins
  • Unlimited categories and products
Customer service
  • Community

Forums

Scalability
  • Unlimited flexibility
  • Around 250 templates
Sales support
  • Product management
  • Categories
  • Manufacturers
  • Reviews
  • Discounts and coupons
  • Multiple shipping options
  • Payment modules and payment gateways
  • Order management
  • Banner management
Order management
  • Easily view, edit, delete orders
  • Track shipping information
  • Update order status
  • Print invoices
  • Export orders to CSV file
Reporting
  • Generate reports on sales, products, customers, etc.
Marketing
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) friendly URLs and meta tags
  • Google Analytics integration
  • Email marketing
  • Social media integration
Shipping
  • Integrates with popular shipping providers such as UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc.

 

  • Print shipping labels
  • Calculate shipping rates
  • Track shipping information
Security
  • SSL support for secure transactions
  • Password encryption
  • IP blocking
  • Anti-spam features such as CAPTCHA
Point-of-sale(POS)
  • Zen Cart POS can be integrated with other POS
Transaction fee
  • Transaction fee is typically 2% to 3%, and is paid to the company that provides the payment processing service.
Tax calculations
  • You can choose whether to include tax in your product prices

Listed locally or in the cloud

Zen Cart offers you two options in terms of where your shopping cart data is stored. You can either have it stored locally on your own computer, or in the cloud via a third-party provider.

Local storage is great if you want complete control over your data and don’t mind paying for hosting yourself. Cloud storage is a better option if you want to save money on hosting and don’t mind giving up some control over your data.

SinceZen Cart is one of the most popular open-source shopping cart solutions, most hosting providers will have it available as a quick-installation option.

Fully customizable

With Zen Cart’s open-source code, I was able to customize the product.

This is great news if you know how to code because it gives you a chance to modify the shopping cart and codebase for your needs.

The installation bundle also allows you to enhance your business processes by modifying them. Customizations can be made on the back end when you modify your Zen Cart installation source code or on the front end, when you use plug-ins and add-ons you’ve developed or shared with others.

This is an advantage when compared with other solutions, which may not have this option.

Plug-ins and add-ons

Zen Cart plug-ins and add-ons are tools that extend the functionality of your Zen Cart store. They can be used to add new features or to customize the look and feel of your store. Here are some popular Zen Cart plug-ins and add-ons I found:

  • 251 admin tools: Zen Cart admin functions give access to extra features such as HTML editors, data importers, email tools, and more.
  • 79 buttons and graphics: Gives you access to extra buttons and graphics, that you can use in your shopping cart.
  • 67 language packs: You can launch your shopping cart in 67 languages.
  • 136 marketing tools: Gives you access to Zen Cart upsells, cross-sells, email reminders, and other useful integrations like Mailchimp email integration.
  • 368 other modules: Extra features such as one-page checkout, SEO URLs, and testimonial management.
  • 249 payment modules: Provides access to most popular international payment providers.
  • 23 pricing tools: Offers extra pricing tools such as quantity discounts;buy one, get one free; military discounts; and more.
  • 4 privacy and condition statements: Allows you to add conditions such as terms of service, and privacy policies.
  • 9 product types: Auction, book-selling tools, gold-selling tools, and many more types of custom products.
  • 110 shipping modules: Access to the most popular shipping providers worldwide, and the ability to add “priority handling” and other features to shipping processes.
  • 135 sideboxes: Modules for your sidebars such as product filters, answer boxes, and live chat.
  • 96 template alterations: Template add-ons to your site, including catalog invoices, banners, print invoice pop-ups, and news pieces.
  • 199 template packages: Different website template packages that you can apply to your website.
  • 15 troubleshooting tools: Access to various reporting tools, a syscheck scanner, backtrace for the MyDebuglog, and much more.
  • 43 zones: Regions that can be used to calculate taxes and shipping for different countries.

Zen Cart’s official website offers free downloads of all of these plug-ins, and they don’t have any monthly fees. Each plug-in’s total number of downloads can be found there as well as all versions, including the most recent.

Payment processing features

Zen Cart offers a variety of payment processing features, including credit card payments, PayPal, checks, and money orders. You can also protect your business from fraudulent charges with third-party fraud protection systems. The majority of them integrate directly with Zen Cart (for example, Kount and MaxMind’s minFraud).

Zen Cart integrates several payment processors by default, including:

  • PayPal
  • Stripe.com
  • Skrill
  • Zelle
  • Square

Luckily, there is an option to add a custom module if your payment processor is not supported. I personally enjoy doing custom modules, as they give the checkout process a unique touch. You can integrate many other popular payment gateways with these community-built modules.

On top of that, you have many options for international payments if you do business in multiple countries.

Works with many hosting companies

When choosing a hosting provider, Zen Cart runs on commonly used components, such as PHP, Apache, and MySQL. This shopping cart app requires Linux to run, so if your website is hosted on a Windows server, you’ll have to migrate or look for alternatives.

A variety of factors can affect performance, but the hosting company you choose makes a difference. A good hosting company will offer fast and reliable service, which is important for ensuring your Zen Cart store runs smoothly. Additionally, a good hosting company will provide adequate resources and support to help you troubleshoot any issues.

Zen Cart is compatible with multiple hosting platforms, but it works best with these:

  • GeekHost: Security-oriented Zen Cart hosting, comes with PCI-compliant servers and has an easy install process. Includes telephone and ticket support.
  • MyZen CartHost: Zen CartHost offers free SSL, and easy installation and announces the latest bugs and security fixes for Zen Cart stores.
  • DigitalOcean: Thanks to its fast SSD drives, DigitalOcean is the best choice for speed and flexibility. They are also known for being secure.

These are just a few great hosting companies that work with Zen Cart. Be sure to research to find the best hosting company for your needs.

Templates

You can save time and hassle by using ready-made templates and themes created by expert developers. You can create a professional website that looks great by choosing one of these options for your store:

If you have no experience building websites, I recommend that you purchase a ready-made template. This will save you a lot of time and money. However, Zen Cart is not the easiest to use when it comes to templates, and you should opt for other providers if you’re looking for an out-of-the-box solution.

Third-party contributions

An open-source product such as Zen Cart has the advantage that anyone can contribute to its improvement. Either the base package itself can be updated or add-on packages can be created to extend its functionality to include new features that weren’t included in the original installation.

Zen Cart’s wiki contains links to third-party contributions. Besides smaller things like offering two prices for a single product, you can also find packages integrating unsupported payment processors, manipulating order totals, and managing data imports.

Zen Cart’s community forums
Zen Cart’s community forums offer answers to a wide variety of questions.

Dashboard

The Zen Cart dashboard is the first screen you see when you log in to your store’s admin area. From the dashboard, you can quickly access the most important areas of your store’s back end, including orders, customers, catalog, and extensions. The dashboard also displays key metrics about your store’s performance, such as total sales and average order value.

When I began testing, I discovered that finding everything on Zen Cart’s dashboard can be quite a hassle. You’ll have to learn how to navigate through many drop-down menus.

However, there is no denying that Zen Cart’s dashboard is great since it provides many features and options.

Dashboard features include:

  • Product options: You can add, edit, or delete products from your store, as well as manage product options such as size and color.
  • Categories: You can easily add, edit, or delete unlimited categories and sub-categories.
  • Manage shipping settings: Set up shipping methods and zones, as well as set up flat rate or free shipping.
  • Configure taxes: Easily add, edit, or delete tax classes and rates.
  • Orders overview: It shows you the total number of orders, the total amount of sales, and the average order value.
  • Customers overview: Shows you the total number of products in the store, the total number of products sold, and the average products price.

With all these features, you can easily control your store. However, there are some drawbacks. The dashboard can be slow to load, and it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for.

Can be used with your custom domain

Custom domain means that you can use your own domain name to access your Zen Cart installation instead of the default Zen Cart URL. You will need to set up your hosting account and edit the configuration file to accomplish this. With these steps completed, your Zen Cart installation will be accessible via your custom domain name.

To use Zen Cart with a custom domain, you will need to set up a few things first. In your hosting account, you will need to create a subdomain and point it to the /www/Zen Cart/directory.

You will also need to edit the /www/Zen Cart/includes/configure.php file and change the HTTP_SERVER line to reflect your new domain name.

Finally, you will need to update your DNS records to point your domain name to your hosting account’s IP address. Once all of these steps are completed, you should be able to access your Zen Cart installation via your custom domain name.

Some benefits of using a custom domain for your Zen Cart installation include:

  • Your store will be easier to remember and brand as a result
  • It can help with SEO
  • Your store will look more professional
  • You can better control the URL structure
  • A custom SSL certificate can enhance security

Templating system

One of Zen Cart’s best-selling features is its templating system, which can be used for two purposes:

  1. Designing multiple website themes (for example,oliday/easonal)
  2. Ensuring any custom features you have implemented won’t be overridden when upgrading Zen Cart

Templates consist of database settings, overrides, and files that are automatically included in all new templates.

Although the templating system allows you to do some interesting things with your Zen Cart implementation, it does have a steep learning curve. It’s certainly possible to use Zen Cart without learning about the templating system, but you will miss out on some of the program’s features.

There are many ways in which these features can benefit your business, including:

  • Owners can customize their shop’s appearance to match their branding
  • Templates can be selected from a variety of options
  • Templates can be created from scratch
  • The look of the shop can be easily changed r without editing the code

Additional useful tools

In addition to the basic features offered by Zen Cart, I found a few additional tools extremely useful:

  • Discount codes: This tool allows you to offer customers price reductions on their purchases by entering a code at checkout. This is a great way to encourage customers to buy more, especially during seasonal and holiday campaigns, when many businesses make their biggest sales.
  • Custom order statuses: This feature allows you to create unique updates for orders, such as ” processing” or ” shipped.” This can help keep track of orders and know exactly where they are in the fulfillment process.
  • Abandoned cart recovery: This tool allows you to find abandoned carts and send customers reminder emails about their unfinished orders. Since most sales are driven by retargeting, this can boost sales and encourage purchases.
  • Shipping quotes: This tool allows you to offer customers shipping estimates based on their location and the items they buy. This is a great way to encourage customers to buy more from your store by offering them free or discounted shipping.

If you are not using these features, you may be missing out on valuable opportunities to improve your store and boost sales.

Some of the reported security flaws in Zen Cart include:

  • A weakness that allowed attackers to inject SQL code into queries
  • A cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability
  • A directory traversal vulnerability
  • Multiple vulnerabilities in the “install” folder that could allow an attacker to gain access to sensitive information or modify files on the server

How were they fixed?

The SQL injection flaw was addressed in Zen Cart versions 1.3.9 and newer by validating user input and properly escaping any potentially dangerous characters.

The XSS vulnerability was patched in version 1.5.1 by preventing unescaped HTML code from being output in error messages.

The directory traversal flaw was fixed in version 1.5.2 by properly sanitizing user input.

The vulnerabilities in the “install” folder were addressed in versions 1.5.3 and newer versions by removing the install folder once the installation is complete.

According to my experience, Zen Cart is a secure shopping cart platform. However, as with any software, it is important to keep your installation up-to-date and to follow best practices for securing your website. It is good to know that developers have typically responded quickly to reported security issues, and there are several ways to help keep your website secure.

Some best practices for securing your Zen Cart website include:

  • Keeping your Zen Cart installation and all plug-ins and themes updated
  • Using strong passwords for all administrator accounts
  • Restricting access to the admin area to trusted IP addresses
  • Installing an SSL certificate to encrypt communications between your website and visitors’ browsers

Since Zen Cart is open-source, there is no specific support system. However, there are many ways to find help for most issues. Among them:

  • Zen Cart Wiki: The first place I looked when I ran into issues with my Zen Cart was the Zen Cart Wiki. There are hundreds of text manuals on how to do specific tasks. Specifically developed for Zen Cart users, the manual topics include plug-ins, admin system, email, installing, payments, reporting, speed, troubleshooting, and much more.
  • FAQs and tutorials: Zen Cart’s FAQ page includes answers to the most common questions and solutions to possible problems. Additionally, there are tutorials for specific tasks.
  • Forums: I saw tens of thousands of posts about specific things on Zen Cart’s forums. If you can’t find an answer, try to crowdsource it by posting about your issue on the forums.
  • Development blog: You can also try finding an answer from the developer community.

If you’re not sure where to start searching, try looking in thetroubleshooting guide.

Zen Cart Documentation
Although Zen Cart lacks customer service features, it has great self-service, such as its wiki.

If your issue is still relevant, you can try contacting an external developer for help. There are a few avenues you can explore when looking for developers. One is to post your job on a freelancing site like Upwork or Freelancer.com. You can also reach out to developers through online communities and forums, such as Stack Overflow or GitHub.

Newer versions of PHP

PHP is commonly used for web development because it’s fast, flexible, and powerful, and the Zen Cart developers have updated it. PHP code can be embedded into HTML pages or run as a standalone program. Updates to PHP mean that developers can upgrade Zen Cart faster and more flexibly.

Improved performance and security

Zen Cart’s performance and security have improved significantly over the years, as the software is often updated by developers. There is now greater stability and security in the software, which is especially crucial for users with large businesses.

Minor user interface changes

Zen Cart has had several minor UI improvements over the years, including a new check-out process, a redesigned admin panel, and other small tweaks. These have all helped to make the platform easier to use.

Features coming soon to Zen Cart

  • Improved support for mobile devices: Smartphones and tablet users will have a smoother experience.
  • Improved security: Since Zen Cart is constantly updated and developed, security is improving.

It’s great to see that Zen Cart’s developers continue to advance the software, ensuring it has the latest features and improved speed and security. A Zen Cart community of users also shares feedback with developers that helps them enhance the software.

Compare Zen Cart Alternatives

Zen Cart is a strong contender for shopping cart solutions. Still, competitors such as OpenCart, Ecwid, X-Cart, AbanteCart, and BigCommerce could be a better fit for some businesses. I looked closely at each company, spent time using their services, and researched each for hours. The information will help you choose the most appropriate one for your needs.

See how Zen Cart compares to other top-tier e-commerce platforms that the team here at Digital.com recommends:

Shopping cart platformPricingPayment processingIntegrations and add-onsBasic plan featuresCompare
Zen Cart

Overall rating
(4.1)

FreePartners with the most popular onesThousands of integrations and add-ons
  • Unlimited products
  • Huge community support
  • Marketing tools
  • Shipping tools
Ecwid

Overall rating
(3.9)

Read our full Ecwid review.

Consider Ecwid: If you want an easier shopping cart solution.

FreeOver 100 payment providers to choose fromThousands of app integrations via the app store and Zapier
  • Unlimited products
  • 24/7 support (phone, email, chat)
  • Reporting tools
  • Marketing tools
  • 0% transaction fees
Zen Cart offers more flexibility for those that have technical knowledge, but Ecwid is easier to use, and suits users of all levels.
X-Cart

Overall rating
(2.8)

Consider X-Cart if: You want a more robust e-commerce solution and better customer support.

$199 per monthIntegrates with the most popular onesHundreds of add-ons to select from
  • Highly customizable themes
  • Flexible payment processors
  • Ability to handle up to a million SKUs
While Zen Cart is free to download, X-Cart comes with a monthly fee, but includes much more robust features.
AbanteCart

Overall rating
(3.0)

Consider AbanteCart if: You want a more user friendly shopping cart solution.

FreePayPal, Stripe, CardConnect, and other popular onesLarge marketplace of extensions and apps
  • Unlimited products
  • Ticket and live chat support
  • Reporting tools
  • No transaction fees
While both options are free, Zen Cart has more affordable add-ons. However, AbanteCart has a more intuitive user interface, and is updated regularly.
BigCommerce

Overall rating
(3.0)

Read our full BigCommerce review.

Consider BigCommerce if: You want an easy-to-use, scalable all-in-one platform.

$29.95 per monthAll of the most popular payment gateways, including Amazon Pay, Afterpay, Authorize.net100s of different integrations
  • Unlimited products
  • 24/7 tech support
  • Reporting tools
  • Multilingual
  • Online storefront
Zen Cart is an open source platform that offers a lot of flexibility, but BigCommerce is more of an all-in-one ecommerce solution that offers better customer support and online store building.
WooCommerce

Overall rating
(3.2)

Read our WooCommerce review.

Consider WooCommerce if: You want a shopping cart solution that works well with WordPress.

FreeStripe, Afterpay, Amazon Pay, all the other popular ones100s of free and paid plug-ins
  • Unlimited products
  • Email support or WordPress.org forums for self-help
  • Limited reporting
  • No transaction fees
Zen Cart is ideal for those needing to manage large product catalogs, but WooCommerce has more aesthetic design and is an ideal shopping cart plugin for WordPress sites.

Frequently Asked Questions About Zen Cart

How much does Zen Cart cost?

There is no set cost for Zen Cart, as it is an open-source platform. This means that anyone can download and use the software for free. Nevertheless, if you need support or additional features, you may need to purchase plug-ins or hire a developer, which can end up costing more than using all-in-one e-commerce alternatives like WooCommerce or BigCommerce.

Do you need to be a designer or developer to use Zen Cart?

Zen Cart does not require designers or developers, but knowing a little bit of coding is really helpful. In terms of adding new integrations and add-ons, you will be much further ahead if you have coding skills.

What do you need to get started with Zen Cart?

To get started with Zen Cart, you will need a web hosting account that supports PHP and MySQL. You will also need to download the latest version of Zen Cart from the official website. Once you have these things, you can follow the installation instructions to get Zen Cart up and running on your server.

We recommend using a web hosting account that supports PHP 7.3 and MySQL 5.7.8 or higher (GeekHost, MyZen CartHost, Digital Ocean). These are the minimum requirements for running Zen Cart. If your web host does not support these requirements, you may still be able to use Zen Cart, but you’ll need to contact your web host for further assistance.

Can I use Zen Cart on my existing store?

Yes, you can use Zen Cart on your existing store if it meets the minimum requirements. You will need to back up your store before proceeding with the installation.

What kind Of customer service does Zen Cart offer?

Zen Cart offers a variety of customer service options, including a community forum, Zen Cart Wiki, FAQs and tutorials, and a development blog. The Zen Cart forums also have many active developers who help people occasionally.

Can you have multiple stores on Zen Cart?

Yes, you can have multiple stores on Zen Cart. Each store can have its own domain name, logo, products, and settings. You can find instructions for setting up multiple stores in the Zen Cart Wiki and forums.

Does Zen Cart support multilingual stores?

Zen Cart supports multilingual stores. On the Zen Cart Wiki, you can find tutorials and information about setting up a multilingual store.

How I Rated Zen Cart

As part of the Digital.com rating process, I compared the features offered against those of competitors. Through direct testing and third-party services, I evaluated them against other major players in the industry.

While doing a comprehensive overview, I gave more weight to certain factors. These included robust customization features, built-in payment processors, a strong community, and the price (free).

Zen Cart scored well on all of these counts. While it lacks user- and beginner-friendly features that some open-cart alternatives like OpenCart support, it still comes in as a great overall solution. Since it’s a free platform, you can try it out without any risk, and if it doesn’t work for you, you can move on.