The Shopify theme upgrade conundrum

Recently I upgraded some software that monitors my shopify app servers.

It’s a critical piece of software but it’s so stable that I haven’t had to mess with it in well over a year.

But they happened to send me an email listing some new changes and I noticed four big features that would make a lot of jobs easier. (Technical stuff so I won’t bore you with the details)

The upgrade was simple, painless, and now I have access to a lot more information about how the apps are running.

Shopify apps themselves are usually regularly updated, many automatically.

Shopify themes though…

They don’t really have a great upgrade process.

For the majority of themes you have to get a whole new version of the theme, move any customizations over, and re-configure its settings.

Not an easy process at all.

Especially if you have any major customizations (like nearly ever Shopify store does)

Some themes have apps that will help you upgrade your themes for a recurring payment (say that three times fast), but I’ve seen and heard of those upgrades missing massive areas of code so they aren’t 100% reliable.

So you end up with three choices when it time for upgrades:

  1. Hire someone to upgrade your theme for you which will be expensive and often involve breaking custom code you have in place.

  2. Stick with the older version and hire someone to add in the features you want, effectively turning your theme into a custom theme that you maintain on your own.

  3. Start over with a new theme or new theme file and move over all of your custom code.

I’ll usually recommend #1 if you don’t have anyone on staff and hiring a Shopify consultant would be a major budget item. Pay to get upgraded once a year and then you can lean on the theme’s support team to keep the code working in-between.

Option #2 is best if you have staff or are able to hire a consultant now and then, especially if the custom features you want are high ROI features. In the right stores, a custom feature can pay for itself especially if they are on the critical path for conversions.

Option #3 is the nuke option. It’s there if you need it but there’s so much risk of breaking things that it should be your last resort.

A good Shopify consultant like Ilana Davis will lay out your options along with the long-term risks like this. Things like “you can do this but it will be expensive to upgrade over-time” or “let’s take a little longer to do this the right way now and never have to worry about it again”.

Just be careful throwing out a theme that’s working well but only needs a few minor tweaks. You run the risk of a weaker store performance for months.

Eric Davis

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