Is it Time to Dump Your eCommerce Store App?

One of my friends was getting married in a couple of months and to celebrate the occasion I wanted to surprise her with a cake and customized gift. As the other people around the globe, I did a Google search for a red velvet cake and clicked on the first link that popped up in the results.

After a few seconds of patiently staring at the blank space, my screen was filled with delicious looking cakes. As soon as I clicked on one of them to check the details, a popup appeared on the screen asking me to install their app to enjoy a silky smooth experience for ordering the cake.

Such a disappointment it was! Of course, I didn’t want to install the app just to order ONE cake. So naturally, I clicked on the cross icon to close the popup, but then installation banner sat at the top of the screen taking over one-fourth of the space, making it difficult to scroll down. Finally, after thirty minutes of struggle, I somehow managed to order a heart-shaped red velvet cake.

After this terrible experience, my next challenge was to order the customized gift. As before, I asked the almighty Google for some sites where I can order it. I clicked the first link, and the entire site was loaded in a blink! No popups or installation banners, smooth scrolling, and it felt like browsing a native app minus the installation hassles. Even with my slow internet, I managed to order the gift for my friend. Most surprising of all, I was getting notifications about my order.

Ask yourself, if you were the user looking for something around, which of the two sites would you prefer? Obviously, these people were doing something right. And that my friends, is the beauty of using a progressive web app (PWA).

What’s PWA, and why are we talking about it?

Well, not just us, talk of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) has moved past the fringes and into the mainstream over the past few months. Nearly everyone is talking about it!

As might have got a hint from the above instance, PWA is a website that acts like a native mobile app. However, what sets apart the PWA from a native mobile app is that a PWA operates in a browser so you don’t need to download it from an app store. PWAs work on-demand and are always accessible, without occupying up the valuable memory of a smartphone or consuming any data. It allows the user to stay up to date at all times, no matter how fast their internet is. Not only this, the users can still save the PWA to their home screen to enjoy the experience of using a native app, without actually having to download any.

If we talk from a developer’s point of view, PWAs are faster to build and update and are more economical than the native apps. Instead of the segmented mobile app industry–where companies need a different app framework for Apple and Android–PWAs are unified to operate with browsers that are prevalent to all phones.

Who all are using it?

From Twitter, Uber, Starbucks, BMW, Alibaba to leading Indian inc like Flipkart, BookMyShow, MakeMyTrip and Ola, PWAs are proving that any business can make significant gains with this technology.

Tinder reported that their load time reduced significantly as compared to their native app. Users had access to Tinder with a PWA from mobile or desktop devices, which expanded their target market. This led to longer session times, more messages, and more swiping.

Of 60 percent users who installed Flipkart’s native app, returned to their PWA site. Plus, the site allowed the ecommerce business to reach potential customers in tier-II and tier-III Indian cities where slow network connectivity and low phone memory and storage is not unusual. When Pinterest discovered that because of the high load time (23 seconds) of their app, only 1% of their mobile users converted into logins, sign-ups, or native app installs, they reconstructed their mobile app into a PWA. Within three months, their PWA saw a 40% increase in time spent over five minutes, a 50% increase in ad click-throughs and a 44% increase in user-generated ad revenue as compared to their old mobile app. Uber built a progressive web app that works on even 2G networks, making it easier for people to book a cab with a slow network and even from a desktop.

What are the benefits of PWA?

1. No installation required

Since PWAs can be accessed on browsers, users can view the pages quickly, navigate to different sections of the app, and complete a seamless checkout process, without undergoing any app installation process. Also, your users have to access PWAs in the browser, you can let them add the site to their home screen with an “Add to Home Screen” prompt, making it easier for them to come back.

2. One-size-fits-all

Since PWAs are primarily a website, they can be accessed on any browser including Google Chrome, UC Browser, Opera Mini, or Mozilla Firefox.

3. Loads quickly in a blink

Caching ability is one of the distinctive features of PWAs, which makes an ecommerce site more user-friendly and loads up pages quickly.

4. Offline functionality using service workers

The gems of a PWA are service worker and cache API. Service worker-run in the background and is responsible for pulling in cache material and pushing notifications. It stores new content in the browser cache and synchronizes local changes to a local server. Hence, even if your app users are offline due to a poor data connection, PWAs would facilitate them with basic navigation in the meantime.

5. Native app-like experience

What’s cool about PWA is that it doesn’t look like a usual web page that is opened inside a browser window. Indeed, it works and looks much similar to the native app, thus, making it truly compelling. Also, it employs the smartphone features of your users, such as contacts, cameras, and maps.

6. Push messages

Just like a website, PWAs can send push notifications.

7. Less data consumption

PWA loads swiftly, even on flaky networks. It leverages new, open web APIs to deliver a mobile web experience that uses less data but loads fast, re-engaging users in multiple ways.

8. Easily manageable and cheaper

If you plan to build separate apps for Android, Apple, and Windows stores, it would cost you a hefty amount to hire a developer on a long-term basis as every app needs frequent bug fixes, constant monitoring, and upgradation. On the contrary, PWAs won’t burn a big hole in your pocket, and upgrades can be made just by addressing PWA requirements for different browsers.

What’s the downside of PWAs?

With all the benefits mentioned above, is it fair to say you can replace your native app or responsive site with a PWA? Well, don’t jump the gun just yet. PWA is a brainchild of Google, and Apple seems to be adjusting to it, but at a much slower pace. And as Mac users are the big spenders within ecommerce, it could be a deal-breaker for some store owners. Here are a few important features that PWAs lack in-

1. No iOS Push notifications

PWAs push notifications are only available for Android users.

2. Adding to Home Screen is quite a task

Installing a PWA for iOS users is one of the biggest challenges because there is no invitation via a web app banner to the app store. So your user has to manually press the ‘Share’ icon and then ‘Add to Home Screen’ by visiting your PWA URL somehow within Safari. Also, there will be no indication that a website the user visits is a PWA, making it even trickier.

3. No direct downloading feature

You can also download a native app directly from Google Search results. This is still limited for PWAs.

4. Limited data-storage

In addition, to push notifications, PWAs also lack some other vital features on iOS that can be relevant for ecommerce store owners, like GEO-fencing and Siri-integration. And when the iOS user does install the PWA on their home-screen, the offline data will only be stored for no more than two weeks.

5. No SEO advantages

With billions of users searching within App Stores, a native app opens up a whole new market of possible customers. Also, the app content can be shown in Google search results through app indexing. PWA has no such advantages.

How can you use PWAs for your business?

The recent trend shows that people are turning away from apps. According to Comscore (via TechCrunch), the majority of consumers download zero apps per month. So you need to build an exceptional native app if you want it to be successful, which is a tall demand for a business app, especially if you have budget constraints.

If you’ve been holding off on developing a responsive website or a native mobile app, you are actually at a unique turning point. You can simply skip those steps entirely and go directly for a PWA. It will allow you to build out experience with mobile as it’s a starting point. A good PWA effectively can replace the need of your business’s mobile site, native app, and maybe even its desktop site. Because of their inherent flexibility, PWAs are the best way to stay ahead of the curve in the mobile industry.

Is PWA right for your ecommerce business?

As you can see, a PWA can be a great (for some of you even greater) alternative to native mobile apps. They are discoverable, bookmarkable, linkable, always up-to-date, and your users can use them offline. They have a lower barrier to entry than native apps. The possibilities that PWAs bring sounds wonderful.

However, you should remember that some features put native apps ahead of PWAs. Your first step is to analyze whether or not your buyers are iOS users, because PWAs are still limited for Apple. If you want to go for the best user experience, want to send out push messages to iOS users too, and you have a bigger budget, a native app will be your best pick.

Also, with a PWA, you can’t use the telephony features such as interception of SMSes or calls, sending of SMS/MMS, getting the user’s phone number, reading voicemail, or making phone calls. If you really need these features in your ecommerce business, you should consider building a native app.

But if your budget is limited or if you sell adult products, go for PWA. PWAs can be developed faster. Therefore they are a bit cheaper. Especially for smaller ecommerce businesses, this could yield great outcomes. Further, if you have the budget for it, you can implement both the native apps and the PWAs in your business to cover all the markets.

Author’s Note

Though bigger and better things await as this technology continues to develop, it’s easy to see why dozens of major brands are moving from native apps to PWAs. Both mobile sites and native apps offer advantages and disadvantages, and PWAs are proving to be the best of both worlds for businesses.

Google has also calculated that PWAs can boost revenue by up to 20%. So, if you want to stay ahead of competitors in 2020 and onwards, you need to offer consumers a fast, easy and seamless mobile shopping experience and a responsive site alone just won’t do anymore. That being said, both native apps and PWAs have their pros and cons, so it depends on your business and size to find out what will be the best pick for your ecommerce store.

Woodapple is a design and consultancy firm with a passion for innovative products and technology that adds value to people’s lives. More

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