Design & Development

Are PWAs the Future of Mobile Commerce?

Compared to a typical, mobile-optimized web page, progressive web apps may give mobile shoppers a better browsing and buying experience while helping online sellers attract more customers, convert at a better rate, and, ultimately, earn additional sales and profit.

It is for these reasons that progressive web apps — PWAs — may be the next phase of mobile web optimization.

Not long ago, optimizing a business’s website for mobile users was a competitive advantage. If you took the time to build a responsive web page that would adapt to small screens, deliver fast-loading images, and convert links to touch-friendly buttons, mobile shoppers would reward your company. This was especially true when most of your competitors didn’t offer a good mobile shopping experience.

Now, however, mobile optimization or even mobile-first web design is the standard. It is the ante, if you will, for doing business online. To put your company ahead of its competitors, you must deliver a nearly instantaneous mobile shopping experience coupled with native-app-like features. You also want search engines like Google to reward you for embracing web development best practices.

All of these requirements are just the sort of things a PWA can do.

PWAs: Familiar Features

Built with web standards such as HTTPS, web app manifests (controls appearance and usage), and, perhaps most importantly, service workers (background scripts to support offline activity), PWAs are web pages that, in many ways, act like native mobile apps.

For example, a PWA can function offline, when a mobile user’s smartphone doesn’t have a data connection — assuming it is not the first time a visitor has come to your site.

PWS can offer push notifications to let shoppers know, for example, when wishlist items go on sale. PWAs can even be accessed from an icon on a smartphone’s home screen, like native apps. And PWAs are very fast, sometimes even faster than apps

These features can drive business results. For example, a well-received 2016 report from ad-serving firm DoubleClick by Google found that 53 percent of mobile internet users will abandon a website if it takes more than three seconds to load. In fact, about the same percentage of users believed a website should load in no more than one or two seconds.

If your company's site takes more than three seconds to load, you might be losing half of your potential customers.

If your company’s site takes more than three seconds to load, you might be losing half of your potential customers.

If this data held true for your business and your current site takes about three and a half seconds to load on a mobile browser, you could be missing out on half of your site traffic and half of your sales.

Consider this example. Imagine your mobile site receives 1,000 visitors each day. Your current conversion rate is about 3 percent, so these visitors produce roughly 30 sales. Your company’s average order value is $50. The 30 sales work out to be $1,500 per day.

Now, assume that your mobile site is very slow. Of the 1,000 daily visitors, only 500 waited for the home page to load. The other 500 never even saw your products. Thus your 30 sales came from 500 visitors, not 1,000.

If you could speed up your site so that it loads in less than a second, 500 additional shoppers would see your products, your on-site merchandising, and your current offers.

These 500 folks might result in 30 more sales, potentially doubling revenue.

What’s more, if a shopper lost his network connection while browsing your online store with a PWA, he could still search for products and add them to the shopping cart. When it was time to check out, the app would inform him that he was offline and ask if it should notify him (via a push notification) when he had a network connection and could complete the transaction.

In short, PWAs and their native-app-life features can improve results. Online store AliExpress, as an example, increased its conversion rate 104 percent when it converted to a PWA.

PWAs vs. Apps

If native app features — fast and responsive user experience, offline functionality, and push notifications — can increase sales, why should a merchant mess around with a PWA or even a mobile-optimized website when it could launch a native app for iOS, Android, or both?

Well, for one thing, “not every customer or potential customer will install your native app,” explained Jason Grigsby, co-founder of Cloud Four, during his presentation at Smashing Conference, San Francisco 2017.

In addition, “the cost of [customer] acquisition in app stores has gotten really, really high,” according to Grigsby, who pointed out that there are more than 2 million apps in the iOS app store, but that 49 percent of mobile users don’t download any new apps in a typical month.

Perhaps the answer is a combination. For many businesses, using both a PWA and a native app could be a comprehensive mobile strategy.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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