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Stock vs. Custom Shopify Theme

Justin JewettVP

There is really no debate that Shopify is the best platform for you to run an online business. No matter what size shop, from small, handmade items to a massive e-commerce machine, Shopify just takes care of all the heavy lifting, and does a brilliant job at it, which allows owners the freedom to focus on the other precious aspects of the business. But making the decision to trust Shopify is only the beginning, and there are so many key decisions that need to be made after that, and choosing the right theme is one of the most important. The theme will communicate how your site feels just as much as the brand itself, the products that are sold, and the customer service that’s provided.

The theme is a fundamental framework; the bones of the user experience. This shouldn’t be a decision that is made without careful consideration, weighing many crucial factors. Ultimately, the theme can have a ripple effect over all parts of the customer journey, and can impact perception of the brand in ways few other things can. Just as a good operating system, design, or physical device, the best theme stays out of the way, and not only lifts the important content up to the surface, but also makes it easy for users to purchase products.

The right theme can be as important, if not the most important, front-facing part of the business.


Themes from the theme store

Your first thought might be to go grab a theme from the Shopify Theme store. Wether it’s a free, or premium theme, there are certainly plenty to choose from, and some of which are actually very nice. They offer the shop owner to singlehandedly craft their content from scratch, and allow them to build a fully-functional and well designed site.

But there’s so much more to it.

Themes offered from the theme store are by nature a jack-of-all-trades. They need to try to accomplish everything, and account for all possible use cases. This means that they are all more complex than the business owner needs. While this might be viewed as a good thing, this also leads to decision anxiety, and adding too much content just because you can.

In addition, the front-end of the site will end up feeling generic, just like a lot of other online stores. Like a bland car on the road, it does drive, and most likely looks ok, but it doesn’t stand out from the crowd, and looks just like most other cars out there.



The reason I say custom, rather than just a custom THEME, is because hiring a partner and studio that has expert knowledge in design, user experience, and development can offer so much more than a plug-and-play theme.

Expert design does go into the themes offered in the Theme Stores, but not for a bespoke, high quality theme designed specifically for the needs of the business. This is that next level that a plug-and-play theme just cannot offer. All of the exploration, design, CX, & UX thinking that goes into a project is tailored to fit exactly what the business needs, and it’s that invisible product that results in an elevated site that stands head-and-shoulders above the noisy crowd.

Then, when all of that expert thinking is translated into code, the theme is built to have those capabilities, and nothing more. Rockets going to space cannot carry any excess weight. They are designed to the exact needs of the mission, and every ounce is accounted for. It takes a lot of work and planning to make that happen, but the result is that rockets are extremely effective tools to get the job done. The same principles apply to websites and Shopify Themes, and with a studio filled with experts, you can get that level of perfection.



Because there’s a trimming of the fat when designing a theme from scratch, this in turn offers performance benefits both visible and less visible. One aspect is that features that would normally be an app integration can be built natively. This reduces the amount of asyncronous scripts that are requested after page load, which can have a significant impact on both actual performance and perceived page speed. In addition, the resulting liquid code, javascript, and styles are going to be much smaller than the junk drawer of code used for most premium themes, due to the fact that they need to handle many use-cases, most of which is unnessesary for the specific project.


Future Maintenance

For themes purchased from the theme store, they were most likely built using frameworks to style the site, and add functionality. The resulting CSS and JS are often compressed and shipped in a way that makes editing those files, and adding functionality unrealistic. Therefore, when features need to be added or removed down the road, that makes maintenance difficult. This not only impacts the time and money needed to make these changes to the theme, but also means that more script and style files need to be added to the codebase, which adds weight to the page, and adds technical debt for future work because a developer will need to figure out what’s going on, where things are written, and how to edit those things.

With a custom theme, the studio has full control over the code, even in it’s development mode (uncompiled), which means future work is much more efficient in terms of time, and can be rolled into the project’s existing workflow, rather than be tacked-on afterwards.



The main point here is that there is nothing wrong with getting a theme for $150 from the Theme store, and sometimes that’s what is needed. But to hit escape velocity and rise above the noise, competition, and crowd, a whole lot more is necessary. Getting a bespoke theme that is tailored based on business needs offers performance improvements, can remove excess clutter from the user experience for both admins and users, and will rise above most of the other online stores.

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