6 Free Open Source Shopping Cart Software Options

Why pay for shopping cart software when you can get it for free? Open Source shopping carts are economical, highly customizable, updated frequently and backed by thriving support communities.

Updated on 05/04/2011

Open source shopping cart software is a big deal for a new merchant (or online retailer). One of the most alarming factors when starting your online retail business is the cost associated with commercial and proprietary shopping cart software.

While you can pay a few extra dollars for shopping cart software when signing up for a hosting Web server account, these subscription-based plans don't always offer the shopping cart functionality or design options that meet business needs. For the budget-strained new start-up, this is where open source software comes in to play.

Why Choose Open Source Shopping Cart Software?

Open source software refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design free of charge. Basically, many like-minded programmers create software that costs nothing for you to use and it can also be edited just as freely. The result of this collaboration of professional programmers is called open source software and it can be as feature-rich as its commercial competitors. Best of all, of course, it's free.

Generically, open source refers to a program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design free of charge, i.e., open. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community. Open source sprouted in the technological community as a response to proprietary software owned by corporations.

Open source software is not a new concept, but it was once considered to be lacking in features and incredibly difficult to install without the help of a trained professional. However, now many open source shopping carts are as intuitive as commercial solutions. And, with such a vibrant and active open source community backing the software, there are many options available and lots of support should you need it. To help you decide what's a good fit for you, we've highlighted the features from six of the best open source shopping carts we would recommend.

Open Source Shopping Cart #1: osCommerce

osCommerce is one of the most widely used and highly respected open source shopping cart tools available. The software itself has been developed and improved over the years and new additions and add-ons are submitted on a daily basis. The result is a user-friendly, secure and stable ecommerce shopping cart. osCommerce is one of the best e-commerce solutions available. If it doesn't have a feature you want, and that's unlikely because we've only scratched the surface in this article, then check out the online community because you are virtually guaranteed that somebody somewhere has instructions on how to achieve it.

Easy Shopping Cart Installation: Installation is a breeze; completed entirely through your Internet browser. All features and functions are enabled automatically giving you complete use of the software within minutes of downloading it.

Category and Product Management: There are no limitations in terms of the number of categories or products that you can add. Whether you want to sell just a handful of items or open up the next giant online shopping center, it's your choice. You are also free to sell physical products or digital products according to your own business needs. Search features make it easy for your visitors to quickly and intuitively find products they desire.

Design Implementation and Modification: The design of the front-end software can be easily altered. By using a template structure, osCommerce enables you to change certain aspects of your entire site without having to alter every individual page. You can even link products to display in "similar items" sections and you can automatically display "special offer" items and any other promotions.

Payment Integration: Payment integration is easy. As well as integrating credit/debit cards, checks, and other offline payment methods, osCommerce can be integrated with PayPal, 2CheckOut and many more online payment processors.

Shopping Cart Add-ons: To date there are over 6,500 add-ons available for free to customize osCommerce online stores to help increase sales.

Open Source Shopping Cart #2: Zen Shopping Cart

The Zen shopping cart is another feature-packed, simple-to-use solution backed by a very strong community. As well as offering the same template design structure as osCommerce, Zen Cart offers an excellent range of advanced features that go beyond the general realms of shopping cart functionality. An e-mail and newsletter manager is a very beneficial tool and the flexibility in product and price options is also excellent.

Shopping Cart Installation: Setting up is simple. The installer queries the main Zen Cart database and server to discover the specific requirements for your installation. You don't need to be technically savvy or have any knowledge of programming. As long as you know how to install software and use a browser, you can use Zen Cart.

Inventory and Catalog Management: Unlimited categories, sub categories and products are supported and product option boxes can be added in the shape of radio buttons, drop-down menus and more. Flexibility is the key to successful e-commerce and Zen Cart doesn't just recognize this, it openly encourages it. You can offer discounts according to the number of items a customer buys, you can set a minimum or maximum order level and the price can be determined according to the options that your shoppers choose. You can even implement sale prices according to category, region or individual products.

Customer Retention Tools and Features: Customer retention is important. Zen Cart offers a number of beneficial tools to help improve or maximize your retention levels. Gift certificates, order tracking, referral tracking, newsletter management and customer registration options are just some of the features you can implement on your site.

Payment Processing and Gateway Options: Offline and online payment processing can be fully and easily integrated into a Zen Cart e-store. Again, popular online processors like PayPal and 2CheckOut can be offered to your customers. All in all, Zen Cart is a powerful e- commerce tool with a lot of beneficial features and easy installation.

Open Source Shopping Cart #3: Agora Shopping Cart

AgoraCart is an open source shopping cart offered by Agora, and it is a good one. The shopping cart and catalog can be completely customized to exactly match your requirements thanks to the use of CSS files. This also enables you to change the look and feel of your entire site in just a few minutes and with just one or two changes.

Managing Your Inventory: Categories and products are again unlimited and the flexibility is astounding. As well as being able to add as many categories and as much merchandise as you like, you can manage virtually every aspect of each category. Products can also be handled individually or in batches. You can change the display of products according to their categories, enabling longer descriptions, more images or many other variables. You can even change the design according to the "department" that your customers are viewing.

Merchant Storefront Features: AgoraCart offers a number of order processing and order management features that will help merchants in running their online store. This includes support for multiple payment types, automatic sale stax calculation, order tracking, printable packing slips and more.

Payment Options and Summary: All major offline and online gateways are supported. This includes AgoraPay, set up and maintained by the same company. PayPal integration is also supported. Agora Cart is a very good shopping cart system that can hold its own against Open Source and commercial packages. The community regularly holds competitions to find the best add-ons for the cart, proving that a vibrant and helpful support network exists.

Open Source Shopping Cart #4: NoPCart

NopCart, created by NopDesign, is an extremely simple shopping cart application with the main difference when compared to others being that it is written entirely in JavaScript. This means you can use it on your Web site without having to have CGI access. One potential drawback is that NopCart is lacking in some of the more advanced features. It is only really possible to update basic product information, tax information and a minimum order level.

Simplicity Is Key: However, what NopCart lacks in functionality it more than makes up for in simplicity. Installation is a breeze, with only two files actually required for a standard English language installation. Other language packs are included with the download.

Client-Side JavaScript Application: NopCart is a client side application and this means less load on your server. You should seriously consider using NopCart as your shopping cart software if you have a small site or you already have it packed with files and pages.

Summary: Support is fairly limited for this mostly open-source program. However, its simplicity means that you are unlikely to suffer anything that hasn't already been identified and conquered by the forum users. Overall, it is an excellent and extremely quick way to add shopping cart functions to your Web site.

Open Source Shopping Cart #5: Commerce.Cgi

Commerce.Cgi is one of the oldest and best established of all e-commerce applications. Nearly 10 years have passed since it became the first Perl shopping basket, and being open source, that means a huge amount of development has ensued. As well as a mass of features, Commerce.Cgi provides a backend system that is simple to install and even simpler to manage.

General Cart Features: Included among the quite staggering list of features is the option to offer unlimited products in any amount of categories. You also have the capability to manage a newsletter, offer loyalty promotions and gift certificates, include product reviews and pictures, and much more.

Shopping Cart Options: Full shipping options can be added and amended. This gives you the freedom to charge different shipping amounts depending on location and set a number of other invaluable options. It is compatible with all major online payment processors including PayPal and Authorize.net.

Support: The level of support is also extremely impressive considering this is an open source project. In the support forum you can have questions answered by the community as well as by Commerce.Cgi professionals.

Summary: Commerce.Cgi is one of the oldest and most highly revered e-commerce solutions, and is open source software. Despite being free, it offers an incredible range of features combined with simple installation and a surprising level of support from the support forums.

Open Source Shopping Cart #6: CRE Loaded

CRE Loaded offers several paid/supported shopping cart solutions but the PCI CE Shopping Cart is an open source shopping cart that is open source, community supported and free to use. Store owners who are strong do-it-yourselfers will benefit from less programming and more control.

Shopping Cart Options: The CRE Loaded Community Edition (CE) is a PCI Compliant shopping cart. It includes the CRE Secure PCI Compliant Payment System and many shopping cart options such as account creation, order editing and management, cross-selling, shipping modules, templates and more.

Support: More than 50 community contributions make CRE Loaded (CE) a complete starter application for small business. Support is community-based and available via the CRE forums. If you like the cart you can switch to a fully supported CRE Loaded cart.

Summary: This cart is recommended for ecommerce sites that were developed for the SOHO (small office, home office) store owner who wants to add transactional capabilities to an existing website.

Why Open Source Software Spells Success

Establishing an ecommerce website doesn't have to be an expensive job. In addition to saving you money, using open source shopping cart software can prove more effective and beneficial than commercial software because skilled programmers release new source code and additions to the software on a regular basis. You are free to pick this code up and use it on your own site at no charge. This means that open source shopping cart software always has the functions that e-store owners want.

More Open Source Shopping Cart Software Resources

We've only covered five of the most well known Open Source carts. If you want more, then visit the SourceForge.net Web site, which not only contains Open Source shopping carts, but a vast range of other applications that may be of use to you. You can also learn more about open source shopping cart software in the following articles from Ecommerce-Guide, Small Business Computing and other internet.com sites.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other e-commerce topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com E-Commerce Forum. Join the discussion today!

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