At the beginning of the year, the retail industry was focussed on providing customers with the best possible experience to entice them in-store. We saw interactive windows, smart mirrors and VR showrooms deployed to improve efficiency.

However, the pandemic put a stop to this, ushering in irreversible changes to the way we shop. In response, retailers have had to redraw their roadmaps to ensure they can drive growth post-pandemic.

Our research has revealed that Covid-19 has put the focus on digital as a key business priority. With more people shopping online than ever before, 62 percent of UK retailers have now named eCommerce as a cornerstone of future investment. Companies are now looking for ways to improve their customer engagement strategies and provide more seamless buyer journeys.

To this end, brands had previously developed new apps in a bid to supplement traditional sales channels with digital equivalents. That said, app fatigue has now arrived, and investing large sums of time and effort into app development seems counterproductive.

Progressive web apps (PWAs) could likely be the contender to succeed apps, allowing brands to take a proactive approach to customer engagement – but how can this be done?

The power of our smartphones

PWAs have the potential to be a real game-changing moment for mobile shopping, disrupting the very foundation that mobile commerce sits on. They represent an opportunity to create a better, more stable, smoother mobile shopping experience. Not only this, but they also work well on low-quality networks and have full functionality when loaded, meaning shoppers can now even checkout offline. Current mobile experiences struggle to meet ever-changing consumer expectations, and PWAs represent the next evolution in mobile-driven commerce.

But why is this so important?

We’ve reached a milestone when it comes to internet traffic across the globe, with over 50 percent now generated through mobile devices. Almost every third person now owns a smartphone, and this is set to grow by several hundred million in the next few years which will have huge implications for both PWAs and mCommerce.

Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of all retail eCommerce is expected to be generated through our mobile devices by 2021, and so it’s clear how the development of PWAs will sit at the heart of this development.

What’s more, from a business perspective, PWAs have the potential to reduce the burden of maintaining both a mobile website and a mobile app. They’re already beginning to replace standard websites since retailers have been using them to generate more conversions – with conversions seen as the lifeblood of eCommerce, this means we’ll likely see uptake rise over time. They also have the potential to cut costs compared with developing a new native app, since PWA code works across all platforms – desktop, mobile and tablets, along with every browser.

PWAs applied to business

PWAs were announced back in 2015 as “experiences that combine the best of the web and the best of apps.” While the technology is still developing and maturing, a group of early adopters has showcased the transformative change the technology stands to bring to business.

The UK clothing brand George is a shining example of what can be achieved by upgrading a website to a PWA – after making the move, the retailer saw a 31 percent increase in conversion on its mobile site. Other quantifiable benefits included:

  • 3.8 x – Faster average page load time
  • 2 x – Lower bounce rate
  • 31 percent – Increase in conversion rate
  • 20 percent – More page views per visit
  • 28 percent – Longer average time on site for visits from the home screen

Elsewhere, PWAs have helped Debenhams deliver a 40% increase in mobile revenue and a 20 percent rise in conversions; Tinder has cut load times down from 11.91 seconds to 4.69 seconds; and Trivago saw a 150 percent increase in customers adding it to their home screen along with a 97 percent rise in clicks onto hotel offers.

Going beyond app stores

Clearly, PWAs can help brands across every industry generate substantial ROI, but one issue which needs to be overcome is distribution and consumer behaviour.

Once a PWA is designed, it’s uploaded straight to a web server like any other web app – users can then interact with them as soon as they visit the website, providing they’re signposted well.

It follows that a major issue for PWAs is a proven way of distribution. If companies fail to establish and spend money to notify consumers on how they can be accessed on the internet, they are unlikely to go mainstream. Consumer awareness needs to build for this new type of app.

A first mover advantage?

A lot of the noise around PWAs has focussed on their use within mCommerce strategies, but their impact could be far wider-reaching. They represent the first time in a single app can be used on a smartphone, voice channel, watch, or the rest of the multi-channel pantheon of offerings.

Early adopters are beginning to scratch the surface of what can be achieved through PWAs. Taking them to the next level will require other progressive brands getting involved to further prove the benefits they bring to business. There are many factors brands must consider before implementing PWAs, but we’ve already seen pioneers like George, Debenhams and Trivago make a compelling case for others to follow suit.

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