We see a lot of agencies and developers selling clients 'custom' Shopify websites when in actual fact they are using themes and customising them - that's a big difference that we'd like to clear up.
Technically a custom website will be one which is built from the ground up whereas a customised website is using an existing Shopify theme template and tweaking and customising this to suit. We'll go into this in a bit more detail later, but for now we want to reiterate why Shopify is the best ecommerce choice in our opinion...
The beauty of Shopify
Shopify is the most integrated commerce platform 'out of the box', made up of a rich ecosystem with various building blocks that you can use to customise to your individual business needs.
With various apps, developer tools and APIs, the Shopify ecosytem allows extensibility, flexibility and expression - as such, the abilty to customise and tailor to your own unique needs.
The beauty of Shopify is that it is completely scalable so that as your business develops and grows, Shopify is there to support you.
With that in mind, what is the best route for building your new website and what are the pros and cons of each?
Custom vs Customised
A custom website is one that is designed and built specifically for you, usually from the ground up or on an existing framework that an agency will already have. Usually the agency or web developer will create flat visuals, using tools like Figma or Adobe XD, that meet your exact requirements for every single area of the site, every page, every area, every journey. Once this is completely signed off they will then build your designs onto the platform exactly.
- Your store is unique to you in all aspects
- You get exactly what you want
- If you have strict brand guidelines then these can be matched accurately
- The site can be faster to load (as the code is more minimal as it doesn't need to incorporate options and flexibility).
- Longer development times
- Content management often has to be built in (at extra cost and time)
- Things can go wrong (extra testing needed)
- Not supported (can cost extra if things go wrong)
- Not as flexible (if you change your mind or want to try different options/layouts/sections)
- Not as scalable (without developer support)
- Doesn't include future updates and no features being included (without developer support)
- Did we mention much more expensive and longer to build?!
Customised stores (i.e using an existing theme and making customisations)
Using a theme based approach is based on starting with an existing theme that's pre-built, a template if you will (we only recommend themes available on the Shopify theme store that have undergone vigorous testing). Then,designing around this, setting it up to meet the recommended design and applying customisations to achieve the desired look and functionality.
- Designs can still be unique and meet client requirements
- Lifetime theme updates (you will always be able to update your theme to the most recent version*)
- Easy to manage (content management built in with a theme based approach to allow you to make changes and add new templates and sections throughout)
- Robust - it works! (reliability of a theme that's gone through rigorous testing. Shopify themes purchased through the Shopify Store have undergone vigorous testing/approval process)
- Stores can meet brand guidelines
- Much, much cheaper
- Shorter build times
- Do customers really know the difference?
- You can do it yourself (not that we recommend it!)
- Some flexibility or compromise needed (if you have a very specific set of requirements)
- Can be slightly slower to load than custom stores.
*Any code based customisations that have been made to your current theme will require manually reapplying to the new version of the theme. This excludes css changes made in the theme editor as these will be copied over in updates.
Why use a Shopify Partner and/or Shopify Expert (i.e why you shouldn't build your own store!)
By using an accredited Shopify Expert or Partner, they will have the necessary skills and knowledge to help you get the most from the Shopify ecosystem. Their experience and expertise can:
- Save you time
- Save you money (see above)
- Create you the design you want
- Apply customisations to the code to achieve the desired design
- Build features and functionality into your theme (without having to go custom)
- Ensure customer journey is effective
- Help you sell more
- Get you started quicker
- Help you to learn how to manage your website
- Provide general guidance and support
- Help you make the most of the whole of Shopify
- Make sure you are all set up correctly and effectively in terms of shipping, taxes, markets etc.
- Help install and set up apps.
More experienced partners and experts will be able to guide you on the best solutions for you and your business.
Why we only use themes and customise these for clients
- We see all the benefits of a theme completely outweighing the downsides
- We want to get clients up and running quicker and more afffordably
- We don't want you to be reliant on expensive developer costs going forward
- We want to empower clients to manage their own site (but we're always available for ongoing help and support)
- With a small team this is more effective and efficient for us
- Take advantage of all the hours of development gone into a theme
- Peace of mind with third party support and reliability of the theme
- By avoiding checkout customisations there is much less to go wrong, especially at this business critical area of the website
So the next time you get sold a 'custom' website, make sure you check if this is based on a theme with customisations or if you're really getting a custom build. And if you still want to go custom, ask yourself 'do I really need to?'.