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Hello, Scott Austin here.
In this episode, I'm going to give you a detailed review of the Turbo theme by Out of the Sandbox. It is my favorite Shopify theme. I'll cover the good things about the theme and the areas where it still needs improvement. And I'll give some of my best practices when working with the Turbo theme.
I've been recommending the Turbo theme to my clients since 2017. I've used it for all kinds of stores. From stores with one product to stores with tens of thousands of products and every size of store in between. It's my go to theme for just about every situation. I've built image rich consumer stores in it and also very functional wholesale stores. The theme is bursting with features which makes it suitable for most situations.
My philosophy about themes is that themes are like toolboxes. Every theme comes with a set of tools in their toolbox. So you need to find the theme that has the tools, or features, that your store requires. The Turbo theme has the most tools in the toolbox. So the theme has more features and controls than other themes. So it can do more out of the box than alternative themes. Which can save you money as you won't need to hire a Shopify Expert as quickly when building your store. The price tag for the Turbo theme is $350 which is substantially more than other premium themes which usually cost around $180. But I think the cost difference is really small when see how much more value the Turbo theme provides when compared to other premium themes. One thing to note is that this theme is not available in the theme store and you'll have to get it directly from the Out of the Sandbox website. I've got a link to it in the show notes.
So now let's dig into some details on the Turbo theme. The version I'm reviewing is 5.0.4 which came out on February 26th 2020.
Let me start off with some of my favorite features in the Turbo theme:
- The Out of the Sandbox team is constantly creating new releases and improving the theme. Over time, I find that things that bug me about the theme get improved. And new features are always getting added. You may notice how Shopify is always improving your Shopify admin. Well, Out of the Sandbox is the same way with the Turbo theme - constantly improving. Turbo was my favorite theme in 2017 and it has continued to receive robust product development and I like it even more now.
- Turbo has a lot of settings for fonts and colors in the store. This allows you to customize the theme pretty well to map to your brand. Having so many settings allows each store to look different than other stores built in the same theme.
- Turbo has a ton of sections that you can use on the homepage. There's currently 22 different homepage sections. And one of those is for custom HTML, which allows you to augment what these sections provide. With so many sections, you'll be able to present your content in the way the makes the most sense for your customers.
- There are also tons of options for the header that allow you to create drastically different experiences. And the header is important for your store's branding as it is the first every customer sees. Dropdown menus can be horizontal, vertical, or Mega Navs. Mega Navs is a feature of having super-rich content like photos and multiple columns in your dropdown. You can put your logo in the header above the menus or in line with the menus. And you can have a sticky menu, which is when a mini menu that stay on the top of the page as a customer scrolls down the page. The main navigation can be placed over banners or have a solid color background. So this and a lot more allows the header, which is an important part of your site experience to be customized to your store needs and brand.
- Responsiveness is super important so that the site looks good on desktop and mobile. And Turbo does a pretty good job of this. My favorite example of this is their responsive banners. So you can add an image as banner for a page. On desktop, we want that image to be very wide and not very tall in aspect ratio. That will give us a good-looking full-width banner. But that very landscape banner can look bad on mobile if it retains the same aspect ratio. So the Turbo theme lets you crop the banner to be portrait for mobile display. And you decide if the text stays over the banner or goes underneath the image on mobile. It really makes your site look much more professional on mobile.
- Turbo also provides many page templates. There are currently 12 unique page templates. There are specific templates for contact with communication forms, teams with photos for each employee, gallery with multiple ways to display the photos and FAQ with a slick accordion presentation for questions and answers. And one of the page templates is called details and it's my favorite. It gives you homepage level customization on a normal what I call evergreen page. So your about page or your contact page and other evergreen pages can be much more engaging with a mix of text, images, videos and products. One thing to note about the page.details template is that each page that you want to have the rich presentation provided by the template will have to have a unique template in the theme files. So let's say you have 5 pages that you want to have use the details template. Well, then you'll need to make 5 copies of the page template file in the liquid code and give each one them a unique name and assign them to the pages.
- There are also collection filters which is a useful way for customers to find the right product for them if your product catalog is large. So you could have customers filter on things like color or sizes or different features and that's built into the collection pages.
- The collection page can also show color swatches and multiple product photos. It also has a number of pagination options. The one that I like is called infinite scroll and that's when the collection page keeps adding products to the page, as the customer scrolls down, instead of having the customer click from one page to the next to the next to see all the products that are in a given collection.
- Predictive Search. As the customer starts typing text into the Search box, they'll start seeing results before they finish typing. Like you see when search on Google. And those results will be inline with the page they are on. These dynamic results look professional.
- Features exist for customers to see their browse history or get dynamic product recommendations based on the product they are looking at. These features can be easily added to collection or product pages.
- The Turbo theme is built by professional developers. So, for the most part, the code is well structured and easy to understand. This means it's easier for a developer to modify and customize the theme to meet your business' needs.
- Turbo has built in support for structured data, which will help your store's SEO efforts.
So, I'm a huge fan of the Turbo theme. If I haven't installed it in a hundred stores yet, I'm probably getting close to that number. In my experience, here are some things that you should be aware of when using the theme or areas for improvement for the theme:
- My biggest complaint with the Turbo theme is their customer support. Frankly, its just awful. It seems like their support processes are designed to say Out of the Sandbox is not responsible for any issues you may be experiencing instead of helping you get the most out of the theme. Customer support won't help with any customizations of the theme. And by help, I just mean they won't engage in a conversation and give advice or documentation. And they won't help diagnose issues when the theme and an app are not working well together. I've been so frustrated with their lack of support in the past, that I don't even try to engage them anymore. The typical experience I've had with them when trying to solve an issue is that they add a fresh copy of the theme in the store and show that it is working properly. So they conclude that any issues are either caused by changes made by apps or my customizations. They then state that that is beyond their scope of support.
- Performance. Turbo comes with a performance feature where the store owner can switch between 'Sport' and 'Ludicrous' modes. Ludicrous is meant to be faster for the customer. But here's the thing. In my experience, the Ludicrous mode has a compatibility issue with many apps and customizations. So, I always turn it off. Even if the store isn't using any apps that have compatibility issues now, I still turn the Ludicrous mode off anyways. My reason is that down the road, the store owner may add an app that causes issues, as many apps do. So, to prevent any future confusion for the store owner, I disable the feature. In other words, I've had too many issues with the theme's major feature, that I disable it every time.
- When you go to the Out of the Sandbox website to purchase the Turbo theme, the way it is setup is more confusing than it needs to be. The confusion is that the site shows 5 different versions of the theme as separate products. So it looks like you need to make a decision pre-purchase on which version you want. But here's the thing. There are no differences between these products. Regardless of which version you get, you'll get the same download file which allows you to pick which version to install in the store. So if you want to purchase the Turbo theme, just grab any version on their website and you'll be good.
- The turbo theme has built in support for Shopify's free Product Reviews app, which sounds great. But here's the thing, no one should use that app as it doesn't solicit reviews from customers via email after they have made a purchase. Stores should use a more robust review app like the ones from Stamped.io or Judge.me. By including built-in support for the app, it seems like a recommendation. The best theme should not endorse the worst review app. I'd prefer they add support for the better review apps or at least pull support for the Shopify Review App.
- The Turbo theme has an associated Theme Updater App that sounds great. It will update your theme to the latest version so that you get the benefit of the latest features from Out of the Sandbox. But the app doesn't automate the full upgrade process if you have added any apps or have made significant code changes to the theme. And most stores that are running a robust business are going to make significant changes to their theme. So don't expect to the get the automated benefit of theme updates from the app.
- There's a lot of functionality inside the Turbo theme. So there's also a learning curve when starting out on the theme. It may take some time for you to understand all of the features and controls in the theme and how to access them. For example, one feature is the ability to have the banner image underneath the main navigation menu for a slick, bespoke looking website. Now the toggle for whether the main navigation is over the banner image or a solid background happens to be in the Color settings for the theme. It's not the worst place to put it. But it may take you time to discover where it is and what it does. So, and I apologize for the self-serving nature of this advice. So it may prudent for you to engage with a Shopify Expert that has experience with the theme to help you get the most out of it in the quickest amount of time.
So to finish this knowledge dump, I want to give you some of the best practices that I have developed over time working with the Turbo theme.
- Mobile first design. Turbo gives you lot's of design element to use on your site. And many of them look great on desktop, but they can also make the mobile experience overly crowded and confusing. Most stores these days are getting 80% of their site traffic on mobile. So my recommendation is that you review your design on mobile first. Make sure it is clear and easy on mobile before looking at it on desktop. An example of this is mega-menus. As I mentioned before, mega-menus are robust, content rich menus that look great on desktop. But the same mega-menus probably won't look as great on mobile. So start the design from the mobile presentation first. And once its good on mobile, be very cautious of adding functionality for the desktop experience as it may confuse the mobile experience.
- Although the Turbo theme gives you lot's of choices and control over the way the header appears, it does not have Search-centric header design. You can't put the search box front and center in the header. So if you have a large product catalog that your customers usually search on, you'll need some custom code edits to the theme to create a search centric header.
- The filters on the collection pages have limits. For example, let's say there are two filters, one for size and one for color. If the customer selects one of the color filters, say red, the size filter options won't update to only show those sizes that are available in color red. So if your store has a large product catalog and filters are important to the browse shopping experience, then you should add a filter app to the store. I recommend the Product Filter & Search app.
- The Turbo theme has a built-in pop-up that you can use for email collection or general communication. I recommend that you do not use the theme's built-in pop-up for email collection as the free version of the Privvy app has better features. But you can use the built-in pop-up for site wide notifications that you want to give to customers. A common scenario is letting customers know about shipping deadlines as the holidays approach.
- Header colors. Turbo allows for separate background colors for the Top Bar, which is thin strip at the top of the page, and the rest of the header. And the rest of the header is the section where the store's logo will be overlaid. This is great on desktop as the two colors can have a lot of contrast to help with branding. But here's the catch, on mobile, the logo gets overlaid on the top bar's background color. And that may mean that the logo does not have the right contrast with the background color on mobile. Turbo allows you to designate different logos for desktop and mobile. So be sure to optimize two versions of the logo to go with the different color backgrounds for desktop and mobile.
- For product pages on mobile, the Turbo theme puts the products photos on the top of the page above the product title. I'm not a fan of that sequencing. So I add some custom liquid code and CSS to the theme to display the product title at the top of the page for mobile.
- Colors. One thing that I spend time tweaking in the Turbo theme is colors. Turbo gives you a lot of control over color. In fact, there are 59 different color selections that you can adjust in the theme. But you'll still come across situations in your store where you want more control. To get that level of control, you will have to manually go into the theme code and add the control there. This is pretty easy to do in Turbo as the theme uses a variety of classes throughout the HTML that will allow you to pinpoint the area you want to adjust color on. But doing this will take knowledge of Liquid code and CSS.
So in summary, the best theme out there today is the Turbo theme. And its been my top theme for years as it is the most feature rich theme available. So unless you must have a feature that is only available in another theme, my recommendation is to go with Turbo. Your store will look great and it will be easier for you to maintain.
Thanks for listening.