Your Guidebook to Choosing between Free and Paid Shopify Themes

Free vs Paid Shopify Themes - which one do I go for?

The merchants based on Shopify will have the Dawn theme set up by default. Dawn it’s Shopify’s default, free theme and a great start. However, all entrepreneurs want to know what customization possibilities they have what themes they can choose from, and why. It might be overwhelming at first, with so many different options available in the Shopify Theme Store, so consider this blog as your Guidebook to choosing the right Shopify theme for your needs.

Disclaimer: We will be discussing only the themes listed in the Shopify Theme Store. If you’re interested in third-party themes, such as the ones you can find on Themeforest, give it a read on our blog: Shopify Theme Store vs ThemeForest.

I. Important definitions:

First and foremost: What is a Shopify template and how it is different from a Shopify theme? And what on earth does it mean a theme style?

A theme in Shopify is a complete design package that determines your online store's overall look and feel. Themes include sections, color schemes, font styles, and basically the structure of the website. Shopify provides a variety of free and paid themes that users can install on their store - which is the topic we are discussing in this blog. Themes control the appearance of your store across different pages, including the homepage, product pages, collection pages, and more. In short, themes are what you expect them to be: your customizable website, that you see in the “Online store” section of the Dashboard and you play with it using the Customize button.

A theme style is a variation of the theme. These styles are essentially pre-designed variations created by the theme developers to give merchants more options for quickly establishing a certain look and feel for their store without having to adjust every design element manually. So, if you see a theme you like, it usually comes with 3 different styles so you don’t have to customize it too much.  In total, there are currently 185 themes listed on the Shopify Theme Store. In reality, the 185 themes are actually about 60 themes with 3 different styles. 🔍 For example, do you know that all 8 different free themes are actually different variations of the Dawn theme?

A template in Shopify is a part of the theme. They are the individual files that control the layout for different sections of your store, such as the product page template, the homepage template, the collection page template, etc. This is why the Product Page is different from the Home Page. Since you can create different templates, you’ll find products of the same store having different layouts: this is because they are using different templates that can respond to that specific product’s needs.


II. The Guidebook: Key Considerations for Selecting the Right Shopify Theme

Now that you’re familiar with different terms and what these mean, it’s time to understand how to choose your theme. Note that each theme will come with different styles and you can test each style of a theme directly in the Shopify Theme Store in Preview mode.

Consider the following when choosing the theme you will use:

Features & Customization: Consider the level of customization you need. Do you want to create something catchy, or you’re looking for something simple that can help you launch right away? Every theme listed on Shopify has features listed down the page - take a look and see if the sections you're looking for are there. And most importantly, always preview the theme to see if you like the style and browse each page.

The right features can transform a simple shopping trip into an adventure. From advanced search options for expansive inventories to seamless navigation aids, the functionality of your theme should align with the needs of your store and your customers.

  • Free themes: They have all the basic blocks you need to build a store and display your products. There is nothing crazy, but there’s enough if you do not have a budget allocated to Design & Development, or if you feel that’s all you need. A lot of people are making a lot of sales using the free themes, but they have to invest in custom development solutions or different apps in most cases.
  • Paid themes: They come with more features and customization available. If you want to unlock a specific feeling and you have the budget to do so, use a paid theme for a more qualitative and beautiful approach. This will translate in more sales.

Pro Tip: Before you make your purchase, test the theme. You have an unlimited free trial period and you can even build your store without buying the theme. That way you can see if you have everything you need. You'll have to buy it before you publish it and make it visible to everyone, but by that time you'll already know if the theme is right for you or not.


Cost: The price of a theme varies, but the average is $300. Depending on your level of entrepreneurship and the budget allocated for design & development, you can choose a free theme on which to initially build your store and sell your products or something more sophisticated offered by premium themes. If you're looking for something on a budget, use a free theme. But keep in mind that customization will be slightly limited and you may need a developer or third-party apps to help you.

  • Free themes: $0 (who would have expected, right?)
  • Paid themes: $140 to $400

Performance: Speed is not just a luxury; it's a necessity. The quicker it is, the healthier your online presence. In 2024, patience is in short supply. A fast-loading site keeps customers engaged, boosts your SEO, and sets the tone for a smooth shopping experience. Slow speeds are the equivalent of a closed door to your visitors (and to Google's search rankings). The good news is all Shopify themes have decent speed - but some of them are known for moving faster, like Impact ($380) and all free themes! Yes, this is a huge benefit: all free themes have great speed improvements.

  • Free themes: Great speed
  • Paid themes: Great speed

Filter: Use the “Industry” filter to niche down the themes to what you’re actually looking for. You’ll find the theme styles created especially for your business type - Clothing, Makeup, Garden, you name it. It would be much easier to select a theme within your niche and imagine how your store is going to look. I also recommend the “Catalog” filter because large stores (100+ products) have completely different requirements than small ones (under 50 usually) in terms of navigation, filtering, search and product features.


Ease of Customization: Some themes will offer you more flexibility in editing the layout and style within the Theme Customizer, while others will require a developer for even smaller things, like adding padding. It’s important to test your theme out or to get in touch with professionals who can recommend the most suitable and easy-to-use themes for your needs.

  • Free themes: It might require more development work if you want to apply a more unique approach or implement features you saw in your competitors, but it is very easy to customize them. Free themes are more often customized by developers, therefore is easier and time-convenient for the developer to use it.
  • Paid themes: They are also easy to customise, but it truly depends from one theme to another. You’ll still need a developer for specific tasks or features that the theme doesn’t have. Not all developers worked with the paid themes and they might need some time to understand the code of it.

Testimonials: Look for the theme of online presence. There are communities and topics opened on platforms like Reddit and HeyCarson where other entrepreneurs and businesses share their thoughts about a specific theme and what their experience has been with it.


III. Who should opt in for a free Shopify theme?

New Entrepreneurs and Businesses with small budgets: If you're just dipping your toes into the world of eCommerce or running a small operation, a free Shopify theme can be an excellent starting point. These themes offer a straightforward, cost-effective solution to get your online store up and running without an initial investment.

Those Testing the Waters: For individuals or businesses experimenting with a new product line or market, minimizing upfront costs is often a priority. Free themes allow you to test concepts and gauge market response without committing significant resources to design and functionality. You don’t need fancy features if you’re just testing out.

Simplicity Seekers: If your store has a modest selection of products and you prefer a clean, uncluttered design, many free themes could suit your needs perfectly. These themes often focus on simplicity and ease of use, providing a seamless shopping experience without the bells and whistles of more complex themes.

Budget-Conscious Stores with Basic Needs: For stores that don't require advanced features or extensive customization, a free theme can provide the necessary functionality and aesthetic appeal without additional costs.

III. Who should opt for a paid Shopify theme?

Growing and Established Businesses: As your business grows, so do your website's demands. Paid themes typically offer a wider array of advanced features, customization options, and unique designs that can help scale your online presence, enhance brand identity, and improve user experience.

Niche Stores Requiring Specific Features: Certain businesses operate in niche markets that benefit from specialized features—like advanced filtering, unique product display options, or better international support. Paid themes are more likely to offer these specific functionalities out of the box.

Brands Seeking to Stand Out: In a crowded digital marketplace, creating a unique and memorable brand experience is crucial. Paid themes often come with more design options, finer customization controls, and unique elements that can help differentiate your store from competitors. Just look at what we did with The Pretzel Company! 🥨

Investing in Long-Term Growth: If you view your Shopify store as a long-term project with plans to expand, investing in a paid theme can provide a solid foundation. The initial cost can lead to better performance, a more professional appearance, and a tailored shopping experience that drives sales and fosters customer loyalty.

Ultimately, the decision between a free or paid Shopify theme should be based on your current business needs, future goals, and the specific functionalities that will best serve your customers. Whether you start with a free theme and later upgrade as your business evolves, or invest in a paid theme from the outset, choosing the right theme is a critical step in building a successful online store. And we will be 1-click away from tailored solutions, sales-oriented strategies and better Conversion Rates! So if you'd like to discuss with me personally or with someone else from the agency, get in touch.




May 2, 2024

Wrote by

Paul Pîrvu
Shopify Expert



May 2, 2024

Wrote by

Paul Pîrvu
Shopify Expert