At its heart, a progressive web app (PWA) is a website that functions like a native app on a shoppers’ device. Although simple in concept, PWAs have the potential to massively improve a retailer’s operations, from shortening website load times to boosting natural Google search ranking, according to the Progressive Web Apps: The Best Kept Tech ‘Secret’ In Retail session at the 2020 Retail Innovation Conference.

On average, PWAs are 43% faster than traditional
websites, according to data from Salesforce. This acceleration is achieved by
decoupling the business backend from what shoppers see on the frontend. While a
traditional website needs to calculate a response every time a page loads, a
PWA sends its first response in the form a PWA, which is then available on the
user’s device, making subsequent responses much easier.

However, while improved speed is a significant benefit, the
biggest secret of PWAs may be their marketing potential. PWAs affect some of
the most important metrics Google considers when it determines who it will rank
in its organic search listings. There are three particular metrics that PWAs
can improve:

  • Largest Contentful Paint: This measures
    the loading performance of the site — retailers should strive for LCP to
    occur within 2.5 seconds of the page starting to load;
  • First Input Delay: The length of the
    first input delay before a user can do something, such as swipe or click,
    should be kept under 100 milliseconds; and
  • Cumulative Layout Shift: A measurement of
    how much elements on the page move as it loads. Ideally the CLS should be less
    than 0.1

“My argument for PWAs has less to do with the user experience,” said Ryan Gellis, Founding Partner of RMG Media. “That’s very important, but where I think the web apps really help companies grow in the retail space is by allowing you to gain ranks within Google for very little effort when it comes to building out the tech.”

PWAs Can Improve Development With Customizable, Easily
Shared Workflows

While there are multiple frameworks for building PWAs, the
preferred framework for U.S.-based businesses is React, according to Gellis.
The software is built and maintained by Facebook, which means updates are
available quickly, and the framework is both highly customizable and has a low
barrier to entry.

“When we were looking at the right technology to use to start a project, [one] that was fortunately greenfield, we looked at Vue, Angular and React as well,” said Brandon Elliott, VP of Technology at Leafly. “It is notable that we found quite a bit of support with a major public company in the U.S. behind React. That goes a long way, and there are a lot of frameworks and a lot of tutorials.”

PWAs also can improve the workflow for development teams.
The process is divided into components, which can be built in isolation. This
leads to a much lower chance for errors, as every team member is able to see
the different states and functions of each component separate from the app
itself —
letting them test each component in unison with each other component.