Shopify on Your Terms

by Kurt Elster

Eliminate frustrations, rake in more revenue with a private app

This is a guest post by my friend Eric Davis of Little Stream Software. Eric builds custom web app for ecommerce entrepreneurs. He's here to talk about private Shopify apps.


There's a time when quitting is the best course of action.

If you're tired of hustling to keep up with the growth your Shopify store, I give you full permission to quit doing things the hard way.

Quit pulling late hours to crunch customer data.

Quit spending hours combing through the Shopify forums hoping to find another hack to simplify your workload.

Most of all, quit trying to tell yourself that if you just had the technical chops, you could make that fancy new app you bought do exactly what you needed it to do.

If you're at the helm of a thriving Shopify store, you're not running a cookie-cutter business. You're probably dealing with layers of suppliers, sales data, storefronts, sales campaigns, and dropship arrangements.

One app isn't going to magically coordinate all of those details. If fact, several apps probably won't be able to give you all of the support you need.

Before you sink more time into finding the magic bullet for your store's needs, let's talk about what an off-the-shelf app can do for you and when you might be ready for an app tailored specifically for your business.

What Public Apps Can Do for You

Most Shopify merchants recognize public apps as the items found in the App Store. These third-party Shopify apps are created by an outside developer to help fix a problem that many Shopify store owners have to deal with on a daily basis.

Public apps can very useful for solving problems that a lot of store owners face, but they definitely have a generalist approach. While there may be some customization available within a public app, don't expect these apps to solve your specific problem perfectly.

Public apps can be an excellent way for store owners to try out a solution and see if it makes life easier... or if it creates another headache. This small investment on your part can help you move closer to an ideal improvement.

On the technical side, public apps dovetail perfectly with Shopify because they all use the same APIs and standard authentication methods to access your store and store data. They were created to give you a plug-and-play experience.

What Private Apps Can Do for You

A private app is not anything you'll find for sale because it's a custom project built by a developer for your business and your business only. It can include exactly the features your business needs without a lot of extra fluff or distractions.

Need to create a very specialized email campaign for your best customers and another for the rest of your customer list?

Would you like product data imported directly from your supplier and added to your store instead of having to copy and paste all of it?

Want automatic alerts posted to you and customers when an item is almost out of stock?

Want to send automated reminders to customers who have left items in their cart without purchasing?

Private apps can do all of that.

It is important to know that while private apps use the same Shopify APIs as public apps, they use a different authentication API. This difference is why private apps can only work with one store at a time.

Also, private apps additionally cannot use the Embedded App SDK APIs, which means you can't embed a private app into the Shopify admin area.

If you need an app to help you manage frontend issues (the part of your store that the customers see), private apps have a harder time handling those. However, there is a workaround. A developer can create an unlisted app within Shopify that is only accessible to you - same APIs, same authentication process as public apps, but only you can use it.

If you're leaning toward a private app for your store, I recommend working with a Shopify partner or creating a partner account and creating public or unlisted apps. Even if you only want to use it exclusively for your store, having access to the full set of Shopify APIs including the embedded SDK is worth the extra work.

Private App or Public App?

When you're ready to choose an app for your store, how do you decide? Private or public? And what should the app include?

Here are a few questions that should help clarify your decision-making process.

How well is your store functioning with the apps you are currently using?

If your store is running smoothly and you're not having to spend much time tinkering with information manually, save some cash and enjoy the ride.

However, if you've added 2-5 apps to manage different facets of your business and you're still grinding out several hours a day behind a computer screen to get the results you want, then a private app may be a good investment.

Do you have a pool of cash from a crowdfunding campaign or investors?

A private app isn't the cheapest solution for Shopify stores, but if you have funding that would give your store an ideal framework right from the start, then by all means put a private app to work.

If you don't have much for startup funds, don't worry. Many public apps were designed to help take on the most common problems Shopify store owners are dealing with, so try a few to find a good match.

Do you have a good sense of what features you really need?

Put a few public apps to the test before you commission a private app. Knowing what features you can't live without and which are limiting your revenue or driving you crazy is important.

As you put an app through its paces, take plenty of notes on the pros and cons. That feedback will help developers immensely - and save you a pile of money.

Apps Should Make Your Life Easier

No matter which type of app is the best fit for you, remember that the whole point of adding an app is that it should reduce your workload, not complicate your life.

If you're still stewing in uncertainty or indecision about the smartest way to put apps to work for you, quit worrying and call a Shopify developer you trust. I know from working with my own clients that during the course of a short phone call, I can often see a number of viable solutions that would simplify their workload.

I know that the search for a better process or a shortcut never ends, but quit losing sleep trying to find all of the answers yourself. Being a Shopify entrepreneur doesn't always have to be so hard.

Eric Davis helps ecommerce entrepreneurs customize their Shopify stores using private and unlisted apps. He has created a free course to teach Shopify store owners how private apps work, what they can and can't do, and over a dozen examples of how they can increase your revenue.

Learn more about Private Shopify Apps here.

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