Progressive Web Applications are specialized web pages or websites that act like mobile apps and don’t have to be installed by consumers the way apps do. For many retailers, PWAs can reduce the burdens of maintaining both a mobile website and a mobile app. But be aware that not all ecommerce systems can work with PWAs.

Rich Minns, vice president, Solution Consulting, at Capgemini’s Digital Customer Experience Practice

With 40% of transactions in 2018 taking place on mobile devices, consumers are increasingly relying on their smartphones and tablets to shop online. And today’s consumers demand that the mobile experience be as fast, if not faster and as easy as the desktop experience.

Enter Progressive Web Applications, or PWAs: specialized web pages or websites that act like mobile apps. PWAs combine the features of modern web browsers with the benefits of a mobile experience. They also run within browsers and do not have to be installed.

PWAs will represent 50% of web applications by the end of 2020 according to Gartner, and their popularity is growing. Does this mean you should start building a PWA for your ecommerce store?

Maybe.

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Many companies are already eliminating the cost of maintaining both a web experience and a native app by designing and deploying PWAs.

The Advantages of PWAs

PWAs are overtaking the mobile space because they help shoppers and merchants alike.

Benefits of PWAs for Shoppers:

  • Reliability: PWAs load instantly, using specialized scripts that run in the background and use cached data to update content and send push notifications.
  • Speed: PWAs are designed for mobile screens, responding quickly to swipes and touch. Animations render smoothly and pages scroll without delay.
  • Experience: PWAs act like native apps and deliver an immersive experience.
  • Seamless: Because PWAs work within browsers, they never have to be added or updated, using less data. And they work on all operating systems.
  • Convenience: Consumers no longer have to visit an app store, search for an app, install it and update it. Just visiting a PWA-powered webpage gives them access to the app (without them even knowing).

Benefits of PWAs for Merchants:

  • Faster to market: Because PWAs operate within browsers, they do not have to be built as standalone native apps and hosted in app stores. They can be built and deployed quickly and cost-effectively.
  • Improved search rankings: Faster page load speeds improve search rankings and boost customer engagement.
  • Improved security: PWAs are built on HTTPS and modern web protocols, making them more secure than most native apps.
  • Reduced support costs: With PWAs, new features and functionality are rolled out immediately. Because their shoppers are always using the latest version of the app, merchants save money on customer support requests—and eliminate the headaches their customers face with outdated versions of native apps.

The End of the App Store?

Since PWAs deliver the functionality of native mobile apps without the need for consumers to download anything to their devices, does this mean app stores will vanish? Probably. Many companies are already eliminating the cost of maintaining both a web experience and a native app by designing and deploying PWAs.

As growing numbers of companies abandon apps in favor of PWAs, app design/development teams enjoy the convenience of using one codebase for all devices. For many firms, PWAs eliminate the need for costly development teams to design and build separate iOS and Android versions of their native applications, which can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another plus: PWAs have the added benefit of not needing to be approved by app stores or marketed to consumers.

Should You Abandon Mobile Apps for PWAs?

If your online store is typical, you deliver your front-end user experience through an ecommerce platform or a content management system. Your challenge is that not all platforms currently offer PWA functionality.

Until recently, platform vendors have been focused on developing single page apps (SPAs). These vendors may see the value of PWAs, recognize PWAs as the future of ecommerce, and may even have included PWAs in their technology roadmap. And yet, PWAs may not yet be available with your platform of choice.

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Your job as an ecommerce merchant is to start planning for PWAs now so that you are ready when your ecommerce CMS is ready.

Which Businesses Are Not a Good Fit for PWAs?

It’s also important to know that PWAs aren’t for everyone, at least not everyone right now.

If you operate a simple online store with a small number of SKUs, and if your customers typically visit your store knowing exactly what they want, with little to no order product customization (e.g., size, shape, color), then you probably don’t need to invest time and money designing and building a PWA. For example, if you are a pool supply company and your customers primarily visit your online store only to buy chemicals, a mobile-optimized site that delivers a great customer experience is likely all you need.

You should also hold off on developing PWAs if your company is going through a technology change or if you are migrating to a new ecommerce platform. Instead, focus on revising your strategy and your technology roadmap before you add a PWA to the mix.

Where to Start With PWAs?

If you decide that a PWA is the right approach, start your journey by focusing on your customers. Outline the features and functions your customers need, understand the capabilities your customers demand, and make sure you have the right strategy to meet their needs before you start designing your PWA.

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In other words, step back and look at the big picture. PWAs, after all, are simply one way to solve a customer need. Think holistically about your ecommerce strategy, put your customer at the center of that strategy, and you’ll be prepared to deliver an outstanding customer experience no matter what technology you use, whether it’s an app or a PWA.

As Vice President of the Solution Consulting Practice at Capgemini, Rich Minns oversees architecture, development, infrastructure, and helps customers envision their proper solution for engaging, experience-driven commerce websites for clients.

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