There is considerable confusion about Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs, applications that load like web pages but have some of the features of native apps. Understanding how PWAs and native apps work can help retailers decide whether to use one or the other, or both.

Mike Hann, co-founder and chief commercial officer, Poq

Mike Hann, co-founder and chief commercial officer, Poq

Can Progressive Web Apps and native apps coexist in the mobile commerce ecosystem? The short answer is yes, with caveats.

Most importantly, brands must reckon with the fact that mobile commerce is beginning to dominate peak shopping seasons. According to Adobe Analytics, mobile traffic (smartphones and tablets) represented 40 percent of all purchases made from November 1 to December 31, 2018. Mobile devices were responsible for 10.5 percent of conversions versus 7.4 percent on desktop. All in all, Adobe reported that mobile commerce accounted for 57 percent of all holiday spending.

It’s clear from this data that retailers should take mobile seriously, and they should be taking a hard look at their investment in their mobile strategy or they will be missing out. The trend towards consumers shopping on mobile shows no signs of slowing and this data tells a bigger story: the future of retail is mobile.

There is a substantial conversion gap on mobile that can be filled with a strong mobile strategy.

Brands face a lot of important challenges, and one of the most critical is how they’ll spend the money they’ve set aside for marketing programs, ad spend and technology acquisitions. When it comes to mobile commerce, one key question is whether retail brands should invest in native apps or Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). PWAs have been around for years, and while they didn’t catch on in a big way initially, PWAs are now an important part of the conversation with regard to effectiveness, ROI and customer experience.

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PWAs are web applications that load like regular web pages or websites but can offer the user functionalities such as working offline, push notifications, and device hardware access traditionally available only to native applications. There is no doubt that there are many great advantages to PWAs, however, much of what has been promoted has been for the benefit of technology companies rather than retailers and their customers. The question remains: Are PWAs best for retailers or are they just another source of profit for the enormous web technology companies?

With the inception of PWAs, Google came to understand the powerful potential benefits of PWA capabilities for its own goals. PWAs are built using web code and need web technologies such as browsers to function. To put it another way, PWAs live within and are a result of the web, which provides Google with its highest source of revenue. In fact, according to some sources 84% of Google’s revenue comes from ads on mobile web. Consequently, they have an extremely high vested interest in ensuring that traffic to mobile web continues and remains uninterrupted.

While there is no formal definition, PWAs provide app-like experiences that are created for web and built with web coding (Javascript, CSS, and HTML5).  PWAs also attempt to give mobile web sites the rich experiences of native apps by using these aforementioned web-based coding technologies. However, there are some major disadvantages to PWAs:

  • Unlike native apps, consumers cannot download PWAs from the Apple App Store and are not easy to save to one’s home screen.
  • PWAs do not consistently provide a personalized rich experience. If a consumer is able to save the PWA to their Apple device, its inherent existence is wiped once storage reaches 50MB or is left unused for three weeks. Consequently, all saved information such as payment, contact, and login details, disappear.
  • PWAs are inherently built and developed using web code with the fundamental purpose being an enhanced mobile web view of a website. However, due to the technology’s existence and function being dependent on web code it is implicitly limited. Web code cannot evolve or function at the same speed or seamlessness as native code.

Native mobile apps

Native apps were developed to provide users with a feature-rich experience that inherently differs from that of desktop and mobile web. They provide retailers with the power to build brand awareness, credibility, and loyalty due to its’s ability to give users what they want. Native apps provide an experience that is far more engaging than mobile web and produces loyalty. Data from our platform found:

  • Apps produce 2.9x more user sessions than the mobile web and 3.1x more than the desktop
  • Customers return to their shopping apps 3x more than they do to mobile websites and 2.7x more than the desktop
  • Average revenue per user lifetime value (LTV) is approximately $12.

To summarize these findings, users are returning to apps and continuously spending. A higher number of returning customers reflect stronger loyalty, which increases customer LTV, ROI, and positive brand awareness.

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In addition to providing a consistent, personalized shopping experience, one clear advantage of native mobile apps is that user details are constantly saved, and this data is not deleted due to any sort of time limit or storage constraint.

Just looking back to the 2018 holiday season, Poq’s SaaS app platform data shows that native apps are not only growing in popularity, but are contributing to a huge increase in conversions as well:

  • Average time spent on app increased by 5% from 2017 to 2018
  • Returning users grew by 11% in 2018 compared to 2017
  • Black Friday conversions grew by 7% in 2018 as compared to 2017.

Even more impressive is the fact that 89% of consumers returned to an app they visited previously during the Black Friday to Cyber Monday time period—20% higher than an average day in the third quarter of 2018.

PWAs can support a mobile web strategy

Disadvantages aside, PWAs do have a number of advantages that are attractive to any retailer. Some of these include:

  • Go-to-market speed: PWAs can be launched quickly due to the fact they are built using a single source of code that is used across platforms: desktop, mobile, Android and iOS.
  • Quicker load time: PWAs screens are more responsive to user actions than the mobile web
  • Less memory: PWAs use less memory, do not require download, and make app-like experiences accessible in emerging markets.

Retailers should adopt PWAs as a part of their strategy to enhance the mobile web view. Despite many shoppers moving from desktop to mobile, mobile conversion is still lower than that of desktop. There is a substantial conversion gap on mobile that can be filled with a strong mobile strategy. It can be subsequently understood that retailers should build a mobile web strategy with native and PWAs working together.

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There is no doubt that mobile web is a great channel for building traffic and increasing brand awareness. Because Google’s new SEO algorithm uses page speed as a ranking factor, the increase in speed PWAs provide compared to responsive web will increase a retailer’s ranking.  Branch, a mobile linking platform, found that while the mobile web sees larger amounts of unique visitors than the web, users view 285 percent more products inside of a mobile app than on the mobile web, and on average, spend 11 percent  more on every single purchase than the average spend per single purchase on the mobile web.

While PWAs help build traffic from Google search, having an app will convert traffic coming to the app store. Traffic to the App Store is at an all-time high with a reported 500 million weekly visitors.

It is important to note that Apple chooses to feature and highly rank purely native apps, as opposed to hybrid apps, which combine elements of both native and web application. As a result, retailers should have native apps present on the App Store if they hope to be organically downloaded. One cannot stress how important this is given 65% of downloads on the App Store occur organically.

Conclusion

PWAs cannot replace native apps and vice versa. However, they can co-exist peacefully and work together as part of a comprehensive mobile commerce strategy.

Savvy retailers understand the benefits of building an optimized mobile journey, bringing them more customers and more revenue. Attempting to just use PWAs, which rely upon web-based technologies to build something that fits in the present and more importantly, the future, is not wise nor the best use of the retailer’s mobile budget. PWAs will forever play catch-up, and while they may seem like the quickest and easiest solution, that does not mean it is the best or the smartest.

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Retailers need to take a hard look at their goals and gather empirical data around the different types of mobile experience technologies available to come up with a strategy that optimizes the entire mobile experience.

Poq offers a software-as-a-service platform designed to help retailers create mobile apps.

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