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Low-Code And No-Code Tools: Boost Your App And Theme Development Workflow

low-code-and-no-code-tools:-boost-your-app-and-theme-development-workflow

Low-code and no-code technologies are on the rise. Gartner projects that the market for low-code technologies will grow 20 percent this year to hit $27 billion. And low-code application platforms are the main driver of this growth. With new no-code and low-code tools entering the Shopify market too, you’re now presented with an excellent opportunity to implement this approach in your everyday business.

In this article, we’ll cover the difference between low-code and no-code technologies and how you can use them to streamline your work with clients and introduce new low- and no-code-powered services to your current offerings.

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What is low-code and no-code, and why are they gaining popularity?

Low-code and no-code are ways of developing apps and integrations with a minimal amount of development work or, in the case of no-code, no custom code work at all. They’re primarily used for three major reasons: speed, efficiency, and low cost. They allow for faster deployment of public and custom Shopify apps, meaning teams can focus on more important, complex tasks. 

To illustrate the real-world applications of these solutions, a recent survey reported that most respondents use low-code and no-code tools to create new applications and automate workflows, data collection, and reporting. The benefits, according to those respondents, were improved productivity, reduced app development time, and being able to automate manual processes.

This goes a long way to explaining why these tools are gaining popularity with agencies, developers, and freelancers alike. It provides businesses with a lean approach to app development that offers greater flexibility of resource allocation. You have likely used many of these tools in the past without even realizing they are categorized as low-code or no-code. 

Our team at The Taproom, for example, regularly uses Zapier to automate certain tasks: connecting form data to Google Sheets, signing leads up to our mailing list, and sending a message to our group Slack channel when a new lead completes our new project application. 

We’re also Shopify Flow power users; we always look for opportunities to quickly automate a task for a merchant, such as tagging a customer as VIP after placing a large order, to save our team development time and make it easy for our clients to implement changes in the future.

Depending on whether you use low-code or no-code, you have a much wider pool of talent on your team from which you can assign tasks related to developing a new tool. People on your marketing team with no experience in coding can get involved with no-code apps, freeing up time for developers to work on tasks that really need their attention and expertise. For example, our data specialist can handle the entire data migration process without having to write a line of code by using Matrixify, a no-code tool for data import and export.

Let’s take a deeper look at both low-code and no-code to understand where they fit in and how you might be able to use them in your own processes.

Low-code

Low-code is a way of creating new apps that allows developers of any skill level to quickly design them with a minimal amount of hand-coding. It offers what’s essentially a shortcut, taking a drag-and-drop approach by allowing developers to use blocks of existing code and plugging them into a workflow. 

This approach means that developers can reduce the amount of time they spend hand-coding the same elements from other similar builds, and focus instead on the custom elements that make that app unique. The more skilled the developer, the faster they’ll be able to work and the more they’ll be able to do with this low-code approach.

Developers can reduce the amount of time they spend hand-coding the same elements from other similar builds, and focus instead on the custom elements that make that app unique.

Who low-code is useful for

This is a particularly useful tool for teams that want to develop and deploy certain types of apps and tools quickly, that use a lot of similar base code to other apps they’ve previously developed, or that base code already exists within the low-code tool. Most commonly, low-code is used for integrations, automations, customer service, ecommerce, data analysis, and web apps. 

When to use low-code

Low-code solutions are best-suited for freelancers and teams who are looking to create efficiencies in their workflows while also having some level of control over the code.

Low-code solutions are best-suited for freelancers and teams who are looking to create efficiencies in their workflows while also having some level of control over the code.

Mechanic is an excellent example of a Shopify app that serves this purpose. This development and automation platform essentially replaces a significant amount of custom app development you may do on your own, while being able to customize the workflows and write your own Liquid code to meet a client’s specific needs. Mechanic starts at $9/month and scales based on the merchant’s Shopify plan.

Screenshot of an example of
Similar to creating a collection within Shopify or using Shopify Flow, Mechanic allows you to create tasks without writing a line of code.
Screenshot of an example of additional Liquid script you can add to customize your workflow.
If you want to get more granular with your workflow, you can write your own script using Liquid.

No-Code

As the name might suggest, no-code doesn’t require any hand-coding during creation and deployment. It’s also typically a drag-and-drop approach, but designed for those who are unfamiliar with coding and programming languages who still want to develop a specific solution. 

Everything the user needs will typically be included within the building tool. A good example is Shopify’s store builder, which enables merchants to feasibly design and build a basic storefront with no coding experience. 

In short, no-code makes it much easier to assign non-developer team members to tasks to produce the desired result. 

Who no-code is useful for

As mentioned above, this is going to be most useful for those on your team who don’t have any coding experience. The drag-and-drop approach to building apps, integrations, and automations means that anyone with some basic training and knowledge can use these platforms and build on them. 

No-code is also useful for merchants. By implementing no-code automation tools into their store, they can automate a large number of tasks for which they may previously have needed custom development.

When to use no-code

If you need a fairly simple front end solution, and you need it quickly, no-code is a good option. 

A best practice for no-code is to consider it within the wider framework of a project or internal infrastructure to ensure that anyone working with no-code and no knowledge of development isn’t going to interfere with systems and processes already in place. Read through a no-code solution’s documentation to make sure the solution will meet your needs. Spend some time scoping out a full solution using the tool before you begin the work, so you have a plan of action in place and don’t have to start from scratch if the tool ends up not working for you.

As mentioned above, Zapier is a good example of a no-code solution. It enables users to take advantage of webhooks to connect different apps and design automations without having to actually hand-code the connections themselves. 

Another excellent example is Alloy. Built with similar underlying technologies as Zapier, Alloy makes it easy for Shopify merchants to set up for their store automatically. Alloy provides large merchants with varying levels of workflow, and runs dependent on merchant needs. Engineers can use Alloy’s SDK to build custom connections to invoke workflows directly from your code while keeping the connections clean and understandable for non-technical users.

Screenshot of a no-code drag-and-drop editor function, showing Action Blocks from a column on the left being dragged into a flow sequence on the right.
Alloy’s drag-and-drop workflow editor is easy to use for non-technical users, while also providing an SDK for engineers to invoke workflows where needed.

How to use low- and no-code tools to enhance your work with clients

Before we dive into how to use low- and no-code tools within your own team, let’s clear up a couple of potential misconceptions. 

First, these solutions are not meant to reduce the importance of developers and data scientists. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. Low-code and no-code solutions take care of all the time-consuming, basic work, allowing for a much more efficient use of time for those key members on your team. 

Second, these solutions don’t take anything away from client projects; you aren’t delivering a lesser product just because you’re leveraging this approach. Low-code and no-code solutions greatly improve efficiency and speed up the process of developing a number of apps and integrations for clients, meaning their projects are completed faster and to a high standard. Your team is instead focusing on those parts of a client project that require greater finesse and customization. 

Now, let’s get onto how you can take advantage of low-code and no-code tools within your organization.

Theme customizations

Tools such as Builder.io and Shogun are an excellent way to facilitate the theme development process for clients. Instead of building custom landing pages for merchants, you can instead focus on building out landing pages and custom components in a drag-and-drop user interface, saving both your client’s money and your team’s time, so you can concentrate on more complex projects.

Public and custom app development

Whether you’re building a middleware service to connect two apps or building a more custom experience, tools such as Mechanic and Alloy Embedded can significantly speed up your development time. These tools allow you to take a serverless approach with a predetermined user interface, giving you the opportunity to focus on the actual integration instead of the busy work of building out an app’s scaffolding and server configuration. If you choose a third-party no- or low-code solution for building a public app, make sure any dependencies you introduce into your development process will continue to be supported well into the future.

Building your own no-code or low-code app

As evidenced by the tools mentioned above, no-code and low-code solutions are saving merchants hours per day by using automated workflows for operational tasks. Agencies and freelancers love using these tools to cut down on development time for projects, which in turn increases profit margins on client work.

In November 2020, FollowAnalytics reported that 74 percent of the top 50 retail apps are now a hybrid mix of low- and no-code and traditional native development. With this in mind, you’re in good company if you choose to take a hybrid approach to Shopify app development. Not only will it speed up the time your team spends building, but incorporating the no-code paradigm into your app can in turn save your future customers time and money by using your app.

Low-code and no-code tools are your friends, not enemies

Initially, it may seem like the existence of low-code and no-code tooling only takes work away from your client workload. However, these tools should be seen as extensions of your capabilities rather than being in competition with them. 

If you’ve never built a Shopify app, for example, the process could be daunting—especially if you’re primarily focused on front end development. But by leveraging the tools that already exist, you can begin exploring a new service offering of building out interactivity with two services via a middleware app developed on top of a tool such as Mechanic without ever having to know how to configure your own server.

Remember: Low-code and no-code tools are opportunities, not threats. Add them to your arsenal and embrace the new capabilities they bring to your workflow.

This article originally appeared on the Shopify Web Design and Development blog and is made available here to educate and cast a wider net of discovery.
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