Why would I bother building a custom theme?

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What’s the difference between choosing a cookie-cutter template on Shopify and having a customised design that’s made that’s just for you?

You’re starting out your online business and you’ve got a couple of options.

The first is to open up a Shopify store and download theme templates that designers have created and put up for sale. There are a handful of free ones and most range up to about $200. Once you’ve got that theme installed, you can fill in the blanks of your store - add your products, write in descriptions, stick on some photos, etc.

The other is to have a designer customise the way your website looks and how it navigates. Custom designs are several thousand dollars, so many businesses think twice before getting one done. But are they worth the investment?

What does a theme really do?

A major element of a theme is how it looks. Another is how it functions.

Your “theme” basically means the structure of your website that’s built in a way where a consistent design is weaved throughout. It’s everything your customer sees - where products and content are placed, what colour and font schemes are used, what pages exist and how they are navigated one to the next.

Different themes work better or worse for different kinds of stores. Some are built for minimalist stores focused on a huge amount of branding a just a couple products or services. Others are built for brands that need to have lots of different products tactfully organised and displayed. How your theme optimises for navigation, checkout, and use on multiple browsers or devices (like phones and tablets, which display differently), will all depend on how well it’s developed and what function it’s set out to perform.

Your theme is what tells your story

The theme your website has is what allows your brand to come through. Unlike walking past a physical store and trying out products, the theme is the closest we can do to recreating interactions with your customers online. A company website is your closest shot to talking to your customers and expressing the “why” of your company. People looking at it are looking for more than just your products; your website is often what convinces people that you do what you do for a good reason.

A custom theme is, well, a perfect fit for your business

Businesses that are really trying to stand out with a unique storefront, or businesses that started out with a template and are ready to gain more flexibility and functionality are better off investing in a custom design rather than going with a template.

It’s like with a real brick-and-mortar storefront. If you’re serious about building a unique business, you wouldn’t want to stick yourself in someone else’s store, with their layout, decorations, signs and furniture.

Get up to scale

As a business grows, its website will need to change and expand. While template themes can be good to start off with, they aren’t built to scale up.


The reality is, many templates just aren’t built that well. If you have an issue with a template, you can try to get ahold of the developer (good luck) and if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to go to a designer to get it fixed.

Stop playing “who wore it better

Shopify templates are a reason why a lot of businesses starting out go for the service in the first place. They’re cheap, can look great, and are easy to plug-and-play. But the thing is, when you download a template, what you see is what you get. For example, all of the photo sizes and layouts in a template demo may look beautiful, but you’ll need to use those same sizes and slots to get the same visual effect.

One of the major drawbacks of using a template comes from exactly this. It may look great, which is why a lot of stores are using it. The more stores that use it, the more each one looks just like the rest.

Small, subtle touches that build your brand and target audience

On the other hand, custom themes are what build your brand. You can stay in complete control of every little small and subtle touch that works for conversions on your target customer. Customisations allow you to be so much more flexible with setting your goals for each page, and designing them to directly speak to that goal.

A sales funnel

Your website should act as a sales funnel, gently guiding someone who arrives on your landing page to go through each section, find what they’re looking for, add it to the cart and keep it there all the way through checkout. Custom designs allow you to create a sales funnel that increases conversions way more flexibly than a pre-built theme will.

Going to a developer to customise a theme does not necessarily mean you’ll have to keep going back to them in perpetuity. Elkfox, for example, builds custom themes that merchants can add any kind of content or make changes to afterwards, and we show you how to do it.

When should I use a pre-built theme template instead?

Custom themes are pretty much the goal for anyone with a website. But it’s true that a lot of businesses can’t afford them just yet. It’s completely reasonable to choose a pre-made template from the Shopify theme store if you’re a startup or business on a low budget that wants to get up and running. If you do go that route, here are a few things you should think about when picking out your theme.

Choose the most important functions for your sales funnel

Is it that you can display certain types of content very prominently? Is it that users can easily access certain pages? Is it a front-page slideshow? Is it mobile responsive and when you test out the checkout process does it flow perfectly?

One important thing to consider when choosing a theme is how many products you’re selling and how much space each one will need for their photos and descriptions. Some themes work great for companies with a huge catalogue, while others are built for minimal stores with a few key products.

What’s the Wow Moment?

You shouldn’t choose between function and form. Both are essential, and if you see a theme that really grabs your attention, listen to that instinct. A theme will need to be visually appealing and have room for prominent products images and branding information.

Read more about how design affects conversion here.

Drop a name

You should also choose a theme only if the developer is getting consistently good feedback and has a positive reputation. We’ve seen so many themes fall apart and break immediately when they come from developers who are just churning out amateur designs. This will just end up costing you time, money and hassle in the long run.

We strongly recommend completely avoiding themes outside the Shopify store if you’re a Shopify merchant. Many themes, for example those found on Wordpress, will claim that they translate over. In reality, they’re not built to work well on Shopify and you’ll find a huge amount of headache any time you want to make changes.

This is literally what we do best

Elkfox is first and foremost a web designer and developer. We sit down with our clients and find out exactly what they want their store to do, how they want to interact with their future customers and what function and form they’re looking for. We then create beautiful custom Shopify sites that work perfectly. We start from scratch for entirely custom themes, and we can also work with merchants who want some custom tweaks on a pre-built theme. Talk to us about what we do today.

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