Shopify Themes 101: Custom Themes vs. Standard Themes

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They say first impressions are everything and studies have shown that a user formulates an opinion on your site in less than a second. Which is why choosing a theme for your Shopify store is so important. Selecting a theme is one of the most important things you will do during store set up. A theme is a skin of sorts for your Shopify site. The theme will set boundaries for your site and provide a certain “je’ ne sais quoi” - I always wanted to use that in a post.

(Dustin’s bucket list:

  1. Use “je’ ne sais quoi” in a blog post
  2. Discover the meaning of life __
  3. Help eCommerce merchants grow their business ✅)

To be clear, we are not talking about themes like you would use for parties - although, if Spiderman is your thing, I won’t stop you!

There are three options to get your theme set up:

  1. Select a standard theme from the Shopify theme store (some free, some not).
  2. Customize a standard theme
  3. Design and develop a custom theme to fit your brand perfectly.

Choosing the best option for your business is going to come down to a few things:

  • Time. Do you need a live site now or can you invest some time into a more personalized experience?
  • Budget. Is your budget low or can you invest the dollars into a more customized experience?
  • Ability. Can you design, develop, and code a new theme? If not, can you afford to invest in an agency to do it for you?

The fact that you have so many options here speaks highly of the Shopify platform. Depending on your business needs and resources there is sure to be something that works well for you within Shopify’s ecosystem. To make it easy, we have taken the three options mentioned above and have broken them down into a digestible list of pros and cons. Ultimately, the method you go with will vary based on your business needs, but here are some things you should consider:

Standard Themes 101

Standard themes are pre-built for-the-masses themes that can be found in the Shopify theme store. These themes are approved by Shopify and have been created for new merchants to get their store up and running as quickly as possible. Many stores, especially brand new ones, find these templates to be perfect for them.

When considering a standard theme, you should keep these pros and cons in mind:

Pros:

  • Affordability. Themes in the Shopify theme store range from free up to $180.
  • Quick Set-Up. These themes allow you to hit the ground running - no taking time to design and develop a theme, simply edit the various aspects of the site to fit your needs with products, text, colors, images, etc.
  • Easy to set up for non-coders and designers. The coding has been done (outside of any modifications you would like to make to the theme), so you don’t have to be a master coder or graphic designer!

Cons:

  • Variety. Currently there are only 67 active themes in the Shopify theme store.
  • Not much flexibility in the code. While you do not have to write the code for this theme, you do have to live with generic code that was written by someone else, someone you didn’t even vet to write the code for you. Often people who do have coding skills will find the pre-written code limiting and frustrating.

As we covered here standard themes can be a great way to start your Shopify store. Specifically, if you are on a small budget and have a time crunch. However, the cons cannot be ignored here. There are 600,000+ merchants active on Shopify. That means on average every ~9,000 merchants have the same exact theme. I have been asked too many times why Shopify sites all look so similar, and as Bill Engvall would put it - “here’s your sign.”

There certainly are some great options for themes in the Shopify theme store, but if your goal is for your site to embody the uniqueness of your brand, it may be worth spending the money to get a customized theme. However, if budget is tight to start, don’t fret, you can always begin with one of these themes and graduate to the custom theme you desire.

Custom Themes 101

Custom themes are themes that are, as the name implies, custom designed and developed to match your business’ specific needs and aesthetic.

There are two ways to approach custom themes.

  1. Customize a standard theme.
  2. Build a completely custom theme from the ground up.

A. Customize a Standard Theme

Think of this option as sitting directly in the middle of using a standard theme as is and getting a completely custom theme for your Shopify site.

Pros:

  • Affordability. This option can be quite affordable depending on how you approach it. If you choose to work on this customization in-house, you simply buy the theme and start customizing within its framework. If contracted out, you will need to vet and pay for someone to customize the theme for you. Even if you contract out, though, this option should be cheaper than if you go completely custom.
  • Distinct site. I am putting this here as a bit of a backhanded compliment. While this option is more personalized than simply using the theme as is out-of-the-box, it is still not as custom as a ground-up theme, so your store may still blend in with the crowd a bit.

Cons:

  • Code. Again, it is possible the theme you choose will not play nicely with certain applications and it may not have the cleanest code work - potentially making it difficult to work with.
  • Variety. There is still only 67 themes to choose from in the Shopify theme store, so your options are quite limited.

B. Completely Custom Theme

There is no better way to personalize your site with Shopify than if you choose to have your theme designed and developed from the ground up. These themes are either built in-house or contracted out to an agency (like us here at ShopPad) to work closely with all of your company assets and built to be a true extension of your brand. These themes require complete wireframe, design, and coding. Let’s look at the pros and cons of custom theme development.

Pros:

  • Distinct Site. Your brand is one of a kind and if you or the agency you chose is good, your theme will be as unique as a thumbprint!
  • Code. You have more control over the quality of the code.

Cons:

  • Expensive. If you cannot design and code yourself, you have to pay someone to do it, and custom theme builds don’t come cheap.
  • Time-consuming. Whether you or an agency is designing and developing this theme it is going to take some time (which can vary based on the complexity of the site).

Custom themes are a great option for the business that has the budget and time to pursue the project. If you go this route you will have to either design and build the theme in-house, or contract the work out to a design and development agency. If you are going to contract this work out, check out these 7 Steps to Pick the Right Developer for Your Custom Website Build. Having a theme be as unique as your brand is going to win every time - blending might get you somewhere in battle, but probably not in eCommerce.

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The great news is that no matter which direction you choose to go, there are some great options. This decision will come down to personal taste and probably budget. If you can foot the bill, there is no doubting the customized theme experience will turn in a solid ROI. 

Want a custom theme? Give us a shout here at ShopPad.

Dustin D. Thede

Dustin is an Account Executive at ShopPad. He loves eCommerce and has worked with merchants LARGE and small. He knows that in an environment controlled by the likes of Amazon there has never been a better time to optimize your retail strategy and get the online piece right. When he is not working, Dustin is probably enjoying all the fine dining in San Francisco!