Building an eCommerce App: When to Start & How to Do It

ecommerce app development, ecommerce apps

There was something of a race in the early days of the app stores driven by a fevered belief that every business needed an app and every business would benefit from an app. Many standard retail and ecommerce stores and simple direct-to-consumer products released apps that mimicked their web functionality and offered little more to the consumer after install than one more icon on their screen and a place to buy their product just like they could on the web. Most of these apps have long since been forgotten, ghosts in the app store with low installs and even lower consumer utility.

As mobile ad ecosystems grew and it became clear that users were mostly going to be driven from ads to experiences in mobile browsers, a dedicated app for every store became something of the past, and what apps rose to the top and maintained their installs on consumer devices were those apps that offered meaningful functionality. Personalization. Augmented Reality. Photo upload. Contact list access. Loyalty, account, and subscription management. All of these and more can be the reason it’s time for your business to build an ecommerce app. But… what should you handle first when it comes to ecommerce app development?

When to start creating your eCommerce app strategy

If your business is primarily driven by eCommerce or retail commerce–i.e., you sell physical or digital things through a store, we’d generally recommend that you consider creating a mobile app as part of your strategy if either of the scenarios below is true:

  1. If you’re in your pre-launch phase and you MUST have a mobile app in order to sell your product at all. This should be rare. Most businesses can sell their products without the intervention of a mobile app in standard commerce channels fine, and a mobile app is additive (see 2, below). Where might you need this?

    If your product is technologically driven at the brand or core level. Say your entire pitch is custom-fit  clothes based on AR camera scanning. Or custom mascara brushes tailored to the shape of eyelashes based on user-submitted and AI-analyzed eye photos. In these situations, you may say – our product IS the technology, and therefore we must start with eCommerce app development as part of our product ecosystem.

    This is reasonable, but we’d still recommend validating assumptions and starting with the same principles of MVP we outline in our Studio Knowledge Base when building said app.
  2. If you have already launched your products and store, scaled it to a sufficient MRR, began the integration of commerce add-ons like loyalty, marketing automation, content, influencer programs, and so on – essentially, you’ve reached a stable commerce foundation. Now you’re looking at your business with the opportunity in mind to either take advantage of dedicated device functionality to scale your key commerce metrics even further, or to like the businesses described above, add to your store or customer experience some innovation that will unlock additional growth.

    In this situation you may sell furniture that could be customized reasonably well on the web, and sold successfully. But at scale and with research you’ve discovered that you have an opportunity to increase sales by allowing users to scan their room, place the  furniture in the room via augmented reality, and then share photos of that layout with friends and family on their contacts for quick feedback. Now you’re looking at functionality that your customer will be excited to install an app for.

In the above scenario, there’s a set of functionality that maps to either what we might call commerce enhancement via mobile apps, which are features that are only available based on device functions like push notifications, installed libraries, contact lists, and so on – but are otherwise layers on top of a standard store. And commerce innovation via mobile apps, wherein like the furniture store, you’re using some app-enabled functionality to unlock an entirely new method of selling your goods.

Ecommerce enhancement via mobile apps

In scenarios where the primary functionality of the store will mostly remain the same, but you think the best leverage a mobile app will offer your brand is in dedicated device features, you may want to consider the following additions during eCommerce application development:

  • Push notifications - One more communication channel connecting directly to your customer that can often be set directly in your marketing automation software.
  • Authentication & user history - Many users don’t store logged in states in mobile browsers, so encouraging app download is a great way to nudge toward a logged-in experience on device.
  • Personalization - Similarly, when building an eCommerce app, you can ‘personalize’ to user behavior with much greater flexibility than your standard eCommerce landing pages.
  • Sharing, social and contacts - Sharing and inviting contacts is often the best way to increase viral coefficient.
  • Seamless checkout and payment options - While often on the store, apps unlock device payment integrations with providers like Apple Pay, for example.
  • Geofencing or location based integration - For brands with both a digital and retail presence, or some location relevant data, apps can help keep track of your users (with permission).

While stores looking to leverage additional device functionality to boost standard eCommerce business metrics may seem to have a straightforward path outlining what to add, there’s always more functionality to build than time. Choosing the right features to include during ecommerce app development based on the business goals, the user-base and the brand should be an exercise in priority and research, with as much data and validation of feature value as possible.

Ecommerce innovation via mobile apps

Innovation in commerce, at the end of the day, is always an exciting prospect. The opportunity to look at a brand, product or service, and customer, and find a mechanism for selling that fundamentally changes the standard ‘buy from the cart in our store’ funnel system into something new. In most situations, for new brands, you’re starting with the innovation in mind. Whereas for large brands, in the context of an innovation project, the innovation might be presented as one of the options to help scale your current commerce experience.

Innovation will end up specific to your industry and product. Some that have worked before, as inspiration:

  • Letting users make their own products. Allowing users to customize the color, style, print, or materials of their products and then try  them on via augmented reality.
  • Letting AI do the work. Ingesting user videos of locations like a room or an office and then using artificial intelligence and machine learning to make recommendations on full furniture layouts or IT installations, sold as a single item.
  • Killing the store, in favor of the feed. Bypassing collection pages and product display pages and letting users shop directly from live or scrolling video content feeds.

When to pull the trigger on eCommerce app development

Knowing which of the categories  above you fall into helps determine when you should expect to start building your ecommerce app. Innovation, either at the outset of your business building or later, to scale your brand. Similarly, commerce enhancement should be used to scale your existing brand and store with greater functionality and enhanced customer experience.

Ideally, with capable data and analytics in place, you should be able to establish an eCommerce application development budget that aligns with the business metrics that the app can financially support. Determining the right metrics is something our team can help you with. We can also help  catalog and roadmap the right enhancements or innovation opportunities for your brand and business. If you’re looking to build an eCommerce app with speed and quality, don’t be shy, get in touch!

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