Six months ago, I launched my first app on the Shopify App Store. Since then, I’ve launched three apps, combining two into a single super app. During these first six months, there have been many ups and downs, but with some experience behind me, I’d like to share six lessons I’ve learned over the last six months. If you’re just starting out on the Shopify App Store, I hope they can help you in your own development journey.
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Lesson 1: If you simply build it, they won’t come
It’s an entrepreneur’s dream: building an amazing product and having thousands, or millions, flock to it. Because of my experience creating iOS apps, I may have naively believed, like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, that if you build it, they will come. But unlike with iOS apps, where you may quickly get an influx of people downloading and installing your app immediately after launch which then diminishes over time, developers need to optimize their Shopify App Store listing and have a solid marketing and customer support plan to make this happen on Shopify.
I learned this lesson early on when we launched our free notifications app. Instead of the intended result of a raised profile and larger user base, we received 41 installations in five months, and only eight of which are active as I write this. That’s because I didn’t do any significant marketing or put effort into making updates, creating feature improvements, or proactively talking to my customers.
Having an amazing product doesn’t equal instant success. Knowing your work doesn’t end when you launch the product is key.
When I first got started, I thought that building the app was 20 percent of the work. Correction: it’s more like five percent. The other 95 percent is building out the business, including improving your app features, listening to your customers, marketing, customer support, and so much more.
Speaking of which…
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Lesson 2: Having amazing customer support is essential
As in most businesses, customer satisfaction is important, and that’s certainly the case when putting a product on the Shopify App Store. Amazing customer support is the vehicle to getting good results. Unfortunately, customer support takes a lot of time in the Shopify app business. I am actually still trying to figure this out as I go, but I do know it shouldn’t be an afterthought.
We set up a customer support system and added a customer support superhero to our team (shout out to my support superhero, Jasper). In one month, I can see that it has paid dividends.
"You need to have amazing customer support as a rule, not as an exception."
Let me emphasize though: having great customer support is not good enough. You need to have amazing customer support as a rule, not as an exception. For example, some say that there should be a maximum 15-minute wait for a response time to any emails or tickets when you are working. After all, if you don’t do this, there are competitors out there who will respond within that time frame.
The standards of support have gone up a lot. Our job as app developers is to help solve issues for merchants, making their lives easier and doing it as quickly as we can. Make sure you make customer support a priority.
You might also like: 5 Key Strategies to Improve Your App Support.
Lesson 3: What you think is wasted time could make the difference to reaching half a million users
Over the last six months, we’ve spent a lot of time trying things that just did not grow our apps or the business, and that could be viewed as wasted time.
Early on, I got frustrated because we were putting a lot of effort into social media and web marketing, but it was only resulting in maybe five percent of our traffic. The advice I got was that the best traffic will end up coming from the Shopify App Store and the Shopify ecosystem.
Well, it was true.
When I started to look at our data more and see how I could optimize it, going deep into Google Analytics and looking at our conversion rates, uninstall rates, and other details, it gave me a better understanding of our options. A lot of the work in this business is testing, re-testing, and learning about the impacts of each iteration. While you are doing this, you should be asking yourself about your competitors, your app listing, and how you can improve.
"A lot of the work in this business is testing, re-testing, and learning about the impacts of each iteration. While you are doing this, you should be asking yourself about your competitors, your app listing, and how you can improve."
This is not wasted time—back in when I was starting out in development, spending my time in this way helped lay the foundation that would eventually lead to me building and then selling two businesses—even when it sucked in the moment. Everyone wants to avoid wasting time, but the more you go out and try things, the faster you will make something work. It allows us to have data and find opportunities and build that foundation. As the saying goes, “fail fast.”
It’s not an easy journey. You need to be patient, whether it takes six, 18, or many more months. Persistence matters. Success can only happen if you don’t give up, even when you feel you’re wasting your time. We’re currently experimenting with an ecommerce directory that we originally created to help attract users and get more exposure for our customers. Now, we’re actually building a business around it. It’s not guaranteed that it will succeed, but either way, we’ll learn and grow. Ask me again in six months how things turn out.
Lesson 4: Getting a merchant’s feedback might be difficult, but is necessary to improve
I genuinely want to know why a merchant uninstalled my app and therefore have called, live-chatted, and spent a lot of time personalizing emails to paying and non-paying customers.
It can be hard to talk directly to users this way. Sometimes, I feel like I’m talking to the void and no one is hearing me. Jasper, our customer support superhero, has reached out to hundreds of people only to get a few responses, which at times can be very unmotivating.
But, when a merchant does respond, we do our best to learn everything we can about how they view our app, so we can make it better. Direct feedback is a goldmine for opportunities to grow your app and better serve your users.
"Direct feedback is a goldmine for opportunities to grow your app and better serve your users."
When reaching out to store owners, I have found that short and direct emails work best. Feedback is essential for improvement, so make sure you do follow up! Of course, if a merchant is not interested in giving feedback, respect their wishes and privacy.
You might also like: 3 Strategies for Collecting User Feedback Onsite.
Lesson 5: The industry is still very open
The Shopify App Store has over 6,000 apps, but I believe the market is still full of opportunity—for several reasons.
First, everything changes so fast. There are things I was looking at six months ago that are obsolete today.
Second, what defines success and financials are inconsistent. Usually in tech, you’ll be able to establish a benchmark on app values over time, but that’s not the case here. Depending on who I talk to, some consider earning $300 a month to be a successful Shopify app. For others, that number is much higher.
Another example is that what you can sell an app for varies tremendously. I have heard of apps making a few thousand dollars being offered over $100,000, and others making far more but selling for far less. The benchmark is constantly changing.
Third, the Shopify team is amazing. You can still talk to a real person and have real conversations with someone who wants to help you. You are not treated as if everything is top secret, and it is you versus them like it can feel with other companies. They do care about their partners and the ecosystem they are building, and it is a challenge for them to balance their own business goals with all of their partners’ needs.
For example, I reached out recently to ask if we could do something specific. They said, “Not yet, you need to grow more. But how about making your app partner-friendly and we can help get you there?”
Great advice and service. As Shopify grows, I hope they keep that level of commitment.
You might also like: 9 App Development Business Trends for 2021 Predicted by Shopify Staff.
Lesson 6: The power of sharing and learning is paramount
There is value in networking and talking to people in the Shopify ecosystem, not just meeting someone so you can sell them something. You start chatting and you share an idea, they add on their experience, and then you add on something, and you both walk away with ideas about how to make your own business better. This kind of learning and feedback happens all the time in Shopify Developer groups like LinkedIn or Facebook.
I try to add more value for people (like this post) with the hopes of building relationships and a community where we can help each other grow and genuinely share best practices. I have met really helpful people through my career who have taught me things I’ve been able to use in a practical sense for our apps. Never stop sharing and learning!
You might also like: Important Product Updates for Shopify Developers.
Growing with Shopify
I hope this blog post has given you some insight on how to grow your development business. We are all in this together in growing the Shopify Ecosystem.
To conclude: if you want to succeed, you must take big steps. Simply building your app, offering average customer support, trying a few marketing ideas, and networking with one or two people is not enough. Instead, taking the time and effort to really grow your app and business is how you will find success.