The difference between free and premium Shopify themes
Whether you’re a brand new Shopify merchant or you’ve been using a free theme for a couple years, you’ve probably found yourself wondering, “Should I upgrade to a premium theme? What are the benefits? Is it worth the investment?”
Free themes are a great starting point for new entrepreneurs, but as your online business grows and your sales increase, so do your needs. Upgrading to a premium Shopify theme is the next natural step. The sooner the better, in our opinion as changing the layout of your store might cause some disruptions in your business operations as you get used to your new theme.
Sure, you could hire a developer to build you a custom site, but are you really ready to spend that kind of money? Whether you buy from the Shopify theme store or directly from a theme developer like Pixel Union or Out of the Sandbox, premium themes give you the benefits of premium ecommerce design without having to fork over tons of hard-earned cash.
As you explore online, you might also be tempted to buy from a third-party marketplace like ThemeForest. Be warned! These themes are less reliable, offer spotty customer support, and are not vetted by Shopify. You might save some cash in the short term, but they can cost you time and money down the line.
Why upgrade to a paid Shopify theme?
Maybe your catalog is growing and you need a more robust option for showcasing products. Maybe you're looking for loads of ready-to-go design options or built-in features. Maybe you want a better mobile experience. Or maybe you just want direct support from your theme's developer, and you know a premium theme is the only way to get it.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether a paid theme is right for your store, here are some benefits of premium themes that might help you decide it’s time to upgrade.
More design options
First impressions are important. Did you know 75% of consumers admit to judging a company’s credibility based on their web design? One of the most common reasons for upgrading to a premium theme is design.
Shopify’s free themes may be solid and functional, but you don’t have to look hard to find something lacking in their look and feel. Premium themes offer more variation, more options for customization, and a richer customer experience.
Take a look at how Beehive Handmade uses Grid to showcase their beautiful product photography on their homepage. Similarly, look how Snooz uses Launch to highlight product details and tell a story as you scroll down the page.
It’s important to envision your store five years down the line. Do you plan to show off an even larger catalog of products? Are there design features you’ll need one or two years from now? If you can pick a premium theme that works for your store now and in the future, you’ll have a clearer path to success.
Enhanced mobile experience
Have you noticed a high percentage of mobile browsers but a low conversion rate? It’s time to think about your store’s mobile experience. In 2020, during the peak ecommerce sales period (Black Friday and Cyber Monday), mobile accounted for 40% of all online shopping.
Mobile-first and mobile-friendly are two different looks. It’s not essential to go with a mobile-first theme, but it is essential to be mobile-friendly. Every theme in the Shopify theme store is mobile-friendly and will give you a better chance at converting on-the-go shoppers.
More built-in features
Compare the difference in features between free and paid themes. Whether it’s a “quick buy” button, homepage slideshow, integrated Instagram feed, or embedded video, premium theme features far outweigh those of free themes.
Feature sets often determine which theme works best for your store. For two examples of extremely feature-rich themes, check out Empire by Pixel Union and Turbo by Out of the Sandbox. Even if you don’t think you need all of these features right now, you may be better off going with one of these options so you can start using them down the line.
And sure, you may be able to add some functionality with apps, but as your list of apps grows, so do your monthly payments. Crunch some numbers and determine if a one-time theme payment is more affordable long-term than a bunch of app subscriptions.
Smoother checkout experience
Quick pay is a feature found in premium Shopify themes that allows shoppers to quickly add products to their cart without leaving the page.
One of the biggest struggles Shopify merchants face is abandoned carts and missed conversions. Allowing shoppers to browse your store without forcing them into places they don’t want to go (ie. checkout) is essential in making sales.
“Quick pay” is a great way to reduce checkout friction and increase conversions and it's available in many premium themes.
Direct theme support
As a Shopify merchant, you know customer support is important. If you aren't willing or able to answer questions and help customers understand your product, they’re likely to leave without making a purchase.
We feel the same way. If you can’t speak directly to the people who built your theme, how are you going to use it to its full potential? Whether you have questions about setup, troubleshooting, or anything else, it’s important to be able to lean on customer support.
If you decide to go with a Pixel Union or Out of the Sandbox theme, you can rest assured you’re in good hands with dedicated support teams. And yeah, we may have a bit of a bias here, but after you work with either amazing support team, you’ll know why!
Ready to upgrade?
Find more helpful articles in The ultimate guide to starting an online store.