If you’re setting up a store with Shopify, one of the first steps you’ll take is working out how to choose a Shopify theme. The quality of Shopify’s themes is a huge selling point for the platform, with tight controls ensuring that only the very best themes make it onto the Shopify store. However, whilst the standard of Shopify themes is undoubtedly very high – and there certainly aren’t thousands of themes to trawl through – it’s not necessarily that easy to choose the right Shopify theme for your store.

With that in mind, we decided it would be helpful to put together a guide walking you through how to choose a Shopify theme. We’ll be sharing some of our experiences and identifying some of the key questions that you should be asking and give you a quick introduction to using the Shopify store. Next, we’ll look at the options available to you if there isn’t a suitable theme in the Shopify store or you think you’re going to need a custom build. Finally, we’ll share a few top tips from a Shopify expert to help you make the best possible decision when considering the best theme for your Shopify store.

How to Choose a Shopify Theme in 9 Easy Steps

Choosing a Shopify Theme

1. Consider What Functions You Need

One of the most obvious pitfalls that users face when choosing a Shopify theme is that they make their decision based upon aesthetics, not functionality.

This is hardly surprising. When you’re looking at potential themes it’s easy to be impressed by sites with stand-out images and beautiful typography. After all, these are the kind of attributes that make us want to purchase products from a site – and exactly the kind of features that you’ll want your store to have. We can get particularly excited when we see a theme that looks exactly like the kind of store we’re hoping to build – or is modelling a site that sells similar products to you.

However, it’s important to understand that not all themes offer the same functionality. This should be a key consideration for you at the outset. You might love the look of a theme, but if it doesn’t offer the functions that your store will need then you’re going to have some issues further down the line – usually involving the additional expense of paying for a developer to work on the theme for you. For most small businesses this isn’t a great move.

Instead, look carefully at what functionality you need and then make a shortlist of themes that offer that particular functionality. We’d argue that it’s easier for a Shopify Expert to make a functional theme look good than a pretty theme functional. Besides, whilst beautiful website design is an important feature of a successful ecommerce store, it’s not the only thing you should be worried about. Nailing that all-important conversion rate is key, and the functionality of your Shopify theme is essential if you’re going to achieve your sales targets.

Please also note that simply by virtue of having a Shopify store you can access certain functionality. Shopify Responsive Checkout, for example, is available on all Shopify themes – and it’s incredibly powerful, professional and valuable. We love it.

So, when choosing a Shopify theme you should start out by working out what you need your store to do before you think about how your store should look.

2. Should I Choose a Free Shopify Theme or Pay for a Premium Theme?

At the time of writing there are 21 free Shopify themes available through the Shopify theme store, offering a range of styles and functionality. This is great news if you’re working to a limited budget, because it means that you can get up and running straight away and only have to pay your monthly Shopify subscription. For a lot of businesses this is a very attractive option. If you’re starting out small and just need a simple Shopify theme then this is likely to be your best best.

If you’re looking for something a little more specific then you might want to consider a Premium Shopify theme. Premium themes tend to cost between $140-180 and give you a wider range of options. The advantages of Premium themes is that they often have greater functionality and tend to have a slightly more professional feel than free themes. If you have very specific needs for your Shopify store then a Premium theme is likely to tick more of your boxes.

If you’re working with a Shopify Expert then it’s always worth talking to them before purchasing a theme. Most Shopify developers will have particular themes that they have prefer and have used in the past. They’re also likely to be a great source of wisdom when it comes to choosing a theme with the right functionality for your store. Making this connection early and getting the right advice at a preliminary stage of the design and build is likely to save you time and money – and allow you to focus on other aspects of getting your store up and running.

3. Will I Need The Theme to be Customised by a Shopify Expert?

This is another important question that follows on nicely from our point about consulting a Shopify Expert about the best choice of theme for your store. Every website needs a little TLC from time to time, and Ecommerce stores are no different. You’re going to need somebody on hand to help out when you encounter glitches in your site, and your choice of theme will directly impact the format in which help arrives.

If you have a free theme then your support will come from Shopify directly. This is often a source of comfort to store owners – the perception is normally that the bigger the source of support, the better.

If you have a premium theme then any theme support will come from the theme’s developer. With that in mind it’s worth having a good look at the reviews and feedback on that theme to see how well it has coped in the real world – and how good the support is. The last thing you want is to invest time and money setting up a particular theme on your store only to find that you can’t get help when you need it. It’s not the most glamorous thing to consider when you’re thinking about how to choose a Shopify theme, but when the rubber hits the road and you find those inevitable glitches you’re going to wish you chose a theme with the kind of support that you can rely on.

4. What Images Will I Be Using?

In our first point we encouraged you to consider functionality before aesthetics, but that doesn’t mean that visual considerations aren’t important. How your store looks is very important and really affects how you should go about choosing a Shopify theme.

If you start looking through the Shopify theme store you’ll notice that the demo themes all have beautiful imagery. This isn’t surprising. As we’ve written before, the quality of your images will have a big impact on the success of your store.

This is another area in which problems can emerge.

One of the most positive recent changes in web design trends is the way that we’ve relied so much more heavily on imagery. This is a great thing. It forces us to think more carefully about how we communicate with customers and the way that we present ourselves and our products.

However, when you’re using a theme it can be a recipe for disappointment. If your images aren’t of a similar quality, style and tone to those of the demo store, the likelihood is that your store is going to look very different, and probably not how you had intended. In other words, think about what images you’re going to be using and make your decision with this in mind.

The flip side of this principle, of course, is that by changing the images you can completely transform the feel of the theme. This is why it’s important to start out by identifying the functionality that you need – it’s easy to make aesthetic changes further down the line.

5. What Industry Sector Am I Targeting?

When you head over to the Shopify theme store you’ll see that there are various ways to filter the themes that are available, including by industry. This is a really important thing for store owners to consider because Shopify themes are often designed with a certain industry in mind.

Choosing Shopify Themes by Industry

Here’s the Supply theme which is labelled under ‘electronics’. You’ll notice several things if you preview this store. There’s a very traditional, detailed menu running horizontally across the top of the page when you’re in desktop mode allowing you to carefully categorise a big, varied inventory. The homepage has lots of scope for showing a large number of products. There is loads of white space, which is ideal when you’ve got good product photography but not a lot of suitable background images. It’s a good, free theme that would be ideal if you’re selling a lot of products and want a more conservative Shopify theme.

Electronics Shopify ThemeContrast the Supply theme with Showcase and you’ll immediately spot the difference. Yes, there is an excellent beard in the background. However, beyond that it’s very hard to see what the site is offering. The menu is very alternative and it’s not immediately obvious what the site is selling. If you’re selling electronics, this theme is unlikely to provide the solution that you need.

However, if you’re in the health & beauty sector then it’s perfect. The theme is just waiting for you to put your stamp on it with great imagery that captivates and intrigues the visitor. It’s ideal if you have a smaller product range or have a very clear focal point around which the site can be built.

Beard Fashion Shopify Theme

6. Check Out the Theme Documentation

If you’re going to be doing most of the work on your Shopify store yourself then you will be heavily dependent upon the documentation that is provided with the theme. This is essentially an instruction manual that tells you how to get the most out of your theme and configure it in the way that you want.

Once you’ve found 2 or 3 themes that you like it’s well worth looking at the theme documentation – and feedback from other store owners who have used the theme. This should give you an idea of whether it’s robust enough for you to get your store up and running. Equally, there might be nothing wrong with a theme’s documentation, but you might prefer the style or content of another.

7. How Many Products Do I Have?

We’ve touched upon this in point 5, but the number of products you have will really impact your choice of theme. The process of choosing a Shopify theme will be very different for a store with 1 product to that of one with 1,000.

As we’ve already hinted, a store with a very small number of products can get away with a much simpler navigation system. There’s less need to display products on the home page. You’re also more reliant upon imagery and storytelling to show the value of your product and demonstrate your credibility to customers.

It’s a simple point, but the size of your product base should affect the Shopify theme that you choose.

8. Look at Other Stores Using that Shopify Theme

One of the most important lessons for any new Ecommerce store owner is to look at what others have already done. There is a wealth of information out there, and we’ve found that store owners are very generous with their time and advice.

Looking at other stores using a particular theme will help you get a feel for the theme and see how it can be customised. It’s always worth getting in touch with the store owner with any questions that you may have. Equally, the theme developer is likely to be happy to discuss other examples of the theme and how it can be used.

9. Don’t Forget to Preview Your Store!

Finally, once you’ve chosen a theme, don’t forget to preview it on that theme. This option is only available to existing Shopify store owners, but it’s a great way to test out a potential theme. It also means that if you build your store and subsequently want to change to a new theme you can quickly and easily see how it might look and function.

Can’t Find the Right Shopify Theme? It’s Time To Look at Bespoke Options…

Shopify Experts Build Shopify ThemeThere are over 100 themes on the Shopify store, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to settle for one. If you’re unable to find the design or functionality that you want then it might be time to explore the possibility of getting a bespoke Shopify site built for you. Alternatively, if you’ve found a theme but need help customising it then the good news is that help is available.

Shopify’s Expert scheme is a great way to connect with designers and developers who can help you turn your ideas into reality.

Expert Advice on How to Choose a Shopify Theme

Expert Advice on Choosing a Shopify ThemeWe asked our friend Kurt Elster from Website Rescues to share some of his experiences when it comes to choosing a Shopify theme. Here’s what Kurt had to say:

“Not all themes are created equal. The way a theme is written varies radically between developers and themes. This can make it difficult to modify themes or add features.

Sticking to well rated themes from trusted developers in the theme store is important. Pixel Union and Out of The Sandbox are both consistently exceptional developers.

When choosing and setting up a theme, it’s important to stick to a consistent brand guideline. Often times I see themes bloated with 3rd party add ins that don’t match, making a mess. Consistency is a critical component of making a theme look polished.

As well as being internally consistent, it’s equally important to be consistent with eCommerce sites in general. If you follow the conventions set forth by major sites, your visitors will intuitively understand how to navigate your site. Which is why you want to limit yourself on flashy or cool features like sliding carts and hidden menus. Ask yourself: Does this make my site easier to use or does it just look cool?

Ultimately your theme choice and setup  needs to support your end goal: sell more product! And there’s two ways to support that: ease of use, and trust. If the theme is intuitive and professional, it’ll sell well.” 

Written by EcommerceRVW
EcommerceRVW is a dedicated Ecommerce Blog bringing you regular ecommerce articles, reviews, case studies and guides. We're passionate about helping ambitious store owners take their business to the next level.