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Engaging and Retaining Users with Progressive Web Apps

Combining the features of native apps with the reach of websites, Progressive Web Apps are the next step in creating rich experiences that convert better.

Many users are now mobile first, some are mobile only. In this environment, speed and convenience are key differentiators for online businesses. Responding to this shift in expectations, browser developers have given us Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). This has opened a new frontier, and the early prospectors are reporting great results.

What is a Progressive Web App?

PWAs are characterised as being:

“Responsive, connectivity-independent, app-like, fresh, safe, discoverable, re-engageable, installable, linkable web experiences.”

Put more simply, they are websites that combine all the benefits of being delivered via the web, and run in powerful modern browsers, with some of the things people enjoy about native apps, like working offline.

This “best of both worlds” experience is described by Google as being:

  • Reliable — having the ability to launch from a home screen and load near-instantly, even when there is little or no internet connection available.
  • Fast — exhibiting a high level of performance that allows pages to load quickly and function smoothly, helping to capture and retain users better.
  • Engaging — offering an immersive full-screen experience, with immersive interactive features, without the need for a convoluted app installation.

Despite having app-like features, it’s important to understand that PWAs aren’t a direct alternative to native apps, but rather an enhancement of existing web technology. Websites can be upgraded to being PWAs by taking advantage of a few web standards:

  • Service Workers — These scripts are run in the background by browsers, and allow developers to manage resource requests and caching programmatically.
  • HTTPS — It’s already considered best practice to run websites securely, and for PWAs a secure site is mandatory to access browser features such as geolocation.
  • Web App Manifest — This JSON-based file is a central place to specify how a PWA appears and behaves when installed on home screens and run as a standalone app.

It’s clear that implementing PWA is a no-brainer for businesses. It is easily implemented using current web technologies, and delivers a superior experience for users, which in turn raises satisfaction, encourages engagement, and improves conversion.

What can a Progressive Web App do?

PWAs offer more than an improved user experience. The inherent properties of the web platform means they can help businesses solve real problems from reach to maintenance.

  • Easy Distribution — Being a website, PWA are readily available to share, find and use, avoiding the risky tradeoffs inherent to offering native apps through app stores.
  • Cross-platform Reach — Using web technologies means PWA naturally work anywhere the web does, and can be progressively enhanced to harness device capabilities.
  • Native-like Interactions — PWA can break free of the browser and run like full-screen apps, with access to many device APIs, most notably push notifications.
  • Faster Performance — The smarter caching offered by service workers allows PWAs to load in less than a second, saving bandwidth and improving the stickiness.
  • Offline Service — The caching also means PWA can continue to function when connections fail, replacing grey screens with useful content.

What can be achieved with a Progressive Web App?

Businesses are already implementing transactional sites with PWAs, and the case studies being shared contain some impressive results. On recent example is George (Asda), whose PWA powered mobile solution has 3.8x faster load times, 50% lower bounce rate, and 31% higher conversion rate.

When will Progressive Web Apps be ready to use?

Expect to see sites adopting PWA as the de facto approach to producing highly performant experiences. Businesses who harness this technology over the next few years are going to stand out even further from competitors who are still struggling with flexible layouts.

In reality, you don’t need to wait for that future. With the recent Safari 11.1 update, PWAs are now widely supported across mobile and desktop devices. A great way to dip your toe in the water is by adding a single feature like a simple offline page. More features can be added incrementally as development time and new APIs become available.


This article was originally published in our “What’s Next in eCommerce” ebook. It features invaluable insights about the future of eCommerce from several leading businesses. Download the ebook for free.

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