Private Apps: Your Ticket to Moving Your Shopify Store from ‘Good Enough’ to Outstanding

This is a guest post from Eric Davis, who helps eCommerce entrepreneurs customize their Shopify stores using public, private, and unlisted apps. He has a free course to teach Shopify store owners how private apps work, what they can and can’t do, and over a dozen examples of how they can increase your revenue, which you can get here.


Top Shopify merchants are always on the lookout for the next ingenious workaround that will eliminate a time sinkhole, capture more sales, streamline inventory, or make their customers’ experience shine.

A quick spin through the Shopify App Store is proof that software developers have been working on the front line of excellent solutions for store owners. There are apps for almost every issue a store owner could have:

While Shopify is great and App Store apps can make it even better, your store is still unique. One-size-fits-most solutions may still leave you wrestling with Shopify because standard apps don’t match your business framework.

Are you out of luck? Or worse, destined to wrestle for months with the mysteries of incomprehensible code until someone builds a better solution?

Not at all!

A private, custom app can save the day.

Let’s take a look at the differences between private apps and public apps so you have a handle on which options might transform your store.

Public Apps

Public apps are the kind that most Shopify merchants recognize. These third-party Shopify apps (made by an outside developer, not Shopify) are found in Shopify’s App Store and use standard authentication methods for access.

In other words, these apps were built to serve any Shopify store, so there is a level of shoot-to-the-center programming that is necessary to do the most good for the broadest audience. While there may be some small customization features within a public app, don’t expect many specific solutions to your own specific problems.

Public apps can be a great way for store owners to try out a solution for their store to see if it makes their life easier… or just creates another headache. The investment is usually minimal and the improvement in your store’s functionality can be greatly improved.

Private Apps

If public apps aren’t getting the job done, then private apps are an excellent option. A developer can create an app to do exactly what you need, when you need it.

  • Complex procedures can be automated.
  • Data can be collected and transferred instantly.
  • Reports can be generated and delivered directly to you.
  • Sales can get a boost from email campaigns, shopping cart reminders, and upselling techniques.

It might be time for you to look at a private app if you’re currently using several apps to try to keep your store running smoothly, or if you’re frustrated by limitations with public apps.

Technical Considerations

Private apps are built to serve one store only – yours. They’re able to communicate smoothly with Shopify because they use the same APIs as Shopify, but they use a different authentication API. This difference is why private apps can only work with one store at a time.

Private apps, additionally, cannot use the Embedded App SDK APIs, which means you can’t embed a private app into the Shopify admin area.

If you need an app to help you manage frontend issues (the part of your store that the customers see), private apps have a harder time handling those. However, there is a workaround. A developer can create an unlisted app within Shopify that is only accessible to you – same APIs, same authentication process as public apps, but only you can use it.

Overall, I recommend working with a Shopify partner or creating a partner account and creating public or unlisted apps. Even if you only want to use it for your single store, having access to the full set of Shopify APIs including the Embedded App SDK is worth the extra work.

Public or Private Apps – Does It Matter?

When you’re setting up an app to work with Shopify, does make a difference whether it is a public app or a private app? The answer is yes.

In addition to the authentication API (OAuth) and the Embedded App SDK mentioned above, there are two more important issues to consider.

First is that once you make a commitment to have a private or public app, it can be difficult to switch to the other format because of the different authentication codes that are needed. And it’s possible that data might need to be converted in order for compatibility to be complete. It can be done, but it’s better to pick the right format in the beginning.

What may be the most important factor, depending on your funding sources, is what you can pay for app support. App Store selections are obviously going to be more affordable because the developers are counting on lots of store owners to support their work, not just you.

Your Store, Your Choice

If you’re having trouble knowing what kind of apps are the best fit for your store, contact a developer you trust to help you navigate all of the issues you’re facing. They can help you pinpoint what’s not working for you and determine the solutions that a custom app can provide.

I have these conversations with clients all the time, and trust me – you can save yourself a lot of time by spending a few minutes with someone who’s immersed in these issues and has seen how the true successes work.

Good developers are just as eager as you are to find streamlined solutions that make your business work harder for you without crushing you in the process. So if you’re looking for an app to help shoulder your Shopify store’s workload, make sure you contact an app developer and get their guidance.

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Eric Davis helps ecommerce entrepreneurs customize their Shopify stores using public, private, and unlisted apps. He has created a free course to teach Shopify store owners how private apps work, what they can and can't do, and over a dozen examples of how they can increase your revenue. Get that course here.

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