insights | 24.08.2020

The future of eCommerce part 4: progressive web applications

Progressive Web Application

Progressive web apps (PWA) have been around since 2015, but while having been adopted by some big brand names, they have been slow to breakthrough into mainstream eCommerce. That is about to change.

Article topics
  1. What is a PWA?
  2. What are the benefits of using a PWA?
  3. Increased speed
  4. Switching between a native app and PWA
  5. Push notifications
  6. Lower cost
  7. Greater visibility
  8. No need for updates
  9. Why has PWA adoption been slow?
  10. Who uses PWA?
  11. Final thought.

What is a PWA?

The rise of headless commerce and mcommerce is seeing mobile shopping poised to overtake desktop by 2023. This means that eCommerce businesses, driven by consumer expectations, will adopt a more PWA approach, to help facilitate omnichannel shopping experiences. PWA webstores are designed to optimise UX for mobile shopping. They are a cross between the online browser experience (Chrome or Safari) and native mobile apps running on phone or tablet operating systems (iOS or Android). PWAs offer mobile consumers the benefits of native apps without having to download anything to their device. The extended reach that the web affords (compared to native apps) gives consumers more unified and seamless shopping experiences. While webstore native apps are created using proprietary platform code, PWA webstores are use the same code as traditional web pages: CSS, HTML5, JavaScript etc. This makes PWAs cheaper and faster to develop.

What are the benefits of using a PWA?

Increased speed

One of the most important performance metrics for your webstore is speed. Load speeds are important for multiple areas, from SEO, PPC and marketing through to UX and the direct impact it has on sales. A Slow webstore will mean more people leaving without buying anything—page load of more than two seconds will significantly increase bounce rate.

Compared with traditional websites, PWAs have much faster page load times. And compared to native apps, PWAs have faster shell load. PWA’s faster performance means lower friction in shopping journeys for higher conversion rates.

Switching between a native app and PWA

The problem with webstores that are not dynamic is that they are often difficult to use on mobile and offer poor UX—switching between a native app and non-optimised websites is tricky. Even having a dynamic webstore still lacks the continuity of PWA, as UX will still be different on mobile compared to desktop.

Seamless switching between your webstore and other websites is crucial for active consumers who, before making a purchase, will thoroughly research products, services and brands. 85% of consumers conduct online research prior to purchase. PWAs significantly reduce friction between research and purchase as they enable consumers to more easily switch between a webstore and other sites for reviews and testimonials etc.

Lower friction mobile shopping offers consumers omnichannel experiences. In other words, shopping looks and feels the same on-screen regardless of what device they use and on which channel. Unified shopping experiences enable businesses and brands to have continuity across all consumer touchpoints for improved UX and engagement.

This has a significant impact on conversion rate, with brands and businesses that choose an omnichannel approach seeing up to a 18.96% engagement rate compared to single channel at 5.4%. The more consumers and your customers are engaged, the higher conversion will be.

Push notifications

Push Notification

PWA enables brands and businesses to send push notifications to customers who have given their permission. A push notification is a short message or alert that calls a recipient to action or offers some kind of personalised value (or both). Whereas push notifications were only available in native apps, the introduction of PWAs means that consumers who have visited your website on their desktop or laptop can receive personalised special offers, discounts, new product and shipping information directly to their mobile devices.

Because consumers, especially Gen Z and Millennials, spend many hours per day connected via their phone, businesses and brands that use a PWA approach can reach out to them with personalised messages that are often engaged with immediately, in real time. In the UK, Gen Z spends an average of 10.6 hours online each day. To be able to interact with your customers directly in this way reduces the need for more traditional marketing methods, such as email.

Lower cost

One of the most compelling benefits of a PWA strategy for eCommerce businesses is cost saving. PWA development takes fewer resources compared to native apps, with native app developers needing to create different apps for different platforms, rather than just focusing on one. This saves development time and manpower, reducing cost and time to market.

Greater visibility

One of the main issues with native apps for eCommerce is getting your webstore onto mobile devices. Apart from the friction of consumers having to download your webstore app in the first place, your business will have to jostle with over four billion other native apps that are already available and corralled in an app store. And while visiting the AppStore or Google Play, your customers would be exposed to your competitor’s apps.

PWAs behave like traditional websites, so they are open to all of the techniques available to optimise visibility. PWAs use ‘www’ URLs, enabling them to take advantage of search engine optimisation methods to gain higher page ranking. In the same way that traditional websites use keywords and content optimisation to appear higher up on a Google search, PWAs give your brand and business the power to be seen, helping drive traffic to your webstore.

In addition to SEO, PWAs enable the use of Google Ads and PPC advertising to further drive traffic to your webstore. This kind of optimisation and marketing isn’t possible with native apps, which don’t allow search engine robots to crawl them. Faster page load, resulting in reduced bounce rate, will also boost SEO page ranking. Search engines will rank well-designed and optimised PWA websites higher than traditional websites, meaning that technical SEO is also vital for higher page ranking.

No need for updates

Native apps need updating to fix bugs and to ensure they have the latest security features, forcing customers to implement updates manually, causing friction and reduced UX. Because PWAs are more like webpages there’s no need for customers to worry about manual updates. They get the latest and most secure version of your webstore every time they visit. This enables PWA webstores to very quickly adapt to new features, trends and UI, giving consumers and customers lower friction, higher value shopping experiences.

Why has PWA adoption been slow?

There is no single reason why PWA has been slow into the mainstream. But one of the main arguments is that the amount of investment put into native apps over the past decade has caused resistance to large scale PWA adoption.

For example, Apple has invested a huge amount in the native app model, with their Appstore worth around $54.2 billion. As a result, and understandably so, Apple has been defending the Appstore and the massive revenue that it generates for them. But in 2018 Apple began to enable some PWA functionality on iOS.

It’s also worth considering that while the iPhone seems ubiquitous it’s not the most popular OS available. In global terms it has 25% or the market, with Android having 74%, both dominating the market with a combined 99% share. With Android ahead of Apple for PWA functionality, it’s easy to see how it’s becoming more mainstream.

Who uses PWA?

PWA is becoming the standard for eCommerce and social media platforms, which receive a majority of traffic from mobile users. Here are some examples of webstores and social media that are using PWA:

Debenhams PWA Store


Debenhams was the first UK retailer to invest in PWA after experiencing disparity in its mobile traffic and conversion rate. The result of implementing a PWA webstore was a 40% increase in mobile revenue and a 20% lift in overall conversion.

Lancôme PWA Store


In 2016 Lancôme found that its conversion rate was lower than expected for mobile traffic. This was a surprise, as desktop conversion was strong. Lancôme’s solution to this problem was to invest in a PWA webstore. It worked, with 8% of consumers who tapped an abandoned mobile cart push notification going on to purchase. And an overall 17% increase in conversion.

Pinterest PWA


Pinterest adopted PWA in 2017 and saw a lift in mobile engagement, with a 40% increase in time spent on page compared with previous mobile experiences, as well as a massive 60% rise in core engagements. And its ad click-throughs rocketed from 0% on web/native to 50% for PWA mobile.

Final thought

Perhaps the most compelling reason that PWA will be vital for the future of eCommerce webstore design is that it opens your brand and business up to the largest number of people, with lower friction and higher UX compared to native apps. PWA development takes the ‘mobile first’ ethos a stage further by providing a framework that operates equally well on any device, mobile or not. It means that designers will no longer need to think in terms of separating mobile and desktop development and UX. Is your mobile conversion rate lower than your web conversion rate? Do you want to offer consumers unified, omnichannel shopping experiences? If you’d like to know more about PWA eCommerce, then get in touch today for a chat with one of our PWA development specialists.

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