PWA: progressive web applications are the future of mobile shopping

Aplikacje progresywne

According to the data of the Statista, in 2019 in the United States sales through mobile applications will amount to over 44% of the total e-commerce turnover, an increase of 5 percentage points compared to 2018. But are these figures not underestimated? After all, it does not take into account all those evening sessions, when a prospective customer browses in bed with a smartphone in hand for information about products, comparing their prices and capabilities. He will do the shopping in the morning, in front of the computer, but he has already made the decision with the phone in hand. Mobile interfaces have a greater impact on sales than it may seem from analytical data alone. This is why more and more online store owner come to us and ask – what can I do to reap the benefits of the smartphone revolution?

Responsive web sites are not enough for e-commerce

Until a couple of years ago, it seemed that Responsive Web Design (RWD) would be a cure for all illnesses of mobile websites. Today, practically every modern website is made with this technology, everywhere you can see hamburger buttons, allowing you to access the standard navigation menu of such websites. Not surprisingly. Responsive websites have provided:

  • the consistency of the page design on different devices while adapting to the size of their screens and the type of interaction,
  • one code base for all devices and systems,
  • improved SEO because of Google’s focus on mobile technologies.

So what has gone wrong with responsive websites? It’s all because of mobile applications that raised the level of expectations. Yes, responsive websites optimized the experience in mobile browsers, but mobile applications became even more convenient. In addition, responsive websites provided navigation and vertical scrolling by default, while smartphone users preferred horizontal scrolling. Also, it was sufficient to lose the fast LTE connection, and the responsive websites became impossibly slow.

Online shop owners who come to us usually have mobile versions of the website in place – and they realize that the conversion from this mobile website is not what they would like to see. The report from Qubit research company on mobile conversion, based on the analysis of 1.2 billion interactions with mobile users of e-commerce stores, demonstrated it accurately. Users were not abandoning shopping due to price. 47% complained that the store operated too slowly or was too complicated to use, 44% said that they could not find what they wanted. The losses are inevitable: about 20% of users are leaving at every additional step of the sales process.

Almost like a mobile app

So maybe the mobile app? Great, we propose it at the beginning. Technologically this is the best solution. Mobile shopping applications work fast and smoothly, and it is a pleasure to shop with them. Research confirms that they provide conversion even higher than online stores. But to be honest, a smaller e-shop can’t afford it. Building a good m-commerce application is an expense of at least tens of thousands of dollars, and of course, you have to build it on two systems, iOS, and Android. For smaller online stores, it will never pay back.

What helped us find a solution for even the smallest online stores was the release of iOS version 11.3 in the last year. Apple finally equaled the Android browsers and quietly introduced into Safari support for two technologies that allow PWA – Progressive Web Applications. This includes support for Web Manifest files and the Web Workers mechanism.

Apple’s support (even in this initial form) is one of the reasons why, according to a research company Gartner, it would replace half of the native mobile apps by 2020. Actually, we don’t believe in that. Native apps have many advantages and bring huge profits to Google and Apple. These companies will simply never allow progressive web applications to be equally good. This is particularly evident in the case of Apple, which dragged on as much as it could with support for PWA, and as it finally introduced support, it was in a limited form in comparison to Android.

However, a progressive shopping application does not have to be as good as a native application. It is enough for it to be just better than a responsive website.

How do progressive web apps actually work?

This is exactly what PWA allows, by combining certain features of native applications with the principles of responsive web design. Thanks to this technology it is possible to personalize the user’s experience and deliver content quickly, even if the Internet connection is slow. As a hybrid between a mobile app and a mobile website, they behave like a normal application.

PWAs have their own icon on the home screen, can work offline, can send push notifications. If necessary, they can also use the camera, GPS and NFC connectivity. And since they are just a special kind of website hosted on the server, they are easy to develop and update so that users always have access to the latest version. What is particularly important for online stores – PWA are searched and indexed by search engines, and the user does not have to search for them in the application stores.

progressive web apps architecture

All this is possible thanks to the architecture of progressive web apps, according to which everything is separated. The content described in HTML is separated from the graphics layer, described in style sheets. The business logic is contained in a separate JavaScript code. In the cache of smartphone PWA app stores the so-called App Shell, which is downloaded from the Internet only during the first launch, and then is immediately started with the application. The Service Workers mechanism determines what is already in the cache and what has to be reloaded and allows to run the application code in the background, increasing its performance. That’s why PWA works almost as fast as a native application, displaying the content immediately after launch.

The rules of this behavior are defined in a special file called the manifest – the mobile system reads it when the user wants to add a progressive application icon to the smartphone screen (the same as if he or she were adding a shortcut to a web page). The manifest file contains metadata such as names and icons, and allows the application interface to be adjusted to the screen size and orientation.

Now expect a good integration of mobile payments – the next generation of progressive web applications will allow for a much simpler purchase process from a smartphone.

Progressive web apps pay for themselves quickly

The effectiveness of such a solution can be seen immediately after implementation. The best-known example is perhaps the AliExpress platform, which after the implementation of the PWA application achieved:

  • on average 104% more conversion for new users on all smartphones
  • 82% more conversion among iPhone users
  • 200% more page views per session on all smartphones
  • 74% longer session time on all smartphones

The benefits of PWA technology are also evident from the results of the India-based MakeMyTrip service, which increased the number of sessions by 160% and its conversion by 300%. The progressive web application of Lancome company generated a 17% increase in conversion and in general a 51% increase in the number of mobile sessions. Interesting here is the results of the effectiveness of notifications: there was a 12% increase in the number of retrieved baskets and 8% increase of customers who responded to the notification by making a purchase. Finally, the OLX progressive web application allowed for a 250% increase in engagement through push notifications and a 146% increase in ad click-through rate, while the bounce rate decreased by 80%.

Aplikacja progresywna Aliexpress

It is clear that the combination of the capabilities of a mobile-optimized website with the usability of the application always improves the user experience, and this affects the profits of the store owner. What is important, these benefits appear not only on mobile devices. Progressive web applications also work very fast on Chrome and Firefox desktop browsers, and it is known that for Google, the speed of loading the website is today one of the most important signals in determining the ranking of search results.

This was demonstrated by BMW – the new progressive web application from a Bavarian car manufacturer loads three hundred times faster than the competition. Its dynamics fit perfectly into the brand image.


Aplikacja progresywna BMW

We always tell our customers that progressive web apps are nothing new, no one has reinvented gunpowder here. It is simply an ingenious combination of the web technologies existing for years, which can find mass application only nowadays due to market factors. They are in many cases a viable alternative to native applications, and certainly, they are always worth more than just responsive websites. By positively influencing the user experience, they increase the chance of success in business.

But that’s not all. How much is it worth to have an icon with your e-shop’s logo always on the smartphone’s home screen – and not to have to pay for renting this most valuable advertising space?


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