If you look at the ecommerce platform market, you’ll notice there are a variety of different businesses all fighting for a piece of the same pie. Companies like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Volusion all sell a similarly priced product that can serve as a full stack ecommerce platform for businesses of all sizes.
Big Cartel offers something different. Launched in 2005, the company caters to a creative class looking for somewhere to sell their wares that provides them more control than Etsy, but is less complex than Shopify. On the Big Cartel website, the company describes itself as the home of “makers, designers, musicians, curators, photographers, builders, and risk takers.”
Does this sound like you? Let’s delve deeper into Big Cartel to determine how well it serves its niche market, and if it is a good choice for your business.
What Is Big Cartel?
Big Cartel is a cloud-hosted ecommerce platform, meaning it is a platform accessible through the web where you can build and operate an ecommerce store.
As for what you can sell on the Big Cartel platform, the answer is most anything. However, a lot of people who use Big Cartel sell custom and handmade goods. Think jewelry, clothing, artwork, and the like.
4 Steps to Open a Big Cartel Store
Big Cartel’s primary clientele are hobbyists, amateurs, and one-person operations. Because of this, the platform is designed to be simple, allowing you to launch a convincing online store with minimal effort. Keeping this in mind, here are the steps you’ll need to take to bring your Big Cartel store online.
Step 1: Create an Account
Via the Big Cartel homepage, click the “Sign Up” button in the upper right-hand corner. You will be directed to a page where you can select your pricing plan (note: Big Cartel offers a limited feature free plan). Regardless of which plan you choose, you will be prompted to provide an email, password, store name, and URL for your shop.
Step 2: Add Products
Once you create your account and log in, you will be directed to a setup wizard. Regardless of which price plan you choose, you will have to complete the following steps to launch your store: Add products, customize your store, and set up checkout.
To add a product, click the “Products” option in the setup wizard and the “+” icon. With each product you are allowed to provide the following information:
- Product name
- Price (sales tax is calculated automatically based on your location)
- Status (in stock, sold out, coming soon)
- Variant information (different sizes, colors)
Next, you’ll add a product image. Big Cartel recommends using product images that feature natural light (no flash), sharp focus, and a blank backdrop. There is also a DIY photography guide on the website. Keep in mind that with the free version of Big Cartel, you can only upload one product image.
The last piece of info you must include is the shipping information. Big Cartel does not provide a shipping rate generator. Instead, you must charge flat rates for all the different regions you ship to. Note that you can purchase a shipping estimator to plugin to your Big Cartel store (more on this later).
Step 3: Customize Your Website
Keeping with Big Cartel’s simplistic approach, your design options are somewhat limited. To edit the look of your store, you’ll have to select from one of 16 different store themes, all of which are free and mobile responsive. Each theme comes with a theme editor, where you can update the look of your page without performing any coding (there is also an HTML/CSS editor for paid plan subscribers).
Within the theme editor you can update your store’s header, logo, and background image, add a slideshow, custom page, Instagram gallery, or newsletter subscription icon, and adjust color and font settings, among other functions (each theme comes with different editable components).
If you feel your theme options are limited, you can purchase third-party Big Cartel themes from WeTheme and ThemeFiend. Big Cartel also provides a list of vendors who can design custom themes for your store on its website.
Step 4: Set Up Checkout
With Big Cartel, you only have two options for accepting payments: Stripe and PayPal. Fortunately, both are reputable payment service providers, and Big Cartel won’t charge you an additional fee for using either.
With Stripe, payment processing fees start at 2.75% per transaction, and you’ll also be able to accept in-person payments and payments via Apple Play. Paypal rates start at 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, and allow you to accept payment through Venmo. Note that you can also use a Square card reader with the Big Cartel app to process in-person transactions if you decide to sell your products at a flea market or pop-up shop.
In terms of which payment processor you should choose, Big Cartel recommends using both in order to cover the broadest range of payment options possible.
With all this information sorted, you are ready to launch your store!
Big Cartel Features
There are two different sets of features included with Big Cartel: The features that come standard with all plans, and the features you can only unlock with a paid subscription. Let’s first look at what comes included with all Big Cartel pricing plans.
Although Big Cartel isn’t know for providing a lot of bells and whistles, here are the things that won’t cost you a penny:
- Mobile app: Big Cartel has an iOS app that can be used to manage your store on the go.
- Security: All sites come with SSL encryption, meaning all information sent and received from your website will be encrypted.
- Search engine optimization: All Big Cartel pages are optimized for SEO. Big Cartel also provides a guide on how you can improve your website’s ranking in search engines by doing things like providing in-depth product descriptions and collecting inbound links to your site.
- Order management: Through the Big Cartel dashboard, users can arrange to send confirmation emails to customers after a purchase, track orders, print shipping labels, and bulk export order history via a CSV file.
- Customer support: Big Cartel offers email support between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. Perhaps more useful is the Big Cartel Help Center, which provides robust documentation on how to build and manage your online store. There is also a Big Cartel blog with useful guides.
If you spring for one of the paid plans, here are the additional functions you can expect:
- Custom Domain: Whereas all free stores come with a “shop.bigcartel.com” URL, a paid store allows you to use a custom domain registered via Google Domains. Having a custom domain will make your store easier to find, and is more favorable for SEO.
- Inventory Management: With inventory tracking, your store will keep track of how many products you have sold, and deduct that amount from the available quantity. In addition, you’ll receive alerts when you are running low on a certain product.
- Apply Discounts: The paid store allows you to provide discount codes to your customers that can be applied during checkout to take a percentage or fixed amount off the price of the product.
- Analytics: Via the dashboard, users can track order and visitor stats as well as conversion rate. If you have a paid plan, you’ll be able to link Google Analytics to your Big Cartel store to provide you with detailed information about who your store’s customers are, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking at and buying.
- HTML/CSS Editor: Editing your store’s source code is only available with the paid plans.
- Product Images: With a paid plan, you can have up to five images for each product (as opposed to one image with the free plan).
Big Cartel Integrations
Big Cartel offers about two dozen third-party applications and plugins that can extend the functionality of your store. However, one of those plugins is Zapier, a paid service that can facilitate connections with over 1,000 additional third-party apps.
Here are some of the notable applications available for purchase within the Big Cartel app store:
- Facebook Store
- Pulley (Sell digital products)
There is also a Big Cartel API, allowing you to integrate with other software.
Big Cartel Pricing
Big Cartel’s pricing is based on the number of products you wish to sell.
As previously mentioned, Big Cartel offers a free plan known as the Gold Plan. This plan comes with all the aforementioned free features, but only allows you to sell a maximum of five products. This may be enough for a hobbyist, but likely not enough for someone expecting to run a proper online business.
All of the paid plans include all of the paid features. The cheapest option is the Platinum plan. This plan costs $9.99 per month and allows you to sell up to 25 products in your Big Cartel store. Next up is the Diamond plan, which costs $19.99 and provides for the sale of up to 100 products.
The most expensive plan is the Titanium plan. This plan will let you sell 300 products for $29.99 per month.
Big Cartel Pros
Now that we know what Big Cartel can offer, here are what we see as the benefits of this platform.
Easy to Use
Big Cartel is great for the new ecommerce businesses because it provides a simple setup process and doesn’t try to confuse users with some of the more complicated aspects of selling online (taxes, shipping, payment processing). For those looking to set up a no-frills store quickly, Big Cartel is one of your best bets.
If you’re only selling a limited number of products, Big Cartel gives you a lot of value for your money. Although the free version limits the features you have access to, it still gives you a fully functioning ecommerce store. Even the Platinum plan, at $9.99 per month, gives you a lot more than you would find elsewhere in the market for that price.
However, for merchants who want to sell a wide variety of products, other ecommerce platforms might provide you with more value than you would get with the Big Cartel Diamond or Titanium plan.
Big Cartel scores fairly well across the major review sites. On TrustRadius it earns 9.4 out of 10 stars, and it earns 4.2 stars out of 5 on G2 Crowd. It also earns a “B” rating from the Better Business Bureau. In reviews, users say that they like how cheap and easy the platform is to use.
Big Cartel Cons
Big Cartel is designed for a specific clientele, meaning it is not suited for all business types. Keeping that in mind, here are the main issues with the platform:
Although Big Cartel is good for those just starting out, as your business grows you may find yourself limited by what Big Cartel can provide. For example, you may want more options than Big Cartel’s 16 store themes, or you may want more robust customer support. Simply put, other platforms can offer more functionality and control over your ecommerce store than Big Cartel can.
Another thing you’ll get a lot more of with larger ecommerce platforms is features. Again, Big Cartel is trying to provide a bare-bones product, so having a lot of features isn’t a priority for them. So, if you’re looking for abandoned cart recovery or the ability to do complicated tax calculations, we suggest you look elsewhere.
On the review sites, common critiques of Big Cartel include clunky site themes, limitations when using the free plan, and a general frustration with the lack of customization. It is also worth noting that Big Cartel gets a two-star rating on TrustPilot, but that many of the reviews are critical of stores hosted on Big Cartel, rather than the platform itself.
Big Cartel Alternatives
If you’re looking for an ecommerce platform with a bit more functionality, here are two alternatives to consider:
WooCommerce isn’t an ecommerce platform itself, but rather a shopping cart plugin that allows you to turn a WordPress site into an ecommerce store. Even better: It’s free, and it doesn’t place a limit on the amount of products you can sell. Note that there is a fairly steep learning curve with WooCommerce, so try and learn the ins and outs of WordPress before signing up.
Shopify continues to be among the most popular ecommerce platforms on the market. That’s because it offers a ton of features, customization, and integrations at a reasonable price (plans start at $29 per month). If you were looking into Big Cartel’s Diamond or Titanium plans, you’re probably better off going with Shopify.
Should I Use Big Cartel for My Small Business?
Big Cartel isn’t for everyone. But if you’re a very small business, or if you need an easy way to build an ecommerce store for free, or if you’re just sick and tired of Etsy’s payment processing fees, Big Cartel can work for you. It may not offer all the bells and whistles of some of the larger ecommerce platforms, but that doesn’t make it a bad place to launch an ecommerce business.