We've updated our Theme Store requirements. The guidelines for submitting a theme to Shopify's Theme Store have changed. Learn more by checking out our new article on the topic.
Publishing a theme in the Shopify Theme Store can be a great way to earn residual income. But what sort of theme should you work on developing, and what is the process like to get your theme published?
I sat down with Kevin Ochal, the head of our theme support team, to ask him about every step of the theme submission process. From this interview, you’ll learn what to expect, and how to prepare yourself to maximize your chances of success.
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Tell us about your role at Shopify.
I manage the Theme Store and I also oversee a team that maintains the themes in the Theme Store.
How many published themes are in the Theme Store?
Right now we’re at 51 published themes with a total of 179 presets.
If someone’s thinking about building a theme for Shopify, what are the first steps they should take?
The first step you should take if you’re thinking of building a theme is to go to the Theme Store, look at the themes, and identify what you think is missing — a gap. Identify a problem, then go about solving it.
Are there any gaps or opportunities that you’ve seen? What’s missing right now?
Definitely, there’s a few — I’m not going to say all of them, but some glaring ones are themes for small inventory shops and single product shops, and also crowdfunding themes. A theme geared toward somebody who has a Kickstarter campaign would be a great idea for a theme.
Walk us through the requirements a theme needs to be approved.
The biggest thing is if the theme is unique. We don’t want a lot of overlap in the Theme Store. We’d rather have a bunch of themes that look different, feel different, and are going to appeal to a bunch of different merchants. So the biggest requirement is to make sure that your theme doesn’t look like another theme that’s already been published.
The biggest requirement is to make sure that your theme doesn’t look like another theme that’s already been published.
What about technical requirements?
Yeah, there are a lot of technical requirements. We’re really stringent on quality in our themes because we want to make sure our customers are getting the best possible theme, and it’s not going to cause them any issues when they’re using it.
There are a bunch of technical requirements, and they’re all outlined in our support documentation. There’s a whole theme section of our docs. In that section, you’ll see a bunch of templates. For each template, at the bottom of the page there’s a bunch of requirements for the Theme Store.
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What are the most common errors you see that lead to rejection?
The biggest thing, and the most obvious, is just a generic theme.
The other one is a lack of attention to detail. When we look at mockups and designs, we really want to see a lot of polish to make sure you thought this out and put in a lot of effort. It needs to be your best possible offering.
What do you recommend to partners about to submit a theme?
When submitting a theme, I want to see the rationale behind the design. You’re going to make a lot better case for your theme if you actually make a case for your theme. So, if you’re submitting just image mockups, they’re going to have to be pretty amazing. They’re going to have to blow us away if you’re not including a rationale.
What we love to see is that you’ve thought this out, and that you’re backing up your design choices with research and UX that’s appropriate and well-explained.
A good way to do a rationale is with InVision or some other kind of presentation tool where we can see that you took the time to show us things like what the hover states look like, and why they look that way. That’s a big bonus.
After they’ve done all these things, how do they submit a theme?
Send an email with a link to your InVision project, or your summary and writeup, to email@example.com.
It’s as simple as that. And so what is the approval process like after they hit send?
So what’s going to happen is that it’ll go to our review team. We have a group of people that all talk about every submission. We have a discussion about every design. That can take a couple of days, and the reason it takes so long is because we want to make sure that all appropriate parties have a say in whether or not this is something appropriate for the theme store.
After that, we’ll either approve or reject the design. If the design is approved, it’ll go into a technical QA. So we’ll say, “Hey, this is really cool, develop your theme.” We usually have a timeframe of eight weeks limitation there, just to make sure it’s still going to be relevant when we’re doing the technical review.
The technical review consists of three rounds of feedback. So what we’ll do is upload your theme to a sandbox, we’ll tear it apart and look at every aspect of it, and then we’ll outline about 20 things we found during the review. We’ll send those off to you, you’ll fix that up, send it back, and we’ll do another round, and so on and so forth until either we find no more bugs, or we’ve reached three rounds.
On the fourth review, if we find anything that’s wrong with the theme, it’s removed from the review queue permanently.
So when they first approach you, they provide the rationale work and the mockups, but they haven’t actually done the dev work. And once you say, “Yeah, this looks good, let’s go ahead,” that’s when they would actually build the theme.
Exactly. We do get a few submissions where people will send us a completed theme, and those are the hardest to reject because we know how much work has gone into it.
I’m sure it varies depending on the number of rounds, but how long on average does the approvals process take?
A technical review can take one person an entire day to do. So for three rounds of that, we’re looking at three days. And then there's the time that it takes the developer to fix those changes. It’s largely up to the developer — it’s in their best interest to make those changes as quickly as possible to make sure that it goes as quickly as it can.
If a theme is rejected, is there any opportunity to rethink it, or is that it?
Usually, that’s it. It doesn’t often happen; the code would have to be fairly flawed in order to not make it past the three rounds of reviews. It’s more of a quality issue than it is anything else, so we usually put the end to it there.
How should partners decide what to charge for their theme?
That’s a tricky one, because the lower your theme price, the higher the number of merchants it’s going to appeal to. Having said that, there’s also a mindset that a higher price means a higher quality theme. It’s a tough balance.
The most popular price point is $140, and it largely depends on what you feel feature set-wise and design-wise what you think your theme is worth, and whether it’s appropriate to charge that price to the target audience you’re trying to capture.
Are there any features that have done really well in terms of theme sales?
Yeah, the ones that do the best usually have a really well thought out user experience. So, is the UX of any particular theme targeted appropriately to its audience? There are certain features people like to have. Social integration is huge. A quick shop modal is pretty popular. But above all, it’s mostly about: is this a good user experience? Is it an appealing design?
Above all, it’s mostly about: is this a good user experience? Is it an appealing design?
What if a partner decides they’d like to update their theme?
That's definitely possible. In fact, we require that partners update their themes when we release new features, if those features affect themes. That’s a mandatory thing.
If you want to put in a new feature or release a new preset, it’s totally possible. Just email us and say, “Hey, this is what we’re thinking of doing,” and more often than not, we’ll be like, “Cool that sounds great, can’t wait to see it.”
If you’re releasing a new preset, we just want to make sure that it’s visually stimulating, so we’ll take a look and then approve it if appropriate.
Is it possible for a theme to be removed from the Theme Store?
Yes. The reason for a theme’s removal is largely due to the support surrounding it, and the sales. You need to maintain a minimum amount of sales in order to remain in the Theme Store. If you’re theme’s not selling, obviously it’s not relevant and it doesn’t belong in the Theme Store at that point.
If you’re supporting your own theme and you’re not able to keep up with your support requests, we have to put our merchants first. That’s another reason why it would be removed.
The third reason you could be removed from the theme store is a failure to make the updates that we require.
Does the theme developer provide support for their theme?
Not in all cases. Currently, that’s the state of things. In the past, we had a 50-50 rev share where Shopify takes on support for your theme, and you just develop it and make the updates when needed. But we've found that many partners want to provide support for their own themes.
So that’s why developers earn “up to 70%” on a theme sale, because it depends on the support agreement.
Yeah. Most people will support their own theme. But if you’re not able to, there is an option for Shopify to support it. Even then, you’re still required to make the updates to that theme or fix any bugs that we might find.
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