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by Michael P. Hill

As a merchant, shopping for a new Shopify theme is an interesting juxtaposition — it suddenly puts you, a store owner or manager, in the digital shopping cart.

When shopping for a new Shopify theme, there are a variety of ways you can use the same tactics and strategies you use when building a quality online store to weigh which Shopify theme will work best for you and your store.

Shopify theme descriptions

Just like you would with a quality product description for your own store, Shopify theme developers also need to look for the best way to describe their theme features to customers (you).

As you probably know as a store owner, creating a quality product description is one of the most challenging things to do and Shopify theme developers, in many ways, face a significant challenge in this arena.

Since Shopify themes are “digital” goods, they can be harder to describe than tangible physical goods. When considering what theme to use, look for theme developers that offer comprehensive but succinct theme descriptions that answer your questions and concerns as a shopper. Pay attention to unique selling points that distinguish the theme, as well as the availability of features that you already know you’ll want to have in your shop, such as quick shop, parallax scrolling or others.

If the theme you’re considering is sold in the Shopify theme store, the theme listing page is a good place to start to look for a theme description.

On the current Shopify theme store design, a quick overview of features is available just below the large colored background along the top of the page.

Shopify theme features

However, it’s important to note that, while theme developers have input into what the theme listing page says, Shopify maintains the ultimate say on what features are highlighted or listed, so this listing is typically not comprehensive.

To get more details on a particular Shopify theme, see if the developer has a standalone website that offers theme listings.

Detailed Shopify theme features

For example, Out of the Sandbox offers a much more comprehensive product description and feature lists on its own website for all of its Shopify themes: Parallax, Retina, Responsive, Mobilia and Turbo.

If the Shopify theme you’re considering doesn’t have a complete and comprehensive product description, this could be a sign that the theme developer isn’t active or paying close attention to its themes as carefully as you would your products.  

Useful, complete theme demos

A quality premium Shopify theme will also have a well thought out demo store that not only shows how the theme looks and works, but also draws attention to important features.

You can find links to demo shops for themes in the Shopify theme store by clicking the “View demo” button on any theme listing.

View Shopify theme demo button

On Shopify theme developer sites, meanwhile, look for a similar button, such as the white and black “Theme demo” button Out of the Sandbox uses:

View Shopify theme demo

Once you’ve found a Shopify theme demo, this is your chance to “experience” the theme as a product first hand.

Just like a shopper in a brick and mortar store might do, be sure to dedicate time to “trying out” the product from the end user or shopper’s point of view.  Try finding products or product information, adding items to the cart and even starting the checkout process.

Since themes are digital, non-tangible items, Shopify theme demos are a great way to see the product in action. This literally becomes an interactive experience with the front end of a shop that you can explore and evaluate just like your customers will.

A satisfying test drive

After experiencing the theme from the shopper’s side, don’t forget to have a look at the theme from the merchant or shop administrator’s side. This can be done by taking the theme for a test drive in your own shop by selecting “Try Theme.”

Try Shopify theme button

This allows you to see what’s happening behind the scenes when setting up and configuring a particular theme in Shopify’s Theme Editor. Pay attention to what homepage sections are available in that theme and what settings and options there are for configuring the collection, product, blog and cart pages in particular, and make sure the theme offers the elements and integrations you’re looking for.

If you don’t see it there, it’s likely the theme doesn’t offer it and you would need to have custom work done in order to implement it, so be sure the theme meets your needs before buying it; you can always ask the theme developer beforehand if you have any doubts or questions as to what the theme contains.

A good pool of information

While Shopify themes are the “main” product sold by Shopify theme developers, there’s also a lot of additional information and resources that should come with the product.

Just like a physical item you might buy comes with a manual (that’s often impossible to understand), it’s important to consider what “manual” comes with your theme purchase and whether or not it is useful and sufficient.

Shopify theme support site

Quality Shopify theme developers provide comprehensive product information, instructions and documentation that’s easy for you, as a customer, to access. These materials are also a great way to help you solve your own problems quickly and easily without having to wait for technical support, so it’s vital to consider what kind of resources come with your Shopify theme purchase.

Shopify theme YouTube

A good way to do this is to explore the developer’s website and look for the “Support” or “Customer” section — plus look for the developer's presence of various social media sites and YouTube.

In this area, look at both the breadth and type of support resources and documentation that is made available to you as a customer. The theme developer should have a comprehensive set of articles posted already, so give a few articles a quick scan to see how detailed they are, whether they include code samples and if alternative features such as video tutorials are available.

Just like developing documentation, videos and other content for your own shop and products is challenging, it’s just as time-intensive for Shopify theme developers to create for their themes — so a developer that has a comprehensive amount of these resources available has clearly invested time, skills and energy into its product development and support tools.

It’s also important to keep your eyes peeled for how often the documentation is updated and, on a related note, if the theme developer posts blog and other updates regularly.

Shopify theme blog

Similar to how you might use your site’s informational pages and blog for content marketing efforts to draw in traffic, theme designers who dedicate resources to creating quality content are more likely to be active in product development and support.

To find this, see if the theme developer has a Shopify theme blog on its website and, if so, how often it is updated. A Shopify theme developer who posts regularly is more likely to be on top of the latest changes and trends in ecommerce and the Shopify ecosystem.

Michael P. Hill
Michael P. Hill

Michael P. Hill is a Shopify, Shopify theme, content marketing, digital marketing and product management expert based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelphill or connect on LinkedIn.

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