Christina Constantinou
15th September 2020 · 10 min read

Are you interested in creating an eCommerce app? Don’t know where to start?

Well, you’re in the right place.

But first, consider this...

Amazon launched as a simple bookstore, but within 27 months they’d hit over 1 million sales. And their success since then has been astronomical.

But did you know that Amazon developers have had to spend millions of dollars - and a lot of time - adding key features since their initial application launch?

Amazon is a multi-billion dollar company - a couple of million dollars is no big deal to them.

For a small business that’s new to the market, however…

It can have a devastating effect.

messaging apps
Take inspiration from industry leaders.

That’s why I decided to write this blog post - to help you build your perfect e Commerce app that functions to a high standard without breaking the bank.

My decade-long experience with developing eCommerce apps has given me all the knowledge and key insights you’ll need, and I’ve compiled them right here to help you out.

So keep reading and find out all the steps you’ll need to take to build an Amazon-like eCommerce app.

Outpace Competitors

You might know the tricks of the trade - but you need a technology team beside you every step of the way.

Chapter 1
Creating an eCommerce App - Overview

Developing a new app for your business is super exciting.

There are so many possibilities - so many cool features you can add.

You might think that the best way to begin is by creating a highly complex, feature-packed product, right?

Let me tell you now - that is most definitely the wrong approach!

Too many first-time app developers try to do too much, too quickly.

But the more complicated and feature heavy your eCommerce mobile application is, the more time and money you’ll need.

That’s why I always suggest starting your process by building an MVP, or minimum viable product.

Essentially, an MVP contains the key features an app needs to serve its purpose.

And when we look at an eCommerce app like the Amazon app, we can see that there are a number of features that are fundamental:

Search Feature

Users will need the ability to search for items they would like to purchase.

Payment Gateway

A secure and straightforward way for customers to pay for their items.

Product Image Pages

Interactive pages that contain images and descriptions of products.

Push Notifications

SCan be used to notify users of sales and when their order has been shipped.

Chapter 2
Ecosystem Of An MVP

It is crucial that you begin by creating a well-tested, scalable and strong foundation for your eCommerce mobile app.

Here’s an example of an MVP ecosystem that you can use:

graphic of a MVP ecosystem
The architecture of your new app.

The architecture shown here is optimal for an eCommerce app as it allows you to build a solid foundation straight away.

The use of load balancers will ensure that load fluctuations on events like Black Friday can easily be handled. When you load balancers see a sudden surge in traffic, they automatically scale server capacity to match it.

Best part about leveraging load balancers is that - you can actually control how much volume you’d like to scale to and they’ll do it.

It is also completely flexible - giving you the ability to add and remove servers whenever you deem it necessary. This will save a lot of time and money as your business grows!

Now that we know what the perfect architecture is, let’s talk about each individual feature and how we can build these in the best way possible:

1. Server

An eCommerce app like Amazon needs to process tonnes of data each and every day.

Think about it…

All those searches, payments, reviews...that’s a lot of information to store and manage!

So it is absolutely essential that your backend is structurally sound and easily scalable.

Seriously - it’s my number one tip!

All your data will be collected and monitored in a database management system. There are loads of great options to choose from here - MySQL and MongoDB are two systems I would recommend. But what you go for will depend on your unique business needs.

Something I always suggest to clients when tasked with creating a high-quality and flexible backend is the use of multiple servers simultaneously.

When you make use of more than one server, alongside a load balancing algorithm like Round Robin, you’ll find your eCommerce application’s communication process is much more fluid and a lot faster than when only one server is used.

This is due to the fact that using two (or more!) servers allows you to separate data into different sections. For example:

Structured Data

On this server, easily searchable information such as inventory numbers and customer information can be stored.

Unstructured Data

This server comprises data that is more difficult to search for, such as images and email messages.

In my experience, utilising a multi-server system results in a much more stable and high-quality product than using a single server.

After this, all that’s left to do is to choose the programming language that you want to use to build your product. Some popular choices here are PHP, Python and Java, but you can always use different languages for different elements as they have different strengths and weaknesses.

2. Search Feature

The ability to search is absolutely fundamental to any eCommerce application.

Your customers need to be able to find exactly what they are looking for in a way that is simple, quick and effective.

Otherwise, users are likely to become frustrated and abandon your app altogether - which you definitely do not want.

There are a number of different types of search features that you can implement, but in my opinion these are the most important for an Amazon-like eCommerce app:

Simple Search

The most basic of search functions - users type their query into a search bar and are presented with relevant results.

Filtered Search

A slightly more advanced search feature that allows users to tailor their search to fit their specific requirements - e.g. size, colour, material.

These two search functions are perfect for an eCommerce mobile application MVP as they offer clear and easy ways for users to find exactly what they are looking for, without over-complicating things.

The way to build search functionality into your eCommerce app will depend on which platform you are developing for.

For Android, you will need to add a SearchView widget and then implement a searchable configuration which will define how the widget behaves.

For iOS, when using UIKit framework you’ll need to implement UISearchBar in order to create the field in which text can be entered, and then use a delegate that conforms to UISearchBarDelegate protocol to allow search actions to be performed.

graphic of end to end Encryption
Keep up the customer experience from laptop to mobile.
3. Product Pages

An eCommerce application wouldn’t be what it is without dedicated product pages for each item on sale.

There are two parts to creating product pages: building them and UI/UX design.

In order to add images to your eCommerce app, you’ll need to work with the correct framework for the platform you are releasing on.

For iOS, using the UIKit framework, you will need to implement UIImageView to display images in your app and UIImage, which is an object that is used to handle all the image data on your app.

For Android, it’s as simple as using ImageView to add your images, and TextView to add descriptive text.

After this, it’s important to focus on how your product pages look and how they can be interacted with.

This is where UI and UX designers come in to play.

A UI (User Interface) designer will work with you to choose how everything will look - everything from the colours to the text font. This will determine how visually appealing your product pages are to your users.

Then you will need to work alongside a UX (User Experience) designer to figure out the best way these pages should function. Will the user need to tap or swipe to see all the images? How big is the font? Where is the ‘add to cart’ button located? Essentially - how easy is it to use your app?

Combining these key design elements will ensure your product pages are straightforward, attractive and easy to navigate.

4. Payment Gateway

The main goal of any eCommerce application is to allow users to buy products.

This means that, of course, payment services are a key feature of all eCommerce apps. I understand that it can be easy to get carried away, especially when it comes to first-time app development.

And I know that it can be tempting to try to create your very own payment gateway for your app.

This is often a bad idea- trust me!

For a small business that’s new to mobile app development, trying to build a payment gateway from scratch is a complete waste of valuable resources.

Especially considering there are so many great and trustworthy pre-existing payment services that you can use.

A few of the most popular gateways are Stripe, PayPal and Braintree. These allow users to be transported to the gateway’s own service, which will then accept payments for you at the same time as providing you with encrypted payment information so that you can rest assured that the customer has made a full payment.

Another thing to note is that most pre-existing payment gateways are PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliant - which makes your life a lot easier!

5. Push Notifications

Too many app developers underestimate just how important push notifications can be.

They play a huge role in engaging with your user base, and when utilised effectively can even lead to more sales.

When it comes to an eCommerce application like Amazon, notifications can be used to alert users to any new products or sales on the app, let them know when their order has shipped and remind them to rate previous purchases.

Luckily, integrating push notifications into your app couldn't be simpler.

All you need to do is use Google Firebase for Android and Apple Push for iOS - easy!

So, to summarise, here is the technical stack you’ll need to develop an eCommerce app:

1. Choose your database management systems e.g. MySQL

2. Select a programming language e.g. PHP

3. Integrate a payment gateway e.g. PayPal

4. Implement search features using the appropriate framework e.g. UISearchBar

5. Create product pages

6. Enable push notifications using the correct tools e.g. Apple Push

Now that we are clear on what goes into creating an MVP, we can start to consider what we may need to include in a more advanced product.

Chapter 3
Ecosystem of a Full eCommerce App

Here are some more features that I would recommend considering:

1. Customer Service

Any business owner that is worth their weight will tell you that maintaining a strong relationship with your customers is key to a successful business.

That’s why making sure you offer amazing customer support services is crucial to the development of an eCommerce application.

When trying to create an app like Amazon, you’ll need to offer all customers - past, present and future - the ability to contact you if they are having any issues, or just have a question they need answering.

Without this, your users will end up having an unhelpful and difficult experience. And unhappy customers lead to bad reviews on app stores and social media...

...and that can kill your business.

That’s why it’s fantastic that there are so many customer relationship management (CRM) services available that are easy to implement and maintain. A couple of common options here are Salesforce and ZenDesk.

As these services allow your app to offer super convenient in-app customer service, they provide fast and effective communication with your users - making for much happier customers.

Another bonus to CRMs is that they automatically collect data from your user’s smartphone - allowing much faster access to customer information.

executive using phone in an office
Bring together technology for a complete solution.
2. Dynamic UI

Something that can be worth considering when designing your eCommerce app is the use of a dynamic UI.

This basically means a user interface that can be changed to reflect different events.

Think about Amazon - they change their UI during Black Friday and Prime Day sales, which makes sure that customers know these events are taking place and can make them more likely to participate.

You could also use a dynamic UI to change your eCommerce app’s layout during holidays such as Halloween or Christmas - making them more appealing and relevant during these seasons.

Although it may seem complicated to implement dynamic UI, when working alongside your UI designer the process is relatively straightforward.

All you’ll need to do is configure a JSON message that will activate or deactivate event-specific UI’s that have been pre-stored.

3. Rating System

Allowing customers the ability to rate products on your eCommerce app is an often overlooked feature during development, but it is so much more important than you may initially think!

Not only does it make your business appear more trustworthy through the open sharing of customer feedback, it can also drive sales up as users can be convinced to buy as a result of the positive reviews of others.

To integrate a star rating feature into your eCommerce application, I would suggest developing an API and working with UX designers to make the process as smooth as possible.

Outpace Competitors

You might know the tricks of the trade - but you need a technology team beside you every step of the way.

You should now be ready to create an eCommerce mobile application that is high-functioning and ready to go with features you really need.

But what about when things go wrong - as they unfortunately often do?

Don’t panic!

I have a tonne of experience when it comes to app development, so I know about all the different problems that can occur.

Thankfully, most of them are easily fixable and, sometimes, preventable. Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues and how we can solve them…

Chapter 4
Developing an eCommerce App - How to Tackle Your Biggest Challenges

Here are a few main problem areas during eCommerce app development:

1. Data Overload

Most app developers only take into account the average amount of people that will use their app on a daily basis when building their server.

This is most definitely a bad idea!

That’s why a lot of eCommerce apps - even Amazon - struggle to perform during periods when there is much more traffic than usual, such as big sale events like Black Friday.

Failing to be prepared for events like these can cause your app to have major performance problems - or even stop working completely!

And that would be catastrophic.

That’s why I cannot emphasize enough how important the use of multiple servers is, especially for an eCommerce application.

You should aim for your app to be able to handle up to 100 million search requests per day - this is almost impossible with a single server.

If you take my advice and use multiple servers, you’ll find you will save a lot of time and money in the long run.

2. App Size

An eCommerce mobile application can get very big, very fast.

Lots of images, text and even videos can drastically increase the size of your app.

This can then cause a number of performance problems, such as slow load times, crashing and freezing.

That’s why it is immensely important to streamline your application as much as possible right from the start.

An easy way to do this is to reduce image sizes. Here are a few options here:

1. You can use compression tools such as TinyPNG or ShortPixel to reduce image sizes by up to 90% without sacrificing quality.

2. Try to keep images simple and not too busy, such as using simple white backgrounds when photographing products.

3. Avoid any images being uploaded that are too large by implementing validation scripts that will alert you when an image is too big.

You can also create a script to monitor your app size at all time, which will allow you to constantly be aware of how big your eCommerce app is and deal with any size issues quickly and efficiently.

Conclusion

You should now have a total understanding of exactly how eCommerce mobile applications like Amazon are made, as well as all the best features to include.

Still looking to create your dream eCommerce app?

We can help!

The future is mobile first - are you going to be a part of it?

At Lolly, we pride ourselves on our first-class technical abilities. Our app development team can work alongside you to create an eCommerce app tailored to your specific business needs.

Contact us today and get started with creating your perfect mobile app for your eCommerce business.