Magento PWA is a thing. Their dedication to enhance the mobile e-commerce with PWA approach started with a blog post last year and continues in 2018 by calling e-commerce leaders to recognise this positive shift. In this article, I'm explaining what it means for your business and why you should care.

What is a PWA?

The acronym stands for Progressive Web Application. Practically, it means that your Magento shop can now behave and feel just as a native iOS or Android app.

In most e-commerce use cases, it replaces your old and expensive native apps completely.

It stands for everything an open web is and what it will be in the future. As a front-end developer, this is the web I always wanted it to be.

Your website, online shop or a blog now behaves, acts and feels like a native app.

I’ll do my best to make that point as clear to you as it is to me. In a sense, the (re)volution it brings is what you always assumed a web site should be. Yet, it was always a few big steps behind desktop and mobile apps. Things have now have changed, for the better.

NOTE: PWA is not just for Google Inc. although they are pioneering it since 2015.

https://youtu.be/PsgW-0M67TQ

The benefits of a PWA Magento shop

In a nutshell, there are three major reasons why PWA wins the future:

Reliable - Loads instantly even under poor network conditions
Fast - Smooth UI animations, no glitches and no waiting
Engaging - Look and feel of a native mobile app with an immersive user experience

Native apps are great, for the biggest three

It is a fact that native mobile apps convert more (6%) then regular desktop (4.2%) or mobile web-sites (2.3%). The flip side is that of all mobile apps used, four of them take up 72% of total users time according to the Forrester “A billion mobile sites spark no joy” report.

To make things worse, half of them don’t download apps for over a month or more.

In 2016 US consumers used 26 apps on their phone just as they did in 2015. Your native app would need to be pretty important to earn a place on their home screen.

Consumers have enough apps — they don't want more. What's worse, they spend 60% of their total mobile time (web and app) in just three apps — usually owned by Facebook and Google. - Forrester.com

Customer reach with a native app strategy is, sorry to say, reserved for the biggest players and those that have a specific use for it. The only way to get to the broadest possible audience is having a app-like mobile experience on your website.

Would you be happy letting your competitors “steal” your customers just because they had to first download the app to use it?

Business benefits of a PWA website

I hope you read these the way I think and feel about this subject: “This is it and the time is right.”

Standalone frontend - Independent from any CMS

You are now tethered to your CMS system. In the future, or with PWA you are not. Take any CMS system of today as an example and you’ll realise that your storefront always needs to be redone on another system to make use of it’s features.

All that time and effort invested in user experience, crafting the perfect user interface, technical SEO and more is now no longer threatened. By the use of API connection to any (API enabled) CMS you can completely switch or integrate parts of another system without compromising the work done.

Lower long term costs

A single app that handles majority of devices on mobile and desktop lowers maintenance and development costs immensely. Not to mention that due to the open source nature of technology behind PWA access to talent is much wider and affordable.

Significantly higher conversions

According to data presented on their Google developer website, real, measurable boost is recorded for websites that implements PWA principles.

Let’s take a look at the AlibabaExpress numbers from Google case study:

  • 104% for new users across all browsers;
  • 82% increase in iOS conversion rate
  • 2X more pages visited per session per user across all browsers
  • 74% increase in time spent per session across all browsers

Their challenge was to make mobile web experience as engaging as a native one without app downloading getting in the way. It was hard for them to make their users download the app and re-engage them.

Better SEO

With a native app you are limited to two options:

  1. Positioning in the app store
  2. App indexing introduced by Google

Compared to a website, native app SEO is not only cumbersome to achieve it is an additional expense that doesn’t come close.

Note: At the time I’m writing this, Google is slowly, but surely (I am serious and don’t call me Shirley) introducing “mobile-first” ranking announced a year ago. Thought you should know where this is all heading.

“We don’t have a timeline for the launch yet,” Illyes said. “We have some ideas for when this will launch, but it’s probably many quarters away. Our engineers’ timeline was initially end of 2017. Right now, we think more 2018. ” - Searchengineland.com

It is released for a handful of sites as they are further testing the algorithm.

Benefits of PWA for your customers

Customer have single access point - Now that everything is packed into your website, users can now have a uniform access to your brand.

Instantly up - Website loads immediately - That “it’s always there for me” feel. Presuming your customers added your website to their home screen, it now springs up to life instantly.

More secure - Through the use of SSL encryption - “I like the PWA idea, but what about security?”- Security with PWA is not an afterthought since the API is built with security in mind.

Works offline - WiFi or cellular glitches do not break user experience - One of the most important aspects of PWA is the ability to still work when network conditions are not ideal.

UltraMegaSuper Fast - Even compared to your hyper-cached website. Instant gratification is real. Your site loads in mili-seconds and is impervious to traffic overloads.

Seamless app updates - Just like Chrome where nobody cares about them. Push silent updates to your customers at any time. They will not spot a thing about any updates and continue to use the app as if nothing is happening.

Web Payments API - Best checkout page is no checkout page!

Website forms suck in the truest meaning of the word. Everybody you and I know hates them with a passion. This is especially evident on mobile checkout since most conversions on mobile are likely to fail right there. Even though mobile traffic is increasing, mobile conversion is still far worse then desktop.

Online purchase forms are user-intensive, difficult to use, slow to load and refresh, and require multiple steps to complete. This is because two primary components of online payments—security and convenience—often work at cross-purposes; more of one typically means less of the other. — developers.google.com
Payment Request Interface. Image credit: developers.google.com
Payment Request Interface. Image credit: developers.google.com

No more. The sole purpose of Web Payment API is to eliminate the checkout page. Amazon did it with their physical stores already. Your device has all your information in it, [test it here , in chrome please] so why should you have to do it’s work? Checkout page be gone!

Where do I go from here?

There are two ways you can embrace the future right now. Either rebuild your e-commerce channel from the ground up or introduce the features one by one. There is no “one size fits all” answer to this and I encourage you to dive deeper on this within your company.

Is Magento making PWA easier to implement? Yes. In two big ways. Making their core platform ready for the untethered future and creating a set of tools that make is easier to create a PWA experience.

Magento is very vocal about it. In their recent blog post, they have addressed e-commerce leaders to consider this new way to offer incredible mobile app experience.

The thing is that as with RWD five years ago, market moves on with or without you.

Disclaimer: Despite all of the benefits listed above, let me just say that PWAs are not a cure-all, and here’s why a PWA vs. Native app can be a wrong question to ask.

Related Trivia:

What we now call PWA is what Steve wanted from the start, not native 3rd party apps.

"You’ve got everything you need if you know how to write apps using the most modern web standards to write amazing apps for the iPhone today," he said. "We think we’ve got a very sweet story for you. You can begin building your iPhone apps today." — Steve Jobs