When building eCommerce functionality into a website, Shopify offers some real benefits to businesses of all sizes. From quick-draw templates that can be used straight away to the unique brand experiences of fully-customized themes, there’s plenty of scope for beautiful and functional online stores.
Before diving into pre-built premium Shopify themes or commissioning a custom theme, it’s good to understand where the benefits lie for individual businesses. In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of Shopify themes, and look to understand the areas of value that can be unlocked by upgrading and customizing an eCommerce site.
Themes are the framework of a Shopify eCommerce store - the look, feel, and style that greets visitors. Shopify makes setting up an online store incredibly easy by providing ready-made theme templates to download and use - many of which are free.
Custom themes retain the benefits of Shopify - security, app integration, and low server costs - but the level of optimization provided means the chance to truly tailor a business offering to a specific customer. The scope of custom themes - from brand-specific aesthetics to many elements of a site’s functionality - allows for bespoke customer experiences.
Premade Shopify themes are a common option for new businesses. While it’s not the right choice for every business, there are a few key reasons to use template themes.
Pre-built themes are popular because they’re accessible and easy to use. Shopify provides a library of pre-made templates that require no coding and little technical knowledge to implement. Templated Shopify themes lower the barrier for entry to eCommerce, meaning a basic store is within the grasp of most businesses, even without an agency partner.
The advantage of a premade Shopify theme - beyond its initial simplicity - is that there’s still scope to customize the look and feel. A truly custom Shopify theme requires a more comprehensive working knowledge of Liquid (Shopify’s template language), but plenty of changes can still be made with limited skill. Pre-built Shopify themes have a huge amount of configuration options with Shopify’s theme editor, including layout and color, and specifics of functionality like adding newsletter sign up options.
Templates aren’t without their drawbacks, and it’s worth weighing the pros and cons when deciding what’s right for your business.
With so many new businesses looking for easy entry into the market, template themes represent a straightforward way to start selling. The drawback is that this easy and affordable option is also a very popular one, and many businesses end up with a similar look and feel. Template themes can be a shortcut to market, but the trade-off is generic design, with styles that tend to be broadly usable rather than tailored for any particular industry vertical.
Pre-built Shopify themes are still customizable. Assuming a business has access to the level of technical knowledge required, making modifications can still pose a few issues.
With premade themes sold as finished products, developers will often obfuscate key areas of code to protect their ownership. This adds a layer of complexity to customizing template themes, requiring workarounds or, in some cases, rebuilding functionality.
Additional configuration options can create a risk of unused code in the back-end, a phenomenon known as ‘code bloating’. This often translates to slower loading times, poor site performance and a more difficult customer experience.
The scale and scope in making a Shopify theme unique to a brand are nearly unlimited with custom designs. Built from the ground up, custom themes can take in all elements of an identifiable brand; color scheme, imagery, layout, and function. Each element that creates a smooth transaction and identifiable brand presence can be taken into account with custom builds.
Template themes are generic by their nature and tend to be broadly applicable to many industries. This can result in limited usability for individual businesses while bloating a website with unused or hidden functions from the original template.
Custom themes, however, can be entirely tailored to the specific needs of an industry vertical, as well as taking into account the unique attributes of businesses. Options like click-and-collect, for example, can be added as part of a custom build.
The difficulty with modifying a custom theme is the piling up of unnecessary and unused code. The back-end of a template theme can be busy, unwieldy, and increasingly difficult to modify as time goes by. Custom themes are streamlined, coded for specific functionality, and readily adaptable to future changes. If your business pivots or rebrands, reflecting this in the eCommerce experience is much easier with a custom Shopify theme.
When we talk about Shopify theme customization, it’s possible to end up with two different products. A ‘custom theme’ is, to many, the idea of something completely tailored - a theme built from the ground up. In many cases, however, the reality is that agencies customize premium, pre-made Shopify themes rather than creating something truly original.
Each option has its pros and cons. Customizing pre-made themes comes with the advantages of accessibility and price - with a theme’s architecture already available, editing what already exists is definitely cheaper than starting from scratch. Issues, though, can arise with this approach as themes become complex in the back-end, potentially slowing performance. In many cases, difficulties are exacerbated by the theme’s original developer.
A unique, completely custom theme avoids the issues associated with remodeling a pre-built theme. The advantages are clear - a blank slate to introduce any and all functionality and design elements that a brand desires. The issue here, though, is cost. As anyone who has ever commissioned such work knows, truly custom themes do not come cheap.
There is, however, a third option that creates a best-of-both-worlds compromise: Conspire Agency custom themes.
At Conspire, we’ve spent 11 years building custom Shopify themes. In that time, we’ve developed our own proprietary scaffolding for fully custom builds, allowing us to take a strategic approach to every page of every project. Our technique allows us to develop fully-customized themes without the cost of starting from scratch each time, prioritizing customer experience and revenue creation.
We also offer the option for a hybrid, partial-custom build. We have a Shopify theme pending approval, which is a version of our custom framework with all modules packaged for the end-user. This option balances true customization and a quality user experience with a reduced budget compared to full site builds.