Progressive web apps and the retail sector’s need for speed

When it comes to shopping online, consumers want the user experience to be smooth, familiar and above all fast, yet on mobile, the experience is often found lacking. Retailers know they only have consumer attention for seconds before they are lost to a rival. Poor page load times are the enemy of the expected slick user experience.  Eric Erway, Senior Manager & Product Management at Magento, thinks Progressive Web Apps are the answer…


The retail industry has undergone a digital revolution and this has dramatically changed the way that consumers engage with brands. In particular, eCommerce sales have boomed and large online retailers continue to eat up market share, decreasing footfall on the High Street. Consumers value convenience – the ability to shop whenever and wherever – and now more than ever, people are turning to their mobiles to browse goods online, whether that’s smaller inexpensive items or high-ticket products such as furniture or plane tickets.

According to a recent analysis of the holiday shopping season by Adobe, mobile traffic soared with 51% originating from smartphones. However, despite this mobile domination, mCommerce still isn’t achieving its fullest potential. In fact, Forrester’s recent ‘The State of Retailing Online’ report revealed that while mobile sites get the highest percentage of traffic (49%), it has the lowest conversion rate at just 1.7%. In comparison, desktop enjoys a conversion rate of over double that amount (3.5%), as 51% of smartphone users report that they find it easier to buy on desktops.

In a society where consumers expect a seamless and fast shopping experience, retailers cannot afford to have a sub-par mobile-first strategy.

It’s not hard to see why mobile conversion is low – current mobile shopping solutions have a multitude of shortcomings that need to be addressed. For example, first page loads often perform badly, transitions between pages are slow and there is no direct access to device OS or hardware.

In a society where consumers expect a seamless and fast shopping experience, retailers cannot afford to have a sub-par mobile-first strategy. Consumer satisfaction isn’t the only reason retailers need to start investing; since July this year, Google is now using mobile page speed as a ranking factor. So, if businesses want to remain visible and build a strong SEO, they need to tackle these recurring problems.

Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) offer an intriguing proposition for online merchants and a solution to the shortcomings of mobile. PWAs combine the best of both an in-browser site and an app and have the ability to deliver blazingly fast and slick experiences that customers love, in the mobile web browser using open web technologies – all without significantly impacting the bottom line.

The first roadblock they address is speed. All retailers know that customers shopping online are impatient – they want lightning-fast sites and no delays. Millennials, those born between 1981 – 1996, are notoriously known for their short attention span, which, according to research from VisonCritical, is only 12 seconds, and Generation Z, those born between 1996 – 2010, have an even lower attention span of 8 seconds.

So, retailers only have a finite amount of time to engage with and convert customers online and slow page-loading times could instantly drive shoppers away to competitors. PWAs are much quicker to interact with and provide smoother scrolling as well as transitioning of pages as the experience “progressively” changes thus removing the need for pages to “re-load”. Shoppers will also have the option to enable a ‘full screen’ mode, which hides the URL and navigation bars for a better shopping experience.

So, retailers only have a finite amount of time to engage with and convert customers online and slow page-loading times could instantly drive shoppers away to competitors.

As well as this, PWAs bring all the greatness of what we love about the native mobile app. They are designed for a touch-based experience and have an offline mode, but don’t have to be developed separately for Android and iOS. To add to the convenience factor, PWAs are instantly discoverable and usable via the browser, which means that users don’t need to spend extra time and effort downloading and installing the app from the store beforehand. But users are still able to ‘save’ the app to their home screen just like a native app, enabling retailers the opportunity to continually engage with customers via push notifications.

The marketing department can make full use of the latter function and use the functionality of a PWA to deliver highly personalised cross-channel experiences with the ability to upload and send live push notifications. Importantly, via a PWA this costs a fraction of the price that is required to do the same on a mobile app.

The benefits that PWA’s can offer in terms of mobile shopping is only the beginning – innovations are also being developed that will enable better omnichannel communication and efficiency between in-store and online activity. PWA’s have the potential functionality to be leveraged by store sales associates to provide a real-time insight into product invention, services return, product location and even enable a self-check-out mode.

Overall, this innovation is key to providing better customer experiences but also enabling business to have better omnichannel functionality in-house. While PWA technology is only just emerging, retailers need to get ahead of the game in order to remain competitive in this crowded industry.


Eric Erway, Senior Manager & Product Management, Magento