If you are starting an ecommerce store and especially if you are a designer or artist, then you will have come across both of these options, but is Big Cartel or Shopify the better option?
Big Cartel vs Shopify: What is the Difference?
Big Cartel is a hosted ecommerce platform designed for simplicity with creative businesses such as artists and fashion designers being the main target audience for the platform. Shopify is a fully hosted ecommerce platform with features to allow businesses of all sizes and types to build ecommerce websites that can also be integrated with physical stores.
Disclosure – this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you sign up to services via a link in this post, I do receive a commission, which helps keep the site running and at no cost to you. BUT in no way does this influence my review of either platform, if I don’t like something then I will say so!
Up to 500 Products
No Turnover Limit
No Transaction Fees
Unknown Data Storage
Free SSL Certificate
Up to 100 Products
No Turnover Limit
2% Transaction Fee
Unlimited Data Storage
Free SSL Certificate
For this comparison, it is the top Big Cartel package, which is the $29.99/m titanium against the Shopify Basic, which costs £29/m as these are the closest in terms of price.
Big Cartel offer small $9.99/m and $19.99/m packages but the only real difference between the three is the amount of products that you can list. There doesn’t seem to be any extra features or resources that you get by being on a larger package. But as you can see in the table above, how much allowance you get in terms of server resources is unknown and this lack of transparency is unfortunately a recurring theme with Big Cartel.
Shopify on the other hand are very open about what is included with every package and other than the transaction fee, they beat Big Cartel in pretty much every area.
With Big Cartel, you don’t get a free trial, instead you get a free package for life and this allows you to sell up to 5 products and doesn’t have all of the platforms features but it still a great way to test out the platform.
Shopify on the other hand offer a 14 day free trial and this allows you to test the platform out in full before committing to a paid package.
Features is definitely an area that Big Cartel do not shout about! This isn’t great in my opinion as you aren’t exactly sure what you are going to be getting on your monthly package and after going through the site numerous times, all I could really find was the following:
- Google Analytics
- Real Time Stats
- Inventory Tracking
- Discount Codes
- Shipment Tracking
- Bulk Editing
While this may be ok for users who are just getting started and are unsure of what they require but if you know exactly the types of features you need, you will probably be left with more questions than answers from Big Cartel.
Big Cartel Apps
To add their existing features, Big Cartel do have a small number of apps that can be used to integrate the platform with third-party software or bring that functionality into a Big Cartel site. While this is really good, only a few of the apps are free to use, with most requiring a paid plan to get full access, which can make Big Cartel quite a bit more pricey.
Unsurprisingly Shopify are completely different when it comes to advertising their features and everything listed below is included with the Shopify Basic package.
- Dropshipping Integration
- Flexible Shipping Rates
- Product Reviews
- Digital Products
- Gift Vouchers
- Shopify Management App
Marketing & SEO
- Google Adwords Credit
- Sell on Facebook
- Discount Codes
- Abandoned Cart Recovery
- Auto Generated Sitemap
- Social Share
- Custom Meta Data
- SEO Friendly URL’s
- Product Reports
- Traffic Sources
- Google Analytics
- Day, Week and Monthly Reports
- Shopify Payments
- PayPal Express Checkout
- Amazon Pay
As you can see, there are a lot of features and they extend beyond basic ecommerce features and there is a heavy focus on marketing tools as these are what are going to really help your site to start generating sales.
Shopify App Store
Even though Shopify does come loaded with features, it doesn’t stop there as they have created an App Store that contains over 3,000 apps, which covers a wide variety of feature areas.
Unfortunately, not all of these apps are free to use as many have been created by third-party developers and while lots offer free trials or packages, if you want access to all of the features, then you are going to have to pay and if you are not careful, it can make Shopify become quite expensive.
Theme Selection & Customisation
While Big Cartel does have a relatively small selection of 18 themes, they are varied and well designed themes that very much fit the indie feel that the platform has. The best thing is that all of these are free to use on any platform, so even a free Big Cartel website can look very attractive.
There are a few different options when it comes to theme customisation but it is not the most intuitive set up as most changes to the layout are down from checkboxes and dropdown menus. It is easy to change the colours and font options that go on the front end of your site.
It is very limited when it comes to what you can do with your pages as there are no options to add or remove sections, this makes it quite difficult to make a site look and feel different to any others that are using the same template that you have chosen. This is very evident when taking a look at the example sites after checking out the theme selection.
The live preview is a nice tool but it is not that responsive and changes aren’t instantly updated.
When it comes to theme selection, no fully hosted ecommerce platform comes close to Shopify. This is because as with the apps, they have allowed third-party developers to build themes.
Within the Shopify Theme Store, there are over 70 to choose from, of which 9 are free and the others range from $140 – $180. Outside of Shopify, there are even more options, with marketplaces such as Themeforest having over 1,200 to choose from.
Customisation options on Shopify are also really good and they have one of the best customizers on the market and it allows users to really change the look and feel of their site. This is because Shopify use sections and these range from ecommerce related to content sections.
While it is really good, it is limited to the homepage and for other pages such as About, it is limited to a basic text editor, which has more basic formatting options. But for all other options such as colours and fonts, the customizer is easy to use and most users will quickly get used to using it.
Running an ecommerce website can be challenging at times and you require some help, so what support do you get from these platforms?
Big Cartel – support options are quite limited with the Big Cartel platform as the only options are to contact them via email and that goes for all of the packages. There are no extra support options on the larger packages, which is a little surprising.
Shopify – with Shopify there are no support restrictions as they offer all users 24/7 support along with multiple contact channels, including over the phone, via live chat or email ticket. Twitter is also an option.
Outside of the main support channels, there is also a community support forum that can provide a good source of support and information. This is because not only do members of the support team use it but also developers and other users, who may be able to provide alternative solutions.
Hosting & Performance
Both platforms take a very different approach when it comes to advertising their hosting.
Big Cartel give almost no information away on their website about their hosting, the only thing they say is that all packages include a free SSL certificate.
Shopify on the flip side are very upfront about their hosting set up and you get the following:
- Hosted on Amazon Web Services
- PCI Level 1 PCI DSS
- Global CDN
- 99.98% Uptime
- Unlimited Bandwidth
- Unlimited Storage
This didn’t stop me from putting both to the test and for this I three live customers example sites from both platforms and ran them through Pingdom’s Speed Test Tool (Washington D.C & San Francisco Server) and Google’s Page Speed Insights, once a day for three days to see how well they performed:
Washington D.C: 0.99 Seconds
San Francisco: 1.29 Seconds
Google Mobile: 59/100
Google Desktop: 94/100
Washington D.C: 1.07 Seconds
San Francisco: 0.98 Seconds
Google Mobile: 38/100
Google Desktop: 80/100
These are two of the best performing platforms that are out there and Big Cartel does really well on the Google tests.
Shopify also performed strongly and considering the extra amount of features that are available with Shopify over Big Cartel, it does show just how good their hosting set up is.
Ease of Use
Facts and figures are one thing but what are these platforms like to use and how do they compare to each other? Well that is what I am going to be looking at in this section.
Getting started with the Big Cartel platform is really simple to do, all you need to do is go to the Big Cartel website and click the sign up icon in the top right hand corner, this takes you to the pricing page so that you can choose the package that you want.
Once selected, you are taken through to the sign up page and all you need is an email address, create a password, create a shop name and a shop URL and you are good to go. If you have selected a paid plan, then you will need to set up your billing information as well.
Once you have signed up, you are taken through to the Big Cartel dashboard and are greeted by a set up guide and unlike other platforms, you do need to work through the steps in this guide in order to access the dashboard section of the admin area.
Fortunately, the set up guide is pretty good and takes you through most of what you need to do to get your website up and running.
The Big Cartel admin dashboard is very simplistic as there is only 5 sections, so it doesn’t take long to know where things are and even within the sections, there aren’t many options. While this is good in one way, it does show how light on features the Big Cartel platform.
Getting started with Shopify is easy but involves a couple more steps but these are there to help the platform know how to best help you, so that it is easier to get up and running.
But all you need to get started is an email address and to create a password, then follow the instructions on the next two pages and a store will be set up for you.
Once you have gone through the sign up process, you will be taken through to the admin dashboard and be greeted by a very simple set up guide. This is a little light on steps and does miss out on some important ones but Shopify have remedied that by creating a video course that takes you through setting up a store properly.
Outside of the set up guide, the Shopify dashboard is very well laid out and is easy to learn. It doesn’t take long to learn where everything is as the section headings are clearly labelled and easy to navigate around.
Adding and Managing Stock
Being able to manage your stock efficiently and effectively is a hugely important part of running an online store and for me there are three main areas to this and they are:
- Adding products
- Organising your Products
- Managing your inventory
Big Cartel has one of the simplest product creation pages out there, which makes it very easy to add a new product but you are limited to purely physical products. Which is surprising as it is aimed at creative types who may have digital versions of their creations.
Something that is missing from the product creation page is any kind of SEO settings and you can only change the URL of a product by creating it and then going back in and editing it. While having a light and easy to use product creation page is good, it does feel like there are some things missing.
Organising your products is a little strange as categories are created either within the product creation page or clicking the three dots on the inventory overview page and they are created by just giving them a title. There is no description or SEO tools associated with them.
It is also doesn’t allow you to create sub-categories or choose how you display the categories on the front end of your site. Categories are simply added to the main navigation menu product drop down list, when a product is added to the category.
Bulk inventory management is only available on the paid plans but having it as an option is still good. On the free plan, all editing has to be done on a product by product basis.
Shopify has also opted for a single page layout for their add new product page and even though the amount of options on the page are pretty similar, the Shopify layout just feels more complete. Plus there are SEO options directly on the page such as being able to set a custom page title, meta description and URL.
If you sell downloadable products, then you will need to install an app in order to add this functionality but it can be done easily. The standard product page can be used for physical or virtual products.
Organising your inventory on Shopify is a little different as they have developed their own collections system and it operates in one of two ways:
- Manual Collections – these work in a similar way to traditional categories as products are manually added to the collection.
- Automated Collections – the are collections where the products are added based upon rules that you set for the collections and can be based of things such as tags, vendors or prices. A bit more complicated to learn but can be used to good effect.
One other quirk with collections is that to create a sub-collection, they have to set up using the main navigation menu, rather than in the create/edit collection page.
Managing your inventory in Shopify is very easy to do as they have provided multiple options, if you just need to update stock quantity then the inventory section allows this to be done quickly and effectively. For any other changes, the bulk editor is a great tool and allows you to update pretty much any field that can be filled in on the product creation page.
Big Cartel – Unfortunately, I cannot say how good or bad the Big Cartel order management is as there is no option to manually create orders.
Shopify – The order management system on Shopify does require the installation of the Order Printer app if you want to print your orders off directly from the Shopify dashboard. If this app is not installed then the order management is limited to just being able to update order statuses and exporting order information via CSV format.
Big Cartel Summary
Big Cartel Pros
• Hosting Performance
• Cheap Plans
• Easy to learn
• Attractive themes
Big Cartel Cons
• Limited features
• No real SEO tools
• Only email support
• Not really scalable
• General lack of information
• Easy to use admin area
• Theme selection
• Theme customizer
• Stock Image Library
• The App Store
• Transaction fees
• Collections system could be easier to use
• No option to print off orders in bulk
If you are serious about building an ecommerce website and business, then Shopify is definitely the winner out of the two as it not only provides a complete website builder but also comes with lots of features for ecommerce and more.
It is also scalable as their are bigger packages and the platform is built to handle businesses of all sizes and if the standard features aren’t enough, then the App Store will probably have the answer for you.
Big Cartel isn’t a bad platform but it feels a bit incomplete and while it is an option for a small, boutique style business. You may find that if the website takes off that you quickly outgrow it.
So that is my conclusion of these two ecommerce platforms. If you want to try one or both of these out for yourself, then you can by clicking on the buttons below.
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