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Until recently, luxury retailers looking to increase sales while providing customers with premium features and enhancements to in-store experiences had only two technology options: dynamic web sites and native mobile apps. Now, however, a powerful third alternative has arrived: progressive web.

A dynamic web site, effective for one-time purchases, works on a myriad of mobile devices. But it’s not a complete solution for luxury brands seeking to provide their customers with an integrated, robust and personalized shopping experience that stays with them.

Conversely, native mobile apps — while fast, effective and providing highly personalized content to cultivate brand ambassadors — require users to take significant time and bandwidth to download. Thus, many consumers don’t always bother to use them, and may not come back for more.

Progressive web, on the other hand, provides many of the benefits of a native app without requiring users to download anything; they simply visit an e-commerce site to begin using them. And thanks to advancements such as “service workers,” which fetch new data only as bandwidth allows while immediately displaying cached data, luxury retailers can now provide customers with a new kind of mobile shopping experience — one that provides the best features of both web and native apps.

Good for Customers

Native web apps should prove a boon to customers, as it appears on a user’s home screen and makes it super easy for customers to engage with their brand on their mobile device. Such easy access can be key to retaining loyal customers. However, it comes with a price.

Native apps introduce a significant point of friction. There is a big gap between the usage of dynamic web sites versus the usage of apps. Even for loyal fans of a brand that spends lots of money, there can still be significant friction caused by needing to download an app in order to get superior content.

online shopping

Online shopping is experiencing immense growth.  Shutterstock / Solis Images

Progressive web does away with this friction because it can live on the user’s home screen without the need to download anything from an app store. It also offers an immersive full-screen experience with help from a web app manifest file and can even re-engage users with web push notifications. In these respects, they behave like native apps while retaining the convenience of web sites. Progressive web also makes it easy for customers to download a full app if they have time to access even more exclusive content and features.

Good for Retailers

Progressive web is also convenient from the developer’s point of view. They don’t require developers to start from scratch. Instead, they can start with existing websites (even just portions of websites) to provide the most important functions to customers in as short a time to market as possible.

Splitting functions that are normally fully integrated into native apps into much smaller modules further speeds development. And progressive web uses the same application program interfaces and the same tools as native apps, allowing brands to extend existing features to customers who can get lightning fast access to many powerful app-like features by simply clicking on a web link.

So what does this all mean to luxury retailers looking for an e-commerce edge? The loyal brand advocates — who spend often and spend a lot — will continue to love and use the robust native apps. That’s because progressive web still can’t quite match the full functionality of native apps.

Native apps will continue to be a great way to provide premium content with useful features that have been proven to increase sales, especially to loyal customers. For them, the native application is used like a loyalty card. Armed with a native app, for example, a customer can get notifications about special sales as they walk into a store.

At the same time, new customers and those who don’t have time to download native apps can realize many of the benefits of native apps with progressive web, whose features are improving all the time. It should be easy for the retailer to provide both experiences. They should be two steps in an acquisition funnel.

As progressive web continues to take the friction out of e-commerce, all aspects of mobile retail in the not-too-distant future may become so seamless and so fast that users won’t even know they’re in an app or on a web site. In fact, they probably won’t even care. The capabilities of progressive web will become better and better. And retailers will only stand to gain.

Stephan Schambach is considered one of the pioneers of e-commerce with the launch of Intershop online shopping software in 1995. He led Intershop and Demandware to IPOs. As founder of NewStore, Schambach is looking to solve the omnichannel problem facing retailers and brands.

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