Making Sense of M-Commerce: Mobile App or PWA?

Statista forecasts that 72.9% of online purchases in 2021 will be made using mobile devices. Thus, the question should be not whether to tap into m-commerce, but how to do it.

This article:

  • Concludes that a dedicated mobile app is not the only path into m-commerce.
  • Helps determine whether you should choose a mobile app or a progressive web app (PWA).
  • Describes how to deal with low conversion on mobile devices.
  • Explains why customers will not install your app even though they want to buy from your e-commerce store via their mobile devices.
  • Discusses the practical side of PWA implementations in e-commerce.

The Pros and Cons of Mobile Applications

For many years, conventional wisdom said that online stores should create native mobile applications if they wanted to smooth the purchasing path for mobile shoppers. Such apps could also be used to collect precious user data and grow user engagement, e.g. through push notifications.

But the teaching that every e-commerce business should own an application misfired.  Often, customers did not buy from a particular store frequently enough to be willing to install its app. Even today, users quickly lose sight of any application used maybe once a month; the average user spends 77% of their mobile screen time using their three favorite apps.

A native mobile application involves high development, maintenance, and growth costs; essentially, it means operating independent e-commerce, Android, and iOS applications at the same time. Each one of them is an individual product! No wonder so many e-commerce managers felt disappointed with the results of implementing mobile applications – particularly while setting the effects against the development costs.

The Alternative: Progressive Web Apps

There are many businesses whose core goals are not met by native applications. The mobile application boom has prevented us from recognizing the fact that so many customers prefer to use their smartphone browsers instead of native applications. Maybe it is time to open up to other methods of delivering a great mobile experience, such as the progressive web application (PWA).

What Is a PWA?

A progressive web app is written in a web language (JavaScript + frameworks) and works like a native mobile or desktop application:

  • It displays notifications.
  • It can run offline and in the background.
  • It uses device functions like camera, geolocation, gesture navigation, etc.

Unlike applications, a PWA does not need to be downloaded. It can be added to a device’s menu or home screen with just one click.

PWA’s M-Commerce Benefits

This sounds great, but what are the practical implications for e-commerce?

  • PWAs shorten load times, which can reduce bounce rates. Clients that experience a smoother buying and order completion process are less likely to quit the website
  • Offline functionality can also encourage customers to use the app. Customers can continue to read blog articles, browse products, or even add things to their cart when their Internet connection is weak or lost.
  • Geolocation lets shoppers easily find nearby store outlets. This facilitates customers' navigation between channels and allows them to meet their goals faster, e.g. by picking up an item instead of waiting for it to be delivered.
  • It allows companies to precisely target marketing messages to customers’ locations, thanks to geofencing and push notifications.

Need A Fast Implementation? Consider a PWA

Using a PWA means creating an application that works exactly like a native application – without the time-consuming process of delivering dedicated Android, iOS, and Windows apps. Instead, one app can be deployed to all platforms. This means the average time to launch a PWA is around 3-4 months. With a ready-made solution, such as e-point's e2m storefront, this can be reduced to 1-2 months.

PWA Case Study: AliExpress


AliExpress’s mobile application was not a sufficient solution for the Chinese e-commerce giant; winning new users and engaging existing users was very expensive. Moreover, having to download the application was a serious hurdle for many customers.


With a PWA, AliExpress could:

  • Provide a unified and consistent experience across all browsers and devices.
  • Implement an "add to home screen" button that increased user retention.
  • Offer users offline functionality for a better shopping experience.


  • The number of new users across all browsers rose by 104 percent.
  • Conversion on iOS increased by 82 percent.
  • The number of websites visited during one user session across all browsers increased twofold.
  • Session time across all browsers increased by 74 percent.

Mobile Application vs.  PWA: A Comparison

The table below compares key m-commerce features for PWAs and native mobile applications.

Mobile application    


Involves creating, maintaining, and developing individual products for particular operating systems (iOS, Android); may need to be adjusted for different browsers. Involves creating, maintaining, and developing one product for all operating systems
(iOS, Android) and browsers.
Can send push notifications and engage the customer. Can send push notifications and engage the customer (except on iOS, which only supports SMS notifications).
Operates offline. Operates offline while maintaining all the features of a website.
Must be located in an app store and downloaded; particular authorizations must be approved. Can be used directly on a mobile device browser; there’s no need to install a separate app.
Possible user experience inconsistencies across various devices. Uniform user experience on all devices.
Intermediaries or app platforms (e.g. Google Play Store or Apple App Store) may charge commissions and costs per application/transaction.  No additional hidden costs or commissions.
Discoverable solely through app stores (i.e. apps can be found through browsing an app store) Website-level discoverability via search engines, SEO, ads, and traffic promotions.

Dedicated Mobile App or PWA: Which Is Right for You?

Although we’ve outlined multiple PWA advantages in this article, the right choice of technological solution is always determined by your circumstances.

A native application is a good option for companies that:

 Use multiple device resources (graphic elements, complicated visualizations, 3D)

 Need access to conducting contactless transactions (NFC).

 Use biometric security measures, such as fingerprint or facial recognition.

 Require iOS push notifications.

On the other hand, a PWA is ideal for companies that:

 Do not need the above-mentioned functionalities/requirements.

 Want to implement a mobile device application that, in reality, does not have to be developed – it can be based on existing or newly -built WWW systems.

 Have one product serving three platforms.

 Want to reach a large number of clients quickly.

 Want to reduce cart and customer bounce rates.

 Need a wider range of classic WWW services: offline, push, geolocation and geofencing, accelerometer, etc.

The article was originally published in "Magazyn e-commerce", No. 7/2019