If you’re looking for an open source e-commerce builder with a robust community and thousands of available add-ons, then OpenCart should be on your list of “one-stop” solutions to vet.
Know up front that if you have some basic coding knowledge, you’ll be able to tweak OpenCart at a granular level. But also rest assured that it has user-friendly functions meant to attract the novice.
Below we examine the features of OpenCart, how it handles building and customization, and offer a few recommendations so you can determine if it’s a good fit for your new e-commerce store.
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OpenCart E-Commerce Basics
OpenCart is an all-in-one e-commerce builder that offers you tools to create and launch an e-commerce store, manage your inventory, and process orders.
It’s open source, so you can freely modify the platforms as you wish. You also have basic access to technical support and updates as long as the software is installed.
It requires a little coding knowledge for extensive customization and will require that you have some level of comfort with setting up a website, dealing with hosting, and modifying the code.
It’s a solid platform to get started with, especially since the investment is so low.
Overall Features of OpenCart
OpenCart is designed as a modular system. You start with their basic feature set; then you can choose to add additional functionality via their marketplace 13,000+ add-ons.
The basic feature set offers:
- No caps on the number of products you offer.
- No caps on numbers of product categories and sub-categories that you create.
- Ability to manage multiple stores (with different themes) from a single admin dashboard. You can also update product information in that one location and have it propagate across stores if you wish.
- A rewards-points system to encourage customer loyalty and boost lifetime customer value.
- Ability to set access for multiple administrators of your site(s).
- Built-in affiliate marketing system.
- Ability to offer discounts and coupons.
- Option to allow product ratings, reviews, and comments on your site.
- Ability to offer digital downloads for sale.
- Support for 40 languages and multiple currencies.
- 36 payment gateways.
- The option to provide both “Guest” (no registration required) and “Registered user” checkout.
- Ability to offer recurring payments (for products like subscriptions).
- Integrations with most major shipping providers.
- Built-in sales report, “viewed products” and “purchased products” report.
- Ability to track your marketing campaigns.
Extended functionality offered via the 13,000+ add-ons includes:
- Email verification.
- Automatic listing of related products, best-sellers, new products, listing by manufacturer and more.
- Ability to sell in-person via Square. (This is a good option for selling at fairs, conferences, and other events.)
- A module that allows customers to compare prices and products side-by-side.
- A module that allows customers to upload their own photos of products. (For an example of a site that does this see Amazon.com or ThinkGeek.)
- A host of marketing modules.
Let’s take a closer look at the basic functionality that’s included.
With the admin panel, you’ll be able to get important store information at a glance. You’ll get an overview of how your store is performing, the total number of orders, sales, customers, how many people are currently online, sales analytics, and more.
Multiple Admin Roles
If you have multiple people in your company, you’ll be able to designate certain roles and permissions for each individual, so they only have access to the sections of your site they require to do their jobs.
Manage Multiple Stores From One Dashboard
If you’re running more than one store, you can manage all of your storefronts from the same admin panel. You’ll be able to choose products to appear in different stores, change themes, and set individual store settings.
There are plenty of product options to get you going. For starters, you’ll be able to add unique attributes for every product in your store and adjust sizes, colors, length, height, and more.
You also can create unlimited product categories and subcategories, add an unlimited number of products, sell digital products, incorporate product reviews, and even create a reward system that gives your customers points.
Run Specials & Coupons
You can also run discounts, specials, and coupons to increase attention to your store and get more people to buy.
There’s also built-in affiliate integration, which allows affiliates to promote your products in exchange for a percentage of the sale.
Integrated affiliate payment options include check, PayPal, and bank transfer.
Proving a stellar experience for your customers should be one of your main concerns as an e-commerce site owner. One way to do this is via filters. OpenCart lets you add a filter section on your sidebar, so your customer can sort your products by specific features.
You can also sell via multiple currencies. The currency rates are updated automatically, making it easy to sell your products to a worldwide audience.
Finally, you can convert your store to over 40 different languages. Their language converter easily handles languages like Greek, Japanese, Chinese, and even languages like Hebrew and Arabic.
With OpenCart’s customer tools you’re no longer restricted to just selling to customers in the US alone.
With OpenCart you’re sure to find a payment gateway that works for you.OpenCart comes with 36 different payment methods. Plus, there are another 900 payment methods offered via their extension marketplace.
The top 10 most popular payment options available via OpenCart include:
- PayPal (Prom, Standard, and Powered by Braintree)
- Amazon Pay
- Card Connect
- Free Checkout
- eWAY Payment
If you plan on selling products on a subscription basis, then you can set up recurring payments based upon price, duration, and payment cycles.
Finally, you have access to some of the most popular shipping methods out there. For instance, there are existing integrations with FedEx, UPS, USPS, Australia Post, Citylink, Royal Mail, Parcelforce, and many more.
If you want to run a successful e-commerce store, then you need to be concerned about how your store looks and performs across mobile devices and tablets.
By default OpenCart is mobile responsive, so your store will look good no matter what screen size it’s viewed upon. Most of the themes you’ll find across the various marketplaces are responsive as well, but you’ll want to double-check before you make your purchase.
You can also find OpenCart themes on the online mega-malls of pre-built designs: ThemeForest and TemplateMonster.
If you’re concerned about ranking in the search engines, then OpenCart has you covered. There are built-in SEO enhancements that let you modify your title, meta description, and insert keywords. There are also various extensions available through their marketplace that will help to take your SEO efforts even further.
You can also connect your product feeds to Google Base, Google Sitemap, and OpenBay Pro, which will show you how the search engines view your products.
Is OpenCart Easy to Use?
When you sign up for e-commerce software, an intuitive user-interface is key. If you don’t have tons of technical experience, you’d likely opt for a tool that’s easy to navigate.
OpenCart’s installation process is not entirely straight-forward. They do provide a video tutorial with step-by-step instructions to guide you through the installation process. If you follow this tutorial, you won’t need to hire a developer to get the job done, but it may take some time.
Before installation, you’d need to select a web hosting provider. You will install OpenCart from cPanel.
Here’s how to install OpenCart:
- Login into cPanel
- Create a database in MySQL
- Create a user and assign the user to your database
- Download OpenCart
- Upload OpenCart to your hosting account
- Install OpenCart
The instructions above provide a simplified version of the installation process. You’ll also have rename files, check server settings and configure database settings.
If you’re following along the tutorial, you may be able to complete all these tasks, but it likely won’t be easy if you’re new to web hosting and e-commerce software.
Modern Admin Panel
Once you get over the hurdle of installing OpenCart on your host, it’s actually quite easy to use. They have a modern admin panel that’s similar to what you’ll find in other e-commerce builders.
On the admin page, you’ll be able to accomplish all of your basic tasks, like managing your products, installing extensions, choosing new templates, monitoring sales and customer groups, and even run marketing campaigns.
Beyond the actual customization of your site, it’s quite intuitive and all the features are laid out nicely.
Try It Before You Buy It
If you’re looking to take a test drive of this tool before you download, then you can check out their demo selection. Here you’ll find online demos of the front-end and back-end of your site.
E-Commerce Store Templates
OpenCart’s core software doesn’t come with multiple design templates. What you’ll get is a stock basic template you can use to start building your store. (However, the template they provide is quite modern looking and responsive.)
You’ll probably want to shop for themes on their marketplace, where you’ll find 83 catalog pages of templates, all rated by the community of users.
When it comes to customizing your theme on a granular level, you’re going to have to know how to work with the code.
Do You Need A Developer?
OpenCart doesn’t cater to novices as most people just getting started online don’t want to fiddle around with the code of their site. If this sounds like you, then you’re better off hiring a developer to help customize your OpenCart template.
If you’re not sure where to find an OpenCart developer then you may want to browse their partner’s page, which highlights development teams they recommend to help you design, develop, and build your online store.
Choose from over 13,000 Add-Ons and Integrations
Like other open source e-commerce builders, there are tons of add-ons and integrations from which to choose. There are currently over 13,000 extensions available. Chances are you’ll be able to find the right integration or add-on for your needs.
Upon installing the software, you’re going to need to install at least a handful of add-ons to have an operational storefront, as the core software is pretty bare bones right out of the box.
Customize Your Site
With their integrations and add-ons you’ll be able to do things like, cater to multiple languages, have multiple payment options, add visual elements to your site and much more. The full list of add-ons and integrations can be found here.
Most Extensions Are Paid. But That is Par for Course With Open Source Software
Although they do offer a variety of extensions, most of them are paid. Some of the extensions run as high as $300. Since you’re not investing any money upfront in the OpenCart builder, it could balance out, but it’s something to be aware of.
There are other e-commerce builders out there that are equipped with more features, at a lower cost.
When it comes to hosting your e-commerce store you have two options available. You can either host through their partner host, A2 Hosting, which provides a hosting environment optimized for OpenCart.
Or, you can download OpenCart, and host it on your existing host.
System and Server Requirements
For OpenCart to work correctly, your hosting environment needs to meet the following minimum requirements:
- Apache web server
- Running at least PHP 5.4
- MySQL database management.
What Type of Customer and Technical Support is Provided?
OpenCart offers a few options for getting in touch with their team and solving any problems related to your site.
Submit a Service Ticket
You can submit a basic support ticket during the hours of 8 AM – 5 PM GMT, Monday through Friday, regarding the OpenCart marketplace, or to have a general question answered.
If you’re looking for more detailed information regarding the process of setting up your site, then you should be able to find the answer in their extensive documentation.
Here you’ll find information about installing OpenCart, updating the software, and information regarding all of its features.
Recommended Reading and Video Tutorials
There’s also a list of recommended reading that will help you gain a deeper understanding of OpenCart from a development perspective.
If you’re looking for even more educational materials, they have a series of video tutorials that walk you through using various aspects of the builder.
Learn From the Community Forum and Blog
OpenCart’s blog also posts articles to help customers get the most of software in topics including payment gateways and how to secure your online store.
Commercial Support Option
If you require dedicated developer support for either building out your site, or just need a one time fix, then you might find their commercial support valuable. Here you’ll be able to choose between a monthly payment for ongoing technical support or a one-time payment for a technical consultation.
Think Twice About Pricing
OpenCart is completely free, open source software. This keeps your initial investment costs incredibly low. All you have to take care of is your domain name and hosting. However, the costs can start to rack up once you begin customizing your store.
If you’re looking for a high-quality design template, then you’re going to need to pay for it. Most solid templates run from $20 to $100 plus. Then you have the extension marketplace. Adding additional features can add up.
You might be able to get by with the basic features offered by OpenCart, but anytime you really want to add an additional feature to your site, you’re going to have to pay for it.
3 Reasons to Choose OpenCart
OpenCart is a good fit for people who have previous development experience or are at least willing to learn through trial and error. It will help you produce a functional and professional-looking site, plus the nearly endless supply of features lets you create a truly unique site. Below we look at three of the main reasons you may want to try OpenCart.
Extensive Customization Options
With over 13,000 different extensions and add-ons, there’s no way you can complain about the lack of features. The huge list of free and premium extensions means you can virtually do whatever you wish with your site.
The selection might be a little overwhelming, but many will enjoy the level of options, and freedom of customization OpenCart provides.
Large Theme Selection (Free and Paid)
With the large collection of both free and paid themes, you’ll never run out of design options. Most of the themes look modern, professionally-designed, and are responsive too.
Being able to have your pick of e-commerce templates can lead to a unique and attractive website. Just keep in mind that it does take some technical knowledge to setup any website templates you’ve downloaded or purchased.
Low Startup Costs
If you have little to no budget, then OpenCart can be used to build your store for a fraction of the cost you’ll pay for other tools. Of course, the little to no investment only refers to the basic package. If you want to customize your site with premium features, or themes, then you’ll need to put some cash down.
If you’re researching open source e-commerce software, you may have heard about PrestaShop. PrestaShop supports around 270 000 online stores in 195 countries and is one of the larger e-commerce platforms.
PrestaShop markets itself as a more user-friendly option for businesses new to e-commerce. While you will need some experience in coding to get the most out of OpenCart, PrestaShop promotes itself as the better option for novices. They also offer detailed installation instructions, adding that users with little tech experience usually take around 20 minutes to install the software.
If you’re after a simple e-commerce plugin, WooCommerce – the WordPress plugin – may be a better option. You’ll be restricted to using WordPress but will get access to loads of features and an easy to use interface.
3 Reasons to Stay Away from OpenCart
OpenCart might not be the best solution to launch your online store. If you’re a novice and this is your first website, then you’re better off choosing a different e-commerce builder. Below we look at a few reasons you’ll want to use a different builder to build your site.
Customization Can Be Difficult for Beginners
If you don’t know your way around code, then you’re basically stuck with the platform as it stands. There are endless ways that you can customize your site, but you’ll probably need to hire out development tasks. The basic features and template could be enough, but if you want to go custom, you’re going to have a hard time doing it alone.
Large Sites May Have Slow Loading Speeds
This tool can produce sites that load slowly. Especially, when you have a large number of products. Today you need a site that loads quickly if you want to compete and succeed.
The Solution: Use NitroPack and a Good Host
There are easy ways to optimize OpenCart though (scroll down to the FAQ to learn more). The easiest is to purchase and install the NitroPack extension for OpenCart. No technical knowledge is necessary. It even links directly to your Google Page Speed score so you can see the results.
You’ll also want to choose a host — like A2 Hosting — that’s experienced with OpenCart. They have packages and plans designed to optimize the speed of your OpenCart store.
Compatibility and Bug Issues
When installing certain add-ons, there’s no promise that they’re going to be compatible. Often, installing an add-on can lead to conflict and certain portions of your site won’t work. If you’re extensively customizing your site, then you’ll probably have to work through a couple of bugs.
If you’re not a developer, then this means you need to hire outside help or do without the add-on.
Overall, OpenCart is a solid open source e-commerce builder. It packs a ton of features and is very usable. The only drawback is how difficult it is to customize if you don’t have any existing technical knowledge.
Noobies might find other tools more valuable, especially ones that enable you to drag-and-drop the design of your e-commerce site or have themes you can easily customize yourself.
In the realm of open source builders, it’s quite high quality, and the large community of developers and site owners using it is a reference to that.
If you want to build out a simple site and have the budget to hire a developer, then OpenCart could work great for you. But, if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution that manages most of the technical requirements for you, then you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Frequently Asked Questions About OpenCart
Still not sure if OpenCart is the right e-commerce builder for your website? We answer your most burning questions below.
How does OpenCart compare to their competitors, like Shopify or BigCommerce?
OpenCart is a great solution if you have a bit of coding skill. If you don’t, you might not get the most out of the platform. Shopify is a great option as they have tons of themes and a very intuitive user interface. You can also add additional features through their marketplace.
BigCommerce tends to integrate more features, which many beginners find useful but more experienced business owners might find restrictive. Neither BigCommerce or Shopify are open source, which means you will have to pay to use them. However, BigCommerce does not charge transaction which is a bonus.
Can I install OpenCart if I don’t have any coding knowledge?
Yes, with a bit of dedication. OpenCart is pretty popular, so there are several sites and resources with how-to tutorials. Several hosts offer tutorials on how to download the program, including A2Hosting. There is also documentation on the OpenCart website with a very informative video.
Is OpenCart good for SEO?
Out of the box, OpenCart offers somewhat limited SEO customizations. You can edit URL structures, adjust meta titles, etc. However, like with any other function you are looking for, you can usually find an extension that will give you more options. The most popular SEO function for OpenCart is SEO Module Pro.
How do I speed up — or optimize — my OpenCart site?
Some of the optimization you’ll need to do will be related to your website and some will be related to your web host. This is the case with every website.
The types of optimization related to your site may include:
- Making sure you are compressing images. Adding even a handful of large image files can sink your site speed-wise.
- Enabling browser caching
The good news is you can accomplish these items above by purchasing and installing the NitroPack extension for OpenCart. (Another big plus in NitroPack’s favor is that they give you one-click access to paid custom programmer options for themes and more.)
On the hosting side:
- Make sure you’re using a host that uses a CDN (content delivery network) (NitroPack includes a CDN)
- Use memcached and Varnish to speed things up
- A2 Hosting offers an Apache replacement that it says speeds up OpenCart sites. This is available on their Turbo Web Hosting and Managed Turbo VPS hosting. They also provide memcached. They don’t provide Varnish. If you add Varnish, you’ll have to do that on an unmanaged account, but they state that their Turbo hosting offers the equivalent in speed.
- You’ll probably need to turn off the Product Count feature, since this can slow your site down. Find out how to do that at A2 Hosting.