Imagine if you and your friends wanted to sell some snowboarding equipment online. You didn’t like any of the ecommerce platforms available, so you created your own. Now imagine that your new ecommerce platform sells better than your snowboard gear. That, in a nutshell, is how Shopify was born.

snowboard gear
What if the ecommerce platform you created to sell snowboard gear ended up being a bigger seller than the gear itself?

Today, Shopify is the third most popular ecommerce platform in the world. It comprises 4% of all online stores all over the world, and garnered $389.3 million in revenue in 2016.

But numbers aside, Shopify offers a unique take on ecommerce platforms that its competitors haven’t quite mastered: convenience. While not for every online store, Shopify is the best platform for quick and simple sites. That’s not to say the sites themselves can’t be robust, but the design process itself is easy and takes less time. The catch is limited customization options and a more rigid and linear approach to design—but that’s precisely what appeals to a lot of site managers.

To put it simply, if you want to take a more hands-on and controlled approach to design, with more effort in exchange for more options, you’re better off with a platform like Magento or WooCommerce. But, if you’re looking for quick and easy—a platform that takes the sting out of the technical details and lets you focus on business management—Shopify is best for you.

But don’t mistake “easy” for “brainless.” You still need to put in some effort to build the site you want, and that’s what this article is about. Below, you’ll find 7 key design tactics that successful Shopify store owners cited as the most useful, for beginners and established stores.

1. Choose the best theme for your site

First and foremost, you need to pick the right theme. Your theme is the backbone of your site and will directly affect the atmosphere, user experience and all-around feel of your site.

shopify theme gallery
The Shopify theme store is a great place to browse, with filters for honing in on what you’re looking for.

Shopify offers dozens of themes, each with multiple style variations for further customization. While some themes are free to use, most cost between $140 – $180.

This all-important decision can also be one of the most overwhelming, especially if it’s your first encounter with Shopify or theme stores in general. That’s why Tucker Schreiber, writing for the Shopify blog, recommends narrowing down your options by zeroing in on what exactly you want your theme to accomplish. When searching for your theme, keep these questions in mind:

  • What kind of experience am I trying to create for my customer? – The layout, image sizes, placement of text, etc. will all contribute to the atmosphere, which ultimately shapes the overall user experience.
  • What are some desired features I want for my store? – Do you want normal or large image displays? Do you need a wide Instagram feed? Infinite scrolling? Different themes offer different features, so make sure you know what you want, or what you’re willing to sacrifice.
  • What are my competitors doing? – Take note of what your competitors are doing not just to emulate what works, but also to know what you can do differently … and better.
  • How do I want my products to be displayed? – How your products are displayed is a main consideration for ecommerce, as it contributes a great deal to UX. Consider what kind of products you have: tech products that rely mainly on specs don’t need large images, whereas fashion items are the opposite.
  • What’s my budget for the site design? – Additional plugins and apps can also cost more money, so you should plan out your overall budget before you commit to a pricy theme. It might be more economical to use a free theme then augment it with paid apps.

One last consideration while choosing your theme is not to worry too much about typography and color schemes. Most of the time these can be customized later.

2. Avoid clutter (cognitive overload)

According to Mark Perini, the founder of Icee Social, the most common problem in ecommerce design is overloading your site with too much information.

“You’ll be tempted to showcase everything you have in your arsenal whether that be a plethora of information or a backlog of every product you’ve ever made. While it’s true that there are going to be customers who want to see the entire history of your brand, those people are few and far between. Figure out what your top products are and give them a place of honor on your site.”

Screenshot of the Home Page for Caravan Coffee Roasters
There’s no clutter on the home page for the Shopify site Caravan Coffee Roasters. In fact, the company opts for only two options above the fold — talk about not making the user think.

In the design world, too much information is known as “cognitive overload.” In his Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, he explains that users want a site experience to run as smoothly as possible; too many options tax their brains while they decide where to go.

As Perini suggests, focus only on a handful of specialized products at any one time. These could be bestsellers, promotional products or products you’re trying to unload.

Don’t be afraid to trim the fat, either. Learn to tell the differences between the must-haves and the want-to-haves.

3. Improve loading times

Even if you’re not using a Shopify site, loading times can kill your entire business if they take too long. Every extra second your page takes to load reduces conversions by 7% and page views by 11%. Even outside of the customer experience, faster sites get ranked higher on Google, so improving your loading times helps both your UX and your SEO.

Screenshot of the home page for Happiness Abscissa.
Minimalist sites like Shopify’s Happiness Abscissa work best for loading times, as long as the photographs are a manageable size.

While lots of different factors can weigh down your loading time, there are a few techniques that should help in general to reduce loading times:

  • Compress images – For sure, you want high-quality product images to help sell your goods, but the downside is these take longer to load. Have your cake and eat it too by compressing the images. Free online tools like Compressor.io can reduce file size by around 50% without noticeably affecting the image quality.
  • Remove nonessential widgets – In excess, site accessories like widgets, apps, and other plugins can weigh down loading times. Eliminate all but the essentials to streamline your site.
  • Avoid third-party themes – While this isn’t always the case, sometimes third-party themes can have unexpected additions that slow down the entire site’s loading time. If your theme isn’t made directly by Shopify, contact the developer to see how you can improve loading times.
  • Skip the carousels – Love them or hate them as a design choice, carousels tend to anchor your loading times. That’s not to say you should never use them (they have their advantages), but if you’re struggling to make your site lighter, a carousel is the perfect dead weight to drop.

If you’re not sure how your loading times stack up or how to improve sluggish ones, check out Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool. Not only will it analyze your site speed, but it’ll also give you direct advice on how to improve it.

4. Pair with the right designer

Sometimes, it simply comes down to knowing your limitations. If you feel like site design is a skill that’s beyond you, there’s no shame in hiring a professional to help. Even if you’ve designed sites before, the experience of a pro designer could lead you to some new insights.

Like any other industry, designers specialize in certain areas and platforms. You can hire a designer that specializes in Shopify, one that is already familiar with all the different themes, plugins, and features. This could be a huge time-saver as well, so you don’t have to wade through the Shopify stores looking for the specifics that you want.

The 99designs Discover Tool showcases designers and their works.
99designs’ Discover Tool lets you browse visuals, with search filters for finding a specialist in your particular field.

That’s the thinking behind the 99designs Discover Tool. The database features hundreds of designers and their work in an easy-to-browse layout display so you can scan images for a style that appeals to you. What’s more, the filter function allows you to narrow down your search using specific terms such as “ecommerce” or “fashion.”

Another good thing about designers is that they come with a range of experience and a range of budgets.

5. You do you: reflect your individuality

When you use a template site-builder you take the risk of creating a site that looks like all the others. Luckily this can be avoided with a little extra planning. Yes, it’s possible for your site to stand out from the crowd, even among those who are using the same theme.

Screenshot of the home page for WaterAid.
WaterAid, built on Shopify, demonstrates its personality clearly with cartoons, text, and typography. Just a single glance tells you the brand is playful and family-friendly.

Here are the three main areas where you can let that little light of yours shine:

  • Site Photography – By and large, your photography style determines the appearance of your site more so than even the general theme. The way you stylize both product photos and promotional photos can display your unique personality. For example, a plain white background looks better for traditional, professional sites, while product photos in context (i.e., taken at the park) can add a quirky flavor that may suit your site well.
  • Copy – After visuals, the words you use are the next best strategy for showcasing your personality. Young and hip brands will use a more casual lingo, maybe even emojis, while brands aiming to increase consumer trust or portray sophistication may use more formal language. The tone of your copy isn’t just for the Home and About pages, but everywhere you use words, including product descriptions.
  • Shopify Settings – This may not be known to Shopify beginners, but most themes allow you to customize the settings for additional personalization. Take full advantage of these options by uploading your own logos, customizing your color scheme and typography and choosing the amount of items to display per line. You can sometimes even decide how to present your social media buttons.

A lot of Shopify critics will say the biggest drawback to Shopify is the lack of diversity, but if you explore the system enough, you’ll find plenty of ways to build a site that’s yours and yours alone.

6. Shout your value proposition from the rooftops

A good strategy for any business, ecommerce or otherwise, is to clearly and distinctly showcase your value proposition. How can your brand help a prospective customer’s life? Why should they bother stopping by your site in the first place? Often, you only have a few moments to convince visitors not to bounce, so you want your value proposition front and center.

More often than not, this is achieved by a quick, succinct headline on the home page. The text itself is typically larger than the other text, with a color or font that draws attention immediately.

Screenshot of the home page for the Pencil Stylus.
What is Pencil? It’s a stylus for everyone. Removing all other distractions on the page encourages visitors to focus on the value proposition, which explains why the Pencil stylus is useful.

Like other copy on your site, your tone will say a lot about your brand. A simple, straightforward headline adheres to more traditional guidelines, whereas more casual brands may use a clever wordplay or a joke.

Design guru Peep Laja offers additional advice on writing value propositions. Commonly, sites follow up the value proposition headline with a subheadline and/or bullet points to further elaborate the finer points of the value proposition. This gives you more flexibility with your main headline, since you can focus on a single central benefit, but also mention secondary benefits. Extras like “free shipping” or discounts can be mentioned in the subheadlines or bullet points.

Keep in mind that value propositions are not slogans. Both serve different ends: value propositions communicate how your brand can improve your shoppers’ lives; slogans are meant to be catchy and memorable in a way that influences people’s attitude.

7. Hone in on conversions

A site manager’s work is never done. Even after your site is built to your liking, it may not be optimized to your target shopper’s liking. Customizing your site to the specific preferences of your unique target market can be frustrating if you’re just stabbing in the dark; it’s far more effective to utilize user testing to optimize for conversions.

Image demonstrating A/B testing an “Add to Cart” button for Fab.com.
The Shopify blog demonstrates A/B testing an “Add to Cart” button for Fab.com. The different options are given on different products and tested at length to see which performs best.

As Shopify’s own content creator Kevin Donnelly explains, A/B testing is one of the most effective user tests to optimizing your conversion rates. Also known as “split testing,” A/B testing takes two versions of the same screen and monitors how people behave on each. All conditions being equal, i.e., timing and amount of traffic, each version of the screen is tested to see which variables create more favorable results.

A/B testing helps you hand-tailor your site to your customer’s needs. You can fine-tune all the minutiae of your site, such as:

  • location of CTAs, ads, widgets, etc.
  • colors of specific buttons
  • navigational options
  • phrasing for microcopy, labels, CTAs, etc.
  • design of social media buttons
  • images that best promote conversions

The best practices for each of these factors vary depending on customer group, so there’s never one right answer. And no matter how experienced you or your designer is, it’s always better to make decisions based on hard evidence rather than raw instinct alone. Long gone are the days of “Call now! Operators are standing by!” But while the technology has evolved, the spirit remains the same. Follow the above steps to bring that same gusto, enthusiasm and influence to the modern digital market.

Do you have any questions about designing for Shopify? Do you have any personal advice you’d like to share? We want to hear your thoughts! Share your opinions in the comments section below.