Last Updated on
January 20, 2024

Choosing the Right Solution

Published in
Key takeaways:

If you’re at this stage, you’ve convinced yourself of the benefits of converting your e-commerce store into an app, and you’ve taken the first step to doing it, which is ensuring your site is mobile-friendly and responsive.

The next step is to figure out how you’re going to create your app. There are a few different options to consider. In this article we’ll explain these options, discuss what you need to think about when deciding how to build your app, and finally see how the different app creation methods stack up against each other in these categories.

Quick Summary:
  • Broadly speaking there are three ways to convert your site into an app: hire developers, use a no-code app builder, or hire a managed service.
  • The best option may be different for each business, depending on their resources and priorities (e.g. budget, desired time frame and feature set, level of technical expertise).
  • Custom-developed apps have the highest potential, but also significantly higher cost and time to complete. Managed services like MobiLoud are the best mix of performance, convenience and affordability, and will be the best choice for many businesses.

Three Ways to Convert Your E-Commerce Store into an App

There’s nearly an endless number of frameworks, tools and services you can use to convert your store into an app. Almost all can be condensed into one of three categories:

  1. Native development
  2. No-code app builders
  3. Managed services

Native development means coding your apps from scratch. You’ll need to hire mobile developers, have them write the code for your apps and connect them to your website via an API.

No-code app builders are visual tools that let you drag and drop pre-coded elements onto a template or blank canvas, and compile a working app without writing any code.

Managed services are something in the middle, which use a combination of native development and app builder features in building your app. Managed services generally don’t require any coding to be done on your end.

Our platform, MobiLoud, is an example of a managed service. We use a tried and tested workflow to convert your existing, mobile-optimized site into an app, with our team handling the little native development needed to turn your site into downloadable apps.

Each of these three options can be legitimate ways to build an app, depending on your needs and circumstances. 

How to Choose the Best Option for You: Eight Factors to Consider

The best option for one e-commerce business might not be the best for you. You likely have unique circumstances, in terms of requirements, knowledge and available resources.

We’ve outlined eight things you need to consider before deciding how to build your mobile app.

Budget

First, how much can you afford to pay to build an app? There’s a big difference in cost between each of these app development methods.

An e-commerce store that makes millions in revenue and has investor capital will have a drastically different budget from a small, boutique store. Where you land on this will eliminate some options straight away.

Timeframe

How long can you afford to wait for your app to be built? Do you need your app live and deployed as soon as possible, or can you wait longer for a more intensive development process?

Flexibility

Think about the flexibility of the option you choose. Will it allow you to fully customize the app to be exactly how you want it? And is this a priority for you, or are you comfortable with a more generic, templated app?

Platform Compatibility

Which platforms - e.g. Android, iOS - do you want to launch on? Do you want to launch on tablet as well? 

Required Features

What kind of app-specific features do you need? Some app builders give you limited options, if you need anything advanced such as integrating with specific mobile device functions.

Technical Skills

Some development methods require some level of expertise or knowledge on the technical side of app development from you or someone on your team. Others require zero expertise whatsoever. Consider how much your team knows about this area and whether you need an option that’s hands-off and beginner-friendly.

Time Investment

How much time do you or your team need to invest into the project with the option you choose? Some require a significant amount of time put in from your side, which will require you to increase payroll and alter your workflow. Others are completely hands-off, with little impact on your team’s day-to-day.

Maintenance & Recurring Costs

After you launch your app, you’ll need to constantly update and maintain your app. This includes things like bug fixes, improvements, new features, and mandatory updates for new OS versions.

Each development method requires a different level of effort and investment to keep your app up to date. Consider this in your decision, and whether you can afford this recurring cost.

Comparing the Options

We’ve given you a number of things to consider when choosing how to convert your e-commerce site into an app, along with three different development methods to choose from.

Now we’ll compare each of these options based on the eight factors above and let you know which one stands out in each category.

Budget

  • Native Development: 🔴
  • No-Code App Builders: 🟢
  • Managed App Builder Service (MobiLoud): 🟡

No-code app builders are the cheapest way to build an app, while coding an app from scratch is by far the most expensive.

Managed services like ours fall in the middle, slightly more expensive than a no-code app builder, but significantly cheaper still than native development.

Here’s an estimate of what it will cost to build an app for each of these three methods.

>> Native: $60-$150,000 per platform

(Double the price to launch native iOS and Android apps, or cut down slightly by building cross-platform)

>> App Builder: $29-$199 per month

(Monthly subscription cost)

>> MobiLoud: $29-$199 per month

(Approximate cost of setup, one year’s license, and app store submission fee)

Native Development

A native app can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $300,000, depending on complexity. An e-commerce app is not super complex, but it’s also not overly simple, considering you need to build an API to connect the app to the website’s backend.

So for this kind of project, we’re looking at around $60,000 on the low end, $150,000 on the high end.

Be aware that building native apps for Android and iOS require separate builds and separate teams working on them, which effectively doubles the cost. 

The cost can be reduced by building cross-platform using frameworks like Ionic or React Native, which allow you to build apps for multiple platforms using primarily one code base. But you’re still looking at 5-6 figures.

No Code App Builders

App builders are easily the cheapest option to build an app. You just need to pay a monthly subscription to gain access to the software, which varies depending on the app builder and subscription level you choose.

At the low end, this could be $20-$30. High-end options may be several hundred.

MobiLoud

MobiLoud works on a subscription basis, similar to app builders. The cost per month is a little higher than most no-code software tools. The ongoing cost gives you access to updates and maintenance from our team after your launch.

The setup cost includes $500 that covers creating and submitting your app store listings (which our team can guarantee approval for).

There are varying plan levels depending on the scale of your business, as well as an extra option for a “full service” package, where we handle every part of the process for you. But whatever you go with, you’re looking at a maximum of low-four figures to launch your app.

MobiLoud also includes a 60 day money-back guarantee, which makes it risk-free. If you’re not happy for whatever reason, you’re not out of pocket.

We break down the cost of building an app in-depth in this article.

Timeframe

  • Native Development: 🔴
  • No-Code App Builders: 🟡
  • Managed App Builder Service (MobiLoud): 🟢

In terms of the time it takes to launch your app, native development again requires the biggest investment.

An app development project, built from scratch, takes around six months or more.

The fastest choice is MobiLoud, which allows you to go live potentially in as little as two weeks.

With a no-code app builder, technically you could launch your app even faster - just in a couple of hours. But realistically, you’re going to spend a while trying to get your app right, and ensure that it works, looks good and reflects well on your brand. Add in the time you spend submitting it to the app stores, and the process is likely to take a lot longer than you expect.

Flexibility

  • Native Development: 🟢
  • No-Code App Builders: 🔴
  • Managed App Builder Service (MobiLoud): 🟢

The payoff for the extremely high cost and time of building natively is the ability to fully customize every pixel of your app.

MobiLoud is close behind on this, as well. Your app will be a very close reflection of your mobile website, so whatever you can build or customize on your website you’ll be able to display on your app as well.

At the other end of the scale, no-code app builders score the lowest on flexibility. These are extremely rigid, often working within strict templates with little room for customization.

Platform Compatibility

  • Native Development: 🟢
  • No-Code App Builders: 🟢
  • Managed App Builder Service (MobiLoud): 🟢

Android and iOS together make up over 99% of the mobile operating system market share. You should want to launch your app for both, and all three of these options are suitable to launch on both iOS and Android.

Remember though, building fully native apps from scratch requires you to build two separate versions for each operating system, which adds cost and complexity to your project.

App builders are usually compatible with both Android and iOS. MobiLoud also allows you to build apps that are fully compatible with both major mobile operating systems.

Required Features

  • Native Development: 🟢
  • No-Code App Builders: 🔴
  • Managed App Builder Service (MobiLoud): 🟡

Another plus for native development is the ability to build whatever features you might need, including integrating with mobile device features. Though be aware that the more complicated features you build, the more expensive and time-consuming it will be.

No-code app builders come in at the lowest here, with the features available limited by the app builder you choose.

MobiLoud lets you build most of the features you’d need in an e-commerce mobile app, including native push notifications. However, there may be some limitations if you need full integration with device features, and you won’t quite have the freedom you would have with native development.

Technical Skills

  • Native Development: 🟡
  • No-Code App Builders: 🟡
  • Managed App Builder Service (MobiLoud): 🟢

MobiLoud is the winner in terms of technical skills or knowledge required to launch your app. Our team handles everything technical for you, and we hold your hand through the process, explaining everything in layman’s terms if necessary.

The technical skills required for native development can be hazy. If you hire developers (such as a development agency or freelancers), you don’t really need a high level of technical ability, but you do need some knowledge of how the process works in order to liaise with the development team and manage the project.

The premise of no-code app builders is that you can build apps with zero coding, which is true to an extent. But building a professional e-commerce app and ensuring the app is synced to your website is likely to require at least some knowledge of how apps work under the hood.

“MobiLoud held my hand to ensure our app was done properly from the beginning to the day we released it. Everything from App Notifications, Analytics and Registering with Apple/Google, they were there along the way." - Nick Barbarise, John Varvatos

Time Investment

  • Native Development: 🟡
  • No-Code App Builders: 🔴
  • Managed App Builder Service (MobiLoud): 🟢

In terms of time invested by you or your team, MobiLoud is the winner here. There’s little to nothing for you to do. Just communicate with our team, test builds and give feedback.

On the other end of the scale, no-code app builders require you to do everything. These tools offer very little support, and it’s completely on you to design and build your app, as well as submitting it to the app stores.

Native development generally won’t require as much time, if you hire outside help, though there will need to be some time invested to manage the project (unless you contract this job out as well, which adds to the price).

Maintenance & Recurring Costs

  • Native Development: 🔴
  • No-Code App Builders: 🟡
  • Managed App Builder Service (MobiLoud): 🟢

Every app comes with a cost to maintain. Don’t expect to be able to pay a one-off cost and never touch your app again.

The cost of this is generally around 15-20% of the initial cost of the app. So if you build a custom native app from scratch, you’re looking at $10,000+ per year to keep it up to date.

No-code app builders are generally the cheapest in recurring costs, if we’re only talking about the monthly subscription. But there’s more complexity and time investment required, as you need to manage this all in-house. It may end up taking a lot of effort to fix bugs that come up, or issues with new operating system updates.

MobiLoud offers a cheap and predictable recurring cost. The subscription you pay covers all of this for you, from improvements you want to make to bug fixes and OS updates. It’s simple, straightforward, and affordable compared to the other options.

“If we had unlimited time and money, we would probably go for a custom native app, but that is half a million to a million a year to maintain.” - David Cost, Rainbow Apparel

Summing Up

We’ve given a lot for you to think about. But is there a shorter answer for the best way to convert your store into an app?

You should absolutely consider your company’s own circumstances here, such as what you have to work with and what you can afford.

That said, in most cases, a managed app conversion service like MobiLoud is the best way to go. It’s more flexible and requires less work on your part than a no-code app builder, and it’s significantly faster and cheaper than building natively.

The advantages that native app development offers are not worth the massive investment in price and time - particularly the huge recurring cost of hiring or contracting developers to keep your app up to date.

As we mentioned in another article, most e-commerce stores are 90% of the way to an app already. You just need something to convert what you have into a package that works as a mobile app, which is what MobiLoud does.

Keep reading to the next article as we show you a step-by-step process of how this works.

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