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PWAs: Making Sense of the App-less Revolution

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Approaching the edge of the technical cliff — where the path forward is no longer paved — is always unsettling and not for the faint of heart. However, pioneers who cut that path are often richly rewarded. In some ways, this describes Progressive Web Application (PWA) architecture. A PWA will undoubtedly cost more to design and develop initially, but the benefits can outweigh the investment. So how do you decide if a PWA makes sense for your business? This is a question many are pondering and one I will address in this article.

What is a PWA?

Progressive Web Apps are essentially responsive websites. They are built and enhanced with modern APIs and behave like native apps, communicating with your smartphone or device. It is worth thinking of them as app-like experiences delivered via the internet. You open them in a similar way to a webpage. This means that they are reliable and easily installed, reaching anyone, anywhere, on any device with a single codebase.

PWAs deliver new opportunities to support and enhance the customer experience. Many companies start by trying to understand the PWA technology instead of focusing on their customers and the role their brand plays in their customer’s life. It is critical to understand this before you explore the features PWAs enable to discern if the investment in PWA technology is justified.

Keep in mind, a PWA is a loose philosophy or ideology that informs how to build applications, and it can be implemented in countless different ways. In some cases, PWAs augment the main storefront with auxiliary applications that spotlight specific products or offerings, driving interested users to the main storefront application. In other cases, PWAs create a multichannel offering that ties the voice channel into the experience — more about that later. My point is that PWA applications are not an all or nothing concept. They can be added into an offering in different ways. The different approaches vary in cost and time to develop as well as overall impact.

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No Silver Bullet

Is a PWA always the answer? Not at all. There will be cases where the technology is simply not the right fit. This is one reason to identify the opportunity you want to address or the problems you want to solve before selecting the PWA architecture. It’s also important to consider the impact on your business. A PWA will inevitably drive more work to the front end of the application, or at least the technologies often associated with the front-end team. Is your current team staffed to support this? If not, can you adjust resources or hire an agency to assist? These are key questions to ask.

With some approaches, you may be required to overhaul or optimize your designs to achieve the maximum performance benefit and experience of a PWA. If you are going to embrace the PWA, take the time to understand your users, consider and plan for the impacts to your current team, and optimize the site to take maximum advantage of the new architecture. 

Multichannel Applications

One of the biggest advantages the PWA architecture offers is the ability to have a single application running across multiple channels. For the past several years, multi-channel meant having a discrete presence on each channel. Channels were self-aware but could not look beyond their borders.

This siloed perspective was exacerbated by channel-specific teams, and, in some cases, even content or APIs. Combining a PWA with a middle-tier layer, say Lambda — a self-contained block of functionality that can be passed around and used in your code — provides a layer of intelligence to orchestrate customer engagement strategically across all channels. This enables entirely new ways to engage customers and optimize the experience. When you combine this with headless content and personalization, you enrich this experience tremendously.

You also can bring non-traditional channels, like voice, into your overall solution. With all your channels knit together around users and the ability to identify and engage users strategically across all of them, you can provide an entirely new level of service.

This is truly the heart of the PWA. It is a focus on the user and the experience you deliver. It is understanding how you fit into your customer’s world and what you can do to serve them better and gain their loyalty. As mentioned above, this solution is not for everyone, but it can offer companies for which investment makes sense a unique way to deliver unrivaled experiences.


Sean Farrington is Area Vice President of LiveArea’s Front-end Development practice. He has nearly 20 years of experience developing and launching innovative technologies, including Progressive Web Applications. He plays a leadership role in applying technology to build engaging customer experiences through intelligent, multi-channel ecosystems. 

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