Zen Cart is a popular eCommerce platform, mainly because it's free and can be easily installed via the control panels of several hosting providers. However, Zen Cart isn't for everyone. Maybe your business is brand new and you've chosen to do more research before choosing a platform — always a smart decision! Maybe you're wary of any eCommerce software that claims to be free, since with Zen Cart pricing hidden costs are a well-known risk. Or maybe you already have a Zen Cart store and you're starting to feel constrained by the limits of the platform. No matter your reasoning, you're looking for a Zen Cart alternative, and we've collected the best here for your review.
We're listing WooCommerce first because it's similar to Zen Cart in a few ways: it's free, open source, and can be installed on a hosted website. The primary difference in the installation procedure is that WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin and will need to be installed onto a website already using WordPress.
There are two ways to start building a WooCommerce online store. If you have a free WordPress.com account, an upgrade to WordPress's Business plan will be needed. On the other hand, if you have your own self-hosted website using the WordPress.org downloadable WordPress software, you can install WooCommerce by selecting it from the list of plugins.
WooCommerce has vast design flexibility, with tons of themes available for many industries — plus, these themes can all be customized. You can also extend WooCommerce's functionality with a wide assortment of plugins. However, the pricing of both themes and plugins varies, and while many are free, others (including some of the best) require a one-time fee or even a monthly payment. The plugins you choose also need to be rigorously checked before you add them to your website, as bugs or compatibility issues can bring your online store to a halt. Be sure to read all plugin documentation, and look at the user reviews as well, to identify any potential issues before you commit to adding them to your store.
WooCommerce, and WordPress in general, are far more user-friendly than Zen Cart, which is notoriously non-intuitive.
WooCommerce has a much more active community than Zen Cart, meaning it's easier to get support when you need it.
The size of the WooCommerce community means far more developers are busily making themes and plugins you could use.
If you need custom features, it's far easier to find a WordPress and WooCommerce developer than a Zen Cart programmer.
You can search and install most WooCommerce plugins from a central directory rather than needing to search individual websites.
Magento is another free, open-source eCommerce solution that can be installed on an existing web host, although Magento's software requirements are heavier than those of Zen Cart and you'll need a more powerful hosting package. It comes with tons of features, and Magento developers are readily available to perform any custom designing or programming you might need — although they're all third-party members of the community, and often come with a hefty price.
Magento is used by many retailers, but you should be aware that the size and complexity of the software often causes it to slow down once websites start to add larger numbers of products. Support can be hard to come by, and just like with any open-source solution, you're responsible for all updates and technical work on your store.
Magento's popularity means tons of features have been added to the cart over time, as well as a wide range of plugins, many for free.
Like WooCommerce, Magento has a bigger community than Zen Cart, meaning you're more likely to find help (although it can still be challenging).
Magento is still very challenging to use, but its user interface is not nearly as outdated as Zen Cart's.
Shopify is one of the most popular eCommerce platforms in the world. Its most immediate difference from Zen Cart and the other previously listed alternatives is that, rather than being free and open source, Shopify is build on the SaaS (Software as a Service) model. This means that you simply create your Shopify account for a monthly fee and start building your store, without having to find separate providers for hosting and security. The monthly fee is more expensive than basic hosting, but covers everything instead.
Shopify is extremely user-friendly and makes it easy for anyone to get their online store up and running in a minimal timeframe. However, the platform does have several disadvantages: numerous features are missing, and many are only available by installing additional apps, each of which comes with a monthly fee. It's common to create a Shopify store for $29/month and quickly see your monthly expense double or triple as you discover more apps your business can't live without.
Additionally, Shopify charges transaction fees for every sale (on top of the usual fees imposed by the payment provider) unless you use their proprietary payment processor, Shopify Payments. Shopify Payments is based on Stripe and simply won't work for your business if you're not based in an approved country, or if you want to sell "high-risk" or heavily regulated products like CBD oil. Shopify has also been known to suspend businesses' use of Shopify Payments without warning, effectively closing the store and freezing collected payments.
Shopify's user interface is like night and day compared to Zen Cart's, so it's much easier to learn the platform.
Since it uses the SaaS model, Shopify includes hosting, security, and software updates, all handled for you.
Shopify maintains a support staff to help you with your store, unlike Zen Cart, which forces you to seek help from the community.
All available Shopify extensions are available in a central app store for easier browsing and comparison.
BigCommerce is another SaaS eCommerce platform and is a direct competitor against Shopify. This means it includes hosting, updates, and other benefits of the SaaS model. It's not quite as easy to use as Shopify, but it has many more built-in features which reduce the need for additional apps. The slightly steeper learning curve comes from having so many more features available at the outset.
BigCommerce does have some disadvantages: mainly, the restrictive revenue tiers give you little control over which plan your store can use, and you may find your monthly bill increasing unexpectedly because you've reached a certain milestone in your sales volume. This plan upgrade often comes before a business can really afford it. However, unlike Shopify, BigCommerce does not charge transaction fees on your sales.
BigCommerce is much more user-friendly than Zen Cart, so you can get your online store up and running faster.
Like Shopify, BigCommerce includes hosting, security, software updates, and the other technical aspects of your website.
BigCommerce also has a support staff ready to help you with your technical questions.
Like Shopify, BigCommerce has an app marketplace where you can find plugins rather than needing to visit different developer websites.
Volusion is similar to both Shopify and BigCommerce. It's another SaaS platform, and it's also quite user-friendly. While it doesn't have as many features as Shopify or BigCommerce, it does have some built-in advantages that Shopify doesn't, like a single-page checkout. It also has more built-in shipping carrier integrations than Shopify, and its monthly plans are a little cheaper.
Volusion's biggest disadvantage is its limited features, despite having a few things that Shopify doesn't, and it doesn't have much to offer that you couldn't get with another platform. Another consideration is that Volusion began charging transaction fees when it released its V2 version, and doesn't provide a way to avoid them in the way that Shopify does via Shopify Payments.
Volusion is considered to be one of the most user-friendly eCommerce platforms out there.
Like the other SaaS solutions on this list, Volusion handles your web hosting, security, and software updates.
Volusion has technical support staff like Shopify and BigCommerce do, so you have a direct line when you need it.
All Volusion extensions are found within a single app marketplace rather than spread across multiple websites.
Shift4Shop is a complete SaaS eCommerce platform with all of the advantages and none of the drawbacks of the other Zen Cart alternatives we've discussed. Web hosting, security, PCI compliance, and 24/7/365 support are all included, providing an advantage over open-source solutions. Shift4Shop also has more features than Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion, meaning less need for additional apps or custom development. Best yet, there's a free End-to-End eCommerce plan available, without any of the problems we touched upon regarding free software. It's powered by Shift4 Payments, so we're able to offer a complete SaaS eCommerce solution with hundreds of pro-level features without a monthly fee.
With Shift4Shop, your business will be fully equipped with a suite of inventory management tools, marketing features, powerful SEO, and much more. You're guaranteed to save time, money, and effort over another solution. Shift4Shop never charges transaction fees like Shopify, includes more features than the other alternatives on this page, and is fully scalable for any business all the way from startup to enterprise.
Shift4Shop's user interface is much more modern and intuitive than Zen Cart's, and includes instant mouseover help for most features.
Web hosting, security, PCI compliance, software updates, bug fixes, and more are all handled for you.
Shift4Shop themes are all built to high standards on our Core Theme Framework, providing consistent quality.
Your themes or apps will never break your online store's PCI compliance and can be used risk-free.
All Shift4Shop plugins are available in a centralized app store to ensure compatibility and ease of comparison.
Shift4Shop has more built-in functionality than Zen Cart, reducing the need for additional apps in the first place.
Shift4Shop is powered by Shift4 Payments, which takes only minutes to set up and allows you to accept multiple payment types. Ohter solutions like PayPal are available as well.
As an all-in-one, feature-rich platform, Shift4Shop combines more eCommerce power within a free plan than any other software.
Many more tools for ranking higher and earning more traffic to organically grow your business.
No need to buy web hosting, install software, or anything else: just create your Shift4Shop account and start building your website in any browser.
Shift4Shop's dedicated support team is always ready to help you, unlike Zen Cart, which provides only community solutions.