Wednesday, 30th September 2020

PWAs – the future of B2B

By Arno Ham, chief product officer at Sana Commerce.

The e-commerce market has shown consistent growth over the last five years and is showing no signs of slowing down. According to eMarketer we are set to see mobile e-commerce reach $3.5 trillion by 2021 and make up almost three quarters of e-commerce sales. Companies wishing to stay relevant in such a saturated market must fight to keep their competitive edge by remaining up to date on the latest trends in retail technology and providing customers with a seamless omnichannel experience.


One trend that has been nudging its way into the market in recent years is Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). This innovative application software is where all e-commerce stores will eventually end up and the first brands to catch onto this will reap the rewards PWAs have to offer. So, what are PWAs and what makes them the future of this trillion-dollar market?

What is a PWA?

Originally created by Google after recognising a need for convenient omnichannel experiences, PWAs have now gained momentum in the market due to the smooth user experience they provide and their relative ease of development. Offering the best of both worlds, PWAs are designed to be operating system agnostic and are built using web technologies but they still give the user the look and feel of a mobile app.

Benefits

The key feature that sets PWAs apart from other technologies is its offline capabilities. Using service workers, PWAs are able to operate offline, meaning users can view data that has already been retrieved during previous sessions. Because of this, the user is given a much sleeker experience and the app only reloads information that needs to be refreshed, while still maintaining the original application shell. After reconnecting to the internet, the app offers users the chance to retrieve the latest data from the server with ease. There are still some restrictions to the offline capabilities of PWAs as users are not yet able to process payments while offline, instead it is likely that this information would be processed once an active internet connection is restored.

When looking at native apps, buyers did not have access to product information and wanted a faster route to check out at the click of a button, something that native apps could never quite deliver on. Typically, when using native apps, users would need to complete at least six steps before accessing full use of a mobile application. PWAs provide a solution to this by eliminating timely downloading and installation stages, offering immediate access to the user and ultimately reducing the length of the user’s purchasing journey.

As well as their offline capabilities, PWAs have many functionalities that make them accessible to the user. They can be accessed through any browser as they are built as the base with progressive improvement principles and are adaptable to various screen sizes. They are also searchable as they are identified as applications and are indexed by search engines.

B2B Benefits

So how do these benefits translate into the busy world of B2B? For a salesperson who is constantly on the move, access to information can be the deciding factor in whether they make a sale. The offline functionalities of PWAs mean that any relevant information – stock availability, pricing, product features – is accessible to busy salespeople at just the click of a button.

Offline mode is ideal for returning clients – something common in B2B purchasing as users can easily set up and place the order without a live internet connection.Unlike in B2C, B2B payments are often based on trade credit followed by invoices, the mechanisms required to process an order in ERP are completed without further payment actions meaning that most times, buyers are able to complete the full purchase while still being offline. If the purchase requires online payment at the point of the sale, users can still set up the order offline for it to be processed as soon as an internet connection is restored.

PWAs offer some useful B2B functionalities. Barcode scanners are high on the list of requirements for a successful B2B app and PWAs make them easy to install. Where previously the barcode scanner would require scanner hardware and desktop functionality or a mobile app, PWAs provide easy access to the scanner without costly implementation and maintenance.

Work inboxes can be hard to keep on top of and as a result of this, email marketing campaigns have become significantly less effective. PWAs offer the ideal solution through push notifications. Push notifications immediately engage with the user as they are delivered to the home screen of the device. When timed correctly, push notifications can be an extremely effective tool to keep a brand at the forefront of a buyer’s mind.

SPAs

There is often confusion between PWAs and Single Page Applications (SPAs). Although PWAs are a hot topic in today’s tech world, the more common application type is a SPA. Similar to PWAs, SPAs offer a sleek user experience. When a user visits a SPA, data is sent from the server to the browser and while the user explores the site, only the pieces of information that need to be updated are refreshed. Whereas before, users would experience a brief blank page while loading new pages, SPAs provide a more native experience that brings with it more continuity for the user. While SPAs offer much of what PWAs do, they should be seen as the first step to creating a PWA. The key difference between the two is the offline functionality – if the app doesn’t offer this capability then it simply cannot be classed as a PWA.

Is the market ready?

While PWAs offer many visible benefits to B2B professionals, their time may not have come yet. Businesses should assess their customers’ needs – do they simply require an omnichannel experience or is offline accessibility crucial to their requirements? If it is the first, then PWAs may not be a priority just yet and SPAs may offer enough for now.

As PWAs are fairly new to the market, they may not yet be available on every user’s platform of choice. Apple still does not give PWAs access to the full functionality of its devices, which means the technology may not be practical or versatile for iOS users. While PWAs are built like web apps - they use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to build out and integrate a range of the same features given to us by native applications and thanks to HTML5, they’re? able to access hardware such as cameras and microphones – but they are still yet to take advantage of low-level hardware features such as pressure-sensitive touch or 3D graphics rendering.

Although PWAs bring with them many B2B benefits, the technology is still maturing, meaning that they are not as accessible as they eventually will become. It is clear that they are set to make huge waves in the e-commerce market, but they still have some way to go before then.

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