custom Shopify themes vs pre-built templates

Custom Shopify Themes vs Pre-Built Templates – With Cost

Setting up an online store is as easy as it gets using Shopify. The Shopify platform makes it easy for business owners to give a look and feel to their brand online. This look and feel are defined by a theme. Shopify themes come in different shades and grades. You can use a theme that is pre-built or decide to build a custom Shopify theme for your store. Of course, the cost implication for these two methods vary. Which theme type is best for your business? You’ll find out in this article.

Types of Shopify Themes

custom Shopify themes vs pre-built themes

Shopify store owners have the option to set up their store using either of two approaches. One way is to use a pre-built template and the other is to opt for a custom theme. Each of these methods has its own features, advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s take a look at each type of theme.

Pre-Built Templates

pre-built Shopify themes

A Pre-built Shopify theme, also called template theme, is a prepackaged theme often available on the Shopify theme store. These function on a “plug and play” model. You simply have to get the template installed on your website, then plug in your store details in place of the preset dummy content.

Pre-built templates can also be sourced from outside sources other than the Shopify theme store. Sites like Themeforest and Creativemarket come to mind in this category. In these cases, you would have to upload the theme package file into your website backend. You can then install the theme and customize it to fit your business.

The Shopify theme store contains about 70 pre-built templates which can be applied to a wide variety of online businesses. Some of the templates are available for free while others are paid.


1. Ease of Use

To set up a pre-built template usually doesn’t require much technical know-how. You don’t have to know how to code before you can set up your Shopify online store. The majority of steps involved in the setup is drag and drop.

Some templates might come with features that are not useful for your online store. This might require making some edits and playing around with the settings of the template. There are several tutorial videos to help with this available on the Shopify theme store.

2. Affordability

The best way to get your business online on Shopify without breaking the bank is to go with a pre-built template. Some of the templates on the Shopify theme store are available for free. On average, the amount to spend on a pre-built template lies around $100.

3. Quick Set-up

If you’re also looking to get your store published online in the shortest time possible, a pre-built template is your best bet. Once you’ve got all your content correctly mapped out, you can set up in less than a week and go live for your customers.

4. Customization Options

Third party apps and integrations are part of the dynamics of a template theme. There’s virtually no feature you desire on your online store that there isn’t an app for. Or worst-case scenario, you’ll have to get a few code lines into the backend. Whichever way, customization is pretty much the way to go.


1. Generic

Yes, one of the big fears of using a template theme for your Shopify business is that several other business owners are doing the same. The probability that your site would look like every other site offering the same product or service is high.

2. Limited Functions

Pre-built templates come with limited functions designed to cater to the needs of a group of businesses. The design is often not specific to a business type. Even if you get a template that serves your exact business model, you most likely won’t get all the features you desire on the go.

3. No Updates for Modifications

This is one of the hardest things about using a pre-built template. If you by any chance modify the theme base code to add a needed feature, you won’t be able to update your theme from the developer any longer. This means the maintenance work for your site would rest solely on you.

4. Reduced Load Time with Modifications

Added features and improving your Shopify pre-built template requires that certain modifications be made to the base code that runs the theme. As integrations and modifications compound on your site, your Shopify theme develops what is called “code bloating.” The code running the functions gets bulkier which makes your store’s loading time longer.

Custom Themes

custom Shopify themes

As the name suggests, a custom theme, is one made specifically for your business. Instead of trying to fit your online business objectives to a theme, you instead design the theme to your specifications and business needs. Depending on how creative your designer and developer are, you can get any feature live on your Shopify store using a custom theme.


1. Functionality

The biggest edge a custom theme has is that you can get the best ratio of features to functions for your site. What does this mean? It means your online store only has features that have a function to play in your business objective and customer usability.

2. Aesthetics

Have you ever visited the online store of a major brand? Of course, you would notice that the site stands out and matches the brand’s image in all senses. The color of the theme, the functions and features, all match in the same design. That’s what aesthetics means for an online brand – the distinguishing designs and layout that makes them stand out. This is best achieved using a custom theme.

3. No Bloated Code

Code bloating is one of the underlying factors responsible for long loading time of online stores. With a custom theme, you can aim for the features you want directly thereby eliminating lag time.


1. Cost

This is the most demanding part of running a custom theme for your Shopify store. To set it up requires good capital investment often to the tune of thousands of dollars. Also, you would have to spend more on its regular maintenance and key feature updates.

2. Time Spent

Timing is a problem at the start of the journey. To get a custom theme completely designed with all the features properly functioning, you must give an allowance of at least four weeks. And many times, the whole project runs into months before your store is finally ready to launch.

Custom Shopify Theme vs Pre-Built Templates

The aim of this section is to help you make an informed decision whether to opt for a custom Shopify theme or just make do with a pre-built template for your store.

1. Pricing

A custom Shopify theme costs way more than a pre-built theme to set up. The disparity in pricing owes largely to the technical details that are implemented in a custom-made theme. The most important question to ask is how should theme pricing affect your Shopify store?

Your Shopify theme is a form of investment into your online business. Hence, the amount to spend to set one up should be determined based on the ROI you expect to generate.

Shopify recommends that businesses in this category should have a revenue not lesser than $1 million a year. This way, the cost implications for managing a customized theme is not strenuous on the business.

2. Timeline

How long would it take to get my online store ready? This is a common question; new business owners ask when they are about to open their business online. And the perspective they are often coming from is to get it done “shortest time possible.”

For Shopify beginners, it is advisable to go for the themes that can be launched in the shortest time possible, which are pre-built templates. But for more advanced stores and established businesses, a more elaborate custom theme is most preferable. Sadly, this often takes time. Hence, you need to plan ahead as a business owner.

3. Scalability

Scaling your business should always be an objective at every point in your business life. As a result, it is important to have a website that can be easily modified to suit the needs of the business at each stage.

It also applies to businesses that seek to move online from a brick-and-mortar store. In this case, the business is already established and has revenue. This will involve many technical tasks such as importing data for inventory management, integrating POS to online store data, updating customer database… Consequently, a custom theme will work more effectively.

With a pre-built template, the scalability is dependent on the number of features that can be integrated into the theme. For one, this affects the overall cost owing to incurring subscription fees. Also, like we mentioned earlier, lag sets in with more modifications.

How do custom themes fare on this end? Most custom-designed Shopify themes are easy to scale. With a proper dev team or Shopify partner handling your web maintenance, it is easier to code new features into the base of the theme without leading to more lag.

4. Functionality

The functionality of a site depends on how well the theme in use is optimized. You can design a low-cost custom theme while you can also have a properly structured pre-built template theme modified to taste.

What largely influences the functionality of a Shopify theme is the expertise of the handler. That said, you should note that custom Shopify themes give room for more features and functions than pre-built templates can offer.

For businesses seeking to migrate from another platform to Shopify. This should inform your theme choice as well. If the data from the previous site is large, then a custom theme would be the best fit.

Cost Estimation: Custom Shopify Theme vs Pre-Built Templates

cost comparison

The cost implication for choosing a Shopify theme and installing it on your online store goes beyond the direct cost of purchasing a template or for designing a custom one. We must take into consideration the extra fees attached to installation, modifications, subscriptions, and maintenance.

To get your Shopify theme up and running, whether you’re using a pre-built template or a custom theme, you need some technical expertise. However, it is possible to get a template theme fully on your Shopify site by yourself. The problem is it would only cost you your time.

But for a custom theme, it would be largely counterproductive to attempt a full setup all on your own. You would most likely need the services of a Shopify theme expert, a freelance designer, or a Shopify agency. Or just resort to hiring an in-house developer to handle all such issues for your business. In comparison, having an in-house development team is much more expensive than outsourcing to a Shopify service provider. Outsourcing is a new business model which has been adopted worldwide as it provides multiple benefits. It improves efficiency, cuts costs, speeds up product development, and allows businesses to focus on their core competencies.

Pre-built Shopify templates

For a pre-built Shopify template, you would be needing between $100 and $1k to initially launch your site with the theme. Additional costs are incurred based on any modifications and integrations made on the theme. When recurring subscription and other maintenance charges are accumulating to the range of $1k monthly, you should consider moving to a custom theme.

Custom Shopify themes

Custom Shopify themes come in grades and sophistication levels, determined by the skillfulness of the designers in charge. If you decide to work with individuals; freelance, you should have a budget between $1,000 to $10,000. Agencies, however, charge more. Starting from anywhere around $5,000 and can reach up to a hundred thousand USD. It all depends on what you want to get done, how and when you want it done.

How to Get a Quality Shopify Theme

Laying your hands on a quality Shopify theme should be an objective on its own when you’re just launching your store online. The quality of your user interface is tied to the quality of your theme. So, if you want your customers to get attracted to your online store, get a quality Shopify theme first.

How do you get a quality Shopify theme? Yet again, it boils down to the theme developers. Let’s take a brief look at the different options you can explore.

For quality pre-built themes

1. Source theme developers

Theme developers are specialized teams that have perfected the craft of creating generic and specific pre-built Shopify themes. These guys have studied various business models and have developed themes to serve different business objectives.

They offer these themes for sale at fair prices. This is not a bad investment path for a new business owner who needs to stand out from the pack. Great theme developers can be easily found on the Shopify experts site.

2. Get theme customization experts

Several experts from the Shopify theme experts page specialize in theme modification. So, if you would be opting for a pre-built template, you can always hire an expert to help reconfigure your theme into something fit for your business. This shouldn’t cost you anything near $1,000. A price more than that would be defeating the purpose of a template theme.

Options for a Custom Shopify Theme

1. In-house staffing

This is the most direct method and arguably the most effective (if you can get quality talent). An in-house staff would understand your business better than most contractual workers. Hence, you can easily layout the big online store plan and patiently work towards it. Bear in mind that the average UI/UX developer to fill in this role bags around $70k a year in the US.

2. Hire freelance developers

There are several freelance marketplaces laden with both fresh and experienced talents who can get the job done for you. While it is possible to find cheap talent in marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr, you should bear in mind that it takes proper scrutiny to find the right man for the job. In all, you should prepare a budget between $1,000 and $5,000 for such a position.

3. Hire Shopify experts

Shopify experts are talented minds that are approved by Shopify as being able to cater to all of your custom Shopify theme needs. These set of developers are specialized on handling jobs on Shopify. You’ve next to nothing to worry about when it comes to getting the job done. To even better your chances of success, you can hire experts who major in stores in your business category.

4. Outsource from Shopify development agencies

Shopify development agencies have the advantage of working as a team; they have more expert hands on deck and they can get the job done faster. Of course, the cost of using an agency varies depending on the complexity of your desired custom theme. If after you contact them and negotiate the terms, you can easily afford an agency service like HappyPoints after cost-benefit evaluation, then you should totally go for it. You can also find Shopify agencies on these B2B platforms, which are Clutch, 99firms, Goodfirms, Platpick, CrunchBase, CrowdReviews.


Giving your Shopify store a brand identity goes beyond just making a logo or creating a fantastic product. Getting your online store right is as vital to the process. And therefore, you must employ the absolute best Shopify theme you can get at each stage of your business for best ROI.

Looking for a Shopify Development Agency to customize your store’s theme or build a theme from your own design? Contact HappyPoints, we are happy to answer any of your questions and inquiries.