How to build a successful Shopify App?

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We have quite a number of years of experience with all sorts of eCommerce solutions and platforms under our belts so when the idea of building a Shopify extension first came up we were all (arguably way too) confident and thought this is going to be something we can quickly put together in the remaining few weeks before the big conference we were preparing for takes place and we will be able to bring it with us as a showcase type of build. Today I am not afraid to admit that we failed miserably and we not only missed the deadline we set up for ourselves by quite a large margin but after 5 revisions we still only had a working app that the Shopify staff kept on rejecting. It ended up being such a hassle that we put the idea on a shelf for almost 2 years. 

You would think that this is the worst intro to an article that is supposed to give advice on building an outstanding Shopify App but in reality, our second attempt was a completely different story and our multichat.ai Shopify extension was selected as a highlighted Staff Pick at the end. 

So what changed? and How could we turn the story around so drastically?

Here are our top 5 tips we are going to talk about in more detail:

  1. Make it feel native
  2. Spend time with the documentation
  3. Keep an eye on the Billing API
  4. Focus on the marketing side
  5. Prepare for revisions and changes

Native Shopify experience

The biggest change was actually in our mindset when approaching the build. We had a new team starting from scratch and they quickly realized that the Shopify app marketplace was created to extend the number of available tools for Shopify users but still provide a really consistent and native user experience and this was a really important factor.

Our idea at first was to build an integration between two different software, our internal product idea mutichat.ai which is a chat-based lead generation tool, and Shopify as the biggest eCommerce platform so people can use the two together in a somewhat loosely interlinked fashion. This was the first step where we needed to change our mentality as the app should have been a consistent continuation of Shopify and we were trying to build just a simple communication bridge between the two. 

Your users need to feel they are still using Shopify, they remain in the same ecosystem so there are some quite strict guidelines you need to follow. It is not just a simple connection, you need to reimagine your product idea as a part of a Shopify experience. 

At the end, we even removed some of the options that are available in the standalone multichat.ai service to better serve our Shopify customers and provide a seamless installation, setup, trial and purchase flow that works as smoothly as possible starting from an existing Shopify account.

Spend time with the documentation

Luckily Shopify has really detailed and thorough documentation that is one of the bests in the business. It has to be because there are more than 4500 different apps in the Shopify marketplace that together have around 26 million installs reaching more than 80% of the Shopify shops. As you can see, it would be impossible to support each and every app developer one by one and it would also be quite a challenge to try and accommodate so many different types of services so a clear and consistent system was needed. 

There are recommendations for UX and UI, data handling, image sizes, software libraries.. Etc. so you can be sure 99% of your questions will be automatically answered if you dedicate enough time to it. Also, there are App Store requirements that you won’t be able to bypass so it is just better if you follow along and rely on the existing material. 

Seriously, this is really worth an extra day and not just for the developer team.

Keep an eye on the Billing API

Admittedly our first attempt mostly failed because of the payment process we were trying to use. We could say that the Billing API ended up being our Achilles’ heel and this again goes back to the point of the native mindset. Our way of thinking was that the Shopify App is technically free of charge, even though multichat.ai is a paid subscription-based service all users with a valid account can connect it to their Shopify shop free of charge. We had a dedicated payment provider Stripe and we had no intention of routing our payments through any other 3rd party system. 

However, Shopify issues a single invoice to its users at the end of each month and wants to include all related services on it. This is a huge convenience and provides a superior customer experience. Whether you like it or not, if you would like to be part of the ecosystem you need to build your app in a way that fits this unified experience.

We ended up introducing a new payment path just for our Shopify customers that also has dedicated pricing. Previously we were trying to cut down on this step and route everyone through our existing Stripe based subscription payment handling which ultimately led to failing to fit in with the “single invoice” approach.

Focus on the marketing side

My experience is that the most successful Shopify Apps cover a really clearly defined use case that is easy to grasp yet still appeals to a really broad audience. There is a really intense competition, there are many available solutions and shop owners tend to make their choice really quick so if you can’t explain the value you bring in a matter of a few minutes you won’t get a second chance

Standing out in such a crowded market is also a difficult challenge so you need to make sure you bring your A-game when it comes to marketing. Again, Shopify has some really useful tips we definitely recommend to follow and it is worth checking out the big players to see how it is done right. At the same time, you need to think about the unique thing you bring to the table that single feature that makes you better than the rest that differentiates your offering. 

Instead of adding new, we actually ended up removing some extra functionality to make our user experience fit as tightly with the Shopify flow as possible and make the installation much quicker for our users. This for us also meant a new and revised onboarding flow and new easy on/off switch-like customization options that were tailored specifically to shop owners in mind.

Prepare for revisions and changes

Going back to the beginning, a mistake we made was leaving much less time for revisions and adjustments than it was needed. Our second attempt was way more in line with the guidelines and the first version we sent in was already bug free but this doesn’t mean there were no requests for adjustments and improvements. These changes were mostly related to the user flow and better fitting with the requirements. We ended up sending in at least 4 improved versions over a course of several weeks. Shopify was really supportive in providing feedback but each step took a bit of extra time and documentation.

This is to say that building a successful Shopify App and expecting it to be done in a few weeks is probably unrealistic and if time is a concern you have much better chances with an experienced vendor who already knows the ins and outs of the system.

Also, as with most projects once it is published and people start to use it widely you will get feedback that is worth acting on.

After reading through this, you could say that this is quite a bit of hassle and could quickly start questioning if it is worth the effort but I can assure that it is a worthwhile investment when it is done right. Shopify has an astonishing 11% share of the entire global eCommerce market, is present in 175 countries and generated a whopping USD 319 billion economic impact so it is definitely a playing field you want to be a part of as the reward is huge. I can tell that with the right app the leads will start to flow in within a matter of minutes.

If you are interested to learn more about our app or have a new app idea in mind that would benefit from an experienced app developer just get in touch with us.

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