With the Internet conquering our everyday lives, it’s no surprise that global shopping and consumer behaviour has changed. Mobile commerce, or m-commerce, is gaining its momentum in leaps and bounds, with more and more people giving preference to their mobile devices for shopping and other purposes.
This is the major reason that made hundreds of business owners all around the world to start thinking about optimizing their websites for mobile, especially if the sphere is online retail. And with so much advanced technology all around the place, the main question here is which is better to invest in: a good-old native app or to build a progressive web application (PWA)?
In this article, we’ll get to the bottom of the question, explaining the difference between native apps and PWAs, the process of their creation, and the ups and downs of both to help you make up your mind which path to take for your specific business needs. Let’s dive in!
Why Is It Necessary to Invest in Apps?
When it comes to your website, performance and user experience are key. Yes, visuals and content matter a lot, but if your site’s pages open in a sloth-like manner, if your site has a bunch of bugs and is simply unfriendly for users, this can become a reason for high bounce rates, low conversions, and overall customer dissatisfaction.
We’re in the 2020s, a time when technology is really accelerating and offering many innovations, including for websites in general. Topping that, as it was briefly mentioned earlier, the internet has a huge influence on our daily lives. Everything is online, our smartphones are with us at all times, so it’s no wonder that our behaviours and habits are changing.
For example, this includes the way that we shop, and yes, we do so right from our mobile devices more and more often. According to BuildFire:
“By 2021, experts estimate that US mobile commerce sales will eclipse $420 billion. Conversion rates from mobile apps are three times higher than mobile sites. 53% of smartphone users buy from company-specific apps.”
What does this mean for you if you are a site owner? That you should put the mobile approach among your priorities. If you want to stay on pace and have a competitive website, there’s no other way than to move towards optimization, innovation, change, and improvement of what you have.
And among the best ways to do that as of now is to not just boost your site’s mobile performance but to get a progressive web application. Below we’ll explain why this choice makes sense, particularly if you’re in two minds whether a PWA is better than a native application or not.
What’s a PWA Again?
Before we jump over to listing the reasons why you should consider getting a progressive web application over a native one, let’s get to the bottom of the matter of what a PWA is.
There are many examples of eCommerce PWAs that you can take a look at for some inspiration. But to give you a better visual explanation of what a PWA is, here are some screenshots from the official Debenhams website. As you can see, the PWA is highly reminiscent of a native application. Furthermore, it works really fast and has wonderful features and simple navigation.
Screenshot is taken from the official Debenhams website
Why Should You Opt for a PWA Instead of a Native App?
Reason 1: PWAs Are Cheaper to Develop
Yep, we’ll lead a trump straight away. It costs a lot more to develop a native application than it does to build a PWA.
Although the design portion of the work in terms of hours and costs is pretty much the same for both types of apps, the development part is completely different.
In essence, you should understand that in order to function on devices that are based on various platforms (iOS vs Android, for instance), the native application has to be developed at least twice to meet the requirements of each platform. PWAs, in their turn, run in the browser as a regular website would, and they are available across all browsers.
Even this point alone already explains the difference in price. A PWA can save about half of your budget for app development.
Reason 2: PWAs Don’t Need to Be Installed
So, as you’ve might have guessed, users don’t have to go to the AppStore or Google Play to download a PWA application (which is the case with native apps).
Furthermore, PWAs practically don’t weigh anything. They are added to the screen of the device using a link. The link appears on the screen with an icon just like any native application would look like on the device. Upon launch, the PWA opens in the browser window. This provides fast access to your PWA and doesn’t hog any memory space on phones and tablets.
This means that a PWA won’t be taking up the storage on users’ devices and won’t need to be updated from time to time. Let’s face it, people don’t use an app, for example, of a specific eCommerce store, on a daily basis. After some time, it is very likely that the native app will be deleted by them as they’re “cleaning up” the memory on their device. The case with a PWA here isn’t that jeopardized.
Reason 3: PWAs Are Really Fast
Without a doubt, when you go for a progressive web application, you’ll get really fast site opening speeds. Such apps fly!
And users highly enjoy that because no one likes to wait. Of course, this can surely positively impact conversions of the site made from mobile devices.
Reason 4: UX\UI of PWAs Rocks
In terms of design, navigation, and user experience, progressive web apps are rockstars. They’re user-friendly, they look and feel like native applications that everyone likes, and they’re intuitive to use.
And the most interesting thing about it is that you users might not even realize that they’re using a PWA. They can assume that this is just a neat mobile version of a website.
Reason 5: PWAs Can Be Used Offline
Oh yes, did we mention that progressive web applications can be used offline without access to the internet? This is marvellous news for those businesses that have a part of their audience in areas with weak internet access.
And, PWAs can be fitted with push notifications which is great since they serve as reminders and ways to re-engage users to come back to your site.
Reason 6: The PWA Won’t Harm Your SEO
Luckily, this isn’t true. If rendering is handled by developers properly (i.e. via a smart combination of server-side rendering and client-side rendering), your site will be just fine in terms of SEO.
So, PWAs Are Better Than Native Apps? Is It Always Like That?
Nonetheless, there are exceptions to the rule. Although an ever-growing number of businesses are shifting to progressive web applications, there do exist unique cases with native app prioritization. As such, a wide range of companies that have both PWAs and native applications still continue to urge people to download their native app if the person is using the PWA version of the site from their browser.
An example of this is the renowned eCommerce giant, Alibaba. As seen from the screenshots below, the pop-up that convinces users to switch to the native application continuously appear throughout the website. In this case, if you tap on “Open”, the link takes you either to the AppStore or to Google Play for app installation. The native app’s size is rather large, 173 MB for iOS!
Screenshot is taken on the official Alibaba website
So why would Alibaba do that? Keeping in mind the fact that their native application has been around for quite a while, a large number of their targeted users already have it downloaded to their devices. Thus, we may assume that for this specific business, the native application has proven itself as leverage that sells well. Perhaps, this is why this rather non-standard move is their priority.
Why did we bring this up? Because there are situations in which native apps do outweigh PWAs. These cases include the matter of app monetization. What is more, native apps are more preferable if you’re planning on making a game or using augmented reality.
Here are the major takeaways: PWAs are a real hit for various spheres of online businesses and are even thought to be the solution to replace native apps someday. Such apps are fast, provide a great user experience, they’re intuitive and perfect for enhancing mobile conversions. They don’t have to be downloaded to the device from the AppStore or Google Play, they won’t consume user device space, nor will they have to be regularly updated in order to work. PWAs are cheaper to develop than native applications and won’t destroy your SEO if the matter is handled properly.
Hope that this article has given you some answers on why getting a progressive web application is worth it!
Alex Husar, Chief Technology Officer at Onilab with 8+ years of experience in progressive web application development, Magento migration, and Salesforce development. He graduated from the Czech Technical University and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Computer Software Engineering. Alex’s expertise includes both full-stack dev skills and a strong ability to provide project-critical guidance to the whole team.