As part of our series on the ins-and-outs of using WooCommerce for auto parts ecommerce, let’s look at designing a new WooCommerce site and/or developing a custom theme. (If you’re new here, first check out our previous article about setting up your WooCommerce site that we published previously.)

Choose Your Theme

When you launch a WooCommerce site, you can either

  • Create with a theme builder
  • Customize an official free theme (many design companies start with the default WordPress theme), or
  • Build a new theme from scratch

Each of these options has its pros and cons.

Creating a Site With A Theme Builder

Most theme builders are clunky, slow, and overcomplicated. However, they’re also one of the fastest ways to get a site launched. Just beware of builders and frameworks with lots of javascript and CSS files…they will slow your site down considerably.

NOTE: At Spork, we often use a builder called beaverbuilder. While the name is kind of dumb, we’ve found that it’s fast, with clean code. We used beaverbuilder to design the site you’re reading, in fact.

Customize Free Official Themes From WordPress or WooCommerce

WordPress.org and WooCommerce.com both offer a standard free theme that can be customized as you see fit. Because the themes are “official” – meaning they’ve been created by the same people that have developed WooCommerce and WordPress – they support all functionality. They’re also fairly fast.

Here’s the official promotional video for the free Storefront WooCommerce theme. While it’s not bad, it’s not our favorite theme for WooCommerce.

The disadvantage in modifying these themes is that the skill of the developer will make or break the outcome…if the developer hacks at the wrong bits of code, it could be very hard to fix later.

If you work with a designer/developer that’s going to modify one of the free themes? Ask if they’re going to create a child theme or modify the main theme. If the answer is “child theme,” that’s great. If the answer is “modify,” it would be good to find out why. It would also be good to ask for examples of other sites the designer/developer has created the same way.

Build A New Theme From Scratch

A totally custom theme takes time and money to develop, but it’s often the easiest way to get exactly what you want. However, the quality of a totally custom theme is very hit or miss.

Unless you’re hiring an experienced designer/developer – and paying a premium for their services – you want to be skeptical of totally custom themes. They can be hard to transition away from later.

Also, if you’re hiring a designer/developer that’s going to build a theme from scratch, ask them about the Theme Check plugin. Do they plan to use it? If not, why?

When It Comes To Design, K.I.S.S.

A lot of website owners get caught up in designing their site to look different or unique – this is almost always a mistake in ecommerce. Here’s why:

  • Clever or unique designs can make a site harder to use, at least the first time. Consumers are more likely to buy if the interface is familiar and everything (like your main menu, your search box, your phone number, etc.) is where the consumer expects it to be.
  • Whitespace and simple color schemes tend to work well. While every design is different, we find that sites with simple designs (lots of white space, basic color schemes) are the top performers.
  • Design often doesn’t matter anyways. When we conduct A/B tests on various design elements, the changes often have little measureable impact on website performance. We’ve tried big color scheme changes, logo changes, font stack changes, etc., and they’re only impactful when they make the site more usable (aka simpler).

Ecommerce is all about putting the products (and the consumer) first. A clever design that people don’t intuitively understand will hamper sales. So, instead of trying to make something unique, consider making something simple and sort of plain.

Craigslist screencapture
Here’s one of the world’s most popular ecommerce websites. Pretty basic design, right?

Be Careful With Plugins

Every plugin you add to your WooCommerce site can slow it down. Poorly or incorrectly coded plugins, for example, will often query the database directly, load up javascript and CSS that isnt necessary, abuse certain WordPress hooks, and just generally hamper things.

So, before installing any plugin, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced WordPress and WooCommerce developer. Additionally, it’s also a good idea to have a ‘dev’ version of your site where you can do performance testing with and without a plugin to see what happens.

However, generally speaking, less is more when it comes to plugins.

Don’t Overthink It

Too often, companies over-emphasize design. As important as a good looking website may be, conversions (sales) are what pay the bills. An ugly site that’s easy to use often outperforms a pretty site that confuses people.

So, don’t overthink the design. Stick with a conventional look and feel, focus on the things that really matter (usability, product data, advertising and marketing), and ignore the rest.

Featured photo ©Dezay