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Mobile has been at the forefront of retailer’s minds for many years, and with good reason. Back in 2016 research from IMRG highlighted that for the first time over half of online sales were made through mobile devices in the UK over three months (November 2015 - January 2016). Also, Google and PayPal have released a report that predicts two-thirds of ecommerce purchases in the UK will be made by a smartphone in 2020.

There is no question that in this mobile world retailers continually need to deliver the very best experience for consumers on mobile, which means embracing the new technology coming on stream.

One of the most important pieces of technology that’s been discussed at various recent ecommerce conferences is Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). They are delivered through the web and function like native apps. Importantly, PWAs combine everything that’s good about native mobile applications with everything that’s good about a mobile site.

Why embrace PWAs?

PWAs are easy to find and distribute: native apps must pass tricky approval rules to be accepted by app stores and then gain attention in these crowded marketplaces. Being a website PWAs are readily accessible, and can be found via organic and paid search, or links on social media. Users can open them in their browser before deciding whether to install – important because 86 per cent of time on mobile is spent on apps.

PWAs deliver a fast user experience: with research revealing over half of consumers leave a website if it takes more than three seconds to load, a PWA can be launched from a home screen and can be ready in less than a second, often beating native apps in load times.

Better connectivity: PWAs work in areas of poor connectivity, or when connectivity comes and goes, such as on the move on a train or in the car due to pre-cached content being made available. In areas of intermittent connectivity those using a native app will likely get an ‘You’re offline’ screen.

No need to send updates: with native apps updates often have to be manually accepted and updated by the consumer. PWAs benefit from instant updates, no manual update is required, or App or Play Store approval.

No space issues: once downloaded, native apps can take up a lot of space on phones. PWAs take significantly less. Also, a PWA is linkable, which means it can be opened using a URL and shared on social media, by email, text message, and online ads, for example.

PWAs are device agnostic and work across all mobile platforms: because PWAs are hosted online they work across all devices and systems, whether iOS or Android. This means retailers can deliver the same stand out customer experience on whatever mobile device consumers are on, saving them time and money in designing apps for different devices and systems.

The technology is available: many browsers such as Chrome and Opera support PWAs. Also, Magento launched a PWA Studio in April to help retailers develop PWAs.

PWAs are the future of mobile retail

Retailers no longer need to choose between creating an app that provides an amazing experience or a website that’ll see more traffic – you get the best of both worlds with a PWA.

In the UK retailers including Debenhams and Hobbycraft are already using the technology, along with global brands Twitter, Uber, Starbucks and Alibaba.

Looking at Alibaba’s success since upgrading their website to a PWA, they have experienced a 76 per cent increase in conversions across browsers, and a 30 per cent increase in monthly active user rates on Android with a 14 per cent increase on iOS.

PWAs are straightforward to create using existing web technologies and deliver a faster and better experience for users on mobile, driving engagement and conversion rates. They are also much easier to deliver reach from and maintain than traditional apps.

PWAs must be properly explored by all retailers looking for success in the mobile age - at least, those that don’t want to risk being left behind.

Mark Fitzsimmons, managing director, Xigen