If you’re involved with the app development community, you’ve likely heard of an exciting technology that’s pushing the boundaries of apps: Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). Where native apps are written to run on a specific device or operating system, PWAs are built to run on a browser. The concept was first introduced in 2015 and was expected by some to be the demise of the native app.
Needless to say, native apps are still alive and well. The two versions of technology both bring significant benefits to the table, but it’s up to individual brands to determine how to use them for their business needs.
PWAs win the battle of simplicity
With PWAs, there’s no requirement to download an app. It’s served up in a straightforward way, right from a website, accessible to anyone. It looks and feels like an app, but isn’t truly an app. Those most familiar with the technology describe it as “an app-like experience.” Using standards-based technology, the PWA runs in a secure container within the webpage, providing a user experience that feels app-like, without the need to commit to the app. PWAs are universally compatible, making them a simple option for brands unable to invest in full native app technology.
Native wins for functionality
The beauty of a native app is the fact that it’s built specifically for the device it’s being served on. There’s no question of compatibility, because the app can only be accessed by exactly the operating system it’s built for. Because of this, native apps are more robust, and perform faster than PWAs. When accessing a PWA, the browser must essentially translate the code being served to it into the app container, slowing and limiting its performance. Native apps remove this step and offer inherent cohesion, integrating device-specific functionalities that make them more useful.
Those functionalities include things like camera access for credit card scanning and GPS connectivity. For stores implementing omnichannel solutions, native apps are a vital part of the strategy. Geofencing capabilities mean stores with brick-and-mortar locations seeking to communicate directly with users in the are can do so. With PWAs, this isn’t possible. Ultimately, PWAs are built for an optimized user experience – one custom made for the platform it’s being served on.
So, which do I need?
The truth is, some apps work fine as PWAs, and others are better as native apps. However, as a retailer, it’s important to understand the important features that native technology can provide, as well as take into account the bigger picture. With robust product catalogs, thousands of product pages, ever-changing inventory, and a need for feature-rich performance, retail app stakeholders must take a hard look at what they stand to miss out on by investing exclusively in a PWA. The increase in speed and performance provided by a native app can have a significant effect on conversion and retention rates.
That said, you don’t necessarily have to choose between one or the other. If you’re a retailer with an existing native app, and want to provide another option for casual users, creating a PWA can be a smart way to round out your mobile offering.
So, is it really all about the tech?
Not completely. You also need to keep in mind who is using your app – and who you want to be using it. The most lucrative sector of mobile buyers is repeat purchasers. These users spend an average of 55% more per purchase, and are 65% more likely to buy from you with each session. These numbers may seem high, but consider brands you’re aware of and enjoy. If you’ve purchased from them once, doing it again seems highly likely, doesn’t it? App customers feel the same way. These loyal customers should be rewarded and enticed with high-quality app experiences. Additionally, the opportunity to keep the app on their homescreen – where they’ll see it every day – is a massive branding and awareness opportunity.
PWAs serve a different purpose. Casual users who may be interested in a one-time purchase, or – more likely – a simple browse around to compare prices, would be well-suited for a PWA. They don’t require the full app experience as do your most loyal repeat buyers. A PWA streamlines access to your brand, but doesn’t deliver some of the vital aspects of app functionality that are required to provide an enticing, well-rounded app experience.
Ultimately, PWAs and native apps serve different purposes, because they serve different audiences. So choosing a winner is hardly necessary. Consider the benefits and costs of both. The key takeaway when comparing the two is that PWAs shouldn’t be used to replace native apps.
Native apps provide an unmatched user experience, robust feature options and comprehensive benefit. PWAs are a good thing to use in addition to a native app, as they channel some of the native app’s essential functions. However, PWAs do not stand on their own, and shouldn’t be used without the complement of a fully functioning native app.