What theme should you choose? It’s a topic that every Shopify store owner struggles with, and as a Shopify design agency, we get asked this question a lot.
The goal of this article is to answer that question once and for all. And to enable you to make a wise choice that you won’t regret.
First I’m going to explain a few basics that you need to understand about how Shopify themes work, next I’ll talk about what you should look for in a theme. Finally, I will list our favourite Shopify themes.
Basics of Shopify Themes:
- Coding Changes
- Updating your Theme
- Theme SEO
Choosing a Shopify Theme:
- The Theme Store
- The Design
- The Features
- Best Shopify Theme Developers
Our Top Theme Recommendations:
- Simple Themes for Small Stores
- Powerful Themes for Large Stores
- Flagship Themes From Top Theme Developers
Below is a list of concepts you must understand before picking a Shopify theme.
I explain this to every one of our clients and they are often surprised, because Shopify Themes work differently from Wordpress, Squarespace, or Wix.
Otherwise known as theme settings, all themes will come with a visual editor that you can use to design your website and make it on-brand.
This mostly means choosing colors, backgrounds, fonts, spacings, the position of images, and the navigation style.
However, there are limitations to what you can do. The Shopify Theme settings will not allow you to drag elements around and place them in any position you want. They will stick to a certain structure provided by the theme.
For example, a certain theme might allow your logo to be in two positions — centred, or left-aligned. You can also choose the size —e.g, between 100px and 200px width — but you won’t be able to drag it around the page and do whatever you want with it.
So when choosing a theme, pay attention to the overall structure and the positioning, but you can ignore things like colors and fonts because they are really easy to change.
So while the theme settings that I talked about above have certain limitations, the good news is that all those can be ignored by a web developer.
If you decide to work with a web developer, you will have total freedom with what you can do to your theme. It can look completely different from how it was when you bought it. There are almost no restrictions in what can be done.
In fact, most of our projects are based on a theme that we use as a starting point. We then spend around 20 hours on average on coding to make the theme totally unique. It is a lot more efficient to do this than to start a website from scratch!
So if you’re used to Squarespace or Wix, and you feel that they’re a bit limited, you will be very happy with Shopify.
Page Builders are visual tools that let you build your own custom page layouts. They give you a drag-and-drop interface this is easy to use, and don't require you to have any coding skills.
You can use page builders with any Shopify theme. They will all work. But there are some pages that they don't work on, like the checkout pages, the cart pages, and special pages like the 404 page and coming soon page. But most of the time you would use a page builder on your home page, your product pages, and regular informational pages like the 'about us' page.
So here’s the catch about modifying themes with code.
Shopify does not have a parent theme and child theme structure like Wordpress does. In Wordpress, you can modify a child theme with your custom branded changes, but the parent theme stays ‘default’ so you can update it. The child theme also benefits from the updates.
But in Shopify, once you modify a theme's code, you will not be able to download an update for it when the next version comes out. If you do that, it will overwrite the custom changes you made and you will lose all that work.
Hear me out though, this isn’t really that bad at all, because in Shopify you don’t really need to update your theme.
In Wordpress, updating your theme is a big deal. If you don’t do it you expose your website to all sorts of security vulnerabilities and bugs. But in Shopify, it isn’t so. Shopify is a much more modern system than Wordpress. It’s also not just a software, you pay them monthly, right? That’s because they provide an ongoing service to worry about all the security issues for you.
Basically in Shopify, you don’t have to worry about security and updates at all.
The only reason why you might want to update a Shopify theme would be for some new visuals that have come with it. But if you’ve already got a custom coded theme that is perfect for your brand, and if you’re already working with a developer, then there is very little that a theme update can offer you.
A common question I get is how good a certain theme is for SEO.
The short answer is that almost all Shopify Themes that you purchase from the official theme store will have a similar setup in terms of SEO. The theme store has very strict rules on what SEO features themes should have, and they will all be up-to-date with Google’s latest SEO guidelines.
The longer answer is that SEO is something that you have to do. A theme isn’t going to do everything for you. SEO is first and foremost about the content. And when I say content, that includes things like meta titles, meta descriptions, alt text for images, and even how you name your images files.
Speed is another thing you should pay attention to. Page loading speed is one of the biggest factors that can help boost your SEO. So in terms of looking for themes, look for one that is fast.
Fast often means not too many fancy features, like parallax or various animations. While this stuff might look cool, if your aim is good SEO, you should avoid these. You also need to compress your images so that they load quickly. If you want a quick tutorial on optimizing your images, it’s something I’m working on, so follow us on Twitter or Instagram to get notified!
Each Theme comes in a variety of styles. Usually, there are 3 different styles on the theme demo page so you can browse and see the theme as it would look out in the wild. Often these 3 demos will be for different industries or types of products.
All the styles come with the theme. I’m clarifying this because some of my clients thought they had to choose not just a theme but also which style it comes in.
You don’t have to worry about this, because they are just presets for the theme. When you buy the theme it will actually be blank — with none of the demo styles activated.
Shopify has an official store where you can buy themes that are quality-tested by Shopify themselves, and have earned their place as the cream of the crop.
You don't necessarily need to buy from the store (I prefer buying directly from the theme developer's websites), but you should buy themes that have qualified to be on the store.
I’ve looked at the rules for applying to the Shopify theme store, and the bar is very high. I mean, it is almost impossible to get your theme featured there if you are just a small company or a lone developer like me.
The tests include:
They even check if you have the customer support capabilities to support a large number of customers that purchase your theme. For example, if I made a theme and it was accepted, and 1000 people bought it and experienced some kind of bug, I probably wouldn’t be able to manage that many support requests.
The official theme store is highly competitive, and as of now, there are only 60 or so themes on there.
There are also hundreds of themes that didn’t pass Shopify’s stringent requirements, that you can find on third-party websites. The most popular of these is Themeforest.
There will be a large price difference. Themes on the Shopify Theme Store are all priced the same — $180 for the newer themes, and $140 for a couple older themes (they are still kept updated though). There are also free themes available, that are high-quality but lacking in features.
Shopify Themes on Themeforest are usually around $50. So there is quite a large price difference, however, I still always recommend the official theme store to my clients.
The reason is that your theme is extremely important and I honestly believe that price should not be a factor when choosing a Shopify Theme. Your choice of theme is not the place to be saving money.
Your theme is what your customer interacts with. It dictates:
The entire customer experience comes from the Shopify theme, and not really Shopify itself. Think about it like this, the Shopify platform is for you, it makes your life easier. The Shopify Theme is for your customer, it makes their life easier, their shopping experience more pleasant and faster.
Save money by not using unnecessary apps or services, but please don’t buy a crappy theme.
Back when I was living in Australia, I made the mistake of buying a European car, and as I soon found out, I should have just bought a Toyota.
Japanese cars are much more common in Australia, so finding parts and mechanics with experience in fixing them is much cheaper. With my European car, I had some rather unique problems that Australian mechanics weren’t used to solving.
Why am I talking about cars? Well, it’s a similar situation for websites and choosing a theme. People often look for something really unique, something that will stand out. What they often forget is that customers don’t care about your website, they care about your product.
Sure, your website design should be clean, attractive, and reflect your brand image. But it shouldn’t do much beyond that. Remember that people aren’t buying your website! They are buying your products, and the website should not distract your customers from your product. The website should just work.
Often, the only time that a customer will notice your website is when something is wrong with it. Therefore, a website should be functional and reliable, not fancy.
If you’re interested, I highly recommend the following article on the topic of design — Why Simple Website Designs Are Scientifically Better.
The bottom line is if you buy a theme that is really unusual, you will often struggle with not being able to Google any problems that come up, because no one else has had your problems. Hiring a web developer will also be more expensive.
It’s important to buy a theme that suits your business goals and has the features you want built-in, so that you don’t have to rely on third-party apps or hiring a developer to extend any parts of the theme that are missing.
If you have a lot of products, you might need organizational features like filtering, sorting and mega-menus. This will make it easier for your customer to browse your store.
If your product is quite beautiful — maybe you sell jewellery — and you have some high-quality photography, then you will want to look for a theme with large image sections to really use this photography for maximum effect.
If you sell a tech gadget and there is a lot of technical information about your product, then you need to look for a theme that lets you add lots of content to the product page. Because a short description might not be enough.
Knowing what features you need makes it easier to look for a good theme, because you can immediately eliminate themes that don’t have these features.
I want to introduce you to the two major theme developers on the market. These companies are like the Nike and Adidas of Shopify themes.
Pretty much any theme that you choose from these guys will be well-built, attractive, UX-tested, SEO-optimized, and currently being used by thousands of stores around the world.
So it’s no wonder why most of our favourite themes come from these companies.
In general, you want to check out the company that makes the theme you are buying, because if there is anything wrong with the theme, you will be relying on them for support.
It’s not often that a theme will have bugs, but it does happen. More often though, is that you just want to do something that you’re not sure is possible within that theme (without hiring a developer), and in those cases you will appreciate being able to email a company and get high quality support the same day.
These themes will be in no particular order. There is no best Shopify theme because each theme will suit a different type of store, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution, except for maybe one of the ‘flagship’ themes listed below.
I’ve split the following list into simple themes for small stores, larger and more fully-featured themes for standard stores, and finally ‘flagship’ themes that are highly customizable and have lots of features.
All of these themes are on the official theme store, but I’ve added links to the theme developers websites so you can buy directly from them.
Sometimes you don’t need a lot of features. Maybe simplicity and minimalist aesthetics are the main things you are looking for in a theme. And if you just have just a few products, you don’t need filtering or large navigations.
A very clean and minimalist theme. While being minimalist, it also stays quite conservative — sticking to the established conventions for good eCommerce design.
I’ve personally used this theme many times on my clients stores. From a developers perspective, the code is pleasant to work with so it’s great to use as a starting point too.
Both these themes are quite similar. They have a classic eCommerce layout, suitable for a larger store than ‘Startup’ thanks to the mega-menu, but are still quite lightweight.
These themes will be great when you have large and beautiful photography.
I’m usually not a big fan of themes with a sidebar navigation rather than a top navigation. However, Kingdom really impressed me with its clean design and advanced customization options.
Kingdom lets you add lots of additional content on the product pages — you can add info such as size guides or technical specs. It also has lots of sections for the homepage, including video — as a background, or as a popup.
This is not a typical theme. This is Shopify’s response to the 2020 Coronavirus crisis. It allows small businesses that were originally offline to launch quickly, with minimal barriers.
For example, a common barrier is getting beautiful photography of your products done. This theme does not rely much on your photography, so photos taken on your phone will be fine.
It will not be suitable for the majority of stores, but if you just need a one-page site to get up and running in just one day, this might be what you’re looking for.
These are the more fully-featured themes. When you have a large store you often need special features to organize your products and make the store easier to browse. Examples of organizational features are:
Besides organizational features, you may also be looking for more customizability in the design, layout and content that you can add to each page. Some examples are:
Definitely one of our favourite themes. Impulse is one of the most feature-packed and modern themes with great filtering, a large mega-menu, and plenty of customizable promo sections that are very flexible.
It has a unique collection page where you can feature sub-collections on the same page, as well as products in the general ‘first-level’ collection.
The aesthetic of Impulse is probably best-suited to the fashion industry.
Because of how feature-dense and customizable it is, I would say it’s even able to compete even with the big-boy ‘flagship’ themes (read below).
Retina is one of the classic Shopify themes that has dominated for many years. Tried and tested on thousands of stores. It isn’t the most fancy or fully-featured theme, but it sticks to the basics and does them well.
This theme has a unique product page layout allowing you to tell a story about your products, an FAQ page, Google Maps section, and a sidebar that you can pack with various types content including filters or information.
I think of this one as ‘Amazon-style’. It’s definitely not a minimalist theme. Rather it aims to provide all the features that a shopper might need.
It has a large search bar right at the top with autocomplete, large mega-menus, and plenty of panels on the home page to feature products, collections, sales and other promotions.
The product page also has plenty of panels for adding product info such as technical specs, shipping info, etc…
This is an interesting one. The point of the theme is in the name — if you are an Artisan that handcrafts unique products then this theme is for you.
Artisan allows you to simultaneously tell a story about yourself, and promote your products. You can explain the process of how your products are made, and then offer a selection of bestsellers, followed by showing testimonials from previous customers.
This theme even features an order form for commissioning custom work.
One of the most classic Shopify themes. This theme has been around for many years. It has gotten updates, of course, so don’t think of it as ‘old’ but rather as elegant and time tested.
I would use this theme if I was selling watches or leather goods. Something that doesn’t require tonnes of information or technical specifications.
The strength of Testament is its rock-solid build quality. I’ve worked with it so many times and it’s always easy to use and bug-free.
We are Underground are also one of the oldest and most respected theme developers, along with Out of the Sandbox and Pixel Union.
A popular theme for the fashion industry. Icon is a classic theme, time-tested, with some modern updates.
The homepage features parallax scrolling sections, if you’re into that kind of thing. Plenty of promo sections with large backgrounds means that you definitely need to have good photography to use this theme.
My favourite feature of Icon is that you can feature certain products right in the mega-menu.
As I mentioned above, Out of the Sandbox and Pixel Union are the two companies leading the market. And each has its own flagship themes that are much more powerful and highly customizable than standard premium Shopify themes. You could call these ‘super-premium’ themes.
These themes are not on the official theme store, because they are priced out of the standard $180 range. They range from $280 to $450, and they offer a huge amount of options for when you really need a lot of control over the layout.
Turbo came out a couple years ago as the first of the flagship themes. It has a certain style to it — large images and content panels — that might not suit everyone. Great for large stores though.
Superstore is Pixel Union’s answer to Turbo. It came out a bit later and might have learned from the mistakes of Turbo. It’s a bit more flexible and the style is more modern.
UPDATE! February 2022: This theme is now being sold by Out of the Sandbox. Seems like they either merged or purchased the rights to it from Pixel Union.
The main feature of this theme is its flexibility. There are so many different layouts that are possible with this theme, it’s really like buying multiple themes at the same time.
Using Flex you can design a theme with that is minimalist, or the complete opposite — a theme that is information-dense or Amazon style. You can make it fresh and bright, or keep it elegant and classy. There isn’t any specific aesthetic to this theme.
I hope this article has been helpful to you. If you use the links and buttons above you would be helping me earn a bit of commission (at no extra cost), which allows me to spend more time blogging. Thanks for your support!
If you have any questions feel free to contact me on Twitter.