Selling Auto Parts And Accessories With WooCommerce Pt. 2 – Theme Design And Development

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.)

Featured photo ©Dezay

Choose Your Theme

When you launch a WooCommerce site, you can either a) work with an existing theme, b) customize an existing theme, or c) build a new theme from scratch. Each of these options has its pros and cons.

Working with an existing theme – If you work from an existing theme, development time is very short, but design options are limited. This is not necessarily a bad thing – sometimes design doesn’t matter nearly as much as we all seem to think it does. A conventional looking site is often good enough.

Customizing an existing theme – It all comes down to the quality of your designer/developer. If they are experienced and knowledgeable, customization is a decent idea. But if they’re inexperienced, a customized theme is often worse (in terms of performance) than a theme that no one has touched. Not to mention, if/when that developer is no longer available, the next developer may have a hard time figuring out how your site works.

Building a new theme – A totally custom theme takes time and money to develop, but it’s often the easiest way to get exactly what you want.

Recommendation: If performance is a concern – and if you have the budget – a fully custom theme is the way to fly. Otherwise? Go with an existing theme and avoid customization. Save your time and trouble for a custom design instead.

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. While it won’t win any design awards, your customers will probably find it more usable.

Be Careful With Plugins

Every plugin you add to your WordPress 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.

Beware Poorly Coded Themes

Going back to an earlier point about design: if you’re not going to do a completely custom theme and design, than an ‘off the shelf’ theme is usually the next best option. However, you want to watch out for themes that slow things down.

Generally speaking, simpler themes with fewer ‘extras’ are faster. If you compare a theme with a fancy integrated ‘builder’ that lets you make anything you want without any coding, you’re going to see performance suffer. While most new themes have these builders now, some are definitely better than others.

In terms of avoiding a poorly coded theme, it’s often smart to follow the crowd. If you can find a popular WooCommerce theme on Themeforest, for example, odds are good that you’re getting something with decent performance.

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.