How to pick the right theme for your online store?

An an ecommerce business owner you want your online store to look pretty with all the cool features. But you are not willing to shell out huge amount of dollars for a custom design. And rightfully so. Custom designs are expensive and time consuming. Ecommerce themes are fast to deploy and can give almost all benefits which a custom design can offer.

There are thousands of themes available for free and paid download across the web. But not all make a good fit. Not all are professional and spending money without thought can make you waste your money and time. By the end of this article you will have enough knowledge to be able to pick the right theme for your ecommerce store which drives sales and trust.

Importance of picking a good theme for your online store

A good theme can be pivotal for an online store. People make an impression about your brand seconds after they land on your page. An online store homepage is the face of the brand. People make judgements on the brand based on speed, aesthetics, functionality and usability. You have 50 milli seconds to make an impression. Make it count. Ecommerce profitability is about repeat users. A website which offers good experience to the user will be visited often. An ecommerce business which has highest repeat users win [PDF].

17 Factors to consider while picking an ecommerce theme

  • Should look trustworthy – Is your theme designed for trust? Which feelings where you going through when you first landed on the theme? Did you feel pleasant and relaxed or did you feel perplexed and resentful? Does the theme reflect trust and safety or does it give feelings of mistrust and anxiety? A theme/website is a visual representation of your business. Check the demo of the theme with your products uploaded. How does it feel? Once you are done picking few themes share it with your business partner or friends and ask for their initial impressions. This way you get your own prejudice out of the way.
  • Consistency is key – Consistency breeds trust. People tend to trust websites which are close in layout to other popular ecommerce websites they browse.  By convention logo should be to the top left, main navigation should have no more than 5-7 links,  search bar should be on top on every page, icons should be as per ecommerce conventions, visual hierarchy has to be followed, category and product pages should have clear layouts.The online store theme you pick should be designed for consistency. All pages on the theme should have the same color scheme, typography rules, negative space, patterns, icons, navigation and feel.
  • Should be fast – A fast loading ecommerce website leads to higher conversions. As per this research in 2012, One second delay in page load costs amazon 16 Billion in sales a year. With improved internet bandwidths and popular brands doing their best to improve their website speed customer expectations have shot up in the last 4 years. When picking a theme make sure to run the theme through Google page speed insights tool to see how well the theme is optimized for speed on mobile and desktop. Make sure you test all page types of theme including home, category and product pages. The theme below scores 65. Look for themes which hit score of 75 and above both on desktop and mobile.
  • Say no to sliders – Sliders and carousels are outdated. They looked cool half a decade ago. Ecommerce sites are doing away with sliders because they don’t perform as expected and it doesn’t necessarily give a good user experience on mobile. Quite often they slow down the website too.
  • Does it have all priority features you are looking for? – You might have few features in mind which you don’t want to do away with. For example, if you are selling fabric material online you might want product zoom in feature as a must have. Make a list of all features you think are important and tick each theme you come across for these features. If you like a theme and it misses a feature see if a plugin or a store extension can fill the gap.
  • Product discoverability – A good theme should have a prominent search bar and intuitive navigation menu. This helps people get to their products of choice within couple of clicks. See where the search box is placed on the website. It should be consistently placed at the same place on every page of the theme. See if the search results page has design consistent with that of the category page. Do the filters on the search results page miss on any of these important best practices? Do the search functionality on the theme follow the best practices?
  • Theme vs selling product match – When in the theme marketplace sort the themes based on your market type. This gives you themes which are more suited to your industry. A theme which fits in with apparel online store might not do good with manufacturing. Pick a theme which suits your industry as the developer has though out all possible features your type of online store needs and has incorporated it in the theme.
  • How does home page, category, product, search and cart pages look like? – Test all important pages of the theme on mobile, tablet and desktop devices. Ecommerce site has multiple entry points and every page is a landing page and any page could be the first interaction between you and your potential customer. Attention should be put all page types. You must also see how the checkout and cart pages look as these pages are where most users drop off. Checkout page should have least amount of distractions and have a simple process for order completion.
  • Documentation – Documentation of the theme’s tutorials, its features, design principles used and functionality will make your job as a business owner much easier. Detailed tutorials will help you customize your online store as per your needs much faster and with great ease. Always look for theme providers who give detailed documentation with graphic or video tutorials of the implementation.
  • Does the developer offer support? – The theme developer should offer support via a forum or email. Most theme installations will not go smooth. There will be areas where the documentation provided will be incomplete or you are just stuck with a certain CSS implementation. An ideal theme developer will be there to support you in your theme installation via a forum or email 6 months from purchase of the theme.
  • How much customization do you need before you can make it live? – No theme will fit 100% with your business type. You will need to do few basic customizations before you can make your online store live with the new theme. If the theme needs lot of changes before going live it means lot of design and development time will be needed from your end. Although customizing themes is an easy job, few functionality changes might need the help of a designer or developer. If you can afford this cost for few hours or can do it yourself you can go ahead.
  • Themes with large banners could be tricky – Quite often I have bought a theme for my blog which looked exceptional when I saw the demo but sucked when I installed it and replaced it with my own banners. Theme developers use banners which look and fit well with the theme design in their demo. It is important that you use the same approach. However, this might mean you will need a help of a graphic designer who has a good understanding of color schemes. You have to weigh this in before picking a theme which large banners.
  • Mobile first not just mobile friendly – Your online store should look best on mobile. Mobile devices account to 60% of US retail traffic. It is not just device for research and content consumption. It is now a device used to make purchases not just purchase decisions. WolfGang Digital has found strong correlations between high percentages of mobile traffic and high overall website conversion rates[PDF]. Check your theme mobile friendliness by using this tool from Google. However, this doesn’t give the complete picture. Open the theme demo on the mobile device and check how the home, category, search, cart, checkout and product pages appear on your mobile device. Are there any distracting or off placed elements? Is it easy to add products to cart? Are links too small to tap?
  • Color concept in sync with your brand? – It might be easy to change the color scheme for few themes. Changing the color scheme of the website using customization options will be be of not much use if certain icons and images in the  theme follow a different color scheme. If color scheme is stopping you from picking a theme then see if you can switch the color scheme with the help of a web designer or a developer. For this you might have to redo all icons as per your online store color theme.
  • Do not make money a factor – Saving $40 for an average theme over a great theme might look like a great steal today. Know that a theme/design can have huge impact on company top line. A 10% better conversion rate on $100K revenue is worth $10K. Since design is something which you don’t change every quarter and can have direct revenue impact don’t be stingy with your purchase.
  • Dig Official Marketplace – Official marketplaces are where ecommerce platforms themselves host themes which are as per their design and code guidelines. These themes fit best with any site with out much hassles of code and design. These themes are usually built by ecommerce platform approved developers who know the platform in and out. Here are few official market places – Shopify, Bigcommerce, Magento and Volusion
  • Cross Browser Functionality – The theme should look graceful across all popular desktop and mobile browsers. Also it should be optimized for various versions of each browser and degrade gracefully for older browser versions. Pick the top 5 browsers your audience uses from your analytics reports and check if the theme looks good in each of those browsers.

5 Places you can find best ecommerce themes

  1. Themeforest – Themeforest is the marketplace for themes. It houses themes from 15+ popular ecommerce platforms. It has a strong developer community who can help you install themes and optimize them for speed.
  2. WooCommerce – Woocommerce store front and plugins help you build a aesthetically pleasing and fully functional WordPress ecommerce site.
  3. Shopify – Dig the official Shopify theme marketplace.
  4. Bigcommerce – Bigcommerce’s own theme marketplace
  5. Volusion – Find Volusion compatible themes.

Great! But Don’t forget these

  1. Avail test environments – No theme should be made live without customization as it might hurt revenue and brand. Only after you have made all the necessary changes to your theme should you make it live. You can run the theme on test environments provided by your ecommerce platform.
  2. Test for revenue – It is okay to test design during early stages of your online store journey. Don’t be afraid to switch between 2 themes to test revenue impact.
  3. Take Feedback – Make sure you take user feedback when he or she is browsing a particular design. This way you will not just see which theme drives more revenue but also get valuable feedback for feature implementation and user experience. Tools like Qualroo, Getfeedback and Getsatisfaction help you collect feedback from your customers based on behaviour. These tools are easy to install and has analytics for you to make wise customer focused decisions.
  4. Test for functionality – A demo might work perfectly but when the theme is installed in a real environment multiple factors like images, content, software and plugin compatibility and versions come in to play. Before you make the new design live make sure you test all aspects of the online store.

After working 7+ years as a digital marketer for startups and large enterprises I quit my job to start EcommerceYogi. Here I share the exact same tactics which I have used to drive millions of users per month to e-commerce stores. Follow me on Linkedin and Twitter to stay connected.

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