Bringing video to Big Cartel support

What we did to help thousands of users in just a few weeks.

Originally published in Big Cartel's collection on Medium.


I’m part of the small-but-mighty support team at Big Cartel. We help our 500,000+ stores get (and stay) online, working through dozens of support requests each day, taking care of the technical (and sometimes non-technical) stuff so they don’t have to worry about it. We pride ourselves on making a really simple set of tools, so people who are more artists than tech geeks can still feel like they’re in control of their online presence.

But our jobs are about more than just reacting to questions and feedback. We try to be really proactive, and by that measure, we’re just as much educators as we are tech support. For example, we put a lot of time into our Field Guides—tips that apply to anyone running any shop or site to promote their work, not just Big Cartel stores.

When I started this job, one area that I felt my particular experience could help Big Cartel is by producing more videos. Although there was a great help site, there was something missing—video, or any way to see how things work beyond text and a few images.

One great thing about Big Cartel is there’s a real emphasis on contributing in whatever ways work best for you. Although my day-to-day job is supporting our users, there’s ample time carved out for projects and other work-related tasks like writing this up. That’s a big difference from when I worked support at Apple. There, the focus was only on numbers.

See all of our help videos.


Once we had our project time allocated, Lucie Bodie and I set out to see what would could do to beef up our help site with a ton of videos. For chatting and project management, we primarily used Slack and Sqwiggle.

We started with a list of common questions: setting up your store, adding shipping charges to your products, using a custom domain, and doing some advanced customization with HTML.

With some of those, we quickly found out a single short video wouldn’t cut it. Instead of one overview video showing custom domain setup, we realized that it needed to be specific to each domain provider, otherwise its usefulness would be questionable at best. This meant adding another 13 videos to the project, but we think it was worth it.

Lucie recorded the screen captures with Screenflick. We looked at a few options, but this seemed to be the simplest tool. We needed the least hassle to get a high-in-quality but small-in-size* capture of her browser window, with little to no learning curve. We didn’t have a ton of time.

*We could better future proof by recording a higher resolution version now, but with new features and design changes inevitably on the way, we didn’t want sink too much time into videos that should be refreshed at least once a year, anyway.

I edit in Final Cut Pro X. It’s not without its problems, but it’s still my method of choice for cutting video. I got my start in sports, so I’m used to shooting and editing quickly. With FCPX, I can edit fast, rendering works great even on a MacBook Air, and the export options are just what I need.

For voiceovers, we’re fortunate enough to have the very talented Rachel Gollay on the team. (We’re great multitaskers!) As I’m working on the edit, she takes an outline written by Lucie and records a voiceover track. I make any adjustments right in Final Cut.

Since the files are living in Dropbox, that’s where the team reviews the videos and provides feedback. As a time saver, it works. Better than fussing with privacy settings on Vimeo. But be warned: Dropbox’s online video playback is awful. I’d only ever use Dropbox like this internally with a small team that knows what they’re about to watch.

Once we gather feedback and make any revisions, it’s time to get these videos out the door. We upload them to two places: Vimeo and YouTube.

The Vimeo upload is for embedding in our help site. The quality of their embeds and ability to default to 720p playback is still unmatched by YouTube. These videos remain private—we don’t want to bother with them showing up in search results.

That’s why we use YouTube. Google is always going to prioritize YouTube videos in search results, and that’s where people go to look for tutorials. Even though the default playback settings are going to play at a lower quality than we’d like, we have to make ourselves available where our customers want and need us.

As a video creator, I’ll say this — YouTube’s batch upload tool blows Vimeo out of the water. No comparison on how quickly you can upload, edit your settings, and publish or make the videos private as you wait for launch.


One thing we improved in our second round of videos was speed. We streamlined the entire process, including getting quicker feedback from the rest of the team — all at once — to ensure nothing fell through the cracks.

I had a real duh moment during this project that maybe isn’t so obvious, at least when you consider how many people try to cram as much as possible in a single video: People don’t want to watch a three minute video to learn how to change a setting in their store that takes 10 seconds.

More people watching video from their mobile devices is a good thing. That’s part of the reason why this project is so important—watching video on your phone is easier than reading a long set of instructions. It means more people learning about your work. A deeper connection with the viewer because they hear a real person helping them. But it also means you need to respect your viewers’ time, and maybe more importantly, their data plan. A big goal for the future is figuring out how to make more bite-sized videos while not overwhelming people with too much to load and watch.


Different people learn differently. If our goal as the support team is to truly support our customers, then we need to do more than just write out text-based instructions. For example, not everyone speaks English, but they can watch a video of the steps and more easily follow that to complete their task. That’s a very simple way these can make a very big difference.

And now, we own the space for Big Cartel help videos. That may sound silly. We are Big Cartel, right? But because we weren’t on YouTube before, some people took the time to make their own walkthroughs, which quickly rose to the top of search results. That’s not a bad thing, exactly. It’s awesome that we have customers who want to help others. But when a feature changes, or we’re about to launch something new—now we can handle that, and not rely on someone else to pick up the slack for us.

Video eliminates a lot of basic confusion. Like, “What did she mean when she said log out? Do I need to click log out, or just close the window?” Those are little frustrations that add up over time, when you feel like you already followed the steps, but didn’t get the intended result.

That these videos have nearly 10,000 combined views in a couple months only reinforces that a lot of support experiences have been improved. Right now, about 90% of the views are coming through our help site, which is great because it means our users know where to find our help. I’m sure that will even out over time, but it’s interesting to see that YouTube isn’t the only answer.

A video done well can last for a very long time. It reinforces that you care. Truthfully, the value of a video can’t always be measured in dollars and cents. Sometimes, it’s a leap of faith. That we took the time, expense, and energy to make our current users experience better says something to me.

It may not be the flashy video project to spend our energy on, but I truly believe that making your product better is more important than half-heartedly checking a wide range of features off a checklist. I’m proud to say Big Cartel does, too.

Andy Newman