Platforms and Technology

The Benefits of Utilizing a Progressive Web Application in Digital Commerce

A progressive web application (PWA) is a software application built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to run within and depend on a standards-compliant web browser. PWAs exploit their reliance on these browsers to overcome conventional web browsers application development challenges, such as browser-compatibility and feature availability.

There is a tremendous opportunity for a unified and consistent experience across almost all user devices with the various advantages and mature technology PWAs utilize. PWAs have key strengths that responsive websites lack when it comes to digital commerce. Because of this, many digital commerce vendors have chosen to implement their next-generation storefronts as PWAs and their customers are faced with how best to adopt the PWA (if at all) that will be delivered to them in the very near future.

The Advantages of PWAs over Traditional Digital Commerce Sites

There’s a reason for those currently on digital commerce platforms to get excited by this news. PWAs have grown in popularity for various reasons, including their multiple features and ability to expand upon previous concepts in web development such as progressive enhancement, feature-detection, and responsive web design to support as many modern browsers and devices as possible. The pervasive use of standards-compliant browsers on Android devices has allowed PWAs to be a more viable cross-device platform than earlier solutions when your customer-base is primarily Android-based mobile customers. Browsers on Android Mobile devices allow PWAs the ability to behave much more like a native app than a responsive design-based website. These browsers provide a standard way to interface with device features made only available to native apps. Features such as geolocation, camera access, near-field/RFID, graphics libraries, offline mode, push notifications, and add to home screen are some of the reasons why PWAs have risen so quickly in popularity for the right situations.

PWAs also have unique advantages over traditional responsive websites, such as:

  • Delivering through HTTPS/URL requests
  • PWA pages are SEO-friendly and indexed by search engines
  • Operational costs associated with PWAs are a fraction of its cost to run and maintain native apps long-term.
  • PWAs are fast and do not request loading new pages for every user interaction.
  • They rely on APIs to fetch data and reflect changes. They can pre-fetch and cache information and images locally to avoid the lengthy retrieval and display of a traditional web app’s HTML page.
  • Native app-like features for Android mobile users
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PWAs could even be an alternative to replace simple native apps for Android mobile users because their capabilities and features are similar on Android mobile devices, which creates an opportunity to significantly reduce the technical skillsets required to reach users across desktop, mobile web, and native applications. For organizations with a primarily Android-based customer base, unifying all these experiences within a single common skillset allows a dramatic cost reduction compared to the alternative of having desktop, mobile, and native apps running different technologies on different platforms/systems. The end-user experience becomes much easier to keep consistent than across a myriad of touchpoint technologies. PWAs can become active engagement tools over traditional passive web browsing experiences based on the ability to leverage device features available to end-users and create more compelling and engaging user experiences than traditional browser-based applications.  This allows digital marketers to engage more meaningfully and in a timelier fashion – even when the customer has no internet connection.

When Does a PWA Not Make Sense?

It is no surprise that interest in PWA adoption within digital commerce has grown exponentially in a short period. Still, there are considerations to make before taking that leap, such as the technology choice upon which to base a PWA. Two popular choices, Google’s Angular and Facebook’s React, are leveraged to develop PWAs but offer very different approaches. Other frameworks are rapidly evolving with either dedicated development teams or open communities pushing their software forward. Digital commerce software platforms are selecting a technology upon which they are basing their ‘starter store’, but are making them available as ‘reference applications’. Choosing to adopt these technologies (whether through the vendor’s reference implementation or building upon it independently) will require investment and evolution to keep up as the technology evolves. Businesses need to make sure they are prepared to keep up with the pace of change PWAs will bring.

Another consideration is whether the application you are developing should be a PWA. One must consider several factors before they commit to a PWA, such as:

  • If your main interest in the PWA technology lies in their native app like capabilities, you must look at whether your mobile customers are primarily Android or iOS users as the native app-like capabilities are only reliably available for Android users.
  • If your application requires a complete offline mode and still includes everything on the app for the user — there are limits to the offline storage in a browser
  • If the app’s pages need to be indexed by crawlers
  • If it is simpler to develop as a native app
  • If you want to monetize the app or sell through an app store
  • If you will leverage enough of the benefits of a PWA to invest the effort
  • If a mobile app would create a better and more differentiated experience for the target customer(s) and buyer(s) than the limitations that still exist within PWAs

Our Final Thoughts on PWAs in Digital Commerce

PWAs are the natural progression of web apps and present incredible opportunities and benefits across almost all user devices. For clients with a primarily Android-based customer base, the reduction in cost to develop and maintain PWAs versus more traditional web and native app development makes a strong logical case for development, especially in digital commerce areas. Organizations can create new user experiences for Android mobile users by leveraging the ability to add PWAs to a home screen, offline capabilities, reach into the device’s features, push notifications through HTML and JavaScript web app technology, and many other device features to create greater engagement.

There is, however, an even more exciting opportunity for digital commerce organizations to create new user experiences within PWAs than they had available within traditional responsive design web apps. Leveraging the ability to add PWAs to a home screen, offline capabilities, reach into the features of the device, and leveraging push notifications all through familiar HTML and JavaScript web app technology make PWAs a tremendous opportunity for those who have a primarily Android-based mobile customer base and who can think outside the traditional web app box to new and more compelling user experiences. There is an opportunity through PWAs for brands and businesses to differentiate and create value for their customer over the competition.

As a maturing technology and responsive web apps’ natural progression, there will be continuous evolution with PWAs. Still, the benefits far outweigh the costs associated with adopting them in the right scenarios. For more information on PWAs for Commerce, contact our mobile and digital commerce experts today.

About the Author

Mike Rabbior is Perficient's Chief Strategist of Commerce. With 10 years at Perficient, Mike possesses deep expertise in nearly every business vertical and technical domain.

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