Building a new business of any type is difficult. You’ll have to put in a lot of time, make a monetary investment, and take some real risks.
But in 2020, starting an online store is much easier than a business that requires a storefront. That’s in part because of the availability of a wide array of online store templates.
What Is an Online Store Template?
An online store template or theme is a pre-made web design that provides a basic structure and look and feel for a website. Starting from an online template saves a lot of time and effort, because you don’t have to build an online store from scratch. Instead you can customize your website by making tweaks to an existing design.
Online themes and templates exist for all kinds of websites, but online store templates specifically provide some of the pages and features common to eCommerce websites.
An online store template will usually come with at least a pre-built home page, product page design, and menu structure. You can update the color scheme, load your own images, fill in unique copy, add your inventory, and create any additional pages you need. But because the design is already there, you skip all the initial steps that would be required to build an entirely unique website.
Benefits of Using Online Store Templates
The biggest benefits of using an online store template are speed and cost. Templates give you a head start versus if you were starting an online store from nothing. Because a chunk of the work is already done for you, you can get a website up and running much faster. And because you don’t have to hire a designer to create the eCommerce website for you, you can potentially save thousands of dollars in development costs.
In addition, most of the available online store themes are designed by skilled professionals. They incorporate user experience (UX) and design best practices that ensure your website will work well for visitors. And because mobile websites are the norm now, you can easily find online store templates that are responsive or otherwise mobile friendly.
If you’re worried that using an online template will make your website look like a cookie-cutter copy of other websites, you can fix that easily. By changing up the design to suit your needs—new colors, new images, etc.—you can ensure your website provides a unique experience, even if the structure it’s built on is the same that other websites have used.
What to Consider When Choosing an Online Store Template
For an online store template to make your life easier and enable you to build the eCommerce website you really want, you need to find the right one. And you’ll quickly realize just how many online store templates are out there to choose from.
To help you narrow it down, keep a few key considerations top of mind in your search.
One of the big benefits of our modern reality is access to loads of technological tools that solve all types of problems. A big downside is those tools don’t always play well together. Compatibility issues are a common part of life, and one that can cause problems with your eCommerce site if you don’t start thinking about them from day one.
Before you select a template, make sure it will work with the platform, website builder, or content management system (CMS) you plan to use. And if you already know what eCommerce software options you intend to invest in, make sure it’s compatible with those too.
A design close to your vision
While you’ll want to take steps to turn your template into a unique website that accurately reflects your business, your job will be a lot easier if you pick a template that looks close to what you want the end result to look like. This is especially true when it comes to the design structure. Changing out images and colors will be easier than rearranging how pages are designed and organized.
When reviewing your options, go with a template that you already like the look of. Customizing it will be faster and easier if the basics are already in place.
A responsive design
Most online traffic now comes from mobile devices. No matter what you sell, having a mobile-friendly website is a must. This isn’t new though, so web designers have been thinking in mobile-friendly terms for years. Almost any online store template you consider will be mobile friendly, and in most cases it will be responsive.
But before you commit to one, make sure. A website that doesn’t work on mobile is a big liability these days. Starting from a responsive template will ensure you don’t have to do anything extra for your website to work as well for mobile users as desktop ones.
Basic eCommerce functionality
While a lot of different website templates are available, not all of them are designed for eCommerce websites. When you’re building an online store, you want a template that provides basic eCommerce features, like product page templates. Also make sure it offers the ability to connect to payment processing software, and eCommerce software that enables you to set up a checkout process and allow account creation.
Look for advanced eCommerce options
Also check to see if your template will make it easy for you to set up advanced eCommerce features, such as providing related product recommendations, suggested upsells, and the ability to accept coupons. These kinds of features can help you increase sales and profits, and some templates will be better suited to enabling them than others.
Room to grow
Before settling on a template, check to see if it places a limit on the number of pages you can add to your website, or the number of products you can load. And if it’s a free template, consider if it comes with a tradeoff that dilutes your own branding, such as having someone else’s logo on the page. In some cases, that may be worth it. But if you’re hoping to build a successful business that will grow over time, it can hurt your branding efforts.
eCommerce templates come at a variety of price points. You can even find many that are free, especially if they come as an add-on to another service you purchase, such as a website builder. Paid online store templates often provide additional features that can make your website more powerful, or make building it out easier on you.
Most paid online store templates are under $100, often less than $50, so it’s a reasonable investment for most new eCommerce business owners.
Security and Updates
Because eCommerce stores collect sensitive information through the website, security is of utmost importance. The developers of website templates and themes often release updates to patch up security vulnerabilities they find. Choosing a template from a reputable source that built it with proper security for eCommerce is important. And finding out if making updates to it as they come out is easy is also worth looking into.
Many free templates won’t come with customer support. That’s one of the tradeoffs of not paying. But paid templates often do. If you anticipate wanting a bit of extra hand holding when building your online store, check if the creator of your template provides support for it.
WordPress WooCommerce Online Store Themes to Consider
WordPress is the most popular option for building websites in the world, and WooCommerce is the main go-to eCommerce software for WordPress sites. For a good number of website owners, finding the right WooCommerce theme will help lead you toward the best online store template for your needs.
A note on terms here: a theme isn’t exactly the same thing as a template. The words are often used interchangeably, but in some cases WordPress themes are more expansive than one template. Some of these themes include multiple template options, particularly those that are paid themes.
4 Best Free WooCommerce Themes
Be aware that while these four WooCommerce online store themes are all free, they often have extensions or additional templates that cost extra. If sticking to a tight budget is important to you, then check on what functionality is free and what comes at an added cost before making your decision.
Storefront is a popular choice because it was made by the same developer team that created WooCommerce. You can count on the two to always work seamlessly together, even right after a new WooCommerce update. Storefront is responsive, and provides key eCommerce options such as the ability to display top rated, recently viewed, and discounted products.
Astra claims to be the fastest-growing theme of all time, with over a million users. The Astra theme comes with a number of starter template options, and a visual customizer that makes updating the visual design of your online store easy.
eStore is a free theme from ThemeGrill that offers a clean, minimalist design. The theme promises fast loading times and easy customization options. The free version comes with one template, but you can upgrade to one of several additional options.
Flash is another free theme from ThemeIsle with a fairly simplistic design. It offers the same features and performance promises that eStore does, but brings a different stylistic vibe to the starter templates available. As with eStore, you get one free eCommerce template option, or can upgrade to one of the premium templates available.
4 Best Paid WooCommerce Themes
Paid WooCommerce themes usually come with more features and options from the get-go, and fewer that you have to pay extra for. For many eCommerce businesses, investing in a paid theme upfront will make more sense than starting with a free one and potentially having to pay for more features and templates as you go.
Divi, a theme from Elegant Themes, is advertised as the most popular WordPress theme in the world. Starting at $89 a year (or less if you can catch a discount, Divi comes with over 800 pre-made website designs, although only a subset of those are for eCommerce websites. Divi’s advanced visual builder offers convenient options like bulk editing, and eye-catching visual features like effects. Divi also comes with a number of modules for common website features like testimonials, sliders, and forms.
Shoppe, a theme from Themify, starts at $59 a year. The theme comes with an array of theme skins (essentially different visual templates), a number of easy layout options, and a drag-and-drop builder. It also provides an array of eCommerce options, such as a wishlist feature, a gallery slider, and image zoom.
Shoptimizer is a theme from Commerce Gurus that promises speed and features to help with conversions. It starts at $99 a year, unless you grab it during a sale ($49 at the time of this writing). It claims to be the fastest WooCommerce theme available. And it features design elements that, according to research, increase your likelihood of earning purchases and other conversions.
Amaryllis is an eCommerce theme with a simple, photo-focused design. The theme starts at $49 a year, and comes with premium support, custom widgets you can use to add functionality, and speed optimization.
Finding Website Builder Online Store Templates
While all of these templates are designed to be relatively easy to use, building a site with WordPress still requires some skill to create and maintain. If you’re brand new to creating an eCommerce website, you may want to consider investing in a website builder that makes it even easier to get started.
Most modern website builders come with responsive themes, and a drag-and-drop builder that makes customization easy even for beginners. If you go this route, you want to be sure and pick a website builder that includes eCommerce templates and either comes with eCommerce functionality or is compatible with software that provides it.
Consider perusing the template options that come with a website builder in advance. If you can find one that focuses on the type of product you sell, or otherwise comes pretty close to looking like the website you want, you’ll get your website up faster and with less work.
Which Online Store Template Will You Choose?
When one of the hard parts of starting a new eCommerce website is choosing from the wealth of template options, you’re in a good place. Enough else about running a business is hard. Let the website part be easy.
Find an online store template that gets you close to where you want your website to be, then customize it to your heart’s content. You’ll get your website up faster, which will mean starting to make sales sooner. And if you choose the right design, you’ll know your website was built with up-to-date UX best practices that will improve its performance.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.