When you’re setting up your Shopify store, you’ll have to decide whether you’re going to go with a free option or if a paid theme is worth it. Themes on Shopify work just like themes on Squarespace or skins in a video game. Your product listings will carry over to whatever theme you choose, but the overall fonts, colors, and some layout elements of your site depend on the theme.
There are a ton of really elegant and beautiful free themes, as well as a shop full of themes that go all the way up to $180. It can be a little bit confusing to figure out if you need to pay for a theme. Do they really have something better than all the free themes? Are they just trying to grift you because they know someone will pay extra if it’s an option?
Just like how there’s no one right theme for every business, there’s no one right answer to whether paid is worth it or not. As I went through the process of choosing themes, I started out only considering free ones, but eventually ran into some limitations they had and ended up with a mid range ($80) theme as my final decision. Here’s my advice on whether or not you need to spring for a paid theme.
You DO need a paid theme if: you’ll be selling primarily to strangers
Internet purchases are all about building trust. If people are finding your site through ads, influencer campaigns, or some other stream where they have no idea who you are, all they’ll have is the professionalism of your website to figure out what your deal is. When people are ordering online, they’re making educated guesses about whether or not your product will 1) actually come 2) come on time, and 3) be as described. People will use whatever context clues they have available to them, and that means the vibe of your website. Although the free themes aren’t unprofessional by any means, once I switched over to my paid theme, I really felt like I leveled up.
You DON’T need a paid theme if: Your customers already all know you
Paid themes overall look a little more slick than free themes. This is important if you’re buying trust. For my ecommerce store I won’t be starting with an existing customer base, so I need to build trust with an ultra professional website. If you already have decades of experience running a brick and mortar location and your website is only going to be for existing customers to place orders and reach you, you won’t need to build that trust with a slick website. Of course, on the other hand, why not give your shop a leg up by making it professional enough to attract new customers as well?
You DO need a paid theme if: You want your website to be as modern as possible, with all the bells and whistles
Overall, the 3-4 free themes that I tried out were like spaghetti and meatballs. A solid choice that no one would question. However, the paid theme I eventually got was like going to a fancy Italian restaurant. An obvious step up, and although nothing is wrong with the first choice, the second is obviously better. Little things I didn’t realize I wanted made a huge difference in overall professionalism. Things like hovering over a link and having a little animation of the word being underlined added a level of sleekness that really elevated my site. None of the free themes I tried put as much effort into their designs.
You DON’T need a paid theme if: you’re only selling a couple of simple products
If you make the best keychain on the planet, and your only goal is to sell as many keychains as possible, you probably don’t need a paid theme. For ecommerce stores that have a lot of merchandise, how you present that merchandise becomes very important. How you organize your sidebar, product pages, and footer really matter. If your website is just a portal for people to buy one thing, it’s ok if it’s more simple, and a free theme will probably be fine. A paid Shopify theme might not be worth it if your business model is simple and streamlined.
You DO need a paid theme if: there’s a feature the paid themes have that you need
Sometimes figuring out if a paid Shopify theme is worth it for your business all comes down to a single feature. What eventually cracked me was the ability to show a 2nd image when someone is hovering over a product. This is a feature I use all the time while shopping online, and it makes a huge difference for me personally. I don’t want to click on a picture and have to wait while a new page loads just to get a second angle of a product. None of the free themes I saw had this feature, and I don’t know enough about code to add it myself.
You DON’T need a paid theme if: the cost will prevent you from making a better purchase for your business
Having started multiple businesses with a budget of $0, I understand that $80 can really make or break startup costs. If for any reason buying this theme would do more harm than good and block you from getting something that’s 100% necessary for your business, don’t even worry about it. Start with free and make a plan to get a paid one if you feel like it later.
You DO need a paid theme if: you don’t have time to try all of the free themes and see if one is good enough
One of the main things I’m trying to achieve in this business is keeping to a schedule and balancing my own sanity through time management. At the end of the day, I didn’t try each free theme, I looked at a few dozen, and only tried 3-4. Maybe if I kept searching there would have been the perfect free theme out there for me, but for $80, it was worth it to me to end the search and be able to build my website. If you need to move on with this phase of your business, buying a paid theme with good customer service is probably worth it. You know they’re motivated to keep making updates and be nice to you, because they want more money. Sometimes the economy works like it should? Is that the lesson I learned from this? I guess so.