Consumers now spend most of their time on their mobiles, that’s no secret. And with 4G networks now the norm in both developed and developing markets, people have every reason to expect their mobile experiences will be as good as PC-based ones.
But they aren’t for the most part. Mobile web is 49% of all online traffic, but mobile conversions remain painfully low at only 1.7%. This is a sobering statistic, particularly for companies who are under growing pressure to stay relevant as customer behavior continues to evolve.
Part of the issue comes down to limitations in the user experience on mobile (i.e. smaller screens), but the bigger factor is speed. According to Google, 53% of users will bounce off a web page that takes more than three seconds to load. And yet, the average homepage still takes 15 seconds to load on a mobile phone.
Unless a customer feels an extreme sense of urgency to make their purchase, it’s unlikely they will endure the pain of waiting for page after page to load as they try to get through a purchase selection and checkout process on their phone. Neither are they likely to immediately put down their phone and dig out their laptop to complete the transaction.
Welcome to the Progressive Web
Enter progressive web apps (PWAs), the future of mobile web experiences.
While responsive web design (RWD) made most websites usable on a phone sized screen, the actual experience of interaction has proven too slow and clunky when compared to the same website on a PC. In response, many brands have developed their own mobile apps, hoping to win customers over with a smoother and more convenient service. However, aside from niche businesses with a high-touch, loyal customer-base, such as Starbucks and Facebook, most brands have spent a great deal of time making apps that are moderately successful at best, not to mention the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars in development costs.
PWAs represent a significant leap forward because they allow companies to deliver the user-friendliness and page load speeds of a native app, but directly from the company’s mobile website. PWAs also make it possible for developers to create online experiences that don’t just adjust to different screen sizes but can interact with device features (such as Camera, GPS and push-notifications) creating streamlined experiences that are optimized based on which device a customer is using. The result is a more consistent experience across devices, with no features lost.
Most importantly, at a time when the war for attention has never been more intense, with PWAs, web pages load in a fraction of the time, keeping customers engaged rather than testing their patience and driving them to competitor sites.
Take the Financial Times, a company proving PWAs can have a major impact on conversion. The FT recently went the PWA route to keep pace with surging web traffic.
“One of our key metrics was speed. We determined if we made the site just one second faster, it increases engagement by 5%, and would ultimately add millions of dollars to our bottom line due to increased ad views,” said Cait O’Riordan, chief product and information officer at the FT.
Analyst houses Forrester and Gartner are also bullish on PWAs. Forrester went as far as to say there is no longer a point in arguing over which kind of mobile app is best–native or hybrid–because with PWAs taking off, nobody will bother using apps soon. Even among airlines, whose apps are some of the most useful and commonly downloaded, progressive web is seen as the future.
“Apps are a temporary necessity in the development of better mobile experiences,” admitted Scott Wilson, vice president of eCommerce merchandising at United.
Democratizing Mobile Access
In addition to supporting faster and more responsive mobile experiences, PWAs also make access to these experiences more democratic. This is particularly relevant in emerging markets such as India and Indonesia, where consumers have limited data allowances on their phones due to high costs.
Until now, this has stopped customers from downloading multiple apps. It has also limited people’s ability to engage with brands because, for many, mobile is their only portal to the internet. This is all set to change with PWAs.
PWAs demand a fraction of the data compared with traditional apps while offering nearly the same quality of experience, eliminating the access barrier and delivering a win-win for merchants and customers alike.
It’s no surprise the world’s leading brands, from BMW to Starbucks, have already deployed PWAs or are on the verge of doing so. Starbucks’s mobile app has long been viewed as a gold standard for customer experience and loyalty programs, but even the world’s biggest coffee chain understands PWAs are the way forward.
The wider move toward progressive web will begin in earnest over the next year. More organizations have come to appreciate the revenue risk of getting left behind and have begun to prepare for a PWAs push between now and 2025. Five years from now, mobile will easily account for 60-70% of web traffic, and customers will not hesitate to funnel towards mobile sites that work quickly and reliably. As the disruption of the past decade has shown us, heritage is no guarantee of loyalty when it comes to digital experiences.
Of course, the transition to PWAs can’t be accomplished overnight. It is a major strategic transformation that requires brands to take on a front-end rebuild of their websites. It’s also worth noting PWAs development costs can be on-par with those for a mobile app. However, unlike apps that need multiple versions for iOS and Android and require frequent updates on their respective app stores, PWAs are simply an evolution of existing open web technologies that make the web a better place both on mobile and desktop. The opportunity cost of becoming a laggard on the web is much higher than the investment cost of building a PWA.
PWAs will soon be the foundation of all digital commerce globally, and the rollouts planned over the next few years will see leading brands set a new minimum standard for customer experience. Google already added a mobile speed score to its search result rankings algorithm in 2018, and there is widespread consensus that page load times and PWA compliance will only carry more weight in Google’s rankings as more people abandon their PCs for mobile devices.
Customers around the world are also ready for better mobile experiences. With PWAs, brands will gain access to technology that will help them satisfy their customers’ appetite for speedy web experiences–and the race to capitalize has begun.