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A recent redesign of Shopify’s App Store has some developers worried about the impact it will have on their businesses.
On December 15, Shopify rolled out a series of design changes to the App Store, including minor tweaks to image requirements as well as bigger changes to the selection of apps that it recommends on its home page and in specific categories.
But developers speaking with Insider said that the most significant change is that Shopify introduced a new section at the bottom of each apps’ listing page that recommends four similar apps, some of which are made by competitors.
Many developers pay for ads that bring traffic to the page where merchants can download their apps. They bid on specific search terms within Shopify’s App Store in a system that’s similar to Google’s ad product.
The concern is that listing competitors’ apps at the bottom of the page means that those competitors could theoretically benefit from someone else’s ad spending.
“I don’t have control over what those four apps are, nor do I really want other apps shown on my page when I’m paying for traffic to that page,” Dennis Hegstad, a serial entrepreneur currently running the upsell app OrderBump, told Insider.
He added that he paused his ad spending on Shopify after the changes were announced. He and other developers posting on Twitter said they are seeking more clarity from Shopify before moving forward.
Other developers said that design tweaks that changed where their apps appear in search results and category home pages were quickly having a negative impact.
“The number of impressions that we’re getting per day has dropped to almost zero after this recent change,” Josh Highland, the founder and CEO of Shopify app development company Venntov, said.
Another concern voiced by developers is that the redesign displays the most-installed apps at the top of the Shopify App Store home page when merchants are not logged in. The problem, they said, is that Facebook and Google will always be among the most popular apps because of how valuable those channels are to merchants.
When merchants are logged in, they see a personalized selection of apps that Shopify thinks will be relevant to them — it’s not clear how those apps are chosen, however.
The Shopify App Store is home to more than 7,000 apps that merchants can install on their stores, helping with functions like store design, product sourcing, SEO, marketing, and shipping. Shopify builds some of its own apps, but it largely relies on apps built by third parties to populate its App Store.
Developers said that they are concerned that the design changes will make it harder for small, independent developers to gain traction with merchants.
“I think the whole vibe of it has changed a lot,” Sara Du, cofounder and CEO of the e-commerce automation startup Alloy, told Insider. “Shopify talks a lot about helping budding entrepreneurs and that’s been reflected in the App Store, but it does feel a lot more corporate now.”
Another concern among developers is how Shopify communicated the rollout of the design changes. While Hegstad said he read about the redesign in an internal portal for Shopify’s partners, Du and Highland said they only found out about the changes as they were taking place. Du said she only knew they were happening because she saw other developers tweeting about it.
Shopify responded to some of developers’ concerns in a video message from Mike Clarke, the company’s director of product management for ecosystem and marketplace, posted to Twitter on Thursday. In the video, Clarke said that the changes were meant to better guide merchants to find the right app for their needs.
“So we gave them an off-ramp instead of a dead end and gave them additional apps that they could discover as part of that process at the end,” Clarke said. “We may not have communicated these changes in the optimal way, and for that, we completely own that.”
The company also hosted an ask-me-anything session on its Twitter account for developers on Friday. During the AMA, some developers said they had seen the number of new installs stagnate or even plummet since the changes were rolled out.
“Install counts fluctuate due to a variety of reasons, including seasonality. We’ve historically seen visits to the App Store decrease during Dec and pick back up in Jan,” Clarke tweeted in response to a question about installs. “We would definitely make changes if we saw some issues.”
A Shopify representative did not return Insider’s request for further comment.
Keeping its third-party developers happy is a key part of Shopify’s growth strategy. Shopify has more than 1.7 million merchants selling goods on its platform, and the average merchant uses six apps to run their business, the company previously told Insider. The better the apps are, the more sales its merchants can convert, which is good for Shopify’s bottom line.
Jefferies analyst Samad Samana noted that Shopify’s robust ecosystem is what sets it apart from competitors like Wix or Adobe’s Magento.
“The more merchants they bring on, the more pain points they recognize merchants have, the more of those problems they can solve, and the better they can make the products they have,” Samana told Insider. “And if you think about it from the developer’s perspective, are you going to want to work with the company that’s 10 times bigger than some of its competitors? Probably, because you’re serving a broader audience by working with them.”
Developers who talked to Insider said that the changes led them to consider changing their App Store advertising strategy, but that they would still stick with Shopify.
Hegstad said that in his view, the redesign is realistically “just a small hiccup.”
“It’s just that I’m not running a venture-backed business, and so I have to be more capital conscious,” she said.
Highland added that the fact that Shopify was willing to host an AMA that was visible to anyone made him feel optimistic that the company is open to feedback about the changes. Highland has been developing for Shopify’s App Store since 2008. He also wrote a book about selling on the e-commerce platform, called “Shopify Empire,” and has a tattoo of Shopify’s logo on his leg.
“I have confidence that they’re going to strike a good balance, or at least listen to everyone, and we’re going to get somewhere that’s different from where we’re at now,” he said.
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