Shopify VS Big Cartel
A cloud-based shopping cart for the masses, I would consider Shopify (see our review) nothing less than a legend in the world of eCommerce. Shopify is the little Canadian start-up that could. They initially advertised their SaaS product by word of mouth and started earning a profit by 2008, three years after the company’s founding.
Today, more than 377,000 small and large merchants use the platform. Shopify’s client list includes big players like Amnesty International and Github. Not too shabby.
Big Cartel (see our review) is another web-based shopping cart service founded in 2005, but its course has taken a different trajectory than Shopify’s; by contrast, Big Cartel caters specifically to artists. But don’t discount Big Cartel as being small-time – nearly a million clothing designers, bands, crafters and other creative types use Big Cartel as their shopping cart of choice. Big Cartel has a sparse feature set and a DIY attitude, which you can get a sense of by visiting their website. Think of Big Cartel as the shopping cart solution for artists ready to move off Etsy and into their own web space.
Despite their differences, I think there is a good deal of overlap between Shopify and Big Cartel. Creative businesses are fans of both shopping carts. Both web-based shopping carts are easy to use, and Shopify offers lower level pricing plans that can also fit smaller merchants. So, even though Big Cartel is geared more toward smaller retailers, many small businesses and artists find Shopify a good fit as well.
Don’t have time to read an entire article? Take a look at our top rated eCommerce solutions for a few quick recommendations. Every option we present here offers excellent customer support, superb web templates, and easy-to-use software, all for a reasonable price.
Otherwise, read on for a complete breakdown of Shopify and Big Cartel.
Table of Contents
Web-Hosted or Licensed
Shopify and Big Cartel are both fully web-based shopping cart solutions.
Hardware and Software Requirements
Both Shopify and Big Cartel are fully web-hosted, which means you need nothing apart from a secure internet connection and a web browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari) to access the software. Although you can use any operating system or browser to access either solution, all software runs best when you use the most up-to-date technology.
Winner: Big Cartel
Shopify offers a free, no-risk 14-day trial that does not require a credit card to access. You can cancel it at any time.
Big Cartel does not offer a free trial; however, you can get its most basic Gold package (5 products, 1 image per product, basic stats, basic customization, no discount code functionality) completely free of charge.
Shopify offers a $9/month Lite plan with very limited functionality. Shopify charges $29/month for its Basic plan, and the Unlimited plan tops out at $299/month. Each step up in pricing includes more advanced features.
All of Big Cartel’s paid plans include the same features. Pricing depends on the number of products you want to list. Big Cartel’s 25-product Platinum plan is $9.99 monthly, and Big Cartel’s highest-tier Titanium plan is $29.99/month.
Shopify charges transaction fees ranging from 0.5% to 2%, depending on the plan; these fees are waived if you use Shopify as your credit card processor via Shopify Payments.
Big Cartel does not charge any transaction fees. However, you are only given two options for payment processing: PayPal and Stripe. Both charge 2.9% + $0.30 processing fees, which is on the more expensive end of average.
Both shopping carts offer unlimited bandwidth and storage, so neither charges any hidden overage fees.
Ease of Use
Both Shopify and Big Cartel are very easy to use, though Shopify comes out slightly ahead.
Getting started with the Shopify admin system is super easy, and you only need to complete four steps before you can start selling. Simply add your products, customize your theme, set up a domain, and enter tax and shipping info. Before your site goes live, make any necessary changes to your Shopify site in the easy-to-use live theme editor. (Of course, if you’re a seasoned retailer, you will also want to integrate add-ons such as Google Analytics, edit the HTML to create a custom theme, and add product descriptions and other shop information.)
Big Cartel is similarly easy to set up. Just upload your product images, set your prices, choose your domain, select a theme, and you are ready to sell. You can take find videos on the Help page that cover topics like adding discount codes and digital products. Overall, I think the set-up process is pretty self-explanatory. Still, a step-by-step tutorial would be nice (hint, hint).
Both services are quick and easy to set up, but on the whole, I find that Shopify’s superior user interface and Big Cartel’s lack of a guided tutorial makes Shopify’s set-up process run a little smoother. In addition, Shopify’s larger feature set makes their usability more impressive overall.
Shopify’s exhaustive feature set includes virtually everything you could need to create your eCommerce website; I can definitively declare Shopify the winner in this category. Here are just a few of these features:
- More than 100 professional themes
- Unlimited products
- Unlimited bandwidth
- Full HTML and CSS access
- Accepts all major credit cards and PayPal
- Mobile POS (allowing brick-and-mortar stores to sell from a mobile device)
- Integrates with major shipping couriers and calculates shipping automatically
- SEO marketing features, including built-in analytics and easy Google Analytics integration
- Sales coupon code generation
- Import/export products using CSV files
- Inventory management
- Customer profiles
- Gift cards
- And many more…
You can find any additional features in the Shopify App Store. You should note, however, that advanced features such as real-time carrier shipping and gift cards are not included in the lower plans, and that add-on apps are not free. So, all these cool apps might cost you a pretty large chunk of change.
When comparing Shopify to Big Cartel, you’ll quickly see that Big Cartel has a sparser feature set. Here are some of Big Cartel’s best features:
- Twelve simple themes
- HTML and CSS customization at all paid levels
- WYSIWYG editor
- Up to 300 products
- Unlimited bandwidth
- PayPal integration
- Integrated Google Analytics
- Inventory tracking at all paid levels
- Featured stores on Big Cartel blog
- Ability to create discount codes
- Ability to list items as “sold out” or “coming soon”
- Seamlessly integrated Facebook app to add your store to your business’s Facebook page
- Order management tools including ability to export order history to CSV
- Checkout app for iPhone
Shopify’s web design is one of the platform’s strongest points. Shopify has 100+ beautiful, professionally designed themes to choose from, you can easily customize the look of your theme in the intuitive live theme editor or edit the raw files with the CSS/HTML editors. In other words, it’s easy to create a beautiful online store using Shopify, whether you’re a novice webmaster or hardcore developer.
Big Cartel’s themes are also easy to edit, either by using the simple editor or by editing the raw files. However, the free design options are limited to twelve customizable themes. Using the editor, it’s a cinch to change colors, logos, and fonts—Big Cartel actually has a very wide range of fonts to choose from. But when it comes to using anything other than the basic themes, you’re pretty much on your own. I guess whether this would work for you comes down to how customized you want your website to be and or whether you’re willing to hire a developer to make that happen. Visit Big Cartel’s custom theme help page for some FAQs on design.
Integrations and Add-Ons
Shopify’s app store has tons of extras, once again blowing Big Cartel out of the water. The store includes hundreds of add-ons, ranging from inventory and shipping integrations to marketing and social media tools. Shopify’s iPhone and Android apps are also well reviewed. The negative side of all these useful Shopify add-ons and integrations is that they can really add up, meaning that the cost of creating your perfect store on Shopify might break your budget if you’re not careful.
Big Cartel provides far fewer apps and integrations than Shopify, but a couple cool things to check out are the Facebook app that allows you to integrate your shop into your established Facebook presence and the iPhone checkout app. If it’s important for you to have a strong app for mobile POS purposes and to manage your store on your phone, I would be remiss not to tell you that Shopify’s app has better reviews.
Shopify is compatible with more than 70 gateways, including all the major credit cards and PayPal. There is a very good chance that Shopify will work with your credit card processor of choice. Shopify also offers its own in-house credit card processor, Shopify Payments. If you use Shopify Payments, you won’t have to pay any transaction fees, and you can add a second processor for no additional fees.
Big Cartel uses PayPal and Stripe for all payment processing, which can be somewhat limiting. Customers won’t need a PayPal account to make payments, as PayPal allows you to process credit card payments from customers who don’t have accounts. However, you must have a business PayPal account in good standing to use Big Cartel.
Customer Service and Technical Support
Shopify’s 24/7 customer and technical support is hard to beat. Shopify offers live chat support, email support, a support center, a discussion forum, and a wiki page in addition to their eCommerce University online support resources. You also have access to invaluable phone support. You can find Shopify on Facebook and Twitter.
As with just about all of Big Cartel’s services, customer support options are limited and somewhat bare-bones. Big Cartel offers email support during business hours, but they have no live phone or even chat support (bummer). However, they do respond to customer inquiries on Twitter (@bigcartel), even on weekends. Pretty much the only other support channel is the help site.
Negative Reviews and Complaints
Both Shopify and Big Cartel have some common complaints. Here are the most frequent ones for each service.
- The cost of add-ons and transaction fees makes the shopping cart too expensive
- Developers don’t like Liquid templating language for editing raw files
- Checkout redirects to Shopify.com (when you use the free shared SSL certificate)
- No search function to help customers locate products in your storefront
- 300-item store limit
- No automatic shipping calculator
While there are negative reviews of both shopping carts, reviews from customers who’ve tried both services generally had fewer complaints about Shopify and ultimately chose Shopify over Big Cartel.
If you want to search for other complaints about Shopify and Big Cartel, try Googling Shopify/Big Cartel reviews, Shopify/Big Cartel complaints, Shopify/Big Cartel comments, Shopify/Big Cartel scam, Shopify/Big Cartel testimonials, etc.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials
Here are the most common reasons customers praise Shopify:
- Amazingly easy to use
- Many great themes
- Strong customer support
Meanwhile, happy Big Cartel customers appreciate the following:
- Easy to integrate shopping cart with the rest of your site
- Great alternative to selling on Etsy
- Cheap plans, including free plan
While Big Cartel is the cheaper solution and does have a few unique features, I found that most people who tried both services prefer Shopify’s services—though they wish they were available at Big Cartel’s prices.
For what it’s worth, on Shopify’s website, you can also find some testimonials from ex-Big Cartel customers who now use Shopify (As you might guess, only reviews praising Shopify as the better service are included).
Shopify vs. Big Cartel: Final Verdict
Shopify and Big Cartel are both solid cloud-based shopping cart solutions. Since their respective foundings in 2005, each business has acquired hundreds of thousands of satisfied customers. Nevertheless, when comparing the merits of each service, I think it is safe to say that Shopify is the winner.
Shopify is a better service when it comes to just about every key factor, from ease of use to web design. It offers more themes, more apps, more features, a better admin interface, superior customer support, and more payment options.
Big Cartel does have a cool hipster attitude that young artists (and iPhone users) might find attractive, but the only measure by which Big Cartel clearly ranks better than Shopify is its lighter price tag. While affordability is no small thing, this situation leaves me no choice but to employ the hackneyed saying, “You get what you pay for.” Yes, Shopify costs more than Big Cartel, but it will likely result in a higher ROI.
Although Shopify wins the Gold from me, starving artists who want to launch an online store should consider using Big Cartel’s free “Gold” plan to get a small web store up and running. For businesses and individuals with more capital to invest, Shopify will provide a better user experience.