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- Date Established
- Free to download
- Numerous integrations
- Strong user community
- Limited features
- Difficult to use
- Developer skills required
- Outdated design templates
Sure, we all know some things get better with age. Unfortunately, osCommerce is not one of them. The German-based open source shopping cart launched by Harald Ponce de Leon back in 2000 gets points for being one of the original PHP-based carts that gave a broader cross-section of merchants the ability to launch online stores.
Since its inception 13 years back, osCommerce (AKA “Open Source” Commerce) has been used to build many thousand online stores around the planet. But the self-hosted, first-generation cart has seen better days. Although it offers perks like 7,000 free integrations and an active online forum, osCommerce has been compromised by hackers several times over the years. Even though those holes have been patched, if you’re wise you will invest in not just hosting and a whip-smart developer, but also extra security before using osCommerce.
After spending time demoing and researching osCommerce I’ve compiled the following review. While I did like that the cart includes the option to access a ton of add-ons I was underwhelmed by several aspects of the software. Also, to be clear: my reporting is geared towards the ecommerce and not the developer crowd, even though both have a pretty big bone to pick with osCommerce’s ease of use and overall functionality. I tend to agree. Read on to learn more about the handful of ups and whole lot of downs associated with the cart.
Table of Contents
Here’s a big plus for osCommerce: Since it’s open source, the software is totally free to use. As opposed to cloud-hosted carts that require a monthly payment or licensed carts that can be accessed for an upfront fee, osCommerce won’t cost you anything to download.
But before you get too excited, know that you’ll likely fork over some real cash before your site is up-and-running. Unless you’re a programmer or coding whiz you’re going to have to find and pay a professional developer and designer to build your site. Also, be ready to pay for site security, hosting, a merchant account to process credit card orders, and some of the thousands of add-ons you’ll need to polish off your store. In my opinion, you’ll be better off purchasing a clean, intuitive self-hosted solution like LemonStand that charges an initial fee but will end up costing less in the long run.
Web-Hosted Or Licensed
Technically, osCommerce is considered to be a licensed cart, since you’ll be required to download and install the software on your own server. However, the cost of the license is zero, because the software is open source.
A list of osCommerce’s preferred hosting partners can be found here.
Ease Of Use
While some users claim that osCommerce is relatively easy to install, developers generally report struggling with several aspects of the cart. It’s not a good sign that a big chunk of professionals creating stores with osCommerce have experienced several hair-pulling hiccups along the way.
What about operating the store after it’s launched? Compared to the elegant, intuitive admins offered by competing open source cart Spree Commerce and just about every other web-hosted cart like Ashop Commerce, osCommerce’s user tools are really dated. Also, different versions of osCommerce aren’t compatible, so you’ll likely have to start from scratch if you want to upgrade.
After spending time in the admin (you can test drive the frontend and backend of the software here) I was instantly struck by how light it is. It’s one thing to offer a cart that comes with several basic, helpful features and isn’t bloated down, but I really wish important elements that are found in most carts after they’re downloaded were available, like reporting tools and easily filterable orders and categories. Anytime I tried to add incomplete sample data (i.e. customer info that was missing an email address) I had to start from scratch–text I’d already added wasn’t saved. I also would have liked to have seen a quick reference tab from the main admin page to save me from scrolling through menus in order to land on new orders or product info.
Hardware & Software Requirements
Since osCommerce is a self-hosted as opposed to a web-based cart like Shopify, you’ll need to provide or pay for hosting for your store. osCommerce has rolled out two different versions in the past few years: 2.3.3 and 3.0. Since v3.0 is still in its beta phase, you’ll want to stick with v2.3. You can read more about hosting requirements for each working version of osCommerce here.
osCommerce is a blank slate after it’s downloaded, and like I mentioned above (see “Ease of Use”) that’s not necessarily a good thing. Add-ons can make your store as feature-rich as you like–that’s after the blood, sweat and tears it will probably take to get extras to integrate and operate smoothly. You won’t be able to easily support thousands of individual products, and inventory is notorious for being tricky to manage when using osCommerce. You’re in charge of SEO, but osCommerce even makes optimization complex, generating uber long (and search engine crawler unfriendly) URLs and not producing unique meta titles.
But on the plus side, with the open-source program you’ll theoretically be able to include just about any feature you can think of in your online store, ranging from social media “like us” buttons to eBay auction listings. You’ll also be able to keep track of orders in a database, use breadcrumbs, and add user info into an address book. The software is compatible with most browsers and supports multiple currencies.
Version 2.3.3 includes more than 30 improvements or additions, including social bookmark add-ons for Google+ and Pinterest, as well as improved time zone compatibility, a banner manager, and other general maintenance updates. Keep in mind that any time you update your site it can wreak havoc: Your developer may have trouble with the system automatically overwriting previous customizations you don’t want touched. As a result, the updating process can result in the loss of information, so if I were building a store with osCommerce I’d backup like crazy.
In my opinion, one of osCommerce’s weakest links is in the design department. While you can adjust headers, footers, and columns, the lack of templates (which is typical of open source carts) requires customization by an experienced designer. To make matters worse, your tech team will likely have trouble executing customizations that you’ll need to get your site in working order: It can take several steps to complete changes that would happen instantly on competing carts. If design is important to you (which it obviously should be if you’re running a shop that’s trying to attract customers) you’ll have better luck using most other carts.
View templates uploaded by users here and check out the database of stores built with the osCommerce here. Then compare it with Spree Commerce store designs here and you’ll be able to see what I mean.
The osCommerce admin area reminds me of old-school operating systems I worked on many years ago. You’ll probably spend many hours in the backend of your store, so you’ll want to choose a cart that offers not just attractive templates for the front end but also an eye-pleasing and intuitive admin. Also, when considering whether or not you respond well to a cart’s backend it’s a good idea to imagine yourself training staff to use the software. Personally, I would have an easy enough time showing team members around the admin, but I wouldn’t want them to work in a dated system that’s not as searchable or well-organized as competing carts.
Integrations & Add-Ons
Unlike some web-hosted carts that are bogged down with features you don’t want, osCommerce offers more than 7,000 add-ons, including reporting, payment and shipping modules (the program supports major carriers, including FedEx, USPS and UPS).
While there are far too many to list, you can view the database of osCommerce integrations here. In case you’re starting to pick up on a theme in this review–yes, you’ll likely have a tough time getting add-ons to load and integrate smoothly. Be ready to get your hands dirty.
Before launching your store you’ll want to open a merchant account. osCommerce can support various payment processors, including SagePay and PayPal. Check out the software’s many processor integrations, such as Dwolla and Checkout by Amazon. If you need help navigating the world of payment processors, visit our Merchant Account Comparison page or contact us for a consultation.
Customer Service & Technical Support
If you’d like to be able to access live chat or submit support tickets Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central European Time (CET) you’ll need to purchase a “community sponsorship” package for about $65 per year. Otherwise you can seek answers on the active osCommerce forum. Documentation is available over here. If your developer has additional questions about the the coding languages PHP or mysql that are used by osCommerce it’s easy to locate general support on the web.
osCommerce can be found on Facebook and Twitter, although the company hasn’t posted on either account for way too long. That’s one sign that management isn’t currently engaging with the company, folks.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
The negative reviews about osCommerce definitely outweigh the positives. The general theme? The software is a totally outdated hassle, and that by using it your business may come off as irrelevant. Sort of like using AOL instead of Gmail. Whether you agree with that sentiment or it gets your blood boiling, it’s clear that osCommerce leaves much to be desired, especially when there are so many better fee-based and free options. We spent hours researching complaints about the software and were able to find several common negatives:
- Not Secure. – Users report multiple attacks by hackers that required shop owners to rebuild stores from the ground up. For example, within one week in 2011 millions of people who visited sites operated by osCommerce became victims of hackers.
- Weak SEO. – A multitude of complaints about osCommerce’s lack of SEO can be found online. Unless you hire (or happen to be a very skilled) developer you’re going to have a bear of a time optimizing your site.
- Overly Complex. – Customizations (even small changes like adding spaces or changing image placement) that should take minutes can end up taking hours.
Other negatives reported by osCommerce customers include:
- Unhelpful (and fee-based) tech support.
- Messy, overcomplicated code.
- Not accessible to merchants; requires hiring a developer.
- Very dated designs.
If you want to search for other complaints about osCommerce, be sure to Google osCommerce reviews, osCommerce complaints, osCommerce comments, osCommerce scam, osCommerce testimonials, etc.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
In spite of the huge number of negatives, we were able to find a few bright spots: Some osCommerce users like that the cart is lean and doesn’t arrive pre-loaded with features that can slow down and bloat stores. Others like the fact that the open source software is community-driven and that message boards remain active (even as the software’s popularity has sputtered.) More highlights include:
- Feature Rich. – Users may have trouble integrating add-ons, but there are more than 7,000 of them, and many are free.
- Easy Installation. – Even though building sites can get hairy fast, basic installation of osCommerce’s software is relatively simple for programmers.
- Free. – While you’ll likely have to hire a designer and programmer (and pay for security and a host) it’s worth noting that the open source software doesn’t cost a dime.
Less frequently, users commented on the following positive site attributes:
- Active community forum.
- Multi-language support.
- Can backup database in case something goes wrong.
osCommerce sounds great on paper–it’s free and used by a lot of programmers. Back when it launched more than a decade ago the cart allowed a lot of merchants to get into the ecommerce game. But we’re in a new era, and whether you use a cloud-based (Shopify, BigCartel) self-hosted (LemonStand) or open source (Spree Commerce) shopping cart, in my opinion it’s a good bet that you’ll be happier with just about any other option that comes with an intuitive admin, built-in SEO, and attractive (or at least easily customizable) themes.
So why bother checking out osCommerce? I think it’s good to have a grasp on a wide range of carts before you settle on the one that’s right for you. While it’s pretty unlikely (and not advised) to go with osCommerce, like test driving cars or looking at houses you’ll probably be all the happier with the shopping cart you end up choosing if you have a peek at osCommerce first.
Even though some developers remain fans of osCommerce, its lack of meaningful mobile interactions and SEO and its reputation for being weak in security mean I wouldn’t recommend osCommerce to a friend. In fact, some people wonder if version 3 will ever become stable and launch past beta, so the future of the cart is up in the air. Want to see for yourself? You can download osCommerce here.