Most e-commerce store owners never considered launching their own apps because they feel the process will be too long, complicated and expensive.
But is this really the case? We’ll give you a step-by-step look at the process of converting an e-commerce store into an app so you can judge for yourself.
- Converting your site to an app with a managed service like MobiLoud is a straightforward 7-step process.
- Hiring developers to code your app requires extra work putting a team together, planning and delivering a project brief, and managing the project.
- The length of the process with no-code app builders varies - it can be fast, or can become drawn out.
How to Convert an E-Commerce Store to an App With MobiLoud
We’ll start with a seven-step process to launch your own app using MobiLoud’s managed service. After this, we’ll compare what the process looks like if you decide to hire developers to code your app or use a no-code app builder.
Step One: Optimize Your Site for Mobile
The first step to converting your site into an app is to make your site mobile-friendly, optimized and responsive.
This will make converting your site to an app easy. It lets you display your mobile website in the app, with just a few minor touches necessary to make it look and feel like a proper mobile app.
Look back on our previous articles for more on this, where we discussed why e-commerce sites are easy to turn into apps, and how to design and optimize a mobile-friendly website.
Step Two: Connect With the MobiLoud Team
Once your site is mobile friendly, you’ll connect with a project manager and start talking about the app conversion process.
Do this by booking a free, personalized demo call. In this call you’ll talk about any specific needs or desires you have for your app and outline a plan to ship it.
If you’re happy with how everything looks, you’ll sign up to MobiLoud and move on to building your apps.
Step Three: Work With Us to Configure Your App
There are some small touches necessary to ensure your app looks and feels like a real app, rather than simply a mobile website with the browser tabs removed.
You’ll set up a native tab menu, navigation, UI elements like loading indicators, spinners, and a splash screen.
You can do all of this yourself, or work with our team to do it. Alternatively, you can subscribe to our Full Service Package and we’ll do everything for you.
There’s also the option to use custom code for any additional app-specific features you need.
Step Four: We Build Your Apps
The next step is to write the code that allows your site to run as an app on iOS/Android devices. The MobiLoud team handles all of this. You don’t need to code anything, or hire developers to do so.
We use native mobile programming languages Swift, Java and Kotlin to build true mobile apps that exist outside the browser.
This code makes up the package that users will download and run from their own device. Within that package will be a native container that displays your website in the app, live and synced with your actual site, and all the configurations and custom features included from the previous step.
This process takes around two weeks, for sites without any overly complex requirements or custom features. You’ll be kept updated and in the loop the whole way.
Step Five: Test and Give Feedback
Once the first version of your app is ready, you’ll test it thoroughly to ensure it meets your expectations.
Test on real devices and look for any usability issues, bugs, or elements that need improvement.
If you find anything you’re not happy with, communicate this with our team so we can fix it for the final version.
Step Six: Ship a Version Ready for Launch
If necessary, our team will make changes based on your feedback and ship a final version that’s ready for real users.
Go through one more round of testing and then give the OK to launch.
Step Seven: Launch
The last step is to make your app public and available for users to download.
How you go about promoting your app and getting users can vary. At a minimum, you’ll want to publish it to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, which our team does for you.
You should also consider promoting the app on your website and email list, and offering app-specific discounts and benefits. We’ll go over promoting and marketing your app more in-depth in later articles.
Alternative Options to Convert Your Site into an App
How about if you convert your e-commerce store into an app via another method, such as hiring developers or using a no-code app builder? How different will the process look?
Let’s walk you through both of these options now and where the process is different to what you get with a service like MobiLoud.
If you hire developers to convert your e-commerce site into an app, the extra steps include:
- Putting your development team together
- Designing a project brief
- Managing the project
- Testing & QA
- App store submission
Without a managed service who have a proven workflow to convert e-commerce stores to apps, a lot more work falls into your hands. Let’s run through these extra steps now.
Building a team
The most important part is putting a team together to create your apps.
You could go a few different ways with this. You could:
- Hire freelance developers
- Contract an app development agency
- Hire developers in-house
If you hire developers, the minimum you’ll need is an iOS developer (proficient in Objective-C or Swift) and an Android developer (proficient in Java or Kotlin).
You should also consider hiring a project manager to direct your development team, and a QA engineer to test for bugs or issues throughout the process - unless you have the time and technical expertise to do this in-house.
You might also choose to hire multiple developers for each app, as well as potentially hiring UI/UX designers if you want to be thorough.
Remember that the fewer people you hire, the longer the process will take. On the other hand, a bigger team will get the job done faster, but will also be more complex to manage.
The development team needs clear instructions to work from, which come in the form of a project brief.
As part of this step, you might put together a design for your app’s UI (the user-facing visual interface of your app) and UX (how your app functions).
Even if you simply want your app to be a recreation of your website, you’ll still need to create some kind of brief that explains what you want from the app, how it should function, and any differences or feature additions you need in the app.
The development team needs to be managed throughout the process. This involves working with developers to break down the project into individual, prioritized tasks, and keeping the project on schedule and on budget.
The developers are likely to have questions along the way, and the project manager is the one who will answer these questions and keep everyone working towards the vision shared in the project brief.
You’ll either handle this in-house, or hire a project manager from outside your organization. This person should be familiar with mobile app development, and understand what the finished product is supposed to look like.
Testing & QA
Someone, other than the developers themselves, needs to do testing and quality assurance (QA) for the project. This can go on simultaneously with development (i.e. testing features as they get built), as well as post-development (testing completed builds as a whole).
The key objective is to identify any bugs, as well as anywhere the live product differs from the project brief.
The QA team will share any issues with the development team, who will go back and make any changes or fixes and prepare a new version ready for testing.
App store submission
Finally, if you want to get your app into the app stores (as you should), you’ll need to prepare everything for your app store listings, as well as ensuring your app complies with each app store’s guidelines.
These guidelines can be quite strict and complicated. It’s also going to be costly (in terms of both time and money) if you ship the final build and it’s not app store compliant. So consider planning everything you need for this at the same time you put together the project brief.
Using an App Builder
If you choose a template-based, no-code app builder to convert your store into an app, you’re basically all on your own.
These tools provide the software that lets you build and deploy apps without coding, but they offer little or no support to help you do it.
The process will consist of the following steps:
- Shopping around for the tool that you feel fits best, in terms of features and cost. You’ll need a tool that integrates with the platform your website is built on, e.g. Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce.
- Compiling an app with the software provided that looks professional and is consistent with the look and feel of your website.
- Integrating the app with your website to share data across both platforms (part of this comes from choosing the right tool).
- Testing & QA for your app.
- App store submission.
This could be quick, or it could be long, complicated and frustrating if you can’t adequately build the app you want with the app builder you chose to use. At the very least, there will be more hands-on work required to build your app than if you were to use a managed service like MobiLoud.
Overview of the Three App Development Options
If you’re overwhelmed with information and struggling to figure out the right way to convert your site into an app, here’s a quick overview of each, and their pros and cons.
- Directly converts your website into an app that largely replicates the look and functionality of your mobile website.
- MobiLoud’s managed service works with sites using any e-commerce platform, including (but not limited to) WooCommerce, Shopify, BigCommerce, Squarespace, Wix and Prestashop.
- Technical work, project management, app store submission done for you.
- Work with the team to produce the desired result, or step back and have the team handle everything.
- Investment of roughly $1,000-$2,000 up front, and 2-4 weeks from first contact to live app.
- Involves coding separate apps for Android and iPhone, and synchronizing each with the backend of your website.
- You need to build a team to handle development, as well as putting together a project brief.
- You need a project manager, which can be in-house or hired externally.
- If you want to publish your app in the app stores, you’ll handle this process yourself.
- Investment of $50,000+ (potentially as high as mid-5 figures), and 6+ months of development time.
- Sign up for a software tool that integrates with your website platform and lets you build an app without coding.
- You’ll do all the work yourself, including compiling and testing your app and submitting it to the app stores.
- Cost of the app builder is negligible, but consider the time you spend on the project when budgeting.
- Time to launch can vary, depending on how easy or difficult it is to build the app you want within the confines of the app builder.
Are You Ready to Start Development?
Now you know a few different ways to convert an e-commerce site into an app, along with the pros and cons and how each option works.
The key now is to settle on a plan and prepare everything to start converting your site into an app.
The following checklist will help you know whether you’re ready to convert your site into an app.
- Your site is mobile-friendly, responsive and optimized for various mobile devices and screen sizes.
- You know what you want from your app, and what (if any) new features or changes you want from your mobile website.
- You’ve planned how much you’re willing to invest in your project, in terms of time and money.
- Your budget includes an estimate of how much you can afford to spend each year to maintain your app.
- You’ve chosen the app development method that fits your budget, desired time frame, technical ability and all other requirements.
If you’re ready, and you want to start converting your site to an app with MobiLoud’s managed service, click here to schedule a demo call and kick off the process.
You can check out these case studies if you want to see examples of real, successful businesses that used this method to convert their website into apps.
Coming up, we’ll start looking at what happens after development, including how to ensure your app gets approved by the app stores, and other ways to get users for your app.