In this Big Cartel review we're exploring an e-commerce platform designed especially for independent artists, artisans, and creatives. It was co-founded by two web developers – Eric Turner and Matt Wigham – in 2005.
Wigham is also a musician, and his intention was to find a way to make his band’s merchandise appeal to a wider audience. So, he came up with the idea of a web platform tailored to fit the needs of artists specifically.
Big Cartel is designed to be an easy and inexpensive way for creatives – from bakers to filmmakers – to showcase and sell their products online.
Over time, the company has become very successful, and in 2018, it was included on Forbes' list of “small giants.” Nevertheless, from the very beginning up until now, Big Cartel has never been or pretended to be an all-encompassing e-commerce solution. It’s a small company most suitable for businesses of comparable size.
If you want to know more about Big Cartel – including its features, functionality, and limitations – keep reading because this Big Cartel review will cover it all.
Table of Contents
Big Cartel Themes
Big Cartel provides just 16 themes that you can use to start building your site. They’re all responsive and will most certainly suit the taste of even the most creative individuals. We’ve combed through the options to provide our top five Big Cartel themes.
One of the best things about Big Cartel themes is that they are all “on the house.” You just opt for a plan, and you get full access to all of the themes at no additional cost. Luna is the default theme, but if you feel like it, you can easily switch themes. Whichever theme you choose, you’ll notice that each one focuses on simplicity and neatness.
All themes are lightweight, and you won’t feel the need to spend too much time customizing them because they look great straight out of the box.
If you’re not satisfied with the themes available, you’ll have some trouble trying to find third-party Big Cartel themes. In fact, Big Cartel recommends turning to a third-party developer for a creative solution.
There are other vendors that make and sell Big Cartel themes, but not that many, unfortunately. The positive is that commercial Big Cartel themes are generally inexpensive.
Big Cartel’s templates allow for customization, but the general impression of reviewers and customers is that the scope of changes you can make is not wide enough. You can play around with colors and text, add buttons, and do a couple of tricks with images, but major changes require CSS and HTML knowledge.
Even then, it’s all within the limits of a predetermined, fixed layout. On top of this, there have been some complaints about the lack of rather basic features, like product image zoom and product videos.
In all honesty, all this is in line with Big Cartel’s philosophy of enabling easy and fast e-commerce store setup. With that in mind, there is going to be a trade-off somewhere along the line, and the limits on customization is it.
The limits on customization, however, are a small price to pay when you see the other cool features Big Cartel offers. Noteworthy features include:
- A custom domain name
- SSL encryption on each page
- SEO optimization
- Inventory tracking
- Bulk editing of orders
- Packing slips
- Order status updates
- Conversion rates
- Visitors and product statistics
So, maybe, the limited customization won’t be a problem for you – it can even be a good thing if you like simplicity and you find choosing from an endless list of possibilities to be exhausting.
Apps and Integrations
There are several dozen names in this category. It may not be a big number, but you have all the essentials for getting an e-commerce store up and running. Some of the most widely known among them are Zapier, Google Analytics, Mailchimp, LiveChat, and PayPal.
The apps and add-ons are divided into different subcategories:
- Marketing and promotion
- Shipment and fulfillment
- Store management
- Payment processors
- Domain providers
- Apps by Big Cartel
The last section includes Big Cartel for iOS and Big Cartel for Android, and both are free to download.
There are some free-of-charge third-party apps, but the bulk of them charge monthly fees for their services. Usually, the costs are not too high, but they can add up with the installation of more and more apps.
Big Cartel offers three pricing plans:
- Gold: free
- Platinum: $9.99/mo
- Diamond: $19.99/mo
One reason why Big Cartel is so cool is that it provides its customers with all the essential tools for creating an e-commerce store for free. There aren’t many e-commerce platforms that do that.
With a free account, you get a theme, the possibility to offer discounts and run promos, shipment tracking, and some more cool stuff. You are limited to listing only five products with one image per product – but, hey, it’s a free plan.
Each of the remaining plans includes the same features, like five images per product, a Google Analytics e-commerce integration, theme code editing, bulk editing, and a few more. What makes them different is the number of products you can list: 50, 250, or 500.
Another awesome thing about Big Cartel is that the platform itself doesn’t charge listing and transaction fees. Of course, this doesn’t mean that your transaction processors themselves don’t have associated fees – but at least Big Cartel doesn’t.
The fact that Big Cartel doesn’t want to take anything from your earnings is great news for startups, indie artists, and creatives with modest catalogs and limited capital.
With the paid plans, you’ll be able to connect a custom domain. So, instead of the default storename.bigcartelstore.com, you can use www.storename.com or use a subdomain.
A possible downside is that Big Cartel doesn’t offer a discount for choosing to pay in advance for a whole year like many other platforms. Instead, you have only one subscription option, but prices are relatively low anyway.
Customer Service and Technical Support
Big Cartel’s Help page is well-organized and informative. It covers various aspects of building a Big Cartel store: billing, products, security, dashboard, orders – you name it, they’ve got it. In addition to knowledge base entries, there are also various how-to videos.
Another way to get help is through Big Cartel’s contact center. Support is available in the form of email – not live chat or phone – however, you will have contact with real people. It’s available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST.
Some sources suggest that you can expect a response from the support team ranging from two hours to 48 hours on weekdays or even 70+ hours during holidays.
Big Cartel doesn't offer a blogging option. One way to ensure that you’re able to have the best of both is to link your Big Cartel website to an already-existing WordPress blog. This is possible through the Big Cartel WordPress plugin. However, if you’ve been deterred by a negative experience with WordPress in the past, there is an alternative.
A much better alternative would be to simply integrate a blogging app directly into your Big Cartel site. DropInBlog is a blogging platform that allows you to do just that. It’s easy to use and comes with all the features you need for professional blogging capabilities, like the SEO Analyzer.
I encourage you to check it out and see how easy it is to integrate a blog into your Big Cartel store.
What percentage cut does Big Cartel take?
Big Cartel doesn’t charge any additional fees – no transaction fees, no listing fees. All you will pay is your monthly subscription to the platform (unless you use the free plan).
Is Big Cartel good for a small business?
Big Cartel is ideal for small businesses. It’s very cheap, there are no hidden fees, and best of all it’s easy to set up and get started. Small business owners often do not have the time or budget to spend on complicated site builders, so Big Cartel is perfect.
Is Big Cartel really good for artists & makers?
Big Cartel is promoted as being an easy online store builder for artists and makers, and it’s true. It’s very easy to set up your store and start selling, meaning more time for you to create more beautiful products. It’s also very affordable, which means more money in your pocket.
Summary and Conclusion
Let’s sum up our Big Cartel review.
- Big Cartel is a web platform geared towards artistic individuals and creative small businesses.
- There are 16 responsive Big Cartel themes. They are simple and well-designed, requiring little customization. There aren’t as many third-party themes as, say, for Shopify, but those that are on offer are inexpensive.
- Big Cartel provides limited scope for customization, but this can be a great thing. It allows for quick set up, letting you get straight to the point – doing business.
- Big Cartel is a very affordable e-commerce solution. Its pricing plans are cheap, and on top of that it doesn’t deduct anything from your earnings.
- There aren’t tons of apps and add-ons that can be used with Big Cartel. However, just like with the limited customization options, this can be a huge advantage by not overwhelming you with choices. Everything is meant to be simple and easy.
- Big Cartel has a well-organized help page. There’s also a contact center, but the only way to reach out is via email.
- Big Cartel doesn’t include a blogging option, but you can always go with a simple-to-use blogging tool like DropInBlog to resolve this problem.
I hope this article has shown you Big Cartel’s strengths and weaknesses. It certainly is a convenient e-commerce platform and worth comparing against other options, like Squarespace, before you make the final call for your online sales space.