What is a Shopify App?

Shopify is a pretty capable ecommerce platform on its own, and for a lot of shopowners, it's all they need for their shops. However, there are many cases where shopowners need features and capabilities that don't come "out of the box" with Shopify. That's what apps are for: to add those extra features and capabilities to Shopify.


Apps make use of the Shopify API, which lets you programatically access a shop's data -- items for sale, orders and so on -- and take most of the actions available to you from a shop's control panel. An app can automate a tedious or complex task for a shopowner, make the customer's experience better, give shopowners better insight into their sales and other data, or integrate Shopify with other applications' data and APIs in useful ways.

Here are some apps that you can find at the Shopify App Store. These should give you an idea of what's possible:

  • Jilt: This is an app that makes shopowner's lives easier. It helps turn abandoned carts -- they arise when a customer shops on your store, puts items in the cart and then for some reason never completes the purchase -- into orders. It sends an email to customers who've filled carts but never got around to buying their contents after a specified amount of time. It's been shown to recover sales that would otherwise never have been made.
  • Searchify: Here's an app that makes the customer experience more pleasant. It's an autocompleting search box that uses the data in your shop that lets customers see matching products as they type. The idea is that by making your shop easier to search, you'll get more sales.
  • Beetailer: A good example of taking the Shopify API and combining it with other APIs. It lets your customers comment on your shop's products and share opinions about them on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. You can harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing to get people to come to your store!

Shopify apps offer benefits not just for shopowners and their customers, but for developers as well. Developers can build custom private apps for individual shopowners, or reach the 16,000 or so Shopify shopowners by selling their apps through the App Store. The App Store is a great way to get access to some very serious app customers: after all, they're looking for and willing to spend money on apps that make their shops more profitable. Better still, since a healthy app ecosystem is good for us as well, we'll be more than happy to help showcase and promote your apps.

If you've become convinced to write an app, read on, and follow this series of articles. I'll explore all sorts of aspects of Shopify app-writing, from getting started to selling and promoting your apps. Enjoy!

Step 1: Become a Partner

Before you can write apps, you have to become a Shopify Partner. Luckily, it's quick and free to do so. Just point your browser at the  Shopify Partners login page (https://app.shopify.com/services/partners/auth/login):

 

Once you're there, click on the Become a partner button. That will take you to the Become a Shopify Partner form, a single page in which you provide some information, such as your business' name, your URL and if you're into Shopify consulting, app development or theme design as well as some contact info:


When you submit this form, you're in the club! You're now a Shopify partner and ready to take on the next step: creating a test shop.

Step 2: Create a New Test Shop

Test shops are a feature of Shopify that let you try out store themes and apps without exposing them to the general public. They're a great way to familiarize yourself with Shopify's features; they're also good "sandboxes" in which you can safely test app concepts.

The previous step should have taken you to your Shopify partner account dashboard, which looks like this:


It's time to create a test shop. Click on the Test Shops tab, located not too far from the top of the page: 


You'll be taken to the My Test Shops page, where you manage your test shops. It looks like this:


As you've probably already figured out, you can create a new test shop by either:

  • Clicking on the Create a new Test Shop button near the upper left-hand corner of the page
  • Clicking on the big Create your first Test Shop button in the middle of the page. I'm going to click that one...


You should see this message near the top of the page for a few moments:


...after which you should see the My Test Shops page now sporting a test shop in a list.


Test shops are given a randomly-generated name. When you decide to create a real, non-test, customer-facing shop, you can name it whatever you want from the start.


In this example, the test shop is Nienow, Kuhlman and Gleason (sounds like a law firm!). Click on its name in the list to open its admin panel.


Step 3: Launch Your Test Shop

Here's what the admin panel for a newly-created shop looks like:


If you're wondering what the URL for your shop is, it's at the upper left-hand corner fo the page, just to the right of the Shopify wordmark. Make a note of this URL; you'll use it often.


Just below that, you'll see your shop's password:


(Don't bother trying to use this password to get to my test shop; I've changed it.)

You're probably looking at that big text and thinking "7 steps? Oh Shopify, why you gotta be like that?"

Worry not. Just below that grey bar showing the seven steps you need to get a store fully prepped is a link that reads Skip setting up your store and launch it anyway. Click it:


This will set up your test store with default settings, a default theme and even default inventory. You'll be taken to the admin panel for your shop, which looks like this:


This is the first thing shopowners see when they log into their shops' admin panels. 

Now, let's add an app!

Step 4: Add an App

Click on the Apps tab, located near the upper right-hand corner of the page. A menu will pop up; click on its Manage Apps menu item:


You'll be taken to the Installed Applications page, shown below:


For the purposes of this exercise, a private app -- one that works only for this shop -- will do just fine. Click on the click here link that immediately followed the line Are you a developer interested in creating a private application for your shop?:


You'll get taken to the Shopify API page, which manages the API keys and other credentials for your test shop's apps:


For each app in a shop, there's a corresponding set of credentials. Let's generate some credentials now -- click the Generate new application button:


The page will refresh and you'll see a big grey box containing all sorts of credentials:


Here's a closer look at the credentials:

You now have credentials that an app can use. Guess what: we're ready to make some API calls!

A Quick Taste!

Here's a quick taste of what we'll do in the next installment: play around with the Shopify API. Just make sure you've gone through the steps above first.

The Shopify API is RESTful. One of the benefits of this is that you can explore parts of it with some simple HTTP GET calls, which you can easily make by typing into your browser's address bar. These calls use the following format:

api-key:password@your-test-shop-URL/admin/resource.xml
You could type in the URL yourself, but I find it's far easier to simply copy the Example URL from the lost of credentials for your apps and editing it as required:

  

For example, if you want some basic information about your shop, copy the Example URL, paste it into your browser's address bar and change orders.xml to shop.xml. Press Enter; you should see results that look something like this:


Nienow, Kuhlman and Gleason
Boston
185 Rideau Street
K1N 5X8
2011-07-22T14:43:21-04:00
false
US
nienow-kuhlman-and-gleason1524.myshopify.com
937792
555 555 5555

Massachusetts
joey@joeydevilla.com
USD
(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time (US & Canada)
development shop
${{amount}}
${{amount}} USD
false

development

How about the products in your shop? There are some: since we skipped the full setup, your test shop comes pre-populated with some example products. Copy the Example URL, paste it into your browser's address bar and change orders.xml to products.xml. You should get a result that looks something like this:



Shirts
multi-channelled-executive-knowledge-user
2011-07-22T14:43:24-04:00

So this is a product.

The text you see here is a Product Description. Every product has a price, a weight, a picture and a description. To edit the description of this product or to create a new product you can go to the Products Tab of the administration menu.

Once you have mastered the creation and editing of products you will want your products to show up on your Shopify site. There is a two step process to do this.

First you need to add your products to a Collection. A Collection is an easy way to group products together. If you go to the Collections Tab of the administration menu you can begin creating collections and adding products to them.

Second you’ll need to create a link from your shop’s navigation menu to your Collections. You can do this by going to the Navigations Tab of the administration menu and clicking on “Add a link”.

Good luck with your shop!

Multi-channelled executive knowledge user 2011-07-22T14:43:24-04:00 47015882 Shopify 2011-07-22T14:43:24-04:00 Demo, T-Shirt 19.0 1 2011-07-22T14:43:24-04:00 Medium true 2011-07-22T14:43:24-04:00 deny true 110148372 0 Medium manual 5
...

Check out the API Reference for more API calls you can try. That's what we'll be covering in the next installment, in greater detail. Happy APIing!