Top 4 Open Source eCommerce Platforms
Open source software is the pride and joy of the developer world. When a software is open source, every line of its source code is available to the public. In other words, anyone can get his or her hands on the very code used to build the platform.
So, what does open source mean in the context of an eCommerce platform? I’m glad you asked.
Open source eCommerce platforms come with unique advantages. Most importantly, open source platforms are easier to customize. Because developers can access the code, they have all the tools necessary to change any aspect of the software. Your admin and storefront can be manipulated to perform all the actions you need.
What’s more, open source software is always free! You can download and implement a platform without paying a dime to the company that built it.
Finally, open source eCommerce platforms are often supported by a wide user community. Users are responsible for building most of the applications for a platform, and they take that role seriously. If you have a question or a request, you can expect to find your answer in a user forum.
However, despite all of these positives, open source still has its downfalls. Most notably: open source platforms are not easy to use. In order to get your site running the way you’d like, you’ll have to configure a variety of different add-ons, add a template, and tweak that template without a user-friendly theme editor. Additionally, open source platforms come with very limited customer service. You’ll have to resolve a lot of issues on your own. If you don’t have the skills to get around these things (and you can’t afford to hire someone who can) you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Instead, you might look into a SaaS (software as a service) platform. These platforms take care of a lot of the technical issues for you and come with much stronger customer service. Check out our top-rated shopping carts if SaaS seems more up your alley. Every option we present here offers excellent customer support, superb web templates, and easy-to-use software, all for a reasonable price.
However, if open source is your game, stick around for a look at the top four open source shopping carts. I’ll present a few key features of each platform and the support tools available, along with a brief list of pros and cons.
Let’s get started.
Magento (see our review) is one of the biggest names in open source eCommerce solutions. Founded in 2007, Magento has grown to support over 250,000 merchants. Magento has won several awards for its popularity including #1 Platform Internet Retailer Top 1000 (2015), #1 Platform Internet Retailer B2B 300 (2015), and #1 Platform Internet Retailer Europe 500 (2016).
Because it has such a large following, Magento is blessed with an awesome user community. Thousands of apps are available in the Magento marketplace, and the Magento forum is one of the most active I’ve seen.
Below I’m including a screenshot of a Magento 2.0 dashboard (I took this screen shot during a demo of Magento’s enterprise platform, but it is similar to Magento Community Edition’s dashboard).
Magento, like most open source platforms, comes with a robust feature set. Beyond the basic, most important features you would expect from any shopping cart, Magento includes a few extra functions that make it stand out. Here’s a brief list:
- Persistent shopping cart: Customers’ selections stay in their carts even when they navigate away from the page.
- Multi-site: Operate multiple stores from the same admin.
- Filtered search: Filtered (aka “faceted”) search is often considered an enterprise feature. However, it’s included with every Magento platform. Filtered search lets customers narrow their search by price, size, color, etc.
- Ship to multiple addresses: Let customers send items from one order to multiple destinations.
As I said, open source software companies don’t provide a lot of support options, and Magento is no exception. Magento offers personalized support exclusively to enterprise customers. Below, I’m including links to the support options for regular (Community Edition) users.
- Forum: Have your questions answered by other users.
- Documentation: Explore extensive documentation to find the answers yourself.
- Sales Portal: If you’d like to see a demo of the enterprise edition, you can get in touch with someone here.
- General Information: Submit a “Contact Us” form for answers to general product questions.
In general, Magento users are happy with the platform. Magento scores consistently high marks across user review sites. Here’s what Magento users like best:
- Very large user community: According to a study from BuiltWith, 5% of all eCommerce sites are built on Magento. A big user community means more add-ons, more theme options, and more developers to help you along.
- Lots of available features: Magento comes with loads of features built in (You can view the whole list here). And, if you need anything else, you can likely find a solution in the extensive marketplace.
- Scalable: Magento can handle small businesses and large businesses alike.
On the other hand, Magento is not the perfect platform. Here are a few things Magento users would like to see improved in the future.
- Heavy site: Magento users report that their sites are “heavy” and often run slowly. You’ll need to make sure your hosting can handle such a robust software.
- Poor built-in reports feature: Magento users aren’t huge fans of the built-in reports. Fortunately, you can integrate your site with Google Analytics.
- No abandoned cart feature: There aren’t any abandoned cart features built-in, but there are integrations available to solve that.
If Magento sounds like it might be the right platform for your site, you can take the software for a spin by signing up for a demo. A representative will guide you through the basic functions of the admin, and help you get a better idea of daily operations.
Or, if you’re looking for more information about the platform, including an extended features list, and more customer reviews, try our full review here.
Where PrestaShop diverges from Magento is in its focus. The company is based in Miami and Paris and has a slightly more international focus; it makes selling across borders possible.
As always, the open source platform is 100% customizable and 100% free. Here’s what you can expect to find with PrestaShop.
PrestaShop has a robust feature set out of the box. You can view the full list of features for PrestaShop 1.6v here (PrestaShop is currently offering 1.7v, but there aren’t a lot of changes to the available features).
Here are a few of the bells and whistles.
- Sell internationally: Set your storefront to translate to 70 languages. Accept multiple currencies.
- Abandoned cart information: PrestaShop tells you which carts were abandoned so you can better determine why customers aren’t completing transactions. In order to email those customers to remind them of their abandoned carts, you’ll have to install a module.
- Autoresponder emails: Send order confirmation emails automatically.
Like Magento, PrestaShop offers most of its support in the form of self-help material and a user forum. However, there are a few paid support options as well. Here is what’s on offer for free:
- FAQ and User Guides: Find answers to your general questions.
- User Forum: PrestaShop’s forum is available in multiple languages. Find help from other users.
- WebTicket: Submit a web ticket to PrestaShop to request assistance from their team. PrestaShop claims to respond within five days.
Or, if you’re willing to invest a few Benjamins in support, there are more comprehensive support options available to you.
- PrestaShop Training: Enroll in PrestaShop’s classes to better handle your admin.
- Services: Hire PrestaShope experts to help you through rough spots.
- Support Plans: You can purchase support hours on monthly or yearly plans. In my opinion, these support hours are incredibly overpriced. The lowest plan cost $400 a year and only includes six hours of support!
Here are a few of PrestaShop’s top qualities, appreciated by developers and merchants alike:
- Very nice theme options: I am typically underwhelmed by the theme options available on open source platforms. However, in this category, PrestaShop does much better than its competitors. You can purchase a very attractive theme at a reasonable price from PrestaShop developers (just make sure you choose one that’s mobile responsive!).
- SEO: Users often report an improvement in their search engine traffic when they switch to PrestaShop. I’m not sure why this happens, but it is a noticeable trend.
- Quick loading: Users also report that their sites load faster on PrestaShop. Faster loading sites help your search engine rankings and help keep customers on your site.
Users don’t appreciate the following things quite so much:
- Glitchy: Because you’ll likely have to add on several different modules, operating your admin can get complicated. Modules don’t always work together seamlessly, and upgrades don’t always go over smoothly.
- Expensive support and integrations: PrestaShop’s support plans are very expensive (and not worth it, in my opinion). Modules can add up quickly too. For example, integrations for Amazon and eBay each cost $214.99, and a Stripe integration costs $159.99
- Some themes and modules are outdated: You’ll have to make sure that all of the modules and themes you choose function with the newest version of PrestaShop.
If you’re interested in trying out the platform, PrestaShops offers a readily-available demo. Clicking this link will direct you to a demo admin and storefront. You can try out the software without handing over any contact information at all.
For more information, try our full review of PrestaShop.
WooCommerce (see our review) (now owned by Automattic) is an open source plugin for WordPress. It was launched in 2001 and has since grown to be the dominant platform in eCommerce. According to their recent update, WooCommerce accounts for a whopping 39% of all eCommerce sites on the internet. That’s 1.7 million active stores! Wow!
WooCommerce’s biggest appeal is its integration with WordPress. If you have a WordPress.org site, you can get selling.
You just install the WooCommerce module, and voila! Your blog now doubles as a store.
WooCommerce offers a fairly basic collection of features. They tout a Core+Extensions model, meaning that they offer only the necessary features already built-in. Everything else can be added on via extensions and modules. WooCommerce’s goal with this model is to 1) keep their core platform free and 2) offer light, quick technology.
While WooCommerce does not offer as many built-in features as their competitors, they do still have a few tools that go beyond the basics. Here are a couple of the more advanced features that come with WooCommerce:
- One-page checkout: While single page checkout is not uncommon in eCommerce platforms, it isn’t guaranteed either. I was pleased to see it included in WooCommerce’s features list.
- Product reviews: Let your customer leave reviews of your products. Studies show that customer reviews boost confidence in future customers.
For WooCommerce’s full features list, click here.
WooCommerce offers very limited support. If you need personalized support, you can submit a web ticket, but you should know that WooCommerce will not assist with any problems related to non-Woo products. In fact, you’ll have to disable all non-Woo add-ons before they can help you.
There are also the following resources available:
- Documentation: In-depth information about the platform and its use.
- Video Tutorials: Helpful videos to guide you through setup and common operations.
- Forum: As far as I can tell, the forums are only available to customers who purchase a Woo product.
WooCommerce has a few unique benefits, mostly related to its deep integration with WordPress.
- Attractive WooThemes: WooCommerce has 35 mobile responsive (Woo brand) themes to choose from. Fortunately, they’re also modern and clean.
- WordPress community: When you join WooCommerce, you don’t just join the Woo community; you also join the WordPress community. There are hundreds of thousands of fellow users out there to help you out.
- Frequent updates: WooCommerce releases frequent product updates and new features. Fortunately, new versions are consistently better than the old.
- Tutorials + videos: WooCommerce’s tutorials are comprehensive and very helpful for beginning merchants.
Like every software, WooCommerce has its downsides. These are a few of the most frequent complaints from Woo users:
- Less flexibility: WooCommerce really works best with WooThemes. That means that although third-party themes are available, you’re better off choosing from WooCommerce’s 31 options.
- Limited documentation: Some users say that there isn’t enough documentation available. No everyone agrees on this one, though.
- Messy code: Some developers say the code isn’t as neat as it could be.
WooCommerce does not offer a demo. You have to download the software and implement it in order to try it out. Fortunately, this is fairly easy to do if you already have a WordPress.org theme.
If you think WooCommerce may be the way to go, you can find out more about it in our full WooCommerce review.
The reason I was reluctant to include AbanteCart is not due to any fault in the software. Rather, I hesitated because it is so different from everything else on this list.
The above three solutions boast fantastic customizability at the cost of usability. Not so for AbanteCart. Although AbanteCart is an open source solution, it shares many of the qualities of a SaaS solution.
AbanteCart is much easier to use than other open source platforms, offering easy install options and a low-end WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor.
However, while AbanteCart benefits from usability, it suffers in customizability. Although AbanteCart has been around since 2011, they only support 27,000 active sites, only one tenth of the users of the top players. For this reason, AbanteCart is limited in its add-ons and themes. There just aren’t as many developers in the community contributing to the project.
Here’s what you can expect from AbanteCart.
AbanteCart offers all of the features that I expect from open source eCommerce platforms. Here are a few that go above and beyond my expectations:
- Multi-store: Run multiple stores from one admin. Choose which items display on which sites and monitor your inventory accordingly.
- Content Management System: AbanteCart calls this “layout management.” You can rearrange elements of your site using blocks in the admin.
- Customer reviews: Let customers review your products to boost your credibility.
AbanteCart offers support through a variety of avenues. You can email AbanteCart, or you can use one of the options below.
- Documentation: This comes in two forms: the User Manual and the Developer Guide.
- Troubleshooting: For quick fixes.
- Community Forum: While AbanteCart has a much smaller user base, their forums are still active.
- Abante Experts and Partners: Hire an expert to develop for you.
The benefits of using AbanteCart are very different from the pros I’ve listed for all of the shopping carts above. Here’s what merchants like about AbanteCart:
- Ease of use: AbanteCart partners with A2 Hosting to make installation and implementation easy. When you’ve got your site up and running, you can benefit from a well-organized admin panel with an easy editor for your site’s content.
- Reliable: I found very few merchants reporting bugs in the software. It appears that AbanteCart works without too many hiccups.
- Good forum support: While there aren’t as many users on AbanteCart as on other open source platforms, AbanteCart’s user forum is still fairly active.
Complaints related to AbanteCart are also very different from complaints that are typical of open source platforms. Here are the most common complaints related to AbanteCart:
- Not enough extensions or themes: There aren’t enough developers working on the AbanteCart project to fill the marketplace. Only about 100 extensions and a handful of themes are available.
- Less customizable: Because there are so few add-ons and themes, AbanteCart isn’t as easy to customize. If their plug-and-play options don’t work for you, you’ll have to build your own customizations. It’s still possible. It just isn’t as easy.
AbanteCart partners with A2 Hosting to provide a demo of their product. You just need to hand over your name and email address, and you’ll receive a 15-day demo of the software. There is also a shared demo available here that you can play with without entering any information. Alternatively, you could just go ahead and download the software; it’s free after all.
Or, if you’re looking for more in-depth information about AbanteCart, you can try our full review here.
Making a Decision
It can be difficult to choose between the various open source eCommerce option available to you. In fact, in many cases, one open source cart works just as well as the next.
Sometimes it all comes down to personal preference. For this reason, I’d advise you to demo and download each platform you’re considering. Figure out which admin you like better and make sure your favorite integrations are available.
You’ve come this far in your research; now I encourage you to go on! For more in-depth information about any of these open source platforms, just click the corresponding link below.