Theme Seller Reviews: Winners and Losers
Finding the perfect theme can be confusing and time consuming at the best of times with so many theme sellers out there – 1001 to be exact.
There’s a lot to consider before you hit the “Buy” button. Do you need a single theme or would a club membership offer better value for money? Do you need ongoing support? Do you need a theme that is feature-rich and fully customizable or something more basic and minimalistic?
To help you get a feel for what’s available, we have posted comprehensive reviews of 12 of the most popular WordPress theme sellers – Elegant Themes, WooThemes, Graph Paper Press, Organic Themes, Themes Kingdom, Theme Trust, ThemeZilla, Obox Designs, iThemes, Press75, StudioPress and WPZoom.
For each theme company, we investigated their cost, features, aesthetics, usability, customer support and speed.
We are in no way affiliated with any of the theme sellers we reviewed. We’re not going to tell you which theme seller you MUST sign up with because everyone’s needs are different. We simply did the leg work to help you decide which theme seller would work best for you.
Check out the reviews in this series:
- WordPress Theme Seller Review Series: Choosing the Perfect Theme
- Elegant Themes Review: Beautiful Themes At Hard to Beat Prices
- iThemes Review: Enormous Control, Easy to Use, Average Design
- ThemesKingdom Review: Fantastic Value, Plugins and Support
- Organic Themes Review: Modern Designs and Friendly Support Ain’t Cheap
- WPZoom Review: Clean, Well-Organized Designs, Yet Slightly Pricey
- WooThemes Review: Feature-Rich Themes that are Pricey and Boring
- StudioPress Review: Clean, Sober, Secure
- Graph Paper Press Review: Understated Themes for Creative Types
- Press75 Review: Love ‘Em, Hate ‘Em, or Do Both at the Same Time!
- Theme Trust Review: Clean Designs and Slow Support at Competitive Prices
- Obox Review: Lots of Control but Occasionally Complex
- ThemeZilla Review: Elegant Designs and Not-So-Friendly Support
So without further ado, the results!
Winner: Elegant Themes
No surprises here. Elegant Themes offers the cheapest theme club membership plans available at just $39 a year for a Personal plan and access to all 86 themes. That’s just 45 cents a theme. It’s hard to pass up a deal like that.
At the other end of the scale, WooThemes subscriptions will cost you a $199 startup fee and then $29 a month to access their 84 themes, and that’s just for a standard account – developers are asked to fork out more.
It’s interesting to note that charging customer for ongoing support costs has become a trend. It’s worth mentioning WooThemes here as a classic case in point. In August the company upped its prices and redefined “lifetime” support as “two years,” in a controversial move that upset frustrated customers who thought they had paid for support for life. It also spawned the creation of WP Avengers.
While WooThemes was widely panned for double-crossing its customers, it is obvious that offering free lifetime support isn’t a sustainable business model as a customer base grows and support work increases. Other theme shops that offer lifetime support, such as Theme Trust, could well go down the path of WooThemes and end up redefining what lifetime means to them, too.
Winners: iThemes and WooThemes
Losers: Theme Trust and ThemeZilla
iThemes and WooThemes took top honours in this category for their highly customizable themes.
iThemes’ Builder framework gives you a lot of control over your theme in terms of customizing the layout, fonts and colors. The Layouts and Views section of the framework also allows you to insert and order the different building blocks of your site’s design, such as the navigation, sidebars and any widget areas.
Similarly, the WooThemes WooFramework offers theme options and packages many features with its themes, such as sliders, custom post types and widgets.
One thing that can’t go unsaid is the lack of responsive themes for the theme shops we reviewed. Theme sellers love to advertise how many themes they have, but when you take a close look at them, many are old and lack features that in 2013 are considered standard, like responsive design. You’re lucky to find a third or a quarter of the themes of any theme seller that feature mobile design.
Also, few theme shops are converting their older themes into responsive designs. There would be many people who bought products as part of old “lifetime” packages expecting to get theme updates and are now out of luck because the theme they bought will never be responsive.
Overall, there was a lack of features in themes aside form very basic customization, hence Theme Trust and ThemeZilla taking out last place.
Winners: Elegant Themes and ThemeZilla
Losers: WooThemes and Press75
Elegant Themes and ThemeZilla offers the most visually appealing themes and both companies have obviously put a lot of work into their designs. It’s interesting to note that Elegant Themes only hired its second designers in July – owner Nick Roach was the theme seller’s sole designer for five years!
Overall, theme shops just aren’t pushing the boundaries of modern design. While some of them offer flat design, there wasn’t a single parallax theme. Aesthetically, theme sellers aren’t offering designs that compete with what’s available on ThemeForest.
It’s worth mentioning that WPZoom sells some fantastic magazine-style themes. They do a nice job of putting a lot of content into a small space.
Also, most iThemes themes are really average or below average, but you really do get an enormous amount of control in terms of setting up page layouts and creating your own layouts.
WooThemes offers a rather boring looking collection, though after our review was published, the company’s Ryan Ray commented that modern design philosophy clashed with other aspects of what a theme should include.
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“We often hear that we need to include the kitchen sink in our themes, have four sliders with unlimited options, unlimited color choices in an included stylesheet, fonts, drag and drop, shortcodes, forms, SEO, a portfolio, etc,” Ray said.
Functionality versus aesthetics seems to be something theme sellers struggle with, and in most cases functionality wins.
Winners: Elegant Themes, iThemes, WPZoom, StudioPress, Theme Trust
Losers: Press75, Obox
Usability was fairly consistent right across the board, though buying and setting up a theme was especially easy using Elegant Themes, iThemes, WPZoom, StudioPress and Theme Trust.
Elegant Themes has a super easy to navigate Members Area where all of the available theme downloads are available and you’re just a click away from the support forums. While, Theme Trust doesn’t offer a members area, the support forums are simple to use and installing their themes didn’t offer up any issues worth hassling suport about.
Obox themes, while having nice themes aesthetically, offer a confusing array of options that would be certainly overwhelming for any new user. Having said this, it’s a trade off between complexity and simplicity in usability, though theme sellers should aim to make themes easy for users to install and use rather than make people work to set up a theme.
Losers: ThemeTrust, ThemeZilla
Support offered by theme sellers is basically the same – some offer email support, others have support forums and then there are those that provide both, such as StudioPress.
Theme shop support isn’t typically around the clock, though it’s interesting to note that many companies work beyond their dedicated support hours. For example, StudioPress responded to support questions on a public holiday, as did Organic Themes.
The nice thing about sellers that have forums, and in particular StudioPress, is the community of people who help each other out. In many cases, members jump in to answer questions before support staff and moderators have a chance to chime in. This member experience and willingness to help others that adds enormous value to a theme seller who offers forums. Forums also offer a great way for new members to search through old threads for an answer to a problem, rather than ask a repetitive question.
It’s also worth noting that support hours for most theme sellers is limited to week days EST, which isn’t all that helpful for people who live outside the US – the majority of WordPress users. Shops like ThemeZilla, which is based in the UK, is an exception and offers GMT hours. Elegant Themes offers support around the clock via its forum.
Winners: WPZoom, Graph Paper Press
We tested themes for speed using Google PageSpeed Insights, which measures the performance of a page for desktop and mobile devices and ranks them out of 100.
This is by no means a definitive or entirely reliable test, as a theme can have wildly different results depending on caching and other server and script optimizations.
Having said that, it still offers an interesting insight into elements that affect a theme’s performance, such as good code.
With any theme, though, it’s important to keep in mind that when you install and activate a theme it’s on you to optimize your WordPress site to give your theme the best chance to perform well. Caching, minimizing scripts and setting up CDN can go a long way to improving your site’s speed.
And the winners are… Elegant Themes and StudioPress
It’s easy to see why Elegant Themes and StudioPress are popular theme sellers. Both companies offer consistently reliable products that take the hassle out of setting up and using a WordPress theme.
Elegant Themes has established itself as a solid, premium seller of commercial themes with its growing collection of 86 designs. StudioPress is also highly regarded in the WordPress community and many developers regard their themes as easy to work with and having clean code.
Summing up, there are many factors to consider when looking for a theme seller, such as the categories above that we investigated. While this review did pick winners, it’s important that you decide what you need from a theme before forking out your hard earned cash.
If you’re after beautiful and aesthetically pleasing designs you might want to try out Elegant Themes or ThemeZilla. If you’re after functionality and features, WooThemes and iThemes might be better suited to your needs. It’s always a good idea to do your research because every theme shop is different.
Are Elegant Themes and Studio Press deserving winners? What are your favourite theme sellers? Have your say in the comments below.