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Big Cartel Review

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Date Established
2005
Location
Salt Lake City, UT

Pros

  • Suited for startups
  • Cheap monthly cost
  • Easy to use
  • Free plan available

Cons

  • Limited SKUs
  • Unscalable
  • Fair support materials
  • Limited integrations

Overview

Designed for painters, photographers, crafters, bakers, and authors, Big Cartel supports independents in their endeavors to produce and sell products they believe in. And it does so in an easy-to-access format.

Founded in 2005, Big Cartel was originally created by Matt Wigham, who was looking for a way to sell his band merchandise online. It has since expanded to serve nearly a million artists, including AR Ceramics and The Good Twin. Big Cartel is web-based, fully hosted software, sporting simplicity of design and ease of use with zero transaction fees. Functions are simple, and the process of adding products, creating discounts, and managing orders and inventory is as smooth as it gets. Unfortunately, that ease of use comes with a limited feature set. If you’re selling mass quantities, Big Cartel likely won’t be able to fill your needs. However, if you’re just starting out or you don’t need a whole lot of advanced features, Big Cartel might be just the ticket.

While Big Cartel is not the right option for every merchant, for the independent artist, this software is one of the best options out there. Keep reading to learn about Big Cartel’s pricing and features.

Pricing

Big Cartel’s pricing structure is based on the number of products you list. If you have five or fewer products, you can use their free plan (which has some limited functionality). Here’s what that plan looks like:

Gold:

  • $0 per month, 5 products
  • 1 Image Per Product
  • Facebook Store Access
  • Order Management Features
  • Sell In-Person Or Online
  • Basic Customization (Change Colors, Fonts, Graphics, Or CSS But No Access To Store’s HTML)
  • No Discount Code Functionality
  • Choose From All Of Big Cartel’s Themes & Apps
  • SEO Tools
  • Access To Big Cartel Support
  • Must Use Bigcartel.com URL

However, if you have more than five products, you’re going to have to purchase a paid plan, which allows for more products and provides additional features. Below is the paid plan pricing structure:

  • Platinum: $9.99/Month, 25 Products
  • Diamond: $19.99/Month, 100 Products
  • Titanium: $29.99/Month, 300 Products

All paid plans include the same additional features. They come with:

  • Five Images Per Product
  • HTML/CSS/JavaScript Editors Available
  • Integrated Google Analytics
  • Inventory Tracking
  • Discount Codes
  • Custom URL Option

While the free plan is definitely an option for hobbyists, in order to really sell, you’re going to have to spring for a paid plan. That way you can provide more than one image for each product (which is crucial for online selling) and create discount codes. Fortunately, those paid plans aren’t all that expensive.

Web-Hosted Or Licensed

Web-hosted. Big Cartel hosts your store on their servers. Fortunately, they have a pretty good track record.

Hardware & Software Requirements

As a fully hosted, web-based platform, Big Cartel doesn’t have any hardware or software requirements. Just be sure to keep your basic tools (computer, internet, and web browser) current and functional for optimum use.

Ease Of Use

It’s incredibly simple to set up a store with Big Cartel. I would go so far as to say that Big Cartel’s setup process is simpler than that of Shopify, the eCommerce platform which usually dominates in the ease of use department.

What’s more, Big Cartel has recently revamped their admin. They released each update piece-by-piece, and as of August of last year, the entire admin has been redone.

When you first create your account, you will be presented with a brand new setup wizard. You can also find setup information in the Help Center.

After you’ve completed setting up your store, you’ll be able to access Big Cartel’s new dashboard.

While I’m happy that BigCartel is continually making improvements to their software, I actually prefer their old dashboard. The new dashboard is a bit too gray for me–things tend to blend into each other. Fortunately, Big Cartel has not hurt their usability with this update.

Adding products is remarkably straightforward. However, you’ll notice in the screenshot below that there are a few missing functions. Tax calculation is very limited (you can only list taxes for one state or territory in the US), and there is no automatic shipping rate generator (you can only create flat shipping rates for each product and region). Most shopping carts come with these features built-in. Although you can integrate a shipping estimator via an add-on, I still haven’t found any integrations for more complex tax calculations (save an integration through Zapier).

While I admit the limited functionality and simplicity would be frustrating to a more advanced user or a merchant who deals with more products and orders, I think Big Cartel is just right for a lot of artists. If you’d prefer to focus your energy on making products instead of tweaking your site’s code, Big Cartel may be the right approach.

Why not give it a try? It’s free, after all.

Features

Although Big Cartel’s admin is fairly simple in terms of features, there are a few that you should note:

Admin

  • Mobile Management: Use the iOS app to manage your store from anywhere.
  • Custom Domains: Create your own custom domain, free of any Big Cartel branding (available with paid plans).
  • Maintenance Mode: Set your site to display an “Under Construction” page when you’re working on the site.

Design

  • WYSIWYG Editor: A WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor lets you update pages without any coding.
  • Customizable: Edit your site with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript customization (available with paid plans).

Product Management

  • Inventory Management: Track your inventory so you never sell stock you don’t have on hand (available with paid plans). You can also list items as “coming soon” or “sold out.”
  • Sell Digital Products: Use an integration with Pulley to list your digital merchandise.

Order Management

  • Order Confirmation: Set up order confirmation emails to automatically send upon purchase.
  • Fulfillment: Track orders and print packing slips from the admin.
  • Bulk Export: Export order history using CSV files.

Marketing and Promotions

  • SEO: Utilize SEO features, like automatic sitemap generation, to draw in traffic.
  • Discounts: Create discount codes to attract more customers (available with paid plans).
  • Facebook Integration: Use a Facebook integration to set up shop on your social media platform.

Reporting and Analytics

  • Google Analytics: Google Analytics is already integrated into the platform (available with paid plans).

Customer Accounts

  • Guest Checkout: Customers don’t have to create an account to check out.

I would really like to see some additional functionality (e.g. shipping and tax calculators, abandoned cart recovery). But for a cheap, bare-bones shopping cart, Big Cartel has an adequate number of features.

Web Design

Big Cartel has fifteen themes available, and all of them are mobile responsive. This is definitely a small selection of themes compared to other shopping carts. While the themes are not particularly spectacular, they should look just fine if you fill them with high-resolution, beautiful photography.

There are a few third-party themes out there, and you can always work with a web developer to customize your site at the source code level.

Editing one of Big Cartel’s fifteen themes is easy (and actually fun). I got a little carried away testing out various themes, adding different images, and trying on the multiple fonts available. It’s all point-and-click.

Here’s what I started with:

In five minutes, I had this. It’s clearly not a publishable site yet, but still, I like to think that it looks pretty good for five minutes.

There’s an HTML/CSS editor available as well (HTML is only available for paying clients). Just click the <> tab at the top of the page.

Integrations & Add-Ons

Big Cartel integrates directly with only a few add-ons, although an integration with Zapier significantly expands those options. With a Zapier integration, you have access to over 1,000 different applications. Granted, you will have to pay for both the Zapier service and your third-party applications, but Zapier eliminates the need to hire a web developer to build those connections for you.

Additional integrations include:

  • Facebook Store: Add a tab to your Facebook page to sell right where your customers are.
  • Google Analytics: Track your traffic and sales.
  • Google Domains: Purchase a custom domain.
  • LiveChat: Enable live chat on your website.
  • Lucky Orange: View detailed analytics.
  • MailChimp: Send automatic emails to confirm orders, request feedback, etc.
  • Printful: Screen printing, packing, and shipping service.
  • Pulley: Sell digital products.
  • Art Of Where: Printing, packing, and shipping service.
  • ShipRobot: Create and print shipping labels. Automatically send package tracking emails.
  • ShipRush: Create and print shipping labels in bulk.
  • ShipStation: Sync information from multiple channels and print shipping labels.
  • Socialphotos: Display your customers’ images of your products.
  • Big Cartel for iOS: Manage your store from your mobile device.
  • Zapier: Connect to your choice of 1,000+ software solutions.

Additionally, there’s an API available to help you integrate with other software.

Payment Processing

Big Cartel integrates with four payment methods. View them below:

  • Stripe: Stipe allows you to accept online payments. Processing fees begin at 2.75% per transaction. Read our review of Stripe.
  • PayPal: PayPal allows you to accept online payments. You must have a PayPal business account to use this integration. Processing fees start at 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. Take a look at our review of PayPal.
  • Square: Process in-person transactions with Square. Big Cartel released this integration last year. Fees begin at 2.75% per transaction. Read more on Big Cartel’s blog or our review of Square.
  • Apple Pay: Accept in-person payments from customers’ Apple Pay accounts. These payments are processed through Square.

You should note that although Big Cartel does not charge any transaction fees, payment processors do. To learn more about payment processing, download our free eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Payment Processing. 

Customer Service & Technical Support

Although Big Cartel does not offer phone or chat support, you can reach customer service via email Monday–Friday from 9am to 6pm EST.

Big Cartel also has an active Facebook page and Twitter account, which customers can use to contact the company with general questions (Big Cartel responds quickly on both channels). However, you should note that most of Big Cartel’s social media replies advise customers to send an email detailing their problems.

Big Cartel also has a Help Center available, which they’ve recently redone. In the past Big Cartel’s Help Center was lacking, so I’m excited to see this recent improvement. The new Help Center includes information on the following topics:

  • The Basics
  • Customization
  • Products
  • Orders
  • Dashboard
  • Discounts
  • Settings
  • Billing
  • Security
  • Apps & Integrations

I’d still like to see a few more topics added to Big Cartel’s knowledge base, including information covering SEO features and configuring taxes, but this is a step in the right direction.

Big Cartel also maintains a blog that features various artists who use their platform and provides helpful tips for running a business. The news section of the blog presents new features and integrations.

Negative Reviews & Complaints

After some time spent haunting forums, customer review sites, and comment threads, I’ve come up with the most commonly mentioned complaints about Big Cartel. Here are the top complaints:

  • Product Limit: Big Cartel’s plans only allow up to 300 products, which can certainly be limiting for some sellers.
  • Restrictions On Free Plan: The free plan does not allow you to edit HTML or create discount codes.

Others complaints include:

  • Limited Social Sharing Integrations: The Facebook Store integration is the only social media connection available.
  • No Search Function: Customers aren’t able to look for products with a search bar or filtering tool.
  • No Image Hosting
  • No Automatic Shipping Calculator
  • Limited Built-In Tax Calculator

If you take a look at the company’s BBB (Better Business Bureau) page, you may notice Big Cartel’s scary C+ rating. Before you take off for the hills, look closer at that rating. A grand majority (almost all) of those complaints are really directed at stores that use Big Cartel as their platform. They’re misdirected accusations, really, as Big Cartel clearly states in their legal agreement that they are not responsible for fulfilling orders placed at Big Cartel stores.

However, you might take that ranking as a warning about the reputation of Big Cartel stores. Try as they might to monitor store activity, Big Cartel cannot keep away all the scammers on the internet, and consumers know it. It might be worth it to purchase a plan just to use a custom URL and get rid of that negative association.

Positive Reviews & Testimonials

There’s a lot of good to talk about with Big Cartel. Here’s what the people of the internet mention most often:

  • Ease Of Use: Customers rave about the simple dashboard and no-hassle theme editor. It’s pretty great to go from a blank canvas to a full site in just a day, no HTML headaches necessary.
  • Great Alternative To Etsy: Most Big Cartel users are the type who would otherwise belong to the Etsy community. Big Cartel allows them to sell the same products independently, without direct competition from other artists and without that pesky 3% transaction fee. Big Cartel also gives artists more power to build their own brand, apart from the Etsy marketplace.

Others positive reviews discuss the following:

  • Consistent Branding: You can easily integrate your shopping cart’s look into the rest of your site.
  • Cheaper Plans: It doesn’t take much money up front to start your business.

Security

Big Cartel stores come with SSL encryption for your login page and admin. Transactions are secured by your payment processor.

Final Verdict

Big Cartel is the perfect platform for small merchants who plan to remain relatively small. But if dramatic growth is in your future (or just over 300 SKUs), you’ll likely want to look into other options so that you won’t have to switch platforms down the road.

However, if you want a platform that allows you the time you need to create your art, free from the noise of Etsy, then Big Cartel may be the way to go. Its ease of use lets you design beautiful themes to match your beautiful products, without ever touching that ugly code.

If you’re ready to join the community of artists who already use Big Cartel for their online stores, click the link below. Sign up for the free plan and play with the platform for a bit. Add a couple of products, test out the theme editor, and see if Big Cartel is right for you.

Get Started with Big Cartel

Liz Hull

Liz Hull

Liz Hull is an eCommerce Writer for Merchant Maverick. In her two years with Merchant Maverick, she has tested and reviewed over 40 eCommerce platforms and published two ebooks on the topic of online selling. Liz has also been published in Startup Nation and Home Business Magazine Online. Liz has a BA in English and Spanish from George Fox University.
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9 Comments

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the vendor or bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the vendor or bank advertiser. It is not the vendor or bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

    Tammy

    I gave 2 stars because the site is easy to use and served it’s purpose. The slow response time for communication is ridiculous. I also cancelled my gold account only to be charged the next month anyways. I will now be aware of services that do not have a call # for customer support.

    2

      This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

      joey feldman

      having a big cartel store has been so easy to fulfill orders. also to put new items up. yes theres a few things with discounts, etc i would like to be able to change but it really has been a fantastic experience for me. i just recently integrated with ship station and purchased a demo printer…bam..saves me so much timehighly recommend big cartel

      5

        This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

        joey feldman

        forgot rating above or below:

        5

          This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

          Lance

          I love Big Cartel but it lack better analytics… I use Google Analytics as well but it’s not enough because I started using Facebook and Twitter for marketing and GA can’t handle the data. I need to check stats regarding likes, follows, etc. Also any mailing stats would be helpful. Is there a way to link it to the store data?

          4

            This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

            Randy Esada

            Terrible service. I’ve been trying to reset my password (which should be so easy) for days. The lack of response is only matched by the lack of initiative and care that the customer service rep “Lauren” provided in her response ” go to the link” and click “reset password”. No kidding! It is unbelievable that I have not been able to access my admin panel for days. Further, the emails that say “How Did We Do?” are apparently there to give the illusion that someone actually cares. Ridiculous!

            1

              This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

              jean

              personally, I love it because I’m an artist. I don’t have a regular cash flow generated from my side business, so I love that Big Cartel is free (for me) and helps me get started without losing money. yes, you’re right – they’re not feature rich, but it gets the job done.5 stars to Big Cartel for understanding and catering to its niche market!

              5

                This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

                Zane Cosgrove

                What e-commerce platform doesn’t have integrated Shipping API features? Seriously, it’s 2014 and Big Cartel actually charges customers a fee for their software…. I would in no way, recommend Big Cartel simple due to the lack of options for shipping… why not just go with OpenCart or Shopify or something that actually works and is cheaper in the long run

                2

                  This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

                  Assyn

                  You have the option to use the Paypal shipping OR you can customise the shipping on Big Cartel for all of your products or you can individually set the shipping depending on the product. There are actually a lot of shipping options through Big Cartel.

                    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

                    Richard

                    Your comments are not helpful Assyn.

                    Using Paypal shipping is pointless as Big Cartel does not allow the inclusion of product weight so you can’t accurately charge your customers. As you can’t integrate based on weight you have to summarize on order amount or ordered items. That in itself is worse than the ‘customized’ shipping on Big Cartel (give me a break!) as you’re just guessing on what the actual package weighs based on the amount spent or number of items purchased. How insane is that? Add to this the huge price hikes for International Shipping with USPS and now more than ever Big Cartel needs to get up to speed with everyone else!

                    That’s the whole point of Zane’s and other people’s complaints. Here we are another 2 years later and you STILL CANNOT add product weights or integrate to provide an easy solution for the store owners and accurate shipping rates for customers.

                      This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

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