Where to Start When Choosing a Theme for Your WooCommerce Online Store

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If you have any experience putting together or planning for a WordPress site, you know that choosing a theme can be overwhelming.

There are simple themes, niche themes, themes for businesses, and themes focused on calls-to-action, not to mention tools like theme builders and page builders. And the list goes on.

But when you are looking for that one perfect theme for your WooCommerce online store, the task can even be more of a challenge, because heck, this is your store and it needs to take the customer through the process of buying your products in the easiest and fastest way.

There Are a Lot of Themes Out There

So let’s look at the broad expanse of WordPress eCommerce themes. For example, if you go to WordPress.org and do a filter search with eCommerce, you will get 800+ themes to choose from. If you Google eCommerce WordPress themes, the results go up exponentially — to 32 million plus.

Or how about that question that I see over and over and over in Facebook groups. It might go something like this…

Hey everyone, I am building an online store where I will be selling my jewelry. What theme do you recommend?

Yep, that’s it. And what an open question. Now this person likely will get dozens of replies from people suggesting their own themes, their favorite themes or something they recently used. Truth be known, this usually confuses the person more than helps them.

I have written a lot of posts on this subject. I’ve created several tutorials and even given workshops and talks focused solely on themes. Finding that perfect theme can’t be summed up in a single show, nor is there a silver bullet to finding it.

You see, eCommerce sites have too many variables to make it as easy as one-theme-fits-all. It’s tough enough to find the one you want to present your business, but throwing in the mix of selling products adds on layers of things to think through before we make that final decision.

Choosing That WordPress Theme for Your WooCommerce Online Store or eCommerce Site

To help you at least get started on the right path, here are seven questions that you can ask yourself as you make your way through the maze of themes.

Should you use a free or premium theme?

This is a question that has been asked since I first started teaching WordPress. And to be honest, there are no straight answers.

Common sense is the investment you are putting into your online store. The distinction between free and premium themes is support and updates. When you pay for a theme, you are more guaranteed to get continued and prompt support as well as updates. With a free theme, we never know when a dev will suddenly drop updates or if the support is sketchy.

But at the same time, the Storefront theme from WooCommerce is the best free theme you can find for WooCommerce. There are a couple of reasons why this free theme is exceptional. It’s built by WooCommerce and it also has several premium add-ons that extend its features.

As far as the premium themes go, the sky’s the limits. For some smaller eCommerce sites, I have found some of the themes from StudioPress are good and solid, only because I have had a lot of experience with those. On the other hand, when looking for something more robust and customizable, many of my trusted colleagues recommend the Astra Theme which is built specifically for WooCommerce.

But again, there are a ton of options out there for you. Your best bet is to ask around, get ideas from trusted friends and colleagues, and read the reviews.

Should I use that slider that came with the theme or install one?

Sliders are still common to see on online stores and included in eCommerce themes. At first glance as an online shop owner, you might be impressed with the large visual highlighting a few of your featured products. In reality, sliders don’t always work the way you hope, especially for your users. Studies have shown that you lose more visitors when they hit a slider. Conversions go down and what you thought was a cool visual ends up being a roadblock.

Some time back, I watched a video that had some good food for thought on sliders: A brick-and-mortar store rigged one of the walls in their shop so that as people started viewing the clothes, the wall moved away and a second wall slid into place — stocked with all new items. Shoppers surprisingly watched as the shirt they were interested in slipped out of their hands only to be replaced by new choices. The point is that the abandonment rate is already high for online shoppers without pulling away something they actually might have wanted to purchase.

So think about it. Think how you as a shopper react to sliders. Do you really need this distraction or are you looking for a specific product and the easier the site makes it to find it, the better? Sliders may work okay on other pages, but on the homepage, they can be a killer.

How does your homepage present your store?

The layout of the homepage is going to be critical here. Even though many people will land on specific product pages — either through searches or external links — a good number of people will still end up on your homepage as first-time visitors. We’ve already talked about the dangers of sliders and their potential for losing some customers along the way. Now let’s look at some other issues.

In closing an effective homepage, the first thing you need to do is be very clear about is what you are selling. Secondly, you need to decide how many products you will show and which will be the ones you want people to see first. Also assess whether the layout gives single product options. Is it able to visually present categories, which is one of the best ways to organize your products?

The homepage can be the most confusing part of any eCommerce WordPress theme because you don’t always know exactly what you can do by just looking at the demo. Some layouts are constructed in stone. Other themes may give you a home page consisting of widgets, which give you a little more flexibility. Still others are more like page builders, letting you create your own custom homepage without knowing code. The options are practically endless.

Can shoppers find what they want easily?

When considering an eCommerce WordPress theme, look for easy navigation. Because shoppers are on a mission when they visit your store. They want to get in, make their purchase and get out. So look at things like where menus can be placed and the location of the sidebars and other widget areas. And if you have a larger online store, you might want to take advantage of a mega menu. Some developers and designers are critical of them, but if well designed, they can help your customers move around your site much easier. Navigation placement is critical to helping your customers find exactly what they want, when they want it.

Again, navigation is a huge factor. Keep in mind that just because your theme has tons of spots to include links to products and menus, this doesn’t mean you need to use them all. Remember that the fewer clicks it takes for someone to find a specific product, the better. Don’t overwhelm them with choices or divert their attention from making a purchase.

Do your theme and eCommerce plugin play well together?

A theme may be built specifically for eCommerce— or not. These days, there a lot of themes that work very well with WooCommerce. But not every theme works out of the box. You may need to add an additional plugin or a snippet of code. The compatibility challenges can range from minor issues to your site not working at all.

Another frustration is that the product page will look different depending on your theme. Images and font styles and sizes may be bigger or smaller. Prices may not be formatted like you had hoped. Or you may find that words are broken up, making the text unreadable. Often the theme’s styles will override the plugin just to make it look better.

So choose carefully and do your research.

Is your theme mobile-friendly?

We all know that your website needs to be mobile-friendly these days. But with an online store, it is even more critical. The number of people shopping on their smartphones has exploded over the last few years and will only continue to grow. And though it seems safe to assume that all themes are mobile-responsive, there are probably still some that don’t work as well as they should.

This is something thing I hear a lot with online shoppers: the challenges of buying online with their smartphones. In fact, on this show when I have asked guests in the past about their frustrations with shopping online, the challenge of non-mobile friendly sites comes up frequently.

Your best bet is to make sure your theme is mobile responsive —and that it works well with WooCommerce. Some people will choose to go the app route, bu,t unless you are a big-box store, most people won’t add yet another app to their phone just to buy stuff from your site. In a nutshell, your online store must be mobile-friendly in order for you to survive in today’s world.

Out-of-the-box Page Builders or Customized Themes?

Again, this is a huge question and something you really need to think through. When I used to coach small businesses, I recommended out-of-the-box themes, and plugins to enable customizations like styling. But when it comes to the WooCommerce site it may bet a bit harder to recommend out-of-the-box themes.

Instead, you may choose to go with a page or site builder to get a unique layout. There are several of them, such as Beaver Builder that includes WooCommerce modules. Page builders are great for non-coders to attain a customized layout, but there are two things to consider. If you are using a page builder, you need to understand design and the user experience. Sometimes having too much flexibility can leave you with a site that gives your customers a cumbersome or overwhelming experience.

Overall, there are just so many variables when it comes to a WooCommerce site. If you are selling a few products, sure an eCommerce-centric theme will probably do the trick (or a page builder, if done right). But in most cases, you are going to find yourself needing some customizations or, more frustrating, realizing that you cannot get exactly what you want without going to a fully customized site.

Whatever decision you make, take your time. This is your store, your livelihood, and you don’t want to cut corners or make costly mistakes.

I have just touched the tip of the iceberg here with these tips to help you get started. And, as always, it’s a good idea to take your time to do the research and get help from friends and colleagues — people you know and trust.

2 Comments

  1. Bud Kraus on October 28, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    2 points I could not resist making:

    1. I think Sliders must die but it is the single hardest thing I have run into advising clients NOT to use it. And this is even after they’ve admitted to never having clicked on a CTA in a slider.

    2. While a theme may be mobile friendly too often one may be using a plugin that is not. Careful on the choice of a plugin which may not be responsive.

    • BobWP on October 28, 2018 at 2:14 pm

      I just knew you wouldn’t be able to resist 🙂

      I agree, overall sliders don’t work. In fact, I personally don’t like them at all.

      I tried to be open-minded there but also giving an example of how visitors usually react. As I said, on the homepage they can be killers. Maybe inside on a page, for a gallery, they might work okay. I think like anything, if someone is tempted they should test, test and test more.

      As far as a mobile, that is a good point. The importance of having your online store work on smart phones are essential. So I would suggest, again, test and test more. If a plugin doesn’t work on mobile, and you are running an online store, I consider this important enough to find a plugin that will work.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bud.

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