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Why Magento PWAs Are Already Revolutionising eCommerce

Forbes PWA

It feels like quite some time now since Magento announced back in 2017 that they were becoming a PWA (Progressive Web Application) platform.

The introduction of PWAs has since been heralded as another key step along the eCommerce pathway, reimagining the use of mobile phones in online shopping and disrupting the existing foundation that mCommerce sits on. This blog will look at what Magento PWAs could mean for eCommerce businesses in the future and how they will impact the world of online shopping as a whole.

What Is A PWA?

So, first things first, we need to explain what a PWA is. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that they provide an app-like experience for eCommerce websites. They are a way of connecting your customers directly to your eCommerce store through a shortcut or icon which has been added to their smartphone or mobile device. This is where the magic happens – users can then access your website WITHOUT opening an internet browser first.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of PWAs is that they can be used to browse even when offline, which is why they are being heralded as a genuine eCommerce game-changer.

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PWAs are impressive pieces of work. They display your store in full-screen which allows eCommerce agencies and developers to create incredibly fast shopping experiences that just deliver a really high-quality user experience – something we know customers (and search engines like Google) love. Not only that, perhaps the biggest benefit of PWAs is that they can be used to browse offline. Now you can see why this bit of tech is being shouted about as a genuine eCommerce game-changer.

Many eCommerce business owners around the world have already taken the plunge and invested in implementing PWAs on their Magento store, with fantastic results including improved conversion rate, reduced application weight and an overall increase in traffic. It’s a case of when PWAs become the norm, not if. Research by Statista reported that approximately 50% of consumers use their mobile phones to shop online, and it is estimated that mCommerce sales will top £2.8billion by 2021.

In summary, the key benefits of PWAs are:

• Faster browsing experiences – they’re lightning quick as pages don’t need to be loaded when browsing.
• App-like push notifications – users can enjoy the benefits of receiving push notifications in the browser.
• Instant gratification – instantly discoverable, PWAs are unbelievably simple to use via the browser.
• Access even when offline – users can enjoy uninterrupted browsing as the PWA can detect network status to pre-fetch catalog content.
• Quick re-engagement – PWAs can be saved to the home screen and accommodate instant re-access without the need to reopen a browser.

To give you a demonstration of how PWAs work with Magento, this short YouTube video shows how they provide a flawless user experience on mobile devices.

How Do PWAs Work?

In its simplest form, Progressive Web Applications are software applications that are written in the web platform (eg. Magento) and run in the browser (eg. Google Chrome).

They are almost like a hybrid piece of software; they’re an application because they install and run code on the user’s mobile device, but they’re also classed as web because they are written in native languages like HTML and CSS. The end result is a user experience that is fast, smooth and most importantly enjoyable to use.

The term PWA was actually invented by Google, although Google doesn’t own any intellectual property surrounding the phrase, unlike the way Adobe owns Flash for example. Instead, the entire landscape surrounding PWAs is open to all and Google actually present a huge amount of research and documentation to explain everything which you can find here.

So what makes a PWA any better than a fast website, we hear you ask? Well, there are actually a number of reasons.

Perhaps the biggest advantage a PWA has over a reasonably quick site is that it has the ability to minimise network traffic, meaning it can operate effectively on a slow or even a non-existent connection. With heavy amounts of caching and code that is loaded progressively when required, PWAs are lightning quick even when offline.

With heavy amounts of caching and code that is loaded progressively when required, PWAs are lightning quick even when offline.

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Following on from that, there’s the addition of a Service Worker to further streamline the experience and expand the capabilities of the app, meaning the PWA doesn’t require network traffic for every interaction. It’s also this piece of software that can request push notification permissions even when the browser is closed!

Last of all, there’s the fact that PWAs can be registered as an app on Android and Windows phones (iOS coming soon) which can, therefore, live on home screens just like native apps, rather than having to launch out of a web browser tab. Combine that with the fact that the PWA can be downloaded instantly, much faster than installing a native app from any app store, and you can see why they are better than the fast website.

In their original announcement back in 2017, Magento made a very strong commitment to PWAs and their future, stating that they ‘weren’t just building and releasing a ‘PWA theme’, but focusing on the end-to-end experience of self-education, feedback cycle, quality assurance, deployment and extension.’

Why Are Magento PWAs So Important?

A few years ago, mobile commerce wasn’t anywhere near as big as it is now, prior to the event dubbed ‘Mobilegeddon’ which relates to the significant Google algorithm change that took place on 21st April 2015. This update gave a rankings boost to websites that displayed well on smartphones and other devices but had no impact on searches made from desktop computers or tablets. It caught the attention of businesses worldwide who had previously given little consideration to the mobile online shopping experience.

It’s fair to say that mCommerce is bigger now than ever before and it will continue to remain the focus of eCommerce agencies and developers for years to come, or for as long as customers continue to shop on their mobile phones – which isn’t anytime soon, let’s be honest!

It’s because of the growth of mobile phone use that PWAs are suddenly starting to transform the eCommerce marketplace. A fast, easy-to-use interface on any website is absolutely crucial in delivering results and building a customer base, and PWAs bring so many benefits it would be ill-advised to ignore their clear advantages over a more traditional website setup.

If you want to provide your customers with a faster, easier and more engaging way to interact with your eCommerce store, it’s time to look at a PWA.

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For Magento websites, quicker browsing is a welcome perk. Despite being one of the more resource-heavy eCommerce platforms, Magento provides the perfect combination of features for online businesses to grow and ultimately sell more products to more customers. The addition of PWA technology simply elevates Magento to the highest level and allows businesses using the platform to build a stronger mobile-first audience.

Perhaps you are one of these business owners, already using Magento and looking to utilise a PWA to target a greater number of mobile customers. There’s no doubt that the decision to implement a PWA is challenging, not least because of the time and financial investment required – but the benefits far outweigh these costs. If you want to provide your customers with a faster, easier and more engaging way to interact with your eCommerce store, it’s time to look at a PWA.

Back in February 2019, Forrester Research released a detailed report that gathered the main concepts surrounding PWAs and their early adoption by over 50 companies around the world including the likes of Amazon, eBay and Google. They settled on three key principles that other eCommerce agencies and organisations should look to abide by:

1. Mobile is king – although most of the companies that were involved in the study have their own native apps, their mobile conversion rates barely exceeded 30% in most cases. An entirely mobile-focused approach is required.
2. PWAs are necessary for better mobile conversions – PWAs combine everything that is great about shopping on a mobile device; seamless navigation, available on the go and entirely mobile-focused. PWAs can do for mCommerce what responsive design did for the web.
3. PWAs bring better engagement and sales – they are frictionless, they help users meet their exact needs in the most efficient way and of course, everything can be personalised to individual user location and behaviours.

It’s these three valuable concepts that will help online businesses achieve better engagement with their audience and ultimately increase conversion rates when using PWAs.

Adam King

eCommerce Solutions Expert

Media Lounge

Although not directly related, with the introduction of 5G the page load times on mobile devices are going to improve – however Google is still currently benchmarking websites on a 3G mobile network as a minimum baseline. In areas with poor mobile coverage, PWAs will provide a consistent experience and fast delivery of your web pages.

There is also the future to consider. Desktop PWAs are also becoming a thing in 2019 with a number of browsers already offering support for them, so there feels like there will be a natural and unavoidable transition across to full PWA websites in the not-too-distant future. Early adopters will, of course, enjoy a less problematic transition when the change occurs.

Are There Any Drawbacks With PWAs?

Despite the huge number of positives that come with utilising PWA technology, there are some small negative points to touch on.

If you look to utilise a PWA right now, then you’re going to be primarily mobile-focused with your approach. This means that the user experience for desktop users will naturally not be as slick and refined on larger screens. There are workarounds for this, however, but it involves altering the UI code to be compatible with screens of a certain size.

In terms of how PWAs operate on mobile devices, there’s also the issue of battery life. Because they are written in high-level web code, smartphones have to work that bit harder to interpret the code. It’s therefore likely that users who recognise a significant drain on their battery when using this kind of application are going to avoid using it for long periods of time.

PWAs also miss out on some of the key features of native apps that users already enjoy, for example, Bluetooth connectivity and NFC (Near-Field Communication). This means that your customers don’t receive the exact same experience they’d enjoy on a dedicated app. PWAs, therefore, have the main features of a real app, just without the potential for growth. Bear in mind however that these missing features may not be important for all types of businesses.

Lastly, there’s the notable absence of PWAs in both the Apple iOS App Store and Google Play Store. At the moment, all apps on smartphones are downloaded from an app store like these, but PWAs are added directly from the browser. All this means you could miss out on traffic from app stores, however, it’s increasingly likely that as more businesses roll out PWAs, this landscape will change relatively quickly.

Summary

If you’re looking to keep the mobile experience surrounding your Magento eCommerce store, then PWAs are certainly the next area for you to invest in.

Not only do they provide a better user experience overall, PWAs are also progressive and have already demonstrated the numerous positive effects they can have on large eCommerce stores. Why wouldn’t you want your customers to be able to access your store at all times, online or offline?

Add in the perks of push notifications just like a native app, faster browsing capabilities and that feeling of ‘app gratification’, and you’ve got a direct line of communication with your audience that is both targeted and engaged. It’s often the case that big companies are able to adopt the newest technology first, and with the likes of Amazon and eBay already making use of PWAs, it’s increasingly likely that they will enter into the mainstream marketplace sooner rather than later.

PWAs are already a key part of the immediate future of mCommerce and adding one to your existing store sooner rather than later is a no-brainer. If you’re looking for help from an eCommerce agency with PWAs, get in touch today!

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