Day-to-day, working with WooCommerce puts me in touch with users around the globe. From selling services to selling products and everything in between, a huge part of these small businesses rely solely on a stable eCommerce platform – naturally, the wisest choose WooCommerce. Lightweight, flexible, and adaptable, it’s far and above the competition… But unfortunately, it can’t handle everything.
Sites crash. Orders freeze. Records get destroyed. It’s the nature of the web to run these risks, but here’s where it gets particularly frustrating – a huge majority of these problems stem from your theme. In this post, I’m first going to give you a general list of things to avoid and features to look for. Then, I’m going to champion my favorite themes and call out the worst offenders – buckle in, it’s a fun time.
Disclaimer: These reflect my own personal experience and opinions, and don’t represent any official stances of any official company. Official official official.
Table of Contents
Criteria: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Without further ado, here’s a list of my grading criteria with a +/- point score to show if it’s a good feature or a bad feature. Remember, this is specific to the typical WooCommerce site – in some cases, the negatives may very well work for you, but from a support and functionality perspective, here’s the breakdown (pro tip – have your total stay way above zero).
|+2||Lightweight (low on images and external scripts). I’m not going to quote the same tired statistics on attention span – just know that speed and load time is critical for Google and for your users.|
|+2||Mobile Friendly / Responsive Design – Another growing essential. Even if your theme isn’t fully responsive (with “mobile first” development), it should at least be able to scale on certain devices – the iPhone 5 in portrait mode is a good minimum target.|
|+2||Under active development with a support system / Knowledge Base. WordPress is as volatile as any code out there – you never know when a big change or security breach could be unrolled, so you want your developer to be on top of it and provide help should you need it.|
|+1||Built off of a popular framework, like Bootstrap for easy customization. Genesis can also count here, though if you’re working with Genesis you’ll probably be way ahead of this article 🙂|
|-1||Makes heavy use of sliders & animation|
|-1||Includes lots of pre-made Custom Post Types, i.e. “Portfolio”, “Team”, etc. The short version of why this is bad is that it’s not portable – you can see it yourself. Use a top theme to build out the “Our Team” section, then switch to another author’s theme. Your content will either A – not be usable whatsoever or B – be broken and missing information. Stay tuned for a “Theme vs. Plugin” post where I cover this in more depth – for now, just take my word for it.|
|-1 / -2||Themes with visual Page Builders or drag-and-drop layout editors. This one straddles the line – in some cases it can be well done, but for the most part it’s not flexible enough to allow advanced modification without a major headache, and of course it doesn’t port to new themes.|
|-2||Uses lots of shortcodes to generate layout and content. Very rarely will your shortcodes match from one theme to another, so you’ll find you have to rebuild your site should you ever want to update the theme or switch to a different design.|
|-2||“Feature Rich” themes that include bundled versions of other plugins, like WooCommerce, Gravity Forms, Ninja Forms, etc. First – support the authors, not the people who resell their code. Second – by purchasing the theme, you aren’t actually getting a license to use the given software, meaning you won’t receive support or updates for it. This may seem inconsequential at first, but when your product pages no longer display during your yearly Black Friday sale, you’ll feel the pain.|
|-5000||Resold themes. Yes, there are places where you can get the latest version of Canvas or Genesis for a fraction of the price, but there’s a fundamental difference between saving a few bucks at Big Lots vs. online. Allow me to elaborate – everything in WordPress is under GPL, which means it’s not illegal for people to use and resell the code how they see fit in most situations. However, you’re actively damaging the original author’s ability to improve and create new themes. The reason why you can find physical goods in stores for huge discounts is because the manufacturer has a surplus or large backstock to clear – this is never the case with a digital good. Buy from the original author.|
The Best Themes for WooCommerce
I could go on and on about themes that I like – ones that are good for X or perfect for Y. However, each store owner has a totally different set of needs – these are the broad stroke themes that fit most circumstances, and hands-down are the ones I would start with.
A newer release from the developers of WooCommerce, Storefront is a free theme that was built from the ground up and specifically intended for WooCommerce. You’ll never find a better pairing – the actual plugin authors have optimized every single bit of the theme to play well with WooCommerce.
Storefront is extremely lightweight and flexible – it uses the standard WooThemes template structure, meaning it has standardized content shortcodes and is a simple, no-frills theme. It doesn’t include “Our Team” or “Portfolio” functionality – those should be in plugins, both of which happen to be free and 100% compatible with Storefront.
In addition, Storefront has a growing number of extensions and feature additions alongside the WooCommerce catalog.
Simply put, Storefront is the perfect theme for your first foray into WooCommerce. With a $0 entry fee and an extremely extensible platform to build on, this can scale as large as your business would need while still staying user-friendly and manageable.
Yep, another WooThemes theme! It’s no surprise that the authors of the plugin can create the most effective themes for their software, but Canvas is a step beyond that. Canvas itself has frequently been referred to as a “framework theme” – it’s simple, it’s clean, and it’s POWERFUL. With an extensive hook/filter system and an awesome, clean-code customizer, Canvas is the choice of many site owners around the globe.
Much like Storefront, Canvas can look a little “bare-bones” when you first set it up. However, with free plugins available from WooThemes, it can compete with the best of the premium themes on Envato.
Not interested in customizing and CSS tweaks? No problem – after you purchase Canvas, you can also purchase a Canvas child theme, which works in tandem with Canvas core. This adds totally new styling to your site but still enables full WooCommerce functionality – Fashionable is a common user favorite.
Canvas is a great pick for almost any site, regardless of purpose. The core theme starts at $99, with Child Themes a fraction of the cost. If your site is more than just a store (i.e. info-centric with a shop component) then this is probably a better fit than Storefront.
Genesis & Bootstrap Based Themes (Price varies)
Going back to the framework idea, you want something that you can customize should you decide to add a feature not initially included. For this reason, I suggest checking out Bootstrap or Genesis-based themes. Both frameworks are extremely flexible and allow you to quickly make modifications (particularly Bootstrap, as Genesis has a pretty hard learning curve). Don’t worry – I’m not going to leave it vague! Here are some of my personal favorites, though your mileage may vary.
Default WordPress Themes (Free)
Sure, they may not be particularly pretty, but they DO work well because of the simplicity. For troubleshooting, members of the WooThemes Support team turn to Twenty Twelve, though Twenty Fifteen or any in between work just fine. You’ll probably want to make some style changes to help your site stand out, though. 🙂
The Worst Themes for WooCommerce
Here’s where we get to the unpleasant part. As much as I’m sure this will upset a few of you, I’m going to call out some specific themes that are related to a huge portion of site issues. Of course, these are just scratching the surface of bad themes, but they’re definitely on “Danny‘s Most Wanted” list.
Oh, Avada – what an (unpleasant) relationship we have. Avada is one of the most popular themes out on the market, particularly dominating the ThemeForest realm. It offers a ton of out-of-the box functionality at a super low price, which is of course an appealing offer, but behind every good deal there’s a sleazy salesman tacking on transaction fees and lying about the quality of the rear-right suspension system. I’m talking about you, Jake Sweeney from Jake Sweeney Automotive. You should change your name to Jake’s Weenie. Bastard.
Avada is the number one most common theme I see causing issues with WooCommerce. At almost every version release, swarms of users find that their perfectly working site now no longer can process an order or display a product, all because Avada comes bundled with old versions of WooCommerce (which will override the plugin). This means if WooThemes added a function to WooCommerce that third party plugins can use to pull in external information like shipping rates, that function doesn’t exist for Avada users. While updating Avada typically does the trick, users of other themes aren’t so lucky.
Divi (Updated (again)! See below.)
Much like Avada, Divi is on my most-wanted list – their forces combined, they become the feared “Avadivi” glitch that will just ruin your savegame. I hope those rare candies were worth it.
Divi differentiates itself from it’s ally with something even more nefarious – it continues to ship with severely outdated WooCommerce template files, and shows no sign of stopping. A typical WooCommerce System Status report from a site running Divi will show files from multiple versions of WooCommerce, some over two years old – an eternity on the web and in regards to your security.
Divi is by no means a bad looking theme – I actually do enjoy playing around with it, and it has a great feel to setup. However, the issue comes when you set up a site with Divi and then switch themes – because of the nature of the theme and how it’s built, you’ll see a ton of shortcodes and characters splashed across your pages, and you’d have to start from scratch in a redesign. A more flexible theme may break certain, complex areas like tabbed boxes or collapsing menus, but won’t be such dramatic shift.
Yep, I’m making a broad generalization on this one. Yithemes is my own personal nemesis and they don’t even know it – ticket after ticket, site after site, their themes bring WooCommerce to its knees. From overriding templates like the themes above to whole new surprises, so many sites running these themes actually have backend problems instead of just display issues – plugin functionality can be blocked entirely and rendered useless. This leads you to blame the plugin developer who can’t do much, or the theme developer who is already working on a solution and also can’t do much, and causes frustration all around… If bad themes had meetups, they’d all be at that damn bird mascot’s house – coincidentally, it looks kind of like Mordor. Here’s some concept art I made from back in the day when my rivalry first began.
- Salient (I actually thoroughly enjoy this theme, but not with WooCommerce.)
I want to clarify that there’s nothing wrong with the themes above individually. Some of them look excellent and can function wonderfully for many sites and users, but when it comes to specific integration with WooCommerce, they tend to be lacking.
Man you guys have short attention spans if you actually skipped down to here. There’s some good information up there! I worked really hard! Go back and read it, then we can move on. I’ll wait.
Alright, good. Now that that’s over with and I’ve started the finger-pointing game, it’s your turn!
Have there been certain themes you’ve had trouble with regarding WooCommerce? Is there a theme out there that really makes your shop shine? Am I just a n00b and totes just hatin’? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your experiences!
Update: November 9, 2015
I’ve decided to close the comment section on this post, due to a series of events spurred on by the author of one of the themes. I apologize for any inconvenience, guys. 🙂
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