PWAs and Headless Commerce: The Future of eCommerce Websites

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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According to data from Statista, in 2019, eCommerce sales “amounted to 3.53 trillion US dollars and e-retail revenues are projected to grow to 6.54 trillion US dollars in 2022.”

Because of the historical and projected growth in the eCommerce industry, scores of new retailers have thrown their hats into the proverbial ring as many more continue to scale online retail operations to new heights.

As exponentially more merchants enter the digital sales arena, the competition grows increasingly fierce. As a result of the ever-heightening levels of rivalry, business leaders must seek out and build more creative, intuitive and satisfying user experiences to woo consumers onto their sites and into conversions.

However, creativity is often stifled by the limitations presented by the platforms employed and technological standards.

But eCommerce is beginning to enter a new era, and in this new epoch, progressive web apps (PWAs) and headless commerce will reign supreme.

What Is Headless Commerce?

Headless commerce is an architecture designed to provide consumers with a greatly enhanced shopping experience. Under the headless paradigm, retailers can separate the front-end of their websites from the back-end management systems.

Traditionally, eCommerce platforms featured a predefined front-end experience that was intrinsically tied with the back-end systems as a means of retrieving information to display to site visitors–be it products, blogs, payment gateways and the like. However, because of this dynamic, pages are often bogged down, causing slow load times and thereby negatively impacting SEO performance, customer satisfaction and a myriad of other essential concerns for eCommerce retailers.

However, with headless commerce, the front-end and back-end are decoupled, and API calls are employed to retrieve information, effectively resulting in much faster site experiences. This spike in speed is arguably one of the most important benefits provided by headless commerce, though it is not the only advantage provided.

When office supply company Staples launched their PWA site, they shaved 6 seconds off their load time, resulting in a 10 percent increase in their conversion rate. 

pingdom screenshot

In addition to smoother site experiences, headless commerce structures are incredibly flexible and scalable as online merchants can more easily customize and update their storefronts while continuing to provide visitors with highly personalized experiences without the fear of slowdowns to the website. Moreover, since the front-end is removed from the back, retailers gain an enhanced sense of security.

A significant reason for the need for an architecture like headless commerce is the user-driven shift toward omnichannel commerce. With this new standard of online behavior, consumers continue to access online stores from a growing number of devices, including desktops, smartphones, tablets, Amazon Echo, Google Home and other platforms, as well as through various portals. These newer connection points mean that retailers must continually seek out development platforms that enable them to alter their storefronts to accommodate these mediums, while also minimizing downtime.

Headless commerce is that solution as online merchants can adjust their site’s presentation without amending the database which supports the front-end.

With that foundation, let’s now take a closer look at progressive web apps (PWAs).

What Is a PWA?

Many industry experts consider progressive web applications as the future of eCommerce, and for good reasons.

PWAs blend the experience and benefits of device-specific applications with the universality and discoverability of web applications. PWAs are set up in a manner that allows users to interact with them much like a native application, providing a sense of familiarity.

When these are accessed a second time (or anytime after the first interaction), users are presented with the option to store the app on their device’s home screen. When launched from the home screen, PWAs allow websites to look, feel and function just like a native application, but with a few extra benefits that can help redefine the mobile experience.

Through PWAs, retailers can optimize sites to create a seamless mobile shopping experience that eliminates slow-loading pages–no matter the device. Because of this framework’s speed and universality, retailers stand to earn considerably more conversions.

Pwa Quote

After implementing a PWA solution, AliExpress increased its new user conversion rates by a whopping 104 percent and garnered twice as many pages visited per session across all browsers. Meanwhile, UK clothing brand George.com achieved nearly four times faster average page load times and a 31 percent increase in conversions. Similarly, Alibaba’s deployment of a PWA resulted in a 76 percent increase in mobile web conversions.

PWA example

These types of results, mind you, are not exactly outliers. Many brands have achieved similar success with their PWA implementations.

So, what do these two things have to do with one another?

PWAs and Headless Commerce: The PB&J of eCommerce Technologies

Retailers who deploy a PWA equipped with a headless CMS create a far more efficient, accessible and future-proof platform for their businesses.

Given that PWAs are discoverable via Google search, potential customers can still access web stores in the same way they would a typical website. This dynamic also gives PWAs an edge over native applications (that many users don’t want to install to begin with), which are often uploaded into digital oblivion once they hit app stores. Moreover, merchants safeguard against future digital evolutions as headless commerce is API-based, thereby making them compatible with potential forthcoming front-end UIs that retailers might implement.

Additionally, as new devices emerge into the marketplace, eCommerce stores will have to become compatible with the latest tech quickly. The use of PWAs and headless commerce allows for retailers to render new front-end experiences without having to alter their back-end.

But one of the most compelling reasons why PWAs and headless commerce work so well together (as opposed to applying headless architecture to a traditional application) is that developing PWAs is easier and more affordable than creating a native app.

Developers who have the ability to design PWAs can do so quickly when compared to their native counterparts. Moreover, once completed, PWAs are compatible with all devices and operating systems. The same cannot be said for traditional apps.

With the headless structure in place, retailers can easily update their PWA, experiment with the UI, fix bugs and conduct other behind-the-scenes business without interrupting customer experiences.

With the big picture of how PWAs and headless commerce work together to create revolutionary new experiences for retailers and customers, let’s dive into the details on the benefits that eCommerce store owners can expect to receive from deploying this dynamic duo.

Benefits of PWAs and Headless Commerce

Benefits of PWAs + Headless Commerce

While there are many advantages to be reaped from this combination, some of the more prominent outcomes include:

Flexibility

Given that headless commerce decouples a system’s front-and-back-ends, this allows for retailers to update their content layer without disrupting operations, thereby allowing for complete system flexibility.

When the front-end and back-end have been detached, merchants can make changes as big as implementing a custom checkout flow or as small as altering contact form fields.

Moreover, retailers can launch new campaigns at any time, updating the necessary website elements without having to rely on technical support to get the job done.

Customization

Again, thanks to the decoupling process of headless commerce, retailers can partner with developers to establish the ideal integrations that will amplify a brand’s bottom line. This system segregation makes customization and integration much easier and more fluid.

Personalization

With the front-end and back-end separated, retailers are free to experiment with new features and microinteractions that PWAs provide, without concerns about slowing down a website or disrupting a transaction.

Therefore, marketers could continually run back-end tests for implementing higher levels of personalization without interrupting the current user experience.

Through this paradigm, businesses can develop increasingly engaging eCommerce experiences around personalized recommendations for content, products and similar resources.

Speed

When it comes to speed, both headless commerce and the PWA framework serve to increase site load times.

PWAs enable sites to load lightning fast because they utilize device-level caching, thereby minimizing the data needed to respond to a given request.

As for headless commerce, retailers can create a data cache that stores the entirety of a store’s catalog and/or static content. This cache also allows for online stores to load content at much faster speeds and enables the site to handle increased traffic when compared to a full-stack application.

pingdom screenshot 2

In 2017, fashion retailer Lilly Pulitzer launched a new PWA that helped increase their traffic by 80 percent and revenue by 33 percent during the website’s first week. The use of the PWA helped Pulitzer increase their page speed significantly, making them one of the fastest sites in the fashion sector. 

Security

Not only does headless commerce provide retailers with an added layer of protection by virtue of separating the front-and-back-ends, but PWAs also enhance cyber safety as all serve their content through a secure portal such as the HTTPS protocol.

With both elements in play, merchants can develop a much more secure shopping experience for their customers.

The Competitive Edge

As mentioned earlier, an ever-increasing number of consumers access websites through a variety of portals, ultimately engaging in omnichannel shopping. As has been noted in a study of 46,000 shoppers by Harvard Business Review:

“The omnichannel strategy hinges on the idea that providing a seamless shopping experience in brick-and-mortar stores and through a variety of digital channels not only differentiates retailers from their peers but also gives them a competitive edge over online-only retailers by leveraging their store assets… Our study’s results are revealing. They show that the retailer’s omnichannel customers are more valuable on multiple counts. After controlling for shopping experience, they spent an average of 4 percent more on every shopping occasion in the store and 10 percent more online than single-channel customers. Even more compelling, with every additional channel they used, the shoppers spent more money.”

The point here is that retailers who neglect to implement PWAs with headless commerce leave the opening for their competitors to do so, thereby falling behind the curve in the process.

PWAs and headless commerce help to place an omnichannel strategy at the center of the customer experience, while also helping retailers to gain a significant return on investment as a result.

The future is coming fast. It is constantly bearing down on business owners of all types. The only question is: Who will be prepared when it arrives?

By developing a PWA with a headless structure, retailers stand to gain massive benefits with very few drawbacks.

If you are ready to drive your brand into the future of eCommerce, reach out to our web development experts to see how we can help your brand hold the competitive edge when the inevitable evolution of eCommerce arrives.

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