For small-to-medium-sized businesses, establishing an online presence to sell products or services is an absolute must to stay competitive in today’s (and tomorrow’s) marketplace.
At first glance, the premier ecommerce platforms might appear to be a hefty monthly or yearly expense. Fortunately, there are vast number of open source ecommerce platforms that not only have an attractive price tag (many are free!), but they also offer customizability, scalability, and community support that aren’t always found in enterprise solutions.
Of course, opting to use a free open source ecommerce platform to manage online transactions might be an easy decision for your business as you look to get your feet wet in the online marketplace. Choosing the best open source ecommerce platform, however, will prove to be far more difficult. After all, they all have their various strengths and weaknesses.
Fear not, though, as in this article, we’ll introduce you to 10 open source ecommerce platforms that stand out from the rest, both in terms of popularity and utility:
1. Magento Community Edition
You may have heard of Magento’s Enterprise Edition – their flagship ecommerce platform that’s used by the likes of Nike and Samsung, and costs about $16,000 a year. Well, if you’d like a lot of the same features, but at no cost, they also offer the Magento Community Edition.
The great thing about the Magento Community Edition is that it has tons of features, many of which aren’t available on other open source platforms. For example, you can manage multiple stores, choose from a variety of languages, and offer different currencies.
They’re also one of the most popular platforms, and they have lots of users constantly designing new plugins and extensions. This also helps to make their platform extremely flexible and infinitely scalable, which is one of the reasons why Magento is often considered by many to be the premier ecommerce platform.
The biggest downside to Magento is actually an inverse to one of its features: because the community is so big, it’s a beast to navigate. This could mean that you spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the platform, and you may need to be a tech wizard to do everything you want to do.
Also, while the Community Edition is free, there are lots of plugins and extensions you can purchase, so you could still end up spending a pretty penny on this software.
With over 250,000 stores using the ecommerce platform, PrestaShop is very popular due to its ease of use.
It is easy to both install and customize the software, and everything is very intuitive. How much work you’ll put into creating a store using PrestaShop is up to you: you can either download a fully-hosted or self-hosted version, so you can determine your own level of technical control (both are free).
That leads us into the biggest downside of PrestaShop: there’s not a lot of customizing that you can do. If you like tinkering with a bunch of graphics, you’ll likely be disappointed, as you’re not given a lot of leeway with graphic elements.
If you want to really customize your site, you’ll have to purchase additional themes and templates or delve into the code.
OpenCart is especially popular with small businesses that don’t have anyone on staff with a lot of programming experience. It’s fairly simple, without a lot of the other functionalities found in other shopping cart software. This, of course, is a double-edged sword, as less complexity means it’s easier to use, but you might not get as much out of it in the end.
That being said, you can still do a lot with OpenCart, though to really open this program up you’ll need a programmer to help you get around some of the code. You can also choose from a bunch of different plugins to give your site more flexibility.
One of the other great things about OpenCart’s simplicity is the fact that it doesn’t drag on your server. You can slow everything down by adding a ton of plugins, of course, but for most people this should be one of the faster options.
The biggest downside, besides the simplicity, is the fact that it’s so reliant on plugins. That means you may have compatibility issues with different plugins, or you might need an update that may never come. You’re putting yourself at the mercy of plugin developers much more with OpenCart than other software.
All in all, the simplicity of OpenCart has made it the ecommerce platform of choice for daredevil Nik Wallenda.
osCommerce has been one the most trusted open source ecommerce platforms for the last fifteen years. With more than 7,000 community-created add-ons available for the platform, you’ll enjoy a wide range of customizability in designing and enhancing the appearance and functionality of your storefront.
With more than 260,000 store owners, developers, and service providers, osCommerce offers a vast support network, which serves as an excellent resource when things go awry. If you’re having problems with your software, it’s virtually guaranteed that someone else has experienced – and solved – that very same issue.
The downside to older software, of course, is that it’s old – and in osCommerce’s case, that means it doesn’t quite have the horsepower that other, newer options do. It’s not as scalable, and others have more features and just a little more “oomph.”
5. Zen Cart
Zen Cart has one big advantage going for it: it’s got a great product management system. You can do almost anything – and do it easily – in Zen Cart, from controlling inventory to creating specials and sales. It’s total control, right at your fingertips.
However, the system does tend to slow if you’re adding a bunch of new products, so it may not be great for businesses that do massive amounts of volume.
The biggest drawback to Zen Cart is that it’s ugly – at least out of the box. You can gussy it up with new templates, and a talented programmer can make it dance, but if you just want to install and go, your storefront won’t exactly have the cosmetic appeal that the alternatives offer.
6. Spree Commerce
One of the newer ecommerce platforms, Spree is based on Ruby on Rails. Its modular platform and small learning curve make it very easy to configure and upgrade its functionality. That’s why it should come as no surprise that it’s trusted by such retailers as 3D Robotics and Nutrisystem.
Many of the extensions that you might want are supported by Spree itself, instead of independent developers, which is particularly advantageous when you need timely upgrades.
Perhaps the biggest advantages of Spree Commerce are its flexibility and scalability. No matter the size and complexity of your storefront, you’ll be able to customize it to your liking. That’s why it’s widely considered one of the fastest growing open source ecommerce solutions.
7. WooCommerce (WordPress)
Largely considered the leading open source ecommerce platform for WordPress, WooCommerce boasts a large and rapidly-growing user community. Its seamless integration with WordPress makes it a breeze to install and manage, which is one of the main reasons why retailers like Cupcake Studio and EcoKitty have made it their open source ecommerce platform of choice.
The mobile-friendly nature of WooCommerce makes it an appealing choice to brands looking to cater to the growing number of customers that use their tablet or phone to shop. In fact, the platform even enables brands to create a mobile app for their storefront with the installation of an add-on.
Because WooCommerce can only be used with WordPress, it may not be the most attractive solution for some retailers and brands. However, for those already using WordPress, the scalability that WooCommerce offers makes it a particularly appealing option. However, as one might guess, paid extensions are necessary to get the absolute most out of the ecommerce solution.
8. Jigoshop (WordPress)
Another WordPress-based solution that’s been gaining steam is Jigoshop. Like most other open source ecommerce solutions, Jigoshop is rather lightweight on its own. For retailers looking to make the most of their storefront, themes, plugins, and extensions are available for purchase.
Like WooCommerce, Jigoshop is very easy to use – with one big exception. You can’t link variations on the software; meaning, if you were selling t-shirts in all different colors, you couldn’t just specify “blue” as the color for all sizes. You’d have to create a “blue small” option, then a “blue medium” option, and so on – which can be very time-consuming.
Most everything that comes with Jigoshop is very basic, but you can purchase upgrades. This shop will ultimately have as much utility as you can afford to give it.
9. VirtueMart (Joomla)
As the most widely used ecommerce extension for Joomla, VirtueMart makes it a breeze to get your storefront up and running. Its multi-language capability makes it an appealing choice for retailers catering to a global audience, as customers can view product descriptions in their native language.
VirtueMart is SEO friendly, which could potentially drive more organic traffic to the storefront when used properly. This simple, lightweight ecommerce solution also offers invoicing and inventory management capabilities.
While VirtueMart doesn’t have all the features of its competitors, its simple integration with Joomla makes it a popular choice.
10. Drupal Commerce (Drupal)
As one of my most popular open source ecommerce platforms among Drupal users, Drupal Commerce is both flexible and SEO-friendly. It features an easy-to-use administration system, and it is capable of handling some of the more complex payment models, such as those that are subscription-based.
Just as WooCommerce is exclusive to WordPress and VirtueMart is exclusive to Joomla, Drupal Commerce can only be used with Drupal. It’s very basic right out of the box, although they do offer a “Commerce Kickstart” package that gives you a nice head start by providing you with the most popular add-ons.
Whether you’re looking for a basic ecommerce solution, or one that you can supercharge with third-party add-ons, Drupal Commerce is a viable solution as long as you utilize Drupal as your content management platform. Its simplicity and customizability have made it the preferred ecommerce solution for retailers like Lush.
Finding the Best Open Source eCommerce Platform for You
Ultimately, it’s impossible to say what the “best” platform is, as your specific needs will determine which features will benefit you most. If you’re trying to do basic ecommerce, and you don’t need a scalable or customizable option, then one of the smaller, simpler ecommerce platforms could be perfect for you.
On the other hand, if you need a lot of versatility (or you’re willing to pay for a developer), then one of the more high-performance platforms is more likely to suit your needs.
You’re the only one who can decide what’s best for your business. Just remember, though, that people will judge your entire business based on your storefront…so choose wisely.