Should I Use a Prebuilt Shopify Theme or Custom Theme?

Shopify is the most popular ecommerce platform and one of the best options for most businesses. And with Shopify Plus, this even applies to large enterprise businesses.

Here at Metacake, we have built, managed, and optimized hundreds of Shopify and Shopify Plus sites, for some of the biggest brands out there. One part of our role in that is helping brands make technology decisions based on their strategy and needs. And when you’re looking to build a Shopify store or update your current Shopify store, questions often arise about the theme, and whether it’s better to go with a Shopify theme or completely custom.

In this post, we are going to help you determine whether you need to build a theme from scratch, or start with a prebuilt Shopify theme and then modify it for your needs.

Choosing a Prebuilt Shopify Theme vs. Building a Theme from Scratch?

A good analogy for this decision making process is finding a house. You can build a custom home completely from scratch, drawing up a blueprint and making it exactly how you want. Or, you can move into a home that’s already built, but make it your own with new paint, floors, and lighting.

When it comes to building an ecommerce site, if you’re doing it from scratch like a custom home, you will need to hire a firm or individual to design and build your theme exactly to your specifications.

The alternative is starting with a prebuilt theme which provides some structure and even some design elements so you don’t have to build the whole “house”. This baseline allows you to paint, do a little renovation, and move in your furniture without just starting from nothing.

The Pros and Cons of a Prebuilt Shopify Theme vs. Custom Theme

Let’s map out the pros and cons of using a prebuilt Shopify theme vs. building a custom theme from scratch.

Building a Custom Theme

Pros: With a custom theme, ideally, you’ll end up with exactly what you want. It will also be very unique from other sites.

Cons: This typically requires reinventing a lot of wheels, and maybe developing some new ones. For that reason, building from scratch is slow and expensive. Also, app integrations may need to be manual, causing more work. You will also be responsible for future maintenance on the theme you build.

Using a Prebuilt Shopify Theme

Pros: Using a prebuilt Shopify theme is less labor intensive, quicker, and therefore less expensive. Since you’re building on an existing foundation, there will be less bugs to work out, and it will be easier to manage into the future.

Cons: You may have to make some concessions when it comes to design or functionality, because it’s possible not everything you’ve dreamed up for your store is compatible with the theme. For that reason, your site might not look quite as unique as you would like it— but, you would be surprised at just how “custom” we can make the prebuilt themes feel!

Conclusion: Prebuilt is (Typically) the Way to Go

For most brands we work with, we don’t often find that building from scratch is the way to go. We almost always recommend starting with a good prebuilt theme and then customizing on top of that. It provides the best of both worlds. And as long as you’re okay with potentially making a few design concessions, you will end up in a much better place faster, and for less cost. Ultimately, this is worth it for a store that functions well, because at the end of the day, the functionality for the customer and the backend usability for your team are much more important than creating the most unique site out there!


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