Building a Shopify app (Everything you need to know)

If you’re an app developer looking for a new project, then you should check out Shopify if you haven’t yet. Why? Because the platform is a literal goldmine for app development! Over 1.7 million users choose Shopify to house and manage their online business. Almost all these merchants use apps to enhance their online stores, and they often use more than one. An average Shopify user has at least six apps installed to their online storefronts. That’s a lot of opportunity for savvy developers looking to make apps. If you want to get started building a Shopify app, you’re in the right place. 

We’re here to give you an overview of what you need to know to get an app up on the Shopify App Store. That way, you can start getting downloads and making money. To be successful with your Shopify app, you have to make sure it solves a common merchant problem. You also need to know a few essential things about how Shopify apps work, so let’s dive in. 

How Apps Work on Shopify 

Before you start building a Shopify app, you need to know more about how the platform works. An app serves to extend the features and functionality of each Shopify store. Since there are many different types of online stores on Shopify, the needs of the merchants vary. Let’s consider a brief example:

  • An entrepreneur wants to start selling products on Shopify. The only problem is that they lack the funds to manage their inventory. 
  • That’s when they head over to the Shopify App Store to download Spocket, a dropshipping app. This app allows them to use a third party for inventory and shipping. 

As you can see, the app solved a problem for the merchant. That’s the key to any successful app on the platform. 

Apps integrate with the platform by connecting to Shopify’s APIs. In particular, the Admin API allows your apps to read data about:

  • Products
  • Customers
  • Orders
  • Inventory
  • Fulfillment

You can also add new features to the storefront’s POS or Shopify Admin. Also, you can enhance a store’s display, graphics, and marketing materials. 

The Different App Types

On Shopify, apps can have three different types of accessibility:

  • Public apps are available to everyone. You can list public apps in the Shopify App Store for all to see and download. 
  • Custom apps are only for specific merchants. You can’t list these in the Shopify App Store. 
  • Private apps are the rarest type. They’re used when a merchant has a particular need that a custom app can’t meet. You can’t list them in the store, and you have to create them with the Merchant Admin. 

For this guide, we’ll focus on public apps as they’re the most common. Our goal is to teach you how to design, create, and upload an app to the Shopify App Store. 

There are also standalone apps and embedded apps. Here’s a brief breakdown of the difference:

  • Standalone apps have their own user interface on a separate domain. They aren’t able to integrate with Shopify as a result. 
  • Embedded apps can integrate deeply with Shopify. You will have direct access to the online store’s data through app extensions. An app extension lets you extend the services into other areas of Shopify, such as the POS system for the store. 

For newbies, we recommend creating embedded apps. Standalone apps certainly have their place, but embedded apps are easier to make and have more functions. Starting with embedded apps will help you get a feel for how app development works on Shopify. From there, you can move on to standalone apps, custom apps, and even private apps. 

Understanding the Rules and Regulations

Of course, Shopify has a set of rules and regulations for its apps, users, and stores. For its gigantic marketplace to function properly, its security has to be top-notch. Make sure to look at the API License and Terms of Use to know what flies and what won’t. If you want to learn more about the API rate limits and data privacy, check out this page. Now, let’s learn more about The Shopify App Store. 

The Shopify App Store Breakdown

When you’re done developing your app, you’ll upload it to the Shopify App Store. It’s the hub where merchants can gain access to thousands of unique apps. The store also features a comprehensive search engine so that users can get specific. All public apps are given one of two categories:

  • Listed apps
  • Unlisted apps 

A listed app is visible to anyone, and unlisted apps have custom visibility. If you only want to market your app to a specific group of merchants, you can make an unlisted app. Both have advantages and disadvantages, including:

  • Listed apps build brand awareness, sell features, and increase your organic reach. 
  • Unlisted apps help you target a specific merchant base and gives you more control over your growth. 

It will come down to the type of app that you create as well as your target audience. 

Okay, now that you know more about how apps on Shopify work, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of creating a new app. 

Making Sure Your App Idea Works 

The first step is to go to great lengths to validate your idea fully. So you’ve got an idea for an app, and it’s sure to be a killer, or is it? That’s why you need to confirm that your idea actually solves a significant merchant problem. Validating your idea is a crucial step if you want your app to succeed. If your idea isn’t adequately validated, you could end up wasting your time on an app that won’t sell. 

It’s important not to get too caught up in the research phase of your idea. You should learn just enough to make your app something that you can keep tweaking in the future. 

To get started, we recommend asking yourself these questions:

  • Am I solving a real problem for merchants?
  • What is my target audience doing to solve this problem right now?
  • Will merchants pay for a solution to this problem?
  • Can I actually build this app?

Let’s take a closer look at each of these questions so you can learn how to validate an idea fully. 

Is Your App Solving a Problem?

That is the first and most crucial question you should ask yourself. It comes back to a basic marketing principle, filling a need. In order to sell something and sell a lot of it, it needs to solve a problem or fill a need. If it doesn’t, your target audience won’t see any reason to spend money on your app. 

Remember the example earlier with the dropshipping app? Well, that’s a perfect example to use for this situation too. The entrepreneur had a real problem where they couldn’t manage their inventory. The app allowed them to use dropshipping to solve that problem. 

So how do you learn about merchant’s problems if you don’t know any? The best way is to check out the Shopify forms, Reddit pages, and messaging boards. That’s where merchants go to vent about their woes and problems. As an app developer, these are perfect places for coming up with ideas. Once you identify a problem that you can solve with an app, you can start the rest of the process. 

Another option is to send a questionnaire or feedback form to specific merchants. That way, you can learn more details about the problems that they face daily. An ideal app will address a problem that plagues many merchants, not just one. 

How Is Your Target Audience Solving the Problem?

This question will lead you back to the forums to hear from actual merchants. Try to find posts where merchants talk about the current way they’re solving their problems. Let’s say that a merchant lacks SEO in its marketing techniques. They resort to doing basic SEO on their own. That sparks your idea to design an app for their Shopify store that incorporates SEO marketing. That’s a simple example, but it illustrates what you need to look for online. 

Don’t reach out to only one merchant. Remember, you want to identify a problem that affects many merchants. Try asking a minimum of five merchants on your first try. 

Will Merchants Pay for This App?

The next step is to determine whether merchants are willing to part ways with their money for your app. New developers often struggle with this question. Luckily, we have a technique that you can use to determine your price point. 

Find an existing software that solves a similar problem to yours. Check their downloads and prices, and see how many merchants use their app. That will give you a good idea of where your price range should be for your application. 

You can also see if merchants are hiring freelancers to solve the problem your app addresses. Check to see how much they’re paying them, and try to undercut that with your price. That way, they will have a real incentive to switch to your app instead. 

Is This App a Feasible Build for You?

The final step is to determine whether you can actually make the app. You’ll need to get a realistic idea of the timeline for releasing your app. Will it take you a year to build on your own? Are there any team members you can hire to help you out? Once you plan to develop and release the app, it’s time to go all-in and get started. 

What to Consider When Designing Your App 

Okay, so now it’s time to get started with the actual development of your app. You’ve reached your problem, you know how to fix it at a reasonable price, and you have a timeline. For this stage, we’ll provide you with some critical considerations. Remember, you want your app to integrate seamlessly into the merchant’s storefront. You also want to enhance their user experience and interface. 

The easier your app is to use, the more merchants will flock to it. It would be best if you also made it as visually appealing as possible, as that’s always a plus. Apps that are beautiful, user-friendly, and accessible will always win. Luckily, there are some tools you can use out there to help you achieve this. 

Using Polaris for Shopify App Development 

If you don’t have a design system to use, Shopify has one for you. Polaris is their open-source app designer that anyone can use for free. You can also use it to create embedded apps that integrate seamlessly into a storefront. We recommend that you develop apps using Polaris within the Shopify Admin to keep things simple. However, Polaris allows you to create apps outside of the Admin as well. 

For creating embedded apps, Polaris will significantly speed up the design process. That’s because you won’t have to build any custom user interface elements. Polaris comes packaged with pre-built and flexible UX components. It’s so intuitive, in fact, that you can create an incredible UX even if it’s not your strong suit. 

The interface elements that Polaris uses include:

  • Icons
  • Colors
  • Typography
  • Interaction states
  • Spacing
  • Illustrations
  • More

That is great for developing apps that look like Shopify created them. Since Polaris is their open-source software, its elements are similar to Shopify itself. That leads to apps that are seamless in their execution. Polaris is the best way to create embedded apps that will work in tandem with Shopify stores. 

Of course, you can add your own designs and creativity into the process as well. Polaris is a flexible program that gives you a lot of free reigns to do as you please. If your team lacks a designated designer with a lot of experience, then Polaris can take that place. 

Building Your App 

Now that we’re done with the design, it’s on to building your app. The good news is that you can do things your way. Shopify is unique in that every programming language works with it. That’s great news for programmers that have one language that they excel in using. Shopify also provides you with a lot of helpful tools to get the job done. 

Here are the requirements you’ll need for building a Shopify app successfully:

  • A Shopify Partner Account 
  • An account with ngrok
  • Comfortability with using the command line and text editor on your computer
  • The ability to read at least one programming language
  • Installing software using the npm for managing packages 

As long as you have these tools, you’ll be able to get started building your app. Once you get started, you’ll enter your Partner Dashboard. That is where you’ll create your apps, review, and revise them. To start building an embedded app, you need to follow these steps:

  • Use the Shopify platform to embed your app
  • Use Polaris to build the user interface
  • Set up the Admin API
  • Connect to your Billing API

The Admin and Billing API are what you’ll use to process charges. That way, merchants can purchase your app, and you can receive the funds. We recommend using the Billing API to process payments, as it’s far more accessible than the alternatives. Your charges will appear on the merchants’ invoices, saving them the hassle of entering their credit card information. The Billing API also has higher free-to-paid conversation rates since it’s from Shopify. The company will also handle all chargebacks. 

A great tutorial on Shopify app Development

If you are interested in a great course to learn Shopify app development check out the Shopify app development course by CodingPhase. Codingphase by Joe Santos teaches you all about Shopify app development as you code alongside him to create an app. I highly recommend this course as it’s easy to follow and has tons of useful information. We recommend subscribing to the diamond plan so you can have access to both the Shopify app development courses and Shopify theme development courses, while also getting access to a huge collection of programming courses you can take. You can also buy courses individually but you will end up spending more money than if you bought the diamond plan and got access to all of the Codingphase courses. If you want to get access to the Shopify app development course and a huge collection of courses check out Codingphase at this link.

Submitting Your App to the Store 

Okay, so the final steps have begun. You’ve designed and built your app, and you know that it solves a real problem. All that’s left is to upload it to the Shopify App Store so that merchants can start downloading it. 

Before that happens, though, your app must undergo a review from the Shopify App Review Team. As you can imagine, thousands of apps are uploaded to the store every day, so quality control is necessary. After all, lots of Shopify users rely on their apps for their store to function correctly. That’s why a thorough review is needed to ensure that your app is totally functional. 

The best way to get through the review is to prepare for it properly. Of course, you should do rigorous testing on your app before preparing to submit it. To ensure success, make sure that your app meets all of Shopify’s requirements. They are:

  • Having user support
  • Understanding restricted app configurations
  • Meeting all installation and setup requirements
  • Meeting quality expectations and functionality 
  • Addressing the security risk
  • Understanding the merchant and buyer data

As long as you’re in line with all these requirements, you should pass the review with flying colors. From there, you can submit your app to the Shopify App Store via your Partner Dashboard. 

Building a Shopify app ( quick video )

In Conclusion 

So we’ve gone over a lot in this guide. We hope that you now know more about developing, designing, and building a Shopify app. You need to identify a widespread problem, follow all the guidelines, and create a user-friendly interface. As long as you check all those boxes, you should find great success with your app on Shopify. You’ll be able to start making money and maybe even make designing Shopify apps your full-time career. If you are interested in how to market your Shopify app check out our article here. To get more Shopify developer tips see our developer posts here.

Davon Wilson

I'm a certified Shopify expert, you can usually find me on my computer coding, or thinking about business ideas. I'm an avid Ravens fan and an overall nice guy.

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