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Top 10 Free PHP Shopping Carts: Pros and Cons


July 22, 2011

With so many PHP shopping cart products available for download, choosing one that best fits your ecommerce project is not easy. In this review, I offer my impressions of the 10 popular free PHP shopping carts to help you decide which one to use.

PHP Shopping Cart #1: Virtuemart

One of the most popular free shopping carts available, Virtuemart, is a Joomla component. The community is large and you can find help on many forums. The user's manual is included in the installation package. Many shipping and payment modules are already installed; you just need to enable the ones you need. Tax rates by country, combined with currency and language settings, can help you adapt your store to the local market. This shopping cart also supports reports by date and by individual product, but it doesn't have the option to create low stock reports.

Also, you could make use of third-party Virtuemart modules, as well as Joomla modules. However, this can create problems when bugs and compatibility issues arise.

My overall impression is that except minor potential issues, this is a really great cart that can help you run your ecommerce site.

PHP Shopping Cart #2: PrestaShop

PrestaShop is a great choice for a quick ecommerce set up. Installation takes only two minutes, and after an install you can watch helpful video tutorials or download the free user's guide. The admin layout is good, and the overall look-and-feel, which features a nice sales-of-the-week graph, is even better.

While sometimes buggy, PrestaShop is feature-rich -- until it comes to shipping. Although FedEx and UPS are supported, you don't have the option to calculate standard shipping based on weight.

Module cost is another disadvantage of this cart, because a great number of its modules are not free.

PHP Shopping Cart #3: TomatoCart

The developers of TomatoCart have done a great job making the cart very easy to install and use. The installation takes no more than two minutes, and the admin tool is very easy to use, especially for Windows users as it has the same look and feel. It also offers many useful options such as gift certificate and coupon creation and integrated payment options, such as Paypal, Moneybookers and the Authorize.net gateway.

The default template has a modern design, and the visual user experience features a carousel slideshow for products.

There are a few shipping options, but TomatoCart doesn't support automatic UPS or FedEx shipping cost calculation. Furthermore, it doesn't have a system for installing custom modules, which makes the modifications more difficult.

PHP Shopping Cart #4: Magento

Magento is not easy to install, as it requires a PHP extension that is not installed on all servers by default. But once installed, it becomes obvious why it is so popular.

It supports a "shop by category" option, which is similar to eBay, and offers most shipping and payment options. One of its exceptional features is the ability to run multiple shops from one backend.

Magento is highly customizable but not user friendly. Installation requires server knowledge, and the backend can be confusing at times. Also, it occasionally runs very slowly, so buying a powerful server is a must.

Overall, I found this shopping cart best suited for people who want to run a serious ecommerce business and can afford the required server and Web development resources.

PHP Shopping Cart #5: OsCommerce

The osCommerce shopping cart's greatest strength is security. The admin login is blocked after three unsuccessful attempts, and you can also change the path to the admin folder or set the minimum and maximum order field values.

The user features are good as well. You can easily offer discounts to your users, and improve their satisfaction by allowing them to write a review. Also, they can share a product on Facebook or Twitter.

OsCommerce also supports different product versions, which is great for selling software or products that are sold in many colors. There are many integrated payment options to choose from (Paypal, Moneybookers, Authorize.net, 2Checkout, etc.). It also enables you to customize your store according to market by adding currencies and languages. Though custom modules can be installed, you need some PHP knowledge to make them work correctly.

PHP Shopping Cart #6: OpenCart

Unlike Magento, OpenCart is easy to install and set up. The user experience is great -- customers can shop by brand, read or write product reviews and see related products. Website owners should also be satisfied with this cart -- there are minimal bugs, the product stock status and versions can be set, and much more.

One of the negatives of OpenCart is that its pre-installed options are limited. It relies heavily on third-party modules. For example, FedEx and UPS calculations can be set up only through a custom module. Also, the reporting features are lacking. For example, reports such as the low stock report are not supported.

PHP Shopping Cart #7: OsCSS

The first thing you will notice about the OsCSS ecommerce software is that French is the only language choice during installation. Although the cart supports multiple languages and they can be installed manually, the developers decided not to pre-install English. Also, some installation options don't work well. For instance, if you decide to disable URL rewriting, your cart won't work at all.

When you log in to the admin interface, the impression of OsCSS is much better. Some of the most notable functions are the ability to upload custom modules, create an XML sitemap and install multiple languages.

The biggest disadvantage of this software is the checkout module, which lacks integration for the most popular payment options.

PHP Shopping Cart #8: Zen Cart

Zen Cart software may be difficult to use for users with no Web development knowledge. It offers many customization options, but they are not organized well and not easy to understand. Furthermore, when the software is installed, it requires that you manually edit files in order to change the location of the admin folder.

On the other hand, the overall user experience is good. Zen Cart supports most of the important options for a shopping cart, but some of them, such as VeriSign or Worldpay payments, must be installed manually.

If you need a feature-rich ecommerce solution and you are ready to spend some time learning how to use it, install Zen Cart.

PHP Shopping Cart #9: Cube Cart

Cube Cart is very user friendly. It is installed quickly, and the admin is easy to use. However, it is not as feature rich as other shopping carts. A Cube Cart shopping cart cannot be fully adapted to local markets as it doesn't support different tax rates for countries. It has multiple shipping options, but FedEx is not supported. Users can pay via Paypal, Moneybooker or the Authorize.net gateway, but there is no integration for VeriSign.

Shopping experience features shopping by category and mailing list modules. Cube Cart is also somewhat buggy, but it can be useful if you need a quick and simple solution.

PHP Shopping Cart #10: Ubercart

For those who like to use Drupal, Ubercart can be very useful. This module offers quick installation and setup. Many shipping and payment options are integrated and are available in the core installation.

The problem with this module is that many features require third-party solutions, that is, other Drupal modules. Keeping in mind that it lacks a good user's guide and that most bugs don't get fixed, module incompatibility problems could be very difficult to overcome. Moreover, there are many small bugs, which can also be difficult to fix.

However, it works well with the CCK module. If you like Drupal and want to run an ecommerce site, consider this solution.

About the Author

Voja Janjic is a PHP programmer with more than four years' experience.

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