Does moving to Shopify restrict front-end design?
It’s important to answer this quickly and clearly before providing an explanation. No. In no way does being on Shopify limit what’s possible to achieve on the front-end of your eCommerce store. Hopefully that’s the answer that you were looking for - so now we can delve into the “why”.
It’s a question that we get asked a lot by potential new clients, “can we do that on the front-end with Shopify?” The question is most likely born from the fact that many market place Shopify themes have a similar format and structure, because that’s what a theme needs to order to appeal to as many merchants as possible. So it’s perfectly natural that people look at lots of Shopify stores and think that it’s a platform limitation, as opposed to a creative one.
Backend and frontend, what’s the difference?
To the uninitiated those words have no frame of reference and can seem daunting - but it’s actually a very simple principle.
Backend - The backend of a website or store usually consists of three parts: a server, an application, and a database. This is the architecture of the website and what drives core functionality like Shopify’s admin panel, payment gateways, load distribution etc. This part of Shopify is very much behind lock and key and only accessible to Shopify themselves, which is actually the big difference between Shopify and Magento. There are pros and cons to this, but ultimately it removes a lot of the complicated, expensive leg work from eCommerce like PCI compliance, SSL certification, server setup and maintenance, and allows merchants to focus on the important things like marketing and selling products! It means that store owners don’t have to worry about uptime and server load.
Frontend - Typically, this is everything that the user sees and interacts with. It’s the visual side of your website that typically dictates whether or not a user is likely to become a customer. It's everything about how you present your brand and product offering, and how easy people find it to interact with.
So, how does it work?
There are a few ways in which you can utilise Shopify. The first is by installing a theme from the Shopify Theme Store, then populating with your products. You are then free to make as many or few changes to theme in order to achieve the desired look and feel for your Shopify store.
The second method (which is what we do at BAO) is to hire an agency that will design and build a bespoke “theme” completely from scratch. When doing so, we start with a completely blank canvas (or Sketch file) and never have to question “but can that be built on Shopify?”. We design with total creative freedom on every aspect of the website - including fonts, layouts and content organisation.
Once the client is 100% happy with the website designs, they are handed over to one of our front-end developers where they are hand-coded in house on Slate (Shopify's build system), and integrated into the Shopify backend. So although the frontend and backend are connected and need to talk to each other, there are no limitations or restrictions on how the frontend can look and behave. So if someone tells you that a design can’t be built on Shopify, it’s more likely because they can’t build it at all - and Shopify isn’t the problem, their skillset is.