Progressive Web Apps or “going headless” – when is the right time to make the switch?

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By Published On: September 20, 20220 Comments

The popularity of mobile eCommerce is on the rise. According to PayPal’s 2021 eCommerce Index, a massive 82% of Australians are now shopping on mobile devices. Google searches are also predominantly happening on mobile, prompting Google to switch to mobile-first indexing; meaning it now ranks websites based on their mobile versions index rather than the desktop versions.

With consumers craving a seamless mobile shopping experience, and a fast mobile site improving SEO rankings, retailers simply cannot afford to have slow and outdated mobile eCommerce sites.

However, improving the mobile shopping experience can be a costly, complicated, and time consuming exercise. Gone are the days when simply reducing image sizes and minimising code can adequately improve page speeds – for high traffic sites with significant sales, the best way to truly streamline mobile eCommerce is with a headless Progressive Web Application (PWA) solution. Used by some of the leading eCommerce sites, including Coles, Officeworks and Kogan, PWAs are the inevitable future of mobile retail. The trick is knowing when to make the switch.

The need for speed

Studies have consistently shown that fast page speed will result in better conversion rate. According to Portent research, an eCommerce site that loads in one second has a conversion rate two and a half times higher than a site that loads in five seconds. Which, when translated into sales figures, could add up to tens of thousands of dollars a day in missed revenue. In addition to prioritising mobile-friendly sites with high SEO rankings, Google research found that website speed also improves customer advocacy. The research showed that slashing just three seconds off page load speeds results in a 10% higher chance that consumers will recommend a site to their friends and family, while shaving off six seconds off the page load speed made them 26% more likely to recommend a site. Faster page load speeds not only improve conversion and boost SEO, it also increases word of mouth marketing, which can be invaluable for retail businesses.

Going headless with PWA

The reason traditional websites tend to run so slowly is that the front end (what the shoppers see) is being created and provided by the backend application (the eCommerce engine). On busy retail sites, the back end is managing inventory updates, payment transactions, and liaising with the warehouse, these operations affect front end, frustrating customers and ultimately, decreasing sales. Additionally, these traditional eCommerce applications are using data front end technology too.

Making a mobile eCommerce site ‘headless’ helps this problem if implemented correctly. The approach separates the front-end application from the back-end application, allowing the whole experience to perform at a faster speed. By powering the consumer-facing side with progressive web apps (PWA) irrespective of your technology choice, a PWA provides shoppers with a lightning-fast mobile shopping experience, even in the face of slow and patchy network connections due to the application largely running on the users device.

BlackMilk Clothing

Australian fashion brand, BlackMilk Clothing, has recently transformed its mobile eCommerce site thanks to a PWA solution by Balance Internet. The new mobile solution was driven by the need to improve the brand’s mobile commerce experience, given 80% of its traffic and 65% of its sales were coming in via mobile eCommerce.

Being a very unique brand with a cult-like following, BlackMilk needed to increase its mobile speed to accommodate the major traffic surges following new releases and exclusive collabs – such as the BlackMilk Pokémon collection which sold out within the first hour, and The Legend of Zelda drop that resulted in four and a half thousand visitors shopping the site at once. By implementing a ‘headless commerce’ approach, designing a high performance PWA solution with an entirely new theme that would resonate with the BlackMilk customer base, PWA solution seamlessly supports the site’s extraordinary traffic volumes, making changes to live product data in the backend, while simultaneously processing orders in the front. Ultimately, by switching to a PWA, BlackMilk was able to slash product page load speeds by nearly six seconds, cut category load speeds by up to two seconds, and increase the number of transactions by 10 per cent.

A matter of when, not if

As with all new technologies, the early adopters and tech giants were the first to run with PWAs. But now, as the technology improves and becomes more accessible, more retailers are contemplating when they should be adding a PWA migration to the roadmap.

Any retailer who already has a website refresh on the cards should absolutely ensure that PWA is considered as core part of that upgrade. And it goes without saying that any new players to market should be building with PWA from the get-go. For everyone else, it’s likely something that will need to happen in the next two to five years or so. The demand for a seamless mobile shopping experience is only going to grow; and the more online retailers that make the switch to PWAs, the more customers will expect this quality of experience.

Because of this, we expect that headless PWA solutions will soon become standard for mobile eCommerce; so it’s simply a matter of when, not if, retailers should make the switch. It’s not just myself and the team at Balance that supports this view, Google is pricing it’s advertising quality score and SEO scores based on this technology too.

The e-commerce landscape is changing. With a Power Retail Switched On membership, you get access to current e-commerce revenue and forecasting, traffic levels, average conversion rate, payment preferences and more!

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Heather Bone