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What Exactly is a PWA (and Should You Care?)


Progressive Web Apps or PWAs have been a growing topic of conversation since their introduction to the Internet. The trouble is, pinpointing exactly when that is, or even what defines a PWA is not that easy (most people seem to believe its origin is a 2015 post from a Google employee).

Key attributes include:

• Responsive
• Connectivity independent
• App-like-interactions
• Fresh
• Secure: Served via TLS
• Discoverable
• Re-engageable
• Installable
• Linkable

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But a list of characteristics doesn’t reveal exactly what constitutes a PWA and some of these characteristics, in my opinion, should be weighted more heavily than the others in terms of importance. For instance, responsive design seems like table stakes in 2020 for any experience and “app-like-interactions” is too ambiguous to be suitable for qualifying an experience as a PWA. On the other hand, “connectivity independent” or the ability to enjoy the experience with no or very slow Internet is a key component a PWA cannot be without. This analysis has inspired me to try to create a simple and effective definition for a PWA:

“A PWA is a hybrid between an app and a mobile site that takes advantage of the advances of the modern browser to produce the superior mobile experience the public has come to expect from a dedicated app with the convenience of a mobile site.”

Now that we’ve defined what a PWA is, how does this effect the world of eCommerce?

From a merchant standpoint, a PWA should be easier to deploy and maintain than a pure mobile app. It also provides a lower barrier to entry by circumventing the App Store, allowing both developers and users to use the experience without interference from Apple. Stats show that the average user downloads a total of zero new apps per month, and I think we’ve all heard “I hate downloading new apps” by various characters in our networks. One of the primary areas of opportunity in leveraging a PWA comes in the form of the giving merchants the opportunity to send push notifications, which should be music to the ears of merchants’ marketing departments.

The most important strength, in my humble opinion, is the ability to utilize the browser’s cache, thus making the app available to users who are currently not connected to high-speed internet. With consumers demands pushing performance more and more (think about the last time you waited more than 3 seconds for a page to load), this will allow merchants to deliver a quality experience regardless of limitations to the consumers internet connection.

Some brands are already leveraging PWAs, but it certainly isn’t mainstream yet in the world of eCommerce, but it might be soon. The ecosystem is taking notice, LiveArea has helped clients launch PWA eComm experiences, technology partners like Mobify have built a go-to-market strategy around the idea, even Magento has built in a PWA studio in its 2.3 release. While most of the enterprise brands are playing wait and see, others are jumping on the bandwagon early to differentiate themselves from their competitors.


Matthew Crabtree is Senior Manager, Sales Engineer for LiveArea.

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