The Main Features of Zen Cart
Zen Cart is built for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. Zen cart developers claim that the program is built by programmers and designers who understand the online selling process from start to finish. Existing users of Zen Cart know that it contains all of the necessary tools required to build a successful online store. Zen Cart is also being constantly improved and upgraded based on users’ requirements.
The major features included in Zen Cart are outlined in the following sections:
Easy Installation and Upgradation
Zen Cart has a very easy installation and upgradation system. Its native web-based installer checks the database and server requirements before proceeding to install Zen Cart. It guides you systematically through installation of the store. Each step is well-documented, guiding you through online help tips with a ready to help community of Zen Cart users. The installation tool prepopulates the basic store information, which helps you to quickly set up the shop. From the installation tool, you can also populate optional demo products to explore Zen Cart’s features.
Zen Cart has some useful features for localization. It supports multiple languages, multiple currencies, multiple payment methods, shipping methods, and multiple tax rates for different tax regions. Some of the language packs, including Arabic, Spanish, Dutch, French, German, and Polish are readily available from Zen Cart website’s download section. You can also add new languages and translate the interface into your desired language.
Similarly, you can show your product prices in any currency. You can add currencies of your choices, set conversion rates against base currency, and product prices will be shown in any currency the customer wants. You also have an auto-update facility for updating the currency conversion rates based on available market data.
Tax rates can vary depending on the shipping address or billing address. You can apply different tax rates to different types of products, based on the regions you are shipping or billing to. You can also create custom tax and shipping regions as per your needs.
You have an array of options for payment methods. Most of the major online payment gateways are supported for online payment processing. Besides online payment, you also have options for offline payments such as money order, bank transfer, cash on delivery, and so on. You have the full freedom to apply appropriate payment methods for specific regions.
Zen Cart has excellent features both for customers and shop administrators, especially in managing customers and products.
In a normal Zen Cart shop, customers can browse the products, view the details, and register themselves to order a product. Once registered with Zen Cart shop, customer information is stored in the database. Then, they can log in to Zen Cart shop each time they visit your store. Customers can maintain up to five shipping and billing addresses, which can be used when they shop. They can also subscribe to newsletters and product notifications of their choice and manage these subscriptions from the account details page.
The administrator of the shop can allow customer unrestricted shopping. You can also make registration mandatory for customers to see the prices of the products. Administrators have the right to enable or disable any customer at any time. There is an excellent way to communicate with a single customer or a group of customers from the Zen Cart administration panel. You do not need external email program to communicate with customers—Zen Cart handles it for you.
The administrator of the shop can set the shop to be only a showroom. This means that products will be displayed in the shop, customers will be able to browse the items but they cannot make a purchase. While using it as a showroom, you have the option to either hide, or show the prices of the products. At any time, the showroom can be brought online and customers allowed to purchase products.
In normal shopping mode, often you may need to make the shop offline for some maintenance work. In that case, you can simply switch on the shop in maintenance mode, which will show a notice to the customers that you are in maintenance mode and will be back soon.
Categories and Products
In Zen Cart, there is no limit to how big the catalog can be. You can build your catalog with thousands of products and keep the products in categories. Zen Cart allows you to create unlimited nested categories. You also have the ability to copy, move, or link a product to another category.
Your catalog may contain both—physical merchandise and downloadable virtual products. You can assign attributes to products, and price the products according to these attributes. Product options can be shown as drop-downs, option buttons, checkboxes, and text inputs. Products can also be marked as “Free” or “Call for Price”. A product marked “Free” does not require the buyers to pay for it. However, shipping charges may apply to it.
Customer Retention Tools
Zen Cart has many customer retention tools that allows the store owner to communicate with the customers. Zen Cart maintains a customer-base from where the administrator can contact any customer through email. The store owner can notify customers about new products, promotions, discounts, and many other things. The store owner can send order status emails whenever the status of an order is changed. This allows the customers to be informed about their orders.
The administrators can send periodic newsletters to customers in plain text or HTML format. Customers can subscribe and unsubscribe to newsletters when creating their account, or from the account details page. Zen Cart also has referral tools that can track customer referrals. Customers can also send the product details to others by using the “Tell a Friend” feature. It has a system for gift certificate and discount coupon generation and distribution. Customers can use these gift certificates and discount coupons for purchasing products from the store.
Promotions, Sales, and Discounts
Promotions, sales, and discounts are common to all shops. Zen Cart also has features for adding promotions, sales, and discounts. The administrator can specify special prices and sale reductions for individual products, or can apply category-wide sales prices. Moreover, the administrator has the opportunity to generate discount coupons and send them to customers, who can then use the coupon codes to get discounts while shopping. The discount coupons may be configured for specific customer groups or for specific quantities of products purchased. This discount may be in the form of a one-time value deduction, or percentage deduction. Minimum and maximum purchases per product can also be configured.
Another great feature of Zen Cart is pricing by attributes. Some products may have various attributes and choosing those will add or deduct from product-base price.
Powerful Administration Tool
Zen Cart has a powerful administration tool. Zen Cart’s administration panel is password-protected and only users with administrative privilege can log in to this area. From this administrative panel, the administrator can configure minimum and maximum values, image sizes, and customer details. Further more, the administrator can also:
- Choose layout settings for spotlight listings
- Pick details to be displayed on the product details page
- Edit policy pages with HTML
- Add, delete, move, link, or copy products
- Create and manage product attributes
- Manage product reviews, featured products, specials, and storewide sales.
- Install and manage the shipping and payment module
- Control banner advertising, price, and taxation
- Create and send newsletters
Besides, Zen Cart also has several tools for content management and adding new content pages to the shop.
Fully Customizable Catalog Templates
Zen Cart has an easy-to-use template system, which is XHTML 1.0 compliant and utilizes a nearly table-less layout. The administrator can:
- Change the colors, fonts, and many graphics using Cascading Stylesheets (CSS)
- Add, move, and remove sideboxes using the administration tool
Zen Cart template system uses overriding functionality, which means that configuration changes do not get overwritten during upgrades. Override functionality can be used even without knowing PHP. Using this, the administrator can create as many different looks as needed. These templates are easily administered and applied to the site from the administration panel.
Zen Cart supports a large number of third-party modules that can build on or enhance the functionality of Zen Cart. Zen Cart website’s download section lists almost every conceivable type of third-party module. The administrators can download the third-party modules and install them as per the easy-to-follow instructions that come with the module. Most of the modules are designed in such a way that they do not need to modify or overwrite Zen Cart core files.
For a working Zen Cart shop, the administrator may need to install such third-party modules. For example, to facilitate administration of Zen Cart shop, the administrator may install, ‘Backup MySQL Plugin’, ‘Barcode product field’, ‘Credit Card Fraud Detection’, ‘Easy Populate’, ‘Email Archive Manager’, ‘PayPal Session Viewer’, ‘Sales Report’, and so on. From the buttons and graphics category, you may also download appropriate buttons in the language that you need, and use appropriate graphic icons for your shop.
Third-party modules categorized as marketing tools may be used for product marketing and promotion. For example, the ‘cross-sell’, ‘advanced cross-sell’, and ‘better-together’ modules can be used for adding cross-sell and up-sell features in your shopping carts. These modules are discussed in detail in Chapter 6, Promotion and Public Relations.
There are more than 100 third-party modules for payment processing. These modules can be used for accepting different types of payments and using payment processors ranging from PayPal, 2CheckOut, eWay, Google Checkout, LinkPoint, MoneyBooker, WorldPay, and so on.
Third-party shipping modules can be used for using different shipping methods ranging from Free Shipping, AusPost, UPS, RoyalMail, FedEx, and so on. There are some other third party modules that can be used for search engine friendly URL generation, adding lightbox effects, changing look and feel, adding header graphics and logos, and so on.