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Zen Cart Review

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Basic Information

Company name
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The Zen Cart Team
Product name
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Zen Cart
Version
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1.3.9
Sample customer sites
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http://www.acrocomia.com/
http://www.nejewelry.com/
http://www.sbcphonestore.com/
Price
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Free
Average review score
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3 star ratingAverage: 3
(33)
User reviews
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Reviewed by: Dave
"Before I begin, I’d just like to point out that I’ve gone out of my way to write this review as something has annoyed me that much. I’ve been using ZC for over a year now and host a site of around 4000 products. I often find myself reading the zencart forums looking for support or documentation to their cryptic design of their cart and one thing that I have noticed is that their ‘support’ staff are absolutely HORRIBLE. I’ve seen them belittle people seeking support on several occasions now. They have an arrogant attitude to their work and take any questions and or comments about ZC as a personal insult (example below – where the customer is in fact actually correct). http://www.zen-cart.com/showthread.php?103720-How-do-I-remove-required-fields-from-registration Their cart is average at best. If you’re hosting any more than a hundred or so products then I wouldn’t recommend it. The general layout and design of their code is just scruffy and not particularly nice to work with. I suppose I should show a balanced review and offer some good points: there are many developers out there creating new modules and there is a fix/module/hack for most things that you would want to do; one to note is a guy who runs ceon.net. I used his URI and Advanced Shipping module and it worked well. "

Review date: April 2012   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: fred
"I've used Zen Cart on a number of sites now and find it to be great. Prior to using Zen Cart I worked with an expensive asp.net cart. Guess what folks, paid for carts are no piece of cake to use either. Everything has a learning curve. I utilize things like multiple options, quantity discount pricing, free shipping (if conditions are met), custom sideboxes, and featured products. As far as site appearance goes, you can do pretty much anything you want so I don't understand any of the complaints. Maybe its the persons talent level and not Zen Cart that is lacking. As far as admin goes, everything is there and it is a lot but the fact is you only use a few admin items on a day to day basis and they are easily accessible. Buy the Book, its a heck of a lot cheaper than spending $1000 on a commercial cart you probably won't be able to handle either. It will cost $1000 for a commercial cart with the features of Zen Cart. The forum is Great and I owe so much to so many and always either found my answer or had a reply in a day or two. When customers come to me to do a database driven site now, I tell them we are using Zen Cart and nothing else.While considering other carts remember that they may give you free telephone support for the first year and than charge a few hundred a year, plus upgrades costing hundreds. There is a tremendous amount of add-ons and I use them, all available for free. I usually take one of the free templates that is close to what I want and just modify it, mostly in one main stylesheet. I have spent thousands for myself and others on paid for carts. Never again because I end up doing mods just like in Zen Cart. My only wish for Zen Cart is that it would read my mind and just build the site for me. We are all lazy and want an easy way out. To the Zen Cart Team, GREAT JOB!"

Review date: January 2012   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: John
"OK there is a steep learning curve - but most things that are worth doing take the effort. Mastering the admin section is not hard, you need to take your time and site there with google open. I rebuilt a basic template in just over a day with very little experience. I think you have to determine what you want to use your money on. If you have plenty then go and buy a cart such as Pinnacle, but if you haven't a lot of cash and you want a powerful shop then consider zen-cart"

Review date: September 2011   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Deborah
"I have been using zen cart for a year now. Didn't know it would be so confusing, The shipping area is lacking big time. If you sell ups on one product and fedx on another you can not do it. And the could not find out how to add my own rates. Also I would like to have 3 different flat rates can not do it. And more charges for alaska and hawaii forget it, its too confusing for a beginner to do. Even an upgrade is too confusing still do know how to do that. Now try to make some products sell to different states no way to do it without being a rocket scientist."

Review date: June 2011   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Dave
"Every part of this cart is easy to customise. Does it say "Shipping" and you want it to say "Postage". Search using the Developers Tool Kit then simply change everywhere the words are found. Colors, widths, words, EVERYTHING can be changed, and changes remain after upgrades. The ONLY thing Zen Cart doesn't do is "multi vendor" which would allow other people to sell on your site as well as the owner. I set up my site in an afternoon."

Review date: May 2011   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Justin
"I am loth to criticise open source software to which people have volunteered time and commitment, but, having tried to customise Zen Cart for a small business client recently, I have to be honest and say that I found the current version of the system well nigh unusable. The admin interface is extremely complex, very difficult for non-technical clients to understand, with far too many options. And the templates are coded using very old fashioned HTML and CSS: table based layouts with hundreds of class and id names. I'm an experienced front end designer, and had great difficulty in customising the store to look even half decent. This review is not written without acknowledgement of the efforts of the Zen Cart community to provide a free ecommerce solution. But the reality is that the system must radically improve to stand a chance of holding up against much more elegant solutions such as Shopify or Magento. These are paid-for, but are so much more usable and adaptable, both for users and developers."

Review date: May 2011   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Matt
"I have tried many carts and although quite pretty out of the box i stick with zen. Why? Because if you put the time into building the ugly as heck default template and spend weeks making the thing look great and work right, you do in fact end up with a cart which is only bettered by non-free solutions, most of which still don't give you the same flexibility as zen. True the devs can be a little cranky at times, but look at how many posts these guys and girls do every day, amazing i think. Plus they're getting a lot of flak for the long delays in getting version 2 out. This annoys me also as I've half a dozen sites built on zen and would like to see what version 2 has to offer. Personally sticking with zen, great community and the devs are pretty dedicated to this project."

Review date: February 2011   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Lawrance
"Zen Cart is a complete mess in the admin section. It served my needs when I installed it a few years ago as it was 100% free. Every minor update deletes any custom work I've done including all my meta-tags. Adding products is a pain because you have to name every photo with a very strict naming structure and then manually FTP them to your sever. I've lost all motivation to add new products to my store and now I'm looking at paid shopping carts (CS-Cart or X-Cart) as the admin sections are much more organized then Zen Cart will ever be. Do your budding company a favor and stay away from Zen Cart. "

Review date: February 2011   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Zen-Cart
"The biggest problem now is that zen is far too antiquated in appearance and functionality to look really professional. The zen community is actually pretty good but the developers get extremely defensive if anyone dares to criticize (eg the damned ugly default template). "

Review date: February 2011   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Luciano
"I have been trying to build a webshop with this for weeks. I can honestly say I hate zen-cart. It probably works fine if you use it out of the box with no extras and don't care about how it looks. According to one of the developers it is so perfect even housewives can install their wonderful piece of software. When testing, I found out that customers are required to put in their gender upon registration, just to be called with their firstname and lastname in the e-mails they get. To change that, so they would be called mr or ms, you have to do some serious, very time consuming hacking on it. Like almost every little detail you want changed! Even if it is such an obvious thing like I mentioned, that should be standard. When upgrading, you can start all over with hacking everything. To add extra functions to your store, you often have to do some serious core hacking, cross your fingers and hope it all works out. Often it doesn't and there goes another day (at least) of aggravation, asking questions in the forum etc etc. Nothing zen about it... "

Review date: February 2011   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Terry
"There are some terrific people involved in this shopping cart project. But, as with any major joint venture, there are painful people who are simply offensive jerks (Image Handler add-on guys? You know who you are.) So is zencart worth your time? I would say, on balance, yes...if you don't put a cost value on your time and are happy to take three days off when you want to update the thing. It really is last century's software - and don't even think of having a civilized discussion in the forum about such things - unless you enjoy having your posts pulled for disagreeing - or if being insulted offends you. Free shopping cart? Yes. Free speech? Well, no. So, yes, you can get a great shopping cart happening with zencart, but you will lose handfuls of hair in the process and end up wanting to carve up at least one person or two on the planet. Oh, and just keep saying how thankful you are that it is free because constructive criticism is something the forum has never heard of. I will persevere with it for now, but I've already started porting it to something more sensible. Did I mention that the folder system you will have to constantly deal with and upload was designed by a sadist? Ah! But it's free. And I'm so grateful. And insults? I eat them for breakfast."

Review date: August 2010   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Edmore
"I migrated from osCommerce. Although it took me time (several weeks) to work out the file structure, once I figured it out, everything was a breeze. I know very basic HTML and CSS and no PHP, but I can got it working. Zen Cart has many free themes and extensions. Forums are excellent. Your question will always be answered. I think its an excellent shopping cart for those who have low budgets. I would recommend."

Review date: July 2010   Version reviewed: 1.3.9

Reviewed by: Steve
"Zencart was a steep learning curve for me although I learnt a lot about coding. It definitely does the job in the end. I'm setting up a new site from scratch at the moment and keen to see the v2 that's been scheduled since 2008. v1.3.8 is looking very tired now. I disagree with the comment about the dev support. They're incredibly helpful when you present them with a tangible problem. The general support from other users is pretty good too. Effectively you get the shopping cart logic to build on and you can make it look and behave however you like with a bit of coding knowledge - it's all learnable. I'd say if you want an off-the-shelf cart and are happy to play with code then this does the job - all the important stuff is there. It isn't a polished shop-in-a-box at the moment and I'd hesitate to recommend it to someone who doesn't want to spend time/money customising it. It is a great piece of work though that only needs a refresh to make it the best cart out there. Hopefully we'll get a v2 in some form soon."

Review date: April 2010   Version reviewed: 1.3.7

Reviewed by: Peyton
"I've been using this system for several years now and been very pleased with it. You can tell it was written by people who actually had experience in retail and not just techies because of the features it offers. I do find the admin panel a little clunky in places and the template system a little awkward. Hopefully they will work on that for the next version. However, overall I have never regretted my decision to use this cart. "

Review date: December 2009   Version reviewed: 1.3.7

Reviewed by: adwe
"This cart is so confusing once you load it that it will take you a good week to two to understand what the heck is going on with this thing. There are no templates to choose from so in addition to all the crazy amoutn of files you have to load in the end you have to go out looking for things you need anyway. Unless you have a month to sepnd on trying to make this work I'd look elsewhere... "

Review date: November 2009   Version reviewed: 1.3.7

Reviewed by: KMC
"I am not a developer. I hired someone three years ago to develop a shopping cart web site and she selected ZEN Cart. I suspect because free. Since then I have learned a bit more about shopping carts. When I first tried and began to understand Zen Cart, my first impression was WHAT ARE YOU SERIOUS? Are all shopping carts this difficult to understand and just plan "messy"? Overrides folders, template (is actually multiple files scattered all 0ver the place). Being in IT for 15 years I had never single template of multiple files from multiple folders. And, then to add additional functionality, i,e, Grid layout (instead of a laborious single product line layout which is consumer "Abandonment rates" best friend), RSS feeds, Site Maps, limited hosting services for their promoted gateway service (linkpoint), horrible documentation, etc, etc. And of course as already mentioned several times in this review section, often a nightmare to try and edit colors and layout of the template. So I am beginning to consider moving to a new Shopping cart and Pray I can export the SQL DB. I also learned that FREE Open Source ALSO means a product developed by multiple, unmanaged, inconsistent and non-conforming techies,, and of course the usually result is well, a mess. Not really what I consider FREE if it takes 5 times more to manage and troubleshoot."

Review date: December 2008

Reviewed by: Mal28
"I set up my shop using zen cart. It wasn't easy and like others have said already the zen cart forums help you but i often had to ask questions multiple times because they gave answers in tech talk when i wanted help in newbie terms. I have installed my own template and changed the wording of the specials and featured and new products to suit my own site...That required some html editing but it was fairly easy. The payment modules i needed were Nochex and PayPal Express Checkout and they were already installed so that was easy. My biggest gripe is that it is very difficult for a newbie to design a logo - It would be useful if they could include a logo building module in the Admin section....Another big gripe is the adding of products...I do it all one at a time and it means i have to add a product and then go to a separate section to add meta tags and then another separate section to add attributes. They should make it so you can add your product, meta tags and attributes and pictures all in one place...It would speed things up. I had to install Image Handler 2 as the picture system which comes as standard is in my opinion poor and cumbersome. I found the zen cart development team arrogant and bad at customer service. Yes they answer questions but their attitude was poor. When i pointed out that someones shop waa flagging up in Firefox as being unsafe with regards the SSL certificate i was snootily informed by a female member of the dev team that no it wasn't and the person's shop was secure...Of course they were wrong and i had set up the tools, options, security settings in firefox to warn when a site uses low grade encyption as in a shared SSL. The woman on the Dev team was rude and arrogant to me about this even though i was trying to help someone. I rate the software as good but it needs a better Admin interface and the ability to add products and descriptions with images, meta tags and attributes all under one page then it would be great"

Review date: November 2008

Reviewed by: Keith
"If you're looking for a simple, free and practical way to get an online store up and running then Zen Cart will do the trick. The admin interface is clunky so if you have a large number of items to list, you'll need to use the addons or look elsewhere. If looks are important then you might also want to look elsewhere, I think this cart is best suited to Wholesalers wanting to get an online presence on the cheap. For a slick and polished store you'll have to look somewhere elsewhere. We've been very happy with the results we've acheived and found it relatively simple, with a bit of tech know how to customise delivery and payment options to our special needs."

Review date: July 2008

Reviewed by: Steve
"There is nothing "zen" about Zen Cart, instead it's a huge complicated mess. Simple things like not having customers register before checkout are extremely difficult to implement and require barely satisfactory work around solutions. Updates are extremely tedious as the template system is all over the place. Also, forget having your clients do simple tasks like adding new products unless you want to be yelled at. And, "FREE" is a relative term - if you value your time, buy a real shopping cart solution. I've found ecommercetemplates to be much better for customization. Also, you may have to purchase an outside payment processor module for Zen Cart which defeats the "FREE" aspect. As for support, you have the Zen Cart forum, which is a mixed bag of helpful people and snarky loosers; very annoying and time-consuming when you want to solve a problem which you will have many of. Yes, avoid Zen Cart like the plague!"

Review date: July 2008

Reviewed by: Musaaf
"Hello I have tested it thoroughly since its inception when the developers left oscommerce. The admin panel is still a mess and the templating structure is spread all over. "

Review date: April 2008

Reviewed by: Peter
"This is one powerful system, with a very flexible templating system and a very helpful and responsive support forum. It does require some investment in time to learn how it work, but once over the initial learning curve, there really isn't much that can't be done with this package."

Review date: December 2007

Reviewed by: aeon
"Zen Cart comes out of the box with a lot of fire power and a lot of customization capacity. People on the forum are very courteous and will give really quick responses. The Zen team do a pretty good job of maintaining open source code that can be adapted to meet the needs of most shop owners."

Review date: December 2007

Reviewed by: Nicole
"The fact that this cart system has so many pieces and it's hard to find where everything is laid out is the reason I'm here on this site--to find something else! I think the open source idea is wonderful. I just think that Zen Cart is a mess..."

Review date: October 2007

Reviewed by: Vicky
"Very difficult to learn where everything is laid out. I started out with osCommerce but found that some of the features I wanted weren't included. However, ZenCart did include them. Support isn't too bad. Very good forum community willing to help out. I started by finding a layout template under their free download section and just went from there. I customized it and made it more of my own branding. You can see it here (http://zen-cart-templates.ichoze.net/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=181) and this is what I turned it into http://www.texasjackrussells.com/shop The biggest hurdle is learning where everything is. And even though its CSS designed, it can be confusing at first what does what. It took me awhile to find out what did what. But overall, I'm pleased with it. It fits my needs."

Review date: September 2007

Reviewed by: Paul
"Zencart is better than oscommerce but the alleged Zencart Dev team are rude and have control freak tendencies. Zencart is based on Oscommerce but rather than concentrate on improving important issues (admin interface for one), they seem to have simply hacked a lot of the code to make it work slightly different and not always for the better. Oscommerce has a lot less database queries on the first load compared with the mammoth amounts called by Zencart. The Zencart forums are quite useful but finding answers is like pulling teeth. The same questions are asked countless times and answered quickly but these are all obvious numpty questions. Ask a technical question and you get stony silence. I suspect the Dev team don't understand the OSC code as well as the original developers, which would explain why zencart is more a collection of OSC hacks than a standalone cart. Templating for zencart is easier than OSC but still stuck in the age of the dinosaurs. I swear T-Rex was using this cart when he was selling mammoth memorabilia. You have a cart with a mysql database crammed with tables, then a flat text file language system in directories which are plastered all over the file structure. Any true developer with half a degree of sanity would have moved the language files into the mysql database and provided an admin interface for making the changes, but as I said, Zencart is a collection of OSC hacks and its developers seem to be more focused on squeezing donations and cash from the user community than actually creating anything remotely useful. (Example: If you want a template created you can post in their commercial help forum, but developers need to PAY to read your request. Isn't that nice and cosy for the select Zencart Developer few - keeps most dev-type people out of the forum so they can clean up). Add on modules for zencart are not in short supply and if you are able to do a spot of php coding, anything you cannot find can easily be located on the OSC"

Review date: March 2007

Reviewed by: cploonker
"Zencart is one of the most feature rich shopping cart amongst all those which are either free or under $200. What i like about it more than the other free shopping carts is that programming quality is very good. It has excellent support on it's fourms. I compared extensively with squirrelcart, cubecart and CRELoaded before coming to this conclusion. I have contributed more detailed comparison at http://www.scriptygoddess.com/archives/2006/12/28/cube-cart-vs-zen-cart/"

Review date: January 2007

Reviewed by: Musaaf
"Hi The cart is fine but the admin section is very poorly designed though they will change it in future versions, whenever that is going to be. Also, they do not support that many Payment Methods especially 2Checkout. The Developers do not support 2Checkout and there is only one module developed by some member on the forum which works for old versions and its not that much of a use for the latest version. The developers just dont care about making Zencart compatible with 2Checkout whereas all other Shopping Carts online are all compatible with 2Checkout, the reason they give is that the 2Checkout Team does not give them any help. What a lame excuse, and why is that all the other carts have 2Checkout built in them, even the loosy OsCommerce has it by default. "

Review date: January 2007

Reviewed by: Jessica
"Zencart is infinitely better than oscommerce. But the admin could be improved upon greatly. You still have to hunt to change options and functionality, just turning off category counts took some searching. I spent quite a few months customizing Zencart for my own webstore, installing various contributor modules (paaid and free) to add functionality I needed. I really wanted to be able to use a separate image for my product thumbnails (squashed ones look so terrible) and there is a (slightly confusing) module for that. I kept waiting for the Quickbooks integration module to be completed, but it took longer than I could wiat and moved on. It looks like it is available now. The forums are fairly active but sometimes support questions go unanswered. It can be frustrating when you are running a business that there is no 'real' customer support person to call for help. I think PHP can be written beautifully. Wordpress CMS is an example of this, but I'm still hunting for a shopping cart with PHP that isn't more complicated than it needs to be."

Review date: January 2007

Reviewed by: DJDevon3
"I used OSC and someone told me about Zen and gave it a shot on a seperate install. Needless to say my OSC site was down that same day and Zen went up as my primary. I know php, sql, css, html as any good admin should. Took me about an hour to get a good template going. The template system is very easy to navigate. As mentioned previously some of the propietary variables are hard to customize and the language files are cumbersome to work with. Kind of the same admin interface as OSC but with much better gui and added options. It still has the localization lang files that you have to edit from the administration. The template system is very good but still just not quite there as far as being for a designer. Making the template easy to work with is the key. Everyone wants their own face on the web and customization is part of that. Zen is almost there, really close to being a complete open source solution. Just needs a bit more polishing with the templates and administration options. The layout is good but hard to actually remove blocks/features. Super easy to get your store up and running in minutes. As a designer for DragonflyCMS I had no problem getting my Zen the way I wanted and in the timeframe I wanted. I can recommend this and would like to see it developed a bit more to get it where the rest of the world could go wild for it."

Review date: September 2006

Reviewed by: Frank Ray
"This shopping cart is the best open source shopping cart I've seen. It is very complete. If you have a designer that knows a little of PHP and MySQL and some basics of CSS, you can for sure build a great shopping cart. Remember, it is FREE! "

Review date: August 2006

Reviewed by: Al
"I tried it and I liked it, but I couldn't use it. As mentioned before, three CSS files are packed...so it take hours of digging through them all just for basic customization. I just found it messy and hard to use due to complicated product attributes. However, the people in the forum are very informative and polite! It was just too over my head to put to practical use in a constricted time frame."

Review date: June 2006

Reviewed by: John
"This cart is basd on osCommerce. If your PHP, HTML and MySQL savy, this free cart may be for you. This cart has many nice features and adds many user interfaces However, this cart lacks interface consistency and design. It's evident that many progranners contributed to this effort independently without a good game plan for design. In addition, creating custom templates in order to change your sites color scheme and layout are a joke. The biggest draw back I found for this product is the lack of documentation and support. A administrators guide does not exist and support (via user forums) is fair. Bottom line is that I did not feel comfortable basing my online business on this software."

Review date: February 2006

Reviewed by: John
"Zen Cart has everything you could need in a shopping cart site, but the bit that most impressed me as a developer is the fact that the presentation layer is totally separate from the application, which means you can make it look the way you want. All it takes is a bit of CSS and you're away. Zen cart has all the great stuff from OsCommerce without the pain of trying to customise it. Wonderful piece of work."

Review date: June 2005

Add Your Own Review
Ecommerce Spot Comments This is a totally free, open source product. It has a good and active support forum. Most of the features are not in-built but you have to install them seperately. Zen Cart is a refined variant of the popular osCommerce cart.

It now supports XHTML/CSS layouts. Some of the features are only supported through add ons (which are usually free).
Read a detailed hands on Zen Cart review

Technology

Supported operating systems
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Windows, Linux, Unix
Language
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PHP
Database
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MySQL
Source code
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Yes
Reseller discounts
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No

Features

Product limit
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No
Category limit
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No
Multi-language
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Yes
Gift certificates
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Yes
Loyalty program
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Yes
Email merchant on order
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Yes
Affiliates program
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3rd party
Site search
Help
Yes
Search optimization tools
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Yes
Product reviews
Help
Yes
Newsletters
Help
Yes
Discount coupons
Help
Yes
Customer registrations
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Yes
Wish list
Help
3rd party

Shipping

Shipping price range
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Yes
Shipping weight range
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Yes
UPS lookup
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Yes
USPS lookup
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Yes
Fedex lookup
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Yes
Canada Post lookup
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Yes

Tax & Payment

Tax by state
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Yes
Tax by country
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Yes
PayPal
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Yes
Authorize.Net
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Yes
Verisign
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3rd party
Worldpay
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3rd party
Secure Trading
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No
Others
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Yes
Non credit card options
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Yes

Support

Customer forums
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Yes
Free support
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Yes
Paid support
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Yes

Reports

Sales reports
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Yes
Search reports
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No
Low stock reports
Help
Yes
Inventory reports
Help
Yes

 

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Last updated: 23 Apr 2012

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