Progressive Web Apps offer some of the advantages of native mobile apps without forcing consumers to download the app from the Apple or Android app store. But there are downsides to PWAs. Retailers may find that the best course is to make use of both PWAs and native apps.
As brands were figuring out the most effective ways of reaching people via their desktop computers, people were transferring their allegiance—and attention—to their mobile phones. This has posed new problems for companies, as they work to find the best way to create a mobile experience that keeps users engaged while making it easy for them to make it through every stage of the customer journey.
For retailers who are constantly looking for ways to maximize their revenues, finding the ideal format for these experiences can be a complicated, costly process. After all, having to build a custom app for your website that not only allows people to browse the products you have on offer, but also complete the purchasing process, requires a significant amount of technical expertise, as well as time and money. Alternatively, retailers can choose to focus on their existing infrastructure by creating a mobile-friendly version of their websites, which would then give users the ability to perform all the same actions as the desktop website without having to download a separate application.
But there’s also a third option, one that takes the best of both approaches: the creation of a Progressive Web App (PWA). While there is a lot of debate as to what the exact definition of a PWA is, Google defines progressive web apps as “user experiences that have the reach of the web” while also being reliable, “even in uncertain network conditions” and able to respond quickly to user interactions, with the feel of “a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.” Or, to put it more simply, PWAs are apps that can be accessed through the web, instead of having to be downloaded from an app store.
This is not to say that retailers should not have native apps. A report by Comscore found that mobile apps were responsible for 57 percent of all digital media usage, whereas research from eMarketer noted that mobile apps accounted for more than 90 percent of time spent on the internet using a smartphone. But, as the eMarketer report also points out, nearly half of that time is spent “in an individual’s top app” —and the likelihood of a retailer’s app being any individual’s favorite app is relatively low, given competition from the likes of Facebook and Spotify.
Benefits of PWAs
In this case, having a PWA is a great way to bring the functionality of the native app to a retailer’s mobile experience. Not only that, it also confers several benefits. First of all, because of the technical requirements of the web app itself, it’s able to load much faster, even under less than ideal network conditions. Given that 53 percent of users say they will leave a site if it takes too long (ie. more than 3 seconds) to load, speed is of the essence, and any tool that could reduce the amount of lag that users experience will help improve conversion rates. Secondly, depending on their device, users are given the option to download these apps to their home page, thus eliminating the need to visit the app store—and navigate off of the website. Depending on the permissions given, PWAs can also send people push notifications, thus raising awareness and ensuring that the brand remains top-of-mind with consumers.
For brands, it might seem like a no-brainer to pivot to PWAs, especially considering that they’re easy for people to access, don’t require approval from the Apple and Android app stores, and are designed to maximize reliability and ease of use. However, there are also a few limitations that need to be considered. First and foremost, it’s significantly harder for iPhone users to save PWAs to their home screens—and Apple’s strict privacy protocols can make it difficult for web-only PWAs to operate properly. With iPhone users making up 44.6 percent of all smartphone users in the United States, it’s important that retailers be able to provide everyone with an experience that encourages brand loyalty, instead of making people abandon the process in frustration.
This is where having a native app comes in handy. Designed well, a native app can offer an experience that is fast, visually appealing, and makes use of smartphone features, such as the camera or GPS. People can also save their personal and payment information on those apps without fear that the app will wipe it after a few days, as is possible with PWAs, thus making the shopping experience more efficient. Research also indicates that customers go back to shopping apps three times more often than they do for mobile websites, which shows that native apps are an effective tool for increasing customer loyalty.
Both PWAs and native mobile apps offer significant advantages to retailers, which is why they shouldn’t limit themselves to one or the other. Each has a specific role to play in furthering the customer journey and encouraging customers to stay loyal—and, given the struggle so many retailers face, and the need to capitalize on e-commerce, it’s best to cover as many bases as possible.
By implementing both a PWA and a native app, retailers will be able to develop a comprehensive mobile strategy that takes into account how people use their smartphones and maximizes return.