If you're looking for a cheap or free open source ecommerce platform, you've come to the right place.
Well, technically, you could choose just about any ecommerce framework, since the majority of them are rather inexpensive as it is.
However, the open source model has brought about all sorts of praise from the people who use it, especially considering these online store systems are completely free, they're managed and developed by numerous people around the world, and you can typically find lots of documentation and blog posts to guide you along your way.
When researching and choosing any of these ecommerce frameworks, it's important to decide the type of development experience you're looking for.
Here are a few questions you should consider asking yourself:
Are you interested in self-hosting?
Or would you rather pay a small fee per month to have hosting and all ecommerce features wrapped up in one nice package?
One of the main decisions is whether you'd like one of the open source (free) ecommerce platforms or a more user-friendly one that involves a monthly fee.
For instance, you could opt to pay as little as $9 per month for an ecommerce platform like Shopify, which has everything like hosting, a website builder, plugins, marketing tools, and inventory options included.
- Open source ecommerce frameworks are free.
- You often have more creative control over the design and how the store works.
- Open source solutions are often packed with more unique features because they are constantly being developed.
- You can control things like hosting, plugins and themes that would go into your store.
- Open source systems are built by a community. They are incredibly developer friendly and there is great support available from fellow developers.
As always, there are several downsides to open source:
- Open source ecommerce platforms typically require more development or coding knowledge (but you can always hire a developer).
- You have to look around to find a server for hosting by yourself.
- All the site related operations such as maintenance, security, and speed optimization have to be done by you.
- The website designers are usually less user-friendly compared to ones in major ecommerce frameworks like Shopify.
- You don't get dedicated support. So, if you're someone who needs to call or email a support rep, open source might not be for you.
It's entirely up to you to decide which type of platform is right for you, but for now, let's talk about the best open source ecommerce platforms on the market.
Btw, I've done a video version of the tutorial for you in case you want to hear my voice 🙂
1. WooCommerce (On WordPress)
You simply just:
- Log into your WordPress site.
- Go to: Plugins > Add New.
- Search for ‘WooCommerce’.
- Select Install Now.
- Select Activate Now and you’re ready for the WooCommerce Wizard!
It automatically turns any WordPress website into a fully functional online store, with inventory management, coupons, and product pages.
Benefits of WooCommerce:
- The plugin is free to download and install. Many stores don't need anything more than the plugin.
- It connects to all major payment gateways. By default, you are given PayPal and Stripe which are two of the most recognised gateways on the market. Additionally, you can accept payments via Amazon Pay and PayFast
- You can offer coupons and discounts, along with adding multiple other features with the help of the extension library.
- WooCommerce is a very popular platform which means there is fantastic support available. It's worth noting that you should always ensure that you are on the latest version of the plugin before requesting any help
Within WooCommerce's help centre there are 5 options which can provide you with the answer you are looking for.
- WooCommerce 101 – you can watch video material which gives you an explanation in regards to the page you are looking at.
- Help & Support – here you can find links to documentation, the WordPress.org forum as well as the WooCommerce Help Desk where you can submit a ticket.
- Found a bug? – if you spot a bug you can submit these to the WordPress team. You will have to explain in detail what you found and provide screenshots
- Education – WooCommerce has a host of partners which provide customers with courses and training
- Setup Wizard – this wizard puts you back to the beginning and takes you through the process of setting up WooCommerce pages, shipping, taxes and payments.
Downsides of WooCommerce:
- There are plenty of extra expenses such as a WooCommerce theme, extra extensions, hosting, and domain name. It may label itself as free, however, a theme may set you back more than $100 dollars, the domain will be $30 and hosting can be anything from $4 a month to $5,000 for enterprise websites
- WooCommerce has several moving parts. On the surface, it requires hosting + WordPress + the WooCommerce plugin. Beginners can get intimidated by this, especially with tasks like SEO, security, hosting, and caching. There is a big learning curve if you are just starting out which is why new starters opt for something such as Shopify
- You will need some technical knowledge and developer skills for WooCommerce to be cost-effective. If not you will have to outsource to WooCommerce's selection of ‘WooExperts' who offer hourly prices and project prices which can be costly
X-Cart has helped to create over 35,000 online stores, and this has been growing rapidly over the past few years. As with all of these ecommerce platforms on the list, it's free, open source and self-hosted.
X-Cart is often considered one of the fastest open source platforms on the market, and it also has an incredible number of features for you to sink your teeth into. There's also a free trial for the premium plan, which goes for $495 (one-time payment).
Benefits of X-Cart:
- It depends on the package you go with, but you can often get full multilingual and multi-currency support. This is especially good if you are running an enterprise store
- You can integrate your shopping cart with the most reputable payment gateways in the world such as PayPal and Sage
- It's free and open sourced so similarly to WooCommerce there is some great developer support available. It's PHP code means you can easily add additional integrations manually
- The most advanced developers will have all the control they need with X-Cart. It's pretty fun to play around with and is very scalable. As your store grows X-Cart can grow alongside you.
- You can also rest easy knowing that X-Cart is completely secure and PCI Compliant.
Downsides of X-Cart:
- You have no access to direct customer support unless you pay an extra fee. Other than that you will just have to rely on X-Carts self-help tools
- You even have to pay for hosting if you opt for one of the paid plans. Again this can cost anything from $5 a month to several thousand.
- Although the premium plan is only $495 for a lifetime, this still looks somewhat high compared to other options. Also if you need a multivendor plan and then continue to grow the price rises considerably
- There's a good chance you'll have to utilize some sort of manual coding when setting up your store. If you don't need PHP code then you will have to outsource development work which will be costly
3. Zen Cart
The whole reason Zen Cart was created was so that people without development degrees could build their own online stores.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that you don't need any coding knowledge, but it's pretty close.
But, I can assure you this, Zen Cart is more user-friendly than many of the other open source ecommerce platforms, so it might be worth looking into if you want to scale up quickly but you don't have advanced developer skills.
Benefits of Zen Cart:
- Zen Cart is known as a rather secure software, so you know that your site and customer information is protected. Zen Cart knows that security is important and have provided some great security documentation.
- Zen Cart is also great for scaling up a store because of its wide range of features and full customization options. There are modules which developers have already created on Zen Cart which you can download and add to your store
- You can send out HTML emails directly from your website to leads and customers that you have already gathered.
- The Zen Cart community has been going strong for over a decade now which means there is a fantastic experience on hand to help you
- Zen Cart has some great multilingual options available if you are an enterprise store and you are looking to sell internationally
Downsides of Zen Cart:
- The platform doesn't provide any dedicated support. The only way you will receive support is by hiring a dedicated third party.
- It can sometimes be difficult to upgrade your software, also customers have complained in the past that they have lost some of the custom options of their store as a result.
- Although there is a SEO out of the box tool, you need to purchase the more advanced features that other companies would offer for free such as sitemaps and meta tags
- There aren't many add-ons or extensions and there have been reported issues of how they talk to each other. It's likely you will run multiple plugins and some times they don't play ball.
- The templates are far from impressive, but you can still find some made by third parties.
Magento (read our review here) is one of the most popular open source ecommerce platforms, and for good reason.
To start, it has more features than you can ever expect to use. However, this opens up all sorts of avenues when it comes to marketing to your customers and creating things like membership plans, recurring payments, and discounts.
Do you seek complete control over the design and functionality of the site?
If the answer is a solid yes, consider Magento Open Source. It's very similar to that of WordPress, where the community is strong, you can choose from hundreds of thousands of themes, and there are plenty of extensions to get your hands on.
Benefits of Magento:
- It's free, and there's a paid version if you want to upgrade and scale your business accordingly.
- You almost never need to look for an extension with Magento, since the feature list is overwhelming and is available right out of the box. This includes features such as coupons, sitemaps and bulk import/export as well as conversion tools such as one-page checkout and order tracking
- You can send out product alerts to customers for automated marketing. This can include price alerts and back in stock messages
- The platform lets you make separate multi-lingual sites that load up depending on the user's location. This is a great feature for large or enterprise stores
- You can customize the user interface and admin area as well as your store so it will look unique
Downsides of Magento:
- Magento is packed with features, but that can also make it clunky and resource-hungry. Therefore, you might have to allocate a decent amount of money and time for optimization as this may slow down your site.
- Although you can learn how to use Magento, the main reason you would consider it is if you had development skills. Larger companies are known to go with Magento because they have the access and money to get a developer who knows development code.
- Similar to the other options so far you are on your own in regards to customer support
- Magento is very good for Enterprise customers which you can see above, so it can be quite expensive when you take into consideration the costs for themes, hosting and the domain
Compared to other open source platforms, OpenCart (read our review here) is actually pretty easy to use and lightweight. It's free and there is a decent community to turn to if you have problems when designing your store.
I recommend it for startups since it doesn't take too much time to customize the website from scratch.
Due to the ease of use, the overall cost of setting up a store typically decreases. For instance, you don't have to pay for a special developer, the themes aren't expensive and you definitely don't need any additional plugins.
The lookout and user experience has dramatically improved over the past few years and is much more user-friendly.
Benefits of OpenCart:
- The startup costs are pretty low, the download is free and there are some great themes which are available for free as well
- The features are solid, and the large catalog functionality works wonders for order processing. For example, Open Cart offers different sizes, colors, length and height as product options out of the box.
- The average person should be fine with setting up OpenCart. Not to mention, it doesn't suck down resources like Magento and they learning curve is much less time-consuming than Magento.
- Open Cart offers access to the most renowned payment gateways as well as the more niche ones that you may have a preference towards
- Do you have multiple stores or plan to? You can set products to appear in different stores as well as offering different prices on each. You can then personalise each store as you wish
Downsides of OpenCart:
- When you look at the feature list of Magento compared to OpenCart, it's no comparison. Magento is probably OpenCart's biggest competitor in this list but Magento wins by a landslide in regards to features.
- You will need to add lots of add-ons for OpenCart to work for you which means it can get very expensive.
- Although it's easier to use for beginnners, this means that the customization options are also fewer. You might consider OpenCart as one of the few open source ecommerce platforms that experienced developers would rather avoid.
- Similar to Zen Cart the updates that are rolled out can cause issues to your website if it has a lot of custom elements on it. Bugs will invariably appear as they can't be tested on every custom website
PrestaShop is somewhat new in the ecommerce platform game, but it's made a name for itself with its ease of use and the beautiful interface it provides. Another thing to consider is that it doesn't take much experience to install the plugin and get started on building your store.
Therefore, small start-up businesses will find it pretty easy to get started.
Benefits of PrestaShop:
- PrestaShop has a user-friendly interface with effortless inventory management and a process for store maintenance that anyone could understand. Additionally, you can use PrestaShop's live demo before you register so you can have a little try
- PrestaShop provides a beautiful interface for establishing different websites for multiple languages and currencies. You can also translate the back-office admin area of your website as well. PrestaShop currently offers 75 different languages.
- This is a fairly lightweight ecommerce platform so you don't have to worry about it slowing down your site or running slowly when you design the site on your computer. as opposed to Magento.
- It has multi-vendor support similar to Open Cart if you want to run multiple stores.
- PrestaShop arguably has the best collection of themes in this entire list. On their site, they currently offer over 4,500 templates which ensure the majority of websites on the platform look different
The themes can be divided up based on a number of categories including:
- Compatibility – you can search for themes based on what version of PrestaShop you are using
- Category – find a theme based on your industry
- Style – what is your brand? Do you need a clean, minimal or baroque style website?
- Functionality – is a particular functionality important to you? Do you have lots of products? Then a mega menu might be important to you
- Developer – only want to look at themes developed by premium developers? Then you can sort based on how prestigious the development company is
Downsides of PrestaShop:
- PrestaShop isn't as robust as other options like Magento, so the scalability isn't quite there. You could expand into a large, international store using the software, if necessary. However, it's really suited for small to mid-sized businesses.
- It's not required to install any extra modules for a regular online store, but more often than not it seems like you'll need to pay for some sort of extension and they aren't cheap.
- The default theme provided isn't nearly as nice looking as you would find on other open source software, such as the Storefront option supplied by WooCommerce
- PrestaShop is a little lightweight in terms of marketing tools. For instance, you can't cross-sell products which is a criticism that is widely put to them
With osCommerce (read our review here), you have access to a thriving community of developers and users, with a wonderful forum to check out solutions to your problems and talk with other people. Almost 300,000 online stores are made with osCommerce, so you know there are plenty of companies that already find it suitable.
The pricing is obviously a plus since you don't have to pay a dime to launch an online store. I would also give it top marks for the features, online support, and ease of use.
Benefits of osCommerce:
- The online support is pretty amazing. Obviously, you're not going to be getting direct support, but the osCommerce forum has millions of active conversations that you can search. You also have the option to share your own thoughts or questions. Over 1.5 million posts have currently been added to the forum.
- Similar to WordPress, the strong community means that you also have access to many plugins and add-ons. Developers mostly give these out for free, but you'll also find some that you have to pay for, or somewhere you might need to upgrade in order to get better features. You simply just click the add on below and you can download them instantly to your store.
- One of the great things about osCommerce is that it's easy to open up and make more advanced customizations to. Even less experienced developers can go in there and make modifications rather easily. In addition, you shouldn't have any problem finding and paying a developer to work with osCommerce.
- There are over 7,000 free features to take advantage of. We've talked regularly about how much overall costs can accumulate to with websites, but perhaps osCommerce is one of the cheapest in this list.
Downsides of osCommerce:
- The main reason you might consider going with something different like Magento is due to the reason that osCommerce isn't known to scale that well. It's entirely possible to make a larger ecommerce website, but I recommend it purely for small to midsized stores.
- The osCommerce software requires more maintenance than other platforms. This means that you'll have to spend more time making updates, keeping the site secure, and working on things like SEO.
- Because of your ability to really play around with the code in osCommerce, it can be more prone to errors and breakages. You probably don't want an ecommerce site to ever break, so it's important to find an excellent developer who knows how to protect the site. Currently, there is only two osCommerce approved developers to assist you, which is a little worrying
- There have previously been question marks surrounding the security of osCommerce and a hack of osCommerce users in 2011 proved there is work to do on this front
JigoShop (read our review here) often gets compared to WooCommerce because of its ease of use and clean interface. You can also expand the functionality of the site with a wide range of plugins and add-ons, making your website far easier to scale up.
Overall, the development of JigoShop has improved over the years, so you'll find that JigoShop is pretty easy to pick up, even as a beginner. You'll find a basic dashboard, incredible themes (which are better than most themes from other platforms,) and a speedy interface when adding anything from products to promotions.
Benefits of JigoShop:
- You can't find an easier to use open source ecommerce platform than this. Other than WooCommerce, this would also be top on my list for beginners or intermediates. Jigoshop recognise this and similar to PrestaShop they offer a demo version of both the front end and the backend of the website before you download.
- You can choose from a large selection of themes, many of which are some of the best-looking themes on the market. There is a 14-day money back guarantee on the themes and you can also get a 10% discount of your next purchase in the store if you leave a review
- It's fairly easy to edit the code for your site, however, there aren't any website development partners listed on your site so you will be editing code by yourself.
- The integrations are aplenty, similar to that of WordPress where you can search online for the type of add-ons you want and it returns dozens of solutions. There are currently 40 free extensions as well to get you up and running.
Downsides of JigoShop:
- You don't get any options for customer support. You're left to the forums and blog posts that JigoShop provide.
- The initial feature set isn't all that plentiful so you are expected to install some add-ons. As I mentioned 40 of them are free which is helpful. Unfortunately as well there isn't any free SEO options which a lot of other open source platforms provide
- Although the themes look wonderful you'll have a hard time locating themes for free. You can find some free solutions, but these are usually a little watered down. Therefore, if you go with JigoShop you should keep the theme expenses in your mind.
- As JigoShop isn't particularly popular at the moment there isn't a lot of partners listed on their website. As you can see below there is only one option for website hosting.
Drupal is one of the most common options to go with when designing any kind of website. It's one of the close competitors of WordPress since a strong percentage of the internet is powered by Drupal.
Not to mention, you can make pretty much any type of website with it.
As for Drupal Commerce, this is a separate module that allows you to build your ecommerce site rapidly on top of your already existing website, and it's one of the best solutions if you plan on scaling up quickly.
The bonus is there's a huge community of people behind Drupal, so you can turn to the forums, social pages, and blogs for support.
Benefits of Drupal Commerce:
- Drupal was designed with the idea that only professionals were going to use it. This is why if you're a developer you'll feel right at home. The initial goal of Drupal has carried over throughout the years and it's one of the main reasons it's so powerful. There are very strict development standards on the Drupal webste that must be adhered to, to ensure high quality output
- It has built-in caching, so the overall speed and performance are much better than other open source ecommerce platforms such as Magento.
- Unlike many other free open source solutions, Drupal Commerce has its own security system built in. It also gets updated frequently to ensure that any bugs that are reported by users are fixed.
- The online community is always there to help you along your way. There is also an extensive help guide available on Drupal's website as well as a very helpful video library
Within the video library you can find the following materials:
- Ecommerce basics
- Drupal new release webinars
- Drupal presentations from ecommerce conferences
- Product tutorials
Downsides of Drupal Commerce:
- You're going to have a tough time running an online store if you're new to Drupal Commerce. It's hard to learn and most of the discussion in the community is coming from more experienced developers.
- Drupal Commerce websites can become resource hogs since they often turn into large sites with lots of components and modifications.
- Drupal Commerce was created by the people behind the ‘Commerce Guys' and if you need support from them this comes at a price. For site modifications, onboarding and auditing this starts at $580 a month
- Even if you're an experienced developer, you might find the interface complicated, also the development guidelines are very restrictive.
- There's no chance of paying for a low price host with Drupal Commerce. You need high power and speed, preferably a VPS or dedicated server.
10. WP eCommerce
WP Ecommerce is the overshadowed cousin of WooCommerce. They're not technically related at all, but it's a solid WordPress plugin that doesn't get nearly as much attention as WooCommerce.
Let me tell you how it works. First, you install WordPress on your hosting server, followed by the WP eCommerce plugin.
This transforms a regular WordPress dashboard into an ecommerce control center. So, you can add products, run promotions, create categories, and more.
As simple as that!
Smaller sites will be fine with the plugin, but you have to install paid add-ons for extra functionality.
Benefits of WP ecommerce:
- The plugin supports about a dozen payment gateways, but WP eCommerce provides support if you need to go with a gateway that isn't in the system.
- The backend is easy to navigate and the frontend results look pretty clean and modern. What's more is that you can customize all of this easily with some simple CSS and HTML.
- WP ecommerce offers a robust coupon feature that allows one-time use, values based on percentages or a hard number. You can also put restriction on certain products from the discount.
- You can pay for direct customer support.
- SSL is provided out of the box for your checkout on your store.
Downsides of WP ecommerce:
- There aren't many add-ons, in fact, there are only 16 available in the store.
- The multi-lingual tools are just okay. Apparently, there are more advanced multilingual and multi-currency tools coming in the near future, so I'll see how that goes.
- You can pay extra for premium support which offers training videos however there are a number of reviews on WordPress that suggest these aren't actually given to you. Currently, the training videos just go to a 404 page.
- You're not going to find nearly as many WordPress themes for WP eCommerce as you are for WooCommerce.
- According to the WordPress site, the plugin hasn't been updated in the last year
Ubercart is often compared to Drupal Commerce in blog posts.
Drupal Commerce was created by an old Ubercart developer. Therefore, many people argue that Ubercart is the best because it's the original and has more features to play around with, while others state that Drupal Commerce is the more improved version of Ubercart.
This is what you can normally find when an employee leaves his or her company to create an own and fire up the competition.
But, there are significant differences, making it rather important to find the one that fits your business the best. It would be a pain to migrate from one to the other after making a wrong choice.
In short, both are highly customizable, but Drupal Commerce is more geared towards complex customizations. Most of the differences can be found in the extensions and add-ons since some extensions just aren't available in each library.
That's why it's essential to research which add-ons are needed for your company before pulling the trigger on an ecommerce platform like this.
Benefits of Ubercart:
- The activity logging in Ubercart is a fancy way to locate order statues no matter where a customer is in the purchasing process.
- Although both Ubercart and Drupal Commerce are developer friendly, I'd argue that Ubercart is better for less experienced users.
- It's simple enough to work well for smaller stores, but you do have the capabilities to expand.
- There are some fantastic tutorials on how to perform actions that are frequently asked. Just click them and it links through to their YouTube channel.
- Payment modules and shipping options are all packaged into the open source ecommerce platform. Therefore, you don't have to think much about that when launching.
Downsides of Ubercart:
- The customization controls are less powerful in Ubercart when compared to Drupal Commerce. This can be a good thing for newer developers, but some more advanced users might want more.
- Although you can scale up to support lots of products and product variants, Drupal Commerce is definitely more suitable for a large online store.
- Ubercart advertise a demo version of their platform, however, when you click this the website doesn't exist
- As you can see from the screenshot above, Ubercart hasn't been updated since February 2018 which is almost a year. Open source platforms develop bugs and need to be updated more regularly than that.
- The SKUs are not as cut and dry as the competition, so users may have trouble when working with weight calculations for shipping.
Is An Open Source Ecommerce Platform Right for You?
I just want you to know that there are many other open source software which I haven't mentioned.
The best part is every single one of these is free and constantly in development. That's a huge plus if you'd like to save a little money in the short term and scale up easily in the long term.
Even though open source ecommerce platforms have their advantages, you should seriously consider a non-open source solution like Shopify, Bigcommerce, or Volusion. With these platforms you only pay a small monthly fee, you don't have to maintain your site as much or look for hosting, and always get dedicated customer support.
In my opinion, this type of ecommerce frameworks is for rapidly scaling companies that are going to hire a developer (or a team of developers) to run the entire website. But if you don't have the money for this type of employee, you're better off scaling up with something like Shopify.
If you have any questions about this take on open source ecommerce platforms, let us know in the comments below.
Featured image by Damian Kidd