What do Macy’s, Staples, Walmart and Target all have in common?
Aside from decades of U.S. retail dominance, all four retail behemoths have made the switch from responsive websites and native apps to progressive web apps (PWAs).
By the end of this article, there’s a good chance your brand will be next in line to join them.
What Is a Progressive Web App?
Progressive web apps have been around since 2015. They are the result of cooperation between some of the biggest tech brands in the world, writes How-To Geek Editor in Chief Chris Hoffman. Apple, Microsoft, Google and Mozilla are all working to create a new web application standard, which runs the same on all devices and in all browsers.
These apps are essentially a combination of the best features of mobile apps and traditional websites, explains Kevin Farrugia, Co-Founder of web and mobile application development company Incredible Web. It’s still a website, but it looks, feels and works like an app. It can even be saved to home screens and accessed offline just like other apps.
Progressive Web Apps vs. Native Apps vs. Responsive Websites
Does this mean that brands should automatically choose progressive web apps over native apps or responsive websites?
Perhaps, but not necessarily. There’s no doubt a native app can do things a PWA can’t, writes LingUpp Founder Victoria Collins. In particular, native apps can access other features of smartphones, like contact lists, location data and the camera. That gap might close in the future, but it’s still very much there at present.
In the view of Divante CEO Tom Karwatka, PWAs are definitely the future of eCommerce. “Although native mobile apps offer a wider spectrum of functionalities for the user, Progressive Web Apps present themselves as the new standard for mobile-first solutions,” he says. “PWAs are a rapidly developing technology and each day we see new engaging features within.”
What’s really important, according to the team at Mobomo, is that eCommerce brands can’t rely on a website alone. “To improve conversions and reduce friction, companies must offer consumers a convenient and top-of-mind option that makes it as easy and pleasant as possible for them to browse, add to cart, and buy – not just once, but every time.”
Why Your Store Needs a Progressive Web App
Still not convinced? Here are four reasons why you should be building progressive web apps over native apps.
Faster to Develop and Easier to Maintain
It’s faster and cheaper to build a PWA compared to a native app, writes Andrew Gazdecki, Chief Revenue Officer at sales commission platform Spiff. You are creating one version of the app that works across all devices rather than one app for Apple devices and another for Android devices.
It’s much easier to maintain web apps, too, say the Asper Brothers. You only need to make changes to one code base and all updates are delivered to every user, regardless of their device. Consumers don’t even need to visit an app store to update the app, it all happens automatically.
Better Customer Engagement
Consumers are much more likely to engage with PWAs than they are traditional websites or native apps.
For one, PWAs allow brands to send push notifications to consumers. Information and offers can be used to encourage consumers to interact with the brands, explains Cross-Border Magazine’s Nico Hoeijmans. They are incredibly effective, he adds: “OLX has been able to increase the re-engagement rate through push notifications by 250%.”
At the same time, there are none of the barriers to entry inherent with native apps. Consumers don’t need to download PWAs to use them like they do native apps. This eliminates one of the biggest barriers to app use, writes Zac Johnson, President and CEO of marketing agency MoneyReign.
“Most people don’t like having dozens of apps on their mobile desktop,” he says. “They usually use an app a couple of times when they need it and then delete it later.” As a result, brands can actually have a longer relationship with customers by having a PWA that delivers the same experience as a native app without the need to download it.
They also don’t need to visit an app store to use the PWA. Dockyard CEO Brian Cardarella points out that as long as standard SEO practices are followed, PWAs should rank in Google. This means there’s no need to waste marketing budget promoting your app separately from your online store. They are one and the same.
Improved User Experience
Web apps are much faster than both regular websites and native apps. This is because they only load what they need, explains Isaiah Bollinger, CEO at full service eCommerce solutions agency Trellis. For instance, only the product catalog may need to be loaded since the header and footer of the app stay the same.
The ease with which APIs can be integrated means that consumers can have a much easier time managing their own data, too, writes iZooto’s Pravya Pavin. Web sign-in APIs allow consumers to use their Google, Facebook or other online accounts to sign into stores rather than having to create and remember username/password combinations. Payment APIs can be used to sync payment data so that consumers only have to enter their CVV code to make a purchase. Not only is this quicker than typing in your full credit card details, it is arguably more secure, too.
Improved Conversions, More Sales
Ultimately, all these benefits lead to improved sales. Indian eCommerce giant Flipkart created a PWA to provide a faster, less data-heavy experience to its customers. Former Flipkart engineer and current Myntra CEO Amar Nagaram explains that the PWA’s home screen icon delivers high-quality visitors that convert 70% more often than average users.
Beauty brand Lancôme managed to achieve a significant improvement in re-engagement metrics as a result of its web app, writes eConsultancy’s Nikki Gilliland. Push notifications, which were used to alert users to new products and exclusive promotions, delivered an 8% conversion rate. Mobile cart abandonment conversion rates also increased by 8%.
When Igor Faletski and his team at Mobify helped UK retailer Debenhams to increase mobile conversion rates by implementing a progressive web app. “Commuter browsing turned into commuter shopping,” he explains and resulted in a double-figure percentage increase in mobile conversions.
Is There a Downside to PWAs?
PWAs are pretty good, but they aren’t perfect…yet.
There’s still some way to go if PWAs are going to fulfill their promise of universal usability, writes GoodBarber CTO Dominique Siacci. Apple is particularly slow at integrating these into its ecosystem, for instance. iPhone users still don’t have the same seamless experience that Android users do when it comes to downloading PWAs on their phones.
Headless Commerce Is the First Step to PWAs
If you already have a headless commerce infrastructure, you are more than halfway to creating a progressive web app. That’s because the two go hand-in-hand, explains Visiture’s Ron Dod. PWAs need headless commerce in order to deliver that great user experience. Brands that integrate the two will be much better prepared for the future than brands who try to create a PWA without headless commerce.
If you want to take your headless commerce architecture further by building a web app, make sure it conforms to the standards set out by Google’s Sam Richard and Pete LePage. These include all of the features we have described above as well as some more advanced elements, like permission requests and code best practices.