3 approaches on how to build a WooCommerce shop

Recently one of my clients wanted to know more about different ways to build a WooCommerce shop. In this post I’ll compare some common ways to accomplish this.

In general there are three different strategies:

  1. Buying a WooCommerce theme from a marketplace and customize it
  2. Using a free or licensed theme as parent theme and build your own child theme
  3. Building a custom WooCommerce theme from scratch


Buying a WooCommerce theme

Difficulty: easy
Effort: low
Cost: low (50-80$ for the theme + hourly rate of a possible freelancer for customizing the settings)

This is a common approach for small businesses and startups which don’t want to spent a bigger amount of money in the first place and like to get a feel for WooCommerce and e-commerce in general. Marketplaces like themeforest.net offer a huge amount of WooCommerce themes, which are easy to install and customize. You can easily build a shop in 1-2 days by using this strategy, but it also comes with some disadvantages. Even though today’s themes have lots of customization possibilities, it can be hard to optimize a themes look and feel to match your corporate identity. Also most of these themes come with a lot of functionality, which can be confusing for beginners and also blow up your code base. Often you’ll have to install many plugins for it to work, which makes your site slow and increases the amount of time you‘ll need to keep your Webshop updated and secure. For European businesses the theme has to be GDPR compliant which most of these themes aren’t without additional customization.

Pros: Fast, easy, low cost
Cons: Limited in customization, often bad pagespeed, harder to keep updated and secure
My opinion: Even for small businesses I wouldn’t recommend this approach. Sooner or later most of these shops will make problems and fixing those can be hard and expensive.


Building a child theme based on parent theme

Difficulty: medium (requires at least html&css knowledge)
Effort: medium
Cost: medium (0-80$ for the theme + hourly rate of a possible Developer for customization)

Building child themes isn’t that difficult as building themes from scratch. So this one I‘d recommend for every client who needs a lot of customization but hasn’t got the budget to get a personal custom theme. Even though you can of course build child theme from a licensed theme like in the first approach, I’d rather use a free lightweight theme as parent. This way you’ll be able to bypass some of the disadvantages of licensed themes. By using HTML, CSS and maybe a little bit of php, you’ll increase the possibilities of customization compared to the first approach. Most of the free themes don’t require any plugins at all and come with only basic functionality, which makes updating faster and easier and results in better pagespeed and security. Astra or Storefront are some good examples for lightweight WooCommerce themes.

Pros: good pagespeed, more customization, medium cost, medium difficulty, security
Cons: Requires some basic development skills and well-considered parent theme selection
My opinion: I like this approach. This way I can offer smaller businesses a custom Webshop without having to build a theme from scratch which would be too expensive for them.


Building a theme from scratch

Difficulty: medium-advanced (requires an experienced WordPress/PHP developer)
Effort: medium-high
Cost: medium-high (hourly rate of a possible dwveloper or agency for designing and developing the theme)

Bigger and more experienced companies will probably choose this approach, because they want to have full control over the codebase and need endless possibilities regarding design and functionality. It can be time consuming because most agencies or freelancers will make a design first and develop the theme after, but the outcome is worth it! At least most of the time, because one possible disadvantage can be the partner you choose for building your theme. There are many good but also many bad developers and agencies out there. This is why you should only use this strategy if your business has experience in e-commerce and is able to differentiate between good and bad developers/agencies. If you do so, you’ll get a conversion and performance optimized WooCommerce theme, that perfectly matches your CI and is easy to keep updated and secure.

Pros: endless design and functionality possibilities, pagespeed and conversation optimized, custom design nobody else uses, easy to keep updated and secure
Cons: Requires well-considered partner agency/developer, can be time and money consuming
My opinion: For me, as a developer, it’s of course my preferred approach, but it has to match the clients requirements. Offering a custom theme from scratch only because you can make more money with it, won’t build trust between you and your clients. I also have many clients who started with the first approach and came back to me to get a custom theme years later. So an honest recommendation in the first place is key.


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