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App Builder 🔨

Head West Team
Updated September 15, 2023
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What’s the best no code tool for building an app for your eCommerce store?

Tapcart vs Plobal vs Vajro vs Shopney vs Kin vs NewStore vs Appbrew

Our pick:

Tapcart

Tapcart was founded in 2017 by mobile app industry veterans Sina Mobasser and Eric Netsch to help Shopify merchants create apps for their stores. It has grown to become the leader in the space and our recommended tool for creating an app for your store. Tapcart is like Shopify in the sense that it takes what used to be done internally by mainly large companies and outsources it to a software tool available to merchants of all sizes. Like Shopify, Tapcart’s drag and drop editor places limits on your ability to customize, but what you give up in customization ability, you gain in platform stability. While you could develop an app internally, we don't think it's worth the time and expense for most brands. It’s much easier to rely on an app developer like Tapcart. Companies we spoke with estimated that they would spend between $100-400k in internal app development costs vs the $200 per month starting fee with Tapcart. Yes, more customization would be possible by in-housing the app development, but we don't think most brands should develop their app in-house.

Our Pick

Tapcart

While it is far from perfect, we think Tapcart is the best app builder for most eCommerce businesses.

Why do you need an app?

There are several advantages to having an app in addition to a website. 

The first is speed. Mobile apps are much faster than even the most optimized mobile and desktop websites. Apps store much of their data locally on a customers phone whereas websites generally retrieve all or most of their data from web servers. The typical time to interactive (TTI) speed of the top 20% of Shopify stores is 9 seconds whereas an app is typically 3-5 seconds. Studies have shown an increase in site speed directly translates to an increase in conversion rates and a decrease in bounce rates. An app is an F1 car and your website is a Mazda Miata.

The next benefit is owning a piece of real estate on your customer’s phones. Customers have limited apps on their phones and to be one of those apps keeps your brand at the top of their minds. We believe this owned real estate is a big reason a 2019 study showed that apps were 35%+ incremental. 

📝 Editor's note: We would like to write a whole guide on incrementality because it’s an extremely nuanced subject. For apps it is especially challenging to precisely calculate the incrementality because your best customers tend to download your app. Be wary of pitches that show sky high conversion rates and AOVs on clients’ apps relative to their websites. A big driver of these amazing metrics is that your app will divert your best customers to purchase in your app instead of on your website. This isn’t necessarily an incremental sale and is often just diverting a sale from one channel to another. Despite the difficulty in calculating true incrementality of an app, businesses we spoke with that added apps estimated that sales on their apps were 20-30% incremental with 10-30% of their sales occurring on their app. This is a net 2-9% increase to the top line which is meaningful especially for larger businesses.    

A final benefit of an app is the ability to send push notifications which are free to send vs an SMS message that will incur a small fee per message sent ($0.01 cents). This savings will add up over thousands of push notifications that would have been SMS sends. Additionally, customers expect to receive push notifications from businesses, whereas text messages are typically more personal and will lead to unsubscribes if you send too many.

Apps are not without their drawbacks. They will create another channel for your business to manage and add complexity and headache. Tracking is more difficult to set up properly so you will likely lose some data for a period of time (although GA 4 helps with this). Finally, it will be difficult to personalize your app to the level of your website, so there will inevitably be some amount of feature loss between your website and app. For these reasons, we don’t think an app is right for everyone.  

When do you need an app?

We don’t think small businesses should be focused on building an app (even with a no code app builder like Tapcart). We think companies should scale to at least $10M in revenue before considering an app. The promise of owning real estate on a customer's phone is strong, but we don't think it makes sense for businesses below the $10M threshold. Focus is key. The distraction of an app at this stage will likely cause more harm than good. We think the effort a company would spend deploying and maintaining an app would be better spent focused on the company’s website which will always get the bulk of its traffic even once an app is developed. Once a business has scaled, we think it makes sense to strongly consider an app for the reasons outlined above.

Which businesses will benefit most from an app?

There are certain types of businesses that will benefit disproportionately from an app. We believe that if your business falls into one of these categories that you should more strongly consider an app.

  • Large SKU counts: if you have a large catalog of SKUs that customers tend to spend a long time browsing
  • High repurchase rate: if your products are regularly repurchased
  • Frequent new product drops: if you are constantly dropping new products

Each of these criteria will give your customers reasons to download your app and a desire to go back to your app. This will lead to more sales through your app and a higher likelihood of incrementality. We think you should consider these criteria in addition to the size of your business when evaluating whether an app makes sense for your business.

What we like about Tapcart:

Drag and Drop Editor

Tapcart’s drag and drop template editor allows you to build a native iOS and Android App without ever touching a line of code. Brands we spoke with were able to develop their app in 1-4 weeks using Tapcart. The editor comes with enough personalization options so that your app feels on brand. Product detail pages (PDPs) come with the most amount of personalization. While there are limitations on how personalized the app can be (see what we don’t like about Tapcart below), we think Tapcart offers enough flexibility for most brands. We also like that Tapcart offers the ability to add badges to your products. Badges like “new” or “sale” help you to highlight specific products within your app and are a best practice on eCommerce websites.

Platform Stability

While there are limits on customization (which we will discuss below), what you give up in customization ability, you gain in platform stability. With Tapcart, you won't have to worry about bugs that cause your app to crash or prevent your customers from checking out. Drag and drop places creative limits on you and your team, but it also ensures that the elements in the drag and drop editor are robustly tested and very reliable. You won't have to worry if your customer is using Android OS 7 or 13 or Apple iOS 12 or 16. Tapcart has tested the elements to make sure they work across all of those devices. Other companies that pitch white glove service and greater customization often suffer from reliability issues. In order to unlock customization, spaghetti code is deployed that can cause bugs. If your app is constantly crashing on your customers' phones, it doesn’t matter how great it looks. Like Shopify, Tapcart has spent a lot of time focused on stability and your app will benefit from that focus. 

Push Notifications

Tapcart offers the most advanced push notification platform of the app builders we tested. It gives you the ability to design and schedule push notifications within the platform. Tapcart allows you to send text, image, and animated GIF push notifications. Deep linking push notifications allows you to send users from the push notification to a specific page in your app (e.g., send a push notification about a sale on hair serums and send users to your hair serum PDP). Push notifications, which are free to send, are one of the key benefits of offering an app, and we think Tapcart excels here.

deep_link.png

Gift with Purchase (GWP)

One great way to increase conversion rates and average order values is to offer gifts with purchase e.g., spend $100 and get a free item. Tapcart comes with out-of-the-box functionality to allow your brand to offer this in the app. The best gift with purchase items will have high perceived value from the customer but low cost to you as a business. Gifts with purchase can also be great alternatives to discounts (either % off or $ values). They allow you to increase cart sizes and conversion without resorting to discounts. 

Custom Blocks

Tapcart gives you the ability to add HTML and CSS code elements to your app which they call Custom Blocks. This is a useful feature because it allows you to recreate sections of your mobile website that aren't currently possible to natively recreate using Tapcart’s builder. Have a quiz that you want to bring over from your mobile website to app? Add it with Custom Blocks. Have a homepage element you want to feature in your app? Add it in with Custom Blocks. This allows for a lot more flexibility in design than other app builders offer. 

Enterprise Features

Tapcart is increasingly targeting Enterprise size customers and is leading the way in developing features to meet their needs. Their developer tools let larger companies better mimic their web experience in their mobile app. Developer tools also enable companies with their own data warehouses to pipe first-party app data directly to their data warehouse. Additionally, developer tools unlock a sandbox environment so that teams can test and iterate their app in the same way they develop for their website. Access to the developer tools features will cost an additional $1,500 per month.

What we don’t like about Tapcart:

Limits on Native Customization

While Tapcart does allow for customization of your app’s appearance, there are limits on your ability to customize. You will notice that collection pages for most Tapcart customer’s apps look very similar no matter which brand's app you are looking at. Below is an example from Tapcart customer Obvi. On the left is their mobile website and on the right is their app. You can see the add to cart buttons in the app are missing their distinctive pink coloring and the product title font isn’t recreated 1:1. We think the current functionality allows merchants to recreate ~85% of their mobile look and feel, but we would like to see Tapcart push to allow for even greater customization within their drag-and-drop app builder in the future. 

Deep linking

Deep linking is the ability to click on a link and automatically take you to a page within your app. Those that have the Amazon app might be familiar with this experience. When you’re on your phone and click on a link from Google instead of taking you to the Amazon mobile website it will take you to the page in Amazon’s mobile app. Tapcart is slowly rolling out this functionality, but we think it's an area where they can improve.  

Native Search & Filter

Tapcart’s native search and filter functionality is okay at best. It integrates with a good number of search and filter providers including Algolia, Searchspring, Searchanise, and Fast Simon, so no need to worry if you are using those companies for search and filter. However, if you’re using something different for search and filter and have a large catalog of SKUs - keep this in mind. We heard of merchants that switched to another search and filter provider just so that it integrated with Tapcart.

A/B testing

A/B testing should be the backbone of any high functioning eCommerce business, and it isn’t currently possible to A/B test natively within Tapcart. To our knowledge, none of the app makers currently offer this functionality, and it is something we would like to see Tapcart develop. Lack of A/B testing is one reason we don't recommend apps for smaller businesses. Why would you siphon your traffic to a mobile experience that you can’t test and learn on? For now, the best option is to A/B test on your website and bring the winning tests as updates to your Tapcart app.    

Support for non-Shopify merchants

Tapcart is built exclusively for merchants using Shopify. Shopify is our recommended eCommerce platform, but for those using WooCommerce, BigCommerce or another platform, unfortunately, you will need to look for an alternative like Plobal. 

Pricing

As we will discuss below, Tapcart isn't the cheapest option on the market. They have a premium offering which they charge a premium price for. Those looking for the cheapest option will be better off with competitors like Shopney.

Unique in App Experiences

The best apps will give users access to features that aren't available on the mobile web. Check out Nike or Shein’s mobile apps to get a sense of the experiences they provide. Unfortunately, Tapcart has few native features that will differentiate your app from your mobile web experience. Tapcart does a great job at mimicking the mobile web experience but hasn’t yet developed out-of-the-box features that will give your customers compelling reasons to download your app (e.g., AR to try items on / see them in their home). The best example of a feature that Tapcart has in this category are their “Drops” which allow merchants to give shoppers exclusive access to products on the app. We would like to see Tapcart build out more in this vein. 

Future Integrations 

Tapcart integrates with 25+ other tools including Rebuy, Recharge, Route, Okendo, and Algolia. However, since the code base is not built in react native in order to add integrations it requires changes to two code bases - the iOS and Android code base. Tapcart is currently the industry leader in terms of integrations, but we are worried their design architecture will slow them down in adding future integrations, and they may someday be passed by competitors. 

Tapcart pricing:

Tapcart offers a 14-day free trial, unfortunately, with the time it takes to develop your app and get it live in the app store, this likely won't be enough time to truly test the value of your app.

In 2023, Tapcart updated their pricing from a flat monthly fee to a lower flat monthly fee plus what's known as a "success fee". The success fee is charged based on the % of sales done through your app and ranges from 1.75% to 2.5%. These success fees can be lowered in a number of ways like agreeing to annual plans etc. We don't love that this success fee isn't super transparent on their pricing page and requires you to do a bit of math to back into the success fee amount.

Tapcart’s paid plans start at $200 per month (plus a 2.5% success fee) and include three standard integrations (from a list of 18). Tapcart's ultimate plan includes 6 integrations and access to a custom PDP builder and runs $400 per month (plus a 2.5% success fee). Tapcart's top plan, the Enterprise plan, runs $1,000 per month (plus a 1.75% success fee) and includes a dedicated customer success manager.

Like many SaaS companies, Tapcart offers discounts for signing year-long contracts. The savings for year long contracts vs month-to-month will typically be 8-11%. All plans will require you to pay an Apple Developer fee ($99/year) and Google Play ($25 one time fee) that are charged by Apple and Google in order to publish your app in their app stores.

Tapcart has always been priced at a premium to the competition. With their pricing change, the premium shows up in the success fee as opposed to the monthly cost. The new pricing will likely make it less expensive in the short term and more expensive in the long term as your app scales.

Competitors:

Plobal – Plobal was founded in 2016, and is the largest competitor to Tapcart. Plobal charges a 1% “success fee” or % of all purchases that occur in the app on its enterprise plan. Plobal pitches a white glove service and the ability to unlock greater customization than Tapcart, however, we spoke with merchants who were disappointed with both. They mentioned that customization was unlocked through images, i-frames, and spaghetti code that caused their app to crash for customers. The white glove service that was pitched fell short of expectations.

Vajro – Vajro only charges success fees on their enterprise plan and only on in app sales that are above $100,000 per month. It will likely be cheaper than Tapcart, but it is template based and will be more limited in terms of customizations than Tapcart. Vajro offers live selling features which Tapcart doesn't, but is still working on developing the ability to add custom code (Html & CSS) to your app.

Shopney – Shopney is the only app builder that doesn't charge a success fee (or usage based fee) on their enterprise plan and will be a cheaper alternative to Tapcart. Its entry level plan starts at $99 a month compared to Tapcart's least expensive plan starting at $199 (plus 2.5% success fee). Shopney, however, has fewer out-of-the-box integrations and lacks some of the features of Tapcarct (gift with purchase and customization ability), so we don’t recommend it for most businesses unless price is your number one concern. 

NewStore – Newstore was founded by Stephan Schambach the founder of Demandware (an OG eCommerce platform) and is geared towards enterprise size customers. NewStore is billed as Omnichannel-as-a-Service (OaaS??). Their app building approach is more hands-on (no drag and drop builder), but the apps they design will integrate well into other components of the NewStore platform. For those that are already using NewStore, we think this could be a great option, but for most businesses we recommend Tapcart.

Kin – Launched in 2023 by three ex-Facebook employees with funding from Upfront Ventures, Kin is the newest entrant in the app builder space that we are watching. Clients include Steve Madden, doe beauty, and Lashify. It's still too new to recommend vs Tapcart, but we are tracking their progress.

AppbrewFounded in 2022 with funding from Accel Partners, Appbrew is one of the newer app builders. Appbrew’s tech stack is based on native react which we love since adding integrations is easier this way. This also enables them to better recreate branded elements from your website in your app. They are still too new to recommend, but we are watching this company for future recommendations. Their pricing is based on monthly active app users and starts at $449 a month when billed annually.

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