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Shopify Theme vs. Custom Development: Pros and Cons

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By Sam Nguyen

CEO Avada Commerce

Drive 20-40% of your revenue with Avada
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In the bustling world of e-commerce, the appearance and functionality of your online store can significantly impact your success. One critical decision that every Shopify merchant must make is whether to use a pre-designed Shopify theme or opt for custom development. The decision between using Shopify themes or opting for custom development comes with advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately, your selection will be influenced by your individual requirements and situation.

Understanding Shopify themes

Shopify themes are professionally designed templates created to give your online store a polished and appealing look. As of now, Shopify’s official theme store offers more than 70 premium and free themes, all tailored to suit a wide range of industries, aesthetics, and business sizes. In fact, according to a report by BuiltWith, as of 2023, approximately 48% of all Shopify stores use a theme from the Shopify Theme Store, a testament to their popularity and widespread use.

These themes are further divided into different styles, amounting to over 140 unique designs. They cater to various sectors, including fashion, health & beauty, home & furniture, arts & photography, and more. Each theme comes with a unique set of features and customizable settings, ensuring that merchants can mold their storefronts to match their brand personality and requirements.

Popular options include ‘Debut’, ‘Venture’, and ‘Boundless’, each providing a different set of aesthetics and capabilities. For instance, ‘Debut’ is a flexible, minimal design theme perfect for brands ready to scale, while ‘Venture’ is a bold yet sleek theme designed for stores with a large inventory, such as sports equipment stores. ‘Boundless,’ on the other hand, is characterized by its minimal UI and emphasis on photography, making it ideal for stores with medium to large inventories.

Pros of using Shopify themes


Perhaps one of the most attractive advantages of using Shopify themes is their unparalleled ease of use. Shopify’s intuitive platform allows anyone, regardless of their technical prowess, to establish a fully functioning online store with minimal effort. Each theme offers a plethora of customization options with simple drag-and-drop interfaces and straightforward setting configurations. This ensures that merchants can focus more on their business operations and less on the complexities of web development.


Building an online store from scratch can incur significant costs, especially for new and small businesses. Shopify themes provide a cost-efficient solution to this predicament. There is a wide range of free themes available that are high quality and visually appealing. Moreover, for those desiring enhanced functionalities and premium designs, paid themes are also available at a fraction of the cost of a custom website.

Range of design options

With over 70 themes available on Shopify’s theme store, merchants are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a design that resonates with their brand image. Be it a sleek, modern look for tech products, a vibrant, playful theme for children’s apparel, or a minimalist, elegant design for high-end jewelry - there’s a Shopify theme to suit every requirement.

Updates and support

Shopify’s themes come with a promise of regular updates and dedicated support. This ensures that your store remains compatible with the latest features and functions released by Shopify, enhancing your website’s performance and security. Moreover, you have the backing of a supportive community and a team of Shopify experts to assist you should you encounter any issues or need help fine-tuning your theme.


Shopify themes are designed to be SEO-friendly. They follow the best practices for SEO, which can improve your site’s visibility on search engine results and attract more organic traffic. This is crucial in the digital age, where online visibility can significantly impact sales and growth.


In today’s mobile-first world, having a website that’s optimized for mobile devices is non-negotiable. Luckily, all Shopify themes are mobile-responsive, ensuring your store looks and works perfectly across all devices, thereby enhancing user experience and potentially boosting sales.

Cons of using Shopify themes

Lack of uniqueness

While Shopify themes provide a multitude of design options, it’s important to remember that they are used by thousands of other merchants. This could result in your store looking very similar to many others, potentially diluting your brand identity. If creating a completely unique user experience is your goal, you might find Shopify themes somewhat limiting.

Limited customization

Although Shopify themes offer customization options, there may be constraints when it comes to fulfilling specific, advanced functionality requirements. For example, if you want to integrate unique third-party apps, add advanced filters, or modify the checkout process, you might face limitations. The customization is bound within the set structure of the theme, which can restrict unique or complex changes.

Dependent on theme developers

Using a Shopify theme means you’re dependent on the theme developer for updates, fixes, and improvements. While developers usually provide updates and support, there might be instances when you have to wait for them to fix bugs or add new features. Also, if the developer discontinuities the theme, you might have to switch themes, which could entail additional effort and costs.

Potential additional costs

Although Shopify themes are affordable initially, there can be additional costs involved. If you decide to purchase a premium theme, hire a full stack developer for customization, or purchase add-on features or apps for specific functionalities, costs can add up quickly.

Performance variations

Although Shopify themes are generally optimized for speed and performance, this can vary between themes. Some themes, especially those with more advanced features and higher levels of customization, might have slower load times. Remember, site speed is a critical factor in user experience and SEO, so choosing a theme that balances aesthetics and performance is crucial.

Limited control over SEO factors

Although Shopify themes are SEO-friendly, they may lack some advanced SEO features or flexibility compared to custom development. For example, Shopify’s URL structures are not customizable, which may not be ideal for some SEO strategies.

Understanding custom development

Professional expertise

Custom development typically demands the proficiency of seasoned web developers, preferably with an understanding of Shopify’s proprietary templating language, Liquid. These specialists bring your vision to life, creating a unique store that is in sync with your brand’s identity and business objectives.

Fully customizable

With custom development, the possibilities for customization are virtually limitless. You can dictate every aspect of your website’s appearance and functionality, from the color scheme and typography to the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). This level of control ensures your online store is a true reflection of your brand.

Tailored user experience

The ability to customize the user journey is a distinct advantage of custom development. By gaining valuable insights into your target audience’s behavior and preferences, you can craft a unique shopping experience that is precisely tailored to meet their specific needs and expectations. This can potentially enhance customer satisfaction, improve conversion rates, and foster customer loyalty.

Advanced features and integrations

Custom development allows you to add unique features and integrations that are specific to your business operations. For instance, if you run a subscription-based business, you could have a custom-built subscription management system. Or, if your store serves an international audience, you can add advanced multi-language and multi-currency features.


When it comes to scalability, custom-built Shopify stores excel in providing the flexibility and adaptability needed for a growing business. These stores are designed with scalability in mind, allowing you to easily adjust and expand your website as your business evolves. Whether it’s handling increased website traffic, accommodating a larger product catalog, or integrating additional services, a custom-built Shopify store can seamlessly scale to meet your growing demands

Pros of custom development

Highly personalized and unique design

Perhaps the most obvious advantage of custom development is the ability to create a Shopify store that is one of a kind. With a unique design that mirrors your brand’s personality, you can differentiate your business from competitors and create a memorable shopping experience for your customers.

Advanced functionality and features

Custom development enables you to incorporate advanced features and functionalities into your store that might not be possible with a standard Shopify theme. This might include anything from complex product configurations, integrated blogs or forums, or personalized customer accounts.

Scalability and flexibility

Custom-developed Shopify stores offer exceptional scalability, providing a solid foundation for businesses with ambitious growth plans. As your business evolves, your custom-built store can easily adapt to new requirements, whether that involves adding new product lines, accommodating increased traffic, or expanding into new markets.

Control over updates and modifications

With a custom-developed store, you maintain full control over updates and modifications. You can decide when to update your site and what changes to implement, without worrying about the restrictions typically associated with pre-designed themes.

SEO advantage

Unlock the potential of your custom-built website with remarkable SEO advantages. Craft your site’s architecture and navigation to seamlessly captivate search engines, amplifying your online visibility in search results and attracting a flood of organic traffic.

Long-term investment

While custom development might require a higher initial investment, it could prove to be more cost-effective in the long run. By investing in a store that is designed to meet your specific needs and can grow with your business, you could save on the costs of frequent redesigns or the addition of third-party apps to add functionality to a pre-designed theme.

Cons of custom development

Higher costs

Custom development is more expensive compared to using a Shopify theme. From hiring experienced developers to investing time in planning and executing the design, the costs can quickly add up. Therefore, it might not be the most economical choice for small businesses or startups on a tight budget.

Longer setup time

Unlike ready-made themes that can be set up in a matter of hours, custom development involves a longer process. The process of planning, designing, developing, and testing a custom store can take at least weeks or longer, based on the project complexity. If you’re looking to launch your online store swiftly, custom development might not be the best route.

Requires ongoing maintenance

Just like any other bespoke software, a custom-developed Shopify store will need regular updates and maintenance to keep it running smoothly and securely. This means you’ll need to factor in ongoing maintenance costs, which can be significant if you’re relying on external developers.

Dependency on professional developers

With custom development, you’ll likely need to hire a professional developer or agency, which comes with its own set of challenges. Finding a reliable, skilled, and affordable developer or team can take time. Plus, there’s a level of dependency on them for updates, changes, or fixes, which could be inconvenient in the long run.

Increased complexity

A custom-built store, while being more powerful and flexible, can also be more complex to manage. For instance, adding new products or updating content might not be as straightforward as with a Shopify theme.

Deciding between Shopify theme and custom development


The financial aspect is perhaps one of the most crucial factors. Shopify themes are typically less expensive and offer a great starting point for startups and small businesses. Custom development, although costlier, might be an investment worth considering for larger businesses or those aiming for a unique and high-end online storefront.


If you’re keen on launching your online store quickly, a Shopify theme would be an ideal choice, thanks to their plug-and-play nature. Custom development, requiring more time for designing and coding, is a more long-term project. Technical skills Are you comfortable managing and updating your store, or would you need technical assistance? Shopify themes are generally more user-friendly, even for non-technical users. In contrast, managing a custom-built store might require technical knowledge or support.

Unique needs and long-term goals

If your business has unique requirements or ambitious scalability plans, custom development might be worth considering. A custom-built store can provide a level of flexibility and functionality that pre-built themes may not be able to offer.

Brand identity and customer experience

If creating a unique brand identity and superior user experience is your top priority, custom development can give you the edge. Although Shopify themes provide various customization options, they might not offer the level of uniqueness that a custom-designed store can.


In conclusion, the decision between Shopify themes and custom development should be based on your individual business needs, resources, and future goals. It’s all about finding the right balance that will enable your online store to flourish. Consider consulting with e-commerce and development professionals to better understand what each option could mean for your business. By doing so, you can ensure you’re making a choice that supports your business’s growth and success in the long run.