5 Things Designers Should Know About Shopify

5 Things Designers Should Know About Shopify


This summer at PropelAd HQ, we were delighted to host a great event with Shopify design guru Keir Whitaker. Though the pizza and beer helped, Keir gave a great talk aimed at designers and how they could work with Shopify. Here at PropelAd, we stand at the intersection of Shopify and Facebook, and combine both to maximize our customers’ advertising effectiveness – so the more people there are on Shopify, the better it is for us. 

Keir, as always, put on a great show. While a lot of his talk was for the hardcore designers (some of which is covered in-depth on the Shopify YouTube tutorial channel), he also gave some handy tips we should all know about Shopify.

1. Shopify is completely free for designers

One of the myths out there is that designers have to pay to develop on Shopify. This is completely untrue as you only pay when the store goes live and the products are on sale. Up until that point, all development of themes and the likes are completely free. There is even an option to “sell” items for free money (using the ‘Bogus Gateway’ tool) to test the infrastructure until the store is ready to go live. 

Basically, all designers have to do to avail of this is to sign up as a Shopify Partner and then start their own dev shop. Dev shops, according to Shopify, “share similar functionality to a real Shopify shop and are capable of: Making unlimited purchases through the ‘bogus’ gateway; hosting all your products; storing data, including html and css, in a disk block of 1GB.”

2. Creating a theme could be a way of earning serious money

Most average themes sell for somewhere in the region of $140-$180, so even selling seven themes per month could earn a designer up to four figures per month. Not bad for what is, in effect, passive income.

3. It’s not just designers that can make money on Shopify

Shopify Experts is basically a referral program where Shopify advertises the services of experts to novice retailers. It’s a marketplace where not only designers but developers, marketers, photographers, and set-up experts can tout their wares to new clients. (We’ve featured it before on this blog here.)

As well as the fees that you charge these new stores, there is also the Shopify referral payment, whereby you can earn a 20 percent recurring revenue share for every development store you build that becomes a paid Shopify customer. Usually, there are three types of services offered on Shopify Experts…


This is where you hold the hand of a merchant opening a Shopify store (recommending the right theme, adding products and helping decide on the right apps to install). The usual recommended fee for this is around $500, and there are a few people making five-figure salaries doing just this.


This is where a merchant’s options (style sheet, colour schemes, logos, forms etc) are added to an existing theme. Depending on the amount of work, there is a recommended fee of $1,000 for this service.

New theme build:

This is where a full design and theme is built. Again, depending on the amount of work involved, this can earn a fee of around $6,000 and upwards.

Keir wrote a really interesting piece on a development company called The Working Party, which earns around half of its money using Shopify Experts. You can find it here.

4. How you market your theme is almost as important as how you build it

If you have built a theme that is available on the Shopify theme store, you might think that the job is done. It’s not. The truth is that a lot of people who are opening a store for the very first time are tech novices. They come into the theme store to search for a theme that will suit their product. 

Shopify Themes have a “search by industry” feature that allows the customer to choose between hundreds of premium themes to find the perfect design for their particular industry. Some of the popular industries featured include Art & Design, Clothing, Jewellery, Toys & Games, Food & Drink, and so on. 

These are all vastly different headings. Imagine a retailer who has a store that sells vintage jewellery. If they see a theme that uses sample images of, say, fixie bikes, they may just dismiss the theme out of hand – even if it might be the most suitable theme for them. So it pays to think about how your theme is marketed.

5. Images are even more important than you think

One of Keir’s opening quotes was, “Product photography is king. Great photography sells." There’s a reason why the Shopify Experts page has a list of approved photographers – great product images are probably the single most important thing you can have on a good ecommerce retail store.

Keir shared the observation that carousel images just don’t work and that single image product pictures are far more effective. While Keir moved onto bigger and more important topics in his talk (like a really interesting feature on how to master images on Shopify), we did a bit more digging as to why this is the case.

Craig Tomlin has done a great analysis on the topic of carousels and he says, “If a carousel has five images, each of which appears for three seconds, and allowing one second for the ‘sliding in’ and ‘sliding out’ transition effects, then for a visitor to see all five sliders it would require a total of 20 seconds (five images X two seconds per image = 20 seconds total). The problem is, website visitors do not actually stay nearly that long. Most sites are lucky if the majority of their visitors stay longer than 10 seconds.” 

(There is also an awesome site called shouldiuseacarousel.com that you should really check out!)

Cheers to @keirwhitaker for coming over and talking to us and @wayraIRL for hosting the event and sharing some information that designers should know about Shopify.

About the Author

John Larkin is the VP Marketing at PropelAd, a complete Facebook advertising and retargeting solution for Shopify merchants. He enjoys writing about digital marketing, growth hacking & entrepreneurship. Feel free to say hi to him on Twitter @jlarkin353.

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Learn more