A Guide to Shopify Themes

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What are themes?

A theme is an interface for your storefront that determines how your website looks and functions for your customers. Everything that a customer can see on your website is part of your theme, including how your products are displayed, where your logo is positioned, how your menu works, and more.

There are many different styles of themes available, so it is important that yours is both suited to your industry and provides the best overall experience for your particular target market.

Shopify theme language

All websites are built using a templating language. The unique templating language in Shopify themes, known as Liquid, was developed by Shopify’s own founder and CEO Tobias Lütke and is now used by many of the worlds top tech companies. Theme developers work with Liquid to build and customise native Shopify themes.

Shopify Liquid

Shopify theme options

When setting up or updating a website hosted on the Shopify platform there are two options. The most suitable option for your business will depend on your budget and overall website requirements.

If you are starting off simple and lean, you can purchase an off-the-shelf theme. For businesses requiring a unique or more custom storefront, or those migrating from another platform, a custom theme will usually be the better option.

1. Off-the-shelf Themes

An off-the-shelf theme is a prebuilt theme developed by either the Shopify’s design team or a third party developer. These themes are available for purchase through the Shopify Theme Store.

Each theme within the Shopify Theme Store has unique styling and features, and offer different customisable settings.

Before being offered for purchase from the Theme Store, off-the-shelf themes go through a review process to ensure that they meet strict standards. However, it’s important to know that many of the themes developed by third parties can vary greatly in quality.

You may find themes being sold on other websites. These themes are generally of particularly poor quality, leading to functionality issues that can seriously affect the usability of your website. Most of these themes give the impression of offering certain features that are not actually present in the version they supply to you.

Customising prebuilt themes

A Shopify developer can customise a prebuilt theme. When starting a new website a Shopify expert can help you to understand what your website should look like, and which features are most beneficial in terms of performance and maximising conversions.

For new websites our experts can recommend the most suitable theme for your business and advise on any customisations that are important to the customer experience or to accommodate unique requirements. Customisations are completed by experienced specialist Shopify developers and are generally charged at an hourly rate.

Customisations can include any changes or additions to the way that a theme looks or functions.

Key facts about prebuilt themes:

  • The development quality varies depending on the original developer of the theme so it’s a good idea to consult a Shopify expert first who can review and recommend the best theme for your website.
  • Using a prebuilt theme is the fastest and least expensive option when setting up a new store on Shopify. The cost for a prebuilt theme ranges from between $0-$180 USD.
  • If you cannot find an off-the-shelf theme that is already very close to what you need and want from both a functional and design perspective, it is generally more economical to build a custom theme. Custom features can be properly integrated during the development process.

It is strongly advised that you consult a Shopify Expert for advice on whether you should use a prebuilt theme.

2. Custom Shopify Themes

A custom theme is a theme developed specifically for your business, from the ground up. When completing a custom theme build, the process will generally be divided into 3 components; consultation, design and development. This process can take anywhere from 1 to 6 months depending on the overall project scope.

Custom theme framework

Custom themes are generally built on a foundation framework. The quality of this theme framework can greatly impact the speed, SEO performance and accessibility of your website. Most Shopify developers either use a framework developed by a third party, or one that they’ve built themselves.

Elkfox have developed and maintains a world renowned custom theme framework, built exclusively for Shopify store development. This framework is used by other agencies around the world as the foundation for custom online experiences.

Custom theme design

Before approaching a custom build you should ensure that the agency you choose is experienced in designing UIs and UXs (User interfaces and User experiences) for digital commerce. This ensures every component of your website is engineered for optimised customer retention & engagement, conversion rate optimisation and other important performance metrics.

Expert designers will first create and provide mockups to demonstrate how your theme will look and function. Agencies like Elkfox will provide mockups in various screen sizes to confirm how the website will behave on different devices and screen sizes.

Custom theme development

Custom development is the work required to build your website interface. Experienced developers like our team at Elkfox will create lean, efficient, high quality code to guarantee maximum performance.

When working with an experienced agency you should expect your theme’s source code to be backed up to a secure location and version controlled to ensure total transparency and efficiency when adding new features. This protects your initial investment, reduces cost associated with adding or changing features, and ensures the maximum lifespan for your custom UI.

Key facts about custom themes:

  • Custom theme development can vary substantially depending on the skill level of the agency and developers you work with. Before approaching a custom theme build ensure that your chosen agency has a high level of experience building custom themes and that they can guarantee performance and quality.
  • Custom themes are the best option if you have a unique brand or product offering or require advanced website features
  • If built at a high quality, custom themes have a longer lifespan and are more cost effective in the medium to long term
  • Building a custom theme for Shopify generally takes between 1 - to 6 months, with pricing starting from around $20,000 USD

Customising theme settings in Shopify

High quality Shopify themes are highly customisable via the Theme Editor, with many design and feature elements being self-manageable, without the need for assistance from experts.

Themes will generally have different types of feature modules known as Sections, which you can add, remove, customise and hide from your storefront at any time.

Shopify theme settings

Commonly customisable sections include your website’s header & footer, and dynamic homepage features like; rich content, featured products and collections, custom imagery and videos, and other call to action elements.

You will generally only require a developer when you need to make changes to core features of your theme, or want to add new features.

Working with multiple themes

You can have multiple versions of your theme in your Shopify account, but only 1 can be published at any time. If you’re looking to change your storefront interface you can download a demo version of a Shopify Theme Store theme to test the layout and features with your own content without needing to affect the live website.

Unpublished versions of your live theme are commonly used to build and test new features before making them published (live).

Shopify themes

Migrating your website to Shopify

Platforms use different templating languages, meaning themes are specific to the platform they are built for. A theme can not be efficiently repurposed for use on a different platform. When migrating to another platform you have 2 options:

Option 1. Build a new theme

Theme developers can either replicate the interface of your old theme, or build a new updated custom interface.

Option 2. Use a prebuilt template

This is the best option when you have a minimal budget. With this option your existing layout will not be able to be replicated.

Unsure which option is best for you?

Contact us for advice on Shopify themes. Get in touch here.