5 Steps to Choosing the Best Shopify Theme for Your eCommerce Website

Posted on Wed, June 15, 2016 in Business Strategy, eCommerce Tips, Development Tips, Web Design, by Kevin Carpenter

It has never been easier to create and launch an online store.

This fact owes largely to the ever-growing marketplace of Shopify themes as well as a plethora of ecommerce website-builders all offering a simplistic WYSYWYG style of design. In merely a few clicks you can begin carving out your niche, forging a trustworthy online presence, and intuitively selling your inventory.

"In merely a few clicks you can begin carving out your niche, forging a trustworthy online presence, and intuitively selling your inventory." (CLICK TO TWEET)

However, there is considerable competition. There are roughly 12 million storefronts nationwide, of which 650,000 maintain ecommerce websites that generate more than $1,000 in sales revenue per year. Defying these odds presents a tremendous challenge, especially to a business owner with little to no web development experience. How can it be done?

GRAYBOX suggests that you consider the following five steps when choosing a website theme to enhance your webstore and its niche. Doing so will captivate your users, ultimately gain their trust, and thus increase conversion rates and overall sales.

  • What kind of website are you creating?
  • Who will be creating or managing your webstore?
  • Feature selections: “must-have” vs. “nice to have”
  • How trustworthy is the theme’s developer?
  • Testing

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Step 1. Think about your business and what kind of website you’re creating.

Let’s start with the basics. Before you begin, ask yourself what type of website you’ll be creating. Since this is a Shopify webstore, chances are it’s an ecommerce website of some kind. However, you need to be more specific in your genre declaration. Are you selling directly to a consumer, or are you strictly B2B (business to business)? What type of product will you be selling? Several products or thousands? Is your company more than just a storefront, i.e., resourceful in your given market?

The answers to these questions influence the importance of a couple of key content categories:

  • Imagery: If your products are artistic, visually nuanced, or collector’s items, you will want a plethora of highly-detailed images to upload into your webstore, thereby providing your customers with the ability to zoom in on your products. If you are selling raw materials, perhaps to another business, imagery is likely to be less critical to your success.
  • Copy: Copy is important in every genre of webstore from product descriptions to company history pages to the content of your homepage slideshow to promotional blocks. However, extra care and time should be placed on copy when your business is viewed as an informational resource. Do you have informative blog posts ready to be published with the release of your site? Or forum topics? How about an entire collection of industry-related informational articles to embed?
  • Supplemental site features / modules: If you are leaning more toward an informational ecommerce store, you will want a blog and perhaps even a forum if you are expecting an active customer community.

If you are an existing and successful business, but new to the web, it behooves you to ensure that your theme supports user reviews on your products. This allows you to encourage previous customers to visit your online store and write positive reviews, therefore further bolstering your credibility while increasing online conversion rates and sales.


Step 2. Ask yourself: Who will be creating / managing the webstore?

Will you be managing all development in your new webstore, or will you be deferring development to a web developer? If you choose to fly solo and captain the ship yourself, consider your own web development experience and all possible future updates and fixes that will need to happen with your webstore. Do you honestly have the time and the skill to handle all requests? It can quickly become very time consuming. Do you have the capability to make calculated decisions on purchasing and installing future plugins or add-ons with the theme you choose?

How you answer these questions will greatly assist in your search for the perfect theme, while also minimizing costs. If you have scant web development experience, yet choose to handle the duties yourself, we recommend that you automatically choose a top tier paid theme.

Spending a few extra dollars now on a well-developed theme could save you thousands very quickly down the road.

"Spending a few extra dollars now on a well-developed theme could save you thousands very quickly down the road." (CLICK TO TWEET)

If you are deferring to a developer, converse with them to gain insight on select features. You may be able to save cost by discarding themes that ship with features your developer deems unnecessary.

Step 3. Separate the “must-have” vs. “nice to have” features.

The next step is to create a list of features that you will or will not need. But first, there are some additional items to think about:

  • Search the theme’s page for specific screenshots that show the Theme Options. This is a crucial feature. Lacking in this area presents trouble when attempting to modify the theme, and you MUST be a developer to even think about adding new fields to Theme Options. This is your only toolbox, so make sure it will have everything you will need, or close to it.

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(Theme options for Feature Boxes in the District Theme located underneath the slider. This theme even gives you image size suggestions. http://help.stylehatch.com/article/252-an-overview...)

  • Take the “Theme’s Feature List” with a grain of salt. These are used for selling the theme to you, and are often worded skillfully to accomplish that goal. Be smart and dig deep for the real features - you’ll be glad in the end.
  • Easier to remove features rather than add them. The most important area is almost always the slider and its available options. This is the first visual that users see when arriving on your website, and you more flexibility to manipulate this area as much as possible is desirable. Ideally you should be able to add a video, dynamically link a slide to a product, add a background image, add a foreground image, etc. This is a common area where developers at GRAYBOX are constantly adding features for clients whose themes ship with minimal flexibility, in turn adding significant costs to the webstore through custom development fees.
  • Branding Guidelines / available media – Start assessing your webstore/companies’ collection of media. This gives you a solid assessment of content gaps, which makes it easier to evaluate, simulate, and predict how your media would look within the theme you choose.

Features To Spotlight

Here is a short list of features to consider that will separate the merely okay themes from the great themes:

Responsive Design

This is a must-have regardless of your situation; it’s 2016 now and there are more mobile users on the web than desktop users. Don’t take the theme’s feature list word for it, test it yourself on different devices you have at your own disposal.

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Homepage Promo Blocks

Scan for a theme option that allows you to edit blocks of text and imagery on your store’s homepage. Ideally, this feature would allow you to set informational blocks with a background image, headline, paragraph, or sentence, and a link to a page or product.

The key area where most themes fall short is only allowing you to upload images, then expecting you to embed the informational text within said image rather than dynamically entering it in a field in the theme’s options.

This extra bit of functionality saves a ton of time while also amplifying SEO performance.

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(screenshot of Aries Apparel’s theme options for the home page, showcasing numerous options for the homepage slider and promo blocks)

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Free Upgrades

The web is a crazy and ever-changing realm of new technologies. Thus, developers are constantly improving and even re-writing entire existing themes on new programmatically platforms and frameworks. Having a theme developer who promises free feature / theme upgrades is very enticing from both a monetary and stability standpoint.

Step 4. Read the documentation & user reviews

  • Most of the time these include how-to screenshots for Theme Option features that ship with the theme. Do these make sense to you? Think of it like you’re popping the hood on a car; this flexibility and extensibility is the bulk of what you are purchasing.

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(example of theme documentation on the slider – District Shopify Theme - http://help.stylehatch.com/article/248-setting-up-...)

  • Reviews – Whether you are handling your website entirely independently or conversely hiring a shop, quick communication with the theme developer is critical. This can usually be determined quickly by skimming reviews. It is a severe detriment if a theme offers support only via its online support forum, which can easily become a shady and unresponsive place. Often times developers and shops “close” the support forum and open select issues that are easily resolved to give themselves a false appearance of support. There have been a few instances where GRAYBOX has tried to contact the theme’s developer due to a bug in their theme, only to never have our support ticket even accepted in the first place. In short, more support mediums offered to you is always better..
  • After “trusting” the theme creator, take a look at their other work/themes. This is also useful for gauging their expertise, and you might find an alternate theme you prefer.

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(Other styles of the same theme (Palo Alto) that come free of charge - https://themes.shopify.com/themes/palo-alto/styles...)

  • Are there any live websites utilizing the current theme you’re considering? Compare the demo website vs. the live website: how well do the features match up? Can you make any connections with what you are seeing versus some of the screenshots from the Theme Options?

Step 5. Testing

  • Immerse yourself in your new theme. Investigate every template and pre-made page that it claims to ship. Does it look good on your 27” iMac? How about on mobile devices? Do you like the way the menu behaves on your mobile device? Is it easy to use? How about on a landscape display versus a portrait display? If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re closing in on purchasing your new theme.

Bottom Line: Function over form.

I cannot possibly stress how much this phrase directly relates to picking a Shopify theme. The vast majority of themes already appear in their best possible form within the demo site, so focus your attention instead on functionality, extendibility, and customization. Dissecting and hyper-focusing on the nuances of appearance should be saved for later stages in your quest for the perfect webstore theme.

In other words, allow the flashiness of your theme to serve as a supplemental catalyst to success, but not the cornerstone.

"Allow the flashiness of your theme to serve as a supplemental catalyst to success, but not the cornerstone." (CLICK TO TWEET)

If you ever have any questions, feel free to reach out to our team and ask away!

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