How to build an ecommerce app from scratch

Building your first ecommerce app? Here's your first 5 steps to get started and succeed!

Loretta Nguyen

Digital Campaign Manager at Builder.ai
· 14 minute read
Build ecommerce app from scratch

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In 2021, you can just about buy or sell anything you please online. From clothes and computers to home furnishings and pet accessories, there’s nothing that can’t be found for sale on the internet. It’s now even easier to make an online purchase with the help of mobile apps and, from a developer’s point of view, it’s incredibly lucrative too. Now is the perfect time to build your ecommerce app, – if you haven’t already, why not?

For a technology novice with no experience in coding, building an app of any kind is a intimidating prospect. An ecommerce app is even more daunting because it needs to be able to take payments safely and securely. So it stands to reason that people would be deterred by the process, but it really isn't as difficult as it seems.

App builder platforms are a viable solution if you've a product or service to sell online and don’t know much about building an app. We’re going to discuss how you can build an ecommerce app from scratch in just a moment, but first, let’s clarify why you need one.

Why build an ecommerce app?

In 2020, the ecommerce industry was worth over $4.28 trillion USD, and forecasts predict that it will grow to over $4.89 trillion USD by the end of 2021. More than $3.56 trillion USD is made from mobile commerce – that’s ecommerce on mobile devices.

It’s clear that there's money to be made online. But despite these huge figures, just 18% of independent and small businesses have a website that's developed for mobile use – never mind a dedicated mobile app. One third of all the shopping done in the UK is done via mobile phones and tablets, and an estimated 82 billion hours are spent on shopping apps alone. So it’s clear that making your retail business mobile-friendly could prove to be well worth your time – at least financially.

Online shopping is convenient, and mobile online shopping is even more so. As well as potentially upping your revenue, you could also grow your customer base exponentially. When your app is on one of the app stores, be it the Android/Google Play Store or the Apple iOS App Store, you have the potential to reach millions of users.

There are more than a billion iPhone users worldwide, all of whom have access to the app store and the potential to download any number of the 2.22 million apps that are currently live. In comparison, there are 2.5 billion Android users and over 3.48 million apps on the Play Store available to download.

This means, in theory, if you were to release an app onto both Apple and Google app stores, you’d have a potential market of 3.5 billion customers, though you would be competing against over 5.7 million other apps. This seems daunting, but there’s no reason why you can’t be the creator of the next Shein – as long as you build a functional app.

How to build an ecommerce app

Now, it might seem easier said than done to create a functional app, but it’s not as hard as you might think. In fact, there is a no-code solution that is not only cheaper than hiring an agency, but it’s far easier and less hassle, too.

#1 Market research

First and foremost, you need to do your research. Generally speaking, if you have products or a service to sell, you have viable grounds to make an app. It’s easy to be turned off by the sheer number of other apps on the app stores, but you can be successful in your own right.

It’s a good idea to see how many independent competitors there are within your industry who have apps. There’s a strong chance you already know who your competitors are and whether they have apps. If none of them do, it could be because they haven’t yet realised the value of having an app, or perhaps they don’t have the infrastructure to create one. In this case, being ahead of the curve could serve you well.

There might be hundreds of competitors and some of them could be global brands. You might be wondering how a small clothing retailer can compete with the likes of major players like Asos and H&M?But you could find that this works in your favour. Since the pandemic and the economic repercussions of it, a lot of consumers have made an effort to support smaller businesses.

Not just this, but the items or services you supply as an independent retailer will be more unique than those of larger retailers and this could also give you a competitive edge. On the other hand, if you can’t identify any competitors on the app stores, it could be that there isn’t a market for it.

For example, if you sell solar panels, it might not be the best decision to make an app because it’s not a recurring purchase. The ecommerce ideas that perform the best in app form are those that consumers will go back to more than once to purchase items on several different occasions. Think about this when you’re doing your market research.

A lot of the data you pull in the market research phase will dictate decisions made further down the line, so in theory, your market research should be the longest part of the whole process. As well as identifying the competitors you could potentially be up against, you’ll need to look at how ecommerce apps work.

Think about things from your perspective – what do you think works well in an ecommerce app? Odds are you’ve used one at some point, so you’ll likely know more about them and their functionality than you realise.

Pay attention to functionality. Do most apps have the option to checkout as a guest? Do they integrate Google and/or Apple Pay? Is there the ability to share items directly on social media? Is there a virtual chatbot for customer service? Maybe there’s a virtual try-on? Make note of all the features you like in an app, or what you think your customers will appreciate. Compare those ideas to what your competitors are doing, and you’ll end up with a comprehensive list of features to include on your app.

Another good thing to utilise when conducting market research is looking at reviews. Both app stores allow users the opportunity to leave their feedback, and this is often where people who have downloaded the app air their grievances and state what they like or found most useful. This is handy for those looking to create their own app because you can see what real people like and don’t like. Use this as a guide for your own app development.

As well as looking online and assessing your competitors, put the feelers out with your existing clientele (if you have some). Nothing is stopping you from casually asking your customers whether they’d be interested in using an ecommerce app, nor is there anything wrong in sending out email surveys to see if there is a large enough market to warrant the investment of creating an app.

#2 Choose your platform

Once you’ve done your market research, you should have a good idea of who your consumers are and where they are. You might find that your target audience mostly uses Android devices, or it could be that they’re religious Apple users. It’s important to find this out before you commence any further because how Apple and Android apps operate is entirely different.

Both software systems are written in different types of code, meaning you can’t copy and paste your app from one platform to the next. You need to have it planned from the very beginning. If you want to launch across both app stores and have your app available to both Android and Apple users, you will essentially need to build two different versions of your app.

This will push up the cost of your project, but it won’t necessarily increase the timeframe required to create your app, nor will it be particularly more difficult, but that will depend on the development route you go down.

Before we get to that, you need to think more about the platform you pick. There are more Android users, but there are also more Android apps to compete with. On the other hand, the increased number of users means you could expand your brand awareness and put your products in the hands of more people. If you really want to up your audience, making a version for both platforms is your best bet.

If you’re unsure what platform is best, go back to the market research phase. The last thing you want is to have to revisit your app creation halfway through to account for an additional platform. This is problematic in more ways than one, but mostly in terms of the development route to choose.

Or try this sneaky tip to avoid this decision:

Our Studio Store ecommerce app is more like a 'Shop in a Box' so you get iOS and Android app, a new website, app maintenance is included and we'll even host it for you too!Then both Apple and Android users can find you, for a really low price.

Want to start your app project with us?

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#3 Pick a development route

Ecommerce app development illustration

There are two options for those wanting to build an ecommerce app from the ground up: do it yourself with the help of an app builder, or hire an agency to do it for you. There is no right or wrong route to take, but there are some things you should be mindful of.

Firstly, you need to think about design. You’ll likely have a design in mind, but depending on how complex that design is, it will dictate the development option you eventually choose. Generally speaking, ecommerce apps are simple. They are so prevalent in the app market right now, they’re something every developer will know how to build. What this means is that there’s plenty for you to go off to figure out the design you want for your own app.

Different industries tend to have different design features. For ecommerce apps, alongside the list format and hamburger menu, you’re also likely to see a collection of images – some even carousel images – on the home page. Every page is also likely to have a banner of some description.

Bright colours and bold imagery tend to be used, so make sure you have those at your disposal. If you don’t, app builders can help you.

An app builder is an online platform where you can go to build an app of any kind from scratch. They’re no-code which means you don’t need to have any technical abilities or experience, nor do you need to know much about apps as a whole.

When you log on, you’ll be presented with a range of different design ideas. You choose the solution you need – in this case ecommerce – and then wait to see what design solutions come up for it. You’ll then be served with multiple designs. They’re stock designs which means they’re not unique to you, but you will have the opportunity to customise your template to a degree. It could be by simply adding in your logo and branding followed by your products, or it could be by switching out some of the features based on your market research.

App builders sell pre-packaged apps. You’re online shopping for a tool that will allow you to manage your own online shopping tool. The pros of doing things this way are that you’ll be working to a shorter timeline, you’ll likely save money, and you’ll also be able to be completely hands-on with the project – working to the beat of your own drum.

Where people get put off is the idea that you can’t create a fully bespoke app, but when you consider the app will have your branding and your products, it will very quickly feel unique and like it’s your own. Do bear in mind that some app builders are geared specifically towards either Android or Apple, so if you want to create an app across both platforms, make sure you do your research and find an app builder who can do both. (If you choose Studio Store you get both included as standard.)

If you don’t have imagery yet, app builders tend to have a range of stock images, so this is helpful in this respect. Do be careful – if you’re selling products, you need to ensure you have your own product images, so people know what they’re buying.

If you want something a bit more bespoke, you can hire an agency or an app development freelancer to build your app for you. They will hard code it for you, meaning they will literally build it from the ground up. What this means is that you’re not restricted by available templates, but there are drawbacks.

First of all, you’ll be spending more money. When you use an app builder, all you’re paying for is the product you’re buying. With an agency, you’ll be paying for both the product and the labour. While this is completely fair because hard coding an app from scratch is far from easy, it will bump the price up – often to a range outside of a lot of people’s budgets.

It’ll also take longer because you’ll have to wait for a slot to come up, attend various meetings, allow time for the project to be built, and then go back and forth with your feedback. This could take months. Agencies have multiple customers, so it’s also highly likely you’ll have to share their time with other people.

App builders allow you to see everything right then and there. You could even build an app in 2 weeks, so if you’re in a hurry to get your app out, this will work perfectly. Yes, you won’t be able to customise it quite as much, but where ecommerce is concerned, this isn’t necessarily a big issue.

Ecommerce apps allow people to buy things. They don’t need a million bells and whistles because ultimately, they serve one purpose. People aren’t interested in what the app can do, they’re interested in buying the products on it. So long as they can scroll and shop securely, that’s all that matters. App builders certainly fulfil this brief.

The choice is yours and there is no right or wrong answer, but make sure you take time to choose the best solution for you.

#4 Build a prototype

Once you have your app design and platform sorted, you can begin building a prototype. With app builders, this process is automatic and begins as soon as you choose your design. You can drag and drop features where you need them, removing ones you don’t want and adding in ones you do want.

As a result, you’ll have an instant prototype. Should you go down the developer route, they’ll build a version for you. Prototypes are not optional – they’re essential.

#5 Test your app

Following your prototype, you can move on to the last step of building an ecommerce app; testing. You’ll need to take your prototype and hand it to your target audience so they can have a play. Get feedback from focus groups and make notes of what you’re being told.

App builders will be free of bugs and glitches, but you might find that the app doesn’t flow like you thought it would, or that you don't have some of the features you’ve added in. Make sure you get your whole team involved with testing and then hire a focus group within your target audience to get their opinions. Take everything on board – it’s all constructive.

App developers will usually have a dedicated department for testing apps, so your app will be put through its paces by a team of professionals. This is great from a technical point of view, but you may still need to hire a focus group to get feedback from real people who your app would be targeted at.

Once you’ve collected your feedback, think about the comments and implement changes as applicable. By this point, you could find that the idea you had in your head at the very beginning is far different from what you’ve ended up with, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

At the end of the day, the aim is for people to be able to use your app to shop seamlessly and safely. As long as there are no major glitches, your app fulfils its purpose. When you launch it, you’ll get more feedback from real-world users, but making sure you test it thoroughly before you get to that stage will lessen the chances of harsh feedback.

Start building an ecommerce app today

Just like that, you can build an ecommerce app from scratch. With a builder platform like Builder.ai, you don’t even need to have any prior experience or a deep technical understanding. As long as you have a viable idea, we can help.

To find out more about building an ecommerce app with Builder.ai, please contact us. Alternatively, start building your ecommerce today.

FAQs:

Can you create an ecommerce app without coding?

Yes, you can create an ecommerce app without coding. You will need to use an app builder like builder.ai which offers a no-code option, perfect for novices and those with little to no technical understanding.

How much does it cost to make an ecommerce app?

The price of creating an ecommerce app varies depending on the features you want to include. The more features you add – such as abandoned trolley reminders – the more it will cost you. App design also plays a role. Generally, it is cheaper to use an app builder.

How long does it take to make an ecommerce app?

The timeframe to create an app varies depending on the time you have available to dedicate to the project and the development route you choose. When you use an app builder, you can build a launch-ready app in less than two weeks, but this doesn’t include the marketing strategy or competitor research. All told, the app process takes between six and nine months from conception to completion.

Can I create an ecommerce app for free?

Yes!Our Studio Store ecommerce app lets you take up to 50 orders every month for free. It's a 'Shop in a Box' as you get iOS and Android apps, new website, as well as app maintenance and we'll even host it for free for you too. When your business scales, you can upgrade to unlimited orders for a really cost effective price. So there's no risk at all.

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Loretta Nguyen

Digital Campaign Manager at Builder.ai

Loretta Nguyen is a Digital Campaign Manager at Builder.ai where she boosts awareness and generates leads through the use of multi-channel ad campaigns. Loretta has a Bachelor of Business/Commerce from Western Sydney University.

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