4 Tips for Building a Shopify App That Sells

4 Tips for Building a Shopify App That Sells
Building a Shopify App That Sells

One of the most useful characteristics of the Shopify platform is the ease with which it can be altered and improved upon through the use of third-party applications. By installing apps, merchants can enhance the functionality of their storefronts without having to tweak the foundation that Shopify is built upon.

If you’ve ever tried to tackle an app design project — whether for Shopify or not — you know that conceptualizing, designing, and marketing an app that stands out from the crowd is no small feat. Merchants have a pool of options available to satisfy their needs, and their decision to use one app over another is influenced by a variety of factors. So when you decide to develop an app, you need to make sure it’s something merchants actually want to buy and use.

To help you get started, we took a close look at some of our most popular apps to find out if there were any secrets behind their success.

Here’s a list of tips guaranteed to help you create a Shopify app that sells.

You might also like: Marketing Your Shopify App: The App Listing Page

Solve an existing problem

Create a Shopify App That Solves a Problem

Although it might seem obvious, this is often the first place where a new app design can go wrong. Just because you believe adding a certain feature to Shopify is the idea of the century, it doesn’t mean merchants will feel the same. It also doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to part with their hard-earned dollars for it.

Understanding the challenges facing your audience is the first step to designing a successful app. At the start of your app project, try organizing a brainstorming session with your team. Use this time to play around with the Shopify platform, reach out to existing clients who are active on Shopify, and identify problems that merchants are faced with on a daily basis. Once you’ve found some pain points, prioritize your efforts by creating an organized list based on the importance of each pain point to the workflow of a merchant.

Once you have narrowed down your ideas, you should assess their viability for success by conducting a competitive analysis. This will allow you to have a better idea of what similar offerings currently exist, where these offerings excel or fail, and how they are positioned in the market. An easy way to get started is by creating a simple spreadsheet document. Use the first column to list your top five competitors and the top row to include the most important features of your given app idea. Rank each feature of your competitor’s app on a scale from 1-5 and tally the total scores for each.

By the end of the analysis, you should have an idea of any opportunities in the market to focus your app’s unique selling proposition (USP). If you think your app’s USP is strong enough to overshadow the comparable apps of your competitors, then you’re in a good place to start moving forward with your design. But keep in mind that the laws of supply and demand still apply in the Shopify App marketplace. If there already exists an oversupply of your particular app idea, your efforts may be better spent developing something that solves an untapped need. A good Shopify app provides value by creating a solution for an existing problem. A great Shopify app provides value by creating the only solution.

A good Shopify app provides value by creating a solution for an existing problem. A great Shopify app provides value by creating the only solution.

If you’re looking for some tips on how you can discover what a Shopify merchant needs, check out this podcast by Felix Thea.

Design a simple experience

Create a Shopify App with a simple design and experience

When we create something new, we have a tendency focus our attention on the tangible aspects of our design features such as colour or visual layout. While it’s undeniably important to create an app that is visually appealing, we cannot ignore the intangible aspects — how it feels to use the product. Treating the design and the user experience as separate entities is an almost guaranteed path to failure because in the eyes of the end-user, design and experience are one and the same.

Treating the design and the user experience as separate entities is an almost guaranteed path to failure because in the eyes of the end-user, design and experience are one and the same.

For example: if you litter your app with non-essential features and fancy widgets, it will begin to become overly complex. This complexity creates barriers for usage, which increases the likelihood of user frustration and decreases the likelihood of widespread adoption of your app. Since you ultimately want as many people as possible to use your app and enjoy doing so, building a finished product that features a simple design should be a top priority.

While there are many ways to simplify your design, focusing on the concepts of reduction, organization, and efficiency are great places to start:

  1. Reduction is achieved by minimizing non-essential features and elements within your design. Each feature you add to your app pulls you further away from your core offering and acts as an additional layer of friction working against your user experience. A simple and effective way to evaluate the necessity of a feature is to ask: “how does this make my user’s life easier?” If you can’t come up with anything good, it’s probably a sign that you should remove that feature from your app.
  2. Organization is achieved by creating systematic structure that is logical and intuitive by design. A highly organized design makes your app understandable to your audience without needing an explanation. If you want your navigation paths to achieve a desired result, they should be clear, easy to use, and self-evident. To help assess your app organization, try running a simple DIY usability test with someone unfamiliar with your app. Give them a general directive and assess how easy (or difficult) it is for them to complete the task. After working so long on a project, bringing in a fresh set of critical eyes can help you identify areas of improvement and create a better final product.
  3. Efficiency is achieved by developing an interface that saves time and effort. To achieve efficiency within your app design, try mapping out your wireframe paths to identify areas where you can help merchants save time. In general, if it takes your user three or more clicks to get from point A to point B, try to find a way to shorten that journey. Changes like this may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but implementing a few tweaks to increase efficiency will help you create an intuitive experience that merchants will love to use.

You might also like: Marketing Your Shopify App: Networking and Partnerships

Develop an authentic brand

Create a Shopify App with an authentic brand

Regardless of how great your Shopify app is, strategic positioning is critical to its adoption and use. In a market dominated by consumer choice, the adage of “If we build it, they will come” does not apply. It’s more important than ever to ensure you have a plan to promote your product on release, and there’s no better place to begin than by defining your app’s brand.

The branding of your app should be considered a direct extension of the app itself. It has the ability to influence a merchant’s perception of quality, reliability, and trust without a direct interaction ever actually occurring. Since your brand is the one chance you get to shape a merchant’s first impression of your app, you are going to want to take the effort to fully develop your brand early on.

Your app’s brand has the ability to influence a merchant’s perception of quality, reliability, and trust without a direct interaction ever actually occurring.

Start by thinking about what you are going to name your app. While it might seem trivial to some, a name can dictate whether someone clicks through to read more or passes by without a second thought. Many well-known organizations are able to leverage their brand recognition to capture merchant attention. However many of us don’t sit on equal footing with big players like Apple, Google, or MailChimp.

In this case, it’s a great idea to opt for something more functional. Think back to the initial problem your app fixes and try to imagine what keywords your audience would type into Google to search for a solution. Narrow down your list to highlight the top keywords that describe your app’s point of differentiation. Then include at least one of these keywords within the name and description of your app. Doing so will help ensure your app actually appears in front of a merchant searching in the Shopify App Store, and will communicate the value your app offers their business.

If your name has been able to capture a merchant’s attention and convince them to read more, you are going to want to capitalize on this interest immediately. Be sure to take the time before you launch to write a compelling and detailed description of your app. Think of this description as your app’s landing page — it’s your chance to convince your audience why they should choose your app over another.

Be sure to write a description that outlines your differentiation clearly and honestly. There is nothing more disappointing to a merchant than being led to believe one thing about your app’s capabilities and then finding the opposite to be true. Use the unique selling property of your Shopify app as the focal point of your description without manipulating the user through the use of false promises or flashy micro-copy. Gain some extra points by positioning your USP copy around the value it will provide a merchant’s business beyond the app itself. A great example of this tactic in action can be seen here.

Offer continuous service

Offer continuous support for your Shopify App

If you think your job is done once your app is in the App Store, think again. The most successful app developers are those who are continuously involved with their product and customers well after the initial launch.

It’s almost inevitable that problems will arise once your app is released to the public. Expect merchants to flock to you with queries about bugs, technical capabilities, and functionality issues. Be prepared to answer these questions in a timely manner, and invest in creating solutions for any serious problems. This continuous support will keep your customers happy and show them you are invested in their success.

The value of customer service goes well beyond the direct interaction though. When a customer has a positive experience with a product, service, or company, they are more likely to share that experience with their peers. And when others hear about these positive experiences, they are more likely to seek more information about the source. This sharing of positive customer experiences between peers is called brand advocacy, and it has the potential to exponentially amplify your promotional efforts.

This sharing of positive customer experiences between peers is called brand advocacy, and it has the potential to exponentially amplify your promotional efforts.

But don’t leave it up to chance. After dealing with a customer query, ask them to rate your app and leave a review about the service they received. These third-party testimonials will help your app establish credibility and trust in the minds of prospective merchants. The more reviews you collect, the more trustworthy your app appears, and the more confident a merchant will feel about making a purchasing decision.

Gathering reviews from satisfied customers offers your app another direct benefit: it will help you rank higher in the Shopify App Store. Since we want to offer merchants the best apps to solve their problems, our ranking algorithm takes into account the number of positive reviews your app receives. Some of our partners have been able to consistently keep their apps in the top ten of a given category, and significantly increase their total amount of customers, by focusing on garnering positive customer reviews.

Are you building a Shopify App?

Do you have any questions or tips to share about building a Shopify App that sells? Let us know in the comments below!

You might also like: Marketing Your Shopify App: The Details We Overlook

Want to learn more about building apps for Shopify? Check out our comprehensive list of articles on Shopify App Development and the Shopify API.

About the Author

Simon is a coffee lover, former agency digital strategist, and Shopify Partners' Content Marketing Lead. When he isn’t hustling at the Shopify HQ, you can most likely find him dining at restaurants across the city or brushing up on the latest design trends.

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Learn more