Right now (as of 2015) we recommend choosing between one of three open source platforms for your e-commerce site:
All three are perfectly capable of running an e-commerce store but there are various pros/cons to each so in this article I’ll be comparing them across several key performance areas to help you understand which one is the right choice for your business.
Since all three platforms are open-source there are no licensing costs to pay for using the software but you do need to pay for your initial style/branding (which you can then customize for your business) and also for any modules or extensions which you may need. All three platforms operate their own marketplaces but the prices are generally the same across the board.
For development work our charges are usually higher for Prestashop and OpenCart because these systems are harder to customize and a little bit cheaper for WooCommerce. Obviously a lot though depends on the changes required so this is just a general rule of thumb.
From our experience OpenCart tends to return web pages the fastest and puts least stress on the webserver. This means you can get away with a cheaper web hosting package without having to invest in a dedicated VPS or supercharged hosting solution.
Prestashop comes in second place as it usually requires considerably more resources to run at a decent speed and also requires a good caching solution on the web server.
WooCommerce usually performs worst in our tests, mainly because it’s built upon WordPress and so not as optimized as the other two. If you want to run a large scale WooCommerce store then we strongly recommend sticking to a dedicated VPS for hosting.
The front-office experience is largely influenced by the theme/branding which you apply to your shop and so it is similar across all three platforms.
In my opinion both Prestashop and OpenCart offer superior “My Account” experiences to WooCommerce although this does come down to the theme used and personal preference. Prestashop also offers a Customer Returns process out of the box which the other two do not.
Prestashop includes superior cross-selling and promotional modules by default while both OpenCart and WooCommerce provide functional but simplistic modules which don’t give you a great deal of scope for customization. All three contain Comment/Review functionality but with WooCommerce being built on WordPress theirs is arguably the most feature rich of the three.
WooCommerce is possibly the best customer checkout experience although again this is heavily theme-dependant and to be honest there is not a lot of difference between them (at the end of the day you always need the same information and the same forms).
Prestashop offers by far the best back office experience – especially since the new version 1.6 has modernized and improved the interface in several places. It provides extensive management statistics and the tools for managing your catalogue and shop settings are generally well laid out and intuitive to use.
WooCommerce offers the superior CMS management (blogs, static pages, etc.) due to its WordPress heritage but as a consequence the shop management feels a bit “bolted on” and it can often be difficult to differentiate between the WordPress functions and the shop functions. Some functions are also buried inside WordPress menus and can be difficult to find.
OpenCart trails behind in this category as its admin area feels very Spartan with a lot of large, complex forms and very few productivity tools or GUI controls to help you. Functions frequently buried inside the “modules” section too due to the modular nature of the platform which can make the whole experience confusing and obtrusive.
Once again Prestashop dominates the back office with a raft of features including advanced stock management, shipping, reporting and globalization options. We generally recommend larger business to use Prestashop simply because the tools on offer here make it much easier to manage your business effectively without the need for additional Business Management software.
WooCommerce and OpenCart comes in joint second with a simplified set of features out-of-the-box but a host of additional functionality available through extensions and modules. Both platforms will scale but this comes at an added cost and their solutions don’t feel as well rounded as Prestashop (which also offers a range of plug-ins beyond the base functionality).
Out of three platforms we think Prestashop is the best platform for small to medium businesses looking for a complete management solution. The back office tools are fantastic and the customer experience is very good so long as you invest in a good theme.
Prestashop is a bit of a resource hog though and can be tricky to develop so if you’re a business on a budget then the costs of hosting and maintenance might start to become prohibitive. If you already have existing Business Management software or if you’re happy to manage the business manually outside of the software then you might want to look at a more cost-effective solution.
Recommended For: Established businesses looking for a complete e-commerce solution
OpenCart is an extremely light-weight platform which can be hosted cheaply without having to compromise on features or customer experience. It is very well supported and through its wide range of extensions/add-ons you can customize the platform as the demands of your business change.
Unfortunately the back-office experience is clunky and it will take some time for you or your staff to get completely comfortable with it. There are very few productivity tools either so managing your catalogue and orders can become laborious.
Recommended For: smaller businesses looking for good e-commerce on a budget
WooCommerce offers a superior front-office experience since it is built upon the WordPress platform and for the same reason it is also ideal if you want to add e-commerce functionality to your existing WordPress website.
However whilst WooCommerce is a fully fledged e-commerce solution it is essentially a plug-in for another platform and it can feel a bit half-baked compared to the other two. Performance is also a limiting factor and for larger shops it can start to chug unless you throw some money at hosting
Recommended For: micro businesses or those looking to leverage their existing WordPress site
We hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions or need help developing an e-commerce solution then please leave a comment below or contact us for further information