Using React to build an E-commerce Progressive Web App

The era of building a web application that takes an age to load is gradually coming to an end. Just a few years back, many wouldn’t have thought it possible for a web page to load within seconds.

While there’s been a remarkable development with regards internet speed - especially with the arrival of 4G network - tech companies like Google are working tirelessly every day to make sure users enjoy the best possible experience.

To target users, 90% of E-commerce companies have migrated to both web and mobile based apps; this allows them to reach users directly on their mobile, without those users needing to visit their websites.

Gabriel, the Brand manager for Openhost WP Hosting stated that Android OS allows apps to push notifications to users; although this can be disabled, he added that marketers have reported an increase in sales, as a result of being able to easily suggest products to the user without them having to visiting the websites in question.

What is Progressive Web App?

Despite the efforts made by these E-commerce giants, there are still certain downsides to using mobile apps. For instance, users have to search for the app, install it on their smartphone and click on it each time they want access. Despite being available offline, most apps still perform poorly when below par when a network is poor. According to a recent study, apps lose 20% of users for every step they take.

Progressive Web App offers both the power of a native app and that of a web app by ensuring the user has the best possible experience whilst surfing the internet, and even influential blogs have taken advantage of this.

This has its advantages; for example, the user doesn’t have to install any apps, saving them memory space, whilst reserving the functionality of the native app. The PWA is also flexible, progressive, responsive, installable, safe and works offline. With all these features available, your E-commerce website won’t have to convert only when the user installs your app.

A breakdown of PWA features

According to Google, the features of a Progressive Web App must distinguish it from a native app. Therefore, a Progressive Web App must be all of the following:

  • Progressive: this implies that the app must work for every user, regardless of the operating system or browser they’re using.
  • Responsive: The app must work on all platforms, including mobile, tablet and desktop.
  • Connectivity independent: with the enhancement of service workers, the app should be equipped to work offline or via low-quality networks.
  • App-like: It should feel like an app, because its app shell model separates the application functionality from its content.
  • Fresh: The app must always be up to date, as a result of the service worker update process.
  • Safe: The app is served via HTTPS to avoid snooping and ensure content isn't tampered with.
  • Discoverable: it can be easily discovered by search engines.
  • Re-engageable: offers easy re-engagement via push notifications.
  • Installable: The user can easily install the apps on a browser and their mobile home screen.
  • Linkable: The app’s URL can easily be linked and shared.

What is React?

Popularly known for its extra features and flexibility, React JS is a component-based JavaScript library, associated with building a dynamic and interactive user interface for both websites and mobile applications. It is specifically used for developing single page applications that allows the reflection of data real time, as it deals with ‘View’ in the MVC (Model - View - Controller).

The most important aspect here is ‘One Page’. React treats everything as components, which are merged together from small parts to form the homepage.

React utilises the Virtual Dom Model, which allows only one way data binding. In other words, instead of updating the DOM, React makes two copies of a Virtual DOM. Both copies are compared each time the user makes any changes. When changes are made, React updates ‘View’ directly.

React stands out from other JavaScript frameworks because of the following features:

  • It’s declarative
  • It uses Virtual DOM
  • Creates its own event system
  • Uses JSX markup language
  • It’s highly efficient and fast
  • It’s component based

How does React relate to E-commerce?

The flexibility and efficiency React offers allows for faster page load and an all round better user experience. E-commerce sites like Alibaba and OLX use React for its frontend and have reported remarkable user engagement.

For instance, Alibaba built a PWA that led to a 76% increase in total conversions across all browsers and platforms, resulting in higher interaction rates from Add to Homescreen. Similarly, OLX increased engagement by 250% via Add to Homescreen and Push notifications.

As an E-commerce developer, using React for PWA doesn’t only beat the flexibility offered by mobile apps, but also improves SEO and functions as a dual purpose App. This will likely increase CTR (as in the case of OLX), improve User Experience and maximise sales because of the following:

One Page: When you use React for your E-commerce website, your entire site is seen as a component. The user only loads the homepage once. With the help of service workers, the data is stored in a cache, while new data is only added when necessary. This saves users waiting for a page to load all images. The result is improved UX.

Connectivity: Depending on your target audience, there are times when your users will experience downtime in network connectivity. With PWA, the user can still access the information available on your site, browse through without interruption and only receive updates when online.

Can it be used with WordPress as backend?

Yes. You can build a PWA with WooCommerce REST API. Remember, React will work as the front end connecting to the API, while WordPress services your backend.


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