As a developer advocate at Shopify, the number one question I’m constantly asked is, "What app should I build next?"
Deciding what to develop can often be as difficult as building the app itself. But the secret to success is simple. What truly makes a great app is when developers address the challenges merchants face on a daily basis.
To figure out these pain points and to test app ideas, you should be going directly to the source: merchants. There are plenty of places online where merchants are spending their time. Shopify Entrepreneurs and Grow & Sell are two popular Facebook groups frequented by merchants. Many business owners also take their concerns and questions to the Ecommerce University forums.
If you’ve already scoured the internet for new app ideas and have come up empty handed, don’t fret.
The Shopify Apps Team recently came together to identify some of the top problems our merchants face, and how these challenges can be solved by our developer community. We considered what would complement the Shopify platform and what was missing from the Apps Store.
Today, I’ll share some of these insights — but we’re going to do things a little differently.
Instead of speaking to you like app developers, I’m going to walk you through what it's like to be a merchant. The goal is to help you gain a core understanding as well as some sympathy for merchants and their daily obstacles.
Here are some of the common challenges Shopify merchants face, along with a few app suggestions that, if developed, could solve many merchant headaches.
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Organizing a business
Inventory planning and management is at the heart of running a retail business. Having a good grasp on inventory not only keeps merchants well organized, but can affect customer service, keep budgets under control, and free up staff to focus on more important issues. Juggling the many facets of business organization takes significant time and effort, however. There are tons of opportunities where you can help automate the process by building a Shopify App.
1. Inventory management
Imagine you’re a merchant selling loose leaf tea (just picture it, okay?). You’d like to launch with 50 tea jars. Each jar holds 50 grams of tea, but you want to offer four flavors. So you need:
- 50 jars
- 625 grams of flavor one
- 625 grams of flavor two
- 625 grams of flavor three
- 625 grams of flavor four
- 50 labels
You can only order your tea flavors by 500 grams, leaving you with extra supplies. You don’t want to hold extra stock, meaning you need to decide which flavor to produce more of in order to reach your target amount. Another possibility is that you decide to fill the 50 jars that you have, and place a new order for jars when your stock is running low.
Complicated, right? With so many different ways to organize and manage inventory, merchants could use some help. Luckily, an app could help automate this process.
You now have your tea packaged and ready to go. Orders are coming in – life is good! It’s time to figure out how to ship orders.
Suddenly, your customers are reordering, but in bulk. The tea is so good, they want their friends to try it!
As a new business owner, you never really thought about this scenario before. You’re offering a flat rate for shipping, but it’s no longer covering the cost of the larger boxes you’re now purchasing.
How can you figure out what box size to use for these bulk orders?
When a merchant’s business grows, new challenges abound. Shipping can be a particularly confusing puzzle piece to figure out, and helping merchants skip any of that pain with the help of an app is sure to be a successful business venture.
3. Staff permissions
You’re selling a lot of tea now. I mean, you have this awesome app that notifies you when to restock, after all. Now that you’re shipping worldwide, and maybe tackling wholesale, you’ve started hiring more staff to help with customer support.
You’re a larger team now and you have to start thinking about staff permissions for your Shopify store.
Staff permissions help merchants spread the responsibility throughout their team, while reducing the amount of burden placed solely on themselves. It can streamline business operations, organize inventory, and update stock quickly and more efficiently.
Selling in real life
There’s a huge opportunity to build apps for Shopify POS and augment a merchant’s in-store experience with your own retail business solutions. You can come up with new ways for merchants to update the cart, track sales, run promotions, and staff their store.
The holidays are right around the corner and your friend suggests a pop-up shop for your tea business (she heard it’s all the rage these days). You find the perfect location and decide to run one for the entire weekend. You ask a few friends to help out, but they can only pop in for a few hours here and there. You really need to make a schedule to make sure you’re fully staffed and ready to sell.
Sales reports, schedules, payroll – they’re constants in any retail store, big or small, and can be a logistical nightmare for merchants. Find ways to make this daily necessity less of a headache, and more a piece of cake.
Tons of your customers are asking for a tea demonstration: “How hot should my water be? How much tea should I add to this mug? How do I infuse different flavors?”
You decide to host a number of demonstrations and cap each demo to five guests. You need some way to track your appointments.
Whether with customers, the bank, or a friend, keeping appointments is important to any merchant brand. Help keep merchants organized and on time by offering simple-to-use and effective scheduling tools.
Your demonstrations at the pop-up shop have been going so well that you decide to host a tea party.
On the last day of the pop-up shop, you’ll start selling tickets in-person. You also have a customer base you can send invites to, and you’ve priced tickets at $15.
You need a way to sell event tickets. The best option is to process a customer’s credit card on site, and then find a tool that allows you to automatically send a customer a ticket with a QR code.
In-person events strengthen a merchant’s relationship with their clients. Finding ways to streamline the logistics will leave merchants with more time to focus on the important parts of hosting any event — networking and selling.
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4. In-store pickup
Your pop-up shop is getting a lot of hype on social media and you’re receiving a ton of questions.
Your customers are wondering if they can place an order online and pick it up in-store. They want to make sure you still have their favorite flavor in stock.
Of course they can place an order; who doesn’t like pre-orders? But how do you organize an in-store pickup? Can you notify the on-site team to package orders as they come in? How do you notify your customer when their order is ready?
You’re on the hunt for a way to track which orders need to be packaged and picked up, and how to verify that the package was received.
Ensuring nothing slows down the process of getting a product into a customer’s hands is of huge importance to merchants. Help them delight customers by organizing this process.
Build a customer base and a community
Business operations are only half the battle for merchants. Growing and maintaining a customer base is just as important as the products they sell. There are a number of opportunities to help merchants find easy ways to engage with their customers.
Now that you’ve been running your tea business for a while, you have a strong customer base. You want to add a loyalty program that incorporates both POS sales and your online store.
You want your customers to be able to collect points with every purchase and put that towards free gifts in the future. You’re also selling wholesale now and you have a few VIP customers (you know this thanks to the loyalty program).
Finding ways to engage and reward a customer community will only make a stronger connection between buyer and brand.
Giving merchants the tools to analyze and isolate who to reach out to and reward will only help their business grow.
Snap back to reality
A lot goes into running a business and there are tons of opportunities to help automate the process through Shopify Apps. Merchants use Shopify in a lot of different ways, so don’t be afraid to get creative.
Want to learn more about building apps for Shopify? Check out our comprehensive list of articles on Shopify App Development and the Shopify API.
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