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What Are Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and How They Can Help You

Customers are growing to expect more, especially with all the technological advancements on the horizon. Depending upon your target customer group, their interactions and level of immersion into new technologies will vary. Whether you are catering to an older age group with limited technology exposure, or to youth familiar with every new trend, a common goal of eCommerce is to engage customers. The success of an eCommerce site is heavily dependent on making an impactful first impression.

Modern eCommerce platforms such as Magento and BigCommerce have made it easy to launch and operate a powerful eCommerce site. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a new technology that can help you incorporate better functionalities into your eCommerce offering. Commonly used for mobile devices to offer a better mobile commerce experience, PWAs can also be implemented in your desktop eCommerce offerings.

Embracing new technologies and the features they offer is key to staying ahead in the eCommerce market. While PWAs may not be a necessity, they can help you keep up and even beat the competition. They can be integrated with your core eCommerce site and customised to suit your niche and business. If you are currently in the development or planning phase for your eCommerce business, or are already operating a live eCommerce site, you can use PWAs for your advantage.

What Are Progressive Web Apps?

A type of application software, a progressive web application or PWA is built with common web technologies such as JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, and is delivered through the web. It uses next-generation APIs or application programming interfaces for the deployment of features typically found in specialised web applications but on any platform using a standard browser. As PWAs are in the form of a webpage or website, there is no need for separate distribution or bundling. Since customers do not have to download a specific app, they are likelier to use the PWAs.

Developers can incorporate the PWAs into the eCommerce site directly and as long as it meets the baseline installation requirements, customers can access the PWAs. Utilised by a wide range of businesses primarily for mobile websites, PWAs have been found to increase average time spent on page, conversions, and revenue. PWAs can perform advanced functions that were earlier not possible with traditional browsers. They promote responsiveness, rapid installation and fast loading.

There are three main components of PWAs, the HTTPS, service workers and manifest file. The HTTPS protocol is used to encrypt traffic passing between the app and other network locations by providing a secure transport layer. The service workers intercept requests from the network and processes them in web app format. Finally, the manifest file defines the appearance of the PWA to the end user, facilitating the creation of custom PWAs that look like native apps.

Although the concept of web apps was first announced in 2007 by Steve Jobs, their widespread use and application took place in the past few years. In the early 2010s, the development of dynamic web pages took place that enabled the creation of interactive web applications. The term ‘progressive web apps’ came in 2015, referring to apps available on modern browsers. Significant efforts were made by Google to promote PWAs for Android, and by 2019 they were accessible for Windows, Google Chrome, and MacOS devices.

PWAs in eCommerce

Among the first industries to embrace the trends of PWAs was eCommerce. Customer engagement is a top priority for eCommerce and PWAs have shown excellent results in creating engaging user experiences and reaching a wider customer base. They provide faster loading, better responsiveness and can create a native-app like experience. Despite PWAs compatibility with desktop devices, the features are limited as the browsers themselves have limited permissions. For desktop users, the primary applications of PWAs are in sending push notifications. Even then, users need to actively accept the sending of push notifications. The most significant applications of PWAs are in mobile commerce.

PWAs in Mobile Commerce

PWAs offer massive potential in mobile commerce by enabling you to offer a dedicated mobile app like experience without requiring customers to download an app. Implementing PWAs is far more cost-effective than developing a specialised app and can offer even better results. They can be used with Android and iOS devices and support faster transactions with easy payment options and auto-filling of credentials. Among the wide range of PWA benefits is that they allow users to access mobile-optimised sites offline as well.

The growth of mobile commerce is undeniable as mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets become increasingly common and advanced. As people spend extended periods of time on mobile devices, offering eCommerce through mobile commerce can open up a whole new market. Currently, the most common ways of offering mobile commerce are through mobile-optimised sites and dedicated mobile apps. Although dedicated mobile apps support better customisation, they can be expensive and require customers to download the app. In comparison, mobile optimised sites can be accessed directly from the browser. Leading eCommerce platform providers have built-in support for mobile-optimised sites.

By integrating PWAs with your mobile-optimised site, you can offer an app-like experience without the hassles of a dedicated app. Customers can create a shortcut to your eCommerce site on their mobile device homepage for quicker access and enjoy app-like features. There is also no need for cumbersome updates as required with dedicated apps.

Characteristics of PWAs

The technology of PWAs is continuously evolving with new strides made on a regular basis. Accordingly, the characteristics of PWAs are likely to improve further as the technology evolves. Furthermore, with capable developers, the potential for customising PWAs is immense.

The functionalities of PWAs depend upon the operating system used such as Android, iOS, Windows or Mac. The browser the customers use can also affect capabilities, for example, Chrome, Safari, Edgeor Samsung Browser. Another factor that can affect PWAs implementation is the capabilities of the mobile device used. Aspects of PWAs that are influenced are the basic support available, modes of engagement, style of app icons, full screen support, offline storage, installation, native input, and login and payments.

Here are some of the top characteristics of PWAs in mobile commerce:

  • Secure: For an eCommerce site, security is vital for every interface of the online store. PWAs are highly secure since there are minimal interactions with the internet directly, instead the network requests are routed through service workers. The HTTPS also provides excellent security, preventing tampering with the content or any type of snooping.
  • Installable: The installability of eCommerce sites equipped with PWAs is one of its major highlights. There is no need for customers to download and install an app. The PWAs can be accessed directly through the mobile web browser and shortcuts can be added to the home screen as icons without any third-part app store. 
  • Discoverability: Finding PWAs of eCommerce sites is quick and easy. They can be found and accessed directly from the mobile web browser search engine, or even from social media. The easy discoverability of PWAs enables them to reach a wider audience as compared to designated app stores, thereby increasing your brand visibility and target audience. 
  • Linkable: Fully linkable and shareable, the PWAs can be shared directly through the URL. Simply by clicking on the link, new users can view the PWA on their mobile web browser, and save and install icons on their own device. Linkable PWAs increase the chances of happy customers sharing the URL with others.
  • Compatibility: As more and more browsers extend support for PWAs, the PWAs are now compatible with a wider range of browsers. The PWAs utilise progressive enhancement principles to offer access across browsers, by separating the content from the presentation form. Depending upon the browser, the PWA adapts and focuses on providing the content in the best way possible. 
  • Responsive: Smart mobile devices come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and the variations are expected to increase in the future. The PWAs are responsive to the form factor used, and adjust their appearance, navigation and features accordingly. From small smartphone screens to larger tablets, PWAs ensure that customers get a uniform experience.
  • Fast: PWAs offer incredibly fast service, particularly after the initial loading. Through service workers, PWAs create programmable content caches that can retrieve content before it is used and discard content after its usage is finished. The way that PWAs are designed, the data cache process takes place in the background instead of upfront.
  • Offline Support: A major advantage of PWAs is that they are connectivity independent and support usage offline and on low quality networks. This is made possible with service workers. When internet connectivity is restored, new updates will be integrated. The offline and poor-quality internet support of PWAs enables you to offer customers uninterrupted performance and service.
  • App-Like Experience: The overall user experience with PWAs is like that of dedicated apps, beyond what is supported by mobile-optimised sites. The interactions and navigations are as offered by downloaded apps, without requiring customers to commit to a download. With careful coding, you can further customise the PWA experience as desired.
  • Up-to-date: The server worker update process results in the PWAs being fresh and always up-to-date without need for active updates. Similar to traditional web pages, whenever the site is refreshed the PWAs are automatically updated. The browser frequently checks for updates and all users will be able to access the latest version of your PWA. 
  • Push Notifications: A feature of PWAs available on mobile and desktop interfaces is push notifications. These push notifications are effective in re-engagement of existing customers and can be used even when the eCommerce site is not actively open. Push notifications can be customised to desired frequency, type of messages, content, and targeted recipients.

Advantages of PWAs

The trend of PWAs may be relatively new, but in a short amount of time they have proven their usefulness, particularly for eCommerce businesses. An excellent alternative to native apps, they are cost-effective while offering a user experience superior to that of mobile-optimised sites. While the applications of PWAs are primarily notable in mobile commerce, they can be an excellent asset for any eCommerce site. Fully customisable, with the right developers, PWAs can be a powerful tool to increase customers, sales, and revenue. Here are some of the main advantages of PWAs:

  • Increased Customer Adoption
    Progressive web apps are immensely user-friendly and require minimum commitment from customers. According to their preference, they can link your eCommerce site on their home screen or any other screen they prefer. There is no need for them to invest time and data into downloading and installing a designated application from an app store. All customers need to do is visit your eCommerce site on a browser, and accept the prompt to create a link on the home screen. This is particularly helpful if your target customers are not necessarily tech-savvy and avoid mobile commerce in general.

    The average number of dedicated mobile apps downloaded by customers has dropped significantly, with customers opting to only keep their preferred apps downloaded. Visiting a mobile optimised site or eCommerce site on a desktop requires additional efforts in searching for and opening the site. PWAs offer the least effort on the part of customers, increasing the likelihood of them frequenting your brand. Furthermore, having your PWA visible on their mobile device home screen will encourage customers to browse and purchase when they are free. Several eCommerce brands across the world have witnessed customers choosing the PWA instead of the dedicated mobile app the brand offers.
  • Better User Engagement
    Adequate customer engagement is the first step to gaining customer trust, conversions, and loyalty. With PWAs you can send customised push notifications to your customers, including on mobile and desktop devices. Push notifications play an important role in re-engagement of existing customers, or users who have linked the PWA to their home screen. These push notifications can be used to create a positive atmosphere and remind customers to check in and purchase. Unlike other forms of customer communication, customers are not required to share any contact details or email addresses.

    A vast majority of internet users prefer anonymity and would rather not create accounts, register, or give contact details, even email addresses. A study from Google found that nearly 60% of users allowed PWAs to send notifications. These push notifications can be used for targeted promotions, new announcements, personalised offers, order updates, or any other information. On mobile devices, the push notifications appear directly on the screen and can be viewed in detail at the convenience of the user. If customers have not visited your PWA site in a while, push notifications can spark their interest and encourage them to return, browse, and purchase.
  • Seamless User Experience
    Providing customers with a seamless user experience is integral to creating a positive impact, encouraging engagement, and generating loyalty. PWAs offer a user experience similar to that of a dedicated app, with fully customisable interface and features. Due to the built-in service workers, all the information, interactions and features of a PWA are automatically cached. This is done without any need for downloads. As a result, customers can access the data even without a stable or any internet connection. By supporting offline access to your eCommerce brand, you can cater to customers in areas with unreliable internet connectivity.

    Offline functionality also increases the likelihood of customers simply browsing your site when they are not connected to the internet. Whenever internet connectivity is restored, the PWA updates automatically. The fast page loading speeds further improve the overall user experience and discourage customers from abandoning your site. Progressive web apps have been found to outperform mobile optimised and dedicated app loading speeds, enabling you to offer the best possible connectivity for your customers. PWAs use significantly lower amounts of desk space on the user device and business server, saving on data usage and storage space. Fast page loading, availability offline, low space requirements and extensive customisation capabilities all lead to a seamless user experience.
  • Higher Conversion Rates
    Increasing conversion rates is the ultimate goal for every eCommerce business, regardless of whether the conversions are for purchase, subscription, registering, or any other metric. PWAs offer a seamless user experience, and are convenient for customers to access, increasing their frequency of interaction. In general, PWAs have a wide reach so you are able to access higher numbers of potential customers. Powerful PWAs can access the approximate location of customers to target them at the right time, and send customised messages for a greater impact. With PWAs cache setup, images, text and other types of content are shown effectively, adapting to the device used by the customer.

    Slow loading speed is a major deterrent for customers, leading to abandoned carts and high bounce rates. PWAs can target and reduce both abandoned carts and bounce rates. By loading faster and being available even offline, customers can spend time and enjoy their shopping experience, improving conversion rates. To increase purchasing, the PWAs can be equipped to handle fast transactions and speedy checkouts with secure payment modes. As the user experience is designed for mobile use, customers can easily navigate your eCommerce site, browse, add products to the cart, and checkout directly from the PWA.
  • Improved SEO
    Search engine optimisation or SEO is vital for every eCommerce business as it brings in organic traffic from search engines. Implementing SEO measures can increase the ranking of your brand on search engine result pages, giving you better visibility in front of your target audience. PWAs are entirely web-based and all the content within the PWA can be ranked by search engines, unlike native apps that are not scanned by search engines. Incorporating PWAs with your brand can enhance its SEO rankings as fast loading pages, low data usage, positive and engaging user experiences and reduced bounce rates, all boost SEO rankings.

    Beyond offering PWAs, it is important to implement SEO practices within the PWAs themselves. These include optimisation of the JavaScript and inclusion of adequate technical SEO so that search engines can correctly index your website and increase rankings. Experienced developers can use techniques like server-side rendering to create robust architecture for the PWA for optimum SEO rankings. Google gives priority to mobile-friendly and fast websites and since PWAs are still in the format of a website with unique URL, they qualify for high search engine result page rankings. The SEO-friendly nature of PWAs improves the visibility of the PWA itself, as well as your overall brand and eCommerce site.  
  • Cost Effective
    Before any investment into expansion or additional functionalities, it is important to consider the costs involved and the return on investment. For eCommerce sites considering mobile commerce, mobile-optimised sites are the cheapest, with minimal extra costs depending upon the eCommerce platform provider. Native apps tend to be quite expensive, take time in development, and require separate versions for Android and iOS operating systems. Even after spending so much money and time, there is no guarantee users will download the app. In comparison, PWAs are cheaper than native apps but more expensive then mobile-optimised sites, are highly cost-effective and offer the best return on investment.

    The exact costs of development of PWAs will depend upon the level of complexity and the types of features you want to support. Only one version is required and it can be used across platforms, operating systems, and browsers. There is also no need of extensive native app maintenance or marketing, since PWAs are automatically updated. With only one code base used in PWAs, updates are faster and there is less need for troubleshooting. Apart from reduced development costs, the turnaround time is faster for PWAs than a native app that would require clearance from app stores. Overall, PWAs offer an excellent ROI, and the development expenses are entirely dependent on your desired complexity.
  • Excellent Security
    There can be no compromises with security for any eCommerce site since personal and financial data of customers is involved. A single security breach, cyberattack, or leak can have long-lasting consequences. By assuring customers that your eCommerce brand is fully secure, on desktop and mobile interfaces, you can encourage customer trust and conversions. Progressive web apps offer excellent security as they utilise HTTP protocol and come with SSL certificates to fully protect transmitted data. They can be accessed by users without downloads and don’t interact with the hardware without express permission from users. This prevents security concerns for the device hardware.

    PWAs can be used across platforms and operating systems, resulting in fewer security gaps and protecting the data of customers. Any purchase can be made directly through the PWA with full security for all personal and financial details. The customisation potential of PWAs includes the gambit of security, allowing you and your customers to personalise security settings. Since PWAs use straightforward coding, there is minimal risk of hacking and damage to the code that can result in security breaches. With automatic updates, you can upgrade your security further as and when new technologies become available. Robust security acts as the backbone of your eCommerce business, supporting growth and expansion.
  • Aid in Promotions
    Promotions and marketing are an effective means of growth for any business, increasing the reach to new customer groups and encouraging re-engagement and purchasing from existing customers. However, promotional campaigns can become expensive and their results are not always guaranteed. PWAs are an effective aid for promotions, giving you access to a wider customer base. Based on the customer behaviour on the PWAs, you can understand their intentions and preferences and customise promotions. For any type of desired conversion, whether it is registration, subscription, or purchase, PWAs are a useful medium. Depending upon your preferences, you can also offer specialised discounts and deals for PWA users to enhance adoption of the PWA.

    The feature of push notifications can be immensely useful in promotions, by sending out announcements for special deals, discounts, and other marketing campaigns. Customer response to promotional campaigns on PWAs can be tracked and used to refine and adjust future campaigns. PWAs are linkable and easily sharable, so customers are likelier to share deals with others. Customers can also browse offline for your latest deals and complete the purchase online. Insights from the PWA performance can guide you in adapting promotions for your desktop site, giving you a better ROI from your marketing campaigns.

Are PWAs the Right Choice for You?

Not all new trends are worth investing in, however, progressive web applications have proven their worth for eCommerce businesses. They are an effective way to offer customers mobile commerce facilities without spending time and money in development of a native app. If your customers primarily engage with your eCommerce site through the desktop interface, you might not be sure if PWAs are the right choice for you. Consider the following aspects before deciding if you should develop and implement PWAs for your brand:

  • Your Target Customers: Examine your customer segmentation and identification of target customers to understand their habits. What age group do they comprise of? How much time do they spend on mobile devices? What do they use their mobile devices for? How is their internet connectivity? If your customers spend time on mobile devices browsing and shopping, then PWAs are a great option.
  • Existing Native App: Many eCommerce brands that have native apps have made the switch to PWAs. If you already have a native app, consider its performance. How frequently is it downloaded? What is the customer response? How is the engagement and conversions? A native app that is not bringing in customers or conversions is not helping your eCommerce brand. Consider switching to less expensive and more engaging PWAs. 
  • Mobile Commerce Goals: For an eCommerce business, mobile commerce is often a natural extension, if your customers spend time shopping on mobile devices. What are your mobile commerce goals? If you plan to expand into mobile commerce and develop it into a dedicated sales channel, PWAs are suitable. For simple support of a desktop site, a mobile optimised site can suffice.
  • Budget: Financial constraints can be very real, particularly for start-up eCommerce businesses. Expenses involved in developing and implementing PWAs will depend upon the degree of complexity and customisation involved. If you have a limited budget, you can start with a simpler PWA, and supplement its capabilities at a later point in time. Even a simple PWA can show results and bring you a decent return on investment.

PWAs offer excellent potential for any eCommerce brand interested in supporting mobile commerce. As technology evolves, the capabilities of PWAs are expected to grow further. PWAs are a cost-effective and efficient way to offer native-app like features without the commitment a native app requires. With PWAs, you can offer customers better engagement, seamless user experience, and full security, encouraging conversions and repeat purchases.

Experienced and capable developers can build custom PWAs for any eCommerce platform, such as BigCommerce, while Magento comes with a dedicated PWA Studio for faster creation and deployment of PWAs. Based on your goals for the PWAs, the target customer group, features to be incorporated and your budget, you can setup suitable progressive web apps. As desired, the PWAs can be adapted and evolved anywhere down the line, giving you full flexibility. Progressive web apps can substantially expand the reach and impact of your eCommerce brand, but you need to have a powerful eCommerce site to begin with. With the rapidly increasing competition in eCommerce, a robust site gives you the best chance at success. Here at 18th Digitech, as an end-to-end eCommerce solutions development agency, we create and refine eCommerce sites for greater success. Reach out to our qualified team to discuss your eCommerce needs.