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Evaluating Shopify Plus Apps: Selecting the Tech Stack for Your Ecommerce Store

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If you are on Shopify Plus, then you are well aware that the secret to your success is rooted in the apps installed in your store. Shopify brands should always be looking for ways to grow and optimize their ecommerce store - in both how it appears and functions on the front-end and the tools used to manage your back-end operations. The apps you initially installed to get your store to where it is now might not be the same apps you need to continue growing your ecommerce business.

It is best practice to regularly evaluate the applications installed on your Shopify Plus store to assess performance, impact on site speed, and functionality. With 63 percent of companies outgrowing their competitors using automation, it's crucial to keep a pulse on the latest technology available to stay ahead of the competition.

But how do you discern which are the best apps to use? The Shopify app store has over 4,000 applications available to install – how do you determine which is the best fit for your ecommerce store?

While we already evaluated the top Shopify Plus apps to install, these might not work for your business. We decided to pull together a few tips on what features to look out for when you are evaluating which apps to use on Shopify Plus.

Don't have time to read up on our evaluation tips? Download our guide for a quick cheat sheet on the apps being used by the top 30 Shopify Plus stores.

Evaluating Apps To Drive Traffic

Digital Marketing

It doesn't matter what type of niche you're involved in – whether you're in the fashion industry, sports apparel, or the music industry – digital marketing should have a place in every Shopify strategy. If implemented with the right tools, it can drive tremendous results for your ecommerce store.

A recent study by clutch showed that 28 percent of businesses listed increasing sales and revenue via digital marketing as a primary goal for 2018. 83 percent of companies also reported that their digital marketing efforts were effective in helping them achieve this goal.

Digital marketing apps make it easier for you to move qualified customers (those who are interested in your product) further down the funnel, supporting the growth of your company. Many of these applications use tracking pixels or existing information so you can target these potential customers with digital advertisements and drive traffic to your website.

The best digital marketing apps typically include features such as:

  • Audience and campaign customization: These are targeted advertisements that leverage specific demographics and behaviors that are relevant to the audience you are going after.
  • AI-powered recommendations: The apps should be able to swap out specific ads that appeal to the specific demographics you are targeting.
  • Real-time campaign management: You want the flexibility to adjust your marketing campaigns in real-time as you collect data and optimize content.
  • Remarketing advertisements: While there are apps that specialize in this type of digital marketing, some businesses may prefer to consolidate software. If this sounds like the path you might take, then make sure your digital marketing app also includes remarketing features.

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Email Marketing

According to a study by The Manifest, 43 percent of businesses are expected to spend more money on email marketing in 2019. If done correctly, email marketing could be a cost-effective way to drive traffic to your website, sharing information that will interest subscribers to check out the offers on your website.

Email marketing is can also be an excellent tool for retention because it increases brand advocacy. Sending automated hyper-personalized emails to your subscribers ensures that your brand stays top of mind, especially if you are sending them "Happy Birthday" and discount emails. Klaviyo is a great example of an email marketing application with advanced automation features – their automated flows allow you to trigger email or SMS messages based on a site visitor's behavior.

When evaluating email marketing software, there are a few other key features you should prioritize, including:

  • Dynamic content: This features taps into user preferences and behaviors to serve up unique content in each email that piques their interest. An entire email can be dynamic, or it can be limited to specific content fields.
  • Audience segmentation: Given how direct emails are and how massive an email list can get, you may want to create unique emails for specific groups in your audience. Segmentation helps you split your audience into specific groups so they can receive tailored messages.
  • Spam compliance: Make sure your email marketing app has particular privacy and security compliance certifications. For example, you may want the app to be both GDPR Compliant and CAN-SPAM Compliant for starters.
  • A/B testing: The best way to figure out what messaging works best is through A/B testing. Create variations of your emails and send them out randomly to your audience to determine which tone, content, and style resonates most.
  • Trigger-based campaigns: Some of the best email marketing apps allow you to create trigger-based campaigns, which are sent out anytime a user performs a specific action. Targeting the action gives you the ability to engage when they show the highest intent, increasing your chances of driving them to your site or products.


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Affiliate Marketing

According to Business Insider, 15 percent of digital media advertising revenue goes to affiliate marketing, and it is projected to be a $6.8 billion industry by 2020. Affiliate marketing works because influencers have a more intimate relationship with their followers. Their tailored audiences trust their judgment, which means that they have a strong influencer over purchasing decisions. A simple nudge from an Instagram post is often all it takes to move prospects closer to a conversion.

And it doesn't take a celebrity to execute an effective affiliate campaign. There are now different types of influencers you can tap to help move the traffic needle. Micro-influencers can have extremely engaged communities around a specific niche. Nano-influencers – who usually have a local presence of 1,000 - 5,000 followers – also often achieve higher engagement rates. One study showed nano-influencers with less than 1000 followers have an engagement rate of 7.2 percent on Instagram (the average is 3 percent).

Affiliate marketing software helps you track the success of your affiliate and influencer programs. Most include a dashboard that displays a full view of how your affiliates are performing, including how many clicks or sales each has delivered.

When choosing an affiliate marketing app, there are a few essential things you need to take into consideration:

  • Multiple commission structures: Establish different commission structures based on the type of affiliate you are engaging with. This can include the percentage of the sale, flat rate, or tiered.
  • Affiliate marketplace: If you don't have affiliates ready to engage, make sure your app has a network to tap into to start building your promotions.
  • Customer-to-affiliate conversion: An affiliate program is only as good as your network. Features that can recruit customers to join your affiliate program will help expand your overall reach.
  • Affiliate segmentation: Different affiliates might be better at selling specific products. Be able to segment your affiliates based on specific topics will allow you to set up targeted campaigns as well as track how certain segments are performing.

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Social Media

54 percent of millennials use social channels to research products before they buy. The top 500 retailers earned an estimated $6.5 billion from social shopping in 2017, and sales are projected to account for $16.7 billion in 2020.

As Facebook and Instagram continue to invest in the technology to support retail purchases on their platforms, brands will need to be capable of engaging and closing a sale on social. 30 percent of consumers say they would make purchases through Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat. To get a piece of this pie, you need to connect your store with your social media platforms with the help of a Shopify app.

Some of the best apps are the ones that allow you to engage visitors on your social pages. Prompting them with a message or an offer can build rapport and eventually drive them to your site. The recent advancements in chatbots and artificial intelligence (A.I.) functionalities also make it so the bots engage just like humans would. If your shopper has a question about your product, the bot will be able to answer the customer's question and deliver an appropriate response.

Social media ecommerce apps are varied, but if you want one to drive traffic, it should include:

  • Automated engagement: If a new user is on your social page, prompt them with a new offer to grab their interest immediately.
  • Abandoned carts campaigns: When a customer places a product in their cart and then leaves the website without making the purchase, you can send them a personalized message on Facebook to prompt them to come back.
  • Send shipping notifications: This is more about post-purchase than traffic, but it is still equally important. You can build trust by sending customers social notifications about their order shipments.
  • Automatic responses: Take advantage of the human element of chatbot machine learning and have them triage initial customer questions. If a conversation goes on for too long, the bot can route the chat to a live support specialist.

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Evaluating Shopify Apps To Drive Conversions

Conversion Marketing

Average ecommerce conversion rates bounce between 1 percent and 2 percent. You could be doing everything right, but standard marketing approaches might not push your conversion rate beyond that 2 percent threshold. That's where conversion marketing apps come in.

Conversion marketing apps specialize in driving a site visitor to purchase while they are on your site. This can include games, pop-up ads, or other engaging content to catch them when they are most interested. Applications like Justuno provide several different options and formats that you can use to help you tap into any customer's preference. Justuno also provides advanced targeting rules and A.I. driven product recommendations to create automated promotions based on algorithms or filters.

Here are some of the most effective features to look at when evaluating conversion marketing apps:

  • Intelligent lead capture: capture leads in a variety of ways, such as through email capture, games, and social media messaging. Some of the most creative examples we've seen include exit intent coupon offers, spinning wheel offers, and countdowns.
  • A/B testing: similar to email marketing, conversion marketing is a great opportunity to run comparison tests between content to find out which converts better. You can test the actual offer, headlines, images, and calls-to-action.
  • Behavioral targeting and dynamic banners: this allows you to customize which conversion ads appear for certain customer segments based on past user browsing, purchase, email activity, and more.
  • Geo-targeting: identify visitors on your website by their geographical IP. Using that data, you can deliver localized geo-targeted content and messages based on their location.

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Customer Behavior

According to research, it takes six to seven touchpoints before the average customer completes a purchase. Why? Many prospective customers might get "lost" somewhere along the customer journey, finding difficulting locating information on your website.

Customer behavior applications can help you pinpoint where you might be losing customers along their journey. They can track the activity on your website and specific landing pages so you can see live how visitors are engaging with your site.

Tracking customer activity can help you understand if your website needs to be rearranged, whether certain content should have more prominence, or what pages visitors gravitate towards first. You can then use this data to optimize your site to more effectively move customers along the sales funnel.

Customer behavior can be determined by several different factors, which is why the Shopify app you choose must be as comprehensive as possible. There should be multiple different ways of collecting feedback or collecting usage data, including:

  • Heat maps: See what sections of your web pages get the most and least attention with a visual heat map of where visitors or clicking, hovering or how far down they scroll on your page before leaving.
  • User feedback: Allow users visiting your store to leave you feedback, letting you know what they like and dislike about your website. This should be in the form of both quantitative (ratings) or qualitative (long-form responses) feedback.
  • Visitor recordings: Record videos of users using your website to see how they interact with pages on your website.
  • Conversion funnels: Based on specific goals and targets, find out where users are dropping out of your sales funnel for specific insight on where you need to improve.

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Customer Retargeting

With customer retargeting apps, you can send online advertisements to customers who showed interest in what you were selling but might have left your site before completing a purchase. While some digital marketing apps may offer retargeting features, apps that specialize in this level of marketing have an expanded library of tools to keep customers thinking about your products.

3 out of 4 customers notice retargeted ads. This is because the ads are unique and personalized to them, building a level of trust with the customer. If they didn't feel comfortable buying from you when they first saw your site, placing unique and personalized ads to bring them back to your site can help sway them to make a purchase.

When evaluating the right customer retargeting app for your brand, make sure to look into the following features:

  • Customized retargeting: create campaigns that are unique to your brand with the help of powerful automation tools. If the app offers in-house experts and support to build the campaigns, it could unlock more value from your campaigns.
  • Abandoned cart campaigns: remind previously interested customers what they might be missing by compelling them to come back to their cart. This can include ads with discounts for the specific products they almost purchased.
  • Retargeting newsletters: set up a campaign that retargets the email recipients of the newsletter you send out. If the newsletter promotes a sale, for example, they will also be targeted on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms with the same sales copy.
  • Ecommerce integrations: your retargeting app needs to connect with all of your ecommerce tools so that you can streamline your retargeting (email marketing, social media, and digital marketing applications).

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If you're not familiar with the terms upselling or cross-selling, it doesn't particularly mean you haven't been exposed to it. It is one of the core strategies used by Amazon to increase cart value ("Frequently Bought Together," anyone?). A Shopify upsell or cross-sell app brings this same functionality to your ecommerce store by creating more opportunities to increase your average order value (AOV).

Upselling is when you encourage customers to upgrade a product within their shopping cart. This can include getting a higher quantity, larger size, or a product with advanced features. The upgraded product must be comparable, and the customer must perceive that the price of the upsell equates to more personal value.

Cross-selling, on the other hand, is when you convince a customer to buy a complimentary item. For example, if a customer is about to buy a new camera, you could suggest they purchase a memory card to go with it.

Upselling and cross-selling are effective because it delivers more value to the end-user. It's designed to make your customer's life better and boost loyalty as long as you are bringing them the right offers.  This is where upsell applications like Bold Upsell can help – the application allows you to build a series of upsells that dynamically update based on the shopper's previous choices, even if they decline the first time.

Some features to keep a lookout for:

  • Cart-based upselling: The app should allow you to display higher value products based on the items already within a customer's cart.
  • Multiple upsell/cross-sell placements: Engage customers with an offer at multiple stages. Look for an app that can include offers in the shopping cart, on product pages, and at checkout.
  • Upsell funnels: One offer might not be enough to convert a customer for a pricier purchase. Funnel capabilities allow you to up the ante on a customer or determine how many offers to make.
  • Extensive analytics: Monitor the success of your various cross-sell and up-sell campaigns so you can adjust and optimize.




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Evaluating Shopify Apps To Drive Retention

Customer Service/Live Chat

64 percent of consumers want brands to connect with them. Live chat features on a Shopify store are a great way to accomplish this.

Live chat apps allow you to answer customer queries instantly, which is important to the customer experience. 82 percent of customers now expect brands to respond to their inquiries immediately. Chat functions can also be valuable sources of information – you can collect data and feedback from customers that you can use to tailor the customer journey.

Live chat also allows you to engage with users that may need help after making a purchase. A smooth return process can be just as important for customer retention as the purchase experience. For instance, if a customer wants to return an item they purchased, make sure your live chat has a suggested framework of responses about your returns policy so administrators can respond correctly.

The best live chat customer support apps should feature the following:

  • Ticketing software function: handle your support activities from on dashboard by using a built-in online ticketing system. This also provides historical context in case a customer references a previous chat.
  • In-chat integrations: customers can reach out to support from multiple channels, including email, Instagram, and Facebook. A live chat app that can connect to and funnels requests from these platforms into one inbox will allow you to gather and link more information about your customers.
  • Labeling systems: Capabilities to label chats based on issues or topics will help you further analyze conversations and spot trends. You should also be able to look back at chat histories to see what customers are happy or unhappy about, the busiest hours of your day, and support staff performance.
  • Customizable design options: design your live chat window so that it is consistent with your branding across all of your sales channels.

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Loyalty Programs

Loyal customers – repeat customers that buy from a brand multiple times – contribute to 55 to 70 percent of sales for a business. Loyalty programs allow you to leverage and foster this segment of customers, helping you collect data on your most profitable customers.

Loyalty program apps offer features to support marketing strategies to convert more customers into brand loyalists. This includes incentivizing customers to make repeat purchases and personalized content that helps drive sales.

There are a variety of Shopify Plus loyalty program apps available, but the ones you want to prioritize should be able to do the following:

  • Diverse loyalty programs: flexibility in the types of programs you offer will help you find the right approach to engaging your customers. This can include points program, tiered programs, or a value-based program.
  • Social media sharing: customers who link their social channels to the program should be able to share achievements on their accounts. This will encourage other users to sign up for your program, increasing your audience.
  • Campaign consulting: apps that offer upgraded consulting services on your loyalty program can help you drive the maximum value of your campaign. Apps like Swell from Yotpo offer this feature.
  • Detailed reporting: track and measure metrics such as repeat visits, open rates, revenue, and social media reach to see how your campaigns are performing.

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Inventory Management

Customers expect a seamless shopping experience each time they make a purchase. This includes accurate, fast order fulfillment and full transparency throughout the delivery process. Customers will want their shipping updates as soon as possible.

Inventory management systems with sophisticated automation features can help make this possible. According to the Harvard Business Review, 73 percent of all consumers use multiple channels during any given shopping journey. Brands that want to monetize on the diversity of online touchpoints will need automated inventory functions to keep inventory updates consistent.

Inventory management apps can improve your operations and customer loyalty by ensuring you avoid any over-stock or overselling scenarios. Over-stocking can lead to inflated holding costs while overselling can cause you to miss crucial sales. If you are forced to cancel an order due to overselling, customers will shop elsewhere and potentially never come back to your store. Multichannel inventory management software like Skubana allow brands and retailers to get better control of their inventory and orders by using channel allocation rules to reduce the risk of overselling and Orderbots to optimize fulfillment and shipping.

While selecting an inventory management app encompasses many aspects of your business, some of the best features to look for include:

  • Multi-warehouse and multichannel functionality: sync your inventory across all of your sales channels and warehouses to make sure that it is accurate. Updates to inventory should reflect on your sales channels in less than 15 minutes.
  • Order routing and automation: minimize manual effort and automatically route orders to the best shipping provider and warehouse. This can be done based on warehouse locations, delivery dates, or inventory availability across your warehouses.
  • Inventory control features: control how the number of available units shown on your listings. This prevents overselling by limiting how many units appear on faster selling channels so you don't accidentally process an order before inventory updates.
  • Comprehensive analytics and reporting: Gather up-to-date data across all of your channels and warehouses, such as stock levels, profitability, and sales margins.

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Product Reviews

Product reviews are a powerful form of social proof.  If a customer has never heard of your brand before, they'll find it hard to trust you unless they see that others have already bought from you and loved your products. 93 percent of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions.

Product reviews can also be used to encourage customers to engage with your brand. When requesting your customers to leave product reviews, it's essential to make it easy for them. Consider offering a discount for every review they leave on your page. Most importantly, be prepared to address negative reviews and have a strategy for turning those around.

You can use apps to add product review extensions to your Shopify store and include both regular reviews and video reviews. Some of the features you should evaluate are:

  • Visual content: display your customer's picture or videos next to their review. These provide more context for site visitors and help them see exactly how products should arrive.
  • Review moderation: while you don't want to block negative reviews from being posted, you should have this feature so help control offensive content.
  • Review formats: make sure to pick an app that provides the flexibility to use different review formats. Some default formats to look for include community Q&As, email reviews, and product ratings.
  • Google Shopping/Ads syndication: You want to give your reviews the most legs. Make sure to choose an app that allows you to repurpose high rated reviews on Google.

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