When the number of mobile users surpassed desktop users for the first time in 2015, industry moguls projected that the mobile world had officially “begun”. This statistic also marked a significant increase in webmasters dedicated to overhauling their sites to be more mobile-friendly. From then to now, mobile has continued to grow, solidifying its role in our global marketplace and ultimately signaling to businesses that they must stay competitive by creating their own mobile apps.

Currently, there are about 10 billion people worldwide who own a smartphone, and experts are predicting that consumers who are using their mobile devices to acquire goods and services will continue to drive growth in eCommerce. According to market research company eMarketer, retail e-commerce sales will even reach $338.02 billion by 2020 and by 2021, thereby making up almost three quarters (72.9 percent) of overall e-commerce sales worldwide. 

Estimated Mobile E-Commerce Sales Worldwide

Source: https://www.statista.com/chart/13139/estimated-worldwide-mobile-e-commerce-sales/

Important mobile statistics for eCommerce business owners:

  • 79% of customers order products and services using a mobile phone;
  • 62% of people who own a smartphone have bought a product or service using their device in the past six months;
  • 53% of smartphone users buy from company-specific apps;
  • Mobile buyers spend 2x the money that desktop and tablet users spend in an eCommerce store;
  • 89% of users are using mobile retail apps rather than going to mobile websites;
  • 80% of smartphone users are will do business with companies with mobile sites or apps repeatedly, especially if the apps provided answers to their questions. 

What could these statistics mean for you?

These statistics mean that investing in a mobile app now can give you a competitive advantage over eCommerce business owners who are still choosing to stick with their stores’ mobile version and who are not yet willing to innovate in such a way. 

Also, as the ratio between desktop and mobile usage for eCommerce begins to shift, it’s obvious that developing a mobile app is the way to go if you’re looking to build your brand and boost your profits. There is an unlimited number of ways that a mobile app can transform your eCommerce business.

The cost of creating an app

Ask any developer or software agency how much it will cost to have an app custom-built for your business, and they’ll likely shrug and say something like, “It depends.”

That’s because the price you need to pay for an app will always depend on three variable elements: (1) technical elements, (2) design features, and (3) maintenance costs. For instance, an app that costs $25,000 might have all the necessary capabilities for a small business, but would nevertheless not be able to compete with design functionalities costing somewhere in the 100 to 200K range. With the latter being much more flexible, companies looking to scale are often willing to spend more.

If you’re selling multiple products and services, you should always have the growth mindset and you shouldn’t put a cap on the number of products that your app showcases just to save costs. If you do that, then you’re not just putting a limit to your store’s income, but you’re also giving other eCommerce apps a chance to steal your customers. 

Top factors that influence the cost of an eCommerce app


  • Scope

Let’s start with explaining what scope is. When developing an app, scope refers to everything that your app contains and how it functions. You might be thinking, “I only want users to be able to buy from my store.” That’s right, but if you think about it, there’s more to it than just putting an image of a product beside a price and allowing users to buy it using their mobile device. 

When we will classify the complexity of building an app, eCommerce apps will always be considered as more complex in scope because they need to gather analytics about user activity, involve a lot of screens, support real-time synchronization, and interact or integrate with any base. 

When defining the scope, you should indicate special functionalities and a list of features (that you want to see in the app). These features may include allowing users to add to their cart, browse products offline, or associate their spending threshold with rewards and promos. Having a clear scope will protect you and will also ensure that the project is delivered on time and on budget.

  • Platform

The number of platforms on which your app will be built (iOS, Android, Windows Phone) will also affect its cost. This is because an app will need multiple codebases if it is to be accessible on both Google Play and in the App Store. It will also require more time and investment depending on whether the app will be built natively using Swift or Java. Regardless, the quality of the result will be also higher.

  • Technical Features

It also goes without saying that the more complex the features of an app are, the more expensive it will be to have it developed. eCommerce apps often need third-party integrations, payment gateways, messaging features, admin panels, social media integrations, and even personalization or geolocation features to create that “personalized” experience for consumers, to approach and show products and services based on customers’ shopping habits, preferences, and geographic location. 

All these features will require extensive coding and subscription to third-party services, further affecting the cost of the app development project itself. From a development standpoint, there are a few features that are much harder to build and which require longer coding times, including apps that require interaction with Android-specific features (things beyond plain Java and standard APIs and libraries), apps that require push notifications to millions of users, and apps that will use mobile hardware such as camera, Bluetooth or GPS.

  • User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX)

Gone are the days when the design was all about creating visually appealing images that used creative colors and placement to sell. Now, in-app development, UI and UX cannot be separated. When designing an app, overall aesthetics need to be considered alongside a user’s experience. Just like creating landing pages for a website, designing the UI and UX of an app ensures that it has the ability to convert users into paying customers. 

Often, multiple people will work on your app during the design phase – so don’t be shocked when you’re provided an estimate that involves billable hours of more than just one design expert. If you prefer to have the app created by an in-house team, you’d be lucky if you’d find one person who can do both the UI and UX design for you.

To expand, a UX designers’ role is to ask questions such as Will this app solve the users’ problems? Will adding this button make it easier for users to do what they intend to do? Will adding this text here play a role in collecting necessary user data? They are generally marketers, designers, and project managers all rolled into one. 

On the other hand, UI designers are tasked with making the user interface intuitive, responsive, and “slick”, all to keep a user engaged. They work in areas where users directly interact with the product.

To summarize, often a good design will take up about 40 to 80 hours including wireframing and user-testing. Ultimately, the goal when testing is to find out whether users are moving through the desired customer journey. 

QA, Maintenance and Updates

While it is tempting to rule out any further expenses once the development and design phases are “done”, the truth is, QA and maintenance will still cost a lot of money. Testing (unit testing and system testing) an app’s functionality before launch, maintenance factors and necessary updates, and even fixing unexpected bugs are necessary to assure that an app functions during every phase, even post-launch. 

In all, maintenance costs account for about 25% of total app development costs for each year following its launch.

When we factor in the total costs mentioned above, a good estimate for an eCommerce app suited to your business ranges anywhere from $30,000 to $170,000. And while our hypothetical app developer was right in offering context as key to the cost of an eCommerce app, now you’re one step closer to weighing your options when considering who to hire for your next development initiative. Just remember, the investment that an eCommerce app requires is not a joke, but if your app stands out, it will be sure to 10x your profits.