Creating a Shopify App: What You Want to Know Before Starting
Shopify is a really powerful platform. Yet to fully make use of its potential, you will need to fuel it up with several integrations and applications. To do so, you can use public, custom or private ones, and it’s only the beginning of describing the Shopify app development ecosystem. Read on – you’ll get to know the typical stages of app creation, pros & cons or cost estimates.
Shopify is by far one of the most popular e-commerce platforms, used by 1.75 million businesses around the world.
We have thoroughly discussed this solution in our previous blog posts, including best Shopify website designs or Shopify SEO best practices, so we won’t take your time explaining the platform’s features in this article.
What we want to concentrate on today is Shopify app development – the apps that extend functionality beyond the basic solution and enable companies to introduce enriched features. The list can go on and on: managing customer accounts, setting up shipping options, promoting sales, running campaigns, and many others.
As the number of Shopify stores grows, so does the number of apps – there are nearly 7.5 thousand of them available from the Shopify app store, and that’s not the whole list.
Today is the best time to build a Shopify app for your online store. Merchants are relentlessly looking to differentiate themselves from the competition and having a thoughtfully designed app may be the key to a better user experience, in turn translating into extended reach and revenue.
What is a Shopify app?
A Shopify application is a solution similar to a WordPress plugin – in a sentence, it allows you to extend the basic functionality of the main platform.
Shopify, as one of the most popular e-commerce platforms worldwide, has millions of users with various, sometimes very specific or special needs, so the apps bridge those gaps in expectations.
applications are available in the Shopify App Store
(as of Q1 2023)
Shopify App Store – where and how to find ecommerce apps?
Shopify apps are available on the common marketplace called the Shopify App Store. It contains thousands of apps that serve a variety of purposes.
The store is divided into categories, referring to the app’s functionality or business purpose, and it also has a search function.
Understanding the Purposes and Classification of Building Shopify Apps
The apps’ purposes are reflected in the categories in the Shopify App Store. Let’s take a closer look!
We have various main categories referring to a store’s design, conversion, marketing, store management, customer service, merchandising, shipment, and so on.
Each of them is divided into further subcategories. For example, marketing can be narrowed down by analytics, advertisement, e-mail marketing, SEO, direct marketing, and content marketing.
This facilitates the search and also gives the user an idea of what can be found in the store.
Exploring the Various Types of Developing Shopify Apps
As a principle, we can name three types of Shopify apps – public, custom, and private ones. Which one would be adequate for your needs? Let’s check the main differences.
Shopify Public apps
As the name indicates, those apps are freely available to merchants and can be listed in categories and search results in the Shopify App Store.
There are, however, also apps that are not listed in the store, but still available for public use – you can install these directly from the developer’s website or another shop.
Public apps cover the most popular and standard needs of Shopify merchants. Having a listed app provides you with greater reach and helps build brand awareness.
Unlisted apps, on the other hand, are more controllable, and can be recommended for maintenance periods, seasonal usage or a more targeted merchant base.
Shopify Custom apps
These are custom made for a specific merchant and are not available in the Shopify App Store. Their goal is to add features to a certain store or extend it to other platforms.
Custom web apps are specific to the nature of a business and the way it operates with customers. In this case, an external app developer doesn’t need access to the store or Shopify admin.
Shopify Private apps
As in the case of custom apps, Shopify private apps are also not listed in the Shopify App Store – they are only available from the level of a specific e-shop.
They are aimed at merchants with very specific requirements that are not met by custom apps. What’s also important, however, is that the external developer needs access to API and your Shopify admin.
Form-based categorization of creating Shopify Apps – Standalone vs Embedded
In addition to their type (public, custom or private), apps can vary in forms – they can be either standalone or embedded.
Standalone Shopify apps
Standalone apps offer a high degree of flexibility and customization. Developers have full control over the app's user interface, functionality, and data storage. This allows for the creation of tailored experiences and specialized solutions that meet specific business requirements. Standalone apps can integrate with various APIs and external services, enabling seamless integration with other systems and tools.
From a user's perspective, standalone apps can be installed from the Shopify App Store or external sources. They appear as separate entities within the Shopify admin dashboard and provide dedicated sections or interfaces for managing the app's settings, configurations, and data. This clear separation helps users easily navigate between different apps and maintain control over their functionality.
Embedded Shopify apps
Embedded apps are designed to seamlessly blend into the Shopify admin experience, providing a cohesive and unified user interface. They are displayed within the Shopify admin dashboard, eliminating the need for users to switch between different platforms or interfaces. This integration creates a smooth workflow, as users can access the app's functionalities directly within the familiar Shopify environment.
Embedded apps offer several advantages. They can leverage Shopify's UI components, including styles, layouts, and navigation patterns, resulting in a consistent and cohesive user experience. Developers can utilize the Embedded App SDK to access and modify specific sections of the Shopify admin interface, allowing for a deeper integration and interaction with the platform's core functionalities.
For merchants, embedded apps provide a streamlined experience, as they can manage their Shopify store and utilize the app's features within the same interface. This reduces friction and simplifies the overall workflow, enhancing efficiency and productivity.
When does it make sense to build a Shopify App for your business?
You might want to build a Shopify application in two cases: either you own a Shopify store and want to extend its functionality in a specific way, or you want to sell the app for profit, addressing an unmet need of other merchants.
In this article, we will mainly refer to this first case.
The edge of a Custom Shopify App: advantages and benefits
Why should you develop a custom Shopify app? There are many reasons, and we will list a few of the most prominent ones. The fact is that 80% of Shopify store owners use apps to stay ahead of the competition.
As a shop owner, you might find it difficult to deliver the right information at the right time to the right customers when using just the standard Shopify functions. An app may provide smoother user experience, which leads to better conversion.
Having a custom app, you can highlight the specific features of your brand or product. This will make your store stand out and translates to more sales, but also customer loyalty.
A custom app may be exactly what you are looking for in terms of providing tailored marketing tools, adapted to the needs of your specific customers and the characteristics of your product.
With your own custom app, you can have full control, which refers not only to functionality, but also to data integration. This way, you will feel safer and more resistant to external events.
Advantages From a Technical Perspective
There are numerous technical benefits of having a custom Shopify app. Let us list just a few:
Apps can access the store’s data to generate better insights, and users can store data through apps to get detailed analytics of the sales process
Statistics generated by apps can serve personalized marketing purposes, which translates to improved revenue
Most apps are scalable, which means they can be enriched with new features and functions that your store needs
Apps are easily customizable and can look and behave like an integral part of your store
What should you keep in mind while building Shopify apps?
Ok, so you decided you want to build a Shopify app.
To do it successfully, you should consider a few aspects, shown below. When cooperating with a professional Shopify development company, you should also make sure that these points are covered.
First, the app should be functional, which means it should be optimized for the most important tasks and free of unnecessary complexity. The app should direct the user straight to the point, without any futile steps.
Additional and rarely used features should be presented separately as an option. This way, the app will cover wider variety of needs, goals, and skill levels.
You should consider your users’ basic conditions – languages spoken, place of residence, cultural differences, types of devices, and accessibility needs.
Produce a solution that’s flexible and accessible, and put the emphasis on usability, making the app feel familiar to the user.
Good UX/UI design also requires simple copy and tone of voice that is understandable even for the most inexperienced user.
Your app should look and feel pleasant for the users. A considerate use of colors, fonts, and other design elements, as well as attention to small details and providing a unique experience, can be a decisive factor for users.
You could use a Shopify solution called Polaris, an open-source design system, to create an app that is both beautiful and compliant with principles and good practices.
The system contains components, like typography, illustrations, icons, spacing, colors, interaction states and so on, which can be used by designers.
If you are designing an app for other merchants, be transparent about the functionality of your app – don’t lure the users with promises that can’t be fulfilled. Be open about its features and price.
3 key concepts in how to build a Shopify App
There are three important aspects you should remember about while developing a Shopify app. First, the applications must be registered and authorized by the Shopify App Store.
Then, they should be hosted somewhere – Shopify does not provide this function. Make sure that the server you choose is strong enough for the planned traffic.
Last but not least, an app needs to use the Shopify API. There are two types – admin API and storefront API.
The first one allows you to build functions dedicated to shop admins, such as shipping or publishing products, while the other one enables you to build a storefront used by the shopper – the end user.
Importance of Shopify App security
One of the crucial aspects of building any app is its security.
The app developer should use the right tools to provide information security measures, taking into account, for example, different regions or markets with different regulations. The app should be protected from unauthorized access of users and third-party apps.
Ways to verify the potential of your concept before developing Shopify Apps
Remember that before creating even a single line of code, you'd want to validate if the very idea of your app is needed and comprehensive. There are a few questions you should ask yourself at the very beginning of the process because the answers can make or break your entire plan.
The problem solved
Is your app solving a real problem that occurs in your shop or among other Shopify merchants? You should try to talk to your clients to really dive deeper into their real needs.
If you conclude that the problem really exists, think of how is it solved right now, and will a new app be helpful in that area?
Once you have validated the app idea, you should think about your target market. How big is it? What is typical of its users? What is their profile? Once you know the market, you can consider how to plan the app.
Are there any apps like yours currently in the market? Are they popular? If you are building an app for yourself, you should make sure that it is really needed and can’t be replaced with an already existing solution.
If you are going to sell your app to other merchants, ask yourself, what will differentiate your offer? You need to conduct some thorough research and maybe reconsider your idea.
However, the sole fact that there is competition in the field doesn’t necessarily mean that you should abandon your plan.
Maybe your offer will be far better in terms of unique user experience, pricing model, specific functions, or other aspects. At least, if there is viable competition already in the market, it means that your idea might work out.
Building an app requires extensive expertise in the field of coding (luckily, apps can be created using different programming languages), as well as Shopify development and integration.
You could take advantage of the Shopify Partner Program containing many courses and guides, but it’s quite a time-consuming and a risky approach if you don’t have any previous competences in coding.
The best idea would be to hire an experienced Shopify app development company – an agency or a software house – that has successfully dealt with such projects in the past.
Price is one of the factors that should be taken into account, and we will dig deeper into this issue in the next section.
Closer look at the timeline and budget for creating a Shopify App
In this part of the article, we will zoom in on the details of building Shopify apps in the context of time and money. We will also include the exemplary costs of an app.
Is building a Shopify app time-consuming?
Usually, building a Shopify app takes around 300 hours of work, depending on its complexity. It will take longer if you have to prepare custom designs, non-standard features or release platforms.
How much does it cost to build a Shopify app?
The costs may vary. The cheapest way is to build an app with freelancers – the cost of their work depends not only on the experience level, but also their location. For example, a Shopify developer from the US or Europe will charge you from $50 to even $200 per hour, while an Asian one costs about $20–50 per hour.
With freelancers, however, you are responsible for the proper management of their works, and it requires a huge amount of control.
But what about agencies and software houses? Their rates may also vary – an app can cost from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands.
In order to provide you with a general idea, we will present you a sample cost estimate for a custom Shopify app made for a company from the electronic sector.
You should however bear in mind that every implementation is unique, and the final price depends on the project.
Time/cost case study – how it looked like for one of our clients?
In the case described below, the total cost amounted to 20 thousand dollars.
The client approached Naturaily with a request to create a new version of their current Shopify eCommerce store.
The main reason for the change was the company's rebranding process and the requirement to quickly align its main sales channel with its new brand identity.
With the new version of their online store, the company would like to make sure that the online store helps position them as market leaders and industry-leading experts, all while boosting brand visibility and increasing conversion rates & user experience.
The cost estimate contained, among others, the cost of UX/UI design, development, software tests and project management.
The app required taking care of the product catalog, product pages, categories, shopping cart, order confirmation and checkout process page.
The price included also integrations with various external tools.
Breaking down the process: the walkthrough in how to build a Shopify App
So, how can you create your first Shopify app? Let’s walk through the subsequent stages. We have already described the preparatory stage – validating your idea.
Once you know exactly what you want to build and who the user should be, you (together with your agency or a software house) should follow the steps listed below.
1. Prepare a plan
You should carefully plan all the features of your app because that will be a basis for design and development. Some of the questions you should ask yourself include:
The main functionality of the product and its name
The features in MVP and full version
Number of users served
Number of templates
Advertising and analytics tools
You should keep in mind that the technology is constantly changing, as are both the merchants’ and buyers needs. Build an app that is futureproof and can be easily further developed in years to come.
2. Design the app
As we have already mentioned, the design stage requires the analysis of users and their needs, as well as investing in good usability and accessibility. You might use Polaris here or cooperate with a dedicated designer who will prepare a custom storefront.
3. Develop the app
You should take into consideration both the cost and possibilities of future maintenance. Many good tools for developing apps come from Shopify, including REST Admin API playgrounds, sample apps, data generators, and other app development tools.
4. Test the app
Once the app is developed, you should thoroughly test it in various use cases, performing regressive testing, load testing and stress testing, and fixing any bugs found. You should especially make sure that your app:
Is easy to install
Can handle various popular issues, like 404, heavy traffic and input
Works with different Shopify themes
Can be uninstalled and reinstalled on the same shop
Has working URLs and redirects
Has a working billing system
5. Submit the Shopify app for review
When the app is finally ready and tested, you can submit it to the Shopify App Store for approval. The Shopify app review team will make sure if it meets their standards before it can be published, checking its core functionality, authentication, or billing API.
The whole process is meticulous and lasts about a week, during which the app owner is informed about the current stage. Before submitting the application, you should provide all the necessary details as follows:
App name and tagline – the name may reflect the idea of the app, but it cannot include the word “Shopify”
Visuals and instructional video
Screenshots of the app (at least three) without any information about the merchant
Key benefits of the app
Detailed description of its functionality
6. Monitor your app
Each app needs to be monitored throughout its life cycle to ensure it stays healthy and stable, providing the best possible user experience, even in times of bigger traffic or maintenance works.
You should also make sure that the app remains compatible with the ever-evolving Shopify ecosystem. Shopify recommends the AARRR approach, which stands for acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral, the details of which are described in their guidebook.
When it comes to analytics, Baremetrics is a recommended tool here, providing 26 different metrics concerning your business. It integrates directly with Shopify, so the information is analyzed automatically.
7. Promote your app
If you decide to opt for a public app available to other merchants, you will need to promote it to make it stand out of the crowd. You can do this in many ways, like:
Involving influencers and offering them the app for free, asking for a review in return
Partnering with other apps with similar features
Creating a blog with content connected to your app
Posting in Shopify communities
Being active on social media
Sending e-mails to merchants that may be interested in the app
The best part? Once your customer downloads the app and likes it, they become a regular source of income, and you can also develop and scale the application to gain more profit. Moreover, you’ll be able to sell other apps in the future.
Work with us to create the best Shopify app
Throughout the years, we have successfully implemented many Shopify stores and apps. If you would like to further discuss your possibilities, we are open for a conversation about your business and the technology.
As an eCommerce & web development company with over 10 years of experience, we'll easily analyze your needs and business goals to come up with an efficient and well-thought-out solution.
Just drop us a line and we'll connect!
Let's talk about Jamstack!
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