Big Cartel vs Shopify – Tips from an Ecom Expert

Shopify big cartel
Published 10 September 2021

Last updated on 8 December 2022

In 2020, global eCommerce sales surpassed a whopping $4.28 trillion. Much of this comes from the year’s craziness, but more people than ever were introduced to online shopping through sites like Amazon, Shopify, and Big Cartel. 

So if you want to get into eCommerce, this would be the year to do it. But when choosing between two eCommerce platforms, how do you find one that fits? 

If you want the answer to that question, we plan on comparing two of the big boys: Shopify and Big Cartel. As the two most competitive eCommerce businesses out there, both have their strengths and weaknesses. 

But which is better? Find out in this review. 

What is Shopify?

Shopify is an eCommerce platform offering business owners a platform to reach a wider audience. These Shopify merchants have access to website building features, applications, and tools to sell locally. 

Shopify prides itself on the easy-to-use interface enabling businesses to be set up within the same day. They also have SEO features and marketing tools.  

From a fundamental perspective, Shopify is a Canadian-based eCommerce company. It was born out of the creation of a snowboarding storefront in 2006. Tobias Lütke and Scott Lake produced a new platform after finding other storefronts unsatisfying to use. 

What is Big Cartel? 

Big Cartel is another eCommerce provider that sells over $2.5 billion in products. It primarily markets itself towards small businesses, artists, and other unique creators. 

Big Cartel puts most of its focus on artists. By browsing its website, you can tell that’s the case. However, the company doesn’t discriminate against other forms of products. 

Big Cartel is a step above sites like Amazon and Etsy because it enables you to own your brand. Because of this choice, it is comparable to Shopify. 

Big Cartel has also been around about the same time as Shopify, with its founding in 2005. 

Big Cartel Pros & Cons

Free plan availableFewer details on the dashboard
Simple interfaceVery few themes 
No per item transaction fees No unlimited products options
Great for people with limited funding
Support for all major payment gateways 
Support for offline and online business 

Shopify Pros & Cons

Free 14-day trialMore complicated interface
More detailed dashboardNo totally free version
Support for both online and local businessExpensive
Many third-party apps are available 
Support for all major payment methods  
All-in-one solution, no worries about other aspects

Creating an account- which is easier?

Both companies start on the right foot with a seamless registration process and the ability to check out the dashboard before buying. Right away, you’ll notice one advantage that Big Cartel has: a free plan. 

If you sell five, or fewer products, Big Cartel enables you to pay them nothing for an initial plan. Shopify lets you check out their products as a free trial for 14 days

Here is how both look from beginning registration: 

Big Cartel – Getting Started

Getting started bigcartel

Big Cartel starts you off with a simple checklist bringing you through important areas of their storefront. Clicking on each section will provide a tutorial telling you about each page and where it falls on the dashboard. 

Add a product

The add a project page enables you to place a description, categories, active status, and price. You can also add options based on individual items or items in the same group.

For example, if you have multiple T-shirts with similar sizes and colors, you can use the grouped options to keep them together. 

The dashboard is straightforward, providing essential data on your visitors, orders, conversion rate, and total revenue. 

Shopify – Getting Started

Much like Big Cartel, the account creation process requires your name, an email, and a password. Everything beyond that is up to you, so you can test the dashboard out without providing personal information. 

Shopify get started

The dashboard (seen above) is a lot more complicated than Big Cartels. We will explore why that is the case further down the review. 

The navigation bar along the left enables you to manage customer accounts, add and manage products, look at your finances, and view analytics information. 

It also provides you with a marketing and discounts section, providing you with exposure and higher conversion rates. Big Cartel also has a discount tab, so this is nothing new. 

You can find Shopify’s getting started checklist under the home tab. From here, Shopify provides you with a tutorial bringing you through adding products, customizing themes, adding shipping details, and getting paid. 

Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I encourage you to take a closer look at the two to see what you prefer. Big Cartel is more accessible but less detailed (and vice versa). 

Sales Features Comparison – Big Cartel vs Shopify

Below, we will look at the products tab and how easy it is to add and manage your product details. 

Shopify Sales Features – Adding & Managing Products

Create product shopify

Go to:

  1. Shopify dashboard
  2. Click “Products”
  3. Click “Add new product”

The Shopify “Add a product” button enables you to fit in the following areas:

  • Title
  • Description
  • Chosen sales channels (local or online store only)
  • Chosen images
  • Collections
  • Product category 
  • Vendor (if you are selling third-party products)
  • Pricing (including tax charges)
  • Product theme (different designs for unique products)
  • Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) information or another inventory tracking measure (ISBN, UPC, etc.)
  • Quantity available 
  • A choice between it being a physical product or a digital product
  • Customs information (for international shipping)
  • Variants (different sizes and colors)

You can also choose to look at the store page using a search engine preview. So if your product page ranks for search, you can customize how people see it on Bing or Google.

Splitting sales to owners

Shopify enables you, as a seller, to partner with different vendors and split the cost. You need an effective vendor payout system alongside this. 


Shopify also enables you to calculate shipping costs based on weight. That way, you can automate shipping and handling charges on a per-item basis.

The “Shopify” look

The default store layout is already pretty attractive. You can see it below with this image showing what the introductory preview looks like:

Product on shopify

Of course, you won’t want to use their default storefront. We will get further into Shopify’s design options later. 

Shopify has an incredibly robust platform, but how does Big Cartel compare to basic features? 

Big Cartel Sales Features – Adding & Managing Products

Awesome shirt shopify

Big Cartel proves its ability to be easier on the eyes with a far more straightforward interface. The available options on this page are the following:

  • Product name (title)
  • Detailed description
  • Product category
  • Status (active or not)
  • Price (including a neat “on-sale” button to the right)
  • Shipping choices (what countries do you ship to?)
  • Inventory tracking features
  • Both grouped or individual options (or variations like shirt sizes or colors)

No SEO preview or vendor support

Unlike Shopify, there is no SEO preview or vendor support. There are also no product-specific templates, meaning all of your store pages will look the same. 

Big Cartel is a fine selection if you don’t plan to expand to other vendors, but Shopify gains the overall edge due to a more robust feature list. 

The “Big Cartel” look

Here’s the default preview page:

Thankfully, Big Cartel knows how to do simple design, but the level of control behind their product adding sections gives a bit more of an edge to Shopify on details. 

Awesome shirt shopify add to cart

Discount codes

Both offer discount codes and provide a solid platform for accepting online payments. So Big Cartel is not weak in the online shopping category. 

Big Cartel vs Shopify Themes – Who is better at design?

Both Big Cartel and Shopify are known for having great designs. However, only one can be the best for creativity, and that option still goes to Shopify. 

The latest update to Shopify’s theme editor is excellent. It enables you to see and replace product collections easily. That way, people know what you want on the home page.  

Creat product bigcartel vs shopify

However, there is one thing that Big Cartel does better than Shopify using the editor: Theme application. On Shopify, it can require multiple pages and searching to find a suitable store theme. Big Cartel has it in the upper-left-hand corner.

Bigcartel edit product

Selecting a theme is a matter of clicking the “use theme” button under your preferred option. However, Big Cartel’s theme selection is limited to a small number. That means you are more likely to apply to a unique site by using Shopify.

Shopify also caters to these eCommerce sites with specific needs. Shopify’s theme list includes themes suitable for extensive inventories, product recommendations, and trending designs. 

Both editors enable you to edit code, but Shopify still has much stronger controls. Shopify has spent years developing its website builder while Big Cartel focuses on simplicity and limited features.  

If you have coding experience, both website builders enable you to make precise edits. Because I don’t have the coding skills to review that correctly, you’ll have to check them out using their free services. 

Ease of Use Comparison – Big Cartel vs Shopify

From everything we’ve said up to this point, it is evident that Big Cartel wins the “ease of use” category. Big Cartel’s product adding features is more straightforward, its website builder is simpler, and you can apply discount codes with relative ease. 

Part of what makes Shopify complicated is the large number of features they offer. For example, Shopify has a marketing tab that enables you to pay for advertising and utilize tools directly from its site.  

Big Cartel has no such thing, as it keeps to four simple categories on the top of your seller screen:

  • Dashboard (the central hub)
  • Orders (who has ordered from you)
  • Products (a list of products you currently have and can add)
  • Discounts (a list of deals you can apply to your products)
  • Account (editing of account details)

For additional features, you’ll need to check out the apps and integrations section of each site. 

Third-Party Integrations – Big Cartel vs Shopify

When looking at third-party applications, Shopify kills Big Cartel. Big cartel keeps a simple list regarding third-party software:

Apps on bigcartel

There are no more than ten under each category, and some of them are incredibly handy. Big Cartel has associations with some big names like Zapier, LiveChat, Instagram, and MailChimp. You can see Zapier alternatives here.

All are incredibly handy, but Shopify has opened its platform to third-party developers. 

Shopify app store

The number of Shopify apps you can download numbers well over the thousands. Compared to the limited available third-party apps on Big Cartel, the eCommerce software support is very notable. 

You can get shopping cart software, shipping assistance, social media integration apps, and vendor payout support through these pages. When supplementing your essential tools, Shopify knows what you need. 

The total number of these tools can be pretty overwhelming, though, so try and focus on what you need the most. In this way, Big Cartel is benefited by focusing on a small number of quality offerings. 

Big Cartel vs Shopify, who is better at customer service? 

When looking at the overall customer service offerings, it’s best to check out online resources. Because I have an excellent customer service experience, it doesn’t mean that others will. 

To address that limitation, we’ve gone to Trustpilot to check out some user reviews. Here’s what the overall ratings of the two companies say.

Starting with Shopify:

Shopify customer service

Shopify does not have an excellent reputation on Trustpilot. But you will find that some people come to the platform to voice their concerns over specific stores. 

However, there are still some concerning claims from Shopify buying domains. Also, some people have expressed that Shopify can be complicated for those managing multiple storefronts deriving from the same inventory.

Big Cartel is only slightly better:

Big cartel customer service

Many customers compliment Big Cartel for the “five free product listings” policy. You’ll find that many people love Big Cartel for starting a business with limited funding. 

Pricing & Plans Comparison

If the free version isn’t enough for you (or you exhausted the free trial), Shopify and Big Cartel have several premium plans available:

Big Cartel Plans & Pricing

Bigcartel pricing

Big Cartel premium plans come in three forms:

  • The Free Plan – $0 per month
  • The Platinum Plan – $9.99 /mo.
  • The Diamond Plan – $19.99 /mo.

Limitations of the free plan

The free plan is the weakest, limiting you to a single product image. All options enable you to choose between themes, use professional reports, a custom domain, offer discounts and promos, track shipping, and automate sales tax.

Premium features

Premium features enable you to have five images per product. It also includes bulk editing and product option groups for editing multiple inventories at once. Both premium features also have support for Google Analytics. 

The only real difference between the diamond and platinum plans is the number of products you can sell. You can choose between selling 50 and 500 products. 

Great for a budget

Overall, you’ll find that this storefront is excellent for people on a budget. However, you might have to pay for the premium features of some applications. 

All of this comes without needing to pay any per-item sales fee. Meanwhile, Shopify takes a different strategy. 

Shopify Plans & Pricing

Shopify pricing

When looking at Shopify’s pricing, it all starts to make sense. User accounts made here are better for people looking for a complete package. 

Shopify’s pricing comes in three forms:

  • The Shopify Basic Plan – $29 per month
  • The Shopify Plan – $79 /mo.
  • The Advanced Shopify Plan – $299 /mo.

Staff accounts

The basic plan enables you to have two staff accounts and four locations, making it suitable for small and medium-sized businesses. The next level up goes five and five while the advanced plan is 15 staff members and eight locations. 

Transaction fees

The more you pay for the monthly charges, the less you pay for transaction fees. Check out this image below for the details: 

Shopify fees

None of this cost includes POS tools that they offer for $89 a month. Also, if you find that you like the premium version of a Shopify app, you’ll need to pay extra for that. 

You might find this a bit pricy, but it is more suited for people looking to run a competitive eCommerce business. 

Still, beginners to the field will find Big Cartel’s simple pricing and plans to be a bit more approachable. 

Big Cartel vs Shopify – who is the best? 

When determining who offers the best eCommerce platform between Big Cartel vs Shopify, the list of features above should tell you two things:

First, Big Cartel is incredibly simple and geared towards small providers. it might not have many of the powerful features you expect from other platforms, but it does offer a strong product. If you are looking to take a smaller dip into eCommerce, Big Cartel is a better starting point. 

However, Shopify is better if you want to start an eCommerce business with advanced features. The cart recovery feature telling people about abandoned cards is enough to give people a reason to take a second look. But you better be ready to pay for the service. 

Regardless of who you choose, we hope this guide helps you to understand what these two companies bring to the table. Thanks for reading.


About Author

Eli is sufficient in Shopify & general tech. He loves writing and talking about his interests in technology and ecommerce.