Is Zen Cart right for you?

Zen Cart is a very powerful platform right out of the box.

There are lots of ecommerce platforms to choose from. Zen Cart is one of the good ones.

Zen Cart is the product for you if:

  • You’re a small to medium size business
  • Have a smaller budget
  • Want to be PCI compliant
  • Want a fair to medium amount of bells and whistles
Zen Cart
A list of additional modules I think are essential
  • Mobile template (responsive)
  • UPS, USPS and/or FedEx shipping
  • Image Handler. This module automatically creates product image thumbnails for faster page loads. It also makes it easier to add additional product images allowing you to display multiple views of a single product.
  • Social media share buttons
  • Google Analytics
  • Google XML sitemap
  • Google Merchant Center feeder (creates XML files for Google product search which is now part of AdWords)
  • Upsells or Crossells
  • Sales reports
  • Email address exporter and/or CRM integration (, VerticalResponse, MailChimp, etc)
  • Product grid layout
Default features for your customers
  • Customer (My Account) area where they can view their past order history, create and manage multiple mailing addresses, and change their password.
  • Newsletter subscription management. Ask me to explain this in more detail.
  • Display special group pricing if logged in and the customer is part of a special group.
  • Returning customers can login and checkout faster because their address info is stored in the system. NOTE: Credit card information is not stored in the system for better security.
  • Gift certificate manager if one is purchased.
  • Special pricing if they are a member of a group.
Default features worthy of mentioning
  • Free, open source software for maximum flexibility
  • PCI compliant
  • Large community of support
  • Unlimited categories, sub-categories, manufacturers and products. You can also list products in multiple categories.
  • Supports additional product images although is a bit clunky. (see Image Handler module info below)
  • Unlimited number of product attributes (size, color, etc)
  • Unlimited number of addtional static pages (called EZ pages)
  • Product search, advanced search, and sorting capability
  • Inventory control (somewhat limited)
  • Easy to integrate payment modules (, Linkpoint, and PayPal)
  • Lots of shipping options (free, flat rate, table rate, per item, per weight, store pickup and by zone)
  • Multiple shipping options for different zones
  • Multiple zones support (You can choose the states, countries and provinces you want to sell to.)
  • Multiple tax options for different zones
  • Quantity discounts
  • Group pricing
  • Call for product price option
  • Coupon support
  • Gift certificates
  • Product specials (on sale)
  • Global product sale maker for entire catalog or specific categories.
  • Featured products
  • Customer reviews system
  • Downloadable product capability
  • Product showcase mode where prices are only displayed when authorized users are logged in.
  • Multiple admin user level support
  • Banner advertisement manager
  • Reports (although limited)
  • Multiple language support although is a bit difficult to get the hang of.
  • Customer management area
  • Order management system with ability to coorespond with customers, update order status, print invoices and packing slips
  • Create your own order status’ (processing, shipped, pending, etc)
  • META tag support where you can optimize each page for SEO.
  • Built in contact page with form.
  • Send newsletter feature although it’s limited. I do not recommend using this feature. You can ask me why later.
  • Lots of other configuration options in the admin area.
of using Zen Cart
  • It’s FREE open source software and can be modified as much as you like without worry of any copyright issues
  • Uses PHP and MySQL which is offered on even the most economical hosting plans
  • Has all the features of the very expensive shopping cart systems, right out of the box
  • Unlimited categories, sub-categories, products, and product attributes
  • Multiple product images
  • Product search
  • UPS, USPS and FedEx shipping are supported
  • and PayPal are supported
  • SSL is supported and highly recommended
  • Huge active support community
  • Hundreds of free and paid plugins
  • Hundreds of free and paid templates
  • Very flexible and fairly easy to customize
  • Easy to move from one server (or folder) to another
of using Zen Cart
  • Default site template not very appealing
  • Admin interface is ugly and not user friendly
  • Product attributes (size, color, etc) are a bit clunky to manage because of how the admin interface is setup. Although, it is very powerful.
  • Very basic reporting. There are a few reporting plugins but even they are a bit lacking.
  • Shipping options are somewhat limited. For example you cannot offer specific shipping options at the category or product level.
  • Installing plugins is not for the novice. There are no automated, one-click installations for plugins. Each needs to be done manually and with caution.
  • Automated, one-click updates are not available.
  • Installing and customizing should be done by a professional.

My Zen Cart Clients

  • I was having, (and had been having), many problems with my web hosting company So I searched, and found Joe @ embryodesign. Best move I ever made. Not only did all of my problems vanish, but because of the personal service Joe gives, my website is 100% better. He made design changes to my site that added much needed aesthetics and professionalism that I wasn’t even aware of until I saw the finished product. After several months now, not one problem. Site never goes down. If I need something done, I e-mail or call Joe and he’s either there, or gets back to me right away. I pride myself on the service I give to my customers. A rare trait these days. I finally found a hosting company that shares the same pride. Thanks Joe! I’m so glad you’re there!

  • Joe had the skills with Zen Cart, PHP, HTML, CSS and Javascript that were needed to do the job. His work quality and delivery were excellent. He met my deadlines and kept his promised deadlines. Joe communicates well and answers the questions I should have asked. Five stars in all categories? Yup. I question those reviews, but my experience with Joe has been such that I have no reason to use less stars. I WILL rehire Joe for future projects. Joe has been the only bright spot of using oDesk as a service and is the only reason I will use oDesk in the future.

  • "From the development of ideas, to the launching of our web site, Joe led the way creatively and visually to provide Fantasy Candies with everything we were hoping for…and more. Having a large variety of products and information, we were concerned that navigation would be difficult. Joe was able to design a site that not only looks great, but is easy to work. From editing our photos and descriptions, to online ordering and secure payment, Joe took care of everything, and with quick turnaround time. Updates and changes are always done quickly. I would highly recommend Joe and Embryo design to any company that wants the best of everything."

  • Very happy with his work, very helpful and great to work with, would rehire.

  • All I needed was some consultation about Zen Cart and wow, did I get just what I needed. In one phone call I learned everything I needed to learn and saved time and $.

    Tom Acousti

  • I really needed someone who could jump on a Zen cart project in a tight fix. Needed someone who understood Zen cart and could work under little to know direction on a list of problems and fix’s that we needed. Also needed someone I could get a hold of at any given time as well. Joe was all of these things. His work is excellent and on top of it he’s a real nice guy which makes it even better. Would highly recommend Joe to anyone looking for an experienced Zen cart specialist.

  • Joe is great!!!! Wonderful to work with and knows the ins and outs of Zen Cart.

  • This was our second contract with Joe and he once again exceeded our expectations.

  • I love the website that Joe designed for me! I get lots of compliments from my customers about how beautiful and easy to use it us. And Joe is great to work with. He welcomed my input during the design process and spent lots of time patiently teaching me how to operate my new site. Several years later, he still is available if I have a question, and I am always amazed by how quickly he responds! Joe is creative, professional, and trustworthy – I highly recommend entrusting your website design to him.

  • "I can't say enough good things about my project with Joe. Our website was a real challenge as it was an old piecemealed zencart design that was originally very badly setup with features that were not transferable to later versions. Joe transformed with creative solutions it into the vision I had in mind, and giving us maximum flexibility to let it move forward in the future. I really appreciated that he found cost effective solutions to problems, no one else was able to address. . I had just hoped to get the problems corrected, instead I received a total makeover from a real professional. His design ideas were excellent, and he fully listened to my ideas and readily incorporated them. I will be using Joe again in the near future for further enhancements, and really would think of using no one else. He is spectacular!"

Steps for a new or redesigned Zen Cart site
  1. Initial phone conversation. Continued phone and email support throughout project.
  2. Email confirming details and requirements
  3. You create an account on, create a project, award me the project.
  4. Zen Cart is installed on your web host server
  5. A template (responsive) is installed and designed to look how you want it. I base my initial design on your logo, products you sell and your customer demographic.
  6. Install essential plugins (see above)
  7. Configure system for things like taxes, shipping and payment modules
  8. Optimize Zen Cart settings (and server if possible) for maximum page load speed
  9. Tweak design and settings to meet your requirements
  10. Customize the checkout process for increased conversions. Ask me about this.
  11. Test, test, and test
  12. Site launch
Is Zen Cart Google friendly?
Based on Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines, here are a few items that tells Google the merchant can be trusted. Not all are required.

  • “View your shopping cart” link that stays on the same site.
  • Shopping cart that updates when you add items to it.
  • Return policy with a physical address.
  • Shipping charge calculator that works.
  • “Wish list” link, or a link to postpone the purchase of an item until later.
  • A way to track FedEx orders.
  • User forum that works.
  • The ability to register or login.
  • A gift registry that works.
Zen Cart has almost all the above functionality either built in or with the addition of plugins. The exceptions are no forum and no gift registry.
Overall, I think Zen Cart is a great system to use and many companies are quite successful using it. And, I think it will be around for a long time.