Ah Zen Cart. For years it was the go-to open source solution for businesses that wanted a full-service store on their website. It came with heavy baggage, however.
Zen Cart’s High Learning Curve
Zen Cart has a very high learning curve, especially for business owners who weren’t very computer-savvy. There were general settings, many, many general settings and then modules all over the place. Just to get a client up and running required at least 2 hours of hands-on training; and that covered only the most basic uses.
Near Impossible to Upgrade
There was no easy point-and-click upgrade with Zen Cart. Since programmers were encouraged to overwrite files in order to create custom solutions upgrading was a slog of comparing each file for what had changed. I inherited one client with an outdated, highly customized version of Zen Cart. It was so outdated that in order to get it current we had to go through two upgrades and took a total of 50 hours. Unfortunately this was just a year before WordPress became a viable alternative to Zen Cart and the client ended up switching her whole store to WordPress with WooCommerce after spending all that money to upgrade.
Because of the expense to upgrade most businesses I dealt with used out of date versions with security issues. One client came to me when someone got access to her installation and changed the payment modules so that they were receiving all of her payments! When I looked at the version of Zen Cart, I found that it was 6 versions out of date! This was the client mentioned above that we had to upgrade first to an intermediate version and then to the most recent version.
I Decide to Call it Quits
After going through three upgrade nightmares with Zen Cart in a row with different clients I decided that I’d had enough. I researched one or two Zen Cart specialists (both of whom charged 2-3x what I did) and referred my clients to them if they wanted to keep using Zen Cart. Today I do just a tiny bit of work for one legacy client that I basically feel sorry for.
WordPress as an Alternative
When a business person comes to me for an ecommerce site I almost always recommend going with WordPress as the CMS (content management system) and either WooCommerce or WP eCommerce as the plugin. Lately I’ve been leaning more towards Woo Commerce simply because I like how modular it is. There are plugins for it for most use cases and it is not difficult to create a custom plugin if necessary.
Best of all is the push-button upgrade and backup system available with WordPress. With WordPress as a CMS there is no reason for an install to be out of date. Security is much better and clients love that they can update everything themselves.