- Free to download
- Well-designed editor
- Highly customizable
- Numerous integrations
- Steep learning curve
- Limited features built-in
- Buggy on occasion
- Limited customer support
- Add-ons often necessary
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 consistently add to an already enormous pool of more than 13,000 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, because support is limited. Second, you’ll need to be prepared to purchase a good number of add-ons.
If you’re comfortable with both 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 charges.
You’ll be responsible for your own security and hosting, so basic expenses will 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, you can view two free demos that showing the storefront and the admin.
OpenCart has released a new, cloud-based version of its 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, and the development team is still working out a few bugs. OpenCart recommends you stick with the downloadable version for now. You can test out OpenCart Cloud with a free 14-day trial.
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 its partner A2 Hosting.
OpenCart has made a cloud version available, but it isn’t a free option.
Hardware & Operating System Requirements
To use OpenCart, you’ll need to meet a few server hosting requirements:
- Web server (Apache suggested)
- PHP (at least 5.4)
- Curl enabled
- Database (MySQLi suggested)
Specific Size Of Business
OpenCart can be a good choice for small and mid-size companies on one condition: You must have web experience. If you don’t have any relevant experience, you will need to hire someone who does. Open Cart offers a $99/month dedicated support plan and a $99 one-time fix plan, with support available from 3 a.m. to noon Eastern Time every business day, in English only. 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, it’s likely not the best choice. The platform gets more and more complicated with every add-on. Larger merchants eventually would find OpenCart too clumsy to handle complex functions.
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 the trouble. OpenCart provides a demo that lets you try out both their storefront and admin (even though that demo is somewhat limited).
When you log in to the admin, you’ll first encounter this sample dashboard, which seems 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. 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, and so on. OpenCart’s reports all appear to be solely in list form. Am I missing something here?
Regardless, as a whole I found OpenCart’s admin to be 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 have just enough to get you off the ground. The rest of the functionality necessary for running a site will have to come from applications, customization, and development. Here’s a summary of the features that come out-of-the-box:
- Products: OpenCart lets you list unlimited categories, subcategories, products, and brands or manufacturers. You can list digital products alongside physical products.
- Sell Internationally: Your admin will come with English as its default language and you will be able to list products with prices in British Pounds, USD, and Euros. You can select additional languages as add-ons and input additional currencies using special codes. Currencies update automatically to stay true to their current rate.
- Multi-Channel Selling: You can own and operate multiple storefronts from one admin panel.
- Shipping Calculation: Integrate with Royal Mail, UPS, USPS, and more.
- Guest Checkout: Reduce abandoned carts by letting customers checkout without creating an account.
- Registered User Checkout: Customers can also choose to create an account to save their shipping information.
- Recurring Payments: Easily bill customers for subscription products.
- Product Reviews & Ratings: Let customers give feedback on your products. Set up your site so that you moderate those comments to eliminate spam.
- Coupons & Discounts: Set by percentage or a flat rate.
- SEO Tools: Pages are indexed by major search engines. You can customize your product and category meta tags.
- Reports & Analytics: View reports including 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 analytics.
- Backup & Restore Tools: Secure your information.
- Filters: Customers easily can refine their searches.
Themes are available from third-party design companies like Theme Forest and Template Monster. You can find the full collection on OpenCart’s extensions page.
Here’s an example showing a few of the themes you might have to choose from:
You can make small changes to your design by adding and rearranging modules in the design panel of your admin. In order to make larger changes to your site’s look and feel, you’ll have to dive into the code (the OpenSource 3.0 Theme Editor 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.
OpenCart Integrations & Add-Ons
Integrations are available in abundance from third-party developers. You’ll find extensions for currency, language, payment processing, site building, and marketplaces. In this section, I normally list a few key extensions, but with 13,000 available, it feels a little silly.
I think it’s safe to say that OpenCart has whatever extension you need.
OpenCart comes with 53 payment methods already built-in and multiple payment gateways like PayPal, Square, and Authorize.Net. There are more than a thousand additional payment gateways available as integrations, including BitCoin, Stripe, and numerous country-specific options for international sales.
OpenCart Customer Service & Technical Support
As 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 to hire to resolve your OpenCart challenges).
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; with just 30 employees, OpenCart is still a relatively small business.
I chose to submit a web ticket with a general question about OpenCart. My response came three days later.
Here are all the support options you can access for OpenCart:
- User Forums
- Video Tutorials
- Bug Tracker
- 3rd Party Developers
- Web Ticket
OpenCart has also introduced support plans that are worth a look. You can choose between two options: a one-time fix starting from $99 or a $99/month premium support plan, which has a minimum commitment of three months. 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 extension 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.
Comment boards are largely approving of OpenCart. All negative comments tend to mention the drawbacks already discussed.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
- 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 yourself unless you’re willing to pay for expert help. 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 Support: Your support options will be mostly self-help routes.
- Difficult To Upgrade: Customers say upgrades to new versions of the software are not completely bug-free. You may also need to reconfigure some elements of your shop to display correctly in the new update.
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. 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
While OpenCart Cloud secures your site on your behalf, if you use OpenCart’s open-source software, you’ll be responsible for staying on top of security.
To keep up, OpenCart developers regularly release new versions of OpenCart that include patches to cover those vulnerabilities. It is your job to download the latest security developments. You’ll also have to purchase your own SSL certificate. Take a look at OpenCart’s security recommendations on their site for more information.
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 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.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.