Planning and managing a Shopify theme design and development project can be challenging even for the most experienced ecommerce entrepreneurs and teams.
So if you’re creating your first store, redesigning your Shopify theme or replatforming to Shopify, this guide will help you check all the boxes and find success in your Shopify theme project.
We’ll cover using templates vs custom Shopify themes and building the store yourself vs getting help.
Shopify Template vs Custom Shopify Theme
One of your first decisions when planning your store is choosing between a Shopify template or a custom Shopify theme.
There are pros and cons to both approaches, let’s review them below.
Pre-Built Templates & Themes
A Shopify template or pre-built theme is a plug-and-play solution that you can easily install in your Shopify admin and simply get started. Populate the store using the Shopify admin, CSV upload and the customize section in your theme and launch!
- Get started very quickly, you can launch in one day if you are drop shipping
- Keep costs low or at $0 USD for free themes
- Easily install and integrate with Shopify with no coding needed
- Done-for-you branding and logos with some templates that use font logos
- Cheap looking store with no brand equity or unique branding
- Limited features and functionality, does not support for more complex stores
- Bad page loads times due to bloated feature sets that serve a larger audience
- Stores end up like a frankenstein once you add Shopify apps and don’t integrate them in terms of branding and css styling
Custom Shopify theme
A custom Shopify theme is a completely custom design and code base unique to your store. Created by professional web designers and developers, preferably from the Shopify expert program with relevant experience and niche focus.
- Unique branding that builds brand equity and differentiates you in crowded ecommerce niches
- Exactly what you need in terms of features, integrations, functionality.
- No bloated code base or messy cluttered designs.
Scalable and easy to extend. Created with your business needs at heart and future proofed to your upcoming business changes, custom themes are often much easier to scale with as you grow.
- Fast page load times due to only the essential features being present and pro developers understanding the correct technical approach to site speed load times.
- Consistently branded elements including Shopify apps you have integrated into the theme, essential for design led or high fashion brands.
- Still allows the Shopify store to be updated typically, including blogs, collection, products and often homepage changes.
- Larger investment that a pre-built Shopify template.
- Longer time to launch, typically 2 to 6 months depending on the complexity of your business or website
- May require ongoing development support for certain website changes
Finding a Shopify website project partner
There are endless options when it comes to deciding who to work with on your Shopify theme project.
Regardless of which of the below options you choose, ensure you perform some due diligence with your chosen partner.
You should be asking for:
- Contract with clear scope and policies
- Client references
- Past portfolio examples
- Estimated timelines
- Check business registration number
- Contact details and expectations for communication
- Roles and responsibilities
- Process and quality assurance
- Pre-Built Templates & Themes
If you are choosing a Shopify theme or pre-built template you can simply complete the work yourself using Shopify guides and theme help sections.
Alternatively you can hire a Shopify set up expert.
Custom Shopify theme
If you plan to invest in your business and go the custom Shopify theme route, you have again many options to choose form.
Shopify experts and Shopify specialists
Often the best choice, a Shopify expert is an official service partner of Shopify. Try to pick Shopify experts that work exclusively with Shopify or even better exclusively with Shopify and in specific industries like Shopify fashion experts.
That way they have relevant experience for your project and a deeper knowledge of Shopify.
Local agencies or freelancers
Local agencies and freelancers really hold one simple advantage, you can often meet them in person. For some brands this is important, for others, who perhaps embrace modern work styles, it is not.
Video chat more than suffice, and the reality is, if you have a long term relationship with your design and development partner, likely you’ll only meet them in person once or twice ever anyway. After initial meetings you’ll only have time for email and phone chats anyway.
I’ve moved almost all of my meetings to video calls. This includes 1-on-1’s, project discussions at Product Hunt/AngelList, and founder meetings at Weekend Fund.
The result: ~2x increase in productity. In-person meetings are only marginally better for most meetings.
— Ryan Hoover (@rrhoover) April 7, 2019
Agencies or freelancers from site like Upwork or Freeeup
Using marketplaces for freelancers and agencies is another option. Upwork is the largest, there are also more specialised ones like Freeeup that focus on ecommerce and websites like Toptal that focus on quality.
In house staffing
Of course you can also staff in house for design and development projects if you are big enough. This can be quite expensive with the average front end developer salary in the US running you $70k USD per year plus extras. And the average UI designer salary running you closer to $90k USD. So this only makes sense at a certain scale of Shopify business. There are 600k+ brands on Shopify with less than 5k on Shopify plus, so this approach will only make sense to less than 5% of you. And even when you can afford this approach, it often is not the most profitable approach and won’t necessarily land you with the best execution level. As paying the best designers and developers you can find by the hour will still be much cheaper than giring average team members annually.
Full-service vs specialist agencies
Another common decision I see ecommerce brands making is full-service vs specialist agencies.
There are pros and cons to each approach, but juggling multiple relationships competing agencies can be a nightmare.
It is often better to have one point of contact and account manager in one company. This also means the team members working on your different projects will generally pass information between departments within the one chosen agency which can have profound effects on the success of your initiatives.
Now that we live in a world of remote workers the idea of full-service and specialist is less concrete. It used to be that full-service agencies who fight over local talent to build their team roster. Now talent can be found and work from any location and its therefore much easier to build a full-service agency with senior staffing across the departments.
Budget & Pricing
Next we’ll briefly discuss budget and pricing, we’ll go into more depth later on with template sheets you can use for financial planning.
Pre-Built Templates & Themes
If you are building the store yourself using a template then the cost is simply your time and the price of the theme.
If you hire a Shopify set up expert the pricing can vary greatly. You can pay as little as $99 USD for someone to set up a Shopify theme and as much as $5k USD for an agency to customize a template making it more onbrand.
If you choose the latter route I’d advise to go with a custom theme. There is no point investing so much money to simply tweak a template.
Custom Shopify theme
How much does a custom Shopify theme cost? It really depends on the quality and location of the development team.
If you work with companies in India or areas of the world with lower cost of living, you can create a custom Shopify theme for as little as $1k USD. But the design execution level will oftentimes be average or poor and quality assurance process for browser and device testing more or less non existent. That is not to say you cannot find some talented freelancers in those countries that can deliver a reasonable custom theme for smaller budgets.
But you will either be lucky or need a lot of time to find that partner.
Agencies in the western world start closer to $2k USD for a custom theme, again with hit and miss results and less specialization or experience in Shopify.
Leading Shopify agencies in the US, UK, Australia and Canada tend to charge anywhere from $4k USD all the way up to $75k USD on average for a custom Shopify theme. With some outliers spending more.
Your budget should be in relation to your revenue or cash flow from personal investment.
What these budgets include and the quality of the work again comes down to your research and due diligence process.
Cheaper companies tend to include population of the store as they are simply using templates and more professional companies are really focused on delivering a high quality theme, and as such don’t offer store population services.
Timelines vary greatly for a Shopify theme from 1 day to 6 months.
If you’re building a drop shipping store with template yourself you can launch in a day.
If you’re hiring a store set up expert it can take anywhere from 1 week to 1 month depending on the scope of work and complexity.
Custom Shopify theme projects with professional experts typically take 2 to 6 months depending on the complexity of the build.
Anything less than 2 months for a custom theme is a red flag. Either the theme is not custom or the quality assurance process is not extensive.
Be careful. There is nothing worse than launching your store to find it doesn’t work well on mobile or across various browsers.
Branding, logos and domain names
If you are a new brand you will need some kind of branding and logo for launch.
Again budget allowing you have many options for this task.
For brand new stores with little to no budget you can use a logo generator. These create logos using options you enter into the tool and by relying on a large range of reference fonts and designs.
You can also hire freelancers to create your logo on sites like Upwork, 99Designs or Freeeup.
Pricing for this can be anywhere from $50 USD to 10s of thousands of dollars depending on the experience and execution level of the branding agency.
The best freelancer to work with would be someone from the Shopify expert program as they are specialized in Shopify work.
For larger more established brands the question comes down to whether to work with a branding agency or a full service agency for your custom theme project and brand / logo work.
Custom Shopify Theme Round up
Whether you choose a custom theme or a template, Shopify is a great platform to use to grow your ecommerce business and sales.
Let us know in the comments if you have more questions or if you need help with a custom Shopify theme click here for a quote.