Big Cartel vs Shopify

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Shopify wins, but Big Cartel still has its perks

big cartel vs shopify featured imageThe Big Cartel vs Shopify debate is an important one for anyone venturing into the world of ecommerce. Both Shopify and Big Cartel allow users to create an online retail store with features, including marketing, shipping, billing, and CRM tools. You want the best for your online store, and so do we. And we can tell you right now that…

Shopify is the best ecommerce builder on the market! It beat Big Cartel by a mile, scoring higher in every category we tested apart from value for money. But that doesn’t mean Shopify is the perfect builder for everyone.

Big Cartel is the only ecommerce platform around which lets you sell online for free, and is best suited to selling individual products (such as art pieces). Shopify is a more powerful ecommerce platform which is suitable for scaling any sized business.

There’s not a minute to waste, but before we get digging into the finer details, we’ve condensed our in-depth research into a quick snapshot overview of Shopify and Big Cartel:

Best all-around ecommerce platform


out of 5
Top Choice
Ease Of Use

4 out of 5 stars

Design Flexibility

3.7 out of 5 stars

Customer Score

4.65 out of 5 stars

Help and Support

4.1 out of 5 stars

Value For Money

3.5 out of 5 stars

Website Features

4.1 out of 5 stars

Sales Features

4.7 out of 5 stars

The only platform you can sell for free


out of 5
Ease Of Use

2.7 out of 5 stars

Design Flexibility

2.2 out of 5 stars

Customer Score

2.8 out of 5 stars

Help and Support

0.9 out of 5 stars

Value For Money

3.5 out of 5 stars

Website Features

1.3 out of 5 stars

Sales Features

2.8 out of 5 stars

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Big Cartel and Shopify Pros and Cons

  • Transaction fees applied on all external payment gateways
  • Switching themes requires reformatting content
Big Cartel
  • The only ecommerce platform which lets you sell online for free
  • Great onboarding process to guide new users
  • Perfect for selling one-off and individual products, such as artworks
  • Website features lack real depth and quality
  • Theme designs are poor and offer very limited customization
  • Hardest ecommerce builder to use – not beginner friendly due to coding

Further Information


Which is the Easiest to Use?

We’re all familiar with frustration. From putting the trash out to battling your way onto the subway during rush hour, everyone is faced with infuriating tasks. Creating and running your online store shouldn’t be one of them.

That’s why ease of use is so important, and why we test it so thoroughly. Don’t let your business become a chore – it shouldn’t just bring you money, but enjoyment too!

Shopify beats Big Cartel in our ease of use testing. In fact, Shopify scored an impressive 4 out of 5 stars for its ease of use.

Meanwhile, Big Cartel trailed in last with only 2.7 stars – making it the most difficult ecommerce builder to use out of all the brands we tested.

Big Cartel starts out strongly, offering useful prompts and suggestions to guide you through the set-up process. But once the beginner-friendly onboarding is over, things start to get tricky. To get the most out of this builder, you will need to know how to code. In order to customize your website theme on Big Cartel, you’ll need to directly edit the HTML of the theme itself.

Editing Big Cartel themes requires HTML coding knowledge.

Here’s how some of our users felt about Big Cartel:

“The prompts were a great additional help feature. Every time I left a page, they provided a prompt to save, or a red error box if I’d forgotten to add in a shipping location. I thought this was really nice it felt as though I had someone holding my hand every step of the way, willing me to succeed.”

“There’s far too much coding required to complete even the most basic of tasks, such as adding a video or image. General customization elements require coding, which isn’t overly intuitive or simple for someone wanting to create a super simple site with complete ease.”

While it may seem easy to begin with, if you don’t want to code, you can quickly become frustrated with Big Cartel’s limitations. So if you’re a beginner or looking to get selling fast, Big Cartel is not the right choice for you.

Shopify, on the other hand, makes it easy to create and run your online store.

While Big Cartel requires coding to add basic customizations, Shopify’s themes come with a “settings” option, which lets users customize the theme through an interface — no coding required. Granted, more advanced edits in Shopify themes do require coding know-how, but basic changes don’t.

Shopify’s theme settings: no coding required

Shopify’s interface is clear and simple, without sacrificing its powerful ecommerce capabilities. Building an online store involves a lot of factors, but Shopify lays everything out for you. Here’s what just a couple of our users thought about Shopify:


“It doesn’t pretend that building an online store is simple. For ecommerce, you have to be professional and know lots about inventories, prices and variants. I like that with Shopify it’s just all out there, ready to fill in and start running a real business.”

“I found the backend really easy. The onboarding questions were fine, and didn’t feel too intrusive – more that they wanted to help you create the best possible online business based on your needs.”

Shopify gives you the power and tools to create your online store, whether you’re a seasoned ecommerce pro or a total newbie. Tech genius or not, your customers will never know!

Big Cartel vs Shopify – Ease of Use: The Verdict

Shopify wins ease of use by a mile! Its interface is clear, and its simplicity helps rather than hinders the user – unlike Big Cartel. These elements helped push Shopify to a score of 4.1 out of 5 according to our tests, compared to Big Cartel’s meager score of 2.7. While Big Cartel requires coding skills to add basic elements, Shopify makes it easy to personalize your online store.

Further Information


Which has the Best Sales Features?

Once you’ve got to grips with your chosen builder, it’s time to get down to business. And in the ecommerce business, what’s more important than sales features? Your store should be making you money – it’s no use if it can’t even accept online payments.

Shopify came top of the scoreboard for its sales features. Not only can it accept online payments, it gives you over 100 payment gateways to choose from! It also has an impressive app store, meaning you can add whatever you want, wherever you want on your ecommerce site!

shopify features
Shopify has extremely scalable features to benefit all users, from small businesses up to big brand names.

Big Cartel struggled to match Shopify in this department. Its features are more suited to small businesses selling individual products. This lies in stark contrast with Shopify’s scalable platform, which caters for everything from small stores all the way up to big brands such as Penguin.

Here are the core ecommerce features available from Shopify:

  • Unlimited products
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Discount codes
  • Staff accounts
  • Finance reports
  • Customer support
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Mobile POS

And here are the top ecommerce features Big Cartel offers:

  • Up to 25, 100, or 300 products, depending on plan
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Discount codes
  • Free themes
  • Bulk editing
  • Inventory tracking
  • Shipment tracking
  • Google Analytics

Payment Options

Shopify offers over 100 different payment gateways to choose from, including PayPal, Stripe, Amazon, and Apple Pay.

There is also Shopify’s own payment gateway, called Shopify Payments. This is the only payment option where extra transaction fees are not applied on top of the usual credit card fees.

In contrast, Big Cartel has the fewest number of payment gateways on offer. You can choose from PayPal, Stripe, and Square – and that’s it. While these are all popular payment options, the whole process is a lot more limited than Shopify.

The upside of Big Cartel’s payment gateways is no transaction fee will be imposed on any of them, unlike Shopify. Only the usual credit card fee will be charged by the payment gateway itself.

An important to thing to be aware of is that Big Cartel isn’t PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant. This means you’re responsible for following the right guidelines when accepting and processing card payments through your site.

Shopify is fully PCI compliant, meaning you don’t have to worry – all cardholder information is protected and secured, without you having to lift a finger.

Abandoned Cart Recovery

Abandoned Cart Recovery can save you a lot of money. But how does it work?

When a customer enters their details and then leaves products “abandoned” in their shopping cart at checkout, you can send an automatic email to re-engage them.

These abandoned cart emails can win back up to 15% of customers – so you can see why having abandoned cart recovery is super important for your online store.

Shopify has this feature built-in, so you can easily grab those customers and win back those lost sales. You can even review abandoned checkouts to analyze why certain products are being left, or why customers aren’t completing the checkout process.

Big Cartel doesn’t have abandoned cart recovery, which is a massive drawback to this builder – and something to really consider when making your choice.

Product Uploads

Big Cartel is ideal for small businesses selling individual pieces. You can sell up to five products on the free plan, while the most you can sell on the most expensive plan is 300.

big cartel
Big Cartel is best for uploading individual products rather than managing large inventories. It's easy to add products, but larger business will find it limiting.

You can’t bulk upload products, meaning you must enter each one separately. These two factors combined make Big Cartel unsuitable for large or growing businesses.

On the other hand, Shopify has a really impressive inventory. You can add single products or upload in bulk, and there’s no limit to the number of products you can add to your site. This makes it a lot more scalable than Big Cartel.

Product Types

Shopify and Big Cartel both give their users the ability to split their products up into different store categories, though the exact names and functions of the features differ.

Using the “product types” feature, Shopify store owners can split their wares into categories like “shirts,” “pants,” and “socks,” allowing potential customers to easily locate the type of product they’re interested in with a few clicks.

Shopify also includes product tags as another way to differentiate each product, as well as a “product vendor” feature, which isn’t visible to customers but can help store owners keep track of their manufacturers or wholesalers.

For its part, Big Cartel offers a “product category” feature that’s similar to Shopify’s product types. Once a Big Cartel store owner adds an active product to a category, the category link will materialize with that store’s Products page. Big Cartel also offers product tags, too.

Since Shopify sorts by vendors as well as types and tags, it includes a little more flexibility, but the small store owner should be pretty happy with Big Cartel’s product navigation.

Shipping Options

When it comes to shipping features, Shopify blows Big Cartel away. Shopify offers the Shopify Shipping suite, which helps users easily manage rates and bulk-print labels, and even includes discounts on rates when shipping through USPS, UPS, or DHL Express.

And, if you’re paying for the Advanced plan, Shopify includes automatic carrier-calculated shipping rates.

While it doesn’t handle shipping itself, Big Cartel doesn’t drop the ball, either: It offers app integrations that help users incorporate third-party shipping services, such as ShipStation.

Still, it’s no match for the shipping support and abilities baked into Shopify’s service.

Social Media Integration

Shopify offers a range of over 80 different app integrations for various social media platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp. It should offer something for anyone who needs to connect with their customers on social platforms as well as through a website.

Big Cartel’s app integrations are a little more limited, but take care of the major needs: you’ll be able to set up a Big Cartel- integrated Facebook Store, as well as Instagram shopping posts.

Additional apps from the web automation service Zapier can also connect Big Cartel users to Twitter, MailChimp, and WordPress, among others.

Big Cartel vs Shopify – Sales Features: The Verdict

Shopify wins for sales features! It’s a much more powerful and scalable builder than Big Cartel, which scored 2.9 out of 5 in our tests compared to Shopify’s impressive 4.7. It does more for you, which gives you more time to run your business. Big Cartel’s basic features mean it can’t compete with this more developed builder.

Further Information


Which has the Better Design?

Looks aren’t everything. But when you’re selling your carefully chosen, lovingly uploaded, and perfectly priced products, looks can’t hurt. So which is better for making your products shine? Shopify or Big Cartel?

The answer is undeniably Shopify.

While it doesn’t have quite the same focus on design as website builders such as Squarespace and Wix, Shopify does a stellar job making your store stand out (in a good way). With 10 free themes and over paid 50 themes ranging from $140 to $180, Shopify has something for everyone.

shopify themes
Shopify has over 60 themes to choose from, and you can use search filters to find the perfect design for your store.

All of Shopify’s themes are fully mobile optimized, meaning your store will look great on any screen. You can edit the mobile version of your site as well as the desktop version, so you have full control over how your site looks no matter which mode it’s viewed in.

Choosing a theme is a little like choosing a house to live in. You can pick your furniture and the color you want the walls to be, but the structure and layout of the building stays pretty much the same. Sure, you can knock walls through and turn the kitchen into a bathroom if you want, but the more you change, the more effort it’s going to be.

Shopify’s themes all look modern and professional, and offer a great level of customization. So you can really personalize your theme to reflect your own brand and stand out from the crowd. But it’s still a good idea to pick a theme which has features that work with, rather than against, your business.

Big Cartel is less sophisticated in its designs than Shopify. All its themes are clean and good-looking – it’s just what you can do with them that’s more limited. There’s furniture you can’t fit through the front door, and walls you just can’t knock down.

Big Cartel offers 16 themes to choose from. Like Shopify, they’re all fully mobile optimized, but you can’t edit your mobile version. It still automatically reformats, but you don’t have any control over the mobile layout.

big cartel themes
Big Cartel has 16 themes on offer, covering a range of industries. You can preview each before selecting it to see if it's the right one for you.

Big Cartel certainly has a smaller range of choice than Shopify and its other competitors. It supports the least amount of industries, but reflects its focus on artists and photographers. You can preview your theme before choosing it, so you can see if it’s the right style for your business.

One big drawback of Big Cartel’s designs is the lack of features included in its themes. For example, none of them offer product image zoom, product videos or customer logins. These are features which make customer experience better, and which encourage repeat purchases.

It’s also much harder to personalize your Big Cartel theme. If you want to add and edit your own images, you’ll need to use code. Editing images is a basic way of making your chosen theme unique to your own brand, so if you’re uncomfortable coding, you’ll be pretty limited in how much you can change your storefront.

Big Cartel vs Shopify – Design: The Verdict

Shopify wins the design round! We gave it a 3.7 for design flexibility, compared with Big Cartel’s score of 2.2. It has more themes to choose from than Big Cartel, more features included as standard, and is much easier to customize. Big Cartel requires coding just to add and edit images, whereas Shopify gives you much more freedom.

Further Information


Which has More Apps and Integrations?

Shopify is the winner once more – it simply offers more apps than Big Cartel, no matter how you compare them.

Shopify offers over 3,500 separate apps in its app store. Of these, 1,606 are free and the rest are paid, with prices ranging from around $9 per month to as much as $299 per month. Many of these paid apps include free trial periods as well.

Popular Shopify app categories include topics as varied as Marketing, Store Design, and Finances.

This range of apps definitely offers something for everyone, although the prices will add up quickly enough. When stocking up on apps, users will likely choose to err on the side of caution.

Of course, quantity isn’t the same as quality: apps in Shopify’s app store are rated by customers on a five-star scale, so check to make sure that the app you’re considering has a good score before committing to it.

Big Cartel can be integrated with over 1,500 apps to automate various ecommerce-related chores, through the third-party app vendor Zapier.

A few Zapier apps that integrate with Big Cartel

Third parties aside, Big Cartel offers fewer than 50 apps and integrations itself. The app categories available on its site include Marketing & Promotion apps, and Store Management apps, with only between six and eight apps available in each category.

Big Cartel also offers integrations for payment processors including Stripe, PayPal, and Venmo, as well as a wide range of domain providers.

Big Cartel vs Shopify – Apps and Integrations: The Verdict

Shopify’s higher number of apps helps the service stand out above Big Cartel in this category. 

What really matters, however, is whether you can find the best apps to suit your needs. Fortunately, both services cover the essentials that online stores need apps to handle, from social media to email marketing to CRM management.


Which has the Better Customer Support?

Customer support isn’t always the first thing you think of when picking a builder – ideally, you’ll never even need to use it. But just like seat belts in a car, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Big Cartel offers a rather hands-off approach to customer support. The only help channel is through email, available from Monday to Friday between 9am and 6pm EST. You might see what looks like a live chat feature, but don’t get too excited – it simply directs you to Big Cartel’s email support.

If you don’t need direct help, you can head to Big Cartel’s Help Center. This is clean and easy to navigate, so you can find relevant help articles quickly and easily.

big cartel help center
Big Cartel's Help Center is laid out simply and clearly, making it easy to find what you're looking for.

Shopify scores full marks for its help and support. Here are the different help options available:

  • 24/7 phone support
  • Social media support
  • 24/7 live chat
  • Forum
  • Email
  • Video tutorials
  • Advanced specialist support

This gives you tons of choice and means you can pick the support which suits you best. With Shopify’s Plus plan, you’re even given a dedicated support agent to assist you.

shopify help center
Shopify's Help Center has many different categories to browse through. You can search for answers using the search feature, or follow the links for helpful articles.

Like Big Cartel, Shopify also has a Help Center, and this is where it really shines. Clearly laid out and with a helpful search feature, you won’t have to waste time trawling the internet for answers. Even better, when you ask for help in your store editor, you’re directed straight to a relevant help article.

Big Cartel vs Shopify – Customer Support: The Verdict

Shopify takes first prize for customer support. Big Cartel has a decent help center, but its limited support options can’t compete with Shopify. From 24/7 live chat and phone support to video tutorials, Shopify beats Big Cartel’s email service by a mile.


Which is Better Value for Money?

Whether you’re setting up a business on the side or using your store as your main source of income, your ecommerce site should be there to make you money. This starts with not blowing your budget on your builder.

So just what have Big Cartel and Shopify got to offer?

Big Cartel has four paid plans, including its free version. The paid plans range from $9.99 to $29.99 per month, with a 300 product limit. Shopify has three paid plans ranging from $29 to $299 per month. All Shopify plans offer unlimited products and a free trial.

This is Big Cartel’s big selling point: it’s the only ecommerce builder to let you sell online for free. You read that right – you don’t have to spend a single cent to set up and make money through your Big Cartel store.

However, if you want to sell more than five products, you will need to upgrade to one of Big Cartel’s paid plans. While these still offer cheap prices, starting at just $9.99 per month, you get less value for money as you upgrade.

big cartel pricing plans

The cheapest Platinum plan lets you sell up to 25 products, as well as having five images per product. You can also use a custom domain, unlock full coding, access Google Analytics and inventory tracking, and create discount codes. These are useful, but fairly basic features.

The Diamond plan increases your product limit to 100 products for $19.99 per month, and you reach the maximum of 300 products on the $29.99 per month Titanium plan. However, all other features remain the same.

Big Cartel’s pricing plans aren’t very scalable. You only upgrade the number of products you can sell, rather than unlocking more advanced features to support your business.

Shopify, on the other hand, has more expensive prices, but much more powerful features. Its cheapest Shopify Basic plan starts at $29 per month, and immediately offers much more than Big Cartel’s most expensive plan. Features include:

  • Unlimited products
  • Abandoned cart recovery
  • Discount codes
  • Multichannel integration
  • Two staff accounts
  • 24/7 support
  • Shopify POS app

This plan is designed for setting up your store, and includes these features as the foundation to build your business on. You can upgrade as you scale up your business.

shopify pricing plans
Shopify offers three pricing plans ranging from $29 to $299 per month, providing plenty of room for your business to grow as you unlock more advanced features.

The $79 per month Shopify plan offers best value for money and is best for growing businesses. It has all the features of the Shopify Basic plan, but also unlocks extra features such as gift cards, professional reports, and a host of extras for expanding the POS (Point of Sale) system.

Save up to 20% on your Shopify plan

Top tip! If you sign up to a two year contract with Shopify, instead of a monthly rolling contract, you’ll save 20% on the cost of your plan. If you sign up a year in advance, you’ll save 10%. These numbers may not sound like much, but on the Advanced plan, for example, this would mean a saving of $60 every month, or $1,435 over the course of two years!

Transaction Fees

One important aspect of running an online store? The fees you’ll need to pay for every transaction. They’ll eat into your profits, and if you’re not ready for them, you’ll inevitably wind up earning far less than you’ll expect. And even more importantly, different services will charge different rates.

Here’s how Shopify’s transaction rates compare to Big Cartel’s rates. Spoiler: Shopify is the winner overall.

Shopify offers three different transaction rates for its three different price plans. Under the Basic Shopify plan, each transaction costs 2.9%, plus an additional $0.30. The main Shopify plan is 2.6% and $0.30 per transaction, while the Advanced Shopify plan charges 2.4% and $0.30 per transaction.

Due to Big Cartel’s smaller focus, it doesn’t handle transactions itself. Instead, you’ll need to use a third-party service. Big Cartel partners with just two such services for online orders: Stripe and PayPal.

Stripe’s transaction fee is 2.9% of the total transaction cost plus $0.30, while Paypal’s transaction fee is the exact same: 2.9% plus $0.30.

Since these rates are the same as Shopify’s highest transaction rates, you can expect Big Cartel to cost just as much as Shopify for the smallest of stores, while Shopify edges ahead of it for those interested in Shopify’s main plan or Advanced plan.

Big Cartel vs Shopify – Pricing Plans: The Verdict

It’s a draw! Both services earned a 3.5 in our “value for money” testing category. Overall, Shopify offers higher value for more money than Big Cartel because of its better quality features and more scalable prices. But Big Cartel’s offer of a free plan, and cheaper prices, make it an appealing option for small businesses.

Further Information

Big Cartel vs Shopify: Final Thoughts

Shopify and Big Cartel have some pretty major differences, but they’re aiming at very different target audiences.

Big Cartel is designed for artists and small businesses who only need basic features and only have a small number of products to sell.

Not ideal for stores looking for scalability or for beginners who want to avoid coding, Big Cartel is a basic builder which is good for starting out, but doesn’t offer much flexibility.

Shopify appeals to a much wider range of business types. Our research showed Shopify to be the best all-around ecommerce platform on the market, offering quality features and a great level of customization in its designs.

Perfect for small businesses looking to grow, or large businesses looking for advanced features, Shopify has something for everyone.

Shopify vs Big Cartel Shopify Big Cartel Winner
Ease of use A clear and simple interface breaks down a complex process You'll need to know HTML coding to edit themes Shopify
Sales features Robust feature sets across all important categories Fair, but basic features covering shipping, products, and payments Shopify
Design 10 free themes and over 50 paid themes offer something for everyone 16 clean, mobile-optimized themes with limited features Shopify
Apps & integrations Over 2,091 apps Over 1,500 apps Shopify
SEO Great SEO practices, including clean URLs, headers, and alt text as well as robots.txt files Also great SEO tools, including simple navigation and clean headers, alt text, and anchors Draw
Customer support 24/7 phone and live chat support, as well as social media, forum and email Email support available M-F 9am-6pm EST Shopify
Pricing Three paid plans range from $29 to $299 per month, with unlimited products One free plan and three paid plans range from $9.99 to $29.99 per month, with a 300 product limit Draw

Overall, Shopify is the winner. This is reflected in its features, quality of designs, customer support, and price plans – all of which explain why Shopify scored 4.7 in our research, compared to Big Cartel’s score of 2.9. If you’re after long-term success, choose Shopify!

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About Lucy Carney

Lucy Carney

You’re not alone! Building a website can be scary, especially if you’re like me with no previous coding experience. With the help of our experts I’m here as a friendly voice to help guide you into the exciting world of website building. If I can do it, so can you!

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