In this Big Cartel review, I will analyze this eCommerce platform, tailored to artists, and see whether you should use it – or move your business elsewhere.
“A free eCommerce platform that’s modern and easy to use? Suited for independent artists and creators?
In this day and age? In this economy?”
You can be forgiven for being skeptical about a platform, giving its product away for free. I was.
In the market where spending several hundreds of dollars a year for basic eCommerce functionality is standard – how can you seriously justify not charging a thing?
But after giving Big Cartel a proper review, everything started to make sense.
A free plan is a great taster, giving the sellers just about enough to get used to the platform. Selling up to 5 items is not amazing – but good for a start.
And then, whenever they’re ready – the doors are open to choose a premium plan and expand the business.
There’s plenty to love about that taster:
Big Cartel has some attractive features, including stylish themes and integrations for Facebook and Instagram. A lot of the great integrations – for marketing, dropshipping, payments and so on, are free.
The platform itself is perfectly suited for selling digital downloads, as there are no size limits in place.
And whenever you wish to add a custom domain, analytics, or simply sell more products – there are premium plans, that are still offering solid value for money.
Of course, not everything is ideal. The themes are pretty scarce, and their customization is limited at best. If you don’t know your coding – a lot of things are going to be set in stone.
The sales tools available are also not advanced enough to really cater to major businesses.
But all in all – it’s a very solid choice for many artists and designers to start building their online presence and make some money.
So let’s go deeper into this Big Cartel review and see all there is to see about this platform.
Big Cartel allows you to start selling up to 5 products for free. Premium plans, allowing you to sell more products and unlocking extra features, cost from $9.99 to $29.99 a month.
With Big Cartel’s limited ‘Gold’ plan (a name usually saved for the best plans), you can sell products for free.
Of course, there will be limits.
So, for the vast majority of business owners who have more than a few products to sell, the ‘Gold’ plan is essentially just a free trial.
Paid plans are priced according to how many products you want to sell. For $9.99 per month, you can sell up to 25 products.
Selling up to 100 products costs $19.99 per month, and selling up to 300 products costs $29.99 per month.
Note that there are no plan options for selling more than 300 products on your Big Cartel website.
This Big Cartel review unveiled a pricing model that is somewhat different than what other eCommerce platforms offer. All three paid plans include the same set of features, rather than adding more features as your subscription tier rises. This is great if you only have a few products but need access to extra tools like analytics. But, it also means that you aren’t being rewarded for paying Big Cartel for a more expensive plan.
Big Cartel’s pricing is cheap — especially if you only have a handful of products for sale. However, since pricing depends on the number of products rather than on features, businesses with more product selection are penalized. Worse, you can’t sell more than 300 products with any Big Cartel plan.
Big Cartel’s interface is extremely intuitive and walks you through the process of setting up an online store. The dashboard and menus are surprisingly simplistic, even for first-time website creators. However, much of this ease of use is possible because customization and selling features are severely limited.
Let’s see what it’s all like.
I found that getting started with Big Cartel is incredibly simple. To start this Big Cartel review, all I had to do was to sign up with my email address, and the platform created a new website for me instantly. My dashboard popped up with nine steps that I could take to set up and customize my online store, and a status bar across the top of the page kept me updated on my progress.
Is it easy? It’s the easiest thing I ever used.
Navigating the dashboard is ridiculously simple. There are only five menu items, and three of these are ‘Products’, ‘Orders’, and ‘Discounts’. So, getting around the online store is straightforward and I didn’t have the experience of becoming lost in my own site. Which always rules.
But simplicity comes with some of its own problems.
“Hey, what do I need to click to edit my page?”
Turns out you have to choose the “Account” section and scroll below your personal information. Unusual – but I suppose having a total of 5 sections was better than having 6.
Customizing my website with Big Cartel was easy, although I was a bit frustrated by how little control I had over how my site looked. Most of the site’s layout and content is controlled by the theme I choose from Big Cartel. Thankfully, the editor allows you to change themes at any point – so you can always change your mind.
There are only 16 themes available within Big Cartel, so it wasn’t hard to try them all out. Once you’ve settled on a theme, a simple left-hand menu allows you to make some minor tweaks. However, I found that customization options are limited to things like page background color, call-to-action button color, and font styles.
Altogether, I wasn’t impressed by the changes I could make with Big Cartel’s editor.
As a result, it can be surprisingly difficult to make one Big Cartel website stand out from another using the same theme. Paid users have ready access to a code editor, but of course, this requires a strong understanding of CSS and HTML coding. I also couldn’t find a ton of ready-to-go code from the broader Big Cartel community online that I could use.
While the editor did allow me to add pages to my website beyond the primary online store page, customization features were once again almost nonexistent.
For additional pages, all I could do was to give the page a title and then add text and images in a rich text editor. The editor does allow access to the HTML code underlying this content, but being able to take advantage of this again relies on coding knowledge.
Needless to say, “needs coding knowledge” isn’t going to get Big Cartel any extra points on ease of use.
One thing I did like about Big Cartel is that creating products is incredibly simple. Within the ‘Products’ tab of your dashboard, the ‘Add New Product’ button launches a page where you can fill out product information.
All of the fields on the page seemed self-explanatory to me.
But, it should come as little surprise at this point that I didn’t have much control over the fine details of how products appear in Big Cartel. The product editor only allows up to 5 product images even with a paid plan, and there’s no way to add a product video or an audio sample.
The description is written in plain text, so I couldn’t even bold important information.
Thankfully, the product creator does allow users some basic organizational tools. I was able to create variants of products — although these are simply the variant name and price. Big Cartel also offered the ability to organize products into categories, which are visible to customers to help them navigate your online store’s offerings.
Overall, Big Cartel is incredibly easy to use. But at times, it appears that the ease of use is achieved by stripping the users away from certain features. There are limited customization options for your site content or products, and deeper editing requires extensive coding knowledge. As a result, I felt that trying to build a simple website with Big Cartel is easy - but a unique one can be frustrating.
Big Cartel offers a handful of decent templates that are well-suited for displaying artistic products. However, given that you can’t customize your template much at all, the fact that there are only 16 options can make it hard to find something that works for your store.
I felt that the template options available within Big Cartel are modern and aesthetically pleasing. They prominently display your products, as I’ve come to expect from online store themes. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Big Cartel’s themes really make your website stand out in today’s era of extraordinarily designed themes.
One of the things I did like about Big Cartel is that the editor makes it easy to switch between themes at any point. You won’t lose your content customizations, too.
Although you will have to re-upload background images, reset the color palette, and even add logos again! Big Cartel is definitely capable of jumping between themes, but it’s not made for that.
Of course, all of the platform’s themes are fully responsive and work for shopping on a mobile device or tablet.
That said, the fact that Big Cartel only offers 16 themes is somewhat perplexing. For a platform that has been around for almost 15 years, I expected significantly more choice. Since it’s virtually impossible to customize the themes without coding and there are only 16 options, it’s not entirely surprising that many Big Cartel websites look a lot alike.
See what I mean? The themes – they’re fine. It’s the lack of choice and lack of customization options that might become a problem for your unique brand.
Big Cartel offers decent responsive themes specifically designed for eCommerce stores. The styles are nice, but not overly eye-catching. However, the lack of customization freedom and the fact that there are only 16 themes available means that many websites made using this platform look similar to one another.
Big Cartel is an eCommerce platform by design, but it offers surprisingly basic tools for selling products. While the online store interface is intuitive for business owners and customers, there are few features for increasing your conversion rate.
Thankfully, there are still plenty of tools that will help regular users put their online sales to the next level.
With everyone’s attention divided these days, selling through multiple channels is critical if you want to have your products noticed. Big Cartel offers support for cross-listing your products on Facebook and Instagram. Notably, once you’ve cross-listed products, you can actually tag them in Instagram posts from your business account.
However, keep in mind that Big Cartel doesn’t support cross-listing your products on the biggest online shop of them all: Amazon. That may not be a problem for artists who produce products in small batches, but it can be a dealbreaker for other small business owners. The platform also doesn’t integrate with Google, eBay, or any other major online shopping services.
Big Cartel offers basic inventory tracking and shipping tracking for paid users. It’s worth noting that the in-house shipping features are extremely basic.
Thankfully, a lot of these problems are solved via third-party apps.
On Big Cartel, dropshipping is possible – and can be done via Printful.
And with apps like ShipRobot, ShipRush, and ShipStation, you can up your shipping game in no time. These services automatically create shipping labels for printing when an order comes in and send delivery tracking links to customers.
Beware, though, that shipping integration and dropshipping apps can be more expensive per month than a Big Cartel plan itself. For instance, ShipRobot can cost up to $50 a month – so plan your budgets accordingly.
Big Cartel doesn’t offer a built-in payment processor for your online store. Instead, you’ll need to integrate your website with Stripe, PayPal, or Venmo. Setting up accounts with each of these payment providers is free, but you’ll be subject to transaction fees.
Note that Square, one of the biggest payment processors in the US, isn’t on this list. That can create some problems if you also sell products in person and use Square to process those payments.
Another significant downside to Big Cartel is that the platform isn’t Payment Card Industry compliant. That means that you can’t accept credit cards through Big Cartel. Instead, your customers will have to run credit card payments through the payment processor’s checkout, rather than through your website’s checkout. While this may not be a huge deal, it can be one more barrier to closing a sale.
One of the things that most business owners don’t think about when setting up an online store is what happens when tax season comes around. Most eCommerce platforms have you covered, with accounting statements and other necessary information. But in Big Cartel, getting this essential information requires scrounging through your past orders.
The only allowance that Big Cartel seems to make for accounting is to give you the option to charge sales tax on your orders. Don’t make any in-person sales and stick with a single payments processor? In theory, you can use PayPal, Venmo, or Stripe to track your sales information for tax purposes.
Big Cartel’s customer management isn’t just bad – it’s entirely non-existent. When a customer places an order through your Big Cartel site, you don’t retain any of their information in your eCommerce dashboard. That means that unless you manually record their email somewhere else, you can never follow up with them in the future or add them to a newsletter list (with their consent, of course).
It also means that customers feel like strangers on your website. There’s no way for them to create an account, even during checkout. So, they always have to checkout as guests. It might not seem like much, but eliminating customer accounts weakens the bond that visitors have with your business (and stops you from having personalized offers).
Just as bad, Big Cartel doesn’t have an abandoned cart recovery feature. That’s a huge missed opportunity for converting visitors to your site into customers, and one that a lot of small businesses might really miss.
The lack of serious customer management tools is one of the most serious failures I see in Big Cartel. If I’m paying for an eCommerce platform, one of the primary things that platform should do for me is to help make sales so that I can cover its cost. Big Cartel fails to do that by letting customers slip through your site.
Big Cartel offers a basic analytics dashboard that shows visitors, orders, and conversions. However, you can’t get any really useful insights from this dashboard, since it doesn’t show popular products or visitor flow through your website.
Thankfully, all paid Big Cartel users can integrate their sites with Google Analytics. That way, you can see how customers landed on your site and how they moved through your product pages.
You can get even more insight by integrating your website with the Lucky Orange app, which is supported by Big Cartel. This app not only gives you easy to interpret visualizations of customer traffic, but also a live chat box and customizable poll for visitors. However, plans for this app start at $10 per month.
Big Cartel doesn’t offer any major SEO features. This is a big oversight given the importance of having your site be found by search engines. But, you won’t find any options to customize your page descriptions, product meta tags, or other essential SEO information within Big Cartel.
Email features within Big Cartel are also virtually nonexistent. The platform will send a confirmation email to customers when they make a purchase, but you can’t customize the content of this email. As I mentioned before, Big Cartel also doesn’t keep track of customers’ emails, so it’s difficult to bulk add emails into a dedicated email marketing service.
The only positive thing that can be said about Big Cartel in this respect is that you can integrate your online store with MailChimp for an extra price. With MailChimp, you can choose to automatically opt customers into subscribing for your email marketing lists.
Big Cartel websites are lightweight – and the great benefit of that is the fact they load quickly. This is definitely a good thing and by far the coolest thing discovered in this Big Cartel review.
I put the BigCartel website that I made on two test – GTMetrix, to test overall website optimization, and LoadImpact – to see how it behaves with larger user loads visiting it.
Here’s how everything went down:
On GTMetrix, the site loaded in one second, and got straight A marks on both PageSpeed and YSlow tests.
On LoadImpact, it was a similar story.
The response time (blue line) is barely visible – because the server responded in almost literally no time. Despite the tool cranking up the number of visiting virtual users (green line).
Overall, Big Cartel does a great job when it comes to website performance. The sites are well optimized, and the servers they're put it are very difficult to fault. All-around good performance.
Big Cartel is simple. Very simple. Almost too simple. While doing everything is a piece of pie, often it feels to be because the platform lacks a lot of features.
There are no customer management, SEO, abandoned cart and many other tools – as well as site customization is extremely limited.
While Big Cartel plans are cheap, the apps needed to fill holes in its functionality can be quite expensive.
Editing a website can also get a little bit frustrating. While the general process is simple, there aren’t many templates available and editing is limited. So, your Big Cartel site is likely to end up looking like someone else’s.
That being said, Big Cartel has some redeeming qualities. For instance, the free plan is (obviously?) amazing value, and getting started is incredibly simple.
out of 10
Big Cartel is NOT for eCommerce professionals. However, its very affordable pricing and great of use will prove useful to people, simply looking to quickly start selling their work. If you're a designer with no desire to spend days making a website, Big Cartel will be right up your alley. If you're looking to grow and expand, look elsewhere.
Big Cartel lacks essential selling tools and places a surprising number of limitations on your website design. However, if you’re considering Big Cartel – you’ll definitely find something in these platforms, too.
Squarespace is primarily a drag-and-drop website builder, but it has a lot of features for eCommerce that make it a good alternative to Big Cartel. You can sell an unlimited number of products with a Squarespace online store, setup customer accounts, and keep checkout on your own domain. While plans with abandoned cart recovery are expensive, this feature is available.
Better yet, Squarespace’s website editor is one of the best I’ve seen. The themes are designed with artists in mind, and there are hundreds of them rather than just 16. You can completely customize the look and feel of your website with an intuitive editor, without ever having to code to make your website stand out.
Shopify is the giant of eCommerce, with one of the most impressive suite of tools for selling products. In contrast to Big Cartel, there are hundreds of themes available for building an online store in Shopify. While the website editor isn’t the most flexible, it offers far more customization options than Big Cartel.
Importantly, Shopify has the tools you need to convert visitors into customers. The platform has its own custom payments gateway, as well as integrated email marketing and advanced analytics. Importantly, Shopify also gives you access to more sales channels, including Amazon and eBay.
If you like the compactness of Big Cartel websites and the low cost of the platform’s plans, it’s worth taking a look at Ecwid. This eCommerce platform offers an integrated website builder that allows you to simply and quickly build one-page storefronts around your website. Like Big Cartel, customization is extremely limited in favor of ease of use.
However, Ecwid doesn’t cut corners when it comes to eCommerce. You have far more options for defining products and variants, including adding SEO descriptions for each product and setting individual shipping rules. Better yet, Ecwid includes all of the tools you need for converting customers and turning them into repeat buyers.