• Georgia Hatton

Progressive web apps: what's the hype?

By Paul Bidder, Senior Director of EMEA at LiveArea

Digital transformation is now delivering on its promises. Whether it’s analytics informing business decisions or supplementing traditional customer service channels with digital equivalents, brands are turning to technology to provide a frictionless end-to-end journey. According to our research, the current pandemic will only accelerate digital adoption.

As we emerge from lockdown, the quest to develop effective customer service strategies is intensifying. Brand are desperately seeking the means to make meaningful interactions with customers. Progressive web apps (PWAs) are touted as a contender to revolutionise engagement and customer service.

Brands which successfully embrace PWA architecture can set themselves apart from their competition – so what are they and how will they usher in the next phase of customer interactions?

A cure to app fatigue

The reality is app fatigue has well and truly set in. Consumers no longer want to download and install countless native applications on their mobiles – most downloads are now to new devices or involve restoring a user’s existing apps on a replacement device

PWAs act as a cure to this fatigue. Announced back in 2015 as ‘experiences that combine the best of the web and best of apps,’ PWAs are essentially high-functioning and extremely responsive websites.

They are able to reach anybody, anywhere, on any device with a single codebase and should be thought of as capable, reliable and installable – these are the three elements which make them feel more like native applications.

But PWAs are more than just up-to-date web apps. As a web-based application, they can be used across the multichannel landscape and compliment a world where omnichannel rules the roost – they will change how consumers interact with brands on the internet, their mobile devices, tablets, desktops and all other eCommerce channels that we use.

What’s the big deal?

One of the most prominent benefits of PWAs is their lack of reliance on third-party arbitration. Rather than relying on the likes of Apple, Google or Microsoft, developers are free to publish anything at any time, and it’s up to users to determine whether it’s worth the clicks. But beyond this, there are common characteristics and benefits which make them vastly superior to native applications.

For a start, PWAs can be built using universal web languages such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript. This means they can be built, launched and maintained by existing developer teams and, once launched, will run everywhere and anywhere, whether it’s on Android, iOS or desktop computers.

What’s more, the user experience of a PWA is second to none in many respects. The foundations of most are built using service workers, enabling them to enhance or augment traditional UX. They function without the need for an open web page or user interaction and allow for other services such as capturing user actions while offline, which can then be delivered when the user is back online. Their caching abilities also mean PWAs can achieve extremely fast loading times – useful in the eCommerce space given the link between page load times and customer conversion. But perhaps the largest UX enhancement of a PWA is its ability to engage customers with push notifications – while these have been available on native applications for some time, this means they can now be encompassed across all devices.

Why no mass uptake?

For all the transformative change that PWAs stand to bring to business, that’s not to say they aren’t without their issues. There are various deployment challenges holding back widespread adoption of PWAs.

Part of this centres around an inertia from brands to move away from native applications, who instead take a ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it approach’. Brands typically invest a large amount of money into sophisticated and long-established native apps, and so there can be considerable pushback to make the move. Additionally, there are those in the industry who say that UX is still catching up with native apps – PWAs miss out on some key features such as file system access, and not all user experiences work well within a browser.

The reality is awareness is still nascent when it comes to PWAs. A large number of eCommerce players recognise they are a viable solution to slow page speeds and a poor UX for some native apps. However, the industry will need a critical number of developers working on them to get ahead. This means having a community base where developers can address problems, share best practices and leverage expertise.

First-move advantage

We’re still in the early days of PWAs. While the technology is ready, the developer community hasn’t taken it forward as fast as they could or should, but that’s not to say the potential isn’t there. Those in charge of investing must decide soon whether to be a ‘not-so early adopter,’ or whether to wait and see if they want PWAs to be part of their future mobile strategies.

Moving beyond native apps and towards the next level of customer engagement requires a realisation of what’s on offer, what’s a stake and why we need to move in this direction. To maximise return-on-investment, brands should ask themselves what they would achieve by developing a PWA, where it will fit into their mCommerce and eCommerce strategies and what new opportunities a PWA would create. It will ultimately take leadership and forward-looking brands to bring PWAs to the next level, but we’ll likely see adoption rise as the technology continues to mature.

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