A lot can change in a year or two, especially in a fast-paced, fast-growing industry like ecommerce. What seemed fresh and exciting 12 months ago—parallax, hamburger menus, ghost buttons—is now unexceptional, even outdated. In 2019, mobile is mandatory, storytelling is all-powerful, and if you aren’t making your store accessible to everyone, you’re falling behind.
For online sellers, the choice is simple: keep up or get left behind.
If you’ve been using the same theme for a year or more, you might be thinking about buying a new one. Maybe your current theme doesn’t support all the latest features. Perhaps you want more control over design and functionality. Or maybe your business has evolved and your current theme no longer reflects your brand. There can be many reasons for wanting to purchase a new theme.
Identify aspects of your current theme you want to keep
When your store starts to feel stale and outdated, it can be tempting to tear the whole thing down and start from scratch. Resist.
Before doing anything rash, you should take a step back and jot down some notes about your current theme. What’s working? What needs to change? How has your business evolved since you launched your store?
It’s important to keep a record of any edits you’ve made to your store’s template files. While you won’t lose your navigation, pages, blog posts, products, or collections by changing your theme, you will lose any revisions made to your Edit HTML/CSS and Customize theme pages.
Merchants often make on-the-fly changes to these areas and forget about them. It’s a good idea to review your code and note all the additional snippets of code that have been added.
Conduct a competitive analysis
Whether you’re selling children’s clothing, juice cleanses, or auto parts, one of the best ways to get ahead and stay relevant is by keeping an eye on your contemporaries and competitors. How else are you going to keep on top of your industry’s hot new products, revolutionary marketing techniques, and winning social media strategies?
Though it’s always good practice to keep up with the Joneses—services like TrackMaven and Visual Ping will notify you when competitors update their sites—it’s especially important before changing your Shopify theme. Look for things like how they’re displaying products, whether or not they’ve enabled ratings and reviews (if they are, read them!), which payment gateways they’re supporting, what type of navigation they’re using, and other product-specific details.
Make a list of everything your competitors are doing differently, and then ask yourself: how can I emulate what’s working?
Survey your customers to find out what they think
If you want to know how to make your store better, ask the people who use it.
Surveys are one of the best—and simplest—ways of finding out what matters to your customers. Use an email or onsite survey to ask them what they think about your online store, what’s missing, and what they’d like to see added or changed.
Don’t be surprised if they tell you something you’d never have thought of otherwise!
Know what to look for in a theme
Now that you’ve done your research and nailed down some priority features for your new theme, you’re ready to start browsing Shopify themes.
Try not to get too caught up in aesthetics. As we’ve said before: function trumps fashion. Don’t be wooed by beautiful typography and demo images you don’t own and can’t use.
Instead, stick to your list and try filtering for some of those desired features. You can also sort by industry or price point. Shopify has a rigorous submission process that ensures a high quality of design and functionality—but, like everything, you tend to get what you pay for.
Make sure your chosen theme checks all your boxes, pay attention to the reputation of the developer and their customer support, and for the love of algorithms, make sure it’s responsive!
Prepare some new content and photography
A shiny new theme can do a lot for a store, but it can’t do everything. I mean, have you ever tried putting lipstick on a pig? You can’t just splash a fresh coat of paint over your cumbersome navigation and lacklustre product photography and expect a total transformation. Even the best themes will look mediocre without a good base to work from.
Switching your Shopify theme is the perfect time to invest in high-quality, professional photography. Why? Because good photos increase conversion rates. Consumers want to be sure the product they’re looking at matches their expectations, and the bigger, clearer, and more varied the images are, the better they’re able to do that.
Create some relevant, compelling content for your blog and homepage—and then let your theme work its magic.
Take a “before” snapshot
No, we don’t mean a screenshot for nostalgia’s sake (The WayBack Machine has you covered there). We mean a snapshot of your analytics so you can eventually compare and contrast how your store performed under two different theme designs.
Look at everything, but pay particular attention to the percentage of new visits versus returning visitors, average order value, bounce rate, page views per visit, landing and exit pages, and, of course, conversion rate and total revenue. You may also want to calculate a compound metric like revenue per unique visitor or per session.
In a few months, take an “after” snapshot and see how far you’ve come. Here’s hoping it’s a long way (baby)!