Think Your eStore Needs an App? Think Again…

When we take on an eCommerce client, it’s just a matter of time until one of the stakeholders says the dreaded words: “Oh, and we’re working on an app too! Can you help us with that?”

Sigh … Yes we can, in a sense. We may be able to stop those app aspirations in their tracks, before the brand wastes time and money.

All it takes is two sentences. “Our specialty is direct-response digital ads. We can’t really run an ad to an app.”

Ohhh … 

These aspiring eCom moguls aren’t entirely wrong. Mobile remains the dominant vector of web browsing. According to Statista, since 2017 more than 50% of web traffic, on average, originates from mobile devices. In Q1 2021 it peaked at 54.8%, an all-time high.

So mobile represents more than half the traffic. Not to be ignored.

But is the only solution an app? More and more, the solution for these brands is looking like a Progressive Web App (PWA). 

While it has “app” in the name, a PWA is very different from the apps most of these people are thinking about … and it has a lot of advantages to recommend it.

Why a Mobile App Might Not Be the Answer for your eCom Store

Many entrepreneurs who want “apps” are thinking of native apps — discreet programs users can download to their phones from the iOS App Store, the Google Play store, etc. Think the Instagram app, the camera app, the Snapchat app.

Often, the stakeholders have ego investments in 2007-era thinking. 2007 was when the first iPhone came out, and the whole world caught app-mania. Apps were all the rage. Everyone needed an app.

With that demand arose the five-to-six-figure app development contract, as well as an army of shyster white-label solutions that get-rich-quick enthusiasts used to offer cheap, cookie-cutter apps that had less business value than a paperweight.

But is the heyday of the app passing? Sure, no one is going to delete Google Maps or Instagram off their phone. But what about the bread-and-butter eCommerce store? How much business value do their apps actually have? 

One stat from Think With Google should be sobering to your eCom app-development aspirations — 53% of smartphone users do not have the native app of their favorite retail brand installed on their phone. 

So … native apps are expensive, hard to get right … and fewer than 50% of your best customers will even bother to install them.

Why a PWA May Be the Better Mobile Solution

Enter the Progressive Web App (PWA). What are those guys all about?

Basically, a PWA is your eCommerce website as it appears in mobile browsers. Think of it as your “mobile-optimized” site. So why does it get a separate name?

Because PWAs are mobile websites that have evolved. They have been adapted to mimic the functionality and user experience of a native mobile app. It’s a website that acts like an app when users access it from their phones.

So why is this better? Several reasons:

  • PWAs are cheaper and easier to design than a native app, which (as Think With Google demonstrated) most of your customers won’t download anyway. 
  • PWAs are subject to SEO, the source of 43% of all eCommerce traffic. By contrast, your ability to optimize your app to be found in the App Store or another app marketplace is limited.
  • PWAs sync to your website, meaning you don’t have a separate app to update when you make changes on your website. Changing one usually changes the other. Easy!

And for the users who do want your “app” on their home screen, they can just use a “shortcut icon,” which sits side-by-side with native apps for one-touch access.


If your eCommerce brand has “app development” on the front burner, consider a PWA instead. In addition to several functional advantages, as well as limited disadvantages, you can save your capital for more impactful uses — like your marketing spend! 

(Was that last part self-serving? Sorry, not sorry.)

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