When it comes to selling products online, selecting the right shopping cart is the backbone to your success. There are dozens of e-commerce platforms available and comparing them side by side is an increasingly complicated task. Most shopping carts can be broken up into 2 main categories, leased and owned. Leased shopping carts like Big Commerce and Shopify are cookie cutter shopping cart websites for one size fits all that charge a monthly fee. The first drawback of these leased shopping carts is that each business is different and there really is no such thing as one size fits all. The second drawback is that you will never own your website. All of the hard work you put in building the website, money you have spent with a developer, add-ons or marketing is gone the day you stop paying their monthly fees.
This is why our analysis will focus only on shopping cart platforms that are owned or open source. This means that once you download the website software, it is yours to keep. You are free to edit and modify as you wish. The 3 platforms we are exploring are WooCommerce, Opencart and Magento. Each one is vastly different and offers it’s own set of advantages and disadvantages. Each one has features that may work extraordinarily well for one business but perform poorly for another. We will give examples of the types of business ideal for each platform.
WooCommerce isn’t a shopping cart platform per se but more of a shopping cart add-on for the popular content management system (CMS), WordPress. WooCommerce is the lightest of the 3 shopping cart platforms and is ideal for smaller stores. Since it attaches to WordPress, it is ideal for users that have or need a blog or CMS website. Say you are a museum that has lots of pages for exhibits, admissions and coming attractions but also has a gift shop. This is the perfect platform for you.WooCommerce can handle the online sales for your gift shop. WooCommerce is ideal for businesses that sell 1 to a few hundred products and these products are not the primary source of income.
The main drawback to WooCommerce is that you must be running WordPress to use it. WordPress is an excellent platform and if you are looking for a new site anyway, you should consider it. The other drawback to WooCommerce is doesn’t have the advanced inventory management tools that larger platforms have so a few dozen to a few hundred product is ideal. The software has many great add-ons that can help you with some of the drawbacks but they can be pricey and compromise the stability of the site so it is best to use this with smaller inventories on a website whose main focus is not e-commerce.
Opencart is a completely stand alone shopping cart platform that is a great fit for the largest segment of e-commerce stores. It is driven off of PHP script using a MySQL database that can run on just about any server setup. It is quite powerful and is ideal for businesses whose primary source of income is product sales. It can comfortably handle anywhere from 1-10,000 products depending on configuration and is ideal for 500-5000 products. It has the easiest to use administration area of any e-commerce platform we have tested and has nearly every tool needed to run most web stores right out of the box.
Opencart also has an extensive online community for support and over 12,000 add-ons that give it just about any capability including blog, SEO and caching. Out of the box, Opencart has limitations for SEO, product and customer management and a few other minor areas but can be easily configured with one of many extensions to strengthen these areas. The latest 2.0 Opencart version has an integrated extension installer much like the WordPress plugin installer. Opencart’s ability to set up product variables, shipping services, payments and integrating with your eBay and Amazon store are some of the best we have seen.
Although most users have every feature they need with a stock install, many users will find the need for several extensions to optimally run their store. This is typically an added cost but usually a very minimal one. Opencart has yet to integrate with popular point of sale systems so larger companies with advanced inventory controls might find Opencart a bit lacking which brings us to our next shopping cart.
Magento is by far the king of all shopping cart platforms and is offered in 2 versions, Enterprise and Community Edition. We are concerned with the downloadable, fully licenced and open source Community Edition (CE). Magento CE has every tool you will ever need to run a large scale e-commerce website. Right out of the box it has advanced customer and catalog tools as well as SEO and caching programs for very large websites. We have seen Magento stores handle over 100,000 products with the greatest of ease. Why not just start with Magento if it’s that great? Because it is overkill for most store owners. It can be like shoveling snow off your sidewalk with a bulldozer.
This platform really isn’t for everyone. It is extremely complicated and there’s a steep learning curve just to run your store. You must have some web development skills just to run patches and updates. Most users without these skills will shell out Several 100 to several 1000’s of dollars annually just to have a developer keep their store up to date. Build and extension costs are quite high as well. Opencart extensions run $10-50 while Magento extensions can run $100-1000s and a basic Magento build is often 2x the price of an Opencart build.
With that being said, Magento is right for some users. Users with very large inventories will benefit from Magento’s rich features as well as those who need their inventory integrated with their current management system or Point of Sale. Magento can cache pages more effectively than any other platform to allow visitors to access any page of even the largest catalogs very quickly. If you are running a company that needs the features of the most powerful website and has the resources to do so including deep pockets and\or an in house developer, then this is the store for you.