If you want to set up an online store with minimal hassle, Zen Cart is a great choice. It’s completely free and open source, and fairly easy to use.
Zen Cart is essentially an all-in-one eCommerce environment. While other online store platforms such as WooCommerce sit on top of a WordPress website, Zen Cart is a standalone system, which makes it ideal for those who just wish to quickly launch an online store without having to learn a range of new products and techniques.
Getting started with Zen Cart is made even easier by the fact that all the best Web hosts (such as our recommended host, HostGator), provide access to Zen Cart via a QuickInstall process. You can literally start to build you shop within minutes – and we’re going to show you how to get started right here.
Why Zen Cart?
You have plenty of choices when it comes to selecting a platform for eCommerce, but here are several good reasons to select Zen Cart.
1. Products are easy to add: You don’t need to understand HTML code to use Zen Cart – all your products and descriptions are handled by a friendly interface.
2. Flexibility: You can change the appearance of your store as it evolves using a simple template system.
3. Easy Promotions: It’s easy to implement temporary offers and discounts using Zen Cart.
4. Flexible Payments: Zen Cart integrates with PayPal and a wide selection of other payment providers, making it easy to handle the all-important payment process.
5. Multiple Languages / Currencies: Zen Cart makes it easy to give your store a truly global reach, with just a little effort.
As an alternative, you may wish to consider using WooCommerce for your online store. We have a detailed tutorial on that platform here.
For the purposes of this article, we aim to take you through the following steps:
1. Registering a domain for your eCommerce business and arranging Web hosting
2. Installing Zen Cart using your host’s “QuickInstall” process
Setting up your actual store is beyond the scope of this tutorial but you should find it easy to start to upload items and start making sales.
Let’s get started.
Getting a domain and hosting
Before you can do anything, you need an address for your website (a domain), and a place to host your website (Web hosting service).
We have produced a very detailed step by step guide to registering your domain and setting up your hosting. You should visit the page now via this link. (The links will open in a new window or tab, so you can easily return to this guide at any time – see you shortly!)
Installing Zen Cart
1. Log in to your host’s cPanel environment using the credentials supplied when you signed up.
2. Located the “Software / Services” section towards the bottom of the page.
3. Click on the “QuickInstall” option.
NOTE: Fantastico De Luxe is an alternative software installation environment that works in an almost identical fashion. If you wish, you can use it as an alternative to QuickInstall. In the case of HostGator (at the time of writing), QuickInstall offers a slightly more up to date version of Zen Cart. However, if Fantastico is all your Web host offers, you can still follow the next steps.
4. Locate “ZenCart” amongst the eCommerce software on the left hand side and click on it, then click continue.
5. You will now see a rather complicated looking form requesting some information.
- The box to the right of the Web address allows you to install your store into a subdomain. In most cases you would leave this blank.
- Fill the “Admin Email” field with an email address you regularly monitor.
- Fill in the “Admin Username” with your chosen admin login.
- Fill in the name, owners, address and telephone number fields as needed.
- Complete the currency details for your store.
6. Once you have completed all the details, click “Install Now.” You will need to wait a short while for the installation process to complete.
7. Once the install is complete, you will be provided with your administrative login details and the URL to log on to your site. Make sure you take note of these details.
8. Click on the link provided to access the admin interface for your store.
9. Enter the details provided back in step 7, and click “login.” You should find yourself in the Zen Cart admin interface.
10. If you visit your store’s Web address directly, you will be able to access the “front end” of your shop. You will see that Zen Cart installs a small set of demo data including some product examples.
Congratulations! You are now ready to begin to upload products of your own and begin to make some sales.
As we stated earlier, exactly how to configure Zen Cart to your needs is beyond the scope of this tutorial, however a great place to start is on the Zen Cart site, where you will find lots of “how to” guides and other information.