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A Mobile-first Website, Native Application or Progressive Web App - What’s Best to Meet Your Ecommerce Goals?

A Mobile-first Website, Native Application or Progressive Web App - What’s Best to Meet Your Ecommerce Goals?

Knowing how to ensure that you provide a user with an experience that inspires mobile purchase behavior is the key to meeting your ecommerce goals using this channel. This article will present several options for you to consider when moving towards offering a mobile-based opportunity for your customers to benefit from.

Mobile is the preferred device used by consumers to navigate ecommerce websites, but in terms of conversion, it lags behind when compared to what desktop computers deliver. So how do you ensure you provide a user experience that inspires mobile purchases?

According to the Adobe Mobile Retail Report released in early 2018, computers continue to be seen as the main channel used for ecommerce in Europe, generating 74% of sales, compared to 12% for smartphones. The study also reveals that conversion rates are 2.6 times higher on the desktop than what’s seen for smartphones. These numbers highlight the difficulties faced by retailers in being able to take advantage of mobile as a complete ecommerce channel, even though it’s the preferred way for consumers to surf a merchant’s site and select products. If ergonomics are to blame for the low involvement with mobile, it could be due to fears that people may have in using their credit card to pay for purchases using their mobile phone. This demonstrates the need for merchants to offer an experience that is consistent across both the desktop and mobile devices – something that can be accomplished by providing visitors with a mobile-first designed website, and/or a mobile application.

Mobile-first Websites – The Philosophical Approach

A website is considered to be mobile-first if it has been designed to appeal to mobile users specifically, and has been optimized to adapt to the technical limitations of mobile devices and their less-powerful processing power when you compare this to what a computer is able to provide.

It’s clear that heavy sites with long loading times are not ideal for rendering on smartphones, but it’s important to offer enough features on your mobile site to ensure customers are encouraged to purchase from you. It’s a delicate balance.

It’s important to focus on the user interface and deliver a friction-free experience to ensure conversions. Mobile sites that offer a one-page checkout experience with all of the customer’s information and payment preferences in one area are proven to be more successful than those that don’t provide this option to their users.

To create an effective mobile-first website that delivers results, the philosophy is that you should first start by designing a mobile-based interface using the absolute minimum elements required for the site to function. Then you are able to adapt this for use on more powerful devices such as tablets and desktop computers by building on this bare-bones site and adding more features. The opposite method isn’t recommended as this would mean you’d need to remove features from the desktop experience and adapt this to the mobile one – the primary goal in all of this is to take a ‘mobile-first’ perspective after all!

Native Applications

Before rejecting the idea of using a native application, it’s important to consider the many benefits that they offer. Native apps are fast, reliable and provide the most responsive experience possible. They are able to easily leverage the mobile phone’s capabilities including the camera, microphone, swipe gestures and push notifications – known to be one of the best ways to generate traffic.

Another benefit that a native app offers is the ability for customers to continue to engage with your brand while they’re offline. "Offline-first is a trend used in the design of mobile sites and applications offering maximum functionality without a network connection," adds Aurélien Lewin, Lead Front-end & Commerce Cloud Solution Architect.

From a branding standpoint, a native app provides you with an online presence and can help with your SEO results. Overall, it provides users with an attractive way to access a commerce site. It’s vital that customers are aware that both opportunities exist for them to take advantage of. "If you have both a mobile site and an application, when a user enters the mobile site, they should be informed through a banner that a mobile app also exists and can be installed. In addition, when the app is downloaded, it must be able to be opened from the mobile site," advises Alexandru Guriuc, Mobile Division Director at OSF Commerce.

OSF can work with you to develop a custom white label app that can be adapted to meet your needs and get you active with m-commerce. This work includes employing various design considerations such as customizing the logo and color scheme to ensure brand consistency.

Progressive Web Apps – An Alternative to Native Apps

While native applications technically offer many features, they’re quite expensive to develop. The alternative is the progressive web app (PWA), an application that doesn’t download via the app store, but from directly within the browser. They’re built using standard web technologies, rather than an app-like framework and allow you to reuse your existing content and development assets/processes. A PWA represents less of an investment because it leverages the same flows and data as what was used on a mobile website.

PWA’s offer a user experience that’s similar to what a native application provides without draining memory from the mobile device. They load fast and are reliable because service workers are cached locally. PWA’s combine the best elements of a native app in that they live on the home screen and are easily accessible with the best-of-breed back-end elements found in web development. They work on every phone, are responsive and fit all screen sizes, function both in an online and offline capacity and are highly secure. Content is always current and refreshed, and users benefit from an app-like experience.

User Experience – The Common Denominator

Regardless of whether you decide to offer your customers the opportunity to connect with you via mobile by using a mobile-first website, native app or PWA, it’s important to note that the user experience you offer must be at the forefront of any initiative you undertake. The challenge isn’t related to what technology you use for mobile commerce, but to ensure you deliver a user experience that is frictionless, maintains your brand identity and offers an engaging opportunity to connect with shoppers. It’s essential to provide the same functionality across mobile and desktop experiences to ensure consistency and avoid frustrating your customers by ruining their experience.

Considerations to evaluate such as loading high quality images first, having text appear before images do, or loading several product images only to show the others on demand when a user scrolls (also known as lazy loading) will help to streamline a user’s experience of your site. All of these actions can make a difference in the final decision to purchase from you. "It’s important to carefully monitor and analyze how consumers navigate using mobile solutions to identify the best flow for actions to take at each stage of the buyer’s journey," concludes Aurélien Lewin.

Best Practices for Developing a Native Application – Suggestions from Alexandru Guriuc, Mobile Division Director, OSF Digital

  • When building the application, be sure to match the operating system you use with the habits demonstrated by users of the specific device (iOS or Android).
  • Take full advantage of the various capabilities smartphones offer including localization, notifications, and iBeacon, among other opportunities available to you.
  • Engage the user as much as possible by sending them notifications with latest offers and then directing them to visit the physical store.
  • Benefit from the use of animation by creating a rich and addictive interface and by introducing gamification into the mix.
  • Don’t rely on the app solely for sales alone. Brands must immerse users in their world and values. When you're a big brand with a strong legacy, consumers want to be part of this story. Don’t just sell - go beyond and truly engage customers in your story.

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