Zen Cart Review

Zen Cart Shopping Cart Review

By popular request, we take a quick look at Zen Cart’s shopping cart software. In addition to this review of Zen Cart, we’ll be reviewing about 15 other top ecommerce platforms and shopping carts

You can check out the master document of our ecommerce platform comparison here.

Zen Cart Review: What Kind of Merchant Should Use the Zen Cart shopping cart software?

Zen Cart is a popular, FREE open-source ecommerce software solution. It’s PHP-based so PHP programming experience is an absolute necessity. Zen Cart is a branched-off project from the veteran ecommerce software osCommerce, with the major difference being that Zen Cart’s pages are template-based and a bit easier to customize.

The shopping cart has been around since 2003, so there is extensive documentation on its use. Zen Cart also goes toe-to-toe with other major open-source ecommerce software solutions like Magento Community, CS-Cart, and PrestaShop on close to every fundamental ecommerce function.

If you’re just looking to get an ecommerce store off the ground and on the web, then Zen Cart will get the job done. However, don’t expect jaw-dropping designs or highly sophisticated bells and whistles on your site, and PHP programming knowledge/resources is an absolute requirement.

Ideal for: All business sizes, particularly smaller retailers with web development resources

Zen Cart Review: Good Zen Cart Features 
Ecommerce Platform Comparison: Zen CartFeature Grade
Free download, free pluginsA
Can add infinite number of SKUs (but complaints of slow speed for stores with 1000+ products)B
Can sell soft goodsB
Standard marketing tools include newsletters, coupons, gift cards, and banner adsA-
Strong community support from Zen Cart Forum, Wiki, and Tutorials & FAQsA
Very easy installation and setupA-
Backend is extremely customizable and robustA
Powerful product inventory management the Easy Populate plugin makes bulk product imports straightforwardA-
Hundreds of free, customizable title="Zen Cart plugins" href="http://www.zen-cart.com/downloads.php">plugins. Most have a strong "forum support thread"A
Reporting is basic (products purchased, products viewed, low stock products, customer orders, order statuses) but not at all advancedB-

Zen Cart Review: Bad Zen Cart Features 
Ecommerce Platform Comparison: Zen CartFeature Grade
Needs hosting (pretty standard with most open-source ecommerce solutions). Recommended Zen Cart hosting here.C+
Very poor SEO capability and performanceD
No formal, Zen Cart-provided customer support (common with many open-source ecommerce solutions)C-
Lacking quality mobile integrationD
Custom coding is easily lost when updating versions (Zen Cart version 2's release has been talked about for 4 years now)D
Admin interface is overwhelming and lacking designC-
~175 free templates; Very poor out-of-the-box design and aestheticsC
Advanced PHP, HTML, and JavaScript programming needed to get a specific design or to do any sort of customization (high learning curve)C-

You can view many of Zen Cart’s features here and the key features here.

Zen Cart Review: Submit Your Product Data Feed from Zen Cart to Google Shopping

As we’ve seen time and time again, leaving a retailer to create, configure, and export a feed to a comparison shopping engine like Google Shopping often yields many mistakes. Zen Cart offers a free plugin called Google Froogle Feeder (yes, it is dated).  It has worked for many, but failed miserably for others.

Other popular feed export tools for Zen Cart include Numinix’s Google Merchant Center Feeder and MagneticOne’s Google Base Data Feed software.

Zen Cart Review: Notable Zen Cart Examples

Fox Cartel (Apparel)

Main AttraXion (Apparel)

Soldier Gear

Zen Cart Review: Our Zen Cart Bottom Line

Zen Cart is typically preferred by small to medium-small retailers because while it is initially difficult to customize the look and features of the store, many will just set-and-forget the website interface until they’re ready to upgrade to a more advanced, premium solution. The very low overall cost of a Zen Cart store doesn’t hurt either. The biggest costs for Zen Cart will be programming/web development services and hosting.

Ultimately, Zen Cart proves itself to be a solid, highly capable, and very affordable shopping cart. It will cover all the ecommerce essentials a lower-size retailer will require, but it tends to sacrifice design and aesthetics in the process (depending on how good your programmer is). Additionally, the Zen Cart brand has been around a while, and it will continue to be a solid and stable solution.

As a side note, it is absolutely vital that you have a highly skilled and dependable PHP developer on-hand because customizing your store is something you want to get done right the first time.

Overall, Zen Cart will provide retailers with high capability and reliability.

Zen Cart Ecommerce Platform Comparison Grade: B

How do you think this shopping cart stacks up against the rest? Have your voice be heard and your opinion known! Email jon@cpcstrategy.com and request to have your experience be part of this Zen Cart Review.

View the master list of our ecommerce platform comparison to make the most informed choice when choosing your ecommerce platform software.


*Note: Grades are subjectively based on analysis and comparison to other ecommerce platforms, based on availability, significance, and functionality of the platform feature and overall value.