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  • Zen Cart
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Zen Cart is an ecommerce application that can be installed on your web hosting account. It's free and distributed under GPL2. Developers love it because it can be modified and changed to suit practically any application. It can also be extended and improved with additional modules.

History

Zen Cart was started in 2003 as a fork from another established ecommerce tool, osCommerce. The fork resulted in a templated layout system, something which osCommerce lacked. This was a forward-thinking move that would let users customise Zen Cart and blend it more easily with their websites.

The modern Zen Cart has many features aimed at improving conversions, including guest checkout and quick newsletter suscription. If you already have an osCommerce shop, you can obtain scripts to convert your data into Zen Cart format, prior to finding a Zen Cart hosting plan.

Zen Cart Features

Zen Cart is written in PHP and uses the MySQL database for data storage. It comes with a number of gateways set up and ready to go, so you can install it, set the preferences and start selling within a matter of hours.

The software can be used to sell digital content (such as PDFs and mp3s), physical goods and recurring subscriptions. There's a search function which optionally uses the product catalogue to give predictive results; this optional extra is a premium feature.

Shoppers can create product reviews and ratings. They can also supply their own images and send items to friends. Zen Cart also supports a variety of languages and currencies.

Pros and Cons

Need some convincing reasons to use Zen Cart?:

  • It's free
  • It's very well supported
  • It's open source, so you can change it however you like
  • It supports most standard shop features, and some you will need as your shop grows and develops a niche
  • Customisation is simple, particularly when compared to osCommerce
  • Setting up a Zen Cart store doesn't take long
  • Zen Cart is far less complex to maintain than Magento

For some people, there may be a better ecommerce application:

  • Magento offers better SEO, which could be a killer feature for you if you're in a competitive niche
  • osCommerce has more integrations and modules
  • While you can create simple coupons in Zen Cart, the system is not sophisticated
  • Zen Cart stores have a slightly clunky look
  • The checkout process spans several pages, which many shoppers find tiresome

Hosting Requirements

Zen Cart is lightweight and will run on practically any hosting plan, so there's no need to spend a fortune in the beginning. It's installed using Softaculous, or manually if you prefer.

Bear in mind the potential impact of a traffic spike, since every page in Zen Cart queries the database over and over, and you'll quickly hit a bottleneck on a cheap plan. Plan for a little headroom. That might mean starting with a low-end managed VPS rather than a super-cheap shared hosting plan. (While shared hosting is advertised as having 'unlimited' resources, your host will expect usage to be within reasonable limits. Ultimately, you need to ensure your site is not going to go offline.)

A plan on the Linux OS is going to be your most straightforward option, since the key requirements for Zen Cart are Apache 2.x, PHP and MySQL. This is known as the LAMP stack, and it's something that Linux hosts tend to offer by default. If you want to run Zen Cart on Windows or Mac OS X, that's also possible.

Other notes:

  • SSL isn't mandatory for the core files on Zen Cart, but it's highly recommended. Businesses have legal obligations to protect customer data, and a working SSL certificate is the only way to make sure transactions are secure. Some payment modules won't install without SSL.
  • In addition to these basics, you will need cURL (for file transfer) and MySQLi (which stands for 'MySQL Improved' - read more about MySQLi here).
  • We strongly recommend obtaining a backup solution for your store, and your customer data. You will probably have to pay extra for this.
  • If you're not an experienced system administrator, invest in managed hosting to keep your server secure
  • Finally, you will also need a decent uptime guarantee to ensure your store is online round the clock. We recommend 99.99%, if you can find a host that offers it. (Work our how much downtime you can expect using this uptime calculator).

Zen Cart Frequently Asked Questions

WhoIsHostingThis Recommends

★★★★
Support
★★★★
Features
★★★★
Uptime
★★★★
Value
★★★★

Pros: Free domain name , Unlimited traffic, emails, DBs

Cons: No Windows-based plans

SiteGround is an established web host managing well over 1,000 servers and... Read more

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2. iPage

ipage logo
★★★★
Support
★★★★
Features
★★★★
Uptime
★★★★
Value
★★★★

Pros: Unlimited Disk Space, Bandwidth & Email , Unlimited MySQL Databases

Based in the US, iPage specialises in low-cost shared hosting. Each plan... Read more

Visit host
★★★
Support
★★★
Features
★★★★
Uptime
★★★
Value
★★★

Pros: Free Domain , Unlimited Bandwidth

Bluehost provides customers with low-cost shared hosting, as well as reseller, VPS... Read more

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