You’re ready to start your eCommerce store, but the options are overwhelming! Somehow you narrow it down to two: Shopify and Big Cartel. But, you can’t figure out which one is best.
This is your lucky day.
In this post I’ll talk through the Shopify vs Big Cartel comparison to help you decide which one is best for you and your business.
Who is Shopify?
If you’re reading this article at all, then you’ve probably heard of Shopify. But, just in case…
Shopify is a Canada-based, software-as-a-service eCommerce platform. It includes all the functionality you need to list products on a webstore, manage your orders and inventory, and sell on social networks like Pinterest and Facebook. They also sell an integrated point-of-sale system for multichannel business who want to expand from eCommerce to brick & mortar (or the other way around).
One of the most compelling features about Shopify is its app marketplace of over 1100 apps and plugins. Much like the apps you download for your smartphone, these apps expand Shopify’s capabilities and enable it to integrate directly with all sorts of external platforms.
Shopify is the eCommerce big boy on the block, right now. They host over 200,000 active webstores, and that number is growing fast. After a successful IPO earlier this year, Shopify has become the darling on the industry.
Who is Big Cartel?
Despite Shopify’s dominance, there is room in the market for competitors. Big Cartel is one of those competitors…
Founded in 2005, Big Cartel is a Salt Lake City, UT based eCommerce platform. They are also software-as-a-service. They also include many of the core features you require to run an eCommerce store (products, orders, inventory, etc.).
Big Cartel is a much smaller company. According to their website, they have fewer than 30 employees. They certainly don’t have the market exposure or press coverage that Shopify does. They also haven’t reached the point of IPO. However, according to BuiltWith, they do host around 22,000 webstores–not Shopify numbers but certainly formidable.
So, how do these platforms compare? How do you pick one over the other?
Shopify vs Big Cartel: What’s different?
It doesn’t do anyone much good to talk about why these platforms are the same. They both have the same core features. You can add products. You can create variants of products. You can sell products and fulfill orders.
How these platforms differ is more important, because that’s what is going to help you pick one over the other.
Here’s how they are different…
One of the first things you’ll notice when looking at Shopify vs Big Cartel is how they position themselves in the market.
It’s very clear that Shopify wants to be the “every man’s” eCommerce platform. They position themselves as eCommerce platform that you could use for any kind of business. They promote their differentiating features like their one-of-a-kind social integration and their integrated POS.
As such, they have a huge customer base and a lot of attention, but their customer base is not all that focused. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. It just is.
Big Cartel is very different. The first thing you will see on their homepage is, “We believe in the artist,” followed shortly by, “Built for makers.” This is very different than the value proposition that Shopify presents.
Big Cartel wants to be the eCommerce platform for indie brands. Their marketing material is full of tattooed millennials. They refer to their customers as artists and makers. It’s obvious the segment of people they are trying to attract. Their “team” page even includes goofy pictures of their staff doing what they love. (They also share some of the team’s after-work art.)
Put another way, Big Cartel is to Shopify what Etsy is to Amazon.
Sure, Shopify can support makers and artists. But, they don’t talk directly to them. They don’t say, “We are your platform,” to that group of people. Big Cartel does.
Maybe this focus matters to you. Maybe it doesn’t. But, this is a clear difference between Shopify and Big Cartel.
While Shopify and Big Cartel share many of the same core eCommerce features, the user interfaces are much different.
Shopify’s layout is more standard for an eCommerce or content management system, with the left navigation separated out into functional areas. If you’ve used other systems like WordPress or Bigcommerce, this should be very familiar to you.
The branding and overall user experience throughout Shopify is very clean. They provide clear directions for how to use each feature throughout, and they link nicely to their help documentation. They make it extremely easy to get started without ever having to talk to another person.
Big Cartel, while able to handle the basics, does not have as nice a layout. It uses a non-standard top tab layout, hidden behind some moderately confusing iconography. The interface doesn’t really lay out in way that takes advantage of a larger screen’s real estate (see my screenshots). It also just isn’t as clean and smooth as Shopify’s.
That said, Big Cartel’s interface is snappy and it does accomplish what it needs to. It’s not bad…just not as nice as Shopify. And, some would argue that simple is better.
Generally speaking, Shopify and Big Cartel fall in roughly the same market segment, at least as far as price is concerned. (I’m excluding Shopify Plus from this, which is significantly more expensive.) However, there are some key differences.
Shopify’s price points range from $9/month to $179/month, and are mostly based on number of products and availability of more advanced features like gift cards and reporting. They do not offer a free version, but you can get started with a 14-day trial.
Big Cartel’s price points start at $10/month and go up to $30/month. For the entry level eCommerce merchant, these prices are quite comparable. However, you’ll notice that Big Cartel’s biggest price point only allows you 300 products.
On the top end, Shopify differentiates quite a bit from Big Cartel, because they allow for “unlimited” expansion. (Technically, you will run into scalability issues at some point, and need to look at Shopify Plus.) Big Cartel does not appear to be concerned with anyone but small merchants, which makes sense considering their focus on “artists and makers”.
Big Cartel does offer a free version, making it particularly compelling for entry-level eCommerce merchants. And, for some “makers” this 5 product limit may be perfectly acceptable.
Apps & Integration
Shopify really stands head and shoulders above Big Cartel in the integration department, because of their App Store. The App Store contains over 1100 pre-built add-ons and integrations to other platforms. Most are quite affordable. It makes it so your Shopify store can be part of a broader ecosystem of technologies, which will be an inevitable requirement as you grow.
Big Cartel provides very little “out of the box” integration. They have some integration to Facebook, but that’s about it. There are also a few integrations (like to WordPress) floating around, but none of them are part of an App-Store-like community. That said, Big Cartel does provide an API, which would allow you to build integrations.
For someone who never plans to grow beyond a hobbyist- or artist-sized business Big Cartel’s lack of integration ecosystem may be totally acceptable. But, if you’ve got plans to grow, you should think hard about this.
So, which one should I use?
You’ll be hard pressed to find too many reasons to pick Shopify over Big Cartel, but I won’t make a universal proclamation that Shopify is better.
If you are a small merchant, artist, or “maker”, and you don’t plan to grow much, Big Cartel might be a good option for you. Its simplicity lends itself well to someone who absolutely does not want complexity or doesn’t have the technical capability to handle it.
And, of course, if their support for artists and “makers” resonates with you, that only makes it a better fit. If it’s important to you, then consider it!
But, for most merchants who are trying to build a growth business, Shopify is probably the right way to go. Its entry point is similar, and there is just far more room to grow in the platform. I would start with the assumption that this is the way to go, unless you can make a compelling argument to choose Big Cartel instead.
For the sake of disclosure, we are a Shopify partner. However, we don’t receive any kind of compensation or incentive for writing about their platform on this blog. This is purely based on my research and analysis.
What To Do Next
Simply picking a technology for you webstore is far from the last step. Once you’re set up you need to be thinking about how you are creating an exceptional customer experience that drives loyalty and repeat purchases.