Big Cartel vs. Shopify: Which is better for you?

For small e-commerce sellers and crafters looking to build their online stores, it pretty much comes down to Big Cartel vs. Shopify. 

Big Cartel and Shopify have a lot in common. They’re both attuned to smaller businesses, with user-friendly site builders suited for first-timers and amateur designers. They’re more affordable than competing platforms like Magento and BigCommerce and take a fraction of the time to build, without a complex learning curve. 

At the same time, Big Cartel and Shopify are very different platforms, catering to different types of users, business models, and selling strategies. The question is, which one is right for you? 

This guide takes an in-depth look at Big Cartel and Shopify so you can make the best choice for your online store. We’ll cover how they work, their pricing plans, and advantages.

Big Cartel: Overview

Big Cartel is an e-commerce site builder that’s simple enough for anyone to use but advanced enough to build unique and creative designs.

The operative word here is creative, as Big Cartel caters to artists, crafters, and self-publishing authors. Think of its key audience as Etsy sellers who want their own site.

Big Cartel uses a template-style site builder with plenty of personalization options to make it your own. The theme you choose dictates the structure and setup of your site. From there, you’re free to populate it with your own images and text and tweak the colors and typography to your liking.

Everything is simplified with all your choices laid out for you — no need for coding or previous web design experience. 

Big Cartel’s simple template-style site builder offers plenty of personalization options.

How much does Big Cartel cost?

Big Cartel’s low pricing is one of its strongest features. The free Gold plan is especially appealing to those on a budget, although it’s limited to five products. 

All of Big Cartel’s paid plans include the basics: hosting, template customization, shipment tracking, SSL certificates, in-person sales, and options for discounts or promotions.

Big Cartel’s higher-tier paid plans, which start at $9.99 a month, give you more products, as well as extra features like more images per product, inventory tracking, bulk editing, and the ability to edit the coding. All of these paid plans offer the extra features. The only difference between them is the amount of products you can sell.

Advantages of Big Cartel

Better visuals

Few e-commerce platforms, big or small, give you such unique starter themes as Big Cartel. Even if you don’t personalize much, the templates still stand out visually, even in their pre-made forms. 

Visuals are crucial to e-commerce — not just for enticing product photos, but also for brand presentation. The images, colors, and typography on your site reflect on you, so Big Cartel’s extra customization options come in handy for creative young brands looking to stand out from the herd.

Free plan

One of the biggest hurdles to starting an e-commerce business is cost. Big Cartel’s free Gold plan renders that moot. You can essentially start your business with no capital as long as you have the goods to sell. This is ideal for artists, independent authors, and other creative types.

Shopify: Overview

Shopify is one of the most, if not the most, popular e-commerce site builders in the world, and for good reason. Like Big Cartel, Shopify specializes in easy and convenient design for those without web-building experience. It’s so easy, you can launch a fully functional online store in minutes. 

Shopify also uses a template-style design interface, but here’s where it deviates from Big Cartel. Shopify’s customization options are more restrictive and don’t offer as much flexibility. This, combined with the number of customers Shopify serves, leads to a lot of Shopify sites that look the same, making it hard to stand out. 

What Shopify lacks in visual flair and originality, it makes up for in sales techniques. In addition to standard features like order management, discount codes, and SSL certificates, Shopify offers sales-specific features like gift cards, abandoned cart recovery, printed shipping labels, international currencies, fraud analysis, and data reports. 

If that’s not enough for you, check out Shopify’s app store for more. Its large community is a great resource for technical support, third-party apps, and general inspiration. 

How much does Shopify cost?

Although it doesn’t offer a free plan like Big Cartel, Shopify is still one of the more affordable e-commerce platforms.

It offers three main plans, starting at $29 a month — Basic Shopify, Shopify, and Advanced Shopify — plus a Shopify Lite plan to add checkout to an existing site, and a Shopify Plus plan for enterprise-level sellers.

The three main plans all offer unlimited products, 24/7 customer support, and most of the business-oriented features. The higher-tier plans offer more advanced reports and international options.

The key difference between the paid plans is the transactions fees: higher tiers pay smaller percentages. If you sell a lot, it may cost less to upgrade your plan.  

Advantages of Shopify

Extra features for serious retailers

While Big Cartel is ideal for artists and independent sellers, Shopify is made for serious retailers. If you want extra options for promotions or favor obscure sales techniques, you’re more likely to find them at Shopify. Even if the features you want aren’t built in, chances are you can still find them as add-ons in Shopify’s app store. 

Shopify stores are also more scalable. At some point, your brand may become too big for Big Cartel. With Shopify, there’s always room to expand.

Quick and easy setup

Shopify is the platform for sellers who don’t care much about web design or visuals. If you don’t mind a cookie-cutter site, you can have an online store up and running in no time. While that limits customization and originality, Shopify can’t be beat for convenience and speed.

Community support

As one of the largest and most popular e-commerce platforms in the world, Shopify comes with an enormous community of not only other sellers, but also third-party app developers. This allows for a wider range of add-ons to complement your site and somewhat counteract the limits on customization. 

Having that community is also useful when troubleshooting or asking advice. While Shopify does offer 24/7 customer support, sometimes it’s easier to find solutions to your problems online. There are plenty of forum chats and blog posts with tips and recommendations about managing a Shopify store. Help is always around the corner.

Big Cartel vs. Shopify: Which should you use?

It comes down to priorities. Each platform caters to certain objectives over others. If you’re trying to decide which one is right for you, look at your particular needs and goals. 

Use Big Cartel if:

  • You sell visual or artistic goods, including self-published books. Features like the free Gold plan and artistic themes are a better match for creative industries than Shopify’s more by-the-book themes. 
  • Brand perception and visual style are vital to your business strategy. With better visual features and more innovative theme styles, Big Cartel sites just stand out more. Visual brands can use this to their advantage. 

Use Shopify if:

  • You want something quick and painless. If you’re worried your design inexperience might inhibit the look of your site, or you simply don’t want to bother, Shopify gives you a workable site right out of the box. 
  • You’re more focused on business than presentation. Shopify is the platform for adept salespeople: more sales tools, marketing integrations, and business management features, not to mention unlimited product listings for unlimited scalability.

Why not both?

If you can’t decide between Big Cartel and Shopify, you can always use both.

In e-commerce, it often pays to sell on more than one marketplace. In fact, the No. 1 recommendation in our guide to e-commerce marketing opportunities is to diversify your channels. 

As long as you can afford the monthly fees, there’s no downside to using both. Tailor your sites to specific groups of shoppers, or sell exclusive goods on one under a different brand name. 

Still, if this is your first foray into e-commerce, it might be better to focus on one site as your flagship while you learn the ropes.

Optimize your e-commerce store with PickFu

Choosing between Big Cartel and Shopify to build and design your e-commerce store is just the beginning. You’ll need to decide color scheme, product photos, call-to-action text, and more.

PickFu can help. Use the instant polling platform to split test these and other elements of your site. You’ll get feedback quickly from a target audience that mirrors the customers you want to reach.

Split testing on PickFu quantifies the unquantifiable, giving you valuable data on shoppers’ preferences so you can make the best decisions for your e-commerce site.

Learn more in our guide to product page optimization, and get started on PickFu today.

Learn more: Build a better business by testing your business names, ideas, logos, marketing copy, and website designs on PickFu.

Matt Ellis

Matt Ellis (he/him) is a freelance content writer specializing in design and e-commerce. For over a decade he's been sharing his industry knowledge through e-books, website copy, and blog articles.