- Free to download
- Numerous integrations
- Unlimited products
- Developer skills required
- Limited features
- Add-ons often necessary
- No customer support
Full-service, cloud-based shopping carts like Big Cartel and Shopify that charge a monthly fee and include a suite of services aren’t for everyone. Some of the eCommerce crowd prefers paying a single, up-front fee in order to buy a licensed cart like LemonStand, while others go the open-source route and use carts like Spree Commerce to launch and maintain stores. If you’re in that third camp, you’ll also want to know about VirtueMart, which is slightly different than its peers. While it’s an open source (that means free!) PHP eCommerce solution, VirtueMart isn’t a stand-alone shopping cart. Rather, it’s a Joomla plug-in. (Joomla is the Content Management System (CMS) that supports VirtueMart.) While VirtueMart can be used as a catalog only, we’re going to talk about its shopping cart functionality here.
While the German-based cart traces its roots back to 2004, Version 2 of VirtueMart became stable in spring of 2013, followed by version 3 in November of 2014. Examples of stores currently using the software (several are based in Europe) include Prosecco & Vino and Lightdesign Studios.
I spent several hours researching and testing VirtueMart, and at the end of the day I found the experience to be underwhelming. While it’s awesome that the cart is free, unless you’re a gifted programmer you’ll need to hire talent to create, launch, troubleshoot, and maintain your store. I’d be willing to bet that the amount you’ll pay your tech team will quickly surpass what you’d drop on most of the web-hosted carts out there.
Having said that, VirtueMart has its share of adherents. To see if it’s the right solution for your business, read my full review.
Table of Contents
Although VirtueMart is open-source (again, that means free!) software you’ll still need to budget in expenses for operating your online store. While some of us already possess the capacity to launch and troubleshoot code, if that’s not you and you decide to launch a store with VirtueMart, start looking for a developer and designer now. Also note that you’re responsible for finding and paying for hosting, security, and a merchant account in order to process credit cards.
Web-Hosted Or Licensed
VirtueMart is an open source, self-hosted eCommerce solution that is free to download and use.
Ease Of Use
I wouldn’t attempt to install and launch a store with VirtueMart unless I was a developer trained in Joomla or was pretty comfortable learning a new CMS and installing PHP-based software. As mentioned above, if I was going to choose VirtueMart as my eCommerce solution, there is no question that I would include the cost of a programmer and designer to deploy my store and train me on how to use it.
So is VirtueMart worth the cost of setup and easy to use once it’s rolled out? I was able to acquire a decent grasp of the admin’s layout after clicking through it for a few minutes, but digging a little deeper I quickly missed a lot of the functionality that come out of the box with many other shopping carts. This includes Google Analytics or other powerful reporting tools, robust discounting tools, and multiple template options.
On the main page of the admin you’ll find two tabs: “Statistics” lets you view a simple line of stats (new orders, active products, etc.) while “Control Panel” includes links to orders, products, categories, and the like. To add a product, go to “Product” and “New.” Those fields were pretty standard and easy to use, but I found the extensions and modules manager to be convoluted and frustrating to navigate. You can add contacts, banners, and access a search tool under the “Components” menu, which feels like a catch-all for random site elements. While I liked the easy access to a “View Site” button from the homepage, I found the backend experience overall to be overly complex.
Hardware & Software Requirements
VirtueMart is a plugin for the CMS Joomla and essentially downloads as a version of Joomla bundled with VirtueMart. That means you don’t have to install both pieces of software to use the cart.
In contrast to web-based carts like Ashop Commerce that include hosting in your monthly bill, to use VirtueMart you’ll need to find an online host like Rackspace. As you might have guessed, VirtueMart also has the same system requirements as Joomla. Those are listed over here.
VirtueMart doesn’t cap the number of categories or (more importantly) products you can load to your store, which is a nice perk. The scalable cart also allows multiple prices to be designated to a single product. Some marketing features are included from the get-go, including coupons, but I missed the discount codes, gift certificates, and other marketing tools that are offered out of the box by competitors. I do like that products can be displayed by best seller, newest, etc. and that guest and 1-click checkout is offered.
Check out the full feature list here.
VirtueMart has a very limited number of themes available, you can look at offerings here. Keep in mind that since the cart is open source and free, only offering a few skins is pretty common. The out of the box template is plain Jane and in my opinion needs a lot of customization before your store will be ready to complete sales. You can check out extensions under the “template manager” in the admin. I was able to find a several third-party skins, including this set and a really nice template called VP SuperMart.
The backend is where you’ll spend most of your time. During training be sure you ask about basics like adding products and categories, but also learn how to install plug-ins and tweak your template. While users report that it’s a big improvement from the original version of VirtueMart, I didn’t find the admin pleasing on the eyes or especially intuitive. There are oversized buttons on the main page that link to products and orders, as well as basic drop down menus.
Integrations & Add-Ons
VirtueMart offers several third-party extensions (priced in Euros, so get that currency converter ready) including:
- Click Social Buttons; Allows you to share a product on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Free.
- Currency Automatic Switcher: Adjusts currency settings based on user’s global location. About $20 USD.
- USPS: Allows you to offer order shipping via USPS to customers. About $59 USD.
- Shopper Group Changer: Lets you grant customers VIP status and offer specific discounts. About $45 USD.
VirtueMart also integrates with almost 8,000 Joomla extensions, so you should have no trouble finding an add-on that does what you need. Have a look at the full directory here.
Payment processing is anything but simple with VirtueMart. I consider this to be a real weak point of the cart, since it’s a basic and essential part of running a store. A PCI-compliant plug-in must be downloaded before you can accept cards, and the whole process a real headache. Lists of payment processor providers are here and here.
It would be really nice to see some other options since the businesses listed are pretty obscure, or at least unfamiliar to me. While PayPal can be configured, the steps appear to be way more technical than they need to be, especially since most other carts let you integrate your PayPal account with a click or two. (Here’s another example of installation instructions on the 2Checkout website.) To view payment plugins supported by VirtueMart, click “new” under “payment methods” in the admin.
Customer Service & Technical Support
Since VirtueMart is free to download you’ll have to rely on your developer for most support issues. That’s in contrast to web-based carts like Shopify that offer support as a part of your monthly bill. There is a ticketing section with terms stated in an unfriendly tone here:
“The warranted support does NOT cover problems due your template overwrites or 3rd party extensions not sold on this website: extensions.virtuemart.net. If we lose a lot time due this, we may invoice you.”)
Your best bet is to try online forums and documentation for help.
Negative Reviews & Complaints
While there’s not a ton of reviews out there about VirtueMart (which is surprising since it’s been around for more than a decade,) developers generally report more minuses than plusses. Common complaints of the cart include:
- Requires Technical Knowledge: If you’re not an experienced developer you’re probably going to have a tough time launching a store with the open source software.
- Lacks Top-End Features: Users report that advanced features like social media and mobile integrations are missing.
- Extras Can Add Up: While you’ll download VirtueMart for free, you’ll still need to budget for extras like hosting and security that may end up costing more per month than plans offered by web-based carts like Shopify.
Other negatives reported by VirtueMart users include:
- No real technical support outside of forums and a clunky set of documentation.
- Out of the box features that are standard in many carts require digging through plugin directories and installing.
- Slow site speed.
Positive Reviews & Testimonials
Several positive testimonials are listed on the VirtueMart site, you can read those here. After a thorough search I was also able to find additional positive VirtueMart reports, including:
- Active Forum: Users report that answers can be found via message boards.
- A Plethora of Plug-Ins: With the ability to integrate thousands of Joomla add-ons you’ll be able to find a wide range of extras.
- Unlimited Items: There’s no cap on the number of products you list with VirtueMart.
Less frequently, users commented on the following positive site attributes:
- Some users prefer supporting and using open source software.
- Greatly improved interface from the original version.
- The default site template requires less coding for developers in Version 3.
In my opinion, VirtueMart’s several red flags make it a weak shopping cart contender for most online stores. When the developer crowd gripes about how clunky and frustrating a cart is you know there’s got to be a better way. The lack of quality plug-ins, out of the box features like mobile and social media integration, and only basic SEO make this cart underwhelming at best. Could you make a great store with VirtueMart? Yes. But not without a whole lot of work and expense.
If you want another free option, try Spree Commerce instead. Version 3 of VirtueMart has been out for more than a year, with patches and updates trickling in (mostly as security problems are resolved.) Considering that VirtueMart has been around since 2004, I’d expect them to be more comparable to its peers by now.
If you want to see for yourself, you can check out a live demo (both the storefront and the admin) and check out examples of existing websites using VirtueMart.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.
We've done in-depth research on each and confidently recommend them.