With every Shopify build we've worked on over the past 10 years we always get asked the same question - where do we start our builds?
Everything in the hosted world of Shopify is considered a "theme" as it lives within the platform and must fulfill a required structure. Within this world you really have two options - build on top of an existing fully built out theme "template" from the Shopify Theme Store or develop a custom theme from scratch.
Site we built: BodyBio
Can cut down on development time if site design isn't vastly different and functionality upgrades are simple
Vast amount of customization options and additional sections out of the box
Less performant as they're built to be one-size-fits-all with various configuration options resulting in additional code overhead
Overall the starting point is more opinionated requiring you to base decisions in the build around this starting point
Site we built: Embodied Moxie
Clean codebase that is extensible to meet future additions
Full freedom in design. Straightforward implementation of functionality.
Can take more time to develop, since the starting point is less opinionated
At Conspire we've done so many of the latter that we actually have a proprietary scaffolding framework to reduce the time required for custom builds. Trying to provide the best performance/flexibility while reducing the cost to our clients.
Merchants typically go this route when they're trying to cut down on development time and reduce costs. That being said, starting with a prebuilt theme template isn't always faster - it really depends on the customization that you're trying to make.
When you wouldn't want to use a Shopify theme template:
Design for the site is far different from that of the theme template
An example of where we've run into this is often the cart/sidebar cart when we've tried to add functionality that allows customers to swap one-time-purchases for a subscription -or- provide an upsell without requiring a page reload.
This custom approach is best for merchants that are looking for:
A site that's custom designed to the brand and/or
Fully performance optimized, aimed at getting the best Google PageSpeed score possible.
Interested in the ability to add advanced custom functionality or use cases that require an atypical user interface. Examples of this are in-cart upsells/add-ons/subscription upgrades, product pages with customization options (see Kim Genevieve's photo + frame builder) or the ability to create a slick product bundling interface
Typically the merchants that approach our team are looking to leverage our full expertise in design & development. For this reason, a custom site/theme is our most common build approach as it allows for full freedom in the design process and straight forward implementation for our developers.
Since we've done so many custom theme builds, at Conspire Agency we've invested a lot into tooling which enables us to build custom themes faster and thus add more value for our merchants.