In this Big Cartel review, I’m going to be attempting to answer the question: “Is Big Cartel the right website builder for your brand?” Big Cartel is a relatively versatile and flexible SaaS tool, designed to help anyone develop a strong online presence with minimal coding knowledge.
While the platform may not be as advanced or scalable as some of the other competing tools on the market, it’s incredibly easy to access for beginners. With a handy free plan for beginner, a host of templates and tools to get you started, and a robust range of payment processing options, Big Cartel could be ideal for smaller ecommerce brands.
The solution advertises itself as the “go-to” site builder for artists and creators, but companies can sell virtually anything they choose on Big Cartel, with minimal effort.
Let’s find out if it’s right for you.
The Quick Verdict
If you’re looking for a TLDR version of this review, I’ll save you some time by saying Big Cartel is an excellent site building solution – for some companies. If you’re starting a relatively small online business, and only want to sell a handful of products, Big Cartel offers a cost-effective way to dive in.
You won’t need a lot of technical knowledge to create a compelling Big Cartel website, and there are various valuable tools already built-in for things like SEO (Search Engine Optimization). However, the platform lacks a lot of the advanced features you’d find on other solutions, such as a built-in email marketing tool, and access to extensive product customization.
How We Reviewed Big Cartel?
To create this review of Big Cartel I experimented mostly with the free version of the service to get a taste for the ecommerce features and functionality. I also examined some user reviews from across the web to gain a better understanding of the challenges people face when using the platform.
What is Big Cartel?
Let’s start with the basics. As I mentioned above, Big Cartel is a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform, created for the development of websites and ecommerce stores. The platform is fully hosted, unlike open-source alternatives like WordPress and WooCommerce. This means you don’t need to manage hosting, security, and other factors manually.
Big Cartel focuses primarily on members of the creator economy, like influencers selling merch, artists, and other creators. This probably makes sense when you consider the origins of the platform. It was designed in 2005 by a musician named Matt Wigham, who wanted a simpler way to sell his band’s merchandise online.
Though it focuses mainly on creative merchants, Big Cartel is flexible enough to work for a wide range of business owners. It’s one of the most popular hosted solutions available, and it’s ideal for small business owners looking to get started with a small budget.
It doesn’t offer a lot of the extensive and advanced features offered by larger ecommerce platforms, but it does offer a great way to get started online if you’re low on time and money.
How Does Big Cartel Work?
BigCartel is a hosted website building platform, which runs on its own servers, without the need for any software installation or coding. You won’t have to experiment with code and programming to get started, which is ideal if you’re a relatively small business owner looking to keep things simple.
Hosting comes included with your monthly price for Big Cartel, alongside basic security features. Because the platform is offered on a “software as a service” basis, you don’t actually own the technology you purchase, but instead pay a monthly fee to access the functionality.
Big Cartel Pricing
Let’s start by looking at the pricing structure.
There are three Big Cartel Pricing plans available:
- Gold – Free for up to 5 products
- Platinum: $9.99 per month for up to 50 products (with five images each). You also get Google analytics integration, bulk editing features, and more options
- Diamond: $19.99 per month for up to 500 products, (with five images each), and all the features of Platinum.
For me, one of the biggest stand-out features of Big Cartel is its affordable pricing. Perhaps the main reason many creatives dive into Big Cartel, rather than spending extra on a more advanced product, is it’s extremely cost-effective. Even if you branch out from the free plan to one of the premium options, you’ll still pay less than you would for many other platforms.
There are three pricing plans available from Big Cartel in total, starting with the free “Gold” plan. This allows you to sell up to 5 products online, and include one image per product on your site pages. You’ll have access to free customizable themes, support for selling online and in-person, and access to a custom domain. Plus, real-time analytics are built-in to help you boost your sales.
With the free plan, users can offer discounts, run campaigns, and track shipments across a range of environments. You can also set product option groups, for customizable items like clothing. Big Cartel’s free plan even includes access to the tool’s sales tax autopilot service.
Here's a breakdown of each pricing plan:
Free plan (Gold)
For hobbyists and people just making the first steps into the digital sales landscape, Big Cartel is an excellent product to experiment with. The free plan is decent for dipping your toe in the water of online sales, with the option to sell up to 5 products easily. The Gold plan offers:
- Support for up to 5 products
- 1 image per product
- Free customizable themes
- Selling online and in-person
- Real-time stats
- Custom domain
- Promo codes and discounts
- Shipment tracking
- Product option groups
- Sales tax auto pilot
The Platinum plan ($9.99 per month)
For those who need the freedom to sell more than just five products, the Platinum plan supports up to 50 products, with 5 images per product. This package, costing around $9.99 per month, is an excellent choice for beginner business owners who want a little room to scale. Features include:
- Support for 50 products
- Five images per product
- Online and in-person sales
- Real-time stats
- Custom domain support
- Theme code editing
- Google analytics
- Inventory tracking
- Promotion management
- Bulk editing
- Shipment tracking
- Product option groups
- Sales tax management
The Diamond plan ($19.99 per month)
The most expensive plan from Big Cartel is still extremely affordable for most companies, starting at $19.99 per month for listing up to 500 products. There are no listing fees to worry about, and you get all the features of the Platinum plan, plus a few extras. Features include:
- 500 products per month
- Five images per product
- Online or in-person sales
- Real-time stats
- Custom domain
- Code editing for themes
- Google analytics
- Tracking for your inventory
- Offer discounts and promo codes
- Bulk editing
- Product groups
- Shipment tracking
- Autopilot for sales tax
The last “Titanium” plan for Big Cartel is no longer an option at the time of writing.
Big Cartel Pros and Cons
Let’s dive into some of the pros and cons I’ve found when experimenting with the Big Cartel platform. Overall, Big Cartel does have a lot of value to offer. However, as you’ll see, the service is primarily suited to a very specific type of seller.
- Free plan and affordable premium options for beginners
- Real-time stats and shipment tracking on all plans
- Automatic sales tax tracking on all of the plans (including free)
- Hosted service requires no extra hosting costs
- Very easy to use environment for beginners
- Free customizable themes can be adjusted to suit your needs
- Simple to add integrations like Google analytics
- The number of products you can sell is limited to 500 (maximum)
- It’s difficult to sell in multiple currencies at once
- Technical SEO is somewhat restricted
- No abandoned cart saving tools
- The platform lacks some security and privacy features
- Customer support is only available via email
How Easy is Big Cartel to Use?
I had absolutely no trouble getting started with Big Cartel, even on the basic free plan. The solution has specifically been designed for beginners, with no coding or technical knowledge required. As soon as you sing up for a plan, you can easily start searching through themes and customizing the components of your store to the needs of your specific audience.
Within the all-in-one dashboard, you’ll be able to access information on the number of visitors who have come to your store within a specific time period, as well as order and conversion numbers. You’ll also be able to track the evolution of your store over time.
The onboarding process is also very straightforward for beginners, with useful prompts and a clean navigation system on the back-end.
Once you get through to the theme/template editor, you’ll find this tool is very beginner-friendly too. The primary settings for your store are located on the left hand of the screen, and you can monitor the changes you make on the right side. Notably, there’s limited drag-and-drop functionality on the theme customizer – particularly when compared with tools like Wix and Squarespace.
However, there are still various ways to add and adjust your products. Users can choose from almost 60 different Google fonts, and changing your site colors is as simple as clicking a button. You can also edit your HTML and CSS codes on your store if you have a premium plan.
Adding Products and Managing your Store
When the time comes to add products to your store, you’ll have two options. The first is to bulk import using a CSV file. The other option is to just add each product manually using the Big Cartel invoice. You just to click the “Add a product” button here and fill out the relevant fields.
Adding products couldn’t be more straightforward. However, you may find you struggle to present your items to customers in a range of different ways. The free plan will only allow you to show a single image per product. Plus, even the paid plans are limited to five images per item.
Not all of the themes available for Big Cartel will allow customers to “zoom in” on your products either. You can use code and plugins to enable this functionality in some cases, but that makes things a little more complex. Additionally, you can only add video to products if you’re comfortable with embedding content from other platforms like Vimeo or YouTube.
One plus point I’d like to point out for Big Cartel is it does make it relatively simple to manage your store and business “on the go”. Big Cartel has its own mobile app for iOS and Android, which offers similar functionality to the desktop version of the platform. There’s a simple navigation system, which relies mostly on the use of icons.
Whether you’re on the mobile app or the desktop solution, you’ll be able to set-up in-person payments with Stripe, create discount codes, issue customer receipts, and more. However, if you’re planning on doing anything more advanced with your Big Cartel store, you may need to be prepared to dive into some coding and programming.
Design and Templates
As I mentioned above, editing the visual presence of your store is relatively straightforward with Big Cartel. Unlike other store builders, Big Cartel ensures all of the themes you might need to access are free to use. You’ll also be able to browse through different templates based on the kind of store you want to build, which can save you some time and effort.
Overall, Big Cartel’s themes are pretty modern and attractive. They’re fully responsive, so you can rest assured they’ll adapt to the needs of your customers on any device. However, you’ll have fewer than 20 templates to choose from overall, which is a lot less than you’d get from other platforms.
Since Big Cartel focuses primarily on the creative landscape, the templates are aesthetically appealing and eye-catching. However, there are some simpler “general purpose” templates too, such as the “Neat” option, or even the “Ranger” theme.
Although the templates are relatively flexible, they may not provide the traditionally “corporate” image some business leaders are looking for.
The good news for sellers looking to get started online as quickly as possible, is Big Cartel comes with the option to connect to a range of payment gateways. Although there’s no built-in solution installed, you can easily manage transactions through well-known providers like PayPal and Stripe.
No matter which gateway you choose, Big Cartel won’t charge you any extra transaction fees. The same can’t be said if you’re using an alternative vendor like Shopify. However, keep in mind, most payment solutions will charge their own payment fees.
Another point worth noting is Big Cartel might not be ideal if you want to offer multiple different currencies to customers at the same time. While the service does allow business leaders to choose from about 25 different currencies, you can only enable one option at a time. This contrasts with other leading solutions from vendors like Shopify and BigCommerce, which can actually automatically convert your prices into the right currency based on customer location.
Tax Calculation and Management
One thing I really did like about Big Cartel is it comes with tools already included to help you manage your tax settings. This is rarely included in most online store builders, so it’s nice to have the extra functionality available. Even on the free plan, you’ll be able to leverage the Sales Tax Autopilot to automatically apply the correct rates to your store for each state.
However, the solution only works for the US automatically. If you’re outside of America, you’ll need to set your rates manually. It’s also worth noting that while Big Cartel does support tax calculations, there’s currently no way to apply VAT rates to your store, if you’re selling in EU regions.
Notably, there are very few vendors in the SaaS world who offer this functionality as-standard for online sellers. If you need VAT tools you might need to consider a plug-in service, external software, or something like Shopify.
Point of Sale (POS) Features and Selling
Crucially, Big Cartel does give you some options for selling both online and offline at the same time. The Point of Sale functionality for Big Cartel is included in all packages – including the free service. However, it does require you to leverage Stripe for your payment system.
Once you’ve chosen Stripe as your payment provider, you can use a Stripe-enabled card reader to accept payments in the offline world, wherever you like. However, once again, the features will be relatively basic. You won’t be able to integrate complex tools like cash drawers, receipt printers and barcode scanners. For this kind of multi-channel functionality, you need a more advanced platform.
On the plus side, Big Cartel does allow you to choose from a wide range of products to sell. You’re not limited exclusively to physical products. However, if you want to sell digital downloads, you may need to rely on an additional third-party integration, which requires a little extra configuration.
Tools like “Pulley” are available to help you manage your digital selling strategies, but they come with an extra monthly subscription cost to consider, starting at $6 per month for up to 25 products. This makes it a lot harder (and more expensive) to sell digital items through Big Cartel than it would be on other platforms, such as BigCommerce, Wix, Squarespace, or Shopify.
BigCommerce also recently added the option to implement recurring billing and subscriptions into your sales strategy, without necessarily having to use a third-party plugin. This allows you to accept donations, and manage payments on a regular basis. However, the functionality is still in Beta mode, so it may not be quite as advanced as the technology from other vendors.
So, with some workarounds, you can sell a range of digital and physical products through Big Cartel. The question is – how easy is it to manage everything in one place? Well, first of all, you’ll be limited to a maximum of 500 products, even if you pay for the most expensive plan.
However, you can add some variations and options to your products if they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The “Options” component in the Big Cartel product page will allow you to provide your customers with a range of different versions of products to choose from, like small, large, or medium. There’s also the option to enable “option groups”, which allow customers to mix and match the options based on their needs.
Merchants can create dropdown menus for specific product attributes, such as color and size. This means your customers are free to choose the exact product they want. You can create up to 150 product options with Big Cartel, as well as three option groups.
It’s also possible to add products to categories, so it’s easier for customers to find exactly what they need. You can create “categories” in the backend of the platform, and assign products to them using either manual processes, or a bulk edit tool.
Unfortunately, you can’t use tags and rules to automatically populate product categories. However, since you’re likely to be working with fewer products overall, this might not be a huge problem for some vendors.
Another great option Big Cartel offers access to when it comes to managing products, and even increasing sales, is abandoned cart functionality. The functionality isn’t built into the platform, however. You will need to hook up an external email marketing tool with it’s own abandoned cart functionality already built-in. This could be a little more complex overall than just using a tool with everything you need already plugged into the platform.
Marketing and SEO
One thing I always like to pay close attention to when reviewing an ecommerce or website builder, is the ability to access marketing tools. After all, without a good marketing strategy, you’re going to struggle to get the customers you need to your stores.
Lately, many online platforms for ecommerce and website building have begun to implement their own in-built solutions for email and social media marketing into the platform itself. Squarespace, Wix, and Shopify, for instance, all have their own email marketing tools.
Big Cartel, unfortunately, doesn’t provide this service as-standard. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t access marketing functionality at all. You’ll just need to make sure you’re using the right integration instead. There are various tools available, such as MailChimp, GetResponse, or Aweber.
The good news is that all of these email apps can be aligned with the functionality of Big Cartel relatively easily. There’s an official integration already available for Mailchimp, and Zapier can be used to leverage your own custom connections.
SEO and Blogging
Outside of email marketing, there are a few other ways you can boost your store presence with Big Cartel. For instance, the platform has designed its websites to be automatically SEO-friendly.
Companies will have the opportunity to add unique titles and meta descriptions based on pages and products. There are HTML markups included, search-engine friendly URLs, and simple navigation tools. Plus, you can add headers, anchors, alt tags for images, and canonical URLs.
There is a slight downside worth mentioning here, however. I found it was trickier than expected to change some of the URLs on Big Cartel, if you’re messing around with your pages. The process for building redirects is quite unusual. Plus, you can’t really change meta descriptions without a great deal of messing around, which can make it harder to convince customers to click through to pages.
Perhaps the most problematic thing I encountered when exploring the marketing features available for Big Cartel, was an overall lack of blogging functionality. This is actually quite a surprising omission for a brand committed to serving creative vendors. Most creative professionals will want the option to boost their thought leadership and SEO presence through blogging.
It’s not entirely impossible to create a blog, of course. You can still add third-party apps to your site which enable blogging functionality. But if you’re not very technically minded, the extra coding required here might make it extremely difficult to get started.
Security and Privacy: Is Big Cartel Safe to Use?
These days, as privacy and security rules and regulations continue to evolve around the world, it’s becoming increasingly important for business leaders to ensure they’re taking extra measures to protect their sites and content. Like most hosted platforms, Big Cartel does come with security functionality built-in, so you don’t have to worry as much about adding third-party plugins.
That being said, the security features aren’t quite as advanced as they could be. I personally struggled to find any options for implementing solutions like multi-factor authentication into the platform. This means if you want to improve your chances of protecting your store against hackers, you might need to consider using yet another third-party tool.
If you’re not using one of these tools, you’ll need to ensure anyone who accesses your Big Cartel platform also uses an extremely strong password.
Another point worth noting from a security perspective is PCI compliance. On the surface, Big Cartel seems like it would generally offer this functionality as standard. However, because the company doesn’t have it’s own payment processing system, it can’t be officially considered compliant.
The good news is that store payments accepted through Big Cartel will require you to use a leading payment processing tool and gateway, such as Stripe, or PayPal. These tools are PCI compliant, but you may find that you’re still held liable for any security issues that happen on your store.
Additionally, Big Cartel is pretty limited when it comes to adhering to GDPR laws too. While your data is kept secure by the platform, and you can create pages showing your customers the right privacy and security documents, there are limitations on cookie banners. You will need to purchase an additional plug-in to ensure you have a banner on your store if you’re going to be using Google Analytics or Facebook ad cookies on your website.
Shipping and Dropshipping With Big Cartel
If you’re selling physical products through Big Cartel, then you’re going to need to actually get them to your customers. Fortunately, there are a few options available from Big Cartel here. You can offer your customers free shipping, in-store pickup, and flat rate shipping options. However, there are no tools available for shipping by weight, which might be a problem for some vendors.
The ability to ship by weight gives you more control when it comes to adjusting your pricing and shipping costs based on how much it’s actually going to cost you to fulfil orders.
On the other hand, Big Cartel does give you a few options for integrating with third-party logistics partners if you’re interested in exploring dropshipping or print-on-demand capabilities. This could be ideal for a lot of content creators and “creative” website owners who want to keep costs low.
You can connect with tools like The Art of Where, and Printful, to add designs to products created by a third-party manufacturer and ship them directly to your customers. Since Printful is one of the top print on demand tools out there, this is a great integration for business leaders.
Big Cartel Customer Support
Overall, I would assume most people could get started with Big Cartel without a lot of extra support. However, as you continue to build and run your online store, there’s a good chance you’re going to need a little help. So, how does Big Cartel perform in terms of customer service?
Unfortunately, not quite as well as it could. Big Cartel does provide relatively speedy customer support – usually responding to messages within 2-3 hours. However, that’s only if you get in touch between the standard working hours for the company (8am to 6pm EST).
Additionally, you’ll only be able to get help in one of three ways. First, you can use email to reach out to the company directly. Secondly, you’ll be able to use the Big Cartel help center, which is full of useful blogs, video tutorials, and other resources to get you started.
The help center is pretty robust, and packed with useful information for beginners. If you’re really stuck, you can consider reaching out to Big Cartel’s team through social media – they’re active on most platforms, but you may need to wait a little longer for a result.
Big Cartel Apps and Integrations
As mentioned above, since Big Cartel is relatively limited in a few areas, you may find yourself needing to integrate and embed some extra apps and plugins into the mix. A lot of ecommerce platforms come with this functionality included, so you can expand the capabilities of your store. Big Cartel is no exception. Unfortunately, it can be a little tricky to find the apps you want.
Rather than being positioned on their own page, the apps and integrations for Big Cartel can be found on the “help” page of the site. There are around 27 apps and integrations to choose from, including a host of options for order fulfilment, store management, payment processing, marketing, promotion, and more. There’s also the option to integrate directly with Google Analytics, as well as MailChimp for email marketing, Instagram, and logistics tools like Shipstation.
Of course, a total of 27 apps to choose from is a little less than you’d expect from other major solutions. However, Big Cartel does have an ace up its sleeve. It also integrates with the webhook and syncing service, Zapier, which give you access to anywhere up to 5,000 apps.
The biggest downside here is that using Zapier will mean you need to pay an extra monthly fee. You won’t be able to access all integrations for free, and there are a limited number of API calls available for each app per month. You may also find you need to invest more time and effort into configuration, which can be complex for those without technical knowledge.
Should You Use Big Cartel?
If you’re looking for a convenient way to sell online through your own ecommerce business, Big Cartel will set you up with everything you need. You can create a secure checkout for taking credit card payments through a range of payment processor solutions. Plus, Big Cartel offers sales tax tracking on all plans, so you can keep an eye on your finances.
Big Cartel features range from simple hosting, to an easy-to-use environment for managing your ecommerce business and launching promos. However, BigCartel.com does have some limitations. There aren’t any abandoned cart recovery solutions for increasing your conversion rates, and some solutions for taking credit card payments will require you to pay extra fees.
The service is relatively limited in general, with only a handful of inventory tracking options, a somewhat basic support team, and a very basic shopping cart. However, if you want a way to start selling online without having to worry about theme code and programming, this could be the solution for you. The free plan does make it easy to test out the solution for yourself before you sign up for anything overly expensive, so it’s worth giving it a try.