This is the beginning of a three part series on the essential features to include if you're having a Shopify theme custom developed for your store. The focus of these aren't highly complex features, but basic, flexible customizations you should expect to find in a custom theme (because most of them are available in premium themes available on the Shopify Store).
There you are. You’ve decided that now is the time to open that online store you’ve been considering for years. You’ve done research - there are now a seemingly endless number of tabs open on your browser. Shopify is the way you’re going to.
Because you’ve been thinking about your new venture for what seems like years, you’ve saved up some money and purchased a limited stock of product to test things out before going crazy with spending. And now you just need to launch and build your store. Easy, right? Riiight.
You don’t know the first thing about building a Shopify store, and so you turn to one of the popular freelancer platforms (elance, freelancer.com, etc.) to find someone to do the work. People have tried to talk you into using one of the free themes, or shelling out some cash on the premium themes. But you insist - it MUST be custom.
This is the point where I interject that you should reconsider. Premium, purchased themes are an incredible boon to new shop owners. But I digress.
After posting your request for proposal, you’re flooded with dozens and dozens of responses. Many from countries you’ve never heard of. After what feels like countless interviews, you decide on a freelancer who seems to have decent street cred, you share your list of requirements, and you’re off to the races.
Did I say this was a bad idea? No, seriously. Fine. If you insist.
Weeks go by, and you’re finally presented with the finished product. Everything seems great - until you begin requesting small tweaks here and there - maybe a few added features you were too timid to ask about initially. And what happens? You’re told those changes aren’t possible. Or worse, you’re met with silence. And there you are, left with the Shopify equivalent of the Bluth Family Model Home.
This doesn’t need to be the outcome. If you insist on commissioning a custom Shopify theme, we’ve got a list of features to make sure your custom theme development doesn’t take a turn towards a disaster held together with duct-tape and chicken wire. And in this post, I’ll be covering the first three must-have items.
1. Newsletter Popup
I’m convinced this feature is the spawn of Satan. Maybe we’ll come up with something better, but for now, it’s what we have.
You'd be surprised by the number of custom developed themes I’ve worked on that did not come with this feature. By far, this is one of the most requested features I get when I start on a new project. For someone to spend $5,000 on a custom theme and not get this included is literally insane. There’s a reason that if you lookup “Popup” on the Shopify App store that you’ll get a large number of app results: it’s a feature that’s almost a pre-requisite to having an online store. Whether you condone the use of the popup, or not, nearly every shop owner will come to a point where they at least want to test out this functionality.
Make sure the theme creator gives you the ability to set popup frequency, time on site before the popup is displayed, and the option of linking the popup content to one of your pages. See below.
2. Blog Listing on Homepage
Much like the newsletter popup, even if you don’t foresee a need for a blog, or showing off your blog on your shop’s homepage, make sure this feature is included. The direction of “engagement" continues to move like an avalanche towards content marketing. An important aspect of that is either curated articles or unique content (blogs being one idea) - and not having the ability to share that content on your homepage is more than a bit unfortunate.
Getting a built in Twitter or Instagram feed is also a bonus.
3. Flexible, Building-Block Style Homepage
Shopify is not a drag and drop platform (and that’s a good thing). However, most users don’t want to go spelunking through HTML, CSS and Liquid code to change up their homepage - and rightfully so - it’s terrifying for beginners. A handful of themes (including free Shopify themes) give you the ability to dictate which content appears first, second, third, etc., on the homepage.
Want to try out a hero-slide show in the top position, followed by some feature links, featured products, and your blog? Awesome. Want to switch that around the next week to monitor if it makes a difference in bounce rate? Easy. Well, as long as your theme accounts for it.
If there are sections for "Page Content" make sure that you can select a variety of different pages to appear on the homepage. Often you might let one be your two sentence pitch, while another may be something like a testimonial.
Again, these are not bleeding-edge features that massive companies will put a lot of worth into (although perhaps they would). Instead, the focus is on flexible and powerful tools / options that are available in premium themes available on the Shopify Theme Store, and should certainly be included were you to have one developed from the ground up.
That's going to wrap us up for the first part of this series. Out of curiosity...
What are some essential features you think should be included, or that you might request, if you were having a custom Shopify theme developed for your store?