Once you've signed up with Shopify, you already have a working Online Store.
You probably want to change how your Online Store looks to suit the products you sell. An average person will not be able to design the store from scratch.
However, Shopify has a long list of free or premium themes that you can use to change how your store looks.
1. Design - Depending on what you're selling, you probably already have an idea what you'll want in terms of the design of your store. The look and feel of your store communicates ideas to your potential customers - and you'll want to the store's look to jell with what they expect. For example, you'll not want a cutesy design for your electronics store.
2. Mobile-responsiveness - A mobile-responsive store means the store will look look in screens of different sizes, be it a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone. And this is especially for running an Online Store because increasingly, more and more customers are making purchases on their mobile devices. Not having a mobile-responsive store may be a turn off for your visitors and potentially lose sales.
3. Layout - The layout of each theme is pretty much designed by the theme developer, and cannot easily be changed by you. You'll want to look out for layout of certain common Online Store items.
Menu: Menus can be located at the top of the page, on the left or right, depending on design. Some allow for nested menus (i.e. drop down menu on hover), while others don't. It depends on what you need.
Footer: Not all themes have a footer (an area at the bottom of your page), but footers can be a useful area to put additional links to pages which you don't want to place in your menu. For example, social buttons, mailing list sign up area.
4. Features - In Shopify, certain features are typically designed right into each theme. For example, if you want to display slideshows on your home page, it has to be baked into your theme, or you'll not easily be able to add that in.
Screenshot of slideshow banner on Homepage:
Shopify Theme Store
Shopify has their own Theme Store, where you can shop for both free and premium themes.
Premium Themes Outside of Shopify
Here's a pretty cool demonstration of one of their best selling, highly customizable themes:
Free vs Premium Theme?
I guess you'll have to make that judgement call for yourself. The good thing to know is that all the contents (your products, payment & shipping methods, blog posts) remain unchanged even if you change your theme.
If you're new to Shopify, you should definitely at least try changing a free theme to learn how it works. 2 of my friends who have used Shopify for their stores both used free themes.
Researching on what differentiates premium themes from free themes, other than (maybe) better design, what I found is some premium themes provide a whole bunch of features.
Some features I saw from researching premium themes:
If there are very specific features that you want that cannot be found in free themes, you may want to go for a premium theme.
2 Ways to Install Your Theme
There are 2 main ways to install your theme.
1. Browse Free and Premium Themes within Shopify
Navigate to Admin > Themes
Click on Visit the Theme Store on the top right
After browsing and choosing a theme, click Get Theme
When prompted, log into your Shopify store.
2. Upload Your Purchased Theme
If you've purchased a theme outside of Shopify, you'll be provided a zip file, which you'll need to upload to install the theme. It's quite a simple process.
In Admin > Themes > Upload a theme
Choose the zip file and click upload.
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