Benefits and drawbacks of a custom Shopify theme
Last updated: 23/03/2023
Today we will cover the benefits and drawback of a custom Shopify theme. We’ll assume you already know what a custom Shopify theme is.
If you don’t, read our article on Shopify Custom Theme Development for a guide on making your own custom theme.
Let's get straight into it!
You Stand out
The average Shopify theme will have around 9000 other merchants using that same theme. There are currently 608,113 live Shopify websites using the Dawn theme. By using different pictures, using different sections & adjusting the settings it does mean you can have slightly different look but this won’t be a completely unique website experience.
With a custom theme, you usually get a custom design which means no one else will have a similar looking design to you & there are much more opportunities to create experiences people will remember.
Bespoke & Professional Design
When buying a theme from Shopify app store, you can end up getting this bland overall look. This is because the sections built and made to cater to hundreds of thousands of people.
With a custom theme, the designs are made just for your company/brand. This opens up a ton of space for creativity and allows you to break outside of the generic design
Top tier performance
With stores doing a lot of revenue its performance is crucial. As you grow your store will usually need to add integrations, add new apps and remove old apps. This can sometimes lead to some old code from an app you used to have still being left inside your theme code & slowing down your website.
Another example is in most big themes they may include code scripts for having a popup cart as well as having a side cart too. In reality you will only ever need 1 of those scripts at any time so the other script will always end up unused.
The same if you have scripts loaded for predictive search but you don’t use or want search enabled for your website. Things like things can add up and end up harming performance. With a custom theme, all the code written is impactful.
You’re in charge. You can be as involved as you want from start to finish and provide direction on look, feel and functionality. You can choose to have your website function in a completely different way. For example if you only have a few products on your store you may decide to only have 1 product page and the couple items you have on 1 page alone.
You can also decide to have a lot more personalisation included and build your store around that. Instead of having an empty cart, you can add in suggestions for users when the cart is empty. And there's no need to have 30 different apps to provide all these different bits of functionality.
💡 Unless this is the brand strategy you’re going for, it’s important to try not to re-invent the wheel when it comes to eCommerce. Sometimes creating an experience that is too different can scare your shoppers or make it hard to navigate.
Custom solutions / Solve problems
Okay so you have been struggling with a shipping issue related to the website. With your own team of developers, they can create custom apps too inside of Shopify to tackle those problems. While this means you might end up paying a little more, this usually saves you staff costs or makes life easier for internal business.
This ends up streamlining your business operations & also using automation to speed up processes too.
Ready to scale
Custom themes are ready to be customised and changed to adapt to your store’s ever changing needs. You can keep on adding in new features such as a more powerful search, live chats etc and still keep a close eye on performance
World-class user experiences
The most popular Shopify stores you see are not built from a Shopify theme. The majority of Shopify stores that win awards for design are not in the theme store.
One metric that shows the power of this is the increase in customer returning rate % with custom themes we have built. Custom themes lead to a more memorable experience and one they will come back for.
Custom themes usually pay a lot more attention to SEO. It also opens the door to add in more structured data for things like products cards showing & ranking on Google. This can also improve your store's visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). And consequently lead to growth of organic traffic coming in.
Collaboration between design & development
Since you have both it means the design and development can work together. This means no great concepts in design get left out in development. And also development can point out flaws in design from a technical POV before designs are finalised.
If you have really strong branding, you’d want that to reflect on your website too. This means changing the little things such as… having branded icons, being able to set custom sizes for all your heading, hover effect that are unique to you, more complex colour schemes & fun elements which represent you.
With a custom theme you can meet all of these requirements.
Yes custom themes are expensive but they very often make back the money you spent on them. Within a couple weeks or months you can see increases in your online store dashboard metric in Revenue, AOV, Returning custom rate, order volume, add-to-cart rate and bottom line conversion rate.
In other cases you should view a custom theme as a long term investment. By having a website which solves your problems and uses automation it sometimes means you can save money too!
Also you may currently have a high volume of customer complaints due to a lack of clarity or information when purchasing. Custom themes can tackle this problem more proactively by maybe adding more snippets on info on product pages or adding FAQs in the accounts page. In turn this can save you the headache, time and money because of less refund and less staff wages time wasted.
Also the amount you may lose from your current website breaking down for a few weeks or being partially dysfunctional may be on par with pricing of a custom theme.
Because of the amount of work needed to be put in to create a custom theme it usually means the team that built your site usually end up being the go-to for any changes since they created it in the first place. This means you don’t have to go through the motions of hiring freelancers who may not be as high quality or experienced to go in and edit the code.
This means you should be extra careful when choosing an agency or team to build your custom theme. Make sure they have solid experience, a high standard of work and are easy to communicate with.
Going custom isn’t cheap. You can pick up a paid theme from the theme store for as little as £300 or use themes like Dawn & refresh for free. Typically you can expect a 5 figure price tag from agencies inclusive of design and development of a custom Shopify theme build. This number can go as low as £3,000 to around £15,000. Shopify Plus merchants can expect to pay from between £25,000 to over £100,000 depending on the complexity of the project.
While this should be seen as a long term investment, it still is a very considerable sum of money to pay for a website. You will also need to pay for the design as well as the development of the store too.
There is a risk that your custom theme may not be compatible with some of the Shopify apps you want to use. Shopify apps in the theme store must pass a series of rigorous test in order to be available for purchases. One of those requirements is compatibility with other Shopify apps.
While these requirements may change depending on the way Shopify apps work with Shopify themes, you may still notice that not every app will work right out of the box with an automatic installation.
Risk of bugs
Custom themes are more prone to bugs and errors than pre-made themes, which are rigorously tested by Shopify. Shopify themes will undergo strict quality assurance tests in a wide range of different scenarios to ensure the store still functions since it will be catering to hundreds of thousands of people.
This isn’t the case for custom themes. Quality Assurance will still be done to a high standard yes but the scope used to test things will be much more narrow therefore leaving some small potential errors for very unique scenarios.
Again because of the mountain of work to be done, it means custom Shopify theme are time intensive. Building a custom theme at minimum is usually 2-5 weeks spent designing. Then 2-10 weeks in development. Then another 1-2 weeks in QA (Quality assurance). Even with a fast turnaround, you will still have to wait around 4 weeks for your theme to be ready.
This may not be ideal for smaller merchants or drop shippers who can’t afford to wait a month to launch a store as the trend they want to ride may pass.
Updating a custom theme can be more difficult than updating a pre-made theme, especially if you have made significant changes to the code. For example when Shopify 2.0 was rolled out, it meant custom store would need to manually update all their template files from .liquid to .json.
Shopify themes can sometimes offer these updates for free. But with custom themes, it means an additional bill to pay in order to update and get the benefits of updating.
Pre-made Shopify themes come with extensive documentation, but custom themes may not have as much documentation available, which can make it harder to troubleshoot issues or make changes.
The counter to this would be you could easily just ask your development team to fix it.
Building the store isn’t the only cost you will have. Maintaining a custom theme is an extra cost to be aware of. Since everything is custom coded it means you will need to be heavily reliant on a team of developer to make bigger changes to your site
With custom themes you are committing a very considerably amount of money, time and energy. Not only paying big sums upfront but also
- paying monthly for maintenance
- paying for larger updates
- paying for any fixes
You can also end up being very reliant on your development team for support.
On the upside, YOU are involved from conception, design & development. With professional design it ensures your website stands out, tackles problems you’re facing and is optimised for results from the start.
An experienced development team, means you get top class web performance, create custom experiences shoppers will love and get peace of mind knowing you’re ready to scale and have a people on hand to support.
In summary if you:
- need custom solutions for your website
- want to avoid a bland website
- and most importantly - have the budget
a custom theme is perfect for you.
We hope this article gave you some insight on custom themes and helped you make an informed decision on whether a custom theme is right for your needs.
If you are looking to build a custom theme, we'd love to be the team that helps you with that project. Feel free to contact us below!
We are Step Labs - a Webflow & Shopify web design & development agency! If you would like to build a beautiful and high-performing website, contact us at email@example.com.
Written By: Victor @ Step Labs