If you're just getting started in eCommerce, you probably feel overwhelmed with options. It's easy to get lost in the sheer number of platforms available, so you have to start narrowing it down. Most likely, you're looking for a platform that's ideal for your business, and possibly trying to find one that's as inexpensive as possible. These are both good starting points, but shouldn't be your entire strategy.
If you're comparing Big Cartel and Shopify, it's likely you're a creative type — Big Cartel markets itself toward artists, and Shopify is a logical platform to investigate regardless of what you're selling. The eCommerce platform you choose is going to have a heavy influence over how successful your online store can become, so make sure you take all the factors into account before you choose.
You might be tempted by Big Cartel's free Gold package, but as strange as it might sound, saving money doesn't always save you money — in fact, sometimes it costs you more in the long run. Working under the limitations of Big Cartel's free plan is going to be quite difficult unless you meet a very specific model and stay small.
If we put the free plan aside, we can see other limitations emerge. Plan by plan, Shopify leaps far ahead of Big Cartel when it comes to the number of features you get for your money. However, once you login to Shopify you realize it is missing a great many features itself, which you'll need to supplement with apps that carry an additional monthly cost. Shopify can do more than Big Cartel, but it still doesn't have everything you'll need right out of the box.
If your business can't grow to meet demand, you're going to be stuck. Even Big Cartel's highest-tier plan is still built for a relatively small business, and limits you to 300 products (as opposed to unlimited products with Shopify). It's clear that Big Cartel only focuses on small merchants — which can be fine if you're small, but success will make you grow, and it won't take much growth to start feeling constrained.
Shopify is much better in this area, but it still has some issues. Sure, you can definitely scale up, but while you're growing and gaining new customers, you'll inevitably run into more problems, and you'll need to pay for more apps or use clumsy workarounds to fix them. For example, to best serve a significant number of customers, you'll need a CRM system, which Shopify lacks entirely.
Big Cartel limits you to only two possible payment processors: PayPal and Stripe. While Stripe allows you to accept credit cards, and PayPal is very popular, there are many shoppers who will want to pay a different way. If they can't pay how they want, they'll shop elsewhere.
Shopify has over 70 payment processors available, but using anything other than the Stripe-based Shopify Payments will incur additional transaction fees ranging from 0.5% to 2.0%. This sticks you with an unpleasant choice: use only Shopify Payments and limit the ways your customer can pay, or accept alternate payment methods and bleed off transaction fees that can add up to cost you a good chunk of your profits. If you really want to accept several kinds of payments (a smart decision in today's eCommerce world) without losing out to transaction fees, you should look at another platform.