These 5 Apps Will Help Take Your Shopify Store to the Next Level.

My e-commerce business has been running on Shopify for a good few years now. It’s a fantastic platform, but it doesn’t do everything we need straight out of the box.

Here are five services that are worth every penny if you want to streamline your operation, free up your time, or provide a better service to your customers.

None of the links I provide here are affiliate links. I have no connection to these companies whatsoever, apart from being a satisfied customer, of course. Prices are correct at the time of writing this and are meant as an indication only.

Without further ado, here is the list (in no particular order).

1. Shipstation (from $20/month)

I can’t imagine our business without Shipstation. Connect your courier accounts, connect your Shopify store, and you’re good to go.

The real power is in the automation. Shipstation allows you to create all kinds of shipping rules, depending on what’s in the order or where it’s going (among many other things). It’ll create picking lists and shipping labels for you, and even send bespoke emails to your customers.

Shipstation helps us to process all our orders within minutes, and it never puts a foot wrong.

Find out more here.

2. Parcelify ($14.99/month)

Shipstation depends on getting good information from your store, and although Shopify has some shipping customisation built in, it’s not going to be enough for most businesses. Parcelify is a neat little app that serves shipping options to your customer whilst they’re inside your store (before they check out).

Crucially, these options can be configured based on their postal code (among other things) which allows you to restrict certain products to certain geographical areas easily and reliably. It takes a few hours to get set up, but we’ve used this app for years, and it’s been an absolute peach.

Find out more here.

3. Locksmith App (from $9/month)

Locksmith allows us to hide specific products, collections, or pages on our store.

You can grant customers access to these otherwise hidden areas in a variety of ways. You can give them a password, or send them a ‘magic link’. The app can even check if the customer is on your email list, or if you assigned them a tag within Shopify. These are just a few examples, the list of ways people can access your secret URLs is long.

The app is well-designed, easy to use and allows you to easily create private areas on your site (maybe for wholesale customers) or access to exclusive products.

Find out more here.

4. Re-Amaze (from $29/month)

Bring all your customer service channels together in one place. Social Media, email, on-site chat support and wherever else your customers like to talk to you. This platform saves us so much time. The software is smart too and will suggest support articles intelligently. You can create chatbots to guide your customer through the buying experience, or make product recommendations based on their answers to questions.

Response templates help save us a tonne of time, and the software manages to deliver the right balance of personalised service and time efficient support.

Find out more here.

5. SEO Manager ($20/month)

Not exciting this one, but unless you are super skilled in SEO, this app really helps you to keep on top of the basics. I’d say it’s worthwhile purely for its ability to monitor for and sort out broken links, but it does a lot more than that. We use it to identify keywords and ensure that we rank for them in Google.

Find out more here.

These apps and platforms easily pay for themselves, most of them many times over. As your store grows, it’s important to find tools that can save you and your team precious time so that you can focus on what’s important.

How about you? Have you found any software solutions that have helped your business to level up?

What To-Do?

Apple User? You Already Have (Almost) Everything You Need.

To-do apps are plentiful. Given that there are so many around, why has it been so difficult to find one that meets my needs?

After years spent trying most of them, I’m finally beginning to figure it out. For the first time, I now have software and a system in place that allows me to stay organised and on top of my priorities. Better still, it costs me almost nothing.

I now spend hardly any time creating lists, shuffling tasks around, or any of that stuff. My system is lightweight, reliable and never gets in the way of me actually doing things.

I’ll tell you exactly how everything works, but as is usually the case, the story of why this was ever so difficult is where the real gold is.

Before we go any further, I’m immersed in the Apple ecosystem (phone, watch, desktop, laptop). If you’re not, then some of this is not going to apply to you.

In a recent post, I wrote about how I use Drafts. Not because it is impressive software (which it is), but because it supports a different way of working, as far as capturing ideas and thoughts goes.

The main conclusions I came to in that piece are that software should be simple, flexible, fast, and reliable. Why? Well, because foremost, these are tools. I use them to help me ‘keep going’. One sure fire way of knowing that I’m using the wrong software is when I find myself playing around in the menus too much, tweaking how the interface looks or searching for squirrelled-away hacks to customise the experience in some weird and probably pointless way.

When the tools are right, they just work and that means I can get on with my work.

So, why has it been so hard to get here? The main issue is that I’m never clear enough about what I actually need. Most task management software will do a lot of stuff I don’t need it to do. These ‘to-do’ apps try to be project management platforms, and they always fall short in some way.

Unnecessary complexity is never a good thing. It’s true in life, and it’s especially true with software.

Another thing. On some level, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that paid options are always going to be better than free ones. Does this happen to you? If it costs £5/7/9 each month to use it, it must be remarkable, right?

At the risk of stating the obvious, Apple’s native apps are always going to be better integrated into the OS than anything else could ever hope to be. Syncing between devices is flawless. There’s no crashing, no freezing, no delays. Share extensions, the ability to control these apps using Siri on any of your devices, and complimentary aesthetics make for a more coherent experience.

The main criticism you’re going to hear when it comes to native Apple apps is that they ‘don’t have enough features’. For me though, this is a strength and if they actually cost any money, it would be a huge selling point too.

Yep, I’ve tried several calendar apps, but I’ve been using nothing but the Apple Calendar for a good few years now. It’s the same story for tasks. I’ve flirted with no end of competitors in that space, but I’m back with Apple Reminders. I have no intention of going anywhere else.

Still, there is a final piece in this puzzle that Apple have not been able to provide for me.

I want my tasks (from Reminders) and my appointments (from all my various calendars) in one place. I want an at-a-glance view of what I have going on each day and I want to organise those things quickly and intelligently, so that I actually get everything done. This is where Sorted3 comes in.

Sorted3 takes everything from Reminders and Calendar and puts it into one list. Each event (from Calendar) or ‘to-do’ (from Reminders) has a checkbox that you can tick off as you complete a task or finish a meeting, etc. This is a big time-saver. No more switching between two apps, with that uneasy feeling that you may have forgotten something. This consolidated list is accessible through the Sorted3 app or through the app’s widgets that you can display on your iPhone, Watch and in macOS.

That’s not all. There’s also a fantastic ‘auto-arrange’ feature. This allows you to tell Sorted3 how long you expect a task to take, and the software then works out when you should do each task. It works well, and you can get into a lot of detail, telling the software how much of a break you need in-between tasks, or whether something needs to happen at a specific time, for example.

The way you get your events into Sorted3 is particularly impressive. Calendar events appear after you sync your calendars (I have 11 calendars linked and nothing ever gets missed). It’s how the software deals with Reminders that is most impressive, though.

Let’s say I want to set a to-do. I do this in the usual way in Reminders (either by using Drafts, or via Siri, the Share extension in iOs/macOS etc). This information gets plucked from Reminders by Sorted3 within seconds and placed into the app’s inbox for further processing if necessary. Information already entered in the original Reminder or Calendar event (locations, due dates, recurrences etc.) is preserved.

The Reminder then vanishes from Reminders, keeping everything clean and tidy.

Of course, you can also create your own events directly in Sorted3 too. It’s quick and easy. The interface is clean, minimal, and intuitive, and you can even create different lists or use tags if you want to categorise your tasks like that. This can be handy. If I’m sat in front of my computer and in the mood to power through some admin, I’ll pull everything with an ‘admin’ tag and get some of those things ticked off whilst I’m in that particular frame of mind.

Sorted3 does something very clever. It builds on the strengths of Apple’s native apps, brings them together and adds useful, well-designed features, that help you stay organised and in control of your day.

This whole approach is apparently referred to as ‘hyper-scheduling’, a new concept for me. I’m surprised that I took to it too, as I’m usually not someone who likes things too rigidly planned.

I love it how my day always feels in control now. I know exactly what I’m doing and how much time I have to do other things. Anything I don’t complete carries over to the next day, but there’s something about how it all works that means this rarely happens. I suspect this is something to do with how the software helps me to get a more realistic sense of what it’s possible to achieve in a given period. I also go through my Sorted3 inbox at the end of every working day to set things up for the following day, which means I always know what the next day looks like. This helps me relax in the evenings and even helps me to wind down and sleep better.

What else do I like? – the cost. Sorted3 is a one off payment of around $40 at the time of writing. This includes Mac and iOS apps for iPhone and Watch. No subscriptions. If you do everything in iOS, then you only need to pay $15. There is a free version, but the ‘Pro’ versions represent excellent value for money. Of course, Reminders, and Calendars come ‘free’ with Apple hardware. When I started using Sorted3, there was a free trial. Set up took less than five minutes and I signed up for the Pro version within 48 hours. I haven’t regretted it for a moment since.

In summary, using Apple native apps makes a lot of sense for many reasons. By adding one more low-cost app, you can build on their strengths and elevate their usefulness. You’ll have a bulletproof, low cost, slick, and easy to use system for staying organised. I’d recommend giving it a try.

The Apple Watch Series 2

Still the best version at five years old?

I’ve had the second version of the Apple Watch for approaching five years now. As each new version is released, I wonder whether I will upgrade. So far at least, I’ve resisted.

Five years ago, the appeal was that I would be less tied to my phone. In that respect, it was successful. Notifications can be configured in so many different ways that there is a good chance you can find the perfect arrangement.

I soon realised that the ongoing battle with notifications was about something else, so these days those are mostly off, most of the time.

I had started to get real value from a few features though, and those are the things that I still use and would miss if I didn’t have the watch.

The thing that has surprised me most about the watch is how rugged it is. Mine gets some serious abuse. My dog targets it in our wrestling sessions and still, it has no scratches on the glass. The casing has picked up a few scars, but they don’t bother me at all. I really hadn’t expected it to be this tough.

A few other features have proved useful, but I only use them occasionally. Walking directions in an unfamiliar city, make it easy to get around confidently and quickly, for example.

Other features are plain annoying. Some apps are slow, bordering on unresponsive at times. For me, that doesn’t matter, I don’t use those. If I was more submerged in the ecosystem though, it would annoy me.

Poor battery life has ended up being something that doesn’t affect my experience at all. Limitations around battery life actually helped me figure out how I wanted to use the watch.

Whilst there are things that would make me think about upgrading to a newer model, I’m pretty happy with my current watch. Here is how the device currently fits into my life.

Starting in the late afternoon, I finish work and put the watch on charge. At this point, I switch to my old Casio G Shock. It always felt good to be completely disconnected. There is something very pleasing about wearing a watch that doesn’t do much else besides tell the time.

I go back to the Apple Watch just before bedtime. I have a recurring silent alarm for the next morning. This is the best feature for me. Silent alarms work the same as other alarms, except when I go to bed I put the watch into ‘theatre mode’. This keeps the haptic feedback on but silences the watch and keeps the screen dark.

Silent alarms have woken me up reliably for years. Crucially, it’s just me who gets woken, my wife’s slumber remains undisturbed. The watch also does a decent job of recording my sleep (I use an app called Autosleep for that).

I’ll potentially do a bit of work first thing, and then it’s out for a walk with the dog. The watch tracks this, which leads to the gratifying, but possibly-not-really -all-that-useful closing of the activity rings.

Back home and the watch is back on the charger while I shower and deal with a few domestic things. It is reinstalled on my wrist as I leave the house for work. During the day, I’ll get some useful notifications from the watch, but I’ll rarely do much else with it, save dictating the odd reminder to Siri or setting a timer.

On the way home, I may drop in somewhere to buy something, and that’s where we see another killer feature. Apple Pay on any watch is a dream. About as hassle-free as you can get, and even more so when wearing masks gets in the way of paying for stuff.

There are a few things that the watch does really well, and for me, those things make it worth having. I may be using a tiny proportion of its capabilities, but it’s enough.

Later versions of the watch have brought improvements, of course. Still, it’s not like any of these watches have been aesthetically compelling, so their charms in that department are not difficult to resist.

Improvements to battery life are always welcome, but irrelevant in my use case. I want to avoid wearing it all the time, so charging it a couple of times a day is no big deal. Of course, not having to charge as often, or faster charging would be an improvement.

There are a couple of things that make me think I may upgrade at some point.

First up, if the sleep tracking is better on the later versions, I’d be tempted. I’d love to know more about this (please let me know in the comments if you have experience with this feature). I try to make sleep a priority in my life, and having data that shows me how it’s going is useful. Autosleep does a good job for a third-party app, but I can’t help feeling that if Apple have made a real attempt to do a good job with this feature, it could be almost worth upgrading for.

Second, a switch to a SIM enabled version. It would be handy to be able to leave my iPhone at home every so often. I could lose that weight but still be connected to the world, or listen to something as I walk. That’s appealing.

Buying a Series 7 watch in the required specification would be an outlay of just under £500, hard to justify because I’m pretty happy already. Apple is good at reeling me in though, so who knows what they’ll come up with in subsequent versions, I wouldn’t be surprised if they change things up a fair bit with the next ones.

It’s satisfying that it still works, still does what I need it to do. In that respect, the Apple Watch has been a really solid investment. It feels good to be using tech that is ‘old’. I can be seduced by shiny new things occasionally and, at the same time, I want to consume less. Is it Apple’s lack of innovation with the Watch, or the fact that they made such a good one five years ago, that’s making me feel contented with what I have?

Either way, I’m happy that, for once, I have a device that I’m not itching to upgrade anytime soon.

This app changed how I work.

Every so often, a piece of software comes along that is so helpful it changes how I do my digital work. This doesn’t happen regularly, and this makes ‘Drafts’ remarkable.

Ideas come first for most of us. We think of something, and then we immediately think about the best way to capture it. The best way to capture it depends on what we plan to do with it, and so the options are many.

We immediately find ourselves in a situation where several decisions need making before we can get any further. Which detracts from the important thing, that idea you had a moment ago.

This is where Drafts comes in.

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Finally, an App That Will Help You Capture Everything.

Trying to find the right productivity apps to use gets a lot easier if you give up the illusion that there is something out there that will do everything you want it to do perfectly.

Apps that are outstanding in some ways will almost always have issues that bug you. The trick is to see if you can live with the limitations and incorporate those killer features into your workflow.

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