How is Using a Shopify Theme Different from a Bespoke Design and Build?
If you’re looking to set up shop with an e-commerce business, then Shopify is a great first port of call. For new businesses, the initial outlay of a full bespoke site can be too much reach for that first iteration of the site, and Shopify themes can give a pre-made website at a fraction of the cost. In this article we explore how Shopify themes are useful, what they are vs what they aren’t, and what the process of implementation looks like…
What is a Theme?
Themes are pre-made websites that have been built with a range of settings to make them fully adaptable to both the content of the site, but also the brand and desired look and feel. Shopify has its own Theme Store which offers both free and paid for themes.
Theme developers can create themes and submit them to the theme store, either as free to gain exposure, or as a paid theme in order to generate income. As most third party developers tend to opt for income, free themes on the most part are created by Shopify themselves to give sellers a cheaper option. Shopify created themes will always use every single feature of Shopify possible, and also will have the best support.
While paid themes do add a cost, so don’t suit all budgets, you do tend to find a higher calibre of theme and design with ones these. This cost is paid to Shopify directly (rather than via us), but themes can be added as a ‘theme trial’, meaning we can trial it for free to test the settings to see if it will be a good fit. The only thing we can’t do with a theme trial is a) edit code, and b) go live with it.
The last point of note on themes is that Shopify refers to all online store frontends as ‘themes’, even if it’s been built bespoke. So if you’re reading this and do have a bespoke site, don’t be alarmed that it’s in your ‘theme library’ in the admin. Building a bespoke website on Shopify we’ll design and code it up from scratch, but within the parameters of how a theme’s templates should be structured. Bespoke themes simply don’t get listed on the theme store and are uploaded for that one time use.
Where Should I Buy a Shopify Theme From?
Shopify have a vested interest in you staying on Shopify, especially if you’re new to the platform. This means that themes in their theme store get heavily vetted to ensure they a) use the latest Shopify technology, b) are adaptable and have enough settings to make a site unique, and c) pass all other technical checks such as being optimised for SEO and accessibility.
This ultimately means all themes in Shopify’s theme store are a safe bet. Some are obviously better than others, but we’ve never implemented a theme from there which we’ve decided not to use because it wasn’t good enough.
There are also third party websites which sell Shopify themes, but these websites are only interested in making the theme as good as possible and make you want to buy it (so they earn commission). Once you’ve bought the theme and received the code, you then in theory have all that knowledge and therefore can’t get a refund. Third party website themes are often poorly made, restrictive, and use older versions of Shopify.
All of this means that we always recommend using themes from the Shopify theme store.
What Are the Limitations of Using a Shopify Theme?
Shopify themes are really extendable and easy to manipulate to suit your needs, but they are still pre-made websites and therefore have fixed settings. We always make the observation that if a bespoke site gives you 100% of the features and look and feel you want, a theme will probably get you around 85%. Given the difference in cost of the two projects, this often for smaller businesses is more than a fair compromise.
Shopify themes also have the ability to edit code, and because that code has been reviewed and standardised by Shopify, it means we can add custom code and features, so if a theme gives you 85% off the bat, we can get that to 95% with custom code. This does however add cost, so depending on the feature, this can mean the total project cost starts to creep up.
What Does a Bespoke Build Offer That a Theme Doesn’t?
At Alloneword we pride ourselves on our ability to do bespoke design and builds. We combine our years of design and UX experience with our Shopify knowledge and expertise. We have a lot of time set aside in the design phase to fully specify, explore, and define exactly what the site will look like and how it will work.
At the time of writing we’re building a new bespoke Shopify site for a national pharmacy chain. We completed a branding project for them last year, and now we’re applying that to a new site design. As the brand is fresh, and they have very specific requirements due to the nature of their products, a theme just wouldn’t be satisfactory for them, either from a look and feel point of view, or how it works. The design and development gives us and you ultimate control, even down to the smaller details of spacing between elements, typography scaling, and what features we have where.
Shopify themes basically mean that we’re designing straight into the website itself, using the theme settings, sections and blocks to apply a look and feel and arrange content which we feel would work best for our client. The end result is always solid, but it just means we’ve worked in the parameters of the theme settings as opposed to a bespoke build.
What Does the Process Look Like for a Shopify Theme Adaptation?
We always start with an initial kick-off meeting to talk about your brand and aspirations for the site. From there we then head to the theme store to select some themes based on your requirements, reporting back so you can choose and see the merits of each.
If one looks like it fits the bill we’ll then take the theme and add it to the Shopify store (which we also set up for you) and, using the theme settings, get the site into good shape. We’ll get some feedback from you and implement that, and overall help to utilise as much of Shopify and the theme as possible to improve your UX and conversion.
Lastly we help to set up shipping settings, set up the payment gateway, connect your domain name and give you full training on how to process orders and update content.
The only part you will need to do is the actual product upload itself, but we’ll give you full training.
Is a Shopify Theme Right for Me?
This is always hard to classify, as all websites have different requirements. The main points to decide on are if you can justify spending £6k+ on a bespoke design and build, and if you feel that your requirements are far outside the norm of a simple e-commerce website.
Part of working with Alloneword though is to probe this further, and from time to time we speak to clients who think they want a bespoke build but actually just need a theme, and sometimes it’s the opposite.
Written by Jon Dodd, Alloneword Design Partner
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