Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are not especially new - Alex Russell (a Google Chrome engineer) coined the term back in 2015 to describe mobile sites that were taking advantage of the latest features supported by browsers.

However, since the latter part of 2018 we have seen them really increase in prominence with a number of large brands and retailers scrapping their traditional mobile sites and native apps for PWAs.

Their increased popularity is also supported by the inevitable number of blogs detailing their rise! Nothing says “hype” in digital marketing more than tens of blogs analysing a specific subject… hence this timely post!

The best of both worlds

PWAs are defined – by Amber Johanna – relatively simply as, “apps delivered through the web (as opposed to native apps, packaged and deployed through stores).” Or, as Alex Russell said, “they’re just websites that took all the right vitamins.”

By ‘vitamins’ we are referring to an application that excels in, and prioritises, the following elements: responsiveness; working off-line; app-like interactions / navigations; continuously up-to-date; secure; discoverable; re-engage their audience; installable; and linkable

The benefits, therefore, are potentially obvious: the circulation of the web combined with the engagement and retention of native apps.

For example, although web-reach is 3x higher than native applications, users spend 80% of their time in their top 3 apps. These two elements give developers the ability to deliver the great user experiences often associated with apps, using the security, reach and stability of a website.

Combining of ‘best of both worlds’ is central to the argument for PWAs.

The benefits of the ‘third way’

Modern browsers allow for push notifications, app-like interactions, the ability to ‘Add to Home Screen’ and Service Workers (scripts that your browser runs in the background), meaning PWAs can be regularly and seamlessly updated to ensure their functionality is up-to-date.

The list of benefits is seemingly endless! As they’re delivered through the web, users can easily share or link to them and the content on a PWA can be indexed by search engines.

Possibly the biggest benefit from a developer’s point of view is that PWAs perform the same functions on an iPhone XR as they would on any other device. As note, this means consistent experiences for users regardless of the equipment they may be using.

This essentially minimises the amount of work and time for developers, designers and companies alike. According to Mike Elgan, this third way could “support or actually replace a mobile-first design strategy, where you can create the PWA for mobile, then make that available on all devices.”

PWAs also reduce the chance of ‘app-fatigue’, as the zero-fiction approach to getting a visitor to ‘install’ it saves on having to go to an app store and search for an app.

Businesses that have decided to deploy PWAs have seen significant improvements in their ability to engage, retain and reach their audience.

Forbes, for example, have seen a 43% increase in Sessions and a doubling of Session Duration since launching their PWA! These gains come from the ability to deliver a personalised, fast and engaging experience to all users regardless of their location or device.

The perfect eCommerce platform?

The undeniable UX performance of a PWA mean that when combined with the reach and distribution of the web, they could truly become a perfect platform for eCommerce sites.

Push notifications and personalised content mean that retailers can easily create an experience that is both as engaging as a native app but could see the high traffic associated with a traditional website.

Personalised deals, product promotions and even context-based notices are all on offer to retailers who look to move onto PWAs.

The app-like interactions that can be crafted in PWAs lends itself nicely to the consideration that it is generally acknowledged that apps have better conversion rates than their desktop counterparts.

This is due, in part, to the better shopping experience on offer in addition to the ability of retailers to reward loyal customers with personalised or contextualised deals, thus encouraging them to buy again and again.

The main drawback in investing in a native app for retailers has always lay in encouraging the majority of customers to download the app in the first place. But with PWAs minimising this through their frictionless ‘Add to Home’ option, many retailers may look to consider combining their desktop and native apps into one solution.

In summary

As Mike Elgan neatly summarises, “PWAs are far more efficient for both users and developers”.

Their flexibility and consistent cross-platform UX mean brands and retailers should consider whether the current approach of juggling both separate mobile and desktop solutions (and codebases) is the best way forward.

Committing to a PWA is an opportunity for businesses to re-evaluate their current UX to ensure that customer experience is central to their online solution.

Bring everything into one, clean space will enable messages and calls-to-action to be focused on a common goal whilst safe in the knowledge that all users are receiving the best user experience on offer.

The PWA as a viable option is beginning to take hold, and companies that take the plunge could be rewarded with increased engagement from their users, more reach than their native apps and a reduce development bill due to only managing one codebase.

2021 could be the year of the Progressive Web App.