How to Successfully Build a Shopify App
When launching a store through Shopify or Shopify Plus, e-commerce sellers can connect with shoppers, enhance their sales, and tailor their experience by using a Shopify app.
E-commerce sellers can choose from more than 3,200 readily available apps in the Shopify app store. However, about 80% of Shopify merchants have used third-party apps to build their businesses.
If you’re an app developer, these e-commerce platforms could be an area to put your skills to work by developing your own apps for Shopify sellers. This article walks you through what you need to know about Shopify app development and working with online retailers.
- What are Shopify apps?
- Examples of popular Shopify apps
- What to consider before you start
- How to build a Shopify app with Node.js
- Custom vs. public apps
- Things to avoid when building a Shopify app
What are Shopify apps?
For retailers building an online store, the Shopify platform is one of the best and most popular. In 2020, Shopify’s point-of-sale (POS) system processed more than $5.1 billion in sales, and today features more than 2.3 million active e-commerce stores.
To enhance the functionality of a Shopify storefront, sellers can build or purchase an embedded app that works seamlessly with the platform. It’s important to note that this is different from simply updating your shop’s theme template with HTML snippets. These apps are generally public apps built by third-party developers and available through the Shopify app store.
These useful apps add special features that make it easier for sellers and their customers to engage with online shops. They might streamline the seller’s experience by adding Shopify admin features or creating unique online shopping experiences for customers.
For instance, you might embed an app in your store that simplifies the checkout process or improves your site’s search engine optimization (SEO).
These apps fall under a number of categories:
- Sourcing and selling products
- Store design
- Shipping and delivery
- Customer service
- Store management
Beyond the basics, built-from-scratch apps allow merchants to tailor their online shop to their personal needs and vision.
Examples of popular Shopify apps
If you’re an app developer and not sure where to get started with creating Shopify apps, here are three of the most popular apps available to sellers to study for inspiration.
Seguno offers Shopify email marketing automation to sellers. With more than 100 email templates, this app integrates with Shopify to allow merchants to send out impactful newsletters and automated email campaigns.
You can also manage subscribers and integrate their email marketing efforts in other spaces—including social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, banners, and pop-ups.
Plug In SEO
Plug In SEO is designed to give your Shopify store’s SEO a boost. This easy-to-use app helps your online store appear more frequently in search engine results—boosting your rankings, drawing more visitors to your shop, and increasing sales.
This all-in-one shipping app makes it easier for you to get your orders out the door and to customers around the globe. It offers discounted, pre-negotiated shipping rates from more than 60 of the leading couriers.
The easy-to-use dashboard streamlines order management, keeping everything you need—from printing labels to generating return orders—in one place.
What to consider before you start
If you’re interested in building Shopify apps, there are generally two ways to go about it: Create a custom app for a client or assess the market and build a public app that’s available for purchase in the Shopify app store. Let’s review a few questions you should ask yourself when getting started.
What’s the purpose of the app?
Each app solves a specific challenge for a Shopify seller. Consider your app’s purpose before building it. What problem do you want it to solve for online retailers?
Do your research, talk to sellers if you can, and determine your end goal in creating the app. This will guide the Shopify app development process for you.
What type of app do I want?
Two types of apps can be added to a Shopify store.
- Public apps. These can be listed so they appear in the Shopify App Store for purchase. Unlisted public apps can be installed through your website or app store.
- Custom apps. Shop owners can hire developers to design a custom app specifically for their store. In this case, the retailer who has hired you will determine the purpose of the app and the features they’d like it to offer.
How much does it cost to build a Shopify app?
Shopify apps generally cost between $15,000 and $25,000 to build, depending on how complex they are. Those with fewer features will fall on the lower end of that range. On average, though, they usually cost about $20,000 to build.
How hard is it to build a Shopify app and how long does it take?
Most online store owners don’t have the know-how to take on Shopify app development themselves. Even if they have the skills to build their own Shopify app, they likely don’t have the time. Some apps can take up to a year and hundreds of hours of labor to build.
For most merchants, it’s much easier to hire a professional developer to create their custom Shopify apps. Independent developers can offer their professional services through Upwork. Then, retailers can search the platform’s pool of talent for those who match their store’s needs.
How to build a Shopify app with Node.js
If you’re interested in building a Shopify App, here’s the process of creating and uploading your app to the Shopify store using Node.js.
- Register a Shopify Partner account. To offer your app and other services to merchants through Shopify, the first thing you need to do is create your Shopify Partner account and log in.
- Create a test store. Shopify Partners can create an unlimited number of development stores. This allows you to test themes and apps you create before offering them to real store owners.
- Install Shopify CLI. You’ll also need to install Shopify CLI, a command-line interface tool that helps you build new apps and tools for Shopify. This helpful tool generates Node.js, Ruby on Rails, and PHP apps, as well as app extensions and Shopify themes. It’s also useful for automating common app development tasks, both frontend and backend.
- Install React. You’ll also want to ensure the latest version of React is installed, as that’s the default language used by the Shopify framework when creating apps for both web and mobile.
- Sign in to Shopify with your CLI. Before you start building Shopify apps, you need to ensure you’re signed in with your CLI.
- Create a new project. Once you’re logged in, you’ll scaffold a new app for Shopify through a new subdirectory. Your commands and script tags will also create your app in your partner dashboard. In the terminal, use this command to start a new project: $ shopify app create node.
- Start a local development server. Once your app is created, you’ll launch a local development server using this command in the terminal: $ shopify app serve. The Shopify CLI uses ngrok to create these secure tunnels and provide your app with its own unique URL. Don’t forget your ngrok authentication before creating your server. You can authenticate it using the command: $ shopify app tunnel auth <token>.
- Install your app in your development store. Once your server is operating, you’ll install your app in your development store by opening a new terminal window and running the command: $ shopify app open.
- Start building the app. With your infrastructure in place, you’re now ready to start building your Shopify app.
- Add your products. Be sure to add sample data—products, customers, and even draft orders—to test your app. Populate this test data by using this command in the terminal: $ shopify populate.
- Add an empty state. Using Shopify Polaris, the platform’s component library and design system, you can add an empty state to your app to build your user interface and test your frontend components.
- Add a list of resources. With a resource picker established for your app, you should set up the GraphQL Admin API. This Shopify API allows you to query data and display products in a resource list.
- Update product prices. With your GraphQL query ready to go, you’ll next use it to modify your product data, including prices.
Custom vs. public apps
You can consider developing one of two primary app types: a public app or a custom app. While private apps were previously allowed by Shopify, they’re no longer permitted.
When creating a public app, you’ll distribute it widely to multiple clients, likely through the Shopify app, for a pre-set price. Meanwhile, custom apps are developed with one client in mind for an agreed-upon fee and are built to the shop owner’s preferences. You likely wouldn’t sell this app to other companies.
Things to avoid when building a Shopify app
If you’re new to Shopify app development, you’ll want to avoid a few mistakes.
- Not testing your app. Once your app is complete, be sure to test it—and we don’t just mean while it’s in development. Use a professional app tester or real-life data to ensure it works as planned.
- Doing planning mid-production. Go in with an in-depth plan in place. Making big plans mid-production could throw off the process and prolong completion, ultimately costing you more money to develop the app.
- Using poor quality media assets. If you use underdeveloped media assets when creating your app, merchants might judge your app solely based on this and assume that it’s a low-quality tool.
- Not sticking to a coherent color scheme. Your app’s color palette can influence a user’s opinion of it. Use colors that complement each other to create a cohesive color scheme. Consider using the PANTONE Studio app to find colors that work well together.
As a developer, creating Shopify apps could be a lucrative way to build your business. If you’re interested in reaching clients to build custom apps for them, consider offering your talents as a Shopify Developer through Upwork.
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.