Why progressive web apps are the future of mobile commerce

It’s no secret that, while bricks-and-mortar retail is on the decline, e-commerce has been steadily growing in popularity. In fact, between December 2008 and December 2018, internet sales increased from 5.8% to 20% of total retail sales in the UK.

However, while most retailers now recognise the importance of investing in their online stores to attract e-commerce customers, it is becoming widely predicted that mobile commerce is likely to overtake desktop sales globally as soon as 2023.

This means that it will not only remain vital for retailers to have an established online presence, but they must also ensure that they are offering an exceptional experience for the rising number of consumers shopping on a mobile.

When it first started to become clear that mobile commerce was on the rise, many businesses took the step to develop a native app, as they were seen to offer a better user experience than responsive web pages on a mobile device.

While this may be true, native apps fail to offer the reach of websites, and studies have repeatedly shown that users quickly uninstall the majority of apps after downloading them. This is often due to a lack of phone storage space, slow loading speeds and poor performance caused by the user failing to keep apps updated.

This, combined with the fact that Google is now using mobile-first indexing for over half the web pages shown in its search results globally, has prompted more digitally savvy businesses to look for a more effective alternative. As a result, over the past few months more and more retailers have begun implementing progressive web apps (PWAs) in order to improve their mobile strategy.

PWAs successfully bridge the gap between mobile websites and native mobile apps, and have rapidly become one of the most talked about new technologies in the world of e-commerce.

What are the benefits?

PWAs offer a host of benefits, both to retailers and to their potential customers. From the retailer’s perspective, a PWA has the potential to save them both time and money compared with a native app. This is because it only needs to be developed once, whereas a native app will need to be developed separately for iOS and Android operating systems.

Unlike PWAs, which are accessible from a web browser, these two different native apps must be submitted individually to both app stores. They are then required to pass the strict approval rules before they can be made available for download. Once they are available, they are also more difficult for retailers to promote than PWAs, which have the benefit of being marketed via the same channels as normal websites, including organic and paid search, or links on social media.

Studies have previously shown that, on average, apps lose 20% of their users for every step between the user’s first contact with the app and starting to use the app. With traditional apps, a user must first find the app in an app store, download it, install it and then, finally, open it. When a user finds your PWA, they will be able to immediately start using it, eliminating the unnecessary downloading and installation stages.

For the consumer, not having to download PWAs through an app store not only makes the process much quicker and easier, but it also means that they don’t have to worry about the app taking up potentially limited storage space on their device. As a result, there isn’t the risk of them deleting the app, or deciding against downloading it in the first place.

PWAs are much faster to load than regular web pages, and easier to launch than native apps. With research showing that 40% of users would leave a website that takes more than three seconds to load, PWAs could prove to be key in improving mobile conversion rates. They also don’t require the user to carry out any updates, meaning that their performance is more consistent than native apps.

Improving the user experience even further, PWAs also function in low-connectivity or offline environments. Pre-cached content allows customers to continue browsing, which they would be unable to do on a native app or mobile website. This is both more convenient for the consumer, and beneficial for retailers, as they are less likely to lose out on sales due to connectivity issues.

Proven success

A number of high profile retailers have already recognised the advantages of PWAs and started reaping the rewards. In 2017, Debenhams realised that while its mobile traffic was on the rise, mobile conversions were growing at a much slower rate, particularly on its app. In order to improve its mobile experience, Debenhams decided to invest in a PWA and the results have been impressive.

According to Google, Debenhams’ conversions, revenue, funnel performance, speed and bounce rates have all improved since the PWA’s launch. The journey time from browse to purchase is now two to four times faster than on the previous mobile site, and the PWA has helped to deliver a 40% increase in mobile revenue and a 20% increase in conversions, which has driven above-market online growth. Interestingly, Debenhams also saw a spike in purchase at commuter times, which could be due to the PWA’s offline functionality allowing more consumers to browse while on a train or in a car.

George, ASDA’s clothing brand, has experienced similar success since upgrading its own site to a PWA. Page load time for shoppers was reduced significantly, and the business saw a 31% increase in conversion and 20% more page views per visit. By also including an “Add to Home Screen” prompt on its PWA, the retailer saw a 28% increase in customer time on-site.

As more and more consumers are preferring to shop via a mobile device, offering a superior mobile experience will be crucial to retailers’ ongoing e-commerce success. With some retailers already catching onto the PWA trend, and Google pushing forward with its mobile-first indexing, businesses that don’t adopt this technology will soon start to feel the effects.

By Sam Rutley, managing director at PushON, an award-winning full service e-commerce agency

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