OpenCart is an open-source, downloadable shopping cart that’s free to own, upgrade, and use. The software is based on PHP, so any merchant looking into OpenCart would benefit from a background in that programming language.
OpenCart follows a core+extensions model. Out of the box, it’s a fairly light platform and requires add-ons in order to perform higher-level functions. Fortunately, OpenCart has a large and diverse community of developers who are consistently adding to an already enormous pool of 14,000 extensions.
If you’re thinking about using OpenCart for your online store, you should consider a couple of things. First, you’ll have to be comfortable setting up and maintaining a highly-technical store largely on your own (support is limited). Second, you’ll need to be prepared to purchase a good number of add-ons.
If you’re comfortable with both of those aspects, keep reading for a full analysis of OpenCart.
Table of Contents
‘Free’ is a tricky word when it comes to open-source software. Yes, OpenCart is free to download, upgrade, and use (and that’s great!), but that doesn’t mean you’ll operate your platform free of any charge.
You are responsible for your own security and hosting, so basic expenses include web hosting, a domain name, and an SSL certificate. You’ll also have to spend a significant amount in the form of extensions.
If you want to give OpenCart a go without downloading anything, there are two free demos available. One shows you what the storefront looks like, while the other gives you access to the admin.
OpenCart has also recently released a new, cloud-based version of their software. Pricing for this version is based on the number of stores merchants create and the amount of storage they require. OpenCart Cloud is not yet perfect. The development team is still working out a few bugs. OpenCart recommends you stick with the downloadable version for now. However, we’ll keep an eye on OpenCart Cloud going forward.
Cloud-Based or Locally-Installed
Locally-installed. OpenCart is free, open-source software. You’ll have to set up hosting on your own. OpenCart recommends their partner A2 Hosting.
As I said, OpenCart recently made a cloud version available, but it isn’t yet the best option.
Specific Size of Business
I’d recommend OpenCart to small and mid-size companies on one condition: you must have web experience. If you don’t have any relevant experience, it will be necessary to hire someone who does. Open Cart offers a $99/mo support plan, but aside from that they don’t offer much in terms of customer service. It’s up to you to do most of the problem solving on your own.
In addition, because every OpenCart platform uses a wide variety of add-ons to function, your site will be totally unique. That makes it more difficult for outside support to be helpful, so it’s best if you are able to work on the site that you built.
While OpenCart is scalable for larger businesses (in theory), I don’t think it’s the best choice. The platform gets more and more complicated with every add-on. I think eventually a larger merchant would find OpenCart too clumsy to handle complex functions.
Hardware & Operating System Requirements
In order to use OpenCart, you’ll need to meet a few server hosting requirements. You can find them listed toward the end of this page:
- Web server (Apache suggested)
- PHP (at least 5.4)
- Curl enabled
- Database (MySQLi suggested)
Ease of Use
While you could always download OpenCart to try it out (it’s totally free, after all), you may not want to go to all that trouble. Fortunately, OpenCart provides a demo that lets you try out both their storefront and admin (even though that demo is somewhat limited).
You don’t have to enter any information at all to access these demos.
When you log in to the admin, you’ll first encounter this sample dashboard…
I dub OpenCart’s dashboard clean and orderly. It looks like most of the other software I’ve tested, and I can imagine navigating around it on a daily basis quite easily.
As I always do, I went first to add a sample product…
I was disappointed to find that although product information is spread out over several tabs (which I prefer) it is not particularly well organized. It took me a few minutes of searching to find where I was supposed to list price. Information is also a bit more spread out than I’d like, which means more scrolling than I like. Despite these minor irritations, I imagine you’d eventually get used to the layout of the pages.
Side note: Here’s what I mean by a “limited” demo. While you can input various bits of information, you cannot save any of that information to see it displayed in the storefront. You’ll get this notification instead…
Next, I tested the discount engine. You can create percentage or flat-rate based coupons, which you can then apply to specific products or categories.
Sales reports were not what I expected. Normally reports pages have some sort of chart or graph showing your top products, rises and falls in sales, etc. OpenCart’s reports appear to be solely in list form. Am I missing something here?
Regardless, as a whole I found OpenCart’s admin to be perfectly adequate. It isn’t my favorite admin panel, but it’s certainly on the better side of average.
OpenCart does not come with an overwhelming feature set by any means. You’ll get just enough to get you off the ground. The rest of the functionality necessary for running a site will have to come with applications, customization, and development. Here’s a summary of the features that come out-of-the-box. For the full list, you can click through the tabs on this page.
- Unlimited listings: OpenCart lets you list unlimited categories, products, and manufacturers.
- Multi-language and multi-currency: Your admin will come with English as its default language and will be able to list products in British Pounds, USD, and Euros. You can select additional languages as add-ons and input additional currencies using special codes. Currencies will update automatically to stay true to their current rate.
- Multi-store: You can own and operate multiple storefronts from one admin panel.
- Reports: View reports of sales, products viewed, and products purchased.
- Modules: In addition to their integrations, OpenCart has modules that add functionality to your cart, including Bestsellers, Category, Featured, Specials, Information, and Google talk.
- Backup and restore tools: To secure your information.
- SEO: Pages are indexed by major search engines. You can customize your product and category meta tags.
- Product reviews and ratings: Let customers give feedback on your products. Set up your site so that you moderate those comments to eliminate spam.
- Downloadable products: List digital products alongside physical products.
- Discount coupon system: Discount by percentage or a flat rate.
- Filters: Let customers easily refine their searches.
- Shipping calculation: Integrate with Royal Mail, UPS, USPS, and more.
- Guest checkout: Reduce abandoned carts by letting customers checkout without creating an account.
- Recurring payments: Easily bill customers for subscription products.
Here’s a small sampling of what you’ll find.
In order to make changes to your site, you’ll have to dive into the code (OpenSource uses Twig). If you don’t have the skills to make those changes yourself, you’ll have to hire someone to do it for you.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Integrations are available in abundance from third-party developers. You’ll find extensions for currency, language, payment processing, site building, and marketing. In this section, I normally list a few key extensions, but with 14,000 available, it feels a little silly.
I think it’s safe to say that OpenCart has whatever extension you need.
OpenCart comes with 35 payment methods already built in.
Built-in payment gateways include (but are not limited to):
There are an additional 1,000+ payment gateways available as integrations.
Customer Service & Support
Like it is with many open-source carts, support is limited mostly to forums and documentation. Fortunately, OpenCart’s forums are very active. You can always find developers who are willing to answer questions (or be hired on to resolve your dilemmas).
OpenCart promotes a few third-party developers on their site. You can locate someone to help you (at a price, of course) by searching through the listings by country.
You can also submit a web ticket or call the OpenCart office in Hong Kong. If you do, you might end up talking to the founder, Daniel Kerr; OpenCart is still a relatively small business.
Note: I have seen reports online that the founder may be a bit difficult to work with. I haven’t found any specifics, but people seem to be frustrated with him.
Here are links to OpenCart’s support options:
- User Forums
- Video Tutorials
- Bug Tracker
- 3rd Party Developers
- Web Ticket
- +852 24990996
- Monday – Friday 8am – 5pm, GMT +8:00
OpenCart has also recently introduced support plans that are worth a look. You can choose between two options: a one-time fix (pricing varies) or a $99/month premium support plan. The premium support plan will help with issues like bug fixes and installations, but it is not unlimited support. You will receive help with up to five installations and three bug fixes per month. Support does not cover custom development or design. For that, you’ll have to refer to OpenCart’s partners.
Negatives Reviews & Complaints
Comment boards are largely approving of OpenCart. All negative comments tend to mention the drawbacks I’ve already discussed. But, for convenience’s sake, I’ll state them again below:
- Add-ons required: In order to really make OpenCart work for you, you’ll need to install a variety of add-ons. This is where OpenCart can get expensive. Multiple add-ons may also make your platform more difficult to operate, which leads to the next complaint.
- Some tech knowledge necessary: Add-ons are not necessarily compatible with each other. You’ll probably have to work through a few bugs. Also, as far as I can tell, OpenCart does not offer any significant design editing tools. You’re on your own there as well.
- Limited/poor support: Your support options are mostly self-help routes. If you do decide to call in, you may not receive the level of support you were hoping for.
Here are a few other complaints I’ve found.
- Can be difficult to upgrade to newer versions
- Open-source means lower security
- Limited product options feature
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
As I’ve mentioned, most comments on OpenCart are fairly positive. Here’s what customers like most:
- Free: Free is a very good price. Some downloadable carts cost upwards of a thousand dollars and don’t offer a whole lot more.
- Clean Admin: I can attest to this. I was a bit worried when I first viewed OpenCart’s website–it’s all fairly dated. Fortunately, the admin works just like any other platform.
- Open-source: Open-source code lets developers build extensions and create customizations much more easily.
- Ease of use: I’ve seen posts on either side of this. Some say that OpenCart is very easy to use, while others have more difficulty. I think this relates particularly to the “some tech knowledge required” qualification.
Here are a few less common positive reviews.
- Multi-store option is excellent
- Wide user community provides lots of options for themes and extensions
Because OpenCart is open-source, stores on OpenCart face a higher security risk than those on closed documentation platforms. Hackers can more easily find the vulnerabilities in the software and target those vulnerabilities.
To keep up, OpenCart developers regularly release new versions of OpenCart that include patches to cover those vulnerabilities. It is your job to keep on top of the latest security developments. You’ll also have to purchase your own SSL certificate. Take a look at OpenCart’s security recommendations.
OpenCart is PCI compliant.
Generally, when merchants are looking for an open-source, free, downloadable shopping cart, I recommend Magento. And while I stand by that recommendation, OpenCart could be a good alternative for merchants for whom Magento just won’t work.
This cart’s largest limitation is in its features-via-extensions model. Larger companies (or companies that grow to be quite large) may find that handling and orchestrating all of those integrations (and doing it all without personalized support) is more trouble than it’s worth.
But if you’ve got PHP coding experience and you don’t mind juggling handfuls of add-ons, you should give OpenCart a go. It might just work out for you.