Building a Shopify App—What You Need to Know

Timothy Ware on November 04, 2021

Table of Contents

There are some amazing, comprehensive guidebooks out there for building a Shopify app (including this one from Shopify). Consider this the cheat sheet on building a Shopify app

In this article, I’ll provide you with a summary of the process of building an app, from planning the functionality to marketing your Shopify app and tracking its growth.


What is Baremetrics?

Whatever Shopify app you choose to build, Baremetrics is the tool you should use to monitor its growth metrics.

When it comes to monitoring all of the needed growth metrics for your Shopify app, Baremetrics excels. Baremetrics is a business metrics tool that provides 26 metrics about your business, such as MRR, ARR, LTV, total customers, and more.

Baremetrics integrates directly with your payment gateways, so information about your customers is automatically piped into the Baremetrics dashboards.

You should sign up for the Baremetrics free trial, and start monitoring your subscription revenue accurately and easily.


The stages of Shopify app development 

When building a Shopify app, you need to move through specific stages. I’m going to go over each of them below. 

The stages:

  1. Research and planning

  2. Understanding the Shopify app ecosystem

  3. Validating your Shopify app

  4. Designing your Shopify app

  5. Submitting your app to the Shopify App Store

  6. Monitoring your app

1. Research and planning

I touch on this a bit in another article with helpful business tips for Shopify app developers, but it is worth repeating here.

Before you start developing an app, you need to have a plan in place. The plan should include a timeline of all the tasks that need to be completed, how long they will take, and a logical progression where tasks that rely on other tasks being completed occur after the requisite tasks. 

No matter the schedule you plan to keep, a solid plan will keep you on track during the entire process. 

The first part of your plan should encompass research. This research should include two main parts.

First, you’ll need to understand what it takes to build your app, get the app approved, and market and track your app’s growth over time. While this article goes over this part briefly, you’ll need to read the complete guide on the Shopify website to fully grasp the task.

Second, you’ll want to understand the market you are entering. For this, I recommend considering the following questions:

  • What is my target market?

  • What other apps are competing for this target market?

  • What specific value will my app bring that differentiates it from the other apps?

  • How much can I expect to earn per user per month?

While it is best to build your Shopify app with the goal of adding value to the Shopify Community, understanding the expected monthly revenue per user will tell you how much you can budget for development, how much you can spend acquiring customers (CAC), and how long you can expect to wait to be in the black.


2. What is the Shopify app ecosystem?

Shopify is a stellar ecommerce ecosystem. It makes it incredibly easy for anyone to start a business. However, not even Shopify can anticipate the needs of every shop owner or build the functionality they need to excel.

This is the positioning of the Shopify app ecosystem. When building a Shopify app, you are providing further functionality to the Shopify ecosystem.

Your Shopify app enters this ecosystem by connecting with one or more of the Shopify APIs and thus extending the ecosystem’s capabilities to the benefit of shop owners and customers.


3. How do you validate your Shopify app idea?

During the research and planning phase, you should have come up with a good app idea. A good idea checks the following four boxes:

  1. This app solves a real merchant problem.

  2. The target market is currently trying to solve this problem in a less efficient way.

  3. Merchants are willing to pay money to solve this problem.

  4. Our dev team can build this app.

Before moving forward with your plan, it is worth taking a second look at your app, the market, and the Shopify ecosystem to make sure that your app has a marketable niche to exploit.

It is also important to understand whether it is possible to build the app—and if so that your dev team has the skills to do so.


4. How should you design your Shopify app?

I’m going to break this into two parts, the UX/UI decision making and the general presentation.

When it comes time to design your UX/UI, consider the following to ensure your app provides the best possible experience: 

  • Your UX/UI design should be both functional and visually appealing. 

  • Your app should provide clear and simple copy.

  • Your app should be inclusive and accessible. 

For the general presentation, you need to make sure that your app uses appropriate language. 

English is the most spoken language on Earth, but most people of those people are not native English speakers. You should use plain English free of complex words or jargon. 

Once you have a solid English base, consider providing your app in other languages, such as Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, French, and Arabic, which are the next most spoken languages.


5. Building your app

Before you start building your app, you will definitely need the following:

You will also need the following general skills:

  • The ability to use your computer’s command line and text editor

  • The ability to code in a backend programming language, such as PHP, Node.JS, Java, Python, or Ruby on Rails

  • The ability to install software using the npm package manager

In addition to these skills and assets, there are loads of additional Shopify and third-party tools available to help build and manage the build of your Shopify app. 

I encourage you to spend time (a lot of time) reading everything provided by Shopify as it is immensely helpful.


6. Submitting your app to the Shopify App Store

The submission process is long and arduous. Shopify takes great care to vet every new app to make sure it does what the developers claim it does, and safely and within all laws. 

While this can be a frustrating process for the developers, it is necessary for shop owners to true the over 6,000 Shopify apps currently available. 

You should put your frustration aside because the Shopify QA team is actually super helpful and wants you to succeed. Listen to them!

To the point, you need to ensure the following three steps have been performed before submitting your app:

  1. Your app meets Shopify’s app requirements.

  2. You have written a thorough and accurate app listing.

  3. Your app has been tested in many different use cases successfully.

7. Monitoring your app

Monitoring your app means two things. The first entails keeping track of your app’s market growth and the second is to ensure your app remains compatible with the ever-changing Shopify ecosystem so that it remains safe and functioning.

Shopify recommends the AARRR (acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral) metric system in their guidebook as a good way to track your business growth. 

When building your metrics tech stack, you should sign up for Baremetrics.

Baremetrics is a business metrics tool that provides 26 metrics about your business, such as MRR, ARR, LTV, total customers, and more.

Baremetrics integrates directly with Shopify, so information about your customers is automatically piped into the Baremetrics dashboards.

You should sign up for the Baremetrics free trial, and start monitoring your subscription revenue accurately and easily.




Building a Shopify app FAQ

I’ve compiled a list of some frequently asked questions I see online about building a Shopify app.


Do you need to build Shopify apps in specific languages and frameworks?

The short answer is no. Shopify is language-agnostic. 

However, Shopify provides official libraries for Ruby and Python. Third-party libraries are also available for Node, PHP, and some other languages. 

So, if you are new to coding, then these languages might be the best place to start. If you are a seasoned coder, then you might find using these languages faster given the ample assets available.


What is the best way to start learning how to code a Shopify App?

The first thing you should do is read the Complete Guide Book provided by Shopify including all of the associated supplementary pages (warning: it is long). 

You’ll need to learn a language, and while Shopify is language-agnostic, Ruby or Python is usually considered the easiest to start with. 


What are the ongoing costs associated with building Shopify apps?

Once your app is built, you’ll need to market it, provide customer service, maintain and further develop its functionality, pay associated hosting fees, and monitor its financials.

In addition, Shopify takes a percentage of the revenue over a high threshold.


What are private, public, and custom Shopify Apps?

Public apps are widely available and can be listed in the Shopify App Store. 

Custom apps are made specifically and solely for a single merchant and are not listed in the Shopify App Store. 

Private apps are designed for a limited segment of merchants and are not listed in the Shopify App Store.


What are the best tools for building a Shopify app?

There are so many great tools available for building a Shopify app, which is why I wrote a separate article just on this topic

Many of the best tools for developing apps come from Shopify, including their Polaris and REST Admin API playgrounds, sample apps, and data generators. 

Beyond that, you’ll also want to check out general productivity tools, such as Slack, Notion, and Trello. 

Once your app is up and running, you are going to need tools to track your revenue growth and metrics. This is where Baremetrics is essential as part of your metrics tech stack.



Whatever app you decide to build, the development is only the start. Once completed, you’ll need to market your app and track your revenue progress.  

This is difficult to do alone, which is why you should use Baremetrics.

Baremetrics makes it easy to collect and visualize all of your sales data. When you have many users, it can be difficult to calculate your MRR, ARR, LTV, and so much more. Thankfully, there is Baremetrics to do all of this for you. 

Baremetrics can even monitor your SaaS quick ratio. Integrating this innovative tool can make financial analysis seamless for your Shopify Partners company, and you can start a free trial today.

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Timothy Ware

Tim is a natural entrepreneur. He brings his love of all things business to his writing. When he isn’t helping others in the SaaS world bring their ideas to the market, you can find him relaxing on his patio with one of his newest board games. You can find Tim on LinkedIn.