Shopify vs. Big Cartel – Which Is The E-Commerce Platform For You?

Matt Lo
written by
Matt Lo
last updated
November 27, 2021
Shopify vs. Big Cartel – Which Is The E-Commerce Platform For You?

Shopify is the undeniable king of e-commerce. Almost a third of online businesses choose to use Shopify to power their stores. If that statistic alone doesn’t convince you of Shopify’s greatness, then perhaps the fact that it’s growing at a rate of almost 1 million store signups per month will.

The popularity is easy to understand. Shopify offers incredible value for its cost and it has everything you need to create an online store in no time. Still, Shopify isn’t alone in the e-commerce space. Big Cartel is a popular Shopify alternative that shows a lot of promise. 

At ChipBot, we’ll take a look over these two e-commerce platforms, and help you decide which one you should pick.

Unsurprisingly, Shopify and Big Cartel share quite a few similarities. They’re both e-commerce platforms after all! When comparing them, it’s much more useful to pick apart their differences to see how they affect the platforms in practice. Here are some of the main differences:

While both Shopify and Big Cartel are e-commerce platforms, their target markets differ quite a bit.

As a platform, Shopify is what you might call general in terms of who it targets. It’s suitable for SMEs and large enterprises alike and doesn’t cater to specific industries, sectors, or business models.

Big Cartel, on the other hand, is more focused on SMEs in creative industries and fields (artists, designers, creatives, etc.).

Shopify charges store owners fees on external transactions in addition to payment processor fees (more on that later).

Big Cartel is far more forgiving.

While the platform still charges fees for credit card transactions, that’s where it draws the line. Store owners can accept external payments without worrying about the fees adding up.

Shopify is a platform that allows you to set up an online store and start selling quickly, easily, and affordably. Shopify works with a theme system so that you can get the layout of your website just right before you launch it and gives you access to powerful sales, reporting, and integration tools to help you manage and scale your business.

Shopify has a beautiful interface that allows you to create online stores with ease. There are hundreds of different themes available and you can design a custom theme if you want one to match your existing brand identity.

Easily edit the design and color scheme yourself or get a professional web designer to help if required.

You can change the look and feel of the website by modifying its Shopify Theme settings at any stage in the future.

While the themes Shopify offers are undeniably beautiful and responsive, that does usually come at a price. Around $250 to be exact.

While there are a few free themes, 85% of Shopify’s themes are paid.

One of Shopify’s best features is its integrated payment system, which lets users accept both debit and credit card payments without having to set up their own merchant account. The Shopify Payments system is powered by Stripe and is both quick to set up and efficient at processing transactions.

However, it needs to be said that Shopify does charge a fee for payments made using external payment gateways (i.e. not using Shopify Payments). These range from 2% to 0.5% depending on what plan you choose.

Another great feature of Shopify is its advanced analytics engine. It tracks everything you’d ever want to know about your website’s visitors – where they came from (including referring sites), how long they spent engaging with your product pages or blog posts, what kind of device they were using while browsing the site, and much more.

You can view these reports in real-time right on your Shopify Dashboard so you can quickly identify trends in user behavior and take corrective or constructive action.

Through this app store, you can integrate any number of third-party apps into your website (or remove them again if you change your mind).

, a 3rd-party Shopify App, on a Shopify Store

There are tons of options to customize and improve everything from analytics reports to customer engagement. 

For example, ChipBot Pylons greet customers with targeted video content when certain actions are performed. Did a customer click onto the homepage for the first time? Play them an introductory video. Did a customer remove an item from their cart? Play them a video pitch for a related product. Shopify exponentially increases it’s functionality by encouraging third-party app development.

When it comes to pricing, Shopify has a wide variety of tiers (with the notable exception of a free option). Each comes with advantages and limitations. Let’s take a closer look at the options:

This is Shopify’s most affordable plan. Let’s just say you get what you pay for. With Shopify’s Lite Plan, you don’t get a functional e-commerce website. Instead, it integrates with an existing website to offer live chat support, credit card processing, and invoice generation.

This plan has all the features that most store owners will need, including unlimited bandwidth and storage, unlimited products, customer service support, etc.

This is the most popular plan among Shopify users. It comes with advanced features such as customized checkout pages, integrated credit card processing, real-time inventory tracking, etc.

Shopify Plus is the second most expensive plan on offer. It comes with support for multiple checkout pages, unlimited products, and bandwidth, support for hundreds of staff members and unlimited users, etc.

This is the most expensive plan and comes with support for enterprise-level clients who might be running a business with hundreds or even thousands of employees and millions of dollars in revenue.

Shopify has a pretty straightforward pricing strategy where users can choose the tier that best suits their business. Pricier plans come with benefits like more inventory locations, more staff accounts, lower transaction fees, and better analytics. 

Small online stores will likely be fine with the Basic Plan while larger enterprises will probably be best suited by Shopify or Shopify Advanced.

  • Tons of app integration options
  • Great for newbies who don’t have the technical knowledge or e-commerce experience
  • Support available via live chat, email, forums, or phone
  • Powerful built in reporting and analytics options
  • Premium plans get pricey
  • Charges transaction fees

Big Cartel is a platform designed for artists and makers. It offers free hosting, shopping cart functionality, and other features to make it easier to get started selling your creations.

Like Shopify, it offers users a selection of themes to choose from when designing an online store to sell their products. However, unlike Shopify it’s goal is to provide a cheap and easy-to-use service that doesn’t prioritize providing a wide range of features.

Big Cartel takes a forgiving approach to fees and pricing. While the platform still charges fees for credit card transactions, business owners aren’t charged fees for other external transactions. Big Cartel offers a basic plan that is free for life. Finally, all of Big Cartels 16 themes are free to use.

Big Cartel’s sparse UI and limited features make it a great option for beginner online sellers who don’t have the time or desire to learn more complex systems. In other words, Big Cartel is fairly bare-bones. Depending on your business goals that may be a selling point or a drawback.

  • Free basic plan
  • Free themes
  • Great tutorials and onboarding
  • Only accepts Stripe and PayPal payments
  • Functionality is fairly shallow
  • Many themes lack polish and depth
  • Limited app integration
  • Limited product photos

Both Shopify and Big Cartel have pretty user-friendly interfaces. Shopify has a bit more functionality in this department, but both are easy to learn for someone with little to no technical knowledge.

Shopify excels in this department, given its widespread usage. Between the app store and third-party libraries, you’ll be able to find an integration that meets almost any business need you have.

Big Cartel doesn’t charge transaction fees beyond those incurred by payment processors like Stripe, PayPal, and credit card companies. On the other hand, Shopify ties lower transaction fees to more expensive plans.

Shopify does a lot to help small businesses establish an online presence. They have a content management system that allows users to quickly set up SEO-friendly pages as well as apps for social media integration and more. Big Cartel’s focus is on e-commerce functionality rather than making your store visible in Google searches.

Big Cartel has pretty basic sales features. You can create discounts, but that’s about it. Shopify provides users with the ability to create coupon codes, gift cards, product comparisons, and more.

Shopify has live chat support available 24/7 along with email and phone contacts. The platform also provides a knowledge base and forums where you can get help from other business owners in the community who might have already solved your problem. Big Cartel’s customer service is only available via email between 8AM and 6PM EST on weekdays.

At its core, Big Cartel is an e-commerce website with all the functionality you’d expect from an online store platform. Shopify has become bloated with features over time, so it might actually be more difficult to learn at this point than the Big Cartel platform.

Big Cartel has a free forever plan. Shopify does not. If you’re looking to start an online store without making an initial investment, Big Cartel is the way to go. With that being said, Shopify’s prices do make sense. There is a real incentive to upgrade due to the features you unlock with pricier plans. The same can’t really be said for Big Cartel.

Overall, Shopify’s advanced features, beautiful themes, and impressive integrations make it the better option for most online businesses. With that being said, Big Cartel is a perfectly capable e-commerce platform that can be a great (free) tool for artists, creatives, and designers who are looking to sell products online.

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Matt Lo
Matt Lo

Matt is a Houston-based entrepreneur with over a decade of experience building highly scalable web-based technology solutions. Knowledgeable in 12 different programming languages and experienced startup veteran; having worked on 6 others. He's currently the founder and CEO of ChipBot. You can reach Matt on Twitter, LinkedIn, or StackOverflow.

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