How To Develop an E-commerce App: Cost, Types, and Features

Hannah Solovey
Market Researcher

If you have an online retail business, you’re probably thinking about developing an e-commerce app. 

It’s a good idea because most consumers regularly shop online; in fact, in 2019, online retail overtook traditional brick and mortar sales for the first time. Plus, the vast majority of shoppers use their phones or tablets as it’s fast, easy, and convenient. It stands to reason that if your e-com business doesn’t have a dedicated app, you could be missing out on a potentially lucrative revenue stream.

To get you started on the right foot, this article serves as an e-commerce app development guide and is jam-packed with info on everything you need to know about e-comm app development, including platform specifics and cost estimations.

Why Your Business Needs an App In Addition To a Website

At MadAppGang, we know how hard it is to lead an e-commerce business without a decent mobile app — especially in today’s marketplace. We also know that you might have reservations because mobile app development for e-commerce isn’t exactly cheap.

It’s tempting to think the mobile version of your website is enough for your clients. But the short answer is that nowadays it isn’t. Consider the world’s most successful e-comm companies, all have dedicated mobile apps. These companies know that the world has changed and e-commerce has to adapt to the changing face of digital retail.

According to Statista, more than 80% of US internet users have made purchases via their smartphone at least once. What’s more, approximately 50% of people today shop online exclusively via handheld devices. To capitalise on the changing ways people shop, it’s best to have an e-commerce app — and the accompanying revenue boost.

If you’re still not convinced, here are a few more reasons why your company is likelier to thrive with its own app.

Demand

As of today, there are almost 5.25 billion unique mobile users compared to around 4.7 billion internet users — the second number doesn’t include social media users and general apps users. Although more than 70% of internet users in economically developed countries use desktops, around 95% of internet users surf the web with the help of their smartphones.

Image source: Datareportal

These impressive stats are proof of the real demand out there. If you don’t have an app, you could be missing out on customers that might be loyal clients and the accompanying profits.

Omnichannel communication with your clients

Omnichannel marketing is a way of driving consumer engagement across multiple platforms with seamless and targeted messaging. If you have an e-commerce app, your clients get an integrated shopping experience that is innately connected to your brand at each stage of their buyers’ journey. 

For full omnichannel communication, all your marketing channels need to be fully developed; not only your website and social media accounts but also an intelligent, easy to navigate e-commerce app.

With the help of your e-commerce app, you can provide the best possible experience to new and existing clients, regardless of how they prefer to make their purchases.

Brand image and trustworthiness

As we mentioned earlier, all leading e-commerce retail brands have their own apps, and one of the key reasons they do this, above and beyond omnichannel marketing, is to bolster their image as a trusted, respected company. 

If an e-commerce business doesn’t have a dedicated app, its credibility among its target audience may be diminished. An app can help your company attract new clients and build trust with existing customers.

Now that we’ve established the importance of apps in today’s retail arena, let’s move on to the cost details.

How Much Does It Cost To Develop an E-Commerce App?

There is no universal answer to this question because e-commerce app development cost changes according to several factors. These include the rates of the e-commerce app developers you choose, how custom and specific your app is, the complexity of its features (and the level of difficulty for developers to execute), and, crucially, the type of app.

Let’s take a closer look at that last point now.

App Types: Native, Hybrid, and Web

Hybrid or cross-platform e-commerce apps

Hybrid apps (also known as cross-platform apps) are designed to operate on both iOS and Android platforms. Developers create hybrids on special platforms such as Flutter, Cordova, Xamarin and React Native. It’s a quicker and cheaper solution than native apps for each platform since the ‘mutual’ app for both iOS and Android shares the same code. 

Businesses opt for hybrid apps when they lack time and money, however, cross-platform apps may have poor speed and performance compared to their native counterparts, and often have lags and bugs.

Example: Airbnb until 2018

Initially, Airbnb used React Native to create their hybrid app. This allowed them to promote themselves faster, but the number of lags forced them to eventually develop separate native apps for iOS and Android.

Example: Untappd

Untappd is a social media platform for beer enthusiasts where craft beer aficionados rate beer, tag locations, and give shout-outs to their friends. In-app purchases, such as Untappd merchandise, keep the money flowing. Initially, it was built with the Cordova platform but was then moved to the Ionic framework.

Web apps and progressive web apps (PWAs)

A web application is not an app in a direct sense, rather, it’s a mobile version of a website converted into an ‘app’ with the help of standard code such as JavaScript or HTML. Your client can download a web app from the mobile version of your website and have an icon on their smartphone, but they won’t find it in the AppStore or on Google Play.

A progressive web app is a website that provides users with the full experience, just like an app, but without having to download an actual application. In simple words, it’s a well-made website that works with slower internet connections and doesn’t fail when users visit. Strangely, progressive web apps work with almost any browser but have trouble with Safari.

Example: Uber’s PWA

Uber has a native app both for iOS and Android. However, the company decided to create a PWA when its global popularity rose and users in more and more countries wanted to join the service. In some regions, Uber’s PWA works effectively and even allows users to order a taxi with very low speeds such as 2G.

Example: AliExpress

A popular e-commerce platform from China, AliExpress has a well-known e-comm app but many people still used the mobile version of the company’s website. This forced the corporation to develop a PWA so its web clients could have the full app experience without downloading a ‘real’ app.

Native apps

Native in this context means apps designed specifically for the major operating systems, Android and iOS. Most major e-commerce brands have native apps for both platforms so their clients can get the best possible shopping experience.

Because each platform uses different programming languages, the app development process for each is quite different. Android apps are built with Java while apps for iOS are built with Swift and Objective-C. If you want your apps to work smoothly no matter which device type your clients own, native is the way forward. Just bear in mind that those programming differences will result in greater costs.

Example: ASOS

ASOS is a well-known e-commerce corporation from the UK that specialises in fashion for all bodies. In 2020, its revenue was $4.5 billion. Its clients make most of the company’s expansive catalogue via its native apps.

Why opt for native apps?

As mentioned above, the development process is quicker, easier, and cheaper when you order a cross-platform app. Nevertheless, we recommend native apps from the get-go. 

Why? Because if you have fast, efficient, fully optimised apps for Android and iOS your customers are far less likely to face bugs, latency, crashes and all the other annoyances that make shoppers close an app, you’ll make more revenue. It really is as simple as that.

How Much Do App Developers Charge?

An early app version, called an app prototype, can cost several thousand dollars. A fully functioning app, meanwhile, can set you back a cool $500 thousand. As said above, it really depends on the amount of time and effort mobile developers spend building your e-commerce app. 

It’s a topic we’ve covered before in our long-read on different costs in mobile app development with real-world examples from our practice.

To create any type of app, you can’t hire a single developer alone. You need a small team consisting of a couple of app developers, a back-end developer, who’ll help with data storage (inevitable in e-commerce mobile app development), a UI/UX designer for the interface, a QA engineer for bug testing, and a project manager to coordinate the team and keep everything running smoothly.

E-commerce app developer rates

The cost of e-commerce app development heavily depends on the hourly rates of the professionals you hire. The rates vary depending on geographic location, too. For example, an average American app developer charges from $80 to $100 per hour but in Europe, you’ll find developers that charge $60 per hour.

For more on the topic, read about the rates of different specialists in mobile app development.

To fully understand the overall cost of building an e-commerce app, realise that each app feature will take time to develop. One problem with e-commerce app development is that the costs are higher than in other fields since some things are easier to integrate, while others are difficult.

For example, e-commerce apps need to take payments, which necessitates payment systems. This is an advanced complexity feature, while chat support is a medium complexity feature.

Here are some features e-commerce apps generally include:

  • User registration, login, and profiles
  • Product search (if you want to integrate voice search functionality, expect it to cost more)
  • In-app purchases and a variety of payment options
  • Data encryption (since you deal with payments)

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are also the so-called ‘hidden costs,’ which consist of maintaining your app once it’s released, fees for AppStore, Google Play Market, and the payment systems you work with.

The advice is simple: it’s way more effective and easier to pass your app development ideas to a team of professionals who are already used to working together than finding each developer and team member yourself. Outsourcing is the new norm in app development, and you can receive approximate costs for your project by getting in touch with development companies.

What platform should you start with?

If you opt for native app development, keep in mind the differences between iPhones and Android smartphones. For example, there are multiple types of devices running Android, so the segment is more fragmented than with iOS devices.

Accordingly, e-commerce Android app development costs are higher, so it’s a good idea to start here — especially if you target European, Asian, and Australian audiences — and then move to iOS. If you exclusively target North American audiences, start with iOS e-commerce app development, but remember that you’ll exclude a significant number of your potential clients who use Android.

It’s helpful to be sure about your business’ aims and where and to whom you want to sell your products.

How Much Money Can You Make With a Mobile App?

Sure, e-commerce app development costs are high, but eventually, it all pays off. Here, you can see a few examples of ultra-successful e-commerce apps (native for both Android and iOS) and get some inspiration for your own business.

IKEA

Although people love wandering through IKEA’s malls (and certainly buying something), the IKEA app is even more popular, especially since COVID-19 hit the business world hard. Even before global lockdowns, IKEA reported record-level revenues thanks to its e-commerce efforts, both its website and its native apps. In 2020, the retailer’s online sales expectedly grew by approximately 10%, according to Statista.

Aviasales

Founded in 2007, Aviasales is a metasearch service that helps users find the cheapest flights and then purchase them in the app. Aviasales’ annual revenue is unknown, but its monthly audience is 15 million strong, so we can safely assume it’s financially healthy, pre-COVID at least. The company belongs to Go Travel Un Limited and is headquartered in Phuket, Thailand.

Etsy

Etsy is a US e-commerce company specialising in peer-to-peer sales. With the help of its service, people buy handmade, vintage, and unique products directly from artists and sellers. Etsy is a highly effective and successful e-comm business that reported a $1.7 billion revenue in 2020.

iHerb

One of the most popular health-related e-commerce apps in the American and European markets, iHerb specializes in supplements, vitamins, and organic cosmetics. It’s been present in the health e-commerce market since 1996 and its yearly revenue is approximately $185 million.

H&M

If you’re interested in fashion e-commerce app development, pay attention to H&M’s example. The ultra-popular Swedish clothing retailer boasts an overall revenue of around $25 billion, and a lot of that is thanks to its easy to navigate, convenient app. H&M generates more than $3 billion yearly via its e-commerce services.

The Wrap-Up

Before we finish up, here are the main takeaways from this article:

  • Mobile app development can be expensive, especially for e-commerce retailers.
  • Know your aims and goals as a business before you decide which type of app to develop.
  • Have everything organised before you start building your app including your budget, your business’ potential challenges, and every pro and con.
  • If you decide to begin with a hybrid app, have a budget for the future to move on to native apps — before your support service is filled with complaints about slow performance and difficulties with the app.
  • If you don’t know which app to build first, start with e-commerce Android app development. The cost might be higher, but the longer process makes iOS e-commerce app development quicker later on.
  • Remember that today, investing in an app is one of the wisest things you can do for your brand’s image and future revenues.

Need Some Help?

Now that you know e-commerce app development can be a painful and expensive process, you’ll understand that it’s best to entrust your project to a good team. If you find a smaller team without a decent portfolio, you might find yourself waiting an awfully long time or worse, receiving a subpar e-comm app that no one wants to use.

To get a competitive and user-friendly e-commerce app, contact us and we’ll do everything needed to get your app-focused e-commerce sales off to the right start. Even if you don’t have everything planned out yet, share your concept with us and we’ll help you make it a reality.

30 March 2021 e-commerce app development