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10 mins with … Robert Karl

10 mins with … Robert Karl

Product Manager, on Progressive Web Apps

Why are traditional websites increasingly unsuitable for multi-touchpoint applications and digital commerce?

Because the biggest weakness of classic websites is the user experience on mobile devices. Compared to the experience on the desktop, it is lacking smoothness and speed. Responsive design can optimize the display on all devices, but the main weakness is the performance and fluidity of the user experience. Due to the technical approach alone, this can hardly be improved. It takes far too long for the user to start interacting with the application, resulting in an entire experience which does not feel as expected. Native apps on the other hand solve this.

Native Apps - We know the big ones from Amazon and Ebay, if the UE is so good, why don't all e-commerce providers offer a native app?

Brand awareness is an important factor here. If customers already trust a large brand and regularly shop with it, it's worth for them to use a native app, because that's where the user experience is best. All smaller brands have way more difficulties in acceptance. As a medium-sized company, how do I get users to download and use my own native app? Furthermore, an app would lead to a loss of traffic that they could gain via search engines reaching out to a mobile website.

Mobile websites have the big advantage here, because customers usually start their customer journey in the search engine - and those crawl websites, not applications, leading to 50% of all traffic in ecommerce. The contents of a native app are not indexed and would not be found.

Can PWAs be considered a legitimate hybrid between native apps and websites?

To understand this, we need to look more closely at the advantages and disadvantages of native apps.

Native apps have their big advantage in performance. In the end, you only get small amounts of data from the web server; all performance-dependent processes are executed on the mobile device. Hence, the speed is much better than if the processes run in a browser.

If the user is offline, the app starts anyway. A mobile website would simply not be accessible. Services and cached data are still available in an app. For example, just the placing of an order would need to trigger a call to the server, while other functions still works smoothly when offline.

I have already indicated one major disadvantage: the customer reach. The first thing you have to do with an app is to get it downloaded at all. Fun fact: the average user downloads 0 apps per month.  Most of them use the pre-installed set of applications on their mobile phones and nobody uses all of them. App-Fatigue has a huge impact on user behavior.

PWAs enable initial contact via a search engine. If possible, there is a connection between provider and customer, which makes customer contact and personalization much easier.  You see, it is the combination of both worlds that make PWAs interesting. PWA’s can install a so called service worker (some JavaScript code running in the background) that can interact with the web server even if the browser is closed.

In this way, push notifications are possible, regardless of whether a web application is used. This also ensures offline support, as the service worker can perform its basic functions even without contact to the server. Advantages of a native app such as displaying the logo on the start screen are also possible with a PWA. In addition, cached information, such as an order history, can be displayed without problems. Thus, weak points can be bridged even with difficult Internet connections. The technology allows further interaction with the user in times without server contact by using important data coming from the local memory.

How does this work for me as a user?

After you have found a product via a search engine and go to the website by clicking the link on the Search Results List, you will be asked if you want to save the PWA. The JavaScript then remains in the browser and does not have to be re-downloaded each time it is called. This makes the user experience much more fluid and enjoyable.

Will Intershop provide a PWA opportunity for our customers?

Yes, we are currently working on our own PWA, which can then serve as a starting point on which the customer-specific version can be built. It is a kind of template that already takes the biggest hurdles for our customers, because the development of PWA’s is more demanding than that of a classic mobile website. We have solved a number of problems in advance and we offer this as a service. So caching and storing of data in the browser, interaction with the customer server and SEO of the PWA are solved, and customers can make their specific adaptations to it. This makes projects faster, cheaper and eliminates the risk of application development failing, as we provide an already working solution.

If you have any questions, you can contact Robert Karl or visit our tech blog as developers regularly document their progress there.

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