WooCommerce vs Zen Cart

So, you have finally decided to start an online store and you want to know what options are out there. Finding the best shopping cart software can be confusing, especially if you are just starting out. We can understand and appreciate that this decision is an important one, as no one wants to spend time building an online store with one software, and then later on realise that they need to switch to another platform.

WooCommerce is the best-known e-commerce solution in the industry, but Zen Cart has a long history behind it. Both platforms boast some good features and are open source. But, when both have so much to offer, how do you choose which one to go for? That is where we come in. Here, you can get an in-depth look at the pricing, features, design, and customer support of each. By the time you finish reading the article, you will know more about the specifics in which one succeeds and the other doesn’t match up.

If you’re looking to get into e-commerce and expand your business, then you are probably already looking at WooCommerce. This is a free shopping cart plugin that integrated perfectly into WordPress and it powers 39% of all e-commerce stores so you could say that people like it.

WooCommerce boats low set up fees and it is very affordable to operate in the long run. Looking at its history and stability, it is clear why so many people trust WooCommerce with their store. WooCommerce is perfect with both small and large stores so no matter where you are at currently, WooCommerce will serve you well.

WooCommerce vs Zen Cart – Brief Overview

WooCommerce – Overview

WooCommerce - Overview

WooCommerce is the most popular e-commerce platform in the world and it was recently acquired by Automattic which is the company behind WordPress. It was launched back in 2011 by WooThemes as a way to add a shopping cart feature to WordPress websites since there are so many websites powered by it so it made sense to provide such extension for all existing websites.

WooCommerce is an open source plugin that is free to download and use. It is a perfect option for those who’ve been using WordPress before and that currently have WordPress website online. This is because you can add an e-commerce function to your website in minutes and start selling products. In short, those who love WordPress will also love WooCommerce.

WooCommerce is also the best option for beginners. This is because WordPress is easy to learn and just by playing around the dashboard, you will learn most of the things you need to know to run a successful website and store.

Because WooCommerce is an open source software, you don’t have to worry about any limitations. WooCommerce is also a very stable and mature platform and can be scaled to any level without any problems. It also has a massive community behind it that are constantly adding features and making improvements to the platform.

Even though it is free to download, there are no features that are lacking so you will get enough tools to get your store started on day one. You also have the option to install plugins on the go, and you won’t be hit with hidden costs of running a store.

Zen Cart – Overview

Zen Cart - Overview

Zen Cart is an open source e-commerce platform that is based on PHP and MySQL and you can download and use it for free. This also means that there are definite limitations. Zen Cart used to be a part of OsCommerce and the two split back in 2003 when Zen Cart wanted to make some major changes to the software.

The Zen Cart community is big and most of the new development of the platform is done by volunteer developers who want to maintain the platform and make it better. If you’re not tech savvy, then you might encounter many difficulties with Zen Cart because it is not an intuitive platform, plus it is an open source and community-based software. Support is there but it is very limited, mostly in the form of self-help options.

Zen Car might be better suited for large businesses who have access to large resources for web development. You can customise the templates but it requires PHP programming experience. It is impossible to just download the software and have your online store up and running without putting in time into coding.

WooCommerce vs Zen Cart – Design & Customisation

 

WooCommerce – Design & Customisation

The great thing about WooCommerce is that it works with any WordPress theme. If you already have an existing WordPress website, then you can just add the plugin to it without the need to purchase a new theme. WooThemes (the creator of WooCommerce) also offers themes that are specifically designed to work perfectly with WooCommerce. They offer a free flagship theme called the Storefront which is constantly updated and improved by WooThemes.

The cost of themes usually varies from free to $39-139 and it is a one-time fee. It is also possible to easily customise your current theme and look of the store via WordPress editor. The good thing about WordPress interface is that it is very easy to navigate and everything is logically organised.

Getting around WordPress is very simple and managing the store content is very easy. The dashboard is very straightforward and adding text and other things to pages is just like using any basic word processor.

WooCommerce – Design & Customization

WordPress and WooCommerce will enable you to have a perfectly functioning mobile friendly website with ease (which is far from true for Zen Cart). This means that your customers can browse your store on any device and it will look amazing.

Zen Cart – Design & Customization

Zen Cart is not famous for an aesthetically pleasing solution for both storefront and admin area.

When you first install Zen Cart, you will get a default template that almost no one will want to use. There are over 200 free templates available from the Zen Cart website and much more on Google. The thing you should know is that these templates are created by random developers so the quality and stability will vary.

On the other hand, there are paid templates available and also a long list of template alterations that you can use to perfectly customise specific or design your store from scratch. You should always choose templates that keep updating and that are not too difficult to implement.

Zen Cart – Design & Customization

When you start designing your online store, you will notice the cluttered back end which will take some time getting used to. The back end of Zen Cart is not the most intuitive thing out there and there are an endless number of options which will confuse people even further. Again, without the proper PHP knowledge, it’ll be hard to navigate the store and manage content. This is why most people won’t even bother with many of the functions that are available. One major drawback with Zen Cart is that creating a mobile site can be very difficult so keep this in mind.

 

Winner: WooCommerce

If you just take a look at Zen Cart stores, you will see that WordPress is far superior in every aspect. Templates for Zen Cart are mostly developed by random people, so the stability will be an issue. Themes for WordPress and WooCommerce look stunning and beautiful. Another plus for WooCommerce is that it’ll come fully mobile ready which is simply not the case with Zen Cart.

WooCommerce vs Zen Cart – Pricing & Fees

 

WooCommerce – Pricing & Fees

WooCommerce is fully free to download and install. If you already have a WordPress website, then you won’t have to buy a domain and hosting plan. If not, those will be your main expenses. Domain name is very cheap, around $10 per year and hosting plan costs will depend on the specs you need for your store, but in general, the cost should be around $5-10 per month for a basic hosting.

Other costs will include purchasing a theme if you are not satisfied with your current one. Themes are not overpriced and getting a premium and beautiful theme will not break your bank.

WooCommerce – Pricing & Fees

Even though open source software is free, there are some fees that you’ll need to cover from month to month. Luckily, all these costs can be easily estimated in advance so you can know how much it’ll take to get your store looking and functioning like you want it to and also what kind of expenses you can expect when you want to scale. Luckily, fees associated with WooCommerce and WordPress are one of the lowest among all e-commerce solutions so you will save a lot of money long-term.

Zen Car – Pricing & Fees

The main concern that people have when they use open source platform is the ongoing cost. Even though the platform is free, things can get really expensive once you count all the fees like hosting, themes, and plugins.

There are free plugins for Zen Cart available and that will help to keep the cost down a bit. The main cost will be a monthly hosting bill which will depend on the package you purchase. Typical cost for small stores would be around $5-10 per month.

Zen Car – Pricing & Fees

Besides getting a domain name and covering the hosting cost, you’ll need a skilled PHP developer. Like we already mentioned, Zen Cart is based on PHP and it will be useless without a PHP developer that will build and customise your store and effectively run everything.

 

Winner: WooCommerce

Since both platforms are open source, the main costs will include getting the domain name and monthly hosting bill. WooCommerce will definitely cost less in the long-term since it is very easy to use and customize. On the other hand, if you run Zen Cart, you’ll need to have one or more PHP developers on staff that will need to handle every little thing associated with your store, and the costs will very quickly add up.

WooCommerce vs Zen Cart – Customer Support

 

WooCommerce – Customer Support

As in the case of open source platforms, WooCommerce will have somewhat limited support. They don’t offer live chat or phone support options, but you can always head over to their website and submit a web ticket with your questions. Usual turnaround time is 24-48 hours.

You also have some self-help options which include extensive and well-organised documentation that is almost guaranteed to answer any of your questions. There are also many video tutorials online that will show you how to fix your problem step by step.

WooCommerce – Customer Support

Because WooCommerce is integrated into WordPress, you will have the option of searching for help on WordPress forums where you will find a massive community of helpful people.

 

Zen Cart – Customer Support

Being an open source platform, Zen Cart doesn’t include any technical support. This means that you can’t submit a ticket, they don’t have an email where you can ask them a question, and you don’t have the option of calling them or using a live chat feature.

Your best option to get help is the community forum. Since Zen Cart has been around for more than a decade, there’s an active community that will help you on their forum. Other places include a wiki page which can help you with maybe some fundamental tasks and also there are YouTube videos available with plenty of helpful tutorials. If you want any real support, you will have to hire a third-party developer that will handle technical issues for you.

Zen Cart – Customer Support

Winner: WooCommerce

WooCommerce takes this round because it offers a ticket system where the support staff will answer your queries in a day or two at most. You also get the support of millions of WordPress and WooCommerce users around the world on forums and other places so getting help is at your fingertips.

WooCommerce vs Zen Cart – Ease of Use

 

WooCommerce – Ease of Use

WooCommerce integrates seamlessly with WordPress so if you’re already familiar with it, you will have no problems getting around. What’s great about WooCommerce is that it integrates with your WordPress website like any other plugin. All you have to do is just install and activate it, and you’re ready to go. After you activate it, you’ll be presented with a quick setup wizard that will go through a few steps in order to get you started properly.

From there, you can start designing your store if you are already satisfied with your theme. If you are not, then you can go ahead and download a free or paid theme for WordPress that will better suite your needs.

WooCommerce – Ease of Use

Everything is quickly accessible from WordPress dashboard. You can easily get to check pending orders, product information, shipping settings, and inventory tracking, all in a click or two.

Getting started with WooCommerce is very easy even for beginners. If you are an existing WordPress user, then things will be even simpler for you. You won’t get thrown off by WordPress dashboard like you will with Zen Cart.

Zen Cart – Ease of Use

The first thing you need to do is buy a domain and host it. Next, download the software which is easy, but installing it on your server will be a pain and for most people an impossibility. People get overwhelmed and nothing makes sense so you will probably need to hire some help. Once you download Zen Cart you will feel like there is a lot going on as it is difficult to know where to start and what you are looking at. WYSIWYG editor and drag and drop tools don’t exist here.

Zen Cart – Ease of Use

There is a learning curve involved with mastering the user dashboard and getting familiar with the navigation and different areas. Simple things like adding a product will sometimes be simple but the platforms it is not intuitive, so for example, if you want to add attributes to products, you will need to navigate to “Attribute controller” which is not located on the product page in order to add attributes to each individual product.

If you already have an existing website and you want to integrate Zen Cart into it, you should know that it will be very difficult and you will be better off searching for another e-commerce solution.

Winner: WooCommerce

Just from the look of Zen Cart’s user dashboard, we can see that WooCommerce is the winner here. Zen Cart’s dashboard looks very cluttered and non-intuitive to use, so users will feel baffled when they need to do some basic things.

On the other hand, WooCommerce is integrated into the beautiful and intuitive WordPress dashboard. Everything is reachable within a click or two and it is a breeze to use for existing WordPress users and even for a total beginner.

WooCommerce vs Zen Cart – Features

 

WooCommerce – Features

When you install WooCommerce, you will notice that it comes with all the core features that are needed to get your online store up and running and it is possible to start selling right away. However, if you require some advanced features, you will have to install additional plugins and extensions.

Your admin dashboard and storefront will be mobile friendly from the get-go and you will not need to hire anyone to get your store looking good on mobile devices. You will have the option of five payment gateways (including PayPal, check, and direct bank transfer), but if you need more, then additional payment gateways are easy to install in a form of an extension. Later on, you can add Stripe, Amazon Payments, and Braintree.

WooCommerce - Features

It is true that WooCommerce comes preloaded with many features, but if you need an advanced feature, then you will need to install an extension. There are hundreds of extensions available in the WooCommerce app store that will add any functionality that you can imagine. A great thing about WooCommerce is that all extensions function together perfectly and there are no conflicts and problems like there is with Zen Cart and other platforms.

Zen Cart – Features

Zen Cart provides some of the needed features out of the box. Their strongest point is the shipping tools and you get all of the options right away. Other areas such as payment gateways and checkout area will require additional plugins.

Adding products is simple and you can do some modifications on how products are displayed. Managing content in general will be easy if you hire a PHP developer. The shopping cart can be somewhat confusing to customers so you will need additional plugins to make it more functional.

There are plenty of free and paid plugins available, but not all of them are integration friendly. Also, problems are known to occur when Zen Cart releases updates, so you’ll have to do some extensive troubleshooting with your plugins as updates roll out. There are store statistics available and you can see your customer demographics, top performing products, and store performance. To get more analytics option, we recommend Google Analytics.

Zen Cart - Features

For payment processing, you’ll have three options available – FirstData, Authorize.net, and PayPal. To use some other payment gateway, you’ll have to install a specific plugin. SEO is not Zen Cart’s strong side and there is plenty of room for improvement. There are some SEO plugins available, but most are not that useful.

Having your Zen Cart store responsive will be tricky. To make your store mobile friendly, you can buy a plugin to help make your store responsive, but free solutions are far from impressive. Keep in mind that it’ll take a lot of coding to make your store mobile friendly. It is a shame that Zen Cart didn’t catch up with this as most of the customer’s shop from their mobile devices.

Luckily, adding and updating blog is easy with Zen Cart. Managing orders is easy and you can view your stock levels and change product displays. If you want to integrate eBay and Amazon with your store, then you’ll need to purchase a plugin. Unfortunately, plugins tend to be really expensive and not impressive.

You will be responsible for your store’s hosting and security. You should cover your basics and get a secure hosting server and SSL certificate for your store.

Winner: WooCommerce

Even though both WooCommerce and Zen Cart come with features out of the box, WooCommerce simply offers so much more in every way.

WooCommerce makes it super easy for everyone to add additional features to the store in a form of plugins and extensions and everything can be done in a few clicks. Also, everything works seamlessly and is well put together. On the other hand, Zen Cart will give you headaches when there are new updates for your current plugins. One other major flaw for Zen Cart is that getting your store mobile ready will be a huge hassle and that is simply not acceptable in today’s age.

CONCLUSION

WooCommerce is hands down the best choice when looking for an e-commerce solution. While there are many other options on the market, WooCommerce is the easiest to implement and cheapest to run. Anyone with WordPress experience can easily build and run WooCommerce without any problems. Even if you are a total beginner, getting the hang of WordPress is the simplest thing out there.

WooCommerce is unique due to its scalability and flexibility. Right after you install it, you have most of the features and tools you need so you won’t have to think about massive costs even before you launch your store.

Zen Cart has its perks, but it is not for beginners and it comes with definite limitations. If you lack PHP expertise and you can’t hire a developer, then you should look for another solution. Because of this, Zen Cart is geared towards medium to large businesses that have experienced developers on staff and large budgets. It will take you a while to get the hang of everything, including the simple things like navigating the admin dashboard.

Another major issue are updates: while they are regularly releasing updates, people have difficulties with applying them and also stores have the tendency to lose all their customisations after upgrades. Overall, if you want a beautiful and fully functional store up and running quickly and cheaply, we’d recommend thinking twice about Zen Cart.