Why Ecommerce Brands are Moving to Progressive Web Apps

August 14, 2020

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If you’re new to progressive web apps, it might surprise you to learn you’ve used quite a few in your day-to-day life — likely, without even knowing it.

Have you ever read a Washington Post article on your smartphone? Then you’ve used a progressive web app.

Ever pinned a photo while scrolling on your mobile device? Also a progressive web app.

One of the best things about progressive web apps is that, despite their app-like functionality to the end-user, they’re a seamless extension of the web browsing experience.

Progressive web apps were born out of a need for great mobile experiences without the inconvenience of having to download an app first. While they were initially used to create app-like web browsing experiences, progressive web apps can also help businesses tackle one of the biggest challenges in ecommerce: converting mobile traffic.

As mobile conversions continue to lag while traffic grows, retailers and brands are turning to progressive web apps to create fast, reliable and engaging mobile experiences — to the delight of shoppers everywhere.

What is a Progressive Web App?

A progressive web app is not quite a native app and not quite a responsive website. Essentially, it combines the best of each technology, resulting in a mobile web experience that looks, feels and performs like a native app. Frances Berriman and Alex Russell, a designer and Google software engineer, respectively, packaged and named progressive web apps.

From a customer’s perspective, progressive web apps (also known as PWAs) are an ideal web experience:

  • There’s no need to download (and store) an app,
  • You can share links easily and
  • The page load times are just as fast as an app.

PWAs even have some of the same functionality as apps, such as offline mode, home screen icons and push notifications.

When shopping on a PWA, customers don’t get derailed by sluggish load times and annoying checkout pages. The result?

Progressive webs apps have much higher conversion rates than traditional mobile websites.

The Benefits of Progressive Web Apps for Ecommerce

Russell sums up progressive web apps in his first blog post about them:

“These apps aren’t packaged and deployed through stores, they’re just websites that took all the right vitamins.”

The results of those vitamins?

Increased Page Speed

Although the average mobile page load speed has come down from 22 seconds to 15 seconds, it still takes longer than most customers are willing to wait. In a surprise to no one, one of Google’s recent studies reveals just how impatient mobile users are:

page load time chart
Source: Think With Google

The probability of bounce increases 32% after three seconds… that is not a lot of time!

On the bright side, this is a huge revenue opportunity for retailers thinking about switching to a PWA with sub-second page loads.

Increased Conversions

An improved user experience comes part and parcel with a progressive web app, and it’s one of the keys to increasing mobile conversions.

Enhancements like simplified forms and one-click payment options can make a big difference considering that as many as 21% of abandoned shopping carts end up that way because of a complicated checkout process.


Forty-three percent of traffic to ecommerce sites comes from organic Google search. That’s a big piece of the pie and you certainly don’t want to miss out on it.

Since PWAs have URLs, they can easily be indexed by search engines (as opposed to native apps, which cannot). PWAs’ fast load times help SEO as well, as that speed encourages shoppers to stay on-site longer, thereby improving your position in search rankings.

Reduced Development Costs

The beauty of a PWA is that you only need one of them for all devices, instead of native apps for each, plus a responsive site.

A progressive web app eliminates the need for the development and marketing of multiple platforms, too. This provides a unique opportunity to serve all channels from one platform, which is built, maintained and serviced by one team.

Dealing with one PWA instead of multiple apps and sites consequently reduces the time to market that you would typically expect from a big project like this.

Generally App-Like

A PWA is going to feel like it was meant for the user’s device no matter what device they’re on. This app-like usability makes using progressive web apps an enjoyable, craveable experience that customers will keep coming back to.

Like apps, PWAs are:

  • Responsive: fits any shape or size of screen
  • Installable: to the home screen through timely prompts
  • Secure: served over HTTPS to prevent hacking
  • Easily navigable: a shell and content application model will create app-like navigations and interactions
  • Connectivity independent: service workers allow the PWA to work offline

How are Native Apps Different from Progressive Web Apps?

Native apps do have their advantages. More advanced functionalities, like offline access to a big library of images, for example, aren’t possible on a web app.

But they also have their disadvantages — namely, customers have to find them among millions of other apps in an app store, and then have to want them badly enough to actually download and keep them on their phone over time.

Unfortunately for native ecommerce apps, the competition for attention is stiff. Users typically spread their time between just three or four apps, and they’re mostly owned by Facebook.

With progressive web apps for ecommerce, you get all the features and functionality you need, plus access to a much larger and more accessible audience on the web.

Where Native Apps Lose, PWAs Win

Here’s a breakdown of how native apps and PWAs stack up.

breakdown of features between native apps and pwas

Native apps have their strengths, but PWAs have a more comprehensive offering.

Progressive Web App Case Studies

Every year, more retailers make the switch to progressive web apps for ecommerce for various reasons. Here are three different use cases to consider:

West Elm

The Challenge: Early Adopters

West Elm was one of the early adopters of progressive web app technology. Like most brands, it noticed its mobile traffic increasing, but conversions weren’t keeping up. At the same time, progressive web apps were still unproven, adding some risk to the equation.

The Solution

The West Elm team decided to take a cautious beta-style approach, which included lots of usability testing. After seeing positive metrics across the board, West Elm used the opportunity to re-architect its platform so it could extend its learnings across other company sites, like Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn.

The Results

  • 15% increase in average time spent on site
  • 9% increase in revenue per visit


The Challenge: Traffic vs. Conversions

Beauty brand Lancôme’s mobile traffic was beating out its desktop traffic, but conversion rates weren’t keeping up. Lancôme knew its customers were experiencing significant obstacles when trying to checkout on mobile devices, but the company didn’t know how to build a fast and engaging mobile experience on its own.

The Solution

Lancôme considered an app, but realized it didn’t make sense for its customer base, who tend to visit infrequently, compared to the weekly or daily visits that call for an app.

In its quest for a fast-loading, immersive mobile experience discoverable by anyone on the web, Lancôme heard about progressive web apps and worked with an outside agency to develop one.

The Results

  • 17% increase in conversions
  • 53% increase in mobile sessions on iOS
  • 8% increase in conversion rates on recovered carts via push notifications
  • Time-to-interactive fell by 84%
  • 15% decrease in bounce rate


The Challenge: Sign-in Friction

Brazilian ecommerce site Petlove was seeing significant drop-off at checkout when customers were being asked to sign into their accounts. Additionally, Petlove needed offline mode to give customers a smooth and engaging mobile web experience in an area with many users on 2G and 3G networks.

The Solution

Petlove integrated Google’s one-tap sign up and automatic sign in, which allowed users to painlessly sign up and stay signed in — even across devices or as sessions expired.

The Results

  • 2.8% increase in conversion rate
  • 2.7% increase in time spent on site
  • 2x users get to checkout already signed in
  • PWA is 8x smaller than native app

These three case studies illustrate how PWAs helped companies solve users’ pain points and increase their conversion rate.

4 Signs it’s Time for a PWA

There are a number of reasons it might be time for your business to implement a PWA. Here are four of the most common signs:

1. Your business sees a significant source of revenue through mobile channels.

This means your customers are already on mobile, and probably have high standards for what a mobile experience should be. Meet them where they are by delivering a fast, engaging and reliable PWA.

2. Your mobile conversion rate suffers compared to your desktop conversion rate.

Don’t let your desktop experience outshine your mobile one. In today’s connected world, it’s more important than ever to meet (or exceed) your customers’ expectations on mobile. A progressive web app is the fastest way to get your mobile conversion rate on par with desktop.

3. Your customers are often located in areas with unreliable internet or mobile connection.

Mobile moments are short and sweet — meaning users need to be able to complete a task exactly when they intend to. Any interruption due to poor connectivity can cause shoppers to lose purchase momentum, and reduces the likelihood of them returning to complete their purchase.

4. Your site suffers from slow page load times.

Is there anything more frustrating than a web page that won’t load? Studies show that time-to-content delays are more stressful than watching a horror movie — that’s not the feeling you want associated with your brand! Conversely, a lack of delay can have a positive emotional effect.

Are Progressive Web Apps the Future of Ecommerce?

If you’re not there already, it’s time to shift to a mobile-first mentality.

The old adage that people browse on mobile and buy on desktop is outdated. Mobile commerce isn’t just a passing fad — as long as customers are using smartphones there will be a need for fast, reliable and high-converting mobile experiences.

We’re at the point now where global web traffic is well over 50% on mobile, and growing. As younger generations age into purchasing power, retailers and brands need to match their mobile mindset if they intend to survive.

And Shogun Frontend is helping brands rise to the challenge.

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Ali Hackett

Ali Hackett is a writer living on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Her specialties are ecommerce — both B2B and B2C — and new businesses. She’s been writing about progressive web apps since 2016.

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