Four Reasons Why Progressive Web Apps Are the Future of eCommerce

Ron Dodby Ron Dod

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Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) are making quite the splash in the eCommerce arena at the moment and with just cause. Within that realm, Magento 2 users and developers are clamoring to know more about–and put into use–a frontend that utilizes a headless architecture.

For those who are unfamiliar with some of the terms utilized above, don’t feel bad. While the name “Progressive Web Apps” has been around since 2015, it is only beginning to break its way into the mainstream. However, it is doing so because business owners can reap a variety of benefits from their implementation, hence why major brands such as Alibaba, Forbes, Twitter and others are now using PWAs.

As Magento product manager, Eric Erway has stated via Twitter:

“PWAs are the future and working together on standards will make this easier, faster and less expensive in the future…”

PWAs can not only enhance Magento SEO performance, but they can help create a better user experience, increase conversions and build greater brand loyalty.

To help merchants wrap their arms around this new technology and understand why it holds the potential to revolutionize the eCommerce industry, we will be breaking down precisely what Progressive Web Apps are, how they work and how they can be beneficial for retailers.

Ready for a peek into the future of online retail?

What Are Progressive Web Apps?

To gain a proper understanding of what a PWA is and what it can do, it is necessary to understand the difference between native applications and web apps.

Native apps are applications created for a specific platform, thereby enabling developers to take advantages of the device’s fullest potential. However, the drawback here is that the app is not compatible with multiple devices. It becomes necessary to build entirely different versions for each type of platform. Naturally, this process can be incredibly long and expensive.

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Web applications, on the other hand, are built for web browsers and can operate on just about any device. However, since web apps are far more universal, they cannot leverage device-specific capabilities such as notifications and the like.

This is where Progressive Web Apps come into play.

PWAs are essentially a blend of the two technologies mentioned above. When speaking to desktop encounters, PWAs generate a website experience that looks like a siloed program. However, on a mobile device, that same application will appear and behave more like a traditional native app.

What this means is that PWAs have the universality of web apps, while still delivering the benefits of a native app such as offline use and the ability to implement device-specific features. As a result, the lines between the technologies are blurring to create something new and valuable that can create lightning-fast load times, enhanced eCommerce UX interfaces, higher levels of engagement and bolstered conversion rates.

With that understanding, let’s dive in to the benefits to be reaped.

Benefits of Building a PWA Frontend for Magento

There is a myriad of reasons to adopt PWA technologies into a business framework for Magento users. Not the least of which is the creation of Magento’s PWA Studio that accompanied the platform’s 2.3 updates. Regarding this new toolset, Magento states that:

“With PWA studio, merchants can deliver app-like mobile commerce that is fast, integrated and reliable. These experiences are proven to improve SEO and to drive 50% higher conversion rates, and 50% better page performance on average.”

This statement speaks to the heart of benefits to be gained from PWA implementation, such as:

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Enhanced Speed, Increased Conversions

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The React Javascript framework is one of the options for building PWAs. This technology, created by Facebook, has been quite prominent since the company introduced it as the framework provides developers with an outstanding experience and instant feedback in the development process. It is this framework that provides the native feel to PWAs. Moreover, React allows for easy integration with a variety of third-party APIs.

While other frameworks are popular for PWAs (such as Angular and Vue), Visiture is invested in React as it is a more powerful, robust and flexible solution for Magento users.

One of the key benefits that is derived from the implementation of PWAs is faster load times, which increases the potential for conversions.

React utilizes a virtual DOM (VDOM) to achieve its speeds.

A traditional DOM is a data structure that allows programs to read and manipulate the page’s content, architecture and styles. Updating or manipulating a traditional DOM can be a slow and expensive process.

As React explains, a virtual DOM “is a programming concept where an ideal, or ‘virtual,’ representation of a UI is kept in memory and synced with the ‘real’ DOM by a library such as ReactDOM.”

As a result, there is far less data usage, thereby helping to create a faster experience for visitors.

Moreover, PWAs often utilize an application shell–minimal amounts of code that power the app interface. When a user initially visits a PWA, a “service worker” is installed and the app shell is cached, thereby enabling subsequent visits to load the app incredibly fast. When a site loads quickly, it helps provide an outstanding user experience. As a result, the potential for conversions increases dramatically.

device speed

For instance, when Indian eCommerce site Flipkart implemented a Progressive Web App solution, incredible results were achieved. With PWA usage, Flipkart earned:

  • Three times more time spent on its site
  • 40 percent greater re-engagement
  • 70 percent increase in conversions
  • Three times less data usage

However, this was no isolated incident. Among other brands that have employed a PWA solution:

These types of results hold true for both desktop and mobile experiences.

That said, some would argue that Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages would be preferable over PWAs for their simplicity. This is (in part) true. AMP is better for static content pages like blogs. However, when it comes to dynamic eCommerce experiences, the virtual DOM leveraged in PWAs makes all the difference.

But it’s not just speeds that PWAs boost. It’s memorable experiences as well.

Memorable Microinteractions

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Microinteractions and similar UI (user interface) elements can genuinely make or break an experience, raising it to new heights or sink it entirely.

For the uninitiated, microinteractions are features of a site that only have one purpose. These elements are present all throughout websites and applications. Or in the words of Dan Saffer, the man who quite literally wrote the book on microinteractions:

“Microinteractions are contained product moments that revolve around a single use case — they have one main task.”

Some familiar examples of microinteractions are a phone’s vibration in response to placing it on silent, swiping to open or close menus, liking a post on Facebook and so forth.

microinteraction taking photo of dog with phone

Ultimately, the intention of these microinteractions is to create joy and engagement for users. Some of the benefits of successfully integrating microinteractions into the user experience are:

  • Generating positive emotions toward the UI
  • Moving users through a platform in a fluid manner
  • Encouraging interaction

Microinteractions help to make up the big picture and create positive experiences for users.

PWAs enable developers to create and build microinteractions for their app experiences, thereby enhancing the overall encounter and increasing the chances of a conversion.

Faster and Smoother Development Process

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According to Stack Overflow survey results, React’s popularity multiplied by nearly 150 percent from 2017 to 2018. A major contributing factor to this explosive growth is the framework’s UI component library.

Components are essentially little chunks of code that can contain some logic. It is easy to think of components as similar to widgets.

Components enable developers to split up a user interface into separate, reusable pieces. By creating a vast library of such independent components, creators can shorten the development process by significant degrees, thereby potentially saving substantial amounts of resources (time, energy, money and the like).

team of programmers working together

An example of this would be the React Material-UI, a collection of components that implements Google’s Material Design. This library is quite possibly the most popular and well-known and well-liked of the React component collections.

Furthermore, thanks to React’s growing acceptance and demand, coupled with the introduction of Magento’s PWA Studio, the number of communities and developers are proliferating. This rapid growth not only makes it easy for Magento users to find and hire new developers, the contributions to this and other PWA initiatives mean that the package ecosystem that developers have to work with is expanding at incredible rates. This burgeoning in development will ultimately lead to new, high-quality open source plugins for the UI.

Testing Made Easy

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One of the significant advantages of employing the React framework is that its code is easily testable, which helps to reduce the potential for bugs. This level of ease is partially the result of the great test utilities the platform provides, along with the recommended test runner, Jest.

Through React, developers must build everything as components, as mentioned earlier. This structure means that, when developers provide a set of parameters, React’s components will invariably render an unchanging output. As a result of this way of doing things, it becomes unnecessary to perform intricate tests on the system’s components.

In terms of user interactions, the simplicity carries through as React binds events to specific callbacks. Therefore, it is quite easy to ensure that a particular event triggers the correct functionality.

Because of the way React is constructed, the testing process is incredibly simplified, and the potential for bugs, erroneous outputs and other problematic issues is minimized. This simplification is ideal for complex eCommerce frameworks and frontends that could give rise to a multitude of complications and anomalies.

developers reviewing app framework

Progressive Web Apps provide a contemporary new experience for eCommerce websites to present to their customers. Shoppers benefit from fast, smooth and responsive experiences that help to engender business results such as increased numbers of visitors, page views, sales and repeat patronage. These kinds of results have been shown many times over, and for that reason, the technology is quickly becoming an in-demand implementation for scores of eCommerce merchants.

Given that Progressive Web Apps could very well be the future of the online retail industry, PWAs are an outstanding solution for Magento users who desire better workflows, upgraded UX experiences that drive results, greater reach and performance and overall more integrated and accessible encounters for consumers.

Consider converting your Magento frontend to a PWA and position your brand on the cutting edge of the eCommerce industry.

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