In part one we looked at the visual and layout aspects of finding a theme. Now it’s time to choose a theme that works for your store’s brand identity, whether that’s colors, visuals or something else, but where do you try to find one?
Don’t go custom
At first glance, it seems to daunting to find a theme which works for what you have in mind that you think you need to have one custom made. Buyer beware here. There are a few pitfalls. First, you have to be sure that you can provide excellent guidance, meaning you can write a detailed spec or project proposal for freelancers or companies to provide proposals for. Marketplaces like Freelancer.com or Upwork have plenty of high quality service providers, but you have to dig deep for them and they will also cost. Quite simply, you get what you pay for. Expect to pay $1000 at a very minimum for a decent-looking theme, probably 2-3x that.
The power of many
Instead, we strongly suggest using a standardized theme and adjusting it to your needs. Why? Because any moderately popular theme is already running on thousands of sites, so all of the kinks and bugs have been ironed out well before it goes on your store. Furthermore, the theme will work on all kinds of screens and devices right out of the gate and if small stuff does come up, all developers give you at least a year’s worth of updates. In comparison, if there are bugs you discover in 3 months after install, you have to go back and bug the developer of your theme. That will take time and probably cost money again. Either way, a hassle.
Picking a standard theme
Before you pick a theme, go and put some dummy content on your site. Add some products, categories/collections, set up menus, an about page and any other key content. You’re basically going to do a bunch of “let’s try this one”, so you’ll want your own content on the site to see how it looks.
Depending on your eCommerce platform, there are a number of places to find a theme. For Shopify and BigCommerce we recommend using their theme stores. Again, the main reason is compatibility and support. If it’s being provided on the actual eCommerce platform’s store, the quality will be high. For WooCommerce, there are a few different places like ThemeForest, TemplateMonster and many others.
Pick a few and put them on your store so you can toggle between them. Try to block out the default color scheme and/or fiddle with the settings of each theme to adjust the colors to something in the range that you want. Ask yourself as a customer:
- Can I find the product info I need?
- Is it easy to add a product to the cart?
- I want to see pictures. Are the pics above the fold, but not the only thing there?
- Can I see part number and/or SKU clearly besides the part’s name?
- To learn more, is the full/long description easy to get to?
To give you an example of custom theme which isn’t so great: we encountered a store where all the product pictures had to be a very exact format for the them to work. The store does look pretty, but that means you will need to rescale almost every single product picture on your store. That’s an incredible amount of effort you probably don’t want to sign up for. Standard non-custom themes will not require something laborious like this.
The home page & widgets
Widgets (sections) and the customization of the home page can sometimes make or break a theme selection. Without focusing on what the default view looks like, start looking at the home page and see if the various widgets the them comes with, like carousels (scrolling images), columned sections, featured products, etc. is all there. You won’t have to use the exact order the them proposes – just make sure you like the different options the them provides.
In the end, no theme is going to feel perfect, but you’ll learn to like it as you understand how to set it up. The best part will be that it will not cost you more than $200 to get a high quality, highly configurable, great converting and stable theme for your store.
Customizations, plugins & apps
Need to do something special with your theme? See if you can solve it with plugins and apps first before you have someone dive into the code. For example, on Shopify you might want to install an app which allows better filtering by various attributes in each collection. That’s easily done by an app and should not need any customization of the theme code. Same goes for social sharing buttons or popups for email collection of store special. Those are all plugins or apps which can be installed.
Bottom line, our suggestion for the most pain-free experience is to use standard popular themes, apps and widgets to build your site on the eCommerce platform of your choice.