Shopify Plus’ Design Restrictions, Debunked

  • Design
  • March 26, 2021
  • by Eve Rouse & Kerrin Meek
  • 7 minute read

Shopify Plus has long been criticized for a lack of flexibility when it comes to design. However, the e-commerce platform actually offers extensive design freedom to merchants. We’re here to set things straight.

Myth 1: “with Shopify Plus, you have to use a pre-existing template, so all Shopify stores look the same.”

We say…

Perhaps the biggest misconception about Shopify Plus is that, as a merchant, you’re restricted to using pre-existing templates. It’s a myth. Every Shopify Plus store we build is fully bespoke (i.e not from an off-the-shelf template). As a merchant, the choice is yours:

  1. Install a (free or paid) template from the Shopify theme store independently.
  2. Use a template and have a Shopify agency extend it (but keep in mind, they aren’t built to gain more features than they contain, so customizations will be limited).
  3. Have your own, fully-bespoke theme designed, as we do for all of our clients.

It might be a difficult choice for some brands — but it’s a choice you do have. Consider your goals: if conversion and brand image are top-of-list, then we say a custom theme is what you need.

Example…

Check the images below and have a nosy around Pangaia’s, Borough Kitchen’s, and Third Man Records' sites. These are all Shopify Plus stores we’ve built that showcase a range of designs.

Pangaia's Shopify Plus Store

Borough Kitchen's Shopify Plus Store

Third Man Records Shopify Store

Myth 2: “Shopify Plus will limit what you can do with custom sections.”

We say…

Not true. Having a custom store design doesn’t only mean you can use and structure sections more flexibly throughout your site. It also means you have the freedom to design any individual section you do want, right from scratch. This means they can be entirely tailored to you, without restrictions.

Take an image carousel, for instance. When we see these offered in pre-existing templates, they can take a rigid format. Maybe they have a set height, a limited number of slides, and fixed text alignment.

But if you were to have one designed custom, you’d have full freedom with this; you could have it completely adjustable for desktop and mobile, able to house video and animations, and have it support complex text formatting too.

Ultimately, go custom and you’ll define the flexibility of whatever sections you use within your store. This is the very beauty of having a bespoke design. There are no restrictions.

Example…

Custom carousel with animated text that we built for Bandwerk.

Custom carousel currently housing video that we built for Revant Optics.

Myth 3: “Shopify Plus is only good for simple e‑commerce, not content‑heavy brands needing a flexible CMS.”

We say…

A common complaint of Shopify Plus is that the use of dynamic sections (which is what allows you to alter your pages’ content layout) is limited to the homepage. Because of this, people sometimes think the platform isn’t geared towards content-driven brands needing to customize beyond their homepage.

There are, however, third-party apps available to help brands showcase content and build pages throughout their stores. Shogun’s Landing Page Builder is a popular choice for those wanting to build specific, content-heavy pages (think ‘About us’ or ‘Our history’ -type pages).

We’ve also developed our own, Custom Content Tool, to allow clients to do similar. Though this isn’t an app that you install and pay a monthly fee for. Instead, it’s a way to extend Shopify’s native CMS functionality whilst preserving the speed of your theme editor. By comparison, our solution is for a one-off cost, supports multi-language and is built using Shopify’s UI components. The latter means it feels that bit more familiar to use — our clients see it as a natural extension to Shopify admin.

It’s also worth noting that Shopify does have a revamped Sections Everywhere experience in the pipeline. But until that’s finalized, rest assured you’re not without a solution.

Example…

Ethos page of our client, Dry Farm Wines, built using our Custom Content Tool.

Denim collection page of our client, Totême, built using our Custom Content Tool.

Myth 4: “with Shopify Plus, you can’t change the design of your store’s checkout.”

We say…

Well, actually, you can. Merchants on Shopify Plus have access to something called the ‘checkout.liquid’ file which specifically allows further checkout customization than what’s enabled in the theme editor (what you’d use if you weren’t on Plus).

Editing this file allows you to completely change the look and feel of your checkout to ensure a coherent brand experience that’s in keeping with the rest of your store. For instance, on Shopify Plus, you’ll be able to adjust a number of UI elements much more freely (colors, fonts, logos, images) and also edit/reorder the checkout fields, should you need to.

In terms of the UX, Shopify’s checkout is somewhat fixed compared to competing platforms, but we must stress, this is for good reason. Their default checkout is carefully researched, thoroughly tested, and fully optimized for conversion. Plus, there are rarely any issues with Shopify Plus’ checkouts (which can’t be said for many others!).

Example…

Brand-driven checkout we built for Hasbro Brand-driven checkout we built for Hasbro.

Toteme's brand-driven checkout Brand-driven checkout we built for Totême.

Myth 5: “you’ll have to use all these apps and they won’t look good.”

We say…

If you’re looking to extend the functionality of your Shopify store, chances are, there’ll be an app for it. But will this be your only option? Rarely. And if it is, will you be restricted to the app's default look? Hardly ever.

Here’s how you can extend your store’s functionality without harming your branding:

1. Use bespoke theme development

Certain functionalities can be achieved without using any third-party system, but instead, through bespoke theme development i.e having a Shopify developer use HTML, Javascript, and Liquid.

With this option, you have complete control and your functionality can be designed entirely to your specification. One functionality that’s typically built this way is quick-add. See how we’ve done this for our client, Pangaia, below.

2. Use a third-party app and customize it

Shopify has an incredible ecosystem of apps for you to leverage too. And when you do choose to use these, it’s likely you'll be able to customize the UI so they fit seamlessly into your store’s aesthetic. Here, a Shopify developer would customize the app using HTML, CSS or Javascript. This is what we did for our client, Totême’s, back-in-stock notifications and wishlist button (see below).

3. Understand what’s globally accepted

We said it will be rare that you won’t be able to customize an app to match your branding, but, of course, there’ll be exceptions. Trustpilot is a good example. OK, you can’t make it look like ‘yours’ — but brands want that little trust signal to be distinct and recognizable. It’s critical, in fact. We’re sure you’ll be no stranger to Trustpilot, but here’s how it appears on our client, Polarn O. Pyret’s store.

Trustpilot on Polarn’s store

4. Use a ‘private app’

Lastly, certain features are best built as ‘private apps’ because a pre-existing integration or plugin simply doesn’t exist for the merchant’s exact needs. Private apps are a side-door into Shopify, allowing you to send and retrieve information from any database via an API.

Everything the customer sees and interacts with is built into the theme (as with option 1) so we have complete control over look and feel. In the background, the private app is retrieving, storing or sending data. One example of this is the prescription upload form we built for Revant Optics. A customer is able to upload their prescription information to a HIPAA-compliant server so that the customer service team can fulfill their order. We used a private app to build a form with a file upload field that submits an image of a customer’s prescription to this server outside of Shopify. We did this because, at the time, there was no plugin that supported this specific legal requirement for Revant Optics, and hence a private app was necessary. We get into the weeds here if you want to learn more, or for now, here it is in action.

That’s a wrap

We hope this article has helped dispel any concerns you might have had about this platform’s design capabilities. But if you still have doubts, or questions on any of the points above, reach out. We’re always happy to help.


Authors

Eve Rouse

Eve joined us in 2019 and has been distilling our team's technical knowledge into digestable content ever since. Aside from writing, Eve's also interested in comms, R&B music, EQ and human behavior.

Kerrin Meek

Kerrin joined in 2017 and is a multi-disciplinary designer with 13 years' experience across digital, user experience, branding, animation, e-commerce, CRO and information architecture.


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