In our review of the best ecommerce platforms, Big Cartel scored a 3.18 out of 5. While it didn’t earn a spot in our buyer’s guide, it ranked among our leading free ecommerce platforms because it’s the only platform I reviewed that allows you to connect to a custom domain.
Its simple platform with aesthetically pleasing templates earned high scores from my evaluation. However, product limitations and a lack of advanced inventory tracking hindered it from getting a higher score.
My Big Cartel review discusses the ecommerce web builder’s pricing, site builder, sales and product features, and ease of use in detail.
Big Cartel at a Glance
When to Use Big Cartel
- Artists and creatives looking to sell custom, handmade, or limited edition products: Big Cartel was made with artists in mind. Its stylish templates are developed for showcasing aesthetically pleasing product photos.
- Businesses that have no immediate plans to scale: If you do not have any plans of scaling your business soon and intend to sell only a handful of products each month, Big Cartel’s free plan is for you. You can sell up to five products with the free plan.
When to Use an Alternative
- If you want a full-blown ecommerce website that can grow with your business, Shopify is what you need. It is a platform that is ideal for new businesses but has room for growth and scalability. Shopify also allows you to build a full website on its platform.
- If you run a brick-and-mortar store and would like to add an online component for pickup or local delivery sales, then Square Online is your best option. It lets you build a full website or a simple one-page site for free and offers a complete POS for your brick-and-mortar store.
- If you have a high-revenue business or an extensive product catalog, BigCommerce is a better fit. You can choose your payment processor with no added fees, and it can host an unlimited number of products—physical, digital, or services.
While Big Cartel provides a forever-free plan, its product limits and limited payment providers prevented it from getting a higher score.
Big Cartel Plans
Number of products
Images per product
Use custom domain name
Inventory and shipment tracking
In addition to the free plan, Big Cartel has two paid plans, at $9.99/month and $19.99/month respectively. All plans allow you to build your online store with customizable themes, sell online and in person, use a custom domain, perform shipment tracking, and offer discounts or promos. The main differences between the tiers are product limits, inventory tracking, bulk editing, product option groups, and the ability to install Google Analytics.
Take a look at the inclusions of each plan below.
Big Cartel’s Gold plan is free and allows you to sell up to five products with one photo per item. It also lets you connect a custom domain, such as www.yourstore.com. If you don’t own a custom domain, you can use a Big Cartel subdomain, like yourstore.BigCartel.com, for free.
You integrate a small but mighty set of apps, including Mailchimp, ShipStation, and live chat. You’d want to upgrade to the paid versions if you need to sell more products and include digital items, like e-books and videos.
Big Cartel’s paid subscriptions, Platinum and Diamond, essentially have the same functionalities except for the number of products you can sell. Apart from what’s listed above, you can edit theme codes, offer discount codes, use inventory tracking, and do product option groups.
While Big Cartel’s pricing may appear affordable, the features included in each plan remain basic, limited, and aren’t very scalable. When you upgrade, you get an increase only in the number of products you can sell—you don’t get more advanced features to support your business.
Take, for example, Shopify’s $39 per month plan, which lets you sell unlimited products. Compare this to Big Cartel’s highest tier, at $19.99 per month, which has a 500-product limit. You also get more marketing options, better SEO features, and payment channels with the former.
Big Cartel won’t give you the best value for money if you’re looking to grow your online store. However, this is an excellent option if you plan to keep it small and stay that way. You can use its free plan and start selling online right away.
Big Cartel offers the following payment integrations: Stripe, PayPal, and Apple Pay. Google Pay is automatically turned on when you integrate with Stripe, and you can activate Buy Now, Pay Later options and accept sales in-person through Stripe as well.
It doesn’t add any fees on top of whatever these providers charge.
Read our Stripe vs PayPal comparison to choose the right one for your business.
I gave Big Cartel’s website builder and maintenance features a score of 2.75 out 5 during my evaluation. While it received high marks for its beautiful templates and design functionality, it lost points because of limited customization options and weak to non-existent SEO tools.
The platform was clearly created with the artist in mind by the design of its website templates—they are stylish and modern and, unlike many competitors, don’t include pesky ads. There’s just a subtle logo on the footer, which you can remove using code.
As of this writing, Big Cartel has 18 themes, all minimally designed and focusing on visual appeal. Users can edit CSS files for the themes; however, if you wish to change some HTML coding, you need to upgrade to a paid subscription.
Compared to other platforms I have evaluated, Big Cartel’s template offering is pretty small. For context, top ecommerce platforms Shopify and BigCommerce have more than 100 templates, although most of them are paid. Wix and Squarespace also offer more than a hundred, and these are all free.
What I like about Big Cartel’s templates is that all of them are free, mobile-responsive, and offer variety. Most of the templates lean heavily on good-quality photos, so ensure you take great product photos.
Big Cartel’s website builder is intuitive, pretty much because you are very limited to what you can do with your chosen template. The website editor also isn’t accessible in the main menu of your dashboard. When I was building a demo store, I had to go to my Account, scroll down to Shop, and click on a barely noticeable button called Design to launch the editor.
It was just a few clicks, but compared to other website builders I have tried and tested, Big Cartel’s navigation for an often-used platform feature (site editor) is not that intuitive.
You can easily switch previews to see what your website looks like on desktop, mobile, and table. However, there aren’t a lot of sections you can add to the homepage—you can only add a logo and background image, customize fonts and colors, and adjust layout settings for your products.
You can, however, add additional pages to your website, but you are limited to working with a WYSIWYG editor.
If you want to have some design flexibility, you need to upgrade to a paid plan and know CSS or HTML, since that’s the only way you will be able to customize your website pages. That’s pretty discouraging for a tech newbie like me, for example.
Big Cartel’s available extensions are limited. The most notable integrations are with Mailchimp, Instagram, and Zapier, allowing for some flexibility in expanding your integrations.
As you can see, Big Cartel’s feature set is elementary and limited. While this may be a drawback for some small business owners, Big Cartel has been very clear about its target audience and has found a steady customer base in the arts and crafts community, with many examples of artpreneurs moving from their Etsy stores to open a solo store in Big Cartel.
SEO is one area where Big Cartel needs to improve a lot. I wasn’t expecting a lot, given the platform’s basic approach to online selling. However, I was surprised to learn that I am unable to set meta descriptions or customize page URLs. Meta descriptions are the page or product descriptions that are typically displayed under titles in search results.
Note, though, that I was able to customize product URLs. However, this also isn’t a simple task to accomplish because you can’t redirect product URLs. So, if you decide to rename a product URL, a redirect from your product to the home page is automatically created. This shouldn’t be hard to do, as redirecting URLs is easily done with other ecommerce platforms I have used.
I advise you to think of your page names and product titles thoroughly before creating your Big Cartel store to prevent any frustrations that can happen when you need to edit them.
Big Cartel also doesn’t come with built-in blogging tools, which is a shame since they are targeting artists who can thrive and market their products with content such as blog posts, videos, and images. There is an available integration for it but it would require CSS knowledge, so I didn’t bother testing it. I assume this will be the case for many creators and sellers who do not have coding knowledge.
Big Cartel is a shared hosting platform, so you don’t have to worry about security as it comes with a free SSL certificate. However, it’s interesting to note that Big Cartel is not Payment Card Industry (PCI)-compliant. This isn’t a big problem per se, as you can still rely on your chosen payment provider’s security and compliance. But most shared hosting ecommerce providers like Shopify and BigCommerce are PCI-compliant.
You can read through Big Cartel’s Merchant User Agreement to know more.
Big Cartel earned a score of 2.75 out of 5 for sales and product features, mainly because of its product limits and limited sales features.
To illustrate my point, Big Cartel allows for in-person selling, but you’d need to go through Stripe. You are also limited to Instagram for social selling, whereas it is usual to add both Facebook and Instagram as social shops to an online store because they are under the umbrella of Meta anyway.
You also have a product limit even on the highest tier and need a paid integration to sell digital downloads. You don’t have the ability to generate SKUs and are limited to 150 product options and three variants per option. There is no abandoned cart saver feature, even on the highest plan.
I want to highlight the lack of or limitation on these features because compared to other ecommerce platforms, these capabilities are offered even on their entry subscription plans. (Take Shopify, for example, which offers unlimited products, and an abandoned cart saver feature on its basic plan at $39/month).
Since Big Cartel’s free plan doesn’t allow for more than five physical products, don’t expect to need to set up many product details. You can upload a product with a single photo, put a description, classify it by category, set up product options, and set pricing, shipping, and tax fees. The ability to track inventory is available only on a paid plan.
One thing to remember when it comes to naming products is that once Big Cartel has created a URL for your product, you can no longer edit it.
Big Cartel allows you to set up product options such as size, color, and material for your listings. If you intend to have multiple options per product, you can set up a product group options feature. You can set up to three options and create 150 different product options per product listing.
To set up product options, go to Products, add or edit a product listing, scroll down to the Options area, and click Add option. Set up the option’s name (such as size) and type in your choices (such as small, medium, and large). Click Save.
Setting categories isn’t as intuitive as Shopify and Squarespace. To set up categories, you need to go to a product page, click on Categories, and add one. There are no smart tags that can help you quickly organize products in categories, but this makes sense if you only have limited products to sell.
You don’t have access to inventory tracking unless you upgrade to a paid plan, which I wasn’t able to do. However, based on what I have read and watched from Big Cartel’s Help Center, you can enable inventory tracking on your Accounts page.
Once turned on, you can see your numbers turn red when an item’s sold out and turn yellow when stock is below 25%. Products also automatically get tagged sold out once inventory runs out. To update your inventory, you need to go to individual product pages and update stock numbers from there.
You can set up shipping methods from your product listing page. You can set up your country of origin and specify standalone or combined order rates.
Shipping profiles are added to your dashboard and are currently in Beta. You can add specific default shipping options, so you don’t need to set it up individually in your product listings.
Dropshipping is available in Big Cartel via integrations with Printful and The Art of Where. Both providers lets you upload your work, which is then printed on their stock products that you can sell from your Big Cartel store. You don’t have to take care of anything but making sales, as manufacturing and delivery are done by them.
Big Cartel Store Examples
Big Cartel is best for artists or creatives looking to sell limited editions of their work and wanting to do it on a standalone site, compared to signing up with a creative marketplace such as Etsy. The brands we showcase below are perfect examples of those that have utilized Big Cartel’s standout features for their businesses.
- Intuitive dashboard
- Straightforward onboarding process with design wizard
- Friendly onboarding process
- Help Center/FAQ
- Training videos
- Email customer support (Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time)
Big Cartel has a very user-friendly onboarding process. When I was setting up a demo store, it gave me helpful prompts, reminders, and suggestions all throughout the process. Being guided through the setup tasks makes it beginner-friendly and easy to use.
Setting up a store with Big Cartel is straightforward, even simpler than the setup process of Square Online (which topped our list of the best free ecommerce platforms when it comes to ease of use). Of course, the simplicity of Big Cartel’s setup process is due to the platform’s feature limits.
I was able to complete a demo store setup in just a few hours, given that I was only able to upload very few products. I tried connecting PayPal as the payment processor, and that was done quickly too.
When it comes to support, Big Cartel doesn’t provide phone or live chat options. However, email response time is fast, and its support team is pretty active in the provider’s social media accounts, especially Twitter.
You would not need to reach out to support that much, in my opinion, given the platform’s simple features. Its help center is already pretty comprehensive, and prompts were easily seen all throughout the setup process.
Here, we considered any standout features, the overall value Big Cartel provides, user reviews, and feedback based on our own experience testing the platform.
While Big Cartel’s scores in my evaluation show it isn’t fit for serious ecommerce businesses that have a goal of scaling, it certainly fits Big Cartel’s target customers—creatives and artists who offer limited product runs and need a full standalone online store to showcase their work and accept orders.
Big Cartel was originally designed for artists, so it really works best for businesses with a small inventory. If you only need to sell a few products at a time, Big Cartel is tough to beat. Its templates are stylish and modern and, unlike many competitors, don’t include pesky ads.
What Users Say in Big Cartel Reviews
There are not many Big Cartel reviews available online. The reviews we have read were mostly positive, though, with most users commenting on how the free plan allows them to have a basic store. They also said that its pricing plans are affordable. Common negative feedback, meanwhile, is that it lacks features for scaling—such as advanced inventory capabilities and customization.
At the time of publication, Big Cartel reviews earned the following scores from other critics and user review sites:
- G2: 4.2 out of 5 based on more than 25 reviews
- Website Builder Expert gave it a 3.0 out of 5 rating in its review
- App Store (iOS): 4.8 out of 5 stars based on nearly 7,000 reviews
When reading through Big Cartel reviews, I noticed these trends:
|Users Like||Users Don’t Like|
|Seamless website and mobile app integration||Lacks advanced features|
|Affordable paid tiers||No flexibility for customization|
|Easy to learn, quick setup||Very few integrations available|
Methodology—How We Evaluated Big Cartel
We evaluated Big Cartel by testing the platform and building a demo store. Then, we graded it against the criteria we use to evaluate the best ecommerce platforms. We looked at affordability along with essential ecommerce features every online store should have, such as intuitive site builder tools and scalable sales and product features. Ease of use, customer support, and the overall value each system offers were also considered.
Click through the tabs below for a more detailed breakdown of evaluation criteria:
15% of Overall Score
We graded ecommerce platforms based on whether they offer a free plan and monthly scalable pricing options under $100 because most small businesses operate on a budget. We also gave points to platforms that integrate with mobile wallets and popular payment solutions, with bonus points for buy now, pay later financing options and one-click checkouts as these are revenue-driving options for small businesses.
20% of Overall Score
We considered the available templates, customization options, and overall flexibility of the website builder. We also reviewed the quantity and quality of third-party extensions compatible with the software and whether it includes a free domain and SSL certificate, unlimited storage, and built-in SEO tools and site analytics.
25% of Overall Score
We evaluated features essential to online stores, including easy product setup, inventory and fulfillment options, tools for mobile and in-store selling, integrated social media selling, marketplace selling (such as Amazon), and the ability to sell unlimited products (including downloadable files). Since most small businesses take care of marketing themselves, we considered the availability of marketing tools, such as abandoned cart recovery, promotions, and discounts.
20% of Overall Score
Because online stores operate 24/7, we prioritized platforms that offer 24/7 customer support and have multiple customer touchpoints, such as phone, email, and chat. We also awarded points to easy solutions to set up or have guided prompts and a comprehensive help center.
20% of Overall Score
Finally, we considered any standout features and whether or not the software offers an excellent overall value for its price. We also rated the tool’s popularity with small businesses and its compatibility with other small business software. We also awarded points based on our personal experience interacting with the platform and the company’s customer support.
Meet the Experts
The following retail and ecommerce experts contributed to this article:
Meaghan Brophy is a resident retail and ecommerce expert at Fit Small Business with over 10 years of retail experience and seven years of experience delivering actionable content to independent retailers. She has spent the last 4+ years at Fit Small Business testing retail and ecommerce software.
Agatha Aviso is Fit Small Business’ resident ecommerce software expert. She has spent years testing and evaluating different platforms and building online stores.
For growing businesses and experienced web developers, Big Cartel’s simplicity may be a cause for frustration. Since Big Cartel is designed for creatives and isn’t built with scaling ecommerce businesses in mind, it is everything you can imagine when it comes to ease of use. So, if you need to sell only a few products at a time, Big Cartel is a logical choice. However, if you need a platform that can accommodate your growth in the long run, you might want to look at Shopify or BigCommerce.