Progressive Web Apps (PWAs): A Game Changer for eCommerce Brands

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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Mobile is the future of all things digital. This is a widely accepted reality at this point.

As far as eCommerce retailers are concerned, this fact is illustrated by mobile retail commerce sales statistics from Statista that show mobile sales accounting for 53.9 percent of all eCommerce transactions by 2021.

However, while mobile transactions are skyrocketing, research shows that sales remain split between the mobile web and apps.

This begs the question: Which is better for a retailer to produce–a mobile site or a dedicated application?

What if I told you that the answer was neither?

The fact of the matter is that both mobile websites and native applications have significant drawbacks that decrease user engagement and conversions.

When speaking to mobile websites, speed is often sluggish. As 2018 Google research on mobile page speeds details:

“We did an analysis of 11 million mobile ads’ landing pages spanning 213 countries. That analysis confirmed our thesis: Even as most traffic is now occurring on 4G instead of 3G, the majority of mobile sites are still slow and bloated with too many elements… For 70 percent of the mobile landing pages we analyzed, it took more than five seconds for the visual content above the fold to display on the screen, and it took more than seven seconds to fully load all visual content above and below the fold.”

This same document goes on to detail that, “as page load time goes from one second to 10 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases 123 percent.”

mobilespeed is a significant barrier to success

Without even diving into the other problems presented by mobile websites, it is clear that speed is a significant barrier to success.

As far as applications are concerned, another 2018 Google study on app shopping experiences highlights that:

“53 percent of smartphone users say they do not have their favorite brand’s app installed on their phone… 42 percent of those who haven’t downloaded their favorite brand’s app have never considered downloading it… 63 percent of people say that when a brand forces them to download an app to access a deal, they will typically delete it shortly thereafter.”

Plainly put, people don’t want to download yet another application. This is further evidenced by the fact that comScore research shows that 51 percent of consumers download zero apps per month. For the other 49 percent, the number of apps downloaded is most commonly one.

So how can merchants get out from between this proverbial rock and hard place?

The answer is progressive web apps (PWAs).

A relatively new technology, progressive web apps are currently redefining the mobile experience. Bringing refreshing new capabilities to the table, PWAs are the mobile solution that sellers seek.

To illustrate exactly how PWAs stand to revolutionize mobile eCommerce experiences, let’s take a deep dive into what this technology is, how it works and what benefits can be derived from its deployment.

What Is a Progressive Web App?

Firstly, to understand what makes PWAs such a progression for mobile technology, it is necessary to delineate the differences between mobile websites and native applications.

Why use a Progressive Web App

Mobile websites are built for browsers and can operate on nearly any device. However, due to the universal nature of this technology, mobile sites cannot utilize the capabilities of a device, such as notifications.

Alternatively, native apps, which can use device-specific features, are built for specific platforms. While this enables apps to leverage the full extent of a device’s abilities, it also means that it is not compatible with other types of platforms. Instead, retailers would have to build a separate app, as many do for Android and iOS.

Because of this dichotomy, mobile websites are cheaper to create than apps but are limited in their engagement ability. Yet, while native apps can generate more captivating experiences, they are more expensive to make and can be less accessible to audiences.

Progressive web apps essentially take the best elements of each of these two technologies and blend those attributes together to create a mobile experience that acts like a native application while retaining the discoverability of a mobile website via search engines.

Therefore, PWAs adopt the universality of mobile websites and the appeal of native apps (such as device-specific features and offline usage) and package them into a single platform.

In short, progressive web apps combine the best of mobile websites and native applications into a single experience.

The end result is highly optimized and provides tons of benefits to retailers (which we will get to shortly).

In fact, many of the benefits derived from PWAs come from its deployment of headless architecture. This statement raises another critical question:

What is a headless structure?

far faster, more flexible shopping experience

Headless Architecture Explained

Headless architecture is an approach to web development that decouples the server-side code from the client-side code. By splitting these two elements, retailers can achieve a far faster, more flexible shopping experience.

Looking at more traditional web development structures, sites are typically built with the front-end experience being fixed to the back-end systems. Because of this type of structure, websites will often be slowed when attempting to retrieve information like images, payment gateways and similar elements.

As was touched upon previously, slower load times negatively impact SEO, sales and customer satisfaction.

Through the headless paradigm, sites are sped up significantly due to the decoupling of the front- and back-end systems, employing APIs’ calls to deliver content and other types of information to any sort of front-end design on any device. Using such a structure, the back-end simply stores content, thereby preventing limitations to delivery caused by code in other models.

Moreover, using headless architecture, APIs can pull information from anywhere, including IoT devices, apps, wearable devices, social networks and more.

From a developer standpoint, headless structures create an incredibly flexible and scalable design as (by virtue of the front-end and back-end being separated) developers can easily alter, upgrade and customize digital assets without jeopardizing the site’s performance and causing slowdowns. Additionally, headless architecture enables developers the freedom to select the front-end framework that works best for the project.

Given these substantial benefits, now seems like a good time to discuss the advantages provided by creating a progressive web application with a headless structure.

Why PWAs Are Important

Why PWAs Are Important

The reality is that a ton of major corporations have implemented PWAs because of the benefits the technologies provide. That list of notable names includes, but is not limited to:

  • Starbucks
  • Walmart
  • Trivago
  • Uber
  • Twitter
  • Telegram
  • Airbnb
  • Forbes
  • The Washington Post
  • Alibaba
  • Spotify

The list goes on and on.

The precise reasoning as to why these and many other companies have implemented headless PWAs is because the technology provides them with:

Speed of Delivery

Firstly, as far as creating PWAs is concerned, retailers can get a PWA built much faster than a traditional application. Moreover, not only are PWAs quicker to make, but they are easier to create and tend to demand fewer ongoing development requirements.

Affordability

In addition to the speed of delivery, progressive web apps are also much more affordable to build than native applications. Naturally, based on the complexity of the application, costs can vary greatly. That said, a medium to high complexity app can run merchants anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 and up from what we’ve seen in the market.

Flexibility

By virtue of decoupling the front- and back-end systems through headless architecture, merchants can update their content without interrupting user experiences on the front-end.

The separation of these elements means that merchants can implement significant changes to their site, such as enhancements to eCommerce checkout flows, updates to site features, the ability to launch new promotions instantly and the like without impeding visitors or requiring technical support.

Discoverability

One of the genuine highlights of PWAs is that, despite acting like a native app, they are still discoverable through Google search and other engines. This means that consumers can access a retailer’s store as they would a typical website, providing a significant advantage over the standard app.

Ability to Bypass App Stores

App stores are notoriously difficult for developers to work with as they must register an account, pay download fees, abide by the ever-changing app store rules and potentially wrestle with the platform’s potential abuse of power. Not to mention that most apps that are uploaded to app stores are simply buried under a tidal wave of other apps, never to be seen again.

However, since PWAs are discoverable through the SERPs, all of these frustrations are a thing of the past.

In addition to this, another fantastic benefit to bypassing the app store is that retailers never need to send in new builds again.

Previously, when changes needed to be made to a site–such as fixing a bug–developers would have to locate the issue, fix it, send in the new build to the app store and then wait for the company to review it and update the listing.

However, with PWAs, developers can immediately and seamlessly implement patches. No third-party reviewal process is required.

Increased Conversions

It isn’t just ancillary benefits that PWAs and headless architecture provide. These technologies offer concrete business results, often to a brand’s bottom line.

There is an array of case studies that highlight the power of PWAs as it relates to conversions and revenue.

For instance, when Flipkart launched its PWA, the company increased conversions by 70 percent. Similarly, AliExpress’s PWA implementation boosted new user conversion rates by 104 percent.

Need MORE PROOF?

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. George.com was also able to enhance its mobile customer experience with PWAs, resulting in a 31 percent increase in conversions.

Some other notable PWA success stories include:

While it is clear to see that these kinds of results are quite common, PWA Stats highlights tons of other instances of sites boosting their conversion rates as a result of employing a progressive web app.

However, this is only one of the many benefits detailed in each of these case studies. Another through line pertains to speed.

Enhanced Speeds

PWAs significantly improve site speeds. That is just a fact.

PWAs elevate load times as a result of its device-level caching, which reduces the data required to respond to a request. On the headless side of things, this architecture enables sellers to generate a data cache that allows stores to load content far faster than even the typical app.

As evidence of these claims, it is necessary to revisit the case studies mentioned in the previous section as these show that:

  • Adding service workers, Flipkart sped up its experience, increasing time on site threefold
  • AliExpress’s speed increase resulted in users visiting twice as many pages, alongside a 79 percent lift in time spent per session on all browsers
  • George.com achieved 3.8 times faster average load time on pages, resulting in 20 percent more pageviews per visit and 28 percent longer average time spent on site from home screen visits
  • Mynet generated four times faster average page load speeds, thereby earning 43 percent longer average visits

A Future-Proof Design

The fact is that PWAs that utilize a headless structure are far more future-proof than potentially any other platform available today.

Since headless commerce is APO-based, the system is compatible with yet-to-be-seen devices. Moreover, because of the detached nature of a headless structure, sellers can quickly create new front-end experiences for such evolutions without having to alter their back-end.

Elevated Security

Security is a massive consideration for digital merchants. Thankfully, headless PWAs serve such an end perfectly.

PWAs increase security measures as all content is served through the ever-necessary HTTPS protocol.

However, headless architecture is where the real magic happens.

Because of the separation of the front- and back-ends of the site, retailers are much less likely to experience a DDoS attack. Moreover, SQL injections are one of the most common means of hacking a website. Implementing a headless architecture removes the possibility by running on a server without the structured query language (SQL) or even without being connected to SQL, thereby making the shopping experience significantly safer.

Heightened Personalization

Since headless architecture enables sellers to experiment with new features and implementations, site owners can continually include or refine microinteractions and other personalized components for shoppers without disrupting their on-site experience.

This means that back-end tests can be run continuously to achieve greater levels of customization, thereby creating evermore engaging experiences for customers.

With these benefits in mind, let’s take a look at some of these elements in action.

PWA for Magento

Visiture is a big fan of Magento. In fact, we believe that Magento is a top platform for eCommerce retailers and we are soon to launch some of the first PWA sites on Magento, including ones for B2B eCommerce merchants. 

There’s a reason why we chose to build PWA sites on Magento. They are one of the names leading the charge into the future of mobile interactions with its PWA Studio.

When working with Minerva Beauty, a salon and spa equipment provider, to build their new Magento site on a PWA, we utilized the React library.

Through employing React, Visiture was able to completely revamp the Minerva site (currently in development), creating a much more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly layout. Here is what Minerva’s homepage looked like previously:

Minerva old site

After we remodeled the site utilizing React, the Minerva site has a much cleaner, more sophisticated appearance:

Minerva new site

However, it isn’t just appearances that have improved. The Minerva Beauty site obtained incredible measurable increases in site speed improvement.

Much like many of the other case studies discussed above, it is clear that integrating PWA and headless architecture into a brand’s technology stack has tangible, significant benefits that elevate customer experience and business revenue.

Progressive web apps are still relatively new for the eCommerce industry. However, all indicators show that the technology is on track to completely revolutionize mobile experiences and how eCommerce brands interface with their customers.

By adopting a headless PWA now, merchants stand to gain a significant edge over the competition as this blend between a traditional mobile website and native application caters to consumers’ wants, needs and desires in online mobile engagement.

If your brand wants to see how it can benefit from PWA implementation like Minerva did, reach out to Visiture’s design and development specialists. We can discuss how to launch your company into the next iteration of the eCommerce industry and mobile development.

Join 150+ Leading eCommerce Brands

And see how Visiture can grow your revenue online through award-winning transactional focused marketing services.

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