The Definitive Guide To Understanding Shopify Themes

The Definitive Guide To Understanding Shopify Themes

As of January 2021, there are over 1.5M online retail stores on Shopify, collectively driving over USD 307B+ global economic activity. Evidently, Shopify is one of the most popular eCommerce platforms in the market today. Given how easy it is for online merchants to set up, go live, integrate with other tools, and manage sales on Shopify, it’s not surprising why the platform is widely preferred and admired. In fact, you don’t need even the bare minimum technical knowledge to set up your Shopify store today.

However, on the flip side, this poses a huge problem for Shopify store owners in terms of creating a mark for themselves and standing out in a sea of similar stores. As an online seller, you wouldn't want your website or app to even remotely resemble any other brands’. Well, they don’t have to.

Enter Shopify themes.

Shopify themes are the only solution you need to stand out and deliver a unique shopping experience to your customers. Themes allow you to personalize the appearance of your store depending on your product category and the relevant emotion you wish to invoke.

In this guide, we aim to answer every question you might have regarding Shopify themes. So, let’s get right into it.

What are Shopify themes?

A Shopify theme is a pre-made design template for your online store that can be customized. They determine the visual presentation of your site without altering the fundamental eCommerce features of Shopify.

Different Shopify themes have different styles. They come with layout options for different pages like your homepage, collections page, product page and more, that can be further customized based on the look and feel you want to offer to your customers.

For example, if you’re selling wellness products online, you’re going to want your store to exude calmness. So you can look for minimalistic design themes that let you focus on educating the customer more than showcasing too many visuals to them.

Similarly, if you’re a fashion brand, you can use a theme that is more visual-driven and lets you add multiple media files on your home page, or offers a more extensive layout on the product pages.

Why do you need a Shopify theme?

Shopify themes allow you to create a unique branded shopping store in a few easy steps, even if you lack any technical or design knowledge.

You don’t need to be a design expert or even hire one to give your online store a new look and feel. If you’re comfortable using an editor and have your media files as well as design elements in place, you can edit your Shopify themes and the templates offered by them in no time - simply replacing one placeholder with a branded media and content at a time.

Even if you do have the resources to build a website from scratch, opting for Shopify theme can help you save a huge amount of time and effort.

By simply choosing from a set of pre-designed templates, you can build on top of them and get yourself a brand new, slick online store with a distinctive look and feel.

Additionally, as your store grows, you’ll need to set up individual pages for your sales and new collections or even policies. With a Shopify theme, you can do this at scale as they offer pre-made templates that take into account most of your use cases.

Where can you get Shopify themes?

Where can you get Shopify themes?

The good thing is that you can easily find Shopify themes based on your design preference or even industry, easily on theme directories. Some of our all-time favourites to get the best free and paid Shopify themes are:

  1. Shopify theme store
  2. Themeforest
  3. Template Monster
  4. Directly from any other theme developer websites such as Out of the Sandbox or Pixel Union

When you download a Shopify theme, you get access to templates of all their pages and the versions they may have for each.

While there are plenty of avenues to download a Shopify themes from, the first question to ask is how should you go about choosing one that is right for you. There are literally thousands of them out there!

How to choose a Shopify theme?

When it comes to the look and feel you’d want for your online store, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. So you want to make sure your choice of theme is not entirely inspired by what another Shopify store is making use of.

Here are a few things you need to keep in mind when choosing a Shopify theme:

Decide upon a budget range

Decide beforehand whether you are looking for a free theme or a paid one (more on that in the upcoming section).

If you want to go for a paid theme, what is your budget? If you’re looking for a free theme, what is the customization you would like to make and how much would that cost you?

Once you have zeroed in on it, it’s far easier to find a theme suitable for your store by applying the relevant filter. Paid themes can cost up to $250 or more on both the Shopify theme store or other theme developer websites.

But don’t fret over that; there are always going to be enough options in your budget range, no matter where you plan to purchase it from. There are those that begin at $19 as well!

Be sure of the primary features you need

Next, make a list of the primary features you absolutely need in your Shopify store. Prioritize among the shortlisted ones and come up with the features that are non-negotiable.

These could be a slick navigation, ultra smooth checkout, extremely minimalistic design layout, a separate collection page, or any other specific ask you may have.

Shopify theme developers typically include these details in their descriptions. So be sure to go through the documents and media files they have uploaded to get a better idea of what they offer.

Research about Shopify theme developers

There are plenty of Shopify theme developers out there and it could be one of the deciding factors if you are confused between 2 similar themes.

Read up about the developer and their body of work to zero in on highly industry- or design style- experienced names.

It’s also a good idea to get details on the support they provide to implement their online store and the updates they may offer from time to time.

The reputation and feedback of a developer is an excellent indicator of the kind of product and service you are likely to receive. So make sure you’ve gone through the reviews and also asked around.

Sort themes by industry
Sort themes by industry

While we are yet to delve deeper into the kind of themes you can look for depending on the nature of your business, you can also utilize this filter to only see themes for your specific industry.

This way, you won’t have to worry much about the nitty gritty of the themes and whether they would work for your vertical, and so on.

You can rely on the theme store to do the sorting for you and only show results that are suitable for your industry stores.

We recommend doing this as the visual needs of a brand may vary from industry to industry. While Shopify themes can be customized and edited, choosing one based on your industry, will save you more time.

For example, a fashion brand will require a theme that allows them to showcase their collection with big visuals. But a health and wellness brand may require one that simply lets them add more videos instead and descriptions of the product.

Demo the themes carefully

Don’t forget to watch an interactive demo of the themes you shortlist to understand how they will look and feel, and work.

Demos are a great way to see your theme in action and imagine it being in use on your store. You will find demos of all themes near the description box. Watch them to understand the theme better, explore all its capabilities, and get answers to any questions you might have.

At this point, you can also reach out to the Shopify theme developer if you feel the demo isn’t in-depth enough and you’d like to explore more.

Read all theme fine details comprehensively

Don’t just go by the top level details mentioned in bold for all themes. Be sure to read all the information carefully and comprehensively to understand the features a theme offers or else you might end up missing out on a few subtle nuances.

You can also get in touch with their support if you have any questions before finalizing your purchase so you don’t buy something you are not entirely sure of.

You will also find theme manuals, developer documentation, how-to videos, and support resources with each of the themes that you can refer to figure out how the theme works.

Make sure you leave nothing to chance and get all the clarity you need to make an informed decision.

Technical details to look into when choosing a Shopify theme

Technical details to look into when choosing a Shopify theme

Now that you have the basics sorted, we actually recommend online store owners to look into a few technical details as well when choosing a Shopify theme. Some of the primary ones being:

Product catalog size

Not all Shopify themes support the same inventory size. In fact, all of them are built for different catalog lengths. So, the first filter you need to put is the one regarding catalog size so you only shortlist themes that can support your inventory.

Go for a theme that makes your entire catalog accessible on both desktop and mobile. If you have less than 8-10 products, choose a highly focused theme that sheds the spotlight on all products and highlights their features in detail.

If you have a larger catalog, make sure you choose a theme that covers all products, but in a decluttered manner.

At the same time, if you’re planning to increase your catalog and inventory over time, we recommend choosing a theme that scales with you.

Navigation and store architecture

A smooth navigation and store architecture are extremely important for a seamless shopping experience. They determine how your visitors will navigate across your store and how easy (or difficult) it is for them to find what they came looking for.

When choosing a Shopify theme, check the menu bar, headers, how categories are displayed, how a visitor is directed across the store, how products are displayed under each category, and so on.

Remember, the easier it is for your store visitors to explore or find products, the higher will be your conversion rate.

Multiple languages support

Very often, customers end up abandoning their purchase if they don’t find their preferred language or currency available on an online shopping destination.

If you operate globally, you are going to need support to translate your site’s content to the world’s most popularly spoken languages.

Additionally, you will also need a currency converter that supports as many currencies of the world as possible.

Therefore, while picking a theme, do check whether these features are available so you don’t lose out on overseas sales.

Built-in SEO features and SEO compatibility

No matter how fancy your store is, if it doesn’t rank on search engines, all your efforts are futile. When shortlisting themes, check for which built-in SEO features each of them has.

Some of the features that you should look for include an integrated blog, automatic sitemap generation, Google snippets support, metadata, and so on. The more boxes you can check off your SEO checklist, the better it would be for your future efforts in making your Shopify store rank on search engines.

Remember that 60% of online shopping journeys start from the search engine. This is important!

Conversion optimization features

Whether or not your theme offers built-in features for conversion optimization, you will have to spend a dedicated portion of your resources in optimizing for conversions on your store. However, if some of the features already come with your Shopify theme, your job would be half done.

When choosing a theme, try to look for features such as an omnipresent cart button, dedicated section for reviews and ratings, progress bar indicator throughout the checkout process, option to save cards and other personal information for consumers, guest checkout functionality, simplified checkout with reduced stages, and so on.

No matter what the important criteria for your business is, there will always be a plethora of free and premium themes available for you to choose from.

While free ones are definitely more appealing for anyone just starting out, let’s understand the difference between the two so you can make an informed decision:

Free Shopify themes vs premium paid Shopify themes

Free Shopify themes vs premium paid Shopify themes

It’s obvious that a premium or paid version of any product would offer much more flexibility, robustness, and options than the free one. However, when it comes to Shopify themes, the questions you need to ask yourself are - Is it time to upgrade to a paid theme? Do I need one? What are the added functionalities that I am looking for? Would a paid theme offer those features?

To help you answer those questions, let’s look at what are some of the additional features provided by premium, paid Shopify themes:

Improved mobile UX

Did you know that mobile commerce sales are projected to hit $3.56 trillion in 2021 itself?

Given the huge potential that lies in mobile shopping, you cannot afford to have a Shopify store that isn’t mobile friendly.

Upon analyzing your customer data, if you realize that mobile shoppers form a significant part of your overall traffic, you might want to consider opting for a premium theme. The theme developers in this case would have looked into the smallest of nuances such as the fat finger design.

Extensive set of built-in features

Paid Shopify themes come with more features, improved functionalities, and enhanced customization options, over and above what free themes have to offer.

If you are constantly working towards adding more features to your store to improve conversions and enhance user experience - be it in terms of different pages, layouts, displaying product recommendations or customizing how they appear, paid themes are a much better option for you.

Extra design options

Not just features, paid themes also offer a far wider range of design options when it comes to designing different pages.

They give you multiple options for design layouts and elements so that you can mix and match to find what suits you the best!

Hence, paid themes also come with a more premium look and feel, more versatile design elements that give you room for customization.

Better support

Whether it is concerning theme set up, publishing, customizing, or troubleshooting, premium and paid Shopify theme users are offered better support and assistance.

You can expect dedicated hand holding and support throughout the process and quicker resolutions to your queries.

But just like free themes, you would also get access to theme documentation to be able to do all of it on your own.

Enhanced checkout experience

Features like one-click pay, add to cart option on category pages, and accelerated checkout are available more popularly with paid themes.

All such features together ensure a far more enhanced checkout experience, which is pretty much a necessity these days to reduce cart abandonment. However, some of these might still be available with free themes.

Choosing whether you need a free or premium theme completely depends on your use case and what stage your business is at.

If you are just starting out, a free theme will work just fine. However, if you are scaling rapidly, have an ever increasing catalog, and wish to constantly improve your user experience, a paid Shopify theme is the way to go.

Also, using a paid theme is far more convenient than building one from scratch for your store. Developing a custom theme will require a huge amount of time, effort and dedicated resources for the same set of functionalities that come with a paid theme.

Therefore, if building your own theme was one of your priorities, you might want to rethink that and opt for a paid theme instead.

No matter which one you go for, the next step would be to add and preview your Shopify themes before going live with them.

How to add, preview, and buy Shopify themes?

How to add, preview, and buy Shopify themes?

What you see once you login to your Shopify account is the default theme. There are 3 ways to add a new theme:

Uploading an already bought/downloaded theme from your computer

Here’s how you can upload a downloaded theme into your Shopify themes page:

  • Ensure your theme files are compressed and saved in a .zip file
  • From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
  • The upload theme window will open. Select the theme you wish to apply and its corresponding .zip file and click on upload
  • Tada! The selected theme will be added to your themes page
Choosing a free theme from the Shopify theme store and adding it

There is quite an impressive range of free themes developed by Shopify and available for you to use. Shopify even offers customization support for their free themes.

Here’s how you can add free themes to your store:

  • From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
  • Select explore free themes inside the free themes section at the bottom of the page
  • A window that showcases all the free themes available will open
  • Go ahead and read about the features of the themes you like and preview them by clicking on them
  • Once decided on which one you want to go ahead with, click on the add button
  • Tada! The selected theme will be added to your themes page
Buying a paid theme and then adding it to your store

Paid themes are developed by third-party designers and can be bought from any of the sources we mentioned above including the official Shopify theme store.

Here’s how you can add a paid theme to your store:

  • Go to the Shopify theme store and pick a theme of your choice
  • Click on buy theme and then on approve charge to make the payment
  • Once paid, the selected theme will be added to your themes page
  • If you wish to buy a theme from any other source, then feel free to purchase and download the theme, and then follow the steps to upload it (as discussed above)
Previewing a paid theme before purchasing

It’s natural to be unsure about whether a particular theme would complement your store’s products, core values, design, colors, and so on.

Therefore, Shopify allows you to try themes before you purchase them. You can preview as many as 20 themes and compare them with each other before you zero in on the one that would be the most suited for your store.

You also get to make customizations to the themes you try, which can be saved for when you decide to buy them.

Here’s how you can preview themes in Shopify:

  • Go to the Shopify theme store
  • Select the theme you wish to preview and click on try theme
  • A preview of the selected theme will load for your Shopify store
  • You can find a toolbar at the bottom of the page from where you can select either of the following-
    • Close preview to turn off the preview mode
    • Buy theme to purchase the theme
    • Customize theme to modify it as per your requirements

You might also want to share a preview of the Shopify themes you have shortlisted with your team to get their feedback and opinion.

To do so, you can simply create a link of the preview (without actually publishing the theme), share it with your team, and get their inputs. Each preview link is valid for 14 days and you are free to create as many preview links as you need.

Here’s how you can create a preview link:

  • From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
  • Go to the theme you want to share, and click on actions and then preview
  • A preview bar will appear at the bottom of the page
  • Click on share preview and a window with a unique link will open
  • Click on copy link to copy the required link and share it with your teammates via whichever channel you wish to

How to edit Shopify themes?

How to edit Shopify themes?

Shopify allows you to modify themes and customize them as per your needs. All you need to do is edit the theme code written in the templating language, Liquid. Paid themes offer way more flexibility than free ones in terms of customization.

To edit your Shopify theme, you can follow these simple steps:

  • Make sure you duplicate your theme so you have created a backup and can go back to it if need be
  • To edit the theme code, select themes under online store from your Shopify admin dashboard
  • Select actions and then, edit code
  • A directory of theme files will appear on the code editor towards left side of the screen, while a space to view and edit those files appears on the right
  • You can select a file from the directory to open it in the code editor
  • Click save to save the changes made
  • All files modified will contain a dot before their name in the directory to help you keep track of where changes have been made
  • To revert any changes made, simply open the file and click on older versions
  • A drop down menu with the date and time of each of the saved versions appear
  • Select the one you wish to restore and click on save

Managing your Shopify theme

As your business grows, there are so many ways you will need to manage your Shopify themes. You might have to change themes, customize them, download them for future use, and so on.

Here are all the actions you might need to take to manage your Shopify themes:

Publish a theme

The published theme is the one your customers see and interact with once they land on your store. This particular theme appears under the current theme section of your themes page. While you have the flexibility of adding up to 20 themes to your store, you can only publish one.

There are 2 ways you can publish a theme - through your Shopify admin dashboard or from the theme editor.

Publish a Shopify theme via the admin dashboard
  • From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
  • From the theme library section, select the one you wish to publish and click on actions and then publish
Publish a Shopify theme via the theme editor
  • From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
  • From the theme library section, select the one you wish to publish and then click on customize
  • At the top of the theme editor, you will find the publish button. Click on it
Duplicating a theme

Remember we spoke about duplicating your themes before customizing them to create a backup. Here’s how you can do that:

  • From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
  • Select the theme you wish to duplicate and then click on actions and then duplicate
  • The duplicate theme will get added on to your themes page

Note: We recommend naming the original theme with the date it was added to the store before creating a duplicate copy. Similarly, ensure you name the duplicate copy with a date as well. This will help you identify which version you want to use.

Downloading a theme

You can download a Shopify theme to your computer to add it to your dashboard later or to make offline edits to it. Here’s how:

  • From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
  • Select the theme you want to download and click on actions and then download theme file
  • The required theme file will be emailed to your official id in a .zip file
Removing a theme

If you don’t want a theme in your Shopify account any longer or if you want to make room for new ones, you can choose to remove it. If you might need it in the future, you can download it before removing it and later upload the same.

Remove an unpublished theme from your account
  • From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
  • From the theme library, select the theme you wish to remove and then click on actions and then remove From your Shopify admin dashboard, select themes under online store
Remove a published Shopify theme
  • First publish another theme by following the steps discussed above
  • Next, remove it from your account following the steps for unpublished themes
Updating a theme

Just like any other piece of software, your themes too need to be updated regularly to fix bugs and to add new features.

However, if you have made changes to your themes, you will need to update them manually. Here’s how you can do that:

  • Add the updated version of the theme to your account manually following the steps discussed above
  • As of now, you have two versions of the same theme - the updated one with no customization and the customized one with no updates
  • Next, customize the updated version using the theme editor, , to match your changes
  • Then, you can publish the updated and customized version

Customizing your Shopify theme

Customizing your Shopify theme

Your Shopify themes can be customized to alter the look and feel as per your store’s unique requirements. You can simply go to the theme editor to preview your theme and add or remove content using the sidebar. If you are unable to make the changes you desire, you can reach out to Shopify’s support team for assistance.

Or, you can reach out to expert Shopify developers at Carson for their dedicated help.

Carson offers design and development services and support for online merchants to help them make the most of the platform and solve any questions or queries they might have. Carson is officially recognized by Shopify and trusted globally by over 15,000 Shopify owners.

Now we know when you start a brand, you’re focused on putting your best foot forward. But when customizing a Shopify theme or getting it done, you need to keep a few things in mind:

Dos and don’ts of customizing your Shopify theme

Dos
Always, always, always take backups of your themes

Not taking backups may sound like a rookie mistake but it is more common than you think. Very often, Shopify store owners are in a rush to customize or edit their themes and forget that they might need to review the original one, use it for comparison, or even revert to it without losing the new changes. Taking backups allows you to do all things without any chance of losing out any change made or the original code.

Keep a record of changes and updates made

Some of the edits you make might lead to minor bugs or issues. If you do not maintain a logbook that details out each and every edit you make, it is going to be nearly impossible to trace back to the one edit that led to the malfunctioning of the entire code.

Therefore, make sure you always keep a track of each change you made for each theme in chronological order. You can maintain this over a Google doc or sheet, where all your team members can access the change or even add to it.

Don’ts
Never begin modifications before knowing your theme

Read all you can about a particular theme, its capabilities, advantages, and so on, before you go on to make modifications in the code or even minor custom edits. This will give you an understanding of what the theme is capable of and what you can achieve from it, so you don’t end up over editing it to make it work like something which is not possible.

Always know what you are working with and whether the customizations you are aiming for are even possible. This will allow you to make the most of a theme without damaging its core functionalities.

Never ignore gaining an understanding of browser inspector tools

Familiarize yourself with your browser’s inspector tools so, at any given point, you can inspect a particular element in a Shopify theme and understand how exactly it is working.

You can inspect any element on a page in the Chrome browser by right clicking and selecting “Inspect” from the drop down. You can then use the code to directly edit your theme files and make the changes you wish to see.

Best Shopify themes for fashion and apparel brands

If you are running a fashion brand on Shopify, you want to appear trendy and stylish and your theme should resonate that energy. Thus, you should go for a theme that has a vibe that attracts younger audiences as they are more likely to be shopping for clothes online.

Also, keep in mind that you would need a Shopify theme that is visual-driven. Both in terms of images and videos. This will let you create and display lookbooks to promote your range of products better.

Here are some that we’d recommend:

Best Shopify themes for jewelry and accessories brands

As a jewelry store owner, the one thing you want your theme to personify is - luxury. Make sure the theme you select is classy, stylish, and luxurious so as to resonate with your brand image.

Your theme should also be able to incorporate heavy descriptions and large images, and not necessarily feature too many of them. Try to go for a theme that has lighter shades, minimal design, and maximum trust signals.

The focus though, should remain on your products!

Also, make sure you have a huge section dedicated to reviews and ratings as shoppers are going to want to be sure of the credibility of your store before purchasing.

Some of the Shopify themes we recommend for jewelry and accessories brands are:

Best Shopify themes for health and wellness brands

If you own a health or wellness brand, you are going to need a theme that supports large images and larger product descriptions to accommodate product details and ingredient lists.

The menu bar and layout will also need to be extensive so all products and sub product categories can be featured on the homepage. Remember, search and navigation here is key to getting a visitor to reach the right product.

Some of the themes we recommend for health and wellness brands:

Best Shopify themes for beauty and cosmetics stores

If you’re running a beauty and cosmetics brand on Shopify, you’re going to need to create a look and feel that makes the shopper feel ‘reassured’.

Since beauty and makeup product buyers are more conscious about what they use, you’re going to need a balance between visuals, videos and also descriptions. You should be able to also display reviews and testimonials from your customers on product pages to address concerns.

We also recommend finding themes that let you set up a FAQs section on every product page.

Here are some of the Shopify themes for beauty and cosmetics brands that we recommend:

Best Shopify themes for food brands

If you own a food delivery or grocery Shopify store, select a theme that can accommodate large menus or product lists and is image heavy.

You would want the design scheme to be subtle, yet appealing and attractive so customers feel like ordering food from you. Since your catalog is already too heavy, make sure you choose a minimalistic theme that doesn’t overwhelm buyers.

At the same time, we also suggest asking your theme developer for product labels that you can use as trust signals on your food items.

Some of the Shopify themes we recommend are:

Best Shopify themes for digital goods and services brands

If you own a digital goods and services store, you want your site to appear trendy, stylish, modern, and futuristic.

Make sure you choose the theme with the lowest possible load time, the highest amount of advanced features, and a sophisticated layout. The idea is to attract high purchase intent buyers by ensuring the look and feel of your store is something they can resonate with.

Some of the Shopify themes we recommend here:

Frequently asked questions about Shopify themes

Frequently asked questions about Shopify themes
  • Is it worth buying a Shopify theme?

Shopify themes allow you to add a layer of customization and personalization that enables you to stand out among other similar Shopify stores in the category. It helps you align your store with your brand’s design language, tone of voice, and overall personality among potential customers. Themes, therefore, are a great investment if you plan on scaling your Shopify store and want to stay ahead of the curve.

  • What happens if I change my Shopify theme?

You can change your Shopify themes as and when you wish to from your themes dashboard as discussed above. All your themes get saved in the dashboard and you can switch between them as and when you want. You can switch by removing the current theme and publishing the new one from your added themes.

  • What is the maximum number of themes you can add to a Shopify store?

The maximum number of themes you can add to your Shopify store is 20, including the one published. If you’re on Shopify Plus, you can store upto 100 Shopify themes.

  • Can I customize a Shopify theme?

Yes, you are free to customize your Shopify themes if you know how to edit the code. If not, you can always reach out to the experts at Carson who offer dedicated development and design support for Shopify store owners and can assist you with all your requirements related to publishing, customizing, editing themes, and much more.

Too overwhelmed or not sure where to begin looking for a Shopify theme for your store?

Need inspiration? Browse our catalog of Shopify task ideas.