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Should You Choose a Pre-Designed Theme or Custom Design for BigCommerce

If you’re an eCommerce merchant looking to move your online store to BigCommerce, you may be wondering if you should choose a pre-designed theme or go for a fully customized site built from the ground up.

The BigCommerce Theme Marketplace is chock full of themes – both free and premium – that are available from 3rd party developers as well as BigCommerce themselves. While you probably can find a theme that fits your business needs and can easily be tweaked to meet your brand and feature requirements, there are other things you need to consider such as:

  • Cost & Time to Open
  • Programming Standards
  • Future Updates
  • Core Web Vitals
  • ADA Compliance

We’re going to break each of these five areas down discuss how they differ in a pre-designed theme versus a custom site built off the BigCommerce Cornerstone framework which is the foundation for all site development on the platform.

Cost & Time to Open: Pre-Designed Theme

  • If you’re on a tight budget or don’t want to invest in a custom-built store, pre-made themes are a low-cost alternative.
  • Purchasing a pre-made theme can speed up your time to open, but will still require a developer to make modifications to meet your needs.  
  • The average cost of a theme plus modifications is $5,000.00 – $10,000.00 (not including migrating data from an old store, building any custom features or functionality, or cleaning up code pre- or post-launch).  
  • Time to open can range from 1-3 months depending on the level of modifications needed.
Cost & Time to Open: Custom Design

  • A store built off of BigCommerce’s Cornerstone framework offers the store owner a 100% custom-built store with a unique look and feel as well as custom functionality.  
  • Like any custom-built store, costs and time to open can vary depending on the design and feature complexity.  
  • The average cost of a Cornerstone-built store is $15,000 – $25,000 (not including migrating data from an old store).  
  • Time to open can range from 3-9 months.

Programming Standards: Pre-Designed Theme

  • The BigCommerce Theme Marketplace features free and premium themes built by BigCommerce as well as 3rd party developers.
  • While all themes are built off BigCommerce’s Stencil Theme Platform, not all 3rd party developers follow the same programming standards and best practices.
  • 3rd party pre-designed themes which were built months or years ago may require a developer to clean up existing code or spend time diagnosing and improving performance issues.
Programming Standards: Custom Design

  • The Cornerstone framework is built by BigCommerce using the most up-to-date programming standards and also includes additional functionality not available in other themes such as ADA compliance features.
  • Building your store from scratch using Cornerstone ensures your site meets or exceeds current programming standards and best practices.

Future Update: Pre-Designed Theme

  • BigCommerce developed themes are updated when needed, however, the same can’t be said for themes built by 3rd parties.
  • If choosing a pre-designed theme built by a 3rd party developer, it is best to check with them to determine if and how they handle any necessary updates to their theme once purchased.
  • Additionally, if you had any custom functionality added to a 3rd party theme, that functionality may break or be rendered inoperable after a theme update.
Future Updates: Custom Design

  • Cornerstone is a key piece of the BigCommerce ecosystem, therefore it’s continually updated with performance improvements, new features and is fully supported by their technical support department.
  • When updates are made to Cornerstone, generally little or no updates are needed to be made to any custom functionality built for your store.

Core Web Vitals: Pre-Designed Theme

  • Not all pre-designed themes are optimized for Core Web Vitals which could have a significant impact on your store’s organic ranking.  
  • In order for many pre-designed themes to receive passing CWV scores, additional programming may be required by a developer.
Core Web Vitals: Custom Design

  • Cornerstone is lightweight, responsive, and built for speed – key areas Google focuses on for giving websites passing Core Web Vitals scores.  
  • If you’re concerned about CWV, building your store on Cornerstone is highly recommended.

ADA Compliance: Pre-Designed Theme

  • Pre-designed themes generally do not include any features designed to aid in ADA compliance.
ADA Compliance: Custom Design

  • Cornerstone (versions 5.2 and higher), is WCAG 2.1 Level A compliant in the following key areas: keyboard accessibility, timing, navigation, input modals, and readability.  Level A is the most basic level of compliance.  Websites that do not at least meet A are impossible or difficult for people with disabilities to use.

While a pre-designed theme may get you up and running on your new BigCommerce store quickly, there are often times when choosing this option ends up costing the store owner the same amount of money and time as a custom-built store.

This is often due to the fact that once programming begins, the developer finds code that needs to be rewritten to bring it up-to-date, functionality needs to be added that wasn’t included as part of the theme, or other time-heavy modifications to the theme to make it fit the needs of the merchant.

Additionally, once launched it may be determined that the new store is receiving failing CWV scores and more time is needed to clean up code and resolve performance issues due to the theme was originally programmed.

As a developer who has migrated over 100 eCommerce stores from various platforms to BigCommerce, it is our recommendation that established merchants opt for a custom site built off of Cornerstone.

If you have questions regarding moving your existing eCommerce store to BigCommerce, feel free to contact us or learn more about our comprehensive Platform Transfer Service.

Click to download this information as a chart in PDF format.


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