Opencart is a free to use ecommerce platform for self-hosted ecommerce sites, but is it any good?
My first ever self hosted ecommerce store was run using the Opencart platform and as someone who was then new to web design and building, it was quite a learning curve.
In my Opencart review, I will be looking at the features of the software, including theme selection and payment gateways. I will also look at how easy Opencart is to use for building an Ecommerce Website.
Before I get started I just want to disclose that this post does contain affiliate links to selected partners. This means that if you buy their product via the links on my website, I receive a small referral commission.
As I said above, Opencart is a free to use ecommerce platform but you do still need some web hosting and good ecommerce hosting doesn’t come for free.
If you are just starting your ecommerce business, then you will be fine using a basic package from one of the good quality hosts. When your business starts to grow, you can always upgrade to one of their bigger packages.
Compared to some other self hosted platforms, Opencart has a good selection of features in its standard form. Some of the features are:
- Gift cards, discount vouchers and loyalty points
- Build and manage an affiliate network
- Sell in multiple currencies
- Translate your website into over 40 languages
- Set up recurring payments for subscriptions
- Sell digital products
- In-depth onsite reporting
This is really impressive set of features for a free piece of software. You can also expand that more with the Opencart extension marketplace. This is where extensions that have been made by third-party developers are offered and there is a mix of paid and free ones to choose from.
You can also upload extensions that have been bought or acquired outside of Opencart. This means there is a very wide scope of possibilities when it comes to the platform.
Opencart Theme Selection
The official Opencart marketplace is pretty light when it comes to themes as there are only 17 available and none of them are free.
You need to venture outside of the Opencart ecosystem to find the really good themes and there are some great ones out there. There is a good selection of free themes and the best paid themes are available on themeforest.net.
Opencart Payment Gateways
Opencart comes integrated with 30 different payment gateways as standard. Not all of these are suitable for UK business but you get PayPal, Klarna, Nochex, Wordpay and SagePay to name a few.
You also get different modes with many of these gateways, for example with PayPal, you can have PayPal Standard, Express Checkout or Pro. So before you activate any of the payment gateway extensions, make sure you are using the right one.
There is one big name missing from the list of included gateways and that is Stripe, you can only use Stripe on an Opencart site if you use a paid extension. Kind of surprised by this one!
As with most open source software, the support available to you is quite limited. The best source of support for Opencart is their support forum, generally posting a question in there will generate the right answer but just be aware that most the replies will be developers trying to sell you something!
Alternatively, you can search the forum to see if anyone else has already asked that question. Doing the same on search engines such as Google can also help you find answers.
The Opencart documentation is pretty good and you can find the answer to most things in there but you may have to do a bit of searching.
When it comes to testing the performance of Opencart, it is quite a challenge due to being open source software as factors such as the quality of the hosting plays a huge factor. But to give you some idea as to the performance of Opencart, I ran my test site, which is populated with demo content through Pingdom’s speed tool and also Google’s page speed insight.
London Server: 0.37 Seconds
Washington D.C. Server: 1.18 Seconds
Mobile Score: 86/100
Desktop Score: 97/100
As you can see, Opencart performed very well and this very much ties in with the fact that the core Opencart software is very lightweight and that is why it can easily be run in a shared hosting environment when you are just getting started.
This performance also reflects very well on my web host of choice, Krystal Hosting UK.
How Easy is Opencart to Use?
So Opencart is a pretty feature rich ecommerce platform but how easy is it to use and put those features to good use?
Installing Opencart on your hosting is easy to do but if you don’t want to do that yourself, then you can always ask your web host nicely if they could do it for you.
You don’t get any kind of set-up guide in the Opencart dashboard but if you go to their documentation section, they do have a getting started section, which will take you through all of the important stuff.
Navigating the Dashboard
The Opencart dashboard does have a nice layout. They have opted for a sidebar menu, with all the main sections clearly labelled.
Within the main sections, you have a selection of sub and sub-sub categories, depending upon the section. This makes navigating pretty easy to do, the only thing I did run into was that in order to access things such as payment gateways and delivery methods, I needed to install the extension first.
This makes it a little confusing to start with as you can spend time going through different sections, trying to find where these things are, only to find out that they are not there until you install them.
I didn’t really like this and would have preferred there to be a sections already within the dashboard for all things such as payment gateways. You could then install the extension directly or be prompted to go and install your chosen extension.
Customising Your Theme
Customising your Opencart theme isn’t the easiest thing to do, unless the theme developer has created their own customiser and some of these are really good.
But if you are only going to be using the standard Opencart editing tools, then things can be quite difficult. The reason I say this is because most of the editing needs to be done via PHP coding and unless you know how to do this, you are going to be pretty limited as to what you can do.
You can edit some of the layout elements of the majority of the pages on your site but it is quite limited to what you can do and finding out how to edit/create the content areas isn’t easy to do. There are definitely improvements that could be made to this area of the platform.
Adding and Managing Products
While Opencart may not be that great on the design front, they definitely are very good when it comes to the ecommerce aspects of the platform.
Adding products is really easy, they use a tabbed structure which you can work your way through and add as much as you feel necessary, you can also control SEO such as meta descriptions and keywords in the add product section.
One thing I do like is that you can create multiple recurring profiles for subscription products, this means you can give your customers options when they are choosing the product. Great for adding variety and this will help with conversion rates.
Adding categories and sub-categories to organise your products is just as easy as adding a new product. You can also create manufacturer profiles, so that people can search using the manufacturer rather than just browsing through products.
When managing your inventory, you do have to update quantity on a product by product basis, which could be a bit frustrating, especially if you have a large amount of updates to do.
Managing orders is pretty easy in Opencart, you can print packing slips or invoices directly from the order dashboard. However, there is no option in the basic Opencart to be able to export your orders via CSV, which isn’t great if you use third-party order management, shipping or accounting software.
You also have to update order statuses individually which would be time consuming if your store receives multiple orders. This is something that you really should be able to do in bulk.
Is Opencart a Good Alternative to WooCommerce?
Not really, while Opencart does have some really good features, the learning curve is steeper and it is very restrictive when it comes to design and customisation. While it might be a good option for some businesses, WooCommerce is still the better option overall.
• Great list of features out of the box
• Good selection of extensions
• Product management is good and easy to use
• Good documentation
The Not so Good:
• Difficulty of theme customisation
• Not being able to update orders in bulk
• No basic area for payment gateways and shipping policies without activating extensions