Using Custom Apps (Safely) To Enhance Your E-Commerce Store

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E-Commerce Apps

Custom Apps are a great way to add custom functionality to your e-commerce store above and beyond what is provided out of the box for your platform. If you are looking for some special feature, and your e-commerce store software doesn’t provide it, there are two primary ways to get an app:

  • Marketplace Apps
  • Custom Apps

Marketplace Apps

If you have a common need, chances are you will find an app for your platform in their app marketplace. Here are a few of the app marketplaces for some of the more popular platforms:

The apps found in the marketplace may involve a monthly or fixed fee to use, and may only support the most common set of features needed by the majority of stores.

Custom Apps

If you can’t find what you need in the app marketplace, you can always pay to have a custom app developed that fits your needs. Custom apps may require more money upfront and may require you to manage the application development process. However, if your store has specialized needs, or you need to control the entire experience within your store, a custom app may be the way to go.

What Types Of Enhancements Do Apps Make?

There are numerous ways apps may modify and enhance your e-commerce store. Apps typically fall into one of the following two top-level categories based on the types of enhancements they make to your store:

  • Theme / front-end only enhancements
  • Server-based / back-end enhancements

Theme / front-end only enhancements

Front-end only enhancements are hosted within your store’s theme, Javascript and CSS files. They are self-contained and do not require an external server to be running for this enhancement to work.

Since there is no server-side component, these types of apps are less likely to fail once you have them setup properly.

Examples:

  • Themes
  • Social sharing pins
  • Image tools such as galleries and zoom view

Server-based / back-end enhancements

Back-end enhancements require a server-based component to function properly. These types of apps are essentially running some custom code on the app developer’s server(s). There is often a the front-end component to these types of apps as well.

Due to the server-side component, these types of apps are more likely to fail if the back-end service becomes unavailable, or breaks due to a code update by the app developer. If this app is end-user facing (meaning your customers use it), the stability of this app may impact the ability for shoppers to use your store. However, if this is an admin-only tool, the impact of app downtime may be less catastrophic.

Examples:

  • Hosted search
  • Product customizations
  • Order forecasting / reporting
  • Shipping / Fulfillment integrations

How do you avoid an e-commerce app taking down your e-commerce store?

The rest of the post is going to cover some of the considerations around apps that require a back-end component.

What kinds of questions should you be asking about a prospective e-commerce app before you add it to your store? How can you minimize the risks of using custom apps while still taking advantage of the additional features these apps provide?

Although you can’t totally eliminate all risks with using third-party apps within your store, the following tips should help you to know what you are in for and minimize your risks.

Know exactly how the app integrates with your store

Which page(s) on your store does the app modify? How exactly does the app modify data within your store (e.g. – product or order data)?

These are key questions you’ll need to know the answers to so you can get a handle on what areas may be impacted if the app stops working. This will also help you assess the app’s risk-level within your store.

Determine the risk-level associated with using this app in your e-commerce store

How serious would be if this app stopped functioning or in the worst-case disappeared? Could your store function without it for a few hours, days, or more?

If the app stops working due to a service interruption, you should use extreme caution and consider building in contingency plan for such an event.

However, if this is an admin-only app that does not impact your ability to manage your store the risk-level may be lower.

Perform due dilligence of the app

Ask the app developer for details of how they host the core infrastructure for their app. Do they have redundant systems in place (i.e. – more than a single point of failure)? Is the developer reputable and likely to maintain this app in the future?

Look around to see what others are saying about the app in question. Try searching the forums for your store for people discussing the app. You may also be able to find a public status page for more established apps so you can view their status history and see if they have a history of outages.

Craft a contingency plan for what to do if the app stops functioning

Can you temporarily disable the app so your store can still function? Are there other apps you can easily migrate to if needed for this functionality?

If the answer to these questions is no, you may want to consider avoiding this app, or developing an app in-house so you can manage the risk.

Summary

In summary, e-commerce apps can be a great addition to your e-commerce store and enable some great features and functionality.

However, each app you add to your store brings with it some level of risk that the app may negatively impact the functionality and performance of your store, and therefore your bottomline. You can minimize this risk by perfoming a thorough analysis of each app you add to your store, and make sure the associated risk-levels are acceptable for your particular use case.

If you have any specific questions or comments about how to evaluate an e-commerce app for your store, let me know in the comment section below.

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