Progressive Web Apps: Unlocking new user web experiences

Asda George and Isobar UK recently launched one of the first Progressive Web Apps (PWA) to be offered by a UK high street retailer.

We spoke with Mustafa Rashid, head of emerging technologies at Isobar UK, about the project, what he learnt and what retailers need to consider as they look to develop their own PWAs?

What did you learn from building the PWA for Asda George?

Building a PWA is a big challenge. You need to first consider the customer journey before you start thinking about the technology. This was a valuable lesson for the technology team and led to a change in the way we think about experience design.

We also had to figure out how PWAs function on different platforms. For example, the Android operating system has a push notifications capability, as well as an ‘add-to-home’ screen prompt, whilst iOS does not. So it’s important to tailor the build around the functionality offered by different browsers to ensure customer expectations are met.

The team also invested a lot of time in understanding how PWAs can improve the user experience on the web, particularly around offline and progressive enhancements. New technologies, such as service workers, led us to think as much about the design of offline experiences on the web as the online experience.

There are many definitions of a PWA, what is yours?

It’s true, there are multiple definitions.

Google software engineer, Alex Russell, describes it as “a great website with all the right vitamins” – the vitamins being reliability, speed and engagement.

In my view, there is one technical element that defines a PWA and that’s a new feature called service workers.

Service workers bridge the gap between the old and the new web. The old way of thinking relates only to website loading times, but now we’re also thinking about user experience application. It’s a game changer in web development.

What are the big technology players doing in relation to PWAs?

Apple have recently announced service workers functionality, meaning most of the major browsers now support the technologies behind PWA. I can see this increasing the appetite among brands and retailers to invest in PWAs.

Apple has historically been the first mover when it comes to web apps. In 2007, when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, there was no app store. Apple’s vision was to create web apps through HTML and Ajax – so-called Web 2.0. That’s why, even back then, users could add websites to their home screens.

Microsoft announced this year that they are going to aggressively support the use of PWAs. Websites that are using PWA guidelines from Microsoft will automatically be added to the Microsoft store.

Google, Mozilla and Samsung are also on a mission to make the web a better place.

In two to three years’ time, I can see a lot of technology businesses moving into the PWA space. It represents a major transformation in the current web environment.

What’s your advice for retailers looking to build an internal business case for PWAs?

Let’s take a step back and instead ask ourselves what are retailers looking for?

Every retailer is trying to win on customer experience.

PWAs allow brands and retailers to reach more customers in specific ecosystems, from Android to iOS, and to tailor the experience.

The second business case relates to the offline experience. There’s a huge advantage in businesses being able to stay connected to their customers while they’re offline. You could be travelling on the underground without any signal, for instance, or on an airplane with your handset on airplane mode and still be connected.

And lastly, there’s the benefit of site speed. It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of businesses that succeed in the current retail environment offer a lightning fast mobile experience. Site speed was the main driver behind our work with Asda George.

Are PWAs just a lot of hype or will they become a key part of a retailer’s ecommerce strategy?

There’s certainly a lot of noise around PWAs, but I think it’s justified.

PWAs are here to stay because they allow the web to compete with native apps, which means as a consumer you can have the best of both worlds.

PWA, as a term, might disappear in time, but the philosophy behind it won’t. When properly implemented, PWAs will unlock new user experiences that give retailers a crucial competitive advantage.

If you’re looking to build a business case around PWAs, email us at HelloIsobarUK@isobar.com to speak with Mustafa. 


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