A Few Things Shopify Apps Can Learn from Magento Extensions

At aheadWorks we’ve been developing Magento extensions for quite some time and came to pride ourselves on our ecommerce expertise. But, with the recent move into Shopify, a lot of what we know about managing online stores seems to be losing relevance.

No longer are we surrounded by entire teams devoted to store administration. What we have instead is a store owner who is a part of a smaller operation, probably juggling more than a few roles simultaneously, and doesn’t have much time to spare for online administration.

This is also clearly evident from the type of applications available for Shopify. Most of them aim for simplistic interface and demand very little manual intervention, which is the complete opposite of Magento, where hardly anything happens without administrative supervision.

So, at first we had some doubts over the usefulness of our previous experience. However, as we kept exploring more Shopify apps, we have discovered a few points that would easily translate from Magento to Shopify, yet are consistently overlooked by most local developers:


Complexity is good (in moderation)

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Simplicity is not that bad either. Especially when it concerns usability – trimming extra clicks, moving tabs around, designing convenient input, etc. What we see in Shopify apps though is that simplicity is overtaking not just user interface, but business functions as well.

Let’s consider an example of ‘related product’ apps. What they do is identify and display a number of related items on each product page. The way most apps achieve this is via algorithm that goes through the catalogue and automatically selects items according to a certain principle. This is very convenient, since all one has to do is install the app and let it run wild.

What is inconvenient though is that the principle itself is set in stone and, regardless of whether you want do display up-sells, or down-sells, or cross-sells, or simply provide your clients with more browsing options, you are very likely to be stuck with randomized up-sells all the way.

Just consider a couple cases. Does it make sense to offer headphones to someone browsing laptops? Probably not. The chances are, all accessories are in place from before and it’s just the laptop that’s missing. It makes sense though to offer a marginally cooler and slightly more expensive laptop. But does it make sense to offer marginally more expensive dress to someone browsing clothing? Our guess is that you better go with matching shoes or a purse.

There is hardly an algorithm that is capable of differentiating between these and many other cases, which is why for our app we decided to borrow some controls available in Magento and let our Shopify clients choose for themselves what kind of related products will suit them best. We ended up with an app that is slightly more complex than Shopify average, but offers virtually unlimited possibilities of tempting one’s clients.

Interface consistency is a must

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Another thing we see very often is a Shopify app that works from outside of native dashboard, taking users to separate tabs. Apart from basic logistics concerns, this approach carries two usability implications.

First, the app does not look like Shopify, which means that you have to switch gears every time you visit its dashboard. You will get used to it eventually, but the whole experience is entirely unnecessary.

Second, it is very likely that the app has been designed to serve several different platforms at the same time. This is not a downside in itself, rather an indication of generic design approach, meaning the app is unlikely to take specific needs of any given platform into account.

External apps are not really an option at Magento and we believe that this is something more Shopify apps should borrow. It’s neat, it’s convenient, and it kinda works as a quality assurance.

Merging similar apps is only fair

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You are probably familiar with ‘cart recovery’ apps, which send out a “please come back” email after a cart has been abandoned. They follow the basic mechanics of having an email template assigned to a trigger, shipping out after a certain delay. Same as ‘review request’ apps, same as ‘haven’t seen you in a while’ emails, same as a bunch of other trigger-based notifications.

What you’ll find at Shopify are serial developers who’ll take the cart recovery app and clone it several times to serve a slightly different function. What you’ll have hard time finding is a single app that does all of the things without having you pay for each piece individually.

Building software equivalents of Swiss army knifes is very common at Magento and probably should not be taken to Shopify in its entirety, but, if there is possibility of merging a couple of nearly identical apps at the cost of a click or so, then it definitely should be taken.


While Shopify apps aim at doing everything faster, easier, and prettier, we believe that it should not come at the cost of taking key decisions away from users. This is where some Magento approach might come in handy. At aheadWorks we are certain that there is some middle ground between oversimplification and excessive control enthusiasm and we hope that we’ll be able to deliver it with our Shopify extensions.

Over to You…

Have you switched between the platforms in the past? Planning to switch in the future? Have some feedback about aheadWorks products? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


Catalin Zorzini

I'm a web design blogger and started this project after spending a few weeks struggling to find out which is the best ecommerce platform for myself. Check out my current top 10 ecommerce site builders.