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How to Create a Shopping App for Your Business: Features, Cost

Why bother spending time at the nearest Adidas outlet when you can simply order a pair of those popping sneakers online? This is the mindset that prevails among today’s consumers (ourselves included). E-commerce is the future of retail, but simply launching a website doesn’t do the trick anymore: you need to create a shopping app. Buckle up — in this article, we’re going to dive deep into the world of online shopping applications.

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Table of contents

What is an online shopping app?

It’s a digital representation of one or several stores that allows you to go shopping without even leaving the house. The standard user journey looks something like this: the customer signs up, browses through the catalog, examines product cards, adds some items to the cart, and pays for the order right within the app. The only thing left to do after that is to wait for the delivery to arrive at the designated address. This set of basic features often becomes the foundation for more sophisticated functionality like personalized recommendations, loyalty systems, smart & image search, and some other cool things we’ll discuss later.

The types of business models

E-commerce apps are usually based on these two models:

Single-store. A company wants to build a shopping app to deliver its own products. The scale doesn’t matter here: it could be either a small electronics store open for business only in a couple of locations or a global retailer operating on all continents. This is the go-to model for streetwear brands like Nike, Adidas, Puma, or H&M, as well as for any other merchandiser who wants to exclusively sell self-manufactured goods.

Aggregator. A company partners with several suppliers and delivers their products. In this case, the app serves as a platform that connects users with several stores at once. Think Amazon or eBay — almost all the goods in their catalogs are provided by multiple third parties, with the companies being responsible solely for the promotion and delivery of items.

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Why 2024 is the perfect year to create a shopping app

A booming market

Some numbers first (courtesy of Grand View Search). The e-commerce market is expanding at extraordinary rates:

  • Grossing approx. $5,8 trillion in online sales in 2022, it’s bound to reach $8,6 trillion by 2026.
  • Its market size value is no less impressive, expected to grow from $10.4 trillion to $27.1 trillion by 2027.
  • In addition, today’s e-commerce segment accounts for almost 20% of all retail sales, which marks an increase of more than 6% over the past several years.
graph

E-commerce is steadily taking over retail

A global turn to digital 

This growth is closely tied to the increasing availability of the Internet and smartphones — as new audiences gain more technological awareness, they develop a preference for online services in all areas of life, shopping included. Another factor at play here is that the pandemic has caused a massive shift in consumer habits, with many of them choosing to stick to online retail even after the immediate threat of COVID-19 has disappeared. More people than ever are now opting to buy everything online, and this is going to become even more widespread in the coming decades.

Rapidly developing tech

The advent of the 5G technology is bound to make the online shopping experience even smoother, all thanks to lower latency and an increased speed of the Internet connection. Retailers will be able to create more sophisticated virtual environments for their customers, thus boosting engagement and conversion rates. At the same time, AI and machine learning are improving by the day, making various personalization tools like user-specific recommendations more effective, not to mention the vast opportunities for omnichannel promotion — today’s marketing grounds span social media, messengers, the web, in-app ads, and countless integration opportunities. All of this makes 2024 the perfect year to build a shopping app.

How a mobile shopping app will benefit your business

If you already run a business, an app will come in handy. Even if there is a web store in place, a mobile app will be a great addition. Here are several advantages that you’ll gain through e-commerce app development:

Increased coverage. By launching a mobile shopping app, you will create an additional marketing channel, on par with social media profiles and online stores.

Boosted sales. Ease of access to the catalog, push notifications, quick checkout, and multiple other important features ensure higher conversion rates. If you already run a website, an app will also offer better performance.

Enhanced customer loyalty. Shopping with a smartphone is convenient, and customers always appreciate convenience. In addition to this, you can implement various personalization features and provide each user with a custom-tailored experience and appealing offers. Finally, an app allows you to easily set up a loyalty system and reward regular customers, thus ensuring high retention.

Ensured competitiveness. Businesses that ignore mobile will inevitably fall behind — even if they run fantastic websites. The reason is simple: even the best websites work clumsily when accessed via a smartphone, and this will put off many potential customers accustomed to a smooth shopping experience. Going mobile helps solve this problem.

Popular shopping apps

Nike

Nike’s app delivers all the key features you’d expect from a service of this scale: you get multiple filters, informative product cards, personalized recommendations, a quick checkout, and all the other components of a user journey done right. Things get really interesting when we consider some additional functions: the app offers the Nike Member loyalty system with exclusive rewards, a real-time chat with fashion and sports experts, and a whole segment dedicated to athlete training & coaching. This goes to show that you can use your online store not only as a sales channel but also as an important platform for building the community and promoting the brand’s values.

Nike’s community-centered features are what makes the app stand out

ASOS

ASOS is a unique addition to this list because it merges the aggregator model with the single-store model: it manufactures some items of its own, all the while connecting customers with virtually every large brand there is.

Apart from the basic functions, this online store offers back-in-stock alerts, curated collections, an AI-backed visual search system, 3D visualizations, and a digital fit assistant. On top of it comes checkout with flexible payment options— for instance, you can split your total into 3 or 4 payments with no interest and no hidden fees. The shopping cart and favorites lists are synced with the user profile, so you can seamlessly switch between multiple devices and shop without any hindrances.

Asos’ personalized suggestions and curated collections help customers more easily navigate the seemingly infinite catalog

Amazon Shopping

Amazon needs no introduction. Starting out as a marketplace for books back in 1994, it has since grown to become the world’s largest online retailer, supplying clothes, electronics, toys, housewares, and pretty much every other product imaginable. As of today, it offers a staggering 45 million items, so the task of coherently structuring the online store’s catalog gains the utmost importance.

Amazon Shopping also comes with a customer feedback system, real-time order-tracking, editable favorites lists, smart search, as well as several advanced features like voice shopping, AR/VR visualizations, and a visual search system.

Amazon Shopping ticks all the boxes: there’s personalization, usage of native app development, an online chat with support, and even visual search

eBay

eBay is the definition of the aggregator app, which also comes with a couple of interesting twists. Its app is designed for two user roles: buyer and seller. Buyers get a fairly standard set of features that we have already mentioned when discussing the other examples, while sellers get an interface for creating product cards and putting them up on the catalog. But we’re not talking about huge stores or manufacturers: we’re talking about every single user who wants to sell something through this platform. eBay made a name for itself by virtue of affordable user-made listings, while its signature line is an auction system that provides customers with the opportunity to bid on items, often obtaining them for less than retail prices.

eBay’s unique selling points are a bidding system and user-made listings

The eight must-have features of a shopping app

If you want to build a shopping app, it won’t survive without these:

A quick and intuitive user registration process that can be completed in a minute or two. One way of making it as quick as possible is allowing users to authenticate with their social media accounts. If you want to greet new users with onboarding, make sure it’s skippable — there isn’t always time for tutorials.

A catalog that is divided into various categories and offers clear product representation. A coherent structure prevents users from getting frustrated by trying to find the goods they need, while informative product cards help them make balanced decisions.

Product search with multiple filters. Even a perfectly organized catalog won’t satisfy everyone: some people prefer to jump straight to what they need by using the search bar.

ASOS provides a good example of proper catalog structuring and filtering

A shopping cart. Nothing groundbreaking here: just make sure that it comes with a straightforward way of managing items, like changing their quantity or removing from the basket.

Product ratings & reviews. Since your customers can’t touch or otherwise examine the product by themselves, they will always be more wary of e-commerce apps than in-store shopping. A simple way of building trust is introducing a system of user feedback: once the user buys a certain product, let them describe and rate their customer experience.

Adidas app. User reviews help build customers’ trust

A simple checkout process that is synched with the user profile and offers multiple payment options. It’s actually one of the most crucial things on this list: a bloated and complicated checkout always means low conversion. Once customers want to give you their money, you should make that as easy as possible to do.

Order status & tracking. When the checkout is complete, the customer’s money vanishes into thin air with no instant physical justification for this expenditure. To alleviate their anxiety and doubt, provide them with exhaustive information about the order status and whereabouts.

Nike never keeps customers in the dark when it comes to the status of their orders

User profiles that contain the customers’ payment details, addresses, contact information, and any other data necessary to use the app.

Nice-to-have features that customers will enjoy

Personalization. This includes recommendations based on previous purchases, push notifications, and personal offers — for example, birthday discounts. It’s important that customers don’t feel devoid of attention, because a lack of personal touch may prompt them to use some other service.

A loyalty system. Turn using your e-commerce app into an exciting game — you can offer customers bonuses, rewards, promo codes, gifts, and all sorts of incentives aimed at boosting loyalty and retention.

Farfetch uses a loyalty system with level progression: the higher your level, the more exclusive offers you get

Wish lists. Customers don’t always buy everything they want right away. Sometimes their budget is tight, sometimes they’re in a rush, and sometimes items simply run out of stock. It happens. A simple solution to this problem is allowing users to keep all the desired products in one place.

Adidas goes one step further and adds some filters even to wish lists

A barcode scanner. Handy if your company also runs physical stores — this feature will allow your customers to instantly get additional info on any product that drew their attention.

Image search. Text-based search systems are good, but only when you know exactly what you need to find. This isn’t always the case. Integrating an AI-based visual search system into your e-commerce app will help customers quickly find products that they want but can’t quite describe simply by uploading a photo.

Nike’s image search makes it easy to find items that customers like, but don’t know the name of

Cart sharing. People love to share everything — the contents of their carts included. Not a necessity, but a nice feature that will surely delight some of your customers.

3D visualizations. Creating photorealistic models of various items helps overcome one of the main obstacles in the way of e-commerce — the fact that customers can’t fully examine products before buying them. 3D visualizations help bridge that gap between in-store and online shopping.

Chatbots. You can make these the first line of your customer support infrastructure — they’re perfect for helping with minor issues and giving useful advice. Keep in mind, though, that they should always be backed by human operators: chatbots are not going to have the necessary nuance to deal with a customer, when it comes to serious issues.

AR integration. Now onto some really advanced tech. At the moment, this feature is primarily used to demonstrate how various pieces of furniture and decor would fit into the interiors of customers’ homes — but you can take it in a completely new direction, creating a new era in marketplace app development.

IKEA boasts some neat AR features — you can preview how a piece will fit in your place right in the app

Shopping app: iOS or Android

Before starting the development of your shopping app, you’ll need to decide on the platform you’ll be developing for — iOS or Android. Consider things like your target audience, tech stack, app development cost, and functionality. It’s important to think about the essential features of your app in advance, as the process of implementing those features can differ from platform to platform. Here’s a quick comparison of Android and iOS:

iOS Android
Global market share iOS has a global market share of around 30% because of the high cost of Apple devices. Android’s global market share is around 70% because of its availability on a wide range of devices.
Target audience People with a higher income. Apple products are often used by affluent consumers and tech enthusiasts. Caters to budget-conscious consumers. Android devices are used across many demographics due to their lower price point.
Programming language iOS apps use SWIFT as their primary programming language. Supports multiple languages, including Java and Kotlin.
Platform type iOS is a proprietary platform with a more strict set of rules compared to Android. Open source — allows for a lot of customization, but is more susceptible to malware.

Which platform is a better fit for an ecommerce app?

When starting out in shopping app development, sometimes it’s best to focus on just one platform at first. Android provides more freedom with app development. This can make the process easier, but depends on your team, tech stack, and the essential features of your shopping app. iOS, on the other hand, can help streamline development and testing thanks to its unified ecosystem, but may limit the scope of additional features in your ecommerce app. Ultimately, app development cost depends on the complexity of your online store app, as well as your resources, and the tech stack you choose.

Android vs Apple

You can also create a cross-platform app for both Android and iOS, shortening the development cycle and reducing the cost

What tech stack to use for shopping mobile development?

Maybe you want to create a complex ecommerce app with augmented reality features, or maybe just a simple online store app. Either way, your project’s success will depend heavily on your tech stack. Here are some of the most important elements of a mobile commerce tech stack.

Universal language

When approaching app development, many choose Javascript as the primary programming language. That’s no surprise, as it is one of the most flexible languages and is very common in the mobile app space. Also, there are many Javascript-based frameworks that allow you to implement complex features like augmented reality or AI.

Essential frameworks for developing shopping applications

Nowadays, it’s not enough to just use a basic programming language to create a shopping app, and this is where frameworks come in. Frameworks provide a structural foundation for app development and help streamline the programming workflow. This helps lower the app development costs and allows for testing additional features on the fly. Let’s look at some of the best frameworks for creating a shopping app:

Nest.js is a powerful tool for building a reliable backend architecture for mobile apps. It takes care of the backend services that your ecommerce app uses, providing essential mobile commerce features like real-time stock or ordering.

React Native is a framework designed specifically for building mobile apps, making it an essential part of any mobile development tech stack. With React Native, you can develop online shopping apps for multiple platforms at once, shortening the development time. It allows developers to reuse parts of their codebase and provides customers with a consistent experience across all platforms.

Flutter is another framework for building cross-platform mobile apps that allows developers to use a single codebase for both IOS and Android platforms. Flutter allows creating detailed and personalized user interfaces for online shopping apps, which is crucial for leaving a lasting impression on your clients.

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How to create a shopping app in 8 steps

We believe that the best approach to bringing a new concept to life is to first create a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is a barebones version of an app designed to showcase its main functionality. It’s perfect for gauging the market, testing the viability of your idea, and raising some funds — a fully-functioning product is much more convincing than a bunch of promises and pretty pictures.

In other words, it’s a perfect fit for any startup, and this is exactly what we start with here at Purrweb. Let’s break down the whole process into several steps.

Step 1. Analyze the market

Before you set out to build a shopping app, you want to do some market research. Study your competitors and their products carefully to define their strengths and weaknesses. Get a good understanding of what drives the demand and find out in what direction the whole sphere is going at the moment. Keep in mind that simply copying a successful solution is never enough — you always have to bring something new to the table.

Step 2. Define the features of your product

After you’ve conducted market research, the process of online shopping app development actually begins. Based on the results of your analysis and your business model, choose what functionality you wish to implement. We’ve already mentioned the standard set of features, but you can always innovate and come up with new approaches. And don’t forget about the killer feature — it’s that special bit that makes your online store app stand out.

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Step 3. Choose a monetization strategy

Writing the code for your shopping app is important, but choosing a good monetization strategy is just as vital for the success of your ecommerce app. Here are some of the most common elements of monetization strategies for mobile shopping apps.

Product sales. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way — people will use your app to buy things. This means that product sales will likely become the primary source of revenue for your shopping app. In this case, every feature of your app should work towards the goal of increasing product sales.

In-app advertisements. Ads can help make your shopping app more profitable, especially if your business has a large user base. They will provide an additional revenue stream, helping you maintain your app and keep it free to use. Ads can also be an effective tool for introducing your clients to products they might be interested in. However, many apps rely on ads too much, making them overly intrusive and harmful to the overall experience, so it’s best to use them sparingly.

Promotions and sales. This is another essential element of most shopping apps’ monetization strategies. Occasional promotions help drive sales, increase user engagement, and attract new customers to your shopping app. Limited events like holiday sales are great for encouraging clients to shop at your online store.

Step 4. Come up with a marketing strategy

It’s important to make your shopping app visible to potential clients, and this is where a marketing strategy will come in handy. Usually, it outlines the main approaches and principles that an app will use to engage with the audience. Let’s go over some of them.

Know your audience. Every detail about your target audience will help. It’s vital to keep in mind and regularly analyze your audience’s interests and behaviors in order to maintain an engaging shopping app.

Set yourself apart. Unique ideas are attractive, and that is why brand personalization is crucial to making your shopping app appealing to your audience. Compare your shopping app with other similar apps and determine what unique feature or service your app will offer. You can try to be different by having a great product selection, or exclusive deals for loyal customers. Defining these features will help your app stand out from the crowd and attract more people to your brand.

Use all relevant marketing channels. To ensure the success of your ecommerce app, use as many channels as you can to connect with your audience. There are a lot of options when it comes to marketing channels, so let’s go over some of them:

Social media Use social networks to communicate directly with your audience and provide updates about your app.
App store optimization Make your app stand out on mobile app stores using good visuals, well-written descriptions, and search optimization.
Content creation Make helpful content for your audience — anything from entertaining articles to tutorial videos.
Mailing lists This is another great way to share news with your audience and provide them with exclusive offers.
User-generated content Motivate your community to create content about your app. Encourage this by giving in-app rewards for user reviews, or commenting under videos about your products.
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Step 5. Devise the UI/UX design

Once you’ve decided on the functional part of your online store app, it’s time to start bringing it to life. This step requires you to define the customer journey, which should be intuitive and straightforward, with no unexpected turns. It’s also a bad idea to get too carried away with the design — it should be aesthetically pleasing, but not overwhelming. Remember that in business, function comes before looks. A team of qualified designers will take all these considerations into account, so you might consider delegating this task.

Step 6. Write the code and launch the first version

Once you’ve decided on what your app is going to look like, it’s time to write some code. The most crucial thing here is to employ an online shopping app development team that consists only of competent professionals who know what they’re doing. You want your online store app to work flawlessly — there’s nothing that users hate more than bugs, painfully long loading times, and other symptoms of clumsy coding. As you want to reach as wide an audience as possible, cross-platform app development is the better choice — this means simultaneously making a shopping app for Android and iOS

Step 7. Gather feedback and iterate

Listen to what your audience has to say but filter the flow of incoming messages: instead of trying to implement every single suggestion, focus on noticing the most important trends. Once you’ve filtered the incoming flow, start implementing the most common suggestions.

When working with feedback, focus on noticing the most important trends

Step 8. Release new updates

Your task at this point is to gradually flesh out your product in cooperation with the target audience. Add other features from the backlog, maybe scale a bit, and simply perfect your online store. This step will take an indefinite amount of time — as long as there is demand for the app, there’ll always be some room for improvement.

Let’s start the shopping app development process today!
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How much does it cost to create a shopping app?

There are several important factors that affect the price. Let’s look at each of them in detail:

The complexity of the app. All apps can be divided into three categories: simple, medium, and complex. Simple applications offer only basic functions and mostly just use already existing solutions. Apps of medium complexity are still grounded in what’s been done before, but bring something original to the table. The final category is reserved for projects that venture into the unknown and strive to create new technologies — and are thus the most expensive to make.

The complexity of the design. The app’s design may be as simple as a couple of colored blocks against a white background. Alternatively, you may add unique illustrations, embellish the software with neat animated elements and create an intricate color scheme. Looks pretty? Yes, but it also comes with a raised price tag.

The number of staff on the team. Simple math: the more people work for you to make a shopping app, the higher your costs will be.

Means of contracting: in-house, freelance, or outsource. In-house teams are the most expensive to maintain: apart from the hourly rates, you also have to cover the medical insurance and provide the people who work for you with other workplace perks. With freelance or outsource teams, you pay only for their work.

The team’s location. Geography is a crucial factor when it comes to determining the price and choosing who’ll make your shopping app. Developers based in the US, Canada, and Western Europe boast higher wages, while the countries of Latin America and most of Asia offer much cheaper workforce. This means that if you’re on a tight budget, it may be a good idea to outsource overseas.

The number of supported platforms. If you want to build a shopping app that supports both Android and iOS, you basically have to create two separate apps, which means more man hours. Which, in turn, means more money.

All things considered, developing a mobile shopping app may cost anywhere from $60,000 to $95,000.

Our experience — Eyebuy

A couple years back, several entrepreneurs contacted us with an unusual idea. They wanted to make a livestream shopping app — a format that’s very common in China but is virtually nonexistent in other parts of the world. Our task was to devise the UI/UX design for both web and mobile apps, as well as develop a prototype of the service.

Within a month, our online shopping app development team rolled out an early version ready for testing with small showroom owners, and soon after that, some big brands became interested in the idea. We began working on an MVP, which helped raise $95,000.

As of today, the startup is going strong, with an annual income of more than $100,000.

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Eyebuy, a livestream shopping app

If you want to make a shopping app, we’d love to help you bring it to life. Our team will take your project through every stage of the online shopping app development process. Reach out to us using the form below — we’ll turn your concept into an MVP perfect for gauging the market and then see it through to the full release.

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FAQ s

  • How much does it cost to develop a shopping app?

    The final cost completely depends on the complexity of the app in question and may vary from $60,000 to $95,000.

  • I already have a website. Why should I launch an app?

    There are two important factors to consider here. First: a smooth user experience means high conversion rates. Second: people love to do everything through their phones. Even if you use adaptive web design, your site will still work clumsily on mobile, which will put off many customers. Launching an app helps solve this problem.

  • What are the must-have features of online retail applications?

    We believe that there are eight of them: Easy registration, a clearly structured catalog, product search with multiple filters, customer ratings & reviews, order status & tracking, an easy-to-use shopping cart, quick checkout with multiple payment options and editable user profiles