I think none of us would be comfortable wearing clothes available in just one size. They’d be too big for some, and too tight for the others. A bit loose here and there, they could accentuate the imperfections of our bodies that we’d rather forget about. We’d all look alike and probably wouldn’t feel particularly good in our own skin. Websites and online stores are no different – every deficiency or excess may be enough to lose customers.
If so, why do we like to buy ready-made website themes so much?
One-off pain reliever
Just like painkillers help us forget for a while about swollen ankle or headache, a ready-made website temporarily solves the problem of a good-looking and functional online store. Temporarily because the problem always comes back like a boomerang. In step with the growth of your shop and brand awareness, a simple template is no longer sufficient. It begins to burst at the seams. Sales and statistics drop when your clients start shopping in more modern, better-suited stores. Additional plugins and tools help some attract new customers, while others try to save their skin with countless discounts and sales. Yet every day they stray further from their customers.
There’s a good reason why website templates are cheap. Sure, at early stages of business development they help you get started with your idea and start selling in a very short time. However, you quickly realize that they lack many useful features and personalization options which hurts not just the user experience on your site, but also the image of your brand as a whole. You cannot add Instagram photos to the footer (despite spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars for an agency that polished them to perfection), send reminders for abandoned carts and prominently display a banner linked to the newest promotion.
A template so ready that it hurts
My brother used to make cardboard models. For long hours he would glue together various parts of tanks and airplanes and cars and paint damp patches on them with the tiniest brush in the world. I have always admired his patience and precision. The final effect was incredible but in order to achieve it, my brother always had to follow the instruction. There was no aberrancy or variations that would allow him to change or glue something differently. The model was finished – both literally and figuratively.
I guess we can compare a website theme to a cardboard model. It must be put together which requires time and plenty of work. Most themes must be installed and configured and the process is usually more time-consuming than coding a simple yet unique website designed by professionals. Many bad things may happen along the way; like an accidentally torn part of a cardboard model, certain element of the template may turn out to be bugged or out of date. By implementing it, we risk losing time, money, and energy.
Most themes must be installed and configured and the process is usually more time-consuming than coding a simple yet unique website (…)
Even if we manage to successfully install and configure a template, our personalization options are rather limited. Most templates allow you to change colors and upload the logo of your company but that’s it. Without coding skills you will not be able to change the look of buttons, icons or layout for key elements of the site. In effect the store will seem terrifyingly similar to 99% of others based on the same template. In that case, how will your customer recognize and remember your brand?
Client expectations continue to grow, branding included. Choice of products and timely delivery are no longer enough for online shoppers. Purchasing wares at your store should be a pleasant and well-thought-out experiences. Ready-made templates rarely come with options that help you optimize user experience on the site. They have basic elements that may do the job but lack tools to enhance your company’s branding. Stores built using these templates are just… stores. Customers come, buy (or not), and go. They have no opportunity to remember the brand, get to know their values and start identifying themselves with them. A brand with just a logo and ready-made online store theme has little chance to become someone’s favorite. Competitive pricing is not enough to get a client – online stores must offer some type of experience.
Unique design means better UX
This is exactly the goal what we had in mind while working on an online store for a beauty supplement brand ZOJO. Actually, it’s more of a website than online store. All sales-oriented parts are strongly accentuated but not more important than the brand itself. Texts, unique images from a professional photo session, and custom icons create the atmosphere of a brand that finds continuation in its products.
We started the design process by taking a close look at business and image goals for ZOJO. As a new brand, it had to position itself on the market – hence prominent exposition of the About us, Ambassadors, and In the media pages in the design. Support of well-known celebrities and industry magazines helps build trust. To enhance this effect, we designed many additional modules linked to contents vital to the brand’s image.
All parts of ZOJO’s website have been designed and coded by us from the scratch. It allowed us to maintain control over their look and behavior. We made sure that they fit the identity of the brand and are consistent with its values. Product portfolio was a very particular challenge. Every collection of ZOJO’s beauty supplements is unique and demanded a proper presentation within the design. We decided to display them in a form of a category page with distinctive icons and descriptions – such solution would not be possible for most ready-made templates that can show product as either list or grid.
We included additional UX solutions in the design that helped bring more sales to ZOJO’s online store. We implemented special discounts for newsletter subscribers, reminders for abandoned carts, and video on every product page that shows ZOJO supplements in use. Checkout process – key element of every online store – has been designed in alignment with ZOJO’s visual identity. All elements are large and legible, the amount of white space helps calm down the senses, and stepped checkout allows customers to focus on completing the order. Had we used a template, without making additional time-consuming changes to the site’s code we’d have to stick with the default checkout process that very rarely is based on user-research and best UX practices.
How to check if a website is built on a template?
Many small stores that we used on a daily basis are built on a template. Larger and better known brands invested in custom designs which doubtlessly helped them grow and gain popularity. After all a website is no different from a store window – attractive display will bring in more customers than a simple sign.
If you’re curious how many websites that you like are based on a template, inspect their source code. In most web browsers you only have to click the right mouse button and choose option „Show source” or „Show source code” from the context menu that appears. Do not be afraid when a seemingly endless wall of code fills your screen – it’s very friendly! Use the search on a page feature (Ctrl + F or Cmd + F) to look for words like „templates”, „themes”, or „skins”. If they’re there, you can be sure that the website was built on a template.
Use this trick often and you’ll learn that all your favorite sites and stores are not based on a ready-made theme, but custom-built from the ground up.
Pros and cons
Templates only seem cheaper. They require additional investment of time and money to install and configure them. However, they’re easy to get and let you kickstart your idea in a very short time. It’s a perfect solution for companies that want to launch an experiment and find out how to market reacts to it. Mature companies that rely on online stores as the main source of income understand that ready-made templates put too much limit on their growth.
On the other hand, customer design offers plenty of possibility. It allows the designer to personalize almost every tiny bit, helping increase the awareness of your brand in the eyes of customers. You can mistake a custom-built shop with any other. It’s recognizable at first sight and tailored to measure. It is not, however, a perfect solution – to offer your customers great UX you must be prepared to pay more than a couple dollars for a ready-made template. Custom design requires the involvement of a researcher and at least one designer. Creating it takes more time and money and launch rarely happens sooner than a few weekend after completing the design. Unique online store is a solution for conscious and ambitious companies that expect fast pace of growth.
Designed for the future
The biggest flaws of any ready-made template is difficult configuration and inability to make changes as your business grows. That’s not the case with unique, custom-built design that is independently implemented by a group of specialists. The client doesn’t have to arrow about anything because the final product is a fully functional online store fit for his or hers needs.
Given that a custom design is made from scratch and can be easily tweaked, designers can observe user behavior on the site, identify potential issues and solve them through unique conversion-oriented features.
That’s not all. Any custom design can evolve based on analytics data and business goals. Given that a custom design is made from scratch and can be easily tweaked, designers can observe user behavior on the site, identify potential issues and solve them through unique conversion-oriented features. Thanks to proper configuration of the store, implementing them is no issue. Many ready-made templates and themes – even if they let you install additional modules – make it really difficult to change their appearance and style to better fit your brand.
Launching a ready-made template is a temporary end solution. Large and experienced e-commerce businesses focused on optimizing sales are not afraid of making investment in unique design. They dynamic growth is the result of long-term relationship with designers – they quality of this collaboration directly translates into successful projects.