Choosing Between a Template vs. Custom-Designed Theme for Your Ecommerce Site

Choosing Between a Template vs. Custom-Designed Theme for Your Ecommerce Site

The mens retailer, El Dandy, is built on the Showcase theme from Shopify

As an ecommerce retailer, you probably already know that websites on major platforms, like Shopify, Magento, and BigCommerce are built from a theme. The theme is what gives a site its look and feel, navigation structure, and more. Themes can be premade and serve as a template or you can build a theme from scratch. In fact, when you’re preparing to replatform your ecommerce site or launch a new one, this becomes the big question: Should I build my site from a preexisting theme or create my own theme with custom ecommerce development?

There are a few important things to consider in determining the best solution for your business. Today we’re going to walk you through Command C’s process for helping our clients select the optimal path forward.

Template vs. Custom Ecommerce Themes: Top 3 Considerations

A computer screen showing a womens fashion site to illustrate ecommerce template
An example of the Pearl theme from Magento

1) What’s your budget and timeline?

Simply put, it is less expensive to build an ecommerce site from an existing theme. It’s also much faster, as all the coding and fundamental site design work is already done. This is huge.

Sometimes merchants express concern that a premade theme won’t be sufficiently unique. We strongly beg to differ. Existing themes can easily be shaped to reflect your brand through product imagery, content, and more.

Also, keep in mind that the mechanics of ecommerce are already set in shoppers’ minds. Theme developers, like those who contribute to Magento and Shopify theme stores, support ingrained shopping methods in their theme designs.

(Side note: For themes from sources other than these vetted stores, we conduct a code audit before starting the site build).

In other words, we’re now in the third decade of online shopping. People have strong expectations about how the online purchase process should go. There’s no need to reinvent the financial transaction wheel of your site. You don’t want to surprise your customers as they check out, for example, otherwise they will abandon the cart. When it’s time to get creative on your site, tap into the unlimited creativity of your products, company story, personalization techniques, and more.

On the other hand, if you know you want a lot of customization in your site, and you have the time and money to build from scratch, jump in! We find custom builds to be super interesting and exciting projects. It can also be very satisfying to find the perfect, custom answer to every site issue that has caused you grief. (B2B merchants will especially relate.) Simply bear in mind that you may be able to enjoy the same feeling of relief with a simpler, less expensive build on a premade template.

2) How much customization do you need?

When you build your site from a preexisting theme vetted by an expert company, such as Shopify, BigCommerce, or Magento themes, it is highly likely that it will have most, if not all, of the features you need. Additionally, we’ve had several instances in which a client selected a template, and then wanted to add a feature or two from themes they found in their research process. This is no problem at all. Not only do premade themes tend to be highly versatile, but we can also add elements to them to make it even better for your business.

Nonetheless, we have to mention an important caveat here. At some point, if we start adding too many additional features, we defeat the purpose of an existing theme. Particularly with backend operations, too many additions will start to feel clunky, rather than a smooth, flowing system. App overload onto an existing theme also has the potential to slow down your site. If the list of additions gets too long, then it’s time to start building a custom theme for your business.

The mens retailer, El Dandy, is built on the Showcase theme from Shopify

3) Where are you at in your business? 

When deciding whether to go with an existing theme or to create one, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of where your business is at today. This is crucial because the reason why you would want to leverage a template, rather than build your own theme, is to gain efficiencies in the process. Again, the design and coding work is already done in a premade, template theme – that’s a major efficiency.

For instance, you may be a start-up retailer or a new business initiative within a larger company. You want to get to market quickly. You want to collect data from your early sales and use it to inform your company ecommerce strategy for the long-term. With this in mind, an existing theme is likely your best bet. You’ll spend less money and launch a live site sooner.

On the other hand, if you’re a merchant who has been in business for a long time, then you deeply understand your product and your site needs, both on the frontend and backend. You have gathered years of information about your company and its processes. You clearly know what you want your ecommerce site to do for the foreseeable future. In this case, a custom-designed theme could be the perfect precision tool for you.

In Command C’s experience, retailers often make the final decision about whether to use a template or go custom as part of a Technical Discovery. As part of this process, we work with clients to arrive at their needs analysis. We also a clear understanding of their business needs, plus their long-term goals and vision. All of these things are key factors in answering the question: premade or custom?

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