- Free to download
- Well-designed editor
- Highly customizable
- Numerous integrations
- Steep learning curve
- Limited features built-in
- Limited customer support
- Add-ons often necessary
OpenCart is an open-source, downloadable shopping cart that’s free to own, upgrade, and use. Sounds good — but is OpenCart the right eCommerce solution for your business? Let’s see what an unbiased OpenCart review has to say about this popular eCommerce option.
The first thing to know is that the software is based on PHP, so any merchant considering OpenCart would benefit from a background in that programming language. Next, it’s important to understand that OpenCart follows a core+extensions model. That means that, out of the box, OpenCart is a fairly light platform that 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, ask yourself if you will be comfortable setting up and maintaining a highly technical store largely on your own, because support is limited. You’ll also 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. And if you already sense that OpenCart might not be the solution you’re looking for right now, check out some other eCommerce options that might be a better fit for you.
Table of Contents
OpenCart pricing can be a tricky thing to discuss. “Free” is a deceiving 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.
For starters, 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 should also budget a significant amount for 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 also offers a cloud-based version of its software, with pricing based on the number of stores merchants create and the amount of storage they require. While OpenCart Cloud uses the same software base, it seems that the development team is still working on the cloud version. It’s available to download, with a free 14-day trial as well as a 50% discount on the service for a full year when you sign up for PayPal.
Cloud-Based Or Locally Installed
OpenCart is free, open-source software that’s locally installed. You’ll have to set up hosting on your own. OpenCart recommends its partner, A2 Hosting.
OpenCart has a cloud version available, but it isn’t a free option and seems to be in limited use.
Hardware & Software Requirements
OpenCart is a fast and lightweight platform, so you won’t need a heavy-duty hosting plan. Just make sure to meet a few requirements:
- Web server (Apache suggested)
- PHP (at least 5.4)
- Curl extension enabled
- Database (MySQLi suggested)
Specific Size Of Business
OpenCart’s open-source software 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. It’s up to users to do most of the problem solving, without much in the way of customer support.
In addition, because every OpenCart platform uses a wide variety of add-ons to function, your site will be totally unique from every other site. 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
You can download OpenCart to try it out — it’s totally free, after all. Or, if you’d rather not go through the trouble, OpenCart provides a demo that lets you try out its storefront and a limited demo of its admin that lets you input various bits of information but won’t allow you to save any of the information or see it displayed in the storefront.
Overall, the OpenCart admin 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 an item’s 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.
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?
Despite some surprises, 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 preloaded:
- Dashboard: When you log in to the OpenCart admin, you’ll encounter this sample dashboard, which seems clean and orderly.
- Products: OpenCart lets you list unlimited categories, subcategories, products, and brands or manufacturers. You can list digital products alongside physical products.
- Multi-Channel Selling: You can operate multiple storefronts from one admin panel.
- 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.
- Checkout: You can reduce abandoned carts by giving customers a guest checkout option. They also can choose to create an account that saves their shipping information. There’s a shipping calculator that integrates with Royal Mail, UPS, USPS, and more.
- Marketing: Set coupons and discounts by a percentage or by flat rate. Use product reviews and ratings that let customers give feedback on your products. You can set up your site so that you moderate those comments, to eliminate spam. OpenCart also has modules that add functionality to your cart, including Bestsellers, Category, Featured, Specials, Information, and Google analytics.
- 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.
- Recurring Payments: Easily bill customers for subscription products.
- Backup & Restore Tools: Secure your information.
- Filters: Customers easily can refine their searches.
Dozens of free themes are available from third-party design companies like Theme Forest and Template Monster. You can find the full collection on OpenCart’s extensions store. Narrow your search by looking only at top-rated options or by what version of OpenCart software the theme works best with. Click on a theme to find out when it was last updated, how many times it’s been downloaded, how users rate it, and what they have to say. You can also access documentation for most themes or see a demo.
Here’s an example showing a few of the themes you might 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
Free integrations are available in abundance from third-party developers. You’ll find extensions for currency, language, payment processing, site building, and marketplaces. Search by categories, including languages, payment gateways, shipping methods, modules, reports, and more.
Look under Shipping Methods, for example, and you’ll find some familiar names, like ShipStation and DHL, as well as perhaps lesser-known but useful extensions that let you hone your store’s shipping processes. In this category, all the extensions are rated by users so you can see what you’re getting. 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 most open-source software, OpenCart 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 if you’re unable to resolve your OpenCart challenges on your own.
OpenCart promotes a few third-party developers on their site, too. You can locate someone to help you, at a price, of course, by searching through the listings by country.
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:
- Phone: You can try calling the OpenCart office, located in Hong Kong. Office hours are Monday-Friday from 9:30 AM to 2 PM local time, with an hour off for lunch.
- Email: Use a ZenDesk link to ask for help.
- Contact Form: Fill out a form to send a message to OpenCart.
- Community Forum: Join the active OpenCart forum and seek the answers you need there.
- Video Tutorials: Developers post a host of videos on YouTube.
- Documentation: Access OpenCart documentation through the website.
- Bug Tracker: Use the GitHub bug tracker to find solutions to common problems.
- Find An Advisor: You can find a list of OpenCart partners, willing to offer general assistance or in areas like development, hosting, and payment services. Narrow your search by finding premium and certified partners if you like.
- Books: The OpenCart resources tab includes a list of helpful books on various topics, available to download for free in most cases.
- Social Media: You’ll find OpenCart on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
OpenCart has also introduced dedicated support plans that are worth a look. You can choose between two payment options: a one-time fix starting from $99 or a $99/month premium support plan, which has a minimum commitment of three months. The One-time fix includes a 30-day “bug free guarantee” and includes a report on the work done. 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 generally indicate positive OpenCart feedback. The negative comments posted tend to focus on the drawbacks already discussed in this OpenCart review.
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. Even when addons are available for free, users don’t like having to install them.
- 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.
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 the user’s 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.
The payment gateways built in to OpenCart are PCI compliant.
OpenCart Final Verdict
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 and companies that hope to grow to be large may find that handling and orchestrating all those integrations — and doing it all without personalized support — is more trouble than it’s worth.
What if you don’t have enough technical expertise on your team to feel truly comfortable using an open-source software solution for your eCommerce needs? A software as a service (SaaS) solution like Shopify might be a better solution in that case. In fact, Shopify is one of our top shopping cart recommendations for eCommerce beginners.
On the other hand, if you have PHP coding experience and you don’t mind juggling handfuls of add-ons, you should give OpenCart a go. It might just be the answer to your online store needs.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.