Since 2014, we’ve developed dozens of Shopify apps for businesses like DHL Express, Pitney Bowes, teelaunch and FreshBooks. We’ve learned so much about what to do and what mistakes to avoid (we’re all human after all!) and now, we’re going to pass that knowledge onto others who want to develop their own Shopify app.
Before you dive in, there are some things that you absolutely need to do. Here are 6 tips for developing your Shopify app to ensure that it’s a success:
1. Treat your app like it’s a startup or new product
While your Shopify app is an extension of your current company, it requires the same considerations as any new business venture.
➡ What is the goal of the app? What problem will you solve and how?
➡ Who will be using it?
➡ Are there existing alternatives and what makes yours better than the competition?
➡ Which merchant segments will you be targeting?
➡ What are your revenue streams and cost structure?
➡ Describe your unique value proposition (USP).
➡ Which employees will make up the dedicated team to building the app?
➡ What technology stack should you use?
➡ What will your app’s roadmap look like (keep in mind that it could deviate from that of the core product)?
Dedicate the necessary time and resources to conceptualize, develop and get the app to market. Focus on creating the best in-app experience and value possible for your customers and users. If you treat it like an afterthought, you’ll waste precious time and resources.
2. Ensure your new app has strong support
Building the app isn’t enough. You have to ensure your app is adequately supported and operating after it has gone live in the Shopify app store.
One critical consideration is the app’s ability to scale to the demand of any given Shopify store that installs it. We’ve had many clients that have hundreds of stores running their app in a short amount of time or experience very high volume due to reasons like flash sales, price drops, Black Friday etc. Having a lot of people interested in your app is certainly a luxury problem, but you want to ensure that you properly manage traffic and downloads. Thankfully, our team was able to provide robust support for these influxes to avoid crashes.
Whether you hire external help or have internal resources that have the knowledge for this, your app needs to be able to keep up with demand.
In addition to functionality and quality, you need to ensure that there’s a high level of customer support for the app that’s separate from the core business. Depending on your needs, you might want to offer your users chat support and support tickets, documentation, a knowledge base, FAQ, community forum, how-tos and tips and tricks.
With customer support, you should also factor in reviews. Encourage reviews where you can and respond to each and every one, which includes disputing unfair reviews.
3. Do competitive analysis and research
This one sounds obvious, but it’s shocking how many developers and businesses fail to do this. Doing market research will allow you to determine whether you have a unique app or not. If there are many similar apps in the market, you can take notes on what those companies are doing and how receptive their customers are to those apps. Examine what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t. That being said, you shouldn’t get too stuck on what others are doing. If you have a unique idea and want to execute something different, you should be disruptive if you think that will bring you success.
So what if your Shopify app is unique? The app we built for teelaunch back in 2015 was the first direct-to-garment (DTG) Shopify app in existence at the time. This was a huge opportunity for them to be the industry leader and set the bar really high to capture a big portion of the market. We developed a close partnership with them and helped them grow exponentially.
4. Set a budget and right size your expectations
And stick to it! Having a concrete number allows you to operate and play within clear boundaries. You’ll know exactly how much money and resources you can invest into your app instead of wasting time guessing or overspending.
Set a budget that aligns with the effort required (ex. additional testing because the app is integrated, hiring specialized software engineers etc). Remember, it’s a product in its own right so you have to provide a buffer for activities like building a proof of concept, testing, integration, design and more.
5. Research and understand your customers
Don’t bother guessing - talk to your actual customers or potential customers! Interview them about what they want, their pain points, desires and needs, cost sensitivity, what they don’t like about the competition.
Our team did this to prepare for developing FreshBooks’ accounting app for small to medium size businesses and it did wonders. Only one month after launch, 437 Shopify stores downloaded the app and the number continues to grow at a rapid rate.
6. Plan for future updates and changes
Make sure you plan for ongoing maintenance and support for the app. Being strategic and forward-thinking will save you time and a lot of headache after the app is launched. This might take the form of things like API changes, updating for new versions of Shopify, fixing bugs, and responding to needs from customers as they come up. Ensuring sustainable success in an ever-changing world requires monitoring, updates, improvements and pivots.