Intricacies of a Vast App Marketplace and Navigating the Way Out
August 1, 2023
5 min read
“We are constantly resolving conflicts with other plugins on Shopify.” This was a fellow founder working on augmented reality for retail sometime during the peak of the pandemic. They had invested six months of hard work with a dedicated team of four, developing a plugin for Shopify. Their goal was to revolutionize the way people experienced online shopping by bringing the magic of AR to e-commerce.
With a couple tens of customers already paying monthly SaaS to use their plugin, the founders felt a sense of achievement. However, they soon found themselves entangled in a web of conflicts. The plugin they created was facing constant clashes with other plugins on Shopify. Despite their best efforts, debugging issues and ensuring seamless product adoption became a never-ending struggle.
Similarly at Fabrik, we transitioned to Webflow from Wordpress. As a user, the plugins are extremely cumbersome even though we used a plain-vanilla site for the longest time and sparingly added plugins.The problem still persists today and we are constantly worried about making library updates on any plugin for the fear of bringing the entire site down.
Let's Take a Closer Look at the Challenges
1. Winner takes all
In this vast marketplace with close to 3.95 million stores and 8,000 apps, only a select few dominated the usage charts. The most installed app, while successful, only accounted for 15% of the total stores. The rest of the apps were left to fight for a sliver of the pie in a long tail of niche use-cases.
The winner in this scenario was Shopify itself. If an app managed to gain substantial traction, the platform often absorbed its features and integrated them seamlessly, making it easier for customers to adopt. Although not intentional, this phenomenon often steered customers away from third-party apps and towards Shopify's in-house solutions, creating a challenging environment for app developers.
2. Disproportionate amount of work
Due to the nature of the marketplace, the variance of things that can go wrong is very high and developers trying to discover the source of the problem takes an unpredictable amount of time. In their quest for quick fixes, they unknowingly lay the foundation for bigger problems down the line.
Like a never-ending maze, the more they debugged, the deeper they got entangled. The sheer amount of effort required to resolve these conflicts left them questioning the sustainability of their endeavour. It was a slippery slope, leading devs closer to the brink of giving up.
3. New device/form-factor/spatial support
Now imagine adding in compatibility for smart watches, virtual reality, augmented reality, and the upcoming Reality Pro for a good measure. The level of complexity just quadrupled, and at this point we might as well divert towards in-house development of the entire website rather than using external marketplaces, it’s easier to build it from scratch rather than a motley of self-help patchwork.
4. Economics don’t add up
To attract users on marketplaces, generally you offer a free trial or a freemium model with a low-cost price tag. However, it is soon discovered that the initial investment and limited returns do not add up in your favor. With numerous variables that need investing in the marketplace, it is an uphill battle.
And you need to figure out another way to strike a better balance between costs and benefits, allowing you to sustainably grow your business without compromising their product's value.
Some more common issues identified by ChatGPT (and confirmed by us :)
Compatibility Issues: Plugins may not always work seamlessly with the platform or other plugins, leading to conflicts and functionality issues. Updates to the platform or other plugins can also cause compatibility problems.
Security Risks: Plugins from third-party developers can introduce security vulnerabilities, potentially exposing the website to hacking attempts, data breaches, or other malicious activities.
Performance Impact: Some plugins can negatively impact the website's performance by increasing load times or consuming excessive server resources. This can lead to a slower user experience and potential loss of customers.
Lack of Support and Updates: Some plugin developers may not provide regular updates or support, leaving users stranded with bugs, compatibility problems, or security vulnerabilities that are not addressed.
Overlapping Functionality: In some cases, multiple plugins might offer similar features or functionalities, leading to redundancy and potential conflicts between them.
The way out
Amidst the challenges, a glimmer of hope is to consider starting with marketplaces while your venture is still small and, as they grow, transitioning to their own web app. This approach offers simplicity and clarity, allowing you to forge a direct connection with their customers. It’s simple, everybody understands, and customers can launch your web app within their store without the need for you building plugins.
Drawing inspiration from successful examples like Google Analytics and Mixpanel, the potential of web apps in streamlining distribution and integration. Include a single line of code on your store to capture analytics and view them as dashboards on Google or Mixpanel sites without app/plugin management, compatibility support, etc.
We have found something similar that works for us where customers create spatial experiences and launch it inside their store app as a webview/iframe.
The icing on the cake - 3D websites.
Offering an easy-to-build, cross-device solution that can drastically enhance user engagement and experiences. Running on all devices with just a browser, 3D websites seemed to be the answer you’ve been searching for.