The Best and Worst Themes for WooCommerce – 2015

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.

Update – November 3, 2015

I’ve made a few alterations in phrasing around the blog post to clarify the above sentence. To reiterate, the opinions in this article are those of an individual, Danny Santoro (me), and not representative of any other entity or organization.

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).

Points Feature
+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.

Storefront by WooThemes (Free)

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.

Canvas by WooThemes (Premium)

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.

Avada

Guns and code, what a combo.

Guns and code, what a combo.

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.

A wild AvaDivi appeared!

It’s a Pokemon joke. Don’t worry about 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.

Update – May 15, 2015

Some users came to Divi’s defense with very solid points – apparently, Divi doesn’t ship with outdated templates. I can’t explain how so many Divi sites come up with this issue – maybe it’s due to a reseller or a developer’s work during the initial site setup, but it doesn’t appear to be the fault of the theme author.

This, however, doesn’t warrant a removal from the list. Regardless of template files, it’s one of the biggest trouble themes we have with WooCommerce due to various other issues, similar to Avada and Yithemes mentioned above and below. Sorry for the confusion, everybody – I’m only human (for now). 🙂

Yithemes

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.

Return of the Woo

Other working titles were “The Phantom Woo” and “The Ninja Strikes Back” but Mr. Lucas got a little touchy with those.

Notable Mentions

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.

TL;DR

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. 🙂


Have any questions or comments about this article, or ways you think it can be improved?
Join the conversation in the comments below, or sign up for my newsletter to recieve periodic updates!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

23 Responses to “The Best and Worst Themes for WooCommerce – 2015”

  1. Bill May 14, 2015 at 11:33 EDT (11:33 AM) #

    So if I want to use DIvi and I want to use Woo, how do I avoid the problem you have listed above? I am sure there are a ton folks that would love a solution here!

    • Matt May 14, 2015 at 11:47 EDT (11:47 AM) #

      The solution is to wait until Elegant Themes finally makes available the much hyped Universal Divi Builder. What makes it different? It’s a plugin instead of a theme, so it’s supposed to work with any theme such as an official WooTheme like storefront or canvas. Right now, the plugin version is just a unicorn but they do keep saying it’s coming. Maybe this year or the next.

      • Danny Santoro May 14, 2015 at 12:39 EDT (12:39 PM) #

        Now this I’d be interested in. I’m definitely not opposed to template builders as a theory – it’s just that I haven’t found one that is particularly WooCommerce friendly. Hopefully we hear more about this unicorn this year and then I might just be able to remove the Divi blame.

    • Danny Santoro May 14, 2015 at 12:38 EDT (12:38 PM) #

      Good question, Bill!

      Right now it’s difficult to say – I haven’t personally tried to force Divi to work with WooCommerce. Typically, the issue with the problem themes above is that they have the entire WooCommerce template structure in the theme, so one potential solution could be to navigate to:

      `wp-content/themes/[your-theme]/` , where you should see a ‘woocommerce’ folder. Delete that entire folder – this removes ALL of the template overrides and edits that the theme puts in, so you’ll essentially be running vanilla WooCommerce with a Divi wrapper – just how it should be. This works on most themes, but I haven’t tried with Divi (and am currently away from a laptop to test), so be sure to make a backup before going live! 🙂

  2. Amit ramani May 14, 2015 at 14:16 EDT (2:16 PM) #

    What a well written article. Thank you much for the clarity. It’s always useful to see information coming from woothemes directly.
    I currently use both storefront and canvas. I haven’t really customized much with either, would like to know if there are any helpful guides for that.
    Also, on the not so good scale, barberry deserves a mention. It is not too robust.

    • Danny Santoro May 14, 2015 at 20:08 EDT (8:08 PM) #

      We’ve got a pretty big Knowledge Base at Woo, but you’re right – we could definitely use some guides on where to start… A lot of the times it feels like you’re staring at a big white wall, not sure where to start.

      I actually had a lot of fun writing this article, so I’d love to hear what you’d want to learn more about. You should definitely submit some ideas on Canvas and Storefront editing, I just created a new page for it 🙂

      http://danielsantoro.com/blog/article-idea/

  3. Iwashe Rebefor May 14, 2015 at 18:58 EDT (6:58 PM) #

    Shouldn´t criticize others’ work if you don´t like your work being criticized.

    • Danny Santoro May 14, 2015 at 19:53 EDT (7:53 PM) #

      I’d be happy if someone were to criticize my work – if I had a theme, then I’d want people’s honest opinions about it, so if you have any criticism feel free to drop it here 🙂 http://danielsantoro.com/contact/

      • Marcus May 15, 2015 at 08:42 EDT (8:42 AM) #

        I did post a comment here. Can´t seem to find it. Thought you didn´t aprove it on review.
        Did it with this name and email.
        Am I wrong? Did the comment not submit properly?
        If that´s the case. I apologize.

        Can´t reproduce what I wrote yesterday, but basically I said that, as far as I understand, you are wrong about the little bit you say about Divi.
        The instance you used for review must have had custom template overrides, put there by the developer (you?).
        The original theme does not include any template overrides/outdated code for woocommerce and is very well integrated, posing no security issue of any kind whatsoever. (wouldn´t have passed Sucuri´s tests if that were the matter).
        I think Elegant Theme´s are doing a great job in general with Divi and I find your review inaccurate, at least regarding Divi.

        • Danny Santoro May 15, 2015 at 09:35 EDT (9:35 AM) #

          I apologize for that, I think Akismet might have gotten overly-excited 🙂

          I don’t have the latest version of Divi so my edition may be a few months older and this could be fixed now. The reason I bring up Custom Templates is that in almost any ticket I receive through WooCommerce, there are a dozen or more files being overridden. Somehow Divi gets these templates locked in. Something else I didn’t go into too much detail is that Divi has some complex backend scripts that cause issues when a Woo plugin goes to add new fields.

          In general the Divi theme may be very good – I’ve spoken to avid fans, but as a WooCommerce team member, I cringe when I hear it. Thanks for sharing though, maybe I’ll try and update Divi on a localhost to see what’s changed 🙂

  4. Stefan May 14, 2015 at 19:17 EDT (7:17 PM) #

    Good article. I’m running Woocommerce on Canvas and the child-them Fashionable now. A great combination in my opinion. I have tried some other themes (not one of the you mentioned) and my experience is that there is very often issues you have to deal with.

    • Danny Santoro May 14, 2015 at 19:55 EDT (7:55 PM) #

      I forgot to mention Fashionable! That’s a FANTASTIC Canvas Child Theme – by far my favorite of the bunch.

  5. Petrik May 15, 2015 at 10:05 EDT (10:05 AM) #

    I moved away from Divi for other reasons though my own site hasn’t made the transition yet.

    However I do feel if you’re going to go in to such scathing “reviews” you should at least be doing so with the latest versions.

    You’re really sounding like a very cranky support person just needing to vent and as a result I’m afraid there’s not going to be many listening to this “advice”.

    Having said all that I’d be interested in your view on Beaver Builder Theme and Plugin in relation to Woocommerce

    • Danny Santoro May 15, 2015 at 11:00 EDT (11:00 AM) #

      Thanks for your feedback, and I’ll admit – Divi does make me a cranky support person because of the common issues I’ve mentioned. Having loaded up dozens of Divi sites in the past month, I can safely say it’s unfit for WooCommerce, but to meet you halfway I’ll edit in a clarification above 🙂

      I haven’t checked those out – I’ll look into it for sure, though!

  6. Scott May 18, 2015 at 17:47 EDT (5:47 PM) #

    Can you elaborate more on why flatsome makes honorable mention for worst? I’ve seen comments to the contrary on other sites. I’m skeptical of envato themes by default. I haven’t heard any specifics either way though, just mainly, yes it’s good or no it’s not. Ty

    • Danny Santoro May 19, 2015 at 12:43 EDT (12:43 PM) #

      Hey Scott,

      Thanks for the question!

      Flatsome is on the list because it’s just such a frequent trouble theme when you get into WooCommerce extensions that would add meta fields. I haven’t personally used it (though I’ve worked with it on hundreds of sites), but I’d say it’s probably number two or three on the most-conflicting themes list.

      Mostly it’s related to backend functionality, like if a user were trying to add custom checkout fields or Product Add-On information, in that it won’t allow the plugin to use whatever AJAX it needs to create the menus. I believe the frontend works just fine (if the fields are already created when Flatsome is enabled they’ll show, or if you temporarily switch to Twenty Twelve to add the fields), but something is clogging up the regular process. Hope this helps 🙂

      • Tommy June 8, 2015 at 04:31 EDT (4:31 AM) #

        Hi there, I’m the developer of Flatsome. We use default WooCommerce templates for most of the functionality, and is always updated to work with latest WooCommerce version. I have no idea what you are talking about regarding the back-end. Could you send me a bit more detailed information about that bug to post@uxthemes.com? Flatsome is the most sold WooCommerce template out there, and loved by most of our customers.

        • Danny Santoro June 8, 2015 at 10:47 EDT (10:47 AM) #

          Hey Tommy!

          I just sent an email to reach out to you (let me know if you got it) – since I haven’t written down specific cases, what I’ll do is as they come along, I can forward the gist of the issue to you. It’s typically template overrides that cause the problem, and that does tie in to users not updating.

          I want to clarify that I don’t mean to dump all over your theme – it does look great and I’m sure works in MOST cases, it’s just that it’s a trend in the WC support queues. Maybe we can fix that 🙂

  7. Ben September 7, 2015 at 02:43 EDT (2:43 AM) #

    Hey Daniel,

    Have to agree with you when it comes to YITH themes. Was setting up a site a while ago using one of their themes and it was a nightmare.

    Incredibly slow and I mean like a slug going uphill in treacle, I own two of their themes. Don’t ask me why I own two stupidity I guess.

    Now using storefront for the main site and the curated theme / plugin directory I run and have to say storefronts seo benefits are pretty darn sweet.

    Kudos for having the balls to call a dud a dud. It’s quite revelatory to see.

  8. Mike October 30, 2015 at 19:02 EDT (7:02 PM) #

    So has anyone here had the trouble with Avada that the author talks about? I’m going to be building an ecommerce site and trying to decide between Avada, X, or BeTheme. Avada seems to have the best integration with WooCommerce at first glance.

    • Danny Santoro October 30, 2015 at 23:06 EDT (11:06 PM) #

      Just to reinforce the point, I dealt with three sites just today that had issues specifically because they were running Avada- I very strongly advise against it. Storefront is free and built by the developers of WooCommerce, so that’s got the best integration you could ask for. 🙂

      X is another common problem theme. BeTheme I haven’t personally tried.

      In any circumstance, going off of ThemeForest is a gamble. There are absolutely quality themes there, but more often than not you’ll wind up with a conflict down the road, so be sure you’re ready for the possible (extended) downtime of your business.

      • Mike October 31, 2015 at 12:22 EDT (12:22 PM) #

        I took your advice and started digging a little deeper. Let me ask you this. If using a theme like X or Avada is bad news when it comes to WooCommerce, then could I use a theme like Canvas, or maybe Flatsome and use a dedicated page builder plugin such as the new Divi Builder, or even Visual Composer? Since they are not themes, would that arrangement cause the problems you speak about in your post?

        • Danny Santoro October 31, 2015 at 16:45 EDT (4:45 PM) #

          Out of the two, I’d go Canvas. Good question, though! Drag and drop designers are problematic in general. They typically have pre-bundled code (essentially widgets) you place in the body section, which may work but since the code is hidden to you, it’s hard to adjust if you need it. I would see how far you can get without them before buying.

          One page builder plugin/suite I actually really enjoy and that produces solid code is from http://wp-types.com. I purchased their full toolkit but primarily use Types and Views.

          They’re really intuitive to use- what you’re doing is creating the functions and areas yourself. A basic understanding of HTML and CSS will help a lot to get the full impact, but I would check that out.

%d bloggers like this: