Shopify’s App Store Is Good and Bad, Says ‘Unofficial’ Expert

Kurt Elster’s”The Unofficial Shopify Podcast” has been downloaded over 1 million times. His service, Ethercycle, helps Shopify merchants drive profit and revenue. Along with his newsletter at contains hints and strategies to scale a Shopify shop.

“I eat, sleep, and breathe Shopify. I have a Shopify license plate,” Elster told me.

You may call Elster the unauthorized Mr. Shopify. I recently spoke with him about the platform, notable merchants, along with his pet peeves, among other subjects. What follows is the whole audio version of the conversation along with a transcript, which can be edited for clarity and length.

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Eric Bandholz: Tell us about yourself.

Kurt Elster: I have been a Shopify specialist since 2011. I’ve worked on Shopify exclusively since 2015. I eat, sleep, and breathe Shopify. I have a Shopify license plate.

Bandholz: Is Shopify the place to be? Is it hot?

Elster: Yes. More than a million merchants are on Shopify. Some of the actual power of it’s the partner ecosystem. They are up to 12,000 partners. Having access to an army of people who can assist you to grow your shop, whether it’s via apps, integrations, or services, adds a bunch of value to the center platform.

Bandholz: What are you seeing from individuals who reach out to you for consulting? Are they bigger companies on the Shopify Plus side? Or startups?

Elster: It’s all over the board. Right now there’s a gold rush into ecommerce. I’m seeing new store builds than previously. Our clientele will be Shopify merchants who’ve bootstrapped and validated their enterprise. They approach us to take it to another level.

We do a good deal of front-end work, preparing the theme. That’s the toughest part for merchants. Many merchants can not see the forest through the trees on their own site. They spend more time on it than anyone else, making it hard to see minor difficulties. So using a third party do it may be beneficial.

Bandholz: What are a few of the biggest mistakes people make on Shopify?

Elster: The best thing about Shopify is that the app ecosystem — the app shop. And the worst part about Shopify is your app shop. Regardless of what integration or feature you require, there’s likely one or more apps for this. And, probably, they are all reasonably priced. Some will even be free. Nevertheless, it is easy to become hooked on apps. You begin playing app roulette. You think,”If I only get the best one, it is likely to seriously boost my sales.”

Well, no, it does not work like that. But the bigger problem is because you put in these apps, each one has a payload. Each one adds weight to the website, and they also enhance your monthly recurring expenditures. So in case you’ve got one app, fine. If you have got eight apps, fine. But 40 apps — that is a problem.

I’ve been retained more times than I can count merely to find out installed apps — which ones to keep and which to eliminate. So that is a trap that individuals can fall into. It’s comparable to WordPress plugins.

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My current pet peeve is the primary menu. It is the front door to an ecommerce website. It is how visitors find products. However, if I load up a random independent online store, the main menu is”Home,””About,””Blog,””Contact,” and then there is a single word that says”Shop.” And it is a drop-down menu. That’s the main part! It is entirely concealed behind a drop-down.

Proceed to major ecommerce websites. None of them do this. The main menu is dedicated to shopping. All that other stuff is in a secondary menu or the footer.

Bandholz: Tell us about some innovative brands.

Elster: My favourite client right now is Hoonigan, an automotive lifestyle brand. They market lifestyle apparel, mainly. At one point years ago they had the most viral movie on YouTube for a car video named Gymkhana that is like half driving. Think if you combined driving and, I do not understand, a Cirque de Soleil show. It is quite the activity.

It is stunt driving, essentially. It is very cool. So it went viral, and an automotive lifestyle brand was born from that. It’s a really creative group, about 30 people in Long Beach, California. They do a phenomenal job in their advertising, their designs, and their advertisements. They’ve built a community. That is the magic that a whole lot of brands overlook — building a real sense of community.

Bandholz: We have talked about Shopify topics. Do you have recommendations for topics? There are tons of them.

Elster: I have opinions on Shopify topics . So does the motif team at Shopify. I’ve talked to members of the team in the various Shopify Unite conventions. The group is extremely selective about what is in the theme shop. Themes which are finally approved typically have limited settings and options to make them easier to use and less intimidating.

My favorite in the past few years is the Turbo theme by from the Sandbox. They have been consistently upgrading it. I really like it. I used it on [Jay] Leno’s Garage. I have used it on CORSA Performance. Only an endless list of websites.

But although Out of the Sandbox has many topics from the shop (including popular ones like Parallax and Retina), Turbo isn’t in there. That is because it has a slew of options jammed into it. I don’t think it would be approved since it is intimidating to a different merchant.

There is a balance there. If you are starting your first Shopify shop, I would not begin with a large, expensive theme. I would begin with a simple free theme and then switch to a larger, more involved one after.

And the last thing I’d do is purchase a theme from whatever market. Anytime we have used themes outside the Shopify store, we’ve regretted it. Again, the staff is extremely stringent about what gets in there.

Bandholz: So how can you differentiate websites once the bones are the same?

Elster: a common fear. It is unfounded, however.

By way of instance, I live in a subdivision with, possibly, 200 homes. Three are equal to mine. All 3 seem completely different because they have different landscaping, different lots, they face different directions, and they have different decor and paint. They do not look like the exact same house.

The exact same is true of topics and much more so. A theme is only a means to showcase your content and brandnew. But do not use the default styling, colors, and fonts and simply fit your own logo. At the very least, change the colours and typography to coincide with the brand. It seems simple, but a great deal of people bypass it. Change the design of this header. That will instantly alter the whole feel.

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Bandholz: a great deal of companies with enormous catalogs have shied away from Shopify. Is that a valid fear?

Elster: No. We are working on a big site right now. I wish it had been public so that I could tell you the title. It’d 80,000 products when we began working on it. It currently has 120,000. From the end of the year, we will have 200,000.

Certainly we had to handle some things. But the site is currently among the quickest I’ve ever worked on. When we first began, it took 30 to 40 minutes to load a set page due to the amount of products we had been filtering through. However, Shopify is giving us new technologies like React. A catalogue with six figures worth of merchandise can load in two to three seconds.

Bandholz: I could talk all day about Shopify. Unfortunately, we do not have all day. How can our listeners find you?

Elster: My Twitter manage is @Kurtinc. Apart from Twitter, the best way to reach me is through my newsletter. Head to, subscribe to my newsletter. It comes from my true email address. You may hit reply, and it’ll go to my inbox.