Counting All the Costs: Pricing Out a Private App for Your Shopify Store

Your store is thriving, business is rolling along, but you’re feeling a little constrained by the functionalities on Shopify. Most options are mostly all right, but you keep wondering if there are a few tweaks that can ease your workload and improve your customers’ experience.

You’ve probably toyed with the idea of hosting a private Shopify app to customize your shop experience and your own administration. Like any smart business owner, you’ve wondered about two things:

  1. Is it worth it?
  2. Can I afford it?

The short answer to both questions is "it depends". Let me help you start kicking the tires on cost to help you determine ROI for your business. The best way to do this is to pull apart the prices for hosting a private app to see what is needed and what each element costs.

Get the bonus content: Costs of hosting a private Shopify App

The Basics

Every app needs a domain name, an SSL certificate, and hosting. Without those you don’t have a secure place to park your app. It’s easy to forget that the app needs a place to live, so remember to budget not just for app development, but for ongoing hosting and maintenance costs.

Domain names

Here’s one price tag you probably won’t have to sweat about. Domain names are cheap or free, depending on how your current domain name or server is set up.

For many domain names, it’s absolutely free to set up a subdomain. For example, if your primary domain is www.example.com, your app may be able to have a rent-free home under privateapp.example.com or sales-app.example.com. The beauty of subdomains are that they are unlimited and free to create.

Another option is using the server’s domain name and having an internal domain name for the app. When you host an application on Heroku, you’ll be given one of these on Heroku’s herokuapp.com domain (e.g. strong-river-731.herokuapp.com).

If your server configuration doesn’t allow for this sort of setup, then you may have to pay up to $10 per year for a domain name — no big deal.

Domain name cost: Free to $10 per year.

SSL Certificate

No SSL certificate, no online security. It’s that simple.

An SSL certificate guarantees that the data on your site will be encrypted while it is sent from your Shopify store to your private app. While not total protection from hackers, it’s a first line of defense.

While it’s always important to have your data safeguarded, it’s especially important if the private app will be interacting with the public. Without that locked-down status, your visitors will get alarming warnings from their internet browser, like "This is not a trusted certificate" and a suggestion to leave the site immediately.

That’s no way to build trust with a customer.

Personally, when I see a message like that, I leave right away because I know someone didn’t do the setup correctly, and that mistake could compromise my personal data. Even if the glitch is around a single image or script, you don’t want to risk your reputation with messages about security issues during a shopping experience.

Higher-level certifications, on the other hand, may give your customers the reassuring note "This site has been verified by ABC company." Much better.

Even if your app is out of the public eye and interacting only with the back end of your site by transferring information between your site and your suppliers or giving you reports on purchases, for example, you still need the peace of mind that the flow of essential information that keeps your website humming is protected.

SSL Certificate cost: $0-$100; $10 is a good price.

Cloud Hosting: Traffic Determines Costs

Pricing for cloud hosting is slightly trickier but definitely more expensive because cost is based on how much traffic your Shopify store has and how your app interacts with that traffic. Free hosting will technically function with Shopify, but your users will get the error messages listed above, plus other glitches may arise with loading time, processing, and timeouts.

When determining what size of hosting you need, you need to know a few things about your app’s purpose and performance. Think about:

  • How many visitors do you have a day? Hundreds? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands?
  • Is this app serving many functions, or just one or two?
  • Does this app serve you and your staff (backend) or will customers directly see its functionality?

Which Cloud Hosting Service Should I Use?

There are many hosting services to choose from, but I prefer to use Heroku and DigitalOcean. Both are reputable, but the difference is in support.

Heroku

If you’re less tech-savvy and would like someone else to do the driving for you, Heroku is set up to do just that. Essentially, you give them the code for your private app with a few directions, and they take care of the details. If the server crashes or has downtime issues, they’ll bring it back up for you. Note that their prices are higher as a result, from $50 to $200/month.

Heroku outlines their pricing brackets by dynos, which I like to describe to clients as mini-servers. You pay more for complex dynos and for the number of them that you use to run your app.

DigitalOcean

With DigitalOcean, you’re paying less for hosting because you’re just renting a server, and your cost is based on the size of that server. You will have to install the web server and the database server onto it, plus add code for your private app and turn on SSL.

If you’re good with tech or know someone who is, this could be a way to get your app hosted for a smaller monthly fee. You might have to pay someone to set it up, but you’ll see savings all year long.

DigitalOcean sets up their pricing according to how many GB are used per hour, from 512MB to 60GB. Cost goes from $10/month to $80/month.

Small, Medium or Large Hosting Needs?

Knowing how much hosting to pay for can be a bit of a guessing game, but with the guidelines below you can make a very educated guess to begin your budgeting.

Remember that if you find out that you’re using more or less down the road, you can always adjust accordingly. In general it is very hard to forecast how an application will perform until it’s live but they are easy to adjust once you have some data.

Small apps will be adequate in these circumstances:

  • Backend functions only
  • Lower traffic under 10,000 hits per day (not visits)
  • 2 dynos from Heroku ($50/month) or 1GB from DigitalOcean ($10/month) can handle the job

Medium apps are required for these situations:

  • Backend functions plus some front end
  • Even a small amount of front end needs medium support
  • Moderate traffic between 10,000-50,000 hits per day (not visits)
  • 2-3 dynos from Heroku plus add-ons ($100/month) or 4GB from DigitalOcean ($40/month)

Large apps are required for this kind of app support:

  • Detailed front end processes and tasks
  • High site traffic above 50,000 hits per day (not visits)
  • 5 dynos plus add-ons from Heroku ($200/month) or 4GB x 2 from DigitalOcean ($80/month)

Other costs include:

  • A staging server that’s only used before the app is ready is then turned off (inexpensive)
  • A backup server… just in case (very cheap to pricey, depends)

Once you make a decision about a hosting service, it is possible to switch to another service if you’re finding that you’re not getting your money’s worth on your current provider. Just be prepared for the hassle of setup time and costs again.

Is This Extra Overhead Worth It?

Again, there’s no perfect answer to this question. It’s easy to wonder, "Hey, why should I pay an extra $100-200 each month for a piece of code on my site?"

Let’s try another question that will give you more clarity.

What is this app going to manage for you?

A private app might save you from having to hire another person to manage data entry or communication with your suppliers. What’s the fully-loaded cost of a new administrative employee? $20,000 per year? $40,000?

It might bring in $3,000 each month through retargeting sales that were slipping through your system. That’s $36,000 per year in extra revenue. Not to mention more customers you can now market additional product to.

Your Shopify shopping cart might function significantly better, leading to fewer dropped sales each day. An increase in a store’s conversion rate from 2% to 3% is 50% more sales over the year.

It’s easy to focus on costs as you do your research, so make sure you’re not leaving out the benefits out of the equation.

If you have questions about what a private app can do for your business, please click here to contact me and discuss your business’ specific needs.

Get the bonus content: Costs of hosting a private Shopify App