Your website design is a huge part of your online store's branding, and branding itself is an essential part of your business. A great website design puts your products in the best possible light and helps encourage customers to buy. It also makes shopping fun and easy, with as little friction as possible between your visitors and checkout. The design of your website can make all the difference as to whether idle shoppers turn into customers!
The design of an eCommerce website needs to fulfill all these purposes and reach all these goals. Your website needs to be easy to use and understand, help establish your branding, and work perfectly on all devices. The more attractive and optimized your website is, the more likely you are to grow your brand's awareness and gain long-term customers who will bring you repeat business.
Web design isn't easy, so almost all eCommerce platforms today provide a selection of templates or themes to apply instantly to your online store. Both paid themes and free themes are often available, but most new businesses will want to start with a free theme before they commit to spending money on a design.
Shopify offers both free and paid themes for online stores, but how do they compare?
Shopify has 10 free themes, most of which are available in multiple styles, which are basically slightly different variations on the parent theme. Styles usually comprise different color choices and only minimal layout differences, along with a different selection of included stock photos.
Shopify themes are differentiated not just by their design, but also how they're intended to be used. While certain themes are said to be made for certain industries, you can actually use any Shopify theme for any industry as long as you customize it appropriately. Minor customizations can be made through the Shopify theme editor in the Shopify admin dashboard, but the number and scope of available customizations is dependent on the theme, with some themes accepting more customization than others. Deeper customization will require knowledge of HTML, CSS, and Liquid coding languages — and Liquid is a less-commonly known form of markup, so you may need to pay more for custom development.
Still, customization within the Shopify theme editor may be enough for your needs. The bigger restriction is that several of Shopify's free themes are intended only for use on stores with a small number of products, or even a single product. In this case, you can only stretch customization so far, and the end result is that the size of your catalog can cut some themes out of the running.
Unless you're using Shopify Plus — Shopify's enterprise business solution — you can't customize the appearance of your checkout pages at all. Most Shopify store owners are unhappy with the default checkout since it doesn't match the rest of their stores' branding. This is something to keep in mind while choosing a Shopify theme, as you may want to pick one that doesn't mismatch the default checkout too drastically, but this has the unfortunate side effect of further limiting your choices.
All of Shopify's free themes are attractive and serve their purpose well, and the same can be said of the paid themes. However, except for a few standouts, the majority are very similar to one another. More innovative online store owners are likely to want something more to help them stand out from their competition. Of course, with multiple styles per theme to choose from, and customizations within the theme editor, you may be able to tweak your store's appearance to your satisfaction. The problem is that once you've exhausted these options, you've hit a wall — and you'll need to hire a Shopify Partner who is familiar with Liquid development.
The inability to edit the appearance of the checkout pages unless you're on Shopify Plus is another restriction that can't be avoided. If you want to maintain your branding throughout the customer's entire checkout experience, you'll need to upgrade to Shopify's expensive enterprise business plan, or use another eCommerce solution altogether.View Shopify Plans & Pricing
Shift4Shop offers dozens of free online store themes and frequently adds new ones to round out the options available to merchants. The selection is more varied than the free themes offered by Shopify, with more variety in layouts and color schemes — even taking Shopify's multiple theme styles into account. Like Shopify, Shift4Shop also offers Premium themes that include advanced design features for your store. Between the free and Premium themes, you have far more choices than with Shopify.
Shift4Shop themes are also easier to customize as they don't require knowledge of rarer markup languages like Liquid — only HTML and CSS, which are familiar to all web developers. Plus, all of Shift4Shop's Core themes are built using our proprietary Core Templating Engine, a modular set of "building blocks" based on Bootstrap. The Core Templating Engine is fully documented to enable complete freedom for designers to change the look and feel of any page on your website, including checkout, no matter which plan you use. Core themes also automatically implement cutting-edge standards and advantages on your website, such as Google AMP-enabled product pages, fully mobile-responsive design, AJAX and code optimizations for faster loading, and more.
A dark, dynamic theme suitable for making a strong impression. Visitors are greeted with a huge hero banner to catch their interest immediately.
A bright theme with plenty of room for appealing imagery. The Sticky Menu ensures customers will always have navigation within reach.
A friendly theme with a strong focus on featured products. Has a classic look updated to modern, responsive web standards.
A powerfully visual theme that brings luxury retail to mind through its black and gold highlights and strong focus on image banners.
While all Shift4Shop themes use layouts proven to work well for eCommerce, there's still plenty of variety to ensure you can find a design that works for your brand right out of the box. Many of our themes include special bonus features like sticky navigation, product animations, parallax background effects and more — even our free themes.
With Shift4Shop, it's easy to find the right look for your eCommerce website, and the full customization access means ultimate branding capability. If you don't want to dive into HTML and CSS editing yourself, contact a Shift4Shop Expert for help editing an existing theme or even get a fully custom design that's made just for you. Shift4Shop's Core Template Engine has removed the limits from theme design, so your dreams for your eCommerce website can become reality with Shift4Shop, one of the best alternatives to Shopify.