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opencart-review-001

‘OpenCart’ review for startups: Is OpenCart right for you?

is one of the more light-weight ecommerce platforms. The system is built for ease of use, easy installation of modules and created around the Model-View-Controller (MVC) framework.

The software is currently available in two different versions, legacy (1.5.6.4) and the newer 2.0.3.1. Both of these carry the same core features, but OpenCart 2 has a retooled admin interface, built-in responsive theme and added core functionality. This article will cover the newer version of OpenCart as it’s the one currently being supported and developed for.

OpenCart is by far one of the easiest platforms to install. The only easier off-the-shelf solutions are VirtueMart and WooCommerce because they are add-ons to other systems. The installation requires a MySQLi database with username and password, PHP version 5.3 or higher, and a few other PHP extensions to either be enabled or disabled. The installation page will tell you if the required PHP extensions are enabled or not. OpenCart’s require config files (config.php) located in the main folder and Admin have been named config-dist.php. Rename them to config.php before installing.

Read more: Startup founder? Here are 3 reasons why you should learn to code

Once installed the system allows you to fully customise the store with basic details, weight classes for products, server and SEO settings, mail, theme, and a whole host of others.

OpenCart contains the ability to allow different languages and currencies to exist on the same site. Setting up these individual options will require some work on your end — adding in the text from another language and some new folders – but customers will be able to select either. Taking it a step further, OpenCart also supports multi-store functionality from on back-end. You are able to select which products, categories, and languages exist on each store. It’s a nifty feature if you’re looking to sell products outside of South Africa.

OpenCart is a complete open source solution and operates under the GNU General Public Licence version 3, which most readers will not need to know about. What I mean by “complete” is you are not capped in any way unless there’s a feature you require a module for. Within the software you are able to add an unlimited amount of categories, products, languages, and manufacturers among others — none of these are hidden behind a paywall.

How expensive are the modules? Cheap. In fact, they’re within any startup’s budget. Modules range from free to US $99.99 in price. All of these are from the official OpenStore, but non-official stores exist as well. There’s no penalty in not purchasing directly from OpenCart.

Read more: Running a lean startup? Here are 9 free tools that could help

There are a number of product features available within OpenCart. Products can be allocated to categories, manufacturers, and different stores. From there a product can have product tags for search engine and filtering purposes, attributes, filters, points, and multiple images.

As with most off-the-shelf shopping carts, it doesn’t come with a viable stock importer function. When receiving stock files from suppliers you will be given an SKU, price, and stock CSV file. These files cannot be properly imported into OpenCart without using MySQL directly, or having an importer specially built.

Attributes can be allocated to each product, and grouped, and are useful when a customer wants to compare two different products. Attributes are special fields for specific data. For example, you can have Wood Type and Finish if you were selling tables.

Filters allow customers to filter products by different criteria. Customers looking for an 18 restricted horror title can easily find it with OpenCart’s filtration system. The product will need to have the Age Rating and Genre filters allocated to it.

Read more: 5 things to look at when entering ecommerce in SA

Options allow you to group certain criteria under a single product. For example, if you were selling socks you could group all of the colour ranges under one product.

The system includes customer reviews for products, which are created with ratings a blurb from the user. Downloads can be allocated as well, but the system isn’t really robust at all. to fully support a pure-downloadable product range without customisation.

OpenCart comes with built-in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) features. The information, product, and category pages themselves allow you to add an SEO title, keywords, and description. Each of these — along with manufacturers — will also have an SEO URL.

OpenCart’s base theme is constructed from HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. You’ll only need to know a basic amount of information on these languages in order to manipulate the files. If you want to build a theme from scratch it’s advised you’re a more advanced user. For professional and robust themes, you can look at the OpenCart store or Themeforest. These range from US$21 to US$48 in price and are constantly supported, robust, and professional looking. Spend time playing with demo themes before purchasing any.

There is a plethora of customisation available to you within the basic OpenCart package. Once your store is ready to grow you’ll be able to find more intensive search engines, attribute system, category levels, and almost anything you can think of. The OpenCart community does have a wide range of paid developers ready to take on most tasks. Almost all of the local South Africa payment gateways are available to download for OpenCart.

Read more: SnapScan rolls out pilot phase for ecommerce payments

The product stock system isn’t as robust as it should be. You will not be able to state if stock is with you, a warehouse, or the supplier. Modules can fix this, but it’s not in the base version.

Additional features can usually be uploaded via FTP to your website, and most will not over-write any basic functionality. This leaves you open to upgrade OpenCart when needed without backtracking changes you’re made. Implemented with version one, OpenCart has an installable system called VQMod. It allows you to install new features but lay the code on top of the old one. The server will read the new code instead of the old code, but the old will be intact. It’s like putting one piece of paper over another.

OpenCart is recommended for new and old users alike. New users wanting an easy system to get their shop off of the group, while veterans will find the system easy to modify and code to their needs. There are a number of features that haven’t been touched on within this article; try out OpenCart’s on-line demo to see all of them.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Responsive
  • Secure
  • All SA payment modules are available for it
  • Robust shipping modules

Cons:

  • Downloads aren’t robust enough
  • No stock XLSX import system
  • Stock system not robust enough

Author Bio

Graham van der Made: Editor
Graham started out as an electronics manager at Take2 Home Entertainment and went on to spend a further ten years in the South African ecommerce industry. During this time, Graham founded and managed an online geek and hobby shop. He has always had a passion for writing and has... More