Zen Cart is a very well established open source e-commerce app. It was originally based on osCommerce code from June 2003 and has undergone rapid development since then. It has had three major point releases and a couple dozen minor point releases. The current release is 1.5.1.
It features a rich set of online shopping cart functionality that allows online store owners to set up, run, and maintain their online stores with a minimum of effort. The software is a free full-featured, user-friendly, open source shopping cart system.
It runs on a standard LAMP stack (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP). It is available in Softaculous, so it can be installed with one click of the mouse on many hosting companies. If your store not large, it may run well on a good Shared host that does not overbook its servers.
It does not support mobile devices out of the box. Perhaps that is due to its age. For that, check out our recommendations on mobile e-commerce in 5 Best Hosting for Mobile Commerce.
The Best 5
- Site5 : A Shared and cloud VPS provider who has 20 datacenters around the world,
- A Small Orange : A line of Business Shared hosting plans designed for e-commerce,
- Arvixe : A line of Business Shared hosting and VPS plans,
- WebHostingBuzz : A business Shared hosting plan powered by a dual web server configuration,
- SiteGround : Premium Shared hosting and managed VPS for business.
Read more about them after the break!
Zen Cart’s installation requirements do not require exotic or unusual software or hardware. It is compatible with the familiar LAMP stack that most of the world’s Linux-powered hosts use. This means that lots of providers can host Zen Cart.
Of course, being fast is always an important issue for an e-commerce site. Just because a cheap Shared host can run Zen Cart doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good choice. For e-commerce, our advice is to avoid the bargain-basement Shared hosts that overcrowd servers. You should test your site to be sure that a Shared hosting solution works for you. Hey, that’s what that the money-back guarantee is for!! [HINT: A Small Orange offers a 90-day money-back guarantee.] If a Shared host proves to be too slow, upgrade to a VPS. It is likely to cost double, but you won’t be losing sales because of lousy load times!
For e-commerce, the other requirement is that the host must establish an encrypted and secure tunnel in which payment information is exchanged.
The chief requirement for e-commerce is airtight security. You need to create an encrypted line of communication between the seller and the buyer. This prevents a so-called “man-in-the-middle” attack. A “man-in-the-middle” is a bad guy who is eavesdropping on the conversations between the buyers and the seller. This is very bad since a “man-in-the middle” can grab your customers’ credit card numbers and even impersonate you to them.
To block this, you need to obtain and install an SSL certificate. In practical terms, you need:
- A private SSL certificate, so that the buyers are able to verify that you are the legitimate merchant that you claim to be,
- A fixed IP address, a requirement for implementing a clean SSL connection that the buyers can verify in their browsers,
- Also, there’s a set of rules called PCI compliance (Payment Card Industry compliance). A host should be able to warrant that its servers are PCI compliant. This would mean that they’re solid from a security perspective.
The SSL certificate enables your customers to establish an encrypted and trusted connection using the https protocol (rather than the ordinary http protocol); https is the secure and encrypted version of http.
Typically, a Shared host that is robust enough for e-commerce comes with a fixed IP address, an SSL certificate, and the server is warranted for PCI compliance. If you want to use a Shared host then you should be careful that you are able to conduct encrypted transactions.
Another possibility is to purchase an SSL certificate separately and install it yourself. There may be a control for this in your panel.
Performance, Uptime, and Backups
Beyond that, it’s in your best interest to choose a fast and reliable host. Customers are turned off by slow and unresponsive sites. If your potential customers lose interest because your site loads too slowly, then you won’t be doing much business.
This is one reason to consider using a VPS rather than a Shared host!
What can you do about all this? A few things:
- Choose a host with a datacenter close to your customers,
- Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network),
- Use a Cloud VPS or a deluxe shared host that does not overbook their servers.
- Use a provider that does automatic backups.
A first step is to check to see that the host has a datacenter relatively close to your customers. You usually can check to see where the host’s datacenters are. Also, the host should be a part of a content delivery network that makes your site available to a group of “relay” servers who can serve your content to clients even if the main server goes down.
One thing you can do is join Cloudflare, a worldwide CDN that provides a number of important cloud-related services. It is a CDN that tries to keep your site up even if your server goes down. Its almost like joining an expensive Cloud VPS! Also, it provides some anti-spam and DDoS protection by crowdsourcing it.
Cloudflare is free and you can usually join it from your panel. If not, you can sign up at the Cloudflare site. Often, good hosting providers are part of their own CDN and their customers benefit from that service automatically. This is something to check.
For an active, high traffic site, you should consider a Cloud VPS instead of a Shared host. This is the safest way of avoiding performance and reliability problems.
Finally, you should take steps to ensure that your e-commerce site is fully backed up, with redundant copies. In addition to an automatic backup, it doesn’t hurt for you to maintain a local backup.
Since you are going to use Zen Cart, we have decided to help you out by curating 5 best hosting services for Zen Cart.
Winner – Site5 – From $11.95/month
Site5 has been in business for more than 15 years and is one of the most successful hosting companies. Site5 is the home for over 200,000 domains and 250 servers. They have a worldwide network of 20 datacenters that run shared, VPS, dedicated, and reseller servers. Here’s the locations of Site5’s datacenters.
- Asia: New Delhi, Singapore
- Australia: Sydney
- Europe: Amsterdam, Bucharest
- UK: London
- Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver
- South America: Joao Pessoa, Sauo Paulo
- US: Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Miami, Atlanta, New York, Washington
Their main datacenter is in Dallas, but you can request another location when you sign up. Other datacenters charge a bit more per month.
For VPS, Site5 has datacenters in the following locations: Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Amsterdam, and Singapore.
Site5 offers a 45 day money back guarantee (15 day for VPS). What’s almost unique is that they do have a 30 day free trial account! It’s available for Shared and Cloud Shared plans. If you want to check out Site5 ahead of time, we suggest that you take them up on their 30-day free shared cloud account. This is perfect for trying out the performance of the Shared hosting plan and working out all the kinks in the SSL installation.
Site5 is among very a small group of hosting companies that offers a customer support Service Level Agreement. The SLA states that if a customer does not get a response to a support inquiry within 24 hours, his account will be credited as a token of apology. This is both commitment and confidence.
Shared Hosting Plans
Their Shared hosting plans are priced at $4.95, $8.95, and $11.95 a month. The $4.95 plan permits only one site but the others are unlimited. Only the $11.95 plan comes with a dedicated IP address. All the plans are provided with an SSL certificate, but if you intend to use your Shared hosting site for eCommerce, the $11.95 plan is our recommendation.
Cloud Shared Hosting Plans
Site5 has an interesting premium-level Shared hosting plan that delivers the advantages of Cloud hosting without the price penalty of a fully-managed VPS. They call it Cloud Shared Hosting. Like a VPS, it has storage and bandwidth limits, but it comes with the uptime advantages of cloud hosting. They cite a 99.99% uptime statistic, but a true cloud really shouldn’t be going down at all.
The Cloud Shared Hosting plan is available only at the Dallas and Amsterdam datacenters.
A dedicated IP is included, as is their 45-day money-back guarantee.
The Cloud Web plans are designed with fully redundant backup components with automatic failover. It is designed for businesses that must be online 24/7 but don’t have enough traffic to justify the expense of a cloud VPS. Site5 guarantees 99.99% uptime for their line of Cloud Web hosting plans.
Site5 offers both managed and unmanaged VPS hosting plans. Their unmanaged plans include root access, choice of Linux distro, and optional panel and installer.
Here is the price sheet for their unmanaged VPS hosting.
Cloud VPS Plans
Site5 also has a line of fully managed Cloud VPS plans. Their prices include the panel, installer, and remote backups — but without root access. You can SSH into your server but you don’t need the benefits of full management to work with Zen Cart. It is a luxury.
2. A Small Orange – From $20/mo
Founded in 2003 in Atlanta, their mission statement is to (modestly) provide the best quality service at an affordable cost. They have outstanding Shared hosting and Managed VPS plans, but their line of Business Hosting plans is of special interest to us. These are affordable Shared hosting solutions that are configured for e-commerce right out of the box. This is just what we are looking for!
Business Shared Hosting Plans
They have three Business plans, Startup, Small Business, and Enterprise. Here they are:
|Plan||Storage||Bandwidth||SSL Cert.||PCI Comp.||Price|
1. Storage is on high speed mechanical disks with SSD caching.
2. Automatic daily backups are included.
ASO also has a premium “Managed SEO Services” service as a high cost option to any of their plans. It promises to hand tune your site for maximum SEO. This is the type of service that is often provided by an external SEO consultant.
ASO offers a very unusual 90-day money-back guarantee; this is the highest in the industry. Also, their Business hosting is backed by their cloud infrastructure. They claim 99.9% uptime and we believe it for their cloud-based services like this. For a business, downtime equals lost revenue, so this is an important consideration.
This family of plans sounds right for Zen Cart. If you want to upgrade to VPS, then ASO’s plans make it as painless as possible. A Small Orange’s VPS plans are fully managed yet they are priced in the same range as their Business shared hosting.
Cloud VPS Plans
ASO’s prices don’t necessarily stand out — until you learn that this is fully-managed Cloud VPS hosting that uses 2.5GHz Xeon CPUs and SSD storage. If you shop around half as much as we have, you’ll see that these features can easily add an extra $50/mo to the base charge. This is especially true after you throw in the cPanel installer. It is included in ASO’s VPS plans. It’s in ASO’s character to advertise the price of the “deluxe” version of a service instead of advertising the bare-bones version and then upselling everything in the building.
1. The cPanel is included.
2. Each core is equal to a 2.5GHz Xeon or better.
3. 24/7 tech support & 90-day money-back guarantee.
4. Plans include SSD storage in RAID-50.
5. Backups are included.
3. Arvixe – From $22/month
Arvixe is a mature hosting provider with a plethora of packages, options, and types of hosting services. They offer different grades of shared hosting as well as VPS, Reseller, and Dedicated hosting.
Arvixe has two categories of shared hosting, with two plans to pick from in each. Personal Class plans are for smaller websites, while Business Class plans enjoy more server resources.
The Personal Class Linux plan starts at $4.00/mo while Personal Class Linux Pro is $7.00/mo. The former is restricted to six domains, while the latter supports an unlimited number of domains.
E-commerce is possible on a Personal Class site but not recommended. An SSL certificate and dedicated IP address are both options. The SSL certificate is $25/yr and the dedicated IP address is $2/mo. However, you can expect load times to be slower than optimal for an e-commerce site.
The Business Class Linux plan costs $22/mo and Business Class Pro is $35/mo. These plans to not overbook their servers. The cost differential between Personal and Business is proportional to the number of accounts per server.
Business Class customers get a free SSL certificate and a dedicated IP address. Unfortunately, neither is PCI compliant. It is technically possible to encrypt connections on Business class, but a host with PCI monitoring is preferable. Fortunately, their managed VPS Class plans are PCI compliant.
VPS Class Plans
The VPS Class and VPS Class Pro are priced at $40/mo and $70/mo. These are the two plans at Arvixe that meet our criteria for conducting secure e-commerce.
|VPS Class Pro||8||3GB||100GB||Unlimited||$70/mo|
1. Both plans include an SSL certificate for life.
2. Both plans are PCI Compliant.
3. Both plans provide root access.
4. The dedicated IP address is $2/mo.
5. SSD storage is $10/mo.
6. 1GB RAM is $20/mo.
These two plans are fully managed VPS that come with the cPanel/WHM and Softaculous installer and the Cloudflare CDN. It is designed to meet your e-commerce needs in every way.
4. Web Hosting Buzz – From $9.95/month
WebHostingBuzz was founded in 2002 with the idea of offering reasonably priced hosting in a market that was dominated by a few hosting giants and indifferent service.
They now own over 250 of their own servers and have datacenters in both US and UK. Their primary datacenter is in Atlanta, with others in Dallas, New York, Phoenix, and Newark, Nottinghamshire (UK).
WebHostingBuzz is a good choice if you are looking for affordable business hosting with a provider who is well known for knowledgable and courteous customer support. They have attractive business plans at both the Shared and VPS levels of service.
WebHostingBuzz’s entry-level Shared hosting plan is a bit below our minimum standards for business users, but their highest priced Shared plan does look good. It is the so-called “Buzz Premier” plan and it goes for $9.95/mo.
The Buzz Premier plan comes with a dedicated IP address and an SSL certificate. The certificate is included for the first year. In subsequent years the SSL certificate is $12.95.
Also, the Buzz Premier plan uses two web servers, Apache and Nginx, with Nginx playing the role of the front end. In this configuration, Nginx serves the static pages, taking some of the workload from Apache. This really should improve performance even on a lowly Shared hosting plan. The Premier plan may well work out for you if traffic is not high enough to push you into a VPS.
Business Web Hosting
Similar in concept to the Cloud Business Shared hosting at A Small Orange, the Business Web Hosting plans are premium Shared hosting plans that are tailored to the special requirements of business. All of these plans are PCI compliant and the “Power” and “Premier” plans come with a fixed IP address and an SSL certificate. These need to be added to the Business “Light” plan in order to make it ready for e-commerce.
In addition to being set up for security, they are also designed to be faster than the average Shared host. Like the “Buzz Premier” plan, they use the Nginx web server as a reverse-proxy front end. This should boost performance compared to Shared hosting plans that use only Apache or an Apache-compatible server.
These plans come with a 45-day money-back guarantee.
|Name||# Sites||Ded. IP||SSL||Storage||Bandwidth||Price|
1. Nightly backups are included.
2. An SSL certificate must be purchased and installed in the Light plan. WebHostingBuzz has SSL certificates for sale at $12.95 or you can purchase a certificate from another vendor. There are actually different types of SSL certificates, but that is another post!
Unmanaged VPS Plans
WebHostingBuzz sells a line of very capable and affordable unmanaged VPS plans. Their personality is to offer the basics and offer the extras a la carte. That’s the case here.
You get at least one dedicated IP address with any of these plans. Only one is included with VPS1 and 4 are included with VPS6. The ones in the middle have two!
Unless you purchase full management and an installer, expect to do some installation and management at the command line.
1. cPanel is $8/mo extra.
2. Softaculous is $2/mo extra.
3. Management is $50/mo (base plan). If additional time is needed, it is billed at $25/hr.
5. SiteGround – From $7.95/mo
Founded in 2004 by a few university friends, SiteGround gradually but steadily grew into a leading web hosting service provider. Today the company has about 90 employees and is constantly growing.
The company now has datacenters in Chicago, Amsterdam, and Singapore. The company is built to provide top-notch customer support and high performance hosting services, while sticking to the policy of not overselling their resources. Their place in the market is to compete on the basis of quality and service rather than cutthroat prices.
Their costs and feature sets are competitive. Their types of plans are:
- Shared Hosting: Pricing from $3.95 to $14.95.
- Managed Cloud VPS: Pricing from $68.95 to $138.95.
- Managed Dedicated Server: Pricing from $229 to $429.
Of course, the (costly) Cloud VPS and Dedicated plans are suitable for e-commerce. The good news is that the middle and high priced Shared hosting plans also pass our tests. Here’s the details of their Shared hosting plans.
Siteground supports a one-click install of Zen Cart using Softaculous. Since both their Shared and VPS hosts have the installer, you are all set for creating a Zen Cart store.
Siteground offers three categories of shared hosting plans that correspond to small, medium, and high cost. Their shared hosting plans limit storage and bandwidth so as to not overbook their shared servers.
|Name||# Sites||Storage||Bandwidth||SSL Cert||PCI Comp.||Price|
1. The GrowBig plan comes with an SSL certificate. The certificate can be added at extra cost to the lower priced plans, but only the top plan, GoGeek, also includes server PCI compliance, making it the preferred choice for e-commerce.
Fully Managed VPS
Curiously, Siteground offers only fully-managed VPS plans. They have no entries in the cheaper “Unmanaged VPS” category. Their style is to only offer complete, full-featured support — but at a price. Unlike most providers, they don’t even make the panel and installer optional! If you want VPS from Siteground, you get everything!!
Also, they are not stingy about allocating computer resources. Even their entry-level VPS plan has two 2GHz cores and 2MB RAM. They don’t try to cut corners on resources in order to advertise a super-low price on a VPS that can hardly do anything.
The drawback of this is that they do not offer any VPS with root access. “Full management” and “root access” often conflict with each other. Thus, the cheapest SiteGround plan with root access is north of $200 because root is only offered on SiteGround’s dedicated servers!!
If you need a VPS that gives you root access at a great price, head for Digital Ocean for the best price/performance balance in unmanaged VPS hosting.
Here is their managed VPS price table.
1. cPanel/WHM/Softaculous are all included.
2. An SSL certificate and two dedicated IP addresses are included.
3. The git version control software is included.
4. A CDN is included.
5. The plans do not include root access but it does support SSH.
Zen Cart is easy to install, configure, and use. Take care that you work with a good provider so that you encrypt all sensitive communication. If you want to evaluate other options for hosting, then please use hosting companies comparison tool to check them out.