Shopify advice

Are Paid Shopify Themes Better Than Free Ones?

February 7, 2024

You’re browsing the Shopify theme store, seeing all the options, they’re starting to look the same, and you’re wondering if you even need to pay for a theme.

Good question!

You’ve probably heard of Dawn, the free Shopify theme so we’re going to dive into whether it’s good enough for your store, as well as when you may want to consider a paid alternative.

Will using a free Shopify theme work for your website?

Short answer, yes. 100% yes. The free Shopify themes like Dawn, Craft, Taste etc. are all good options. If you're just starting your eCommerce site, there may be better ways for you to spend a few hundred dollars, than on a premium theme if your budget is limited (e.g. branding, product photography, marketing).

There's nothing wrong with the free themes, and since they're all built and maintained by Shopify, you know they're going to work.

They've all been designed with suiting mulitple merchants in mind, so they're customisable, and can suit a range of industries. Like all themes, you'll be able to customise the colours, fonts, add your own images and logo, so you can still make the site yours.

As so many merchants use the free themes, there are a lot of developers that are familiar with the code, so if you do need any customisations down the track, it shouldn't be too hard to find someone. Similarly, most apps will test with the free themes, which should help with compatiblilty.

How should I pick a free Shopify theme

We've got a really good answer for this one - it doesn't matter :)

Pick whichever free theme you like because they're all just variations of each other. This means that they all have the same functionality, settings, and customisation options. If one of the themes stands out to you, or is in your industry, go for that. But otherwise, it won't make a difference.

Free vs paid Shopify themes

So why would you ever buy a paid theme? It usually comes down to two things:

1. Functionality.

Paid themes will typically offer more in the way of features. For example, some paid themes will have a quick add to cart button on the collection page, at the time of writing, the free Shopify themes don't offer this.

I think it's worth noting that you do have access to all the theme code though (that's what you're paying for when you buy the theme). So technically, if you hired a developer, any features that are possible to be coded into a theme could be added.

The other option for extending theme functionality is using apps. For example, our app QuickSwatch [link] allows you to add linked product swatches in your theme.

That being said, if you can find a theme that had a lot of the functionality  you need, it can save you $$$ down the track, as you won't need a developer, or an app (which is likely a monthly subscription).

2. Design.

Whilst the free themes don't look bad, they're definitely on the more basic end of the design scale.

Paid themes tend to be more "design-opinionated", and will oftentimes just look better than the free ones. Whether it's through sleeker designs, animations, cooler layouts, or specific design features.

There isn't really a clear-cut answer as to whether it's worth paying for a theme just for the design, but you may want to think about:

  • Do the free themes match your branding? If not, is there a paid one that would better match?
  • How good is your imagery? If it's amazing, you may find a paid theme that better showcases it than a free one. At the same time, if it's not great, a paid one may hide it better than a free one. This is something we put a lot of consideration into when building Divide - as a theme, it has lots of options use colour as a design feature rather than images. So if you haven't got those quality product pics and optimised lifestyle shots, we might be able to help.

Theme store vs third-party themes

You might notice that in this post we've only spoken about themes on the Shopify Theme Store. If you've done some Google-ing on the topic you might also be aware that there are other places you can buy themes like Etsy, and ThemeForest. They're also likely cheaper on these sites.

If you take one thing away from this post, please let it be that you should be choosing a theme off the Shopify Theme Store.

If you need convincing, here's what the theme store offers:

  • Shopify vets every theme on the store. And they do it super thoroughly. They have this really long checklist of requirements, and it's a whole thing to even get approved (if you're interested in the BTS we have a blog post here). There are also performance and accessibility requirements, so you know your store won't be techincal mess.
  • You get an unlimited free trial. So you can test out as many themes as you like, and build your store out on them to see if they're for you. If they are, great, buy it and hit publish. If not, delete it, move on, and you haven't spent a cent.
  • You get unlimited updates, for life. Occasionally Shopify makes changes to the platform which require theme code to be updated. By using a Shopify theme you'll be able to just update your theme to get these code updates, rather than having to pay someone to do it.
  • Guaranteed support. One of the requirements for themes on the store is that they have to provide customer support. So if you find a bug in the theme, or aren't sure how a theme feature works, you can send an email to the theme devs, and you'll usually get a pretty quick response.

Can I change themes later?

Okay, so we've sold you on the benefits of a paid theme, but you're just starting out your Shopify store, and want to test the idea first. Can you start with a free theme, and upgrade to a paid one later?

Of course! In fact, if you're not sure exactly what features you need yet, this might be a really good option.

Go with a free theme, get some sales, and validate your idea. Learn what you're missing/annoys you about the free theme, and then find a paid one to move to later.

Conclusion

Trying to decide whether to pick a free Shopify theme, or from one of the many paid themes can be overwhelming. Here's the TL;DR

  • Free themes can be a great starting point, and it doesn't matter which one you choose.
  • Paid themes usually differentiate in design and functionality.
  • We strongly recommend picking a theme off the Shopify Theme Store.

Happy theme browsing :)

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