- Large number of free and paid themes
- 13,000+ extensions
- Open-source code for flexible use
- Relatively easy to use
- Programming knowledge is a must
- Dated backend design
- Expensive OpenCart Cloud service
As one of the few open-source ecommerce platforms, OpenCart has an advantage that many paid competitors just cannot compete with. But that doesn’t mean that it lacks the necessary range of features and functionalities, however, with the robust package powering more than 350,000 business across the globe. Having initially been released in 1998, OpenCart was later revived by a UK-based developer, Daniel Kerr, who rebuilt the service with PHP, MySQL, and HTML. Since OpenCart is freemium, it has a powerful and active community backing it and won't come with a bill for use of the platform itself, only for the extras – domains, extensions, hosting services – that are added to the core service. And even these payments don’t need to be done without a backing of knowledge: OpenCart can be tested with a demo version of both the frontend and backend.
Getting started with OpenCart isn't as easy as with its paid competitors because in order to start using the service you will first need to obtain a web hosting account, buy a domain name, create a database on the server hosting your store, and finally install the OpenCart platform downloaded from its website.
You'll then be able to start playing around with all the services provided by OpenCart. Unfortunately for non-coders, back-end customization requires some knowledge of PHP programming, so you would be better off hiring someone who ‘speaks’ this language. Otherwise, the dashboard provides a complete overview of the available features and once you are accustomed to the slightly dated design of OpenCart, navigating through the settings and putting products online becomes an easy task.
OpenCart comes with 311 free and 1,301 paid themes ranging from $20 to a massive $6,000 (though admittedly there’s only one template at this price), all available for download from the platform's marketplace. This is a place that users will visit frequently, but more on that later.
The themes that users download from either OpenCart's marketplace or third-party stores are mobile friendly, a must-have these days as mobile checkout is more popular than ever. However, with a bit of coding knowledge a template can be turned into a fully customized storefront reflecting your personal style. Still, even the stock backend provides the basic tools that store owners need to add both physical and digital products to their storefront. The SEO section of the product backend will require some work too, but adding keywords is a great way to help Google's search algorithm find your items.
The core package that OpenCart provides gives users just the basic tools for launching an online store, but to expand the platform's capabilities there are 13,000 extensions to select from – one of the major advantages of having such an active community behind the service. OpenCart also gives its users the opportunity to localize their store, so your potentially international customers will understand what is being sold.
As mentioned above, the marketplace is the key to setting up the store as the core package doesn't include shipping or tax options, for example. Users will need to select a relevant extension from the free or paid ones available in the store, the decision of which being based on customer reviews or personal preference. OpenCart supports 36 payment gateways, including household names such as PayPal, authorize.Net, Skrill, and Amazon Payments. The extensions will also mean integration with FedEx and UPS services are a piece of cake.
The freemium service's core package includes neat business option, too, such as recurring payment collection and marketing tools like issuing gift cards to specific customers. This complements the coupon options, and with the email function there is a utility that helps in communicating the good news of discounts to customers.
The wide range of extensions available in the OpenCart marketplace is certainly one of its most standout features as it makes this freemium platform stand out in a crowded industry. Since there are so many extensions to choose from, the filtering options are a great help: users can reduce the results either by category – shipping method, payment gateway, etc. – by price, or by recent updates. Of course, pricing is the biggest differentiator since it’s the extensions that you are paying for; though it is a freemium service, this doesn't mean that all the extensions in the OpenCart marketplace will be free. The ratings will also help you make a selection, so it is definitely worth spending some time browsing through the available extras to get the best value for money.
Since OpenCart is an open-source ecommerce platform, business owners looking to launch an online storefront on a budget can get the whole package for free. But this actually only means access to the core service, which doesn't include hosting or domain costs or the fee for any additional services integrated via extensions.
Along with the free version, OpenCart also markets a cloud-based platform under the name of OpenCart Cloud. The service comes in three flavors – Bronze, Silver, and Gold – requiring monthly subscriptions of £25 (~$32), £50 (~$64), and £150 (~$192) respectively. The only real difference between these is the amount of storage included, which starts from 5GB and goes up to 75GB. Customers opting for the Gold plan will also get phone support.
If you are stuck with an issue while using OpenCart, then help can be found through multiple channels. The community forum, for example, is a great way to get started, but it’s also possible to get a response to question by opening a ticket through the contact page. OpenCart's support is available Monday to Friday between 8am and to 5pm in UTC+8, because the company’s offices are located in Hong Kong.
For those looking to get more prompt help from professional technical support staff, OpenCart has a dedicated support option. This paid service has two pricing methods, the first being for a one-time fix at a flat fee of $99, and the second that's actually a support subscription. For $99 per month, store owners will have access to a dedicated team for fixing bugs, consultation, and much more prompt responses.
Getting into online sales comes at a cost, but OpenCart's free platform will help save some serious cash if you are on a budget. Of course, there are still other costs here such as the need to pay for a host server, domain name, and the like, and knowing how to code yourself will save you the cost of hiring a web designer.
If you accept the limitations and the dated backend design offered by the freemium package, then OpenCart is a solid platform that will help you get your storefront online. And since users don't have any monetary obligations, they are free to move to any other platform if they aren't satisfied with what is on offer. Even so, the freedom to fully edit the code and customize absolutely everything means that most users will likely find themselves staying loyal to OpenCart’s solid ecommerce platform.
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