How to pick the right platform for your third-party app
In 2020, over two billion people bought goods or services online. Online retailers saw sales surpassing $4.2 trillion worldwide, according to Statista.
In their Year in Review Report, Market Pulse stated that 2020 was the best year for e-commerce marketplaces in over a decade. “In aggregate, it was the most successful year for sellers and brands that transact through them, too.”
With such overall growth in the online space, the marketplace for third-party apps is booming as e-commerce business owners seek opportunities to optimize and scale their stores. Below, we compare four significant platforms and what app developers need to consider before creating a third-party app for each of them.
Of course, a substantial number of developers choose to create apps for multiple platforms. This cross-platform route requires that the developer adheres to a host of guidelines formulated by each platform. According to The App Solutions, “once familiar with how the app on each platform operates, the developer has a deeper understanding of how to navigate the cores of the platform to ensure the app is convenient for all engines.”
It’s up to the developer to decide which platform to focus on and if the app will integrate with several marketplaces and platforms. The App Solutions advises developers to note the specific features of each platform and how these differences interact.
There is little doubt that building apps can turn into a lucrative business. The big question, and one you should consider before anything else, is what the purpose of your app is? Why should you build it and how is it going to help the merchant or your client?
Overview of Shopify
Shopify is an e-commerce platform that lets both individuals and small businesses sell their products or services online. According to Shopify, it is used by 1.7M businesses worldwide. The online service partners with sellers and companies to help them streamline their online stores. Consolidating the selling experience, Shopify easily lets the seller take payments and ship their products.
The platform offers all–new sellers a 14-day free trial. When the free trial period is up, the seller must sign up for Shopify’s monthly plans to keep using the platform.
Although Shopify originally launched its App Store in 2009, it released a new version in 2018 to help apps become discoverable in an increasingly competitive market. The updated version aims to help app discoverability and aid merchants in finding the right apps for their stores, and their app store now holds well over 3K apps to aid sellers in optimizing their stores.
More recently, Shopify announced the introduction of ads to help developers get their apps noticed. Shopify also shared insights from their beta users to show other app developers how to maximize return on ads and how to get more app downloads.
Types of apps on the Shopify App Store
Shopify has over 3K apps available to choose from to scale an online store. The apps offered in the Shopify App Store fall into categories like “finding products,” “places to sell,” “store design,” “marketing,” “sales and conversions,” etc. Shopify apps can be helpful to enhance your Shopify admin or add new features.
Shopify’s App Store gives merchants many opportunities to grow their stores. Among other things, they can:
- Add a customer wishlist
- Set up dropshipping
- Add product reviews
- Use currency conversion
Shopify’s Shop app lets customers view their favorite Shopify stores, receive product recommendations, and track orders.
A selection of apps in the Shopify App Store:
- Privy ‑ Pop–Ups, Email, & SMS: Privy’s suite of conversion, email marketing, & SMS tools, including exit-intent driven popups & banners.
- Printful: Print-on-demand dropshipping apps for store owners selling print and embroidered goods like t-shirts and pillows. Printful will print, pack, and ship your orders on–demand, under your brand.
- Delivery Date: An app recently sold through FE International, provides a date picker that enables customers to select a date for delivery of their order during checkout. Orders are then displayed by delivery date, so the seller sees when orders need to be fulfilled.
- Shopify Email: Shopify‘s own email marketing tool
- Transcy ‑ Translate & Currency: Transcy helps translate all types of content into multiple languages and convert currency based on visitor location to build multilingual store & sell in multiple currencies.
- SEO Booster ‑ SEO Marketing: Auto optimize SEO & Google traffic daily. Organize and protect your site in a Google-recommended way to improve your page rank
- Data Export Reports: Create custom reports from any store data. Export reports to multiple emails, FTP, or Feeds. Excel, CSV or Google Drive. Data can be appended to Google Sheets.
- POP! Sales Pop & Social Proof: Sales Pop lets visitors know your product is in demand, building FOMO and a sense of urgency. Sales Pop Popup Notifications are subtle but drive customer conversions.
Currently, users can add three types of apps to their Shopify store: public, custom and private.
With public apps, there are two options: listed and unlisted. Users can install listed apps from the Shopify App Store. Unlisted apps, however, don’t appear in Shopify App Store search results or categories. Instead, users can install them from the app’s App Store listing or the developer’s website.
Custom apps can add features to a Shopify admin or extend an online store to other platforms using custom storefronts. Custom apps aren’t listed on the Shopify App Store and are built exclusively for Shopify stores. An external app developer can make a custom app for a seller without needing API access to the store or the Shopify admin. The app is installed by clicking an install link provided by the app’s developer.
Private apps are available only to a seller’s store and aren’t listed on the Shopify App Store. Private apps for your store can be created in the Shopify admin. Some sellers choose to work with an external developer and would then need to give the developer API and Shopify admin access. Some sellers might not want to share such access and ask a developer to build them a custom app instead.
On Shopify’s App developer site, you can sign up as a Shopify Partner and get a free API key. If you want to develop an app for Shopify, it’s recommended to utilize their Merchant forums where sellers discuss apps and which ones are working for them. If you want to develop an app for Shopify, it’s recommended to utilize their Merchant forums where sellers discuss apps and which ones are working for them.
Pros and cons of building a Shopify app
- Many merchants use apps – According to Shopify, “87% of Shopify merchants say they rely on apps to run their business. 48% of the Shopify App Store‘s top 25 grossing apps were published in the last two years, pointing to a thriving market for new app developers.”
- Streamlined billing process – App developers can bill for their apps using the GraphQL Admin API. According to Shopify this, “enables app developers to process charges through Shopify’s merchant invoicing system. Using this functionality delivers the best merchant experience while greatly simplifying and streamlining billing for apps. As an app developer, you select the API resource for your billing model and include the amount to charge. Shopify handles collecting the funds and making sure you get paid.“ Use of the Billing API is mandatory for all listed apps that want to charge merchants unless Shopify has otherwise notified you. Using Shopify’s Billing API, you can charge for your app in three different ways: one-time, usage-based, and recurring charges. You, as the developer, keep 80% of all revenue.
- Highly engaged developer community – Shopify is very engaged with its community of developers and provides a host of resources and content on who to improve your app’s ranking. They also host a conference for developers called Partner Town Hall and send out weekly newsletters. If you’re considering this platform, it’s a good idea to also stay current on recent news for Shopify Partners and Merchants.
- Complicated authentication process – Eric Davis mentions in his app experiment that the integration process with Shopify’s authentication and authorization system can be a headache for developers. Davis points out that there is quite a bit of configuration and testing to do for this step in the development process. If you’re building a public app, you’ll need to use the more complex OAuth for authentication instead of the APP API key and password for private apps. OAuth provides a safe and secure way for a merchant to authorize your app with Shopify without giving your app the username and password to their store. According to app developer and Shopify consultant. Eric Davis.” Even with shopify_app helping and all the documentation, Shopify provides, getting the proper authentication working can be a chore.” He advises app developers not to give up on getting the authentication working. “Even though this is the first step of actual development, it is one of the most difficult ones. Once you figure it out, the rest of the development is (comparatively) easy. If you do get stuck, search around on the Shopify forums, and ask questions there. Often, a simple fix is all you need for authentication problems.” (If you already have a Shopify app and you’re considering an exit, or you’d like to know more about what it takes to build for this platform, read FE International’s Ultimate Guide to Building and Selling a Shopify App Business.)
Overview of Wix
Wix is a cloud-based development platform where users can create a professional website and launch their business. According to Wix, their platform has over 200M customers in 190 countries. The Wix website builder lets users create a fully personalized website. They also have more than 500 customizable website templates available.
Wix offers Wix eCommerce, which is their solution for entrepreneurs starting an online business, online brands selling over $1M or retailers who wish to move their store online. According to Wix, their “industry-leading eCommerce website builder and advanced business features help you launch, run and scale your online store successfully.“
In Wix Development Center, app developers can view an outline of the process of developing an app for Wix. Developers can create web solutions, from simple widgets to advanced web applications for any type of business. Develop on Any Stack and build web apps using Wix’s HTTP API and UI library. Wix also offers the ability to track and optimize your app. There are different monetization models available. As a developer, you can choose to utilize a monthly or yearly subscription plan.
Monetize Your Web App: Get paid for your app. Create a monthly or yearly subscription plan so you can start earning right away.
Types of apps on the Wix App Market:
The Wix App Market offers web apps for Wix sites. There are more than 275 apps available in the App Market, helping users with things like e-commerce, marketing, social posts, managing their finances, and more.
Launching an app on Wix’s App Market will allow you to reach millions of potential users. Wix states that “By developing your app for Wix’s App Market, you’ll get professional feedback, as well as access to our library of APIs, handy tutorials, and the Wix Developers’ Center for managing your apps.”
A selection of apps on Wix’s Apps Market:
- Modalyst – Dropshipping: Modalyst is a dropshipping automation platform for eCommerce websites and businesses.
- Printify: a one-stop shop for print-on-demand services that allows you to create products with your designs, handles printing, and ships directly to your customer.
- Custom Background Music: Once installed, the app allows you to add a media file (from your Wix Media Manager or our royalty-free songs library) that will be played in the background of your site.
- Wix Chat: Let your site‘s visitors reach out 24/7. With Wix Chat, anyone visiting your site can instantly send you a message and start a chat. Chat back anytime – even from your phone.
- Online Store by Ecwid: Lets you easily synchronize and sell across your site, social media like Facebook and Instagram, marketplaces like Amazon, and live in-person.
As a developer, you have the choice to build website apps where users can add apps alongside text and images to give their sites extra functionality and make them stand out.
These apps are usually done using a component from a website, for instance, a blog, contact form, events calendar or booking system.
Developers can also create business management apps. They can add these apps using a Wix Dashboard component or with external apps (e.g., apps to manage finances, promote their business, send newsletters, and more).
When developing an app for Wix, “You can use our various REST APIs to access Wix user’s site data (e.g., contacts, orders, etc.). Our APIs use standard HTTPS terminology and OAuth authentication and return JSON-encoded responses. To use our APIs, site owners must grant you explicit permission to collect this data when installing your app on their site,” according to the Wix platform.
Pros and cons of building a Wix app
- Wix is an untapped market for apps – Website Builder Expert compares Wix and Shopify in terms of usability for merchants. From their view, it is easier and quicker to build a store using Wix rather than Shopify. On the other hand, they found that Shopify is more powerful, so it takes longer to get to grips with it. They recommend Wix for small businesses, freelancers, and individual sellers. Shopify is better for large companies looking to grow. “Shopify provides better sales tools than Wix. Wix is primarily a website builder, whereas Shopify is designed purely to help people set up their online stores.“
- Fewer competing apps – With only 300 apps available in the Wix App Market, this platform provides an excellent opportunity for new apps to enter the market and get noticed. In terms of e-commerce integrations, Shopify has a much higher quantity of apps to choose from and therefore sees more competition between apps.
- Little coding experience needed – According to Wix, “users without any coding or design skills can use our drag-and-drop website editor to create professional websites and manage their businesses, while those with more advanced skills can use Velo by Wix to rapidly build, manage, and deploy professional web apps.”
- Attracts smaller businesses – According to Website Builder Expert, they recommend merchants use the Wix platform over Shopify if they own a smaller business. “Shopify is more scalable and better for larger stores, but it‘s also more expensive and more clunky to get to grips with. While this is perfect if you‘re after plenty of power, it‘s not ideal if you need to get up and running quickly.” This comparison could speak to what type of sellers Wix attracts and the types of stores and the capital available.
- Apps have a lower price point – The approximate price range for apps in the Wix marketplace is between $10-$100 a month compared to $5-$250 a month for Shopify apps.
Overview of Amazon
Amazon is the world‘s largest online marketplace where individuals and businesses can sell their products. Since its inception 25 years ago, it has become a household name with a brand worth amounting to over $415B, according to Statista. Amazon generates most of its revenue through online retail product sales, third–party retail services, AWS and retail subscription services like Prime. Recently, Amazon reported its first-quarter results for 2021, showing net sales increased to $108.5B compared to $75.5B in the first quarter of 2020. “Excluding the $2.1 billion favorable impacts from year-over-year changes in foreign exchange rates throughout the quarter, net sales increased 41% compared with first–quarter 2020,“ Amazon reports.
The ever-growing tech giant provides an excellent opportunity for developers to leverage the e-commerce space and create apps for its users. According to Market Pulse, sellers on the Amazon marketplace saw a substantial increase in sales. “Retailers sold an estimated $295 billion worth of products, increasing their sales by $95 billion, up from $200 billion in 2019. Attracted by that, nearly $1 billion in fresh capital was committed to firms looking to acquire Amazon sellers and brands.“
There are three options to choose from when developing apps for Amazon Selling Partners. Firstly, the private developer option. According to Amazon, “You can build applications for use with your own Amazon seller account. This requires you to register as a developer.”
The second option is becoming a public developer, which means you can build apps that sellers authorize and use to help manage their business. This also requires you to register as a developer. Lastly, developers can publish their applications on the Marketplace Appstore. To create apps for the Marketplace Appstore, you must be a public developer.
As a Marketplace developer, you must agree to the Amazon Selling Partner API Developer Agreement. The agreement describes the Selling Partners APIs. Under the agreement, Amazon may make Selling Partner APIs available to the developer. “This includes the Marketplace Web Services APIs and API Materials that permit your systems to interface with certain features or functionality available to Selling Partners. API Materials that are Public Software may be provided to you under a separate license, in which case, notwithstanding any other provision of this agreement, that license will govern your use of those API Materials. For the avoidance of doubt, except to the extent expressly prohibited by the license governing any API Materials that are Public Software, all of the non-license provisions of this agreement will apply.“
About the registration process, Amazon says the following: “To use the Selling Partner APIs as described above, you must complete our registration process, during which you agree to, a) provide true, accurate, current, and complete information about yourself and/or your organization as prompted by the registration form (“ Registration Data“) and b) maintain and promptly update the Registration Data to keep it true, accurate, current, and complete. You authorize us to verify the Registration Data you provide to us directly or through third parties to the extent allowed by applicable law.“
To list your application in the Marketplace Appstore you must complete the Developer Registration process mentioned earlier and meet any other eligibility requirements specified in Amazon’s Policies.
Amazon’s Marketplace Appstore authorization flow is “an OAuth authorization workflow that the selling partner initiates from the Marketplace Appstore detail page. When you list a Selling Partner API application on the Marketplace Appstore, selling partners can authorize your application by clicking an Authorize Now button on the detail page,” according to GitHub.
It’s recommended that developers test their authorization workflow while the app is in draft status before the app is listed. “Your test workflow won‘t be the same as the final production workflow, but you’ll be able to ensure that your application can exchange parameters with Amazon and receive authorization information.”
GitHub also provides an extensive overview of how to register an app and the process of getting an app authorized. It’s worthwhile investigating this process carefully before deciding to create an app for this Marketplace.
Amazon‘s Service Forum also gives a detailed step-by-step guide on how to list your app and what requirements developers must fulfill to list their app on the Marketplace Appstore.
Developers can stay up to date on all Amazon Marketplace Web service announcements on the Marketplace forum.
Types of apps on the Amazon Marketplace Appstore:
Amazon’s Marketplace Appstore provides sellers with apps from external developers and Amazon’s apps. Categories of apps include listing, automated pricing, inventory and order management, shipping solutions, advertising, promotions, product research and scouting, buyer-seller messaging and more. Developers can only pick three categories when submitting their app for approval with Amazon.
A selection of apps on the Amazon Marketplace Appstore:
- SentryKit: An app sold through FE International, uses the Amazon API to frequently check on the seller’s products. When issues are found, SentryKit notifies the seller via email and desktop notification. The app allows the seller to track, monitor and analyze the development of their store. It alerts merchants on their Best Seller Rank(s), sales, product listings and reviews, keyword phrases, inventory alerts and more.
- Jungle Scout: In the listing’s category, this app, amongst other things, will show you what products are the top opportunities for you on Amazon. You can easily see the approximate demand, competition, profitability, seasonality and more of any niche or product on Amazon.
- Feedback Five: Designed for busy sellers who want to get more reviews and feedback on Amazon. You can send automated requests via Amazon Request a Review or Buyer-Seller Messaging. Scheduling options and campaign rules are available for both messaging systems.
- Seller Engine Plus: Designed for Amazon FBA businesses, sellers can easily import a list of products, using ISBNs, barcodes or ASINs, from distributors and see what‘s worth selling. The software retrieves live information from Amazon on sales rank, selling prices and more. It also allows sellers to create their own sorters based on their unique criteria. At the end of the process, sellers will be able to make an informed decision on what items to sell or not.
- Scan Unlimited: Quickly upload and scan wholesale product lists from your suppliers to find profitable, fast–selling products on Amazon!
Pros and cons of building an app for Amazon:
- Many active sellers – According to Marketplace Pulse Amazon has 6.2M sellers, and 1.6M of them are active sellers. With such a sizable number of sellers, there is a great need for high-quality apps to help merchants scale their online stores.
- Growing Amazon FBA business market – With a booming e-commerce market and global sales expected to increase nearly 14% in 2021, app developers would be wise to leverage this growth. Third-party marketplace sellers now make out more than half (58%) of Amazon’s business,
- Marketplace Appstore less known – Unlike other app stores (Wix and Shopify), Amazon’s Marketplace Appstore is much less known. When searching online, it’s challenging to find information about the Amazon Marketplace Appstore, other than locating the actual Appstore itself. With Amazon being a massive, worldwide marketplace, it might seem feasible that apps can get lost in the crowd.
- Developers must drive traffic to their own sites – Amazon will not help you drive traffic to your app. Most merchants will find your app through a Google Search rather than on the Amazon Marketplace Appstore. This means developers must put more effort into their app landing page and make sure to employ SEO best practices to rank competitively on Google.
- No real developer community – Amazon does not provide developers with the types of resources and community feel that platforms like Shopify do. Finding information on Amazon’s guidelines and how to get your app approved is more challenging and not as readily available as other platforms.
Overview of Atlassian
Atlassian is a software company providing products to help software, marketing, HR, legal, IT, operations, finance and incident response teams operate more efficiently. More than 200,000 companies around the world use Atlassian—from startups to Fortune 500 companies. They offer more than 15 assorted products to help businesses plan, track and support; collaborate; code, build and ship; and improve security. Solutions you may be familiar with include:
- Bitbucket: A product that allows users to collaborate on code with inline comments and pull requests. It also facilitates building and shipping software collaboratively.
- Jira Software: A software development tool used by agile teams, enabling them to plan, track and release software.
- Confluence: A collaboration tool that teams can use to create documents, organize their work and communicate, all within the tool. Atlassian describes that with Confluence you can, “Spend less time hunting things down and more time getting things done.“
- Trello: A tool that allows teams to coordinate projects and communicate in a visual manner. Teams can also use Trello with Bitbucket, Jira or Confluence.
Atlassian offers deployment flexibility with three types of deployments currently offered—Atlassian Cloud, Server and Data Center. However, to increase security, improve reliability and manageability and boost innovation, Atlassian is no longer selling licenses for server products and will end support for Server in 2024. App developers interested in developing enhancements for Atlassian products should focus on developing apps for Atlassian Cloud or Data Center.
The Atlassian Marketplace
The Atlassian Marketplace features more than 4,000 apps designed to help teams modify products to better serve their needs. There are apps for monitoring, customer support, time tracking, design enhancements, IT service management, project management, continuous integration and more.
One such app, Doublecheck for Jira, adds additional functionality to Jira. Prior to the creation of Doublecheck for Jira, there was not a safeguard built into Jira to prevent users from sending internal comments to customers by mistake. In Jira Service Desk, the default setting is “Respond to customer” and this could lead to unwanted communication with the customer if the intended recipient was a team member. When Doublecheck for Jira is installed, the user will see a pop-up window confirming that the message should be sent to the customer. This app enhances the functionality of Jira.
If you would like to explore developing an app with Atlassian, there are resources for developers on their website, including a step-by-step guide to building an app. The first step is to determine which Atlassian product you would like to develop an app for. Next is to select the deployment option. There are pros and cons to each. Keep in mind that the Server is being phased out so you likely will want to go with Cloud or Data Center.
Next, is to review the developer documentation associated with the Atlassian product your app will work with. After that, it’s time to build the app. The last step is to share the app via the developer console and/or the Atlassian Marketplace.
Pros and cons of building an Atlassian app
- Company transparency – Atlassian has seen remarkable growth in recent years, with its stock increasing nearly 100% in 2020. Because of this, creating an app for Atlassian products is a smart choice. Volker Schulze, CEO of Accxia, has extensive experience working with Atlassian. He notes that, “Atlassian is pretty easy to work with. The company is very transparent. That’s the ethos of Atlassian. The two founders built a company with the core values of collaboration, teamwork and transparency.
- Developer friendly – Atlassian has an engaging and developer-friendly community providing developers with resources to help them grow their app’s audience.
- Compliance issues – On the one hand, it’s good. On the other hand, it’s not good because there are compliance issues. You can’t show everything to certain stakeholders. Sometimes [app developers] need to create software to constrain the software and take features out.“ Apps developed for Atlassian can only be used for the Atlassian product they were developed for. This shouldn’t be much of an issue though because Atlassian apps have a loyal customer base.
- Frequent updates – Schulze also described another challenge, that Atlassian issues updates regularly so as a developer, you must make sure that your app still works appropriately when there are updates.