Ecommerce Growth

Progressive Web Apps for Ecommerce: How to Drive Mobile Sales with a Winning UX

  • Written by Mary Hilko
Progressive Web Apps for Ecommerce: How to Drive Mobile Sales with a Winning UX

Have you ever noticed an “Add to Home Screen” message when you were browsing certain websites? If you did (and clicked it), you probably saw a shortcut appear on the home screen of your device just like regular apps: No fancy app development. No downloading from app stores. Yet the website sits bookmarked on the user's home screen alongside all their other apps. This is how Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) work, and they can be extremely powerful for ecommerce. So in this post, we take a look at all you need to know on Progressive Web Apps for ecommerce. Including what exactly they are, comparing to regular mobile apps, examples of PWA stores, and how you can get started.

SEE ALSO: 7 Ecommerce Brands Driving Major Sales with User-Generated Content

What is a Progressive Web App (PWA)?

To put it simply, a Progressive Web App (PWA) gives a website the look and feel of a traditional smartphone app when accessing it on a mobile web browser. It uses the latest web capabilities to bring consistency between web and native apps, replacing both with a single instance. This makes PWAs:

  • Extremely fast.
  • Responsive.
  • Secure.
  • Easy to download.
  • Able to send push notifications.
  • And even accessible offline.

Meaning mobile websites running on PWAs get both the easy accessibility of a web browser, and the quality user experience of a native app. Which is an absolute game changer when it comes to ecommerce.

Why is now the time for PWAs?

With tech advancements, the way consumers behave and how they make purchases is changing. And mobile is just becoming more and more prevalent - 62% of smartphone owners have bought something using their device in the past six months. There are only two ways for buyers to purchase physical items from mobile devices. They can order from:

  1. Ecommerce websites; or
  2. directly from native applications.

Let's discuss the limitations of both options.

What's wrong with native apps?

The fact is that the native app boom is tapering off. In 2008, Apple added support for native apps to iOS. From then to January 2010, nearly 150,000 apps were released. It was an awesome start… As far back as 2016, Recode agency published the research that proved these go-go growth days are gone. Apple’s App Store and Google Play now offer a seemingly limitless number of apps (there are more than 1.8 million apps available on the App Store in 2020). But the number of people making purchases using native apps is steadily decreasing. Customers no longer want to download massive native apps to make a purchase once a month. And there are several reasons for this:

  • Native app downloads take time. The average Android app file size is 11.5MB, and average iOS app file size is about 34.3MB. Some of them are much “heavier” - which takes precious time and storage space for people only wanting to make a few irregular ecommerce purchases.
  • People use most ecommerce apps very rarely. Not more than two times a month when they want to buy something. At all other times, an unused app just “lies on the shelves collecting dust”.
  • Native apps are expensive to be developed. The process is getting harder, and a quality app is just not something most ecommerce stores have the need or budget to do.

What's wrong with mobile websites?

Most successful ecommerce businesses likely already have a mobile-friendly online store that can be opened in any browser. But the truth is: this is not enough to maximize your revenue opportunity. Buyers generally find it inconvenient to buy from store websites, which are often slow with a far from user-friendly interface. Stats show that:

  • 78% of customers would rather access a store from an app than from a website.
  • As the number of elements (text, titles, images) on a page goes from 400 to 6,000, the probability of conversion drops 95%.
  • As page load time goes from one second to 10 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increases 123%.

Source: Think With Google

So both native apps and mobile websites have their flaws that create obstacles for convenient shopping.

The solution is somewhere in the middle!

As an alternative, in 2015, Google introduced Progressive Web Applications. A new solution for delivering an app-like user experience on mobile devices, but with no need to install a native app. The world’s leading brands picked up the idea and now the technology is becoming increasingly popular. So let's take a look at what this all means to you. And how you can apply it to your ecommerce business.

How PWAs are changing ecommerce

On the one hand, a PWA looks and feels like a native app. But on the other, it keeps all the advantages of websites: it's available from a browser, discoverable for search engines, and does not require installation and downloading. For example, ecommerce PWAs can send push notifications, scan barcodes, and deliver localized content using a phone’s location services. All these features add value to user experience, nudging visitors into a purchase. PWAs can effectively work on any gadget like a regular site. But when a user switches to a more advanced device or browser, PWA functions expand.

Why ecommerce businesses must go for PWA

So what does this actually mean when it comes to ecommerce? Here are six key factors PWAs bring:

  1. Advanced app-like experience. PWAs not only look like native applications with excellent UI and UX features, they also provide smooth and fast website performance to users which most regular online store websites are lacking.
  2. Offline functionality. PWAs work when your customers are offline, which most responsive websites can’t offer. This feature allows buyers to look through their orders and change them wherever they are.
  3. Zero install. This is the most important advantage from your customer’s point of view. They no longer need to go to an app store to download your app - it can be added to their home screen right from the browser.
  4. Cheaper to develop. While developing a native app of the average online store costs up to $100,000, a PWA developing price can start from around $15,000. Moreover, a PWA gives you not only an app but a mobile website too.
  5. Push Notifications. Just like a native app, PWAs can send push notifications to users to keep them informed about the discounts or new arrivals your store offers. The feature helps to bring buyers back and inspire them to make more purchases.
  6. Compactness. As it said, native apps are huge, they take up a lot of storage space while customers use them no more than once or twice a month. This makes the customers delete them. Since PWAs are downloaded and run on a browser, the space issue does not arise.

Examples of progressive web apps for ecommerce

PWA apps can be a promising sales driver for an ecommerce business. Just have a look at these PWA examples developed by some leading ecommerce brands:

1) Lancôme USA

Lancôme USA was one of the first American companies that tested the new technology on their website. And it paid off! The app is full of effective and useful features that add value to their products. Like Mascara Finder, one of the greatest tools the Lancôme team made. They implemented three major face types to demonstrate to customers what their mascara would look like on different women. Take a look at it on Lancôme's PWA site vs standalone app: The two are very alike. Same UI, same menu on the top of the page, and same functionality. The only real difference is that the first one is available from a browser, and the second one is a fully-fledged native application.

2) Flipkart

Flipkart is one of the biggest Indian online mega-stores, specializing in various fields: from fashion to home decor. And the decision to add a PWA site to their native app resulted in 40% higher re-engagement rate and 70% greater conversion rate. Their progressive app works offline, re-engages the users, and shows awesome performance: And again, the PWA and Flipkart native app are very alike both in UI and functionality.

3) Starbucks

Starbucks has developed their own PWA in order to increase the number of orders in addition to its regular native application. The PWA interface seems familiar to the customers already using their native app. But its overall size is 99.8% smaller than the existing iOS app: This PWA is a perfect example of what progressive apps can bring. The online mode here is up to scratch. Once online, customers can view location-specific pricing and make their drink and food order. Along with that, Starbucks' PWA allows the customers to browse the menu, add items to their cart and customize their order - all just like the native app allows.

SEE ALSO: 3 Examples of Retail Brands with Amazing Omnichannel Experiences

PWAs & ecommerce: The stats

Still not totally convinced on how useful PWAs can be? Here are some stats that might make your mind up:

  • After implementing the PWA, Aliexpress increased the conversion rate by up to 104%. Moreover, the time users spent per session has increased by 74%.
  • United eXtra Electronics showed an increase of 400 % in re-engagement and 100 % in sales with push notifications.
  • 5miles reduced the bounce rate by 50% and increased conversions by 30% after implementing the PWA.
  • The progressive app for La Nature, an online store, showed 65% increase in conversions in the first month after the PWA implementation. Moreover, the page loading time was reduced up to 0.1 seconds.
  • Lancôme reported 17% increase in conversion, 15% decrease in bounce rate.

On top of all this, web developers have recognized their preferences for PWA as well. A JAXenter’s survey found that 46% were in favor of PWAs:

How to get started with PWAs

Adopting a PWA isn't as intensive a process as it might seem. And it definitely doesn't mean a complete and intensive overhaul of your website front-end. But it does require some development, and giving users the option to save your site on their home screen comes through something called Web App Manifests. You can either task your in-house developer to resolve all this for you. Or consider investing in a PWA project with an agency like Onilab.


Both native apps and PWAs are two great options to deliver a seamless experience for users and both have their pros and cons. They both are worth mentioning and deserve the right to be considered impactful mobile technologies for ecommerce. If you want to deliver a convenient and faster shopping experience to your buyers, then getting PWAs developed for your store will definitely benefit you. However, despite the growing popularity, PWAs still face some challenges they need to overcome to provide a better user experience. The technology is young and the lack of a mature dev environment poses an obstacle for developers to make it more actionable. The choice between PWAs and native apps should be made according to the goals and resources of your business. But many businesses effectively benefit from both technologies as impactful tools for business growth.

About the author

Written by Mary Hilko

Head of Marketing at Onilab

Mary is Head of Marketing at Onilab, a full-service Magento development & troubleshooting company that delivers results and always aims for quality. Founded in 2011, Onilab has been constantly growing and expanding its expertise in the ecommerce industry.

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