When my cofounder and I launched our business in 2014, we quickly realized we needed to gain access to all kinds of tech to make the startup run successfully — but we were just two non-technical founders.
There was no way we could build that kind of stack on our own. That’s when we discovered the Shopify Ecosystem, and that ecosystem became our first CTO. I now lead their Ecosystem team because I was inspired by the power of being a custom commerce engine for today’s entrepreneurs.
Developers who build apps on a platform like this one give merchants affordable access to tech that they’d otherwise have to pay thousands of dollars for an in-house team to build. There are millions of entrepreneurs who are looking for apps to help them run their businesses.
Because of this incredible demand, there are now 8,000+ apps on Shopify’s app store; nearly double the number in 2020. But that doesn’t mean you’re late to the commerce SaaS party: the industry is evolving so rapidly that innovation is endless and ripe for building upon. As the number of merchants increases, so does the diversity of their needs. And every single step in the commerce journey represents a billion-dollar market. There are massive opportunities here for developers to earn a slice of that ever-expanding pie.
But what should you build? According to data from our ecosystem, here are the four trends gaining the most steam, with the most lucrative potential for app development.
Studies show that personalized commerce experiences lead to increased order values, conversion rates and customer loyalty. Developers can help merchants find new ways to attract, engage and retain customers to build a loyal fan base.
It’s no secret that businesses are facing rising customer acquisition costs (CAC) and lower returns on investment (ROI) because of new privacy and data restrictions on ad platforms — so it’s more important than ever for them to build direct relationships with customers through engaging brand storytelling and customer experiences. The cost per click for paid search ads increased by 15% between the second and third quarters of 2021 alone.
Circular economy & sustainable selling
Gen Z (and not only Gen Z) is acutely aware of climate change and is increasingly interested in services that focus on recycling, upselling and reusing goods. Compared to before the pandemic, more than 37% of buyers say they are more conscious of the environmental impacts of their online shopping habits, and nearly 73% of buyers expect online retailers to use recyclable or minimal packaging.
There are so many things developers can build to help merchants create a circular economy — a system that is restorative or regenerative instead of wasteful and harmful to the environment. Could you empower merchants to allow customers to “trade-in” products? How about shopping vintage? And how could you support sustainable selling that promotes recycling or reusing? This space will only become more promising as environmental urgency continues to rise.
MR, VR & AR
Mixed, virtual and augmented reality are skyrocketing in popularity and usefulness for entrepreneurs. Between October 2020 and September 2021, the number of Shopify stores using AR or 3D media grew by 62%, and that number is not slowing down. With the ebb and flow of COVID-19, the rise in live selling and social commerce, and buyers’ behavioral changes (who doesn’t love being able to shop from bed?), online shopping will forever be an essential service for customers.
We still have a long way to go when it comes to replicating offline experiences online — feeling the fabric of a cashmere sweater, picking up a ceramic plate, sitting on a couch to test its firmness… So how can we use emerging technologies to re-create the cognitive and sensory experiences of in-store shopping? Partners like 3DLook are working with VR and AR to replicate the in-store try-on experience. Finding ways to leverage technology to extend IRL experiences to ecommerce is the next big thing.
Blockchain & NFTs
In less than a year, we’ve seen a 149% increase in merchants who accept cryptocurrency as payment in their stores. We’re also seeing a growing trend of entrepreneurs showing off their creativity by minting nonfungible tokens (NFTs) that make customers feel like they are part of the brand and members of an elite club.
How can apps use these technologies to unlock unique commerce experiences in ways we’ve never seen before? Web3 is one of the biggest opportunity spaces we’ve ever seen, and the possibilities are endless for app development here.
Supply chain logistics
It’s no secret that COVID-19 showed the weaknesses in the supply chains that we previously took for granted. Our data shows that 40% of merchants reported supply chain issues impacting customer orders.
We’re looking for innovative apps that improve these shipping disruptions and global supply chain issues. How can you help merchants get the materials they need faster, and deliver their product to customers on time? How can you enable a more reliable supply chain and delivery experience that won’t leave entrepreneurs scrambling to fulfill their shipping promises?
It’s time to build
Commerce is a massive industry with no signs of slowing down. This is the place for developers to build successful businesses in 2022 and beyond. The pandemic accelerated innovation and showed us how fast the industry can move, and that momentum isn’t slowing down. Commerce technology is continuing to evolve in a way that will create waves for decades to come. Now is the time for the most creative developers to ride that wave.
In 2021, this ecosystem made over $1 billion in GMV. Shopify paid $411 million to app developers, more than double 2020’s payout of $200 million. This ecosystem has produced multiple unicorn SaaS companies — and yours could be next.
It’s time to build, and your eyes should be on commerce when you do.
Fatima Yusuf is director of partnerships at Shopify.