7 Tips For Customers And Theme Authors

dollarsignOver the past two years, I think I’ve spent a few hundred dollars purchasing WordPress themes for various reasons. The downside is, I’ve only used a few of them. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to buy something that looks great in the display case but no matter what you try, it doesn’t look that good in practice. With that in mind, here are 7 tips for both theme authors and customers for a better shopping experience.

Design First – In a recent poll conducted on WPTavern.com, I asked what the most important selling point was regarding purchasing a theme. Not surprisingly, design came out on top. When I go shopping for a theme, I already have an idea of what I want my site to look like. So, I take notice of not only the design but the layout or structure of the theme. I’ve become pretty good at modifying existing designs to the point where they look like something custom.

Must Have A Demo – This picks up where point 1 leaves off. I’ve been to a few commercial theme sites that preach all the stuff their themes have to offer with pretty pictures and the works. But, no demo. The bottom line is, if there is no demo of the theme in action, I’m moving on to something else. Demos are also used as a way to gauge the quality of code within the theme by other developers who may be looking at purchasing the theme to use as a base for their clients. I think of demos as a way to try before you buy.

Support – You can’t even begin to think about purchasing a theme unless you know for certain you’re going to receive quality support. I remember coming across a really slick design that I fell in love with but because I couldn’t access the forums without being a paid member, I couldn’t get a feel for how good support was. Sure, the email and forum support could have been top notch but since I had no way of knowing that before hand, it was a risk I wasn’t willing to spend 75$ on.

What I Saw And What I Have Are Different – This has to be one of the most annoying aspects which comes after the purchase of a theme. What I thought looked great in the display case turns out to be a nightmare to configure. This is the number one reason why I haven’t used the majority of themes I have purchased because I can’t get them to look the same they did in their display case or it’s to hard to make them look the way I envisioned them to.

Some of this problem lies on my shoulders though. As I shop around for a theme, I see something I really like and inside of my head, I envision how I would change things around to fit the idea I have in my head. After making the purchase, I find out that it’s too much trouble to go through to get the idea from head to paper so I don’t use the theme.

No Refunds – Equally as annoying but at least understandable is the fact that there are no refunds on downloadable products in the WordPress community. It makes sense considering once the product has been distributed, the business loses control over that products distribution and if they were to refund that money, they would go out of business really quick. This just means that it is very important that you cross your T’s and dot your I’s before going through with the purchase.

Resource Files – Unless it’s specifically stated on the purchase page that you get access to the source files such as PSD, font files, etc ask the theme author if these come with the theme or not. If they don’t and that particular theme uses a graphic for a logo, it will be difficult to change unless you have Photoshop experience or know someone that does.

Have A Showcase – At least a few times during my shopping trip, I’ll browse around to see if there is a showcase available which shows examples of the theme in action. I enjoy looking to see how people have modified the theme as it gives me a sense of what I would be able to achieve. If you’re a commercial theme author and you don’t have a showcase, you are really doing yourself a disservice.

Share Your Tips:

That rounds out my list of 7 tips for both commercial theme authors and customers. Thank goodness I finally found a theme I can invest my time in and not worry about changing every three months. I’m interested in hearing what sort of tips you have to share either as a customer or for commercial theme authors.

Once you’re done here, pop into the forum and let us know what are the top three preferences for choosing a theme.

10 Comments


  1. “What I Saw And What I Have Are Different” is especially true and hugely confusing for newbies too.

    I’ve talked to too many people who bought a theme and have trouble understanding they need to visits the theme’s options page and set things up. Or even do things like put an image in their post so an image will show up with a post thumbnail. :D

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  2. @Andrea_R – Yeah, been down that road plenty of times. I’ve gotten so frustrated with finding out that in order to achieve the same look, I have to do custom field this and custom field that, install this plugin, etc. It’s like WOW! didn’t know it was going to be that tough or else I would have kept my money!

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  3. Yeah, I’ve come across a couple of paid themes where I thought to myself, if I knew I had to set up this many option, and this much content beforehand, I would have picked a different theme.

    (I have one specifically in mind. Not gonna call it premium. :D The coding was terrible.)

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  4. Nice post.

    Really good documentation is high on my list. While time consuming to create, in the long run its beneficial for the theme developer as they will have to answer fewer support questions.

    I would like to see more themes come with a XML file for import containing the same content as their demo. That’s pretty common in the Joomla world. In fact some of the Joomla theme clubs have installers that install the latest Joomla software, the theme package and the demo content in one easy install. This would partially address “What I Saw And What I Have Are Different”

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  5. I like being able to see the installation documentation also. That way I will know what plugins and various other steps I will need to do to get the site up and running. I hate not be able to see the theme documentation until after purchasing the theme.

    For example. I was using a certain templates from one theme author and a plugin was used to create thumbnails on the homepage (auto generated). The new theme just bought from another theme maker used custom fields for homepage images. I did not know custom fields for the thumb process was needed because all the documentation was hidden away until after buying the actual theme. In the long run the theme has now been collecting dust because I could not be bothered editing 500 posts to add a custom field.

    I also like to know if a theme will be updated for future versions of WordPress.

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  6. Given configuration hell perhaps theme designers should include screenshot of the configuration panel also?

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  7. @Brad Potter – Yeah, I didn’t even mention documentation on the list. As for your suggestion of dummy content, pretty sure we had this discussion at some point in time. I think it’s a good idea. Doesn’t Brian Gardner do this with his themes?

    @Martin – Ughh, custom fields. Thank goodness for Just Tadlocks Get The Image script!

    @Andreas Nurbo – The more screenshots of the theme, the better. It wouldn’t hurt.

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  8. The beauty is that you develop your very own wp template. It`s not that hard, and with a few coding skills you can manage everything. :)

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  9. @Jeffro – Yes BG does it with his StudioPress themes. He provides a xml file with the demo posts, etc. Not sure if any other theme devs do the same. It’s a nice touch.

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