Dawn theme - "The good, the bad, and the ugly"

Dawn theme - "The good, the bad, and the ugly"
Shopify's Dawn theme

If you have opened a new Shopify store, you may have already seen their default theme, Dawn. It comes by default to every Shopify store, is free, and is the most popular theme. But the question (which we will pursue more in-depth below) is: "How good is this theme for my store?" Let's find out.

If you are not in the mood to read this whole article, feel free to skip to the end, in the "Verdict" section, where we provide a concise answer.

Other free themes developed by Shopify

Free Themes on Shopify's theme store

First, in addition to the standard Dawn theme installed by default on any Shopify store, there are a couple of other free themes on the Shopify theme market. Themes like SenseRefresh, or Spotlight, even though they look different in design, are all based on the Dawn theme. In other words, they are just using a slightly customized Dawn theme, so this post also covers those themes.

Rating on the Shopify theme store by users

Dawn theme rated by users on the Shopify theme store

At the moment of writing this blog post, the rating from users on the official Shopify theme store for the Dawn theme is 1.6/5 stars from 173 customers. That's not a good rating, considering that the Dawn theme is the base theme for any Shopify store. However, after reading some reviews, we noticed that users give a bad rating not on their overall experience but on just one single issue that they might have encountered. That is not the wisest approach to rate something. On the other hand, we noticed reviews like this for example:

"Considering it is a base/starter theme from Shopify, it should have a well-structured codebase to set a good example. Sadly, it's not: There are a ton of JS files in the assets (which is fine), but then there is also a huge global.js, which is full of random stuff. Even class definitions are in there. I don't know; it feels very hacky and badly written."

- Skischule Ostrachtal Development Store Feb 2, 2024

Since we are developers ourselves, we can confirm that even though most of Dawn’s JavaScript codes follow the latest standards, the overall code organization could be better because it makes it difficult for other developers to customize it. Another topic that seems to pop up frequently is performance, an issue primarily related to recent updates. For example, one reviewer wrote:

"The latest update basically broke my website. Speed went from the 70s to mid-thirties, and it's lower daily. Some major apps that I relied on for things like customer accounts no longer work, and all of my customers lost access to their account notes, among many other issues. I have no choice but to spend time redoing my website with another theme now."

- FancyB Press on Nails Jan 9, 2024

However, having tested ourselves, we disagree with the reviewer; the page speed in the Dawn theme is considerably good. They have probably installed one (or many) apps that have created issues in their store. Apps are notoriously known to drain the store performance and speed (we are planning to write a dedicated post on this matter soon), But there are some good reviews as well. For example, this reviewer wrote:

"Love this theme; so simple and so easy to use!"

- Light City Central Dec 12, 2023

That is true, but it is essential to add in what regard. Suppose you are starting with e-commerce and Shopify. In that case, simple might be a good choice, but not if your concern is increasing CVR (conversion rates) or AOV (average order value), a point which we will briefly discuss below in the "Extra features" section.

Easiness of customization

Dawn theme settings

Since the Dawn theme primarily targets starter/new stores, it should be simple enough for these new store owners to find their way around the various options and settings. Overall, we agree that the Dawn theme is not complicated when customized in the theme editor. All the included sections have the essential settings organized, so we don’t think store owners will encounter any difficulties.
Also, since Dawn is the base theme for any Shopify store, it is expected to include all the essential features necessary for a Shopify store. Features like the currency converter, language switcher, predictive search, and other critical features are all included and ready to be customized.

Two points that should be improved or handled differently are the “Theme settings” and the new “Color schemes” logic. The theme settings should be organized appropriately so the store owners can easily find their way around them. There are more than twenty groups, which we think are too many.  Carefully grouping them should be a task for future updates. The second point is the new Color scheme setting, which we are elaborating on below.

Color schemes

New Color Schemes setting

With the recent updates, Shopify has released the Color scheme option. The logic is that you can set a couple of grouped color settings (a color scheme) in the theme settings, and then, in the various sections of the theme, you can select the preferred scheme for that particular section.
The logic is fine in theory, but after we tried to implement it in our themes, we quickly realized that, in practice, this approach led to confusion and a hard-to-manage color logic across the theme.
The issue is that the colors on a website, especially for an e-commerce store, should be kept at a minimum. Generally, a store shouldn’t have more than 2-3 different colors, as users might be distracted by them. We want our users to focus on our products, not design. However, the new Color Scheme logic can quickly lead to a “colorful” store with sections with too many colors.
Having a set of global colors and allowing store owners to select those colors on the sections is the simple and more effective way to go about this matter, and this is the approach we are successfully using on our Shopify Themes.

Performance and page speed

Dawn theme - Google PageSpeed Tool -

Many store owners assume the theme is 100% responsible for the store's performance and loading times. We would split this assumption into 50% for the theme, 25% for the apps installed, and 25% for the store owners themselves.
First, without deviating too much from our topic, the Dawn theme loading times are great, like most professionally coded Shopify themes. They even use advanced strategies like preloading critical CSS for faster loading times or image “scrset” to serve adequate image sizes in various screen resolutions.

However, as stated above, the theme's job is only 50%. Many Shopify store owners seem forget the remaining 50%. Relying on too many apps is one of the most common pitfalls that we have noticed. Shopify apps are notoriously known to drain the store’s performance (not necessarily the loading times). It seems many store owners have an addiction to apps, hoping tjeu will magically do wonders for their store. From our experience, keeping installed apps at a minimum is one of the wisest choices you can make to have a fast and performant Shopify store.

The remaining 25% is the store owners' responsibility when designing the store, and the most critical issue is publishing too many sections, especially on the homepage. In fact, it’s a good thing that Shopify limits the number of enabled sections to 25. Otherwise, we would probably see stores with 100 sections or even more.So, carefully planning a store's layout is critical to have a fast-loading Shopify store.
Another point is the extra features, especially on the PDP (product page) and the cart drawer/page. Having too many features like upsells, quantity breaks, trust badges, testimonials, etc., can add up to the store's performance, so keeping an eye on those is also a wise approach.

Support and documentation

The official Shopify community homepage

There is no official documentation specifically for the Dawn theme, but Shopify has general theme tutorials that applies to any theme. Some documentation materials can also be found on the official blog or YouTube channel, and of course, they are professionally written/recorded as expected by a top company like Shopify.

Regarding customer support, Shopify mainly relies on its Community Forum for its products, including the Dawn theme; however, they have recently provided support via tickets and live chat. Based on the customer reviews on the Dawn theme, the support seems generally good and on time. However, you shouldn’t expect in-depth support or specific fixes directly in your store, a matter that we proudly handle here at KondaSoft for all our customers.

Extra Features

Cart upsell snippet for Dawn theme by KondaSoft

Since the Dawn theme is mostly a starter theme, it lacks some extra features that, even though they might not be needed for a starter store, are essential for large and established stores looking to get the most from their customers.
Features like cart upsells, cart goals, shipping calculator, quantity breaks, frequently bought together, etc., are not part of the Dawn theme, at least not yet.
However, if you love the Dawn theme and want to enhance it further, we at KondaSoft have a fantastic list of free snippets. You can immediately use them to improve the CVR (conversion rates) and AOV (Average order value) of the Dawn theme or any other Shopify theme.

Looking to enhance your Dawn Theme with extra features like cart upsells?! We have lots of Awesome Free Snippets ready for download. Browse our free snippets.

From a developer's perspective

global.js - A large JS file including lots of functions inside the Dawn theme

Feel free to skip this part if you are not a developer, but if you are one or aspiring to become one, you might find useful a few points that we will summarize here.

First, the Dawn theme does not use an HTML/CSS framework like we do for our Shopify Themes. We use Bootstrap framework, the world's most popular open-source web framework, and in fact, this is one of the main reasons our customers love our Shopify themes, as they have used Bootstrap before.
Working with a popular framework like Bootstrap has many advantages, including well-tested codes and a huge community of members contributing daily to the framework. All this work contributes to the theme's integrity and performance since it relies heavily on the framework for its core capabilities.
On the other hand, other developers can easily find their way around the theme codes to customize it since they might already be familiar with the framework. Even if they are not, the Bootstrap documentation is available to check anytime.

So, going back to the Dawn theme, the lack of a framework like Bootstrap has resulted in many “spaghetti” codes, especially in the core JavaScript files, that other developers have difficulty finding their way around. Without getting too deep into this point, coding various features on the Dawn theme will feel highly challenging, and choosing a theme that uses a popular framework is a wise choice to save some hours of frustration.


Apple Mac's Voice Over feature speaking the Cart icon

This point needs more attention as we have noticed that many store owners do not care about it or even haven’t heard about it.

So, in case you are unfamiliar with it, accessibility simply refers to having your website or store accessible to users with various disabilities. These users will mainly use screen readers to navigate; they might not use a mouse or even be able to see at all our store. Mostly, it is the theme’s job to handle it, but sometimes you, as a store owner, might need to do a few things; for example, you should set the “Alt” text on the images.

The Dawn theme developers take accessibility very seriously. Every feature is coded accurately with the correct “Aria” attributes, making any store built with the Dawn theme a pleasant experience for these disabled users.

Our final “verdict.”

To keep it short, if you are starting with Shopify or e-commerce in general, the Dawn theme is a great choice since it is simple to customize and get around. However, if you are an experienced developer looking to fine-tune your Shopify store, you should use a theme built around a popular framework like Bootstrap. Also, if you are past the newbie level and looking to get the most from your Shopify store, with extra features to increase CVR and AOV, in that case, you definitely need a more powerful and robust Shopify theme that includes these out-of-the-box features (without the need for additional apps).

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