Product Comparison: Zen Cart vs Shopify

I recently completely a ZenCart conversion, moving a website onto the Shopify platform. In truth, the business concerned was nervous about switching having used ZenCart for almost 10 years. His view was very much it was better the devil you know. At the end of the job I asked him what finally persuaded him to make the change.

The Growth of Mobile Search

The majority of ZenCart sites are not set up to be mobile responsive. That is simply because this was not an issue when ZenCart popularity was at its peak. Mobile device usage in most analytic reports five years ago was around 10%. Now it is 30 to 50% typically.

The owner of the business concerned explained that sacrificing 1 in 10 visitors was a figure he could live with, but when his statistics proved that three times that amount couldn’t use his website effectively, that was a stop and think moment.

His concerns were compounded by Google’s recent decision to penalise the ranking of websites that were not mobile-friendly.  It was no longer a case of conjecture, there was evidence that his business was, in his words, “falling behind”.

Check whether Google thinks your site is mobile responsive:


Zen Cart was created for website builders. You required a level of knowledge in IT and technical skills to create a Zen Cart site. On the plus side, this gave developers with those skills a degree of flexibility to create bespoke solutions for customers.

However, the user interface reflects that background, meaning it is not an intuitive piece of software to use for a business owner. Adding products, managing customers, invoicing, refunding, all of these tasks are daily tasks for any business selling products online. Could a business owner use the ZenCart dashboard immediately, with no training? That is the benchmark of modern e-commerce software, it is designed for the user, not the builder.

My customer is in his sixties and literally could not make a change to the website without consulting his developer (for a fee). His daughter helped him make changes but, even then, compared to a package like Shopify it was time consuming.  He felt trapped by ZenCart and frustrated that he could not respond quickly to customer trends without waiting for someone else. More importantly, he simply did not enjoy using ZenCart.

To illustrate this point, let’s compare the same task on Zen Cart and Shopify.

Editing Products on Zen Cart (image can be enlarged):

Zen Cart

Editing Products on Shopify:

Shopify advantages

If ease of use is important to you, it’s no contest.

I arranged a training session with the business owner on completing the project. Before that date arrived, he had already logged onto Shopify and started using the site to edit products, process orders and so on. Shopify was so intuitive and user-friendly that he didn’t need an explanation.

Sales Conversion

Just as the technology has moved on, so has fashion. Using a Zen Cart theme (design) is very different experience compared to using a modern platform such as Shopify. I would go as far as to suggest Zen Cart designs are dated because the expectations of customers have changed.

People no longer expect home pages to be a list of products. They want your e-commerce shop to be like Amazon and Ebay, whose entry pages are dynamic and forever changing to reflect the needs of their customers.

My customer was desperate to feature collection sliders, to discount products, to promote. But Zen Cart prevented him from doing that. It is not the fact that Zen Cart can’t do it. As open source code, with developer input and training it can do pretty much anything, for a fee. Rather it is the level of control in the hands of the business owner. Campaigning means frequent changes to content. If you can’t do that easily, it doesn’t happen.

Let’s compare the customer’s Zen Cart home page theme with the new Shopify version.

Original (Zen Cart):


New Version (Shopify):


Zen Cart themes are home pages in the traditional sense, trying to tell a user everything about the business. Typically they are ‘busy’ with content and tabular in layout/feel. Shopify templates are built to sell, giving the business full control over promoting collections, products and discounts.

Unlike Zen Cart, this functionality is built-in as default on Shopify and is simple to update and manage for the business owner. But most importantly, the Shopify design is simple to understand and navigate for a customer. That alone means more sales.

The Winner?

It is this factor that makes Shopify the winner in a straight comparision with Zen Cart. On the downside, you lose some flexibility to create a unique and bespoke website for your business. But your product range does that for you anyway.

Better to have a simple to use website, for both you and the customer. Look at Amazon as the benchmark. As a benchmark in e-commerce, they focus on simplicity, campaigning and creating an enjoyable user experience. The products sell themselves.

I have built websites using Zen Cart in the past and it is still a powerful piece of software. But it can never compete with Shopify for two main reasons.

  • Businesses succeed today by reacting rapidly to customer needs.
  • Customers buy more when it is quick and simple to do so.

That means an e-commerce website must be simple to use and the owner must be independent of any reliance on their developer.

Shopify is the winner on simplicity alone.

But the final verdict on Zen Cart vs Shopify must go to the customer himself.

Carlo Melchior of Melchior Chocolates.

“I am very pleased with the conversion from Zen Cart to Shopify. It works extremely well and is very secure for payment, as far as customers are concerned. There is no longer a need to use a third party such as Worldpay, because Shopify takes care of that too. Elliot has been very helpful and his understanding of my needs during the Zen Cart change-over process has been excellent. He has been quick, efficient and friendly. I can recommend Shopify to anyone who wants to take a leap into the digital world.”

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