By Mark West, CEO
The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) produced a report in February 2017 and claimed that the number of UK people who shop via mobile devices will rise by over 20% in 2017,, from 23m in 2016 to 28m in 2017.
Retailers who have wanted to optimise their ecommerce website for customers who visit them using their mobile devices have until recently only had two options to properly engage with this rapidly growing audience; develop a dynamic and responsive website or face the expense of building a native app, or do both. These options can be achieved with a bespoke development, or with an off-the-shelf solution.
Now however a powerful alternative has arrived: Progressive Web Apps, which in simplistic terms is a much more accessible and cost-effective hybrid of the previous options.
A dynamic or responsive website (also referred to as a mobile website) will have mobile focused functionality like having a unique navigation for small screen mobile users. It will also have been built to be screen responsive and will work across a wide range of web browsers and devices – from small screen mobiles and tablets to large HD television displays. However, it has some shortcomings when it comes to being a personalised experience that is unique for each user and be truly optimised for the mobile journey.
On the other side, native mobile apps are built using languages that work with iOS or Android operating systems. This allows the developers to focus on this particular audience and create a fast and engaging experience that can be made more personal to each user with notifications and more unique features. These apps can also harness all of the technology found on the users mobile device – camera, storage, notifications and more. Native apps can be very expensive to develop with separate versions required for both iOS and Android operating systems. Distribution is also more difficult requiring each user to engage and download the app from their app store. Some consumers also do not bother with apps at all, with a relatively small engagement when compared to the scale of users who engage with ecommerce websites every day. Native apps also require the developers to keep them updated as with any software, but updating can be slow with Apple and Android approval needed each time.
This new approach that is called Progressive Web can provide many of the benefits that come with having a native app but does not require users to download anything; they simply visit an ecommerce site as they would normally and the progressive web technology serves the site with the same functionality and usability as if they were using a native app.
Essentially the term Progressive Web Apps is a collection of new web technologies that work to provide a richer, more intuitive experience for a rapidly growing mobile ecommerce audience.
Tip: Understand how to best use “service workers” and cache important elements within your Progressive Web App
These web technologies include some serious new innovations, like “service workers”.
This term describes a programmable proxy that sits between the customers browser and the server. This enables many of the following features to be implemented.
For example, a service worker can control the fetching of new data only if the users connection to the internet/network is good enough. If a user has a weak or no connection at all, the Progressive Web App can display selective cached data instead.
This enables us to show an offline message which makes for a better experience regardless of the users connection. Previously this level of functionality would only have been possible within a native app.
Tip: Be sure to offer your customers an icon to easy access your Progressive Web App
Native apps should have been great for ecommerce customers as it provides a way for their loyal customers to directly access their favourite shop in a fast and personalised way from an icon on their device screen. This has not been the case in reality because of how apps work and the cumbersome way they are updated. A person is usually required to search and manually download an app onto their device. If they have not opened the app for a few weeks they may be informed they have to download an update before they can shop. These factors become a hassle for the user and a barrier to their shopping experience, especially when they just want a quick glance at the latest the retailer has to offer.
A Progressive Web App can allow users to easily download an icon onto their device – giving them that same easy access they would have with a native app. There would be nothing to download from the app store as the Progressive Web App would be streamed online, as it is still essentially a website.
Tip: Implement device push notifications to your customers
There are also other advantages with Progressive Web Apps that were only available within native apps previously. Android users can now receive device push notifications and also access geo-location tools – which could be used to automatically find their nearest bricks and mortar store.
Apple Inc is currently developing new ways to integrate with Progressive Web Apps and we expect that push notifications and device tools only available with native iOS apps will soon also become triggered by Progressive Web Apps.
Tip: You should be able to start using Progressive Web App functionality straight away
A Progressive Web App is also a great technology innovation for retailers. Their web developers can make a start straight away and continue to use existing mobile web code and functionality, but can provide these new features and functionality in as short a time to market as possible.
Tip: Your new Progressive Web App should yield an immediate increase to performance
A quick snapshot of Google Analytics the day after launch of a new client Progressive Web App showing load time stats.
There is also growing evidence to show that Google and other search engines look favourably on websites that have incorporated Progressive Web technologies and reward them with better search rankings. Correct implementation of Progressive Web indicates to Google that the retailer has invested in making a better experience for their users.
Tip: A Progressive Web App should load much faster than a conventional mobile or standard website
Speed is also now a crucial factor for any ecommerce website and as Progressive Web functionality allows for smaller and more optimised modules, the experience can be made to be extremely efficient and fast. We undertook a benchmark test of the new Progressive Web App that we have developed for Moss Bros against several major high street brand sites, the Moss homepage had fully loaded within 7 seconds with the second fastest - Reiss only just starting to load at that point.
Any well-built Progressive Web App will feel so much like a native app now that the user will probably be unaware of the difference. However, when you look at cost to benefit analysis the future looks clear that Progressive Web Apps will play a significant role in the evolution of ecommerce. Providing a clear way for forward-facing retailers to further engage and cater for the ever-growing audience of 28+ million UK mobile shoppers.
At Remarkable.net, we believe the web is the platform of the future for apps as it is the most widely understood and used technology. In the past the mobile web has only provided an entry level suite of functionality for users, sending them to the app stores if they were after a deeper mobile experience. This landscape is now changing thanks to Progressive Web Apps.