Things agencies don’t say about PWAs

I recently read an article on Smashing Magazine written by a Magento agency CTO. It tries to pitch the seemingly overwhelming advantages of building one’s store as a PWA.

The writing commits a number of sins, from unsourced claims* to taking sources out of context†. But more importantly, the article tiptoes around all the downsides to choosing a PWA route.

First, here’s what the article lists as possible cons:

  • It may require a lot of programming
  • The codebase may become quite large or complex, impeding customization or documentation attempts

But, ultimately, the article finds that choosing to build your site as a PWA is “undoubtedly worth it. It’ll bring many benefits in the long run as well as show results straight off.”

This reads like the empty sales speak I’d hear from Magento/Adobe as they pitched the concept of “PWA” to clients.

There’s no way that a PWA is always worth it. There are significant downsides that should be considered.

Here are things agencies don’t say about PWAs:

  1. Every article about PWAs has “Performance” in big letters. Spoiler: “fast” is not a requirement for something to be a PWA. Agencies only mention this as your site is so slow that just about anything would speed it up. Spoiler 2: getting great frontend times on your existing store is a budget a fraction of the size (and headache) of a rewrite.

    Between you and me, the idea of going to a custom, headless implementation for the sake of fast frontend times could only have come from someone in the business of selling M2 sites.

  2. You, as a store owner, will probably be hiring an outside agency to build this PWA. What they produce will be unique and niche, which will probably mean that agency is sticking around as support. That uniqueness will also make switching away from that agency challenging. Hope you like them! (The agency prefers it this way, of course.)

  3. Magento releases large, complex, poorly documented, and critically important patches all. the. time. These are hard enough to apply for sites that are mostly out of box. Good luck finding a contractor who can puzzle out your PWA’s wacky GraphQL usage when your site goes down.

  4. If your site host provides any technical support to your M2 instance, you will almost certainly lose it when you move to this custom PWA. Good luck explaining to Commerce Cloud support why reproducing on Luma isn’t sufficient…

  5. The article also positions PWAs as a competitor to native apps. PWAs aren’t findable through mobile storefronts. Are you prepared to sacrifice that entire market? I wouldn’t be: most users are unaware that you can even save sites on iOS.

  6. Do your demographics even need offline access? This is a tentpole feature for PWAs. But your users might not even use it if they’re primarily on fast networks and new phones.

  7. Every released Magento PWA solution/toolkit/theme is new (or in beta) and sees backwards-incompatible changes fairly regularly. Worth bearing in mind. (And typically bad documentation!)

PWAs can make total sense for a business. Sites whose visitors frequently have poor internet (and are on Android) are good examples.

…But, instead, PWAs are getting pitched to store owners whose sites just have terrible performance… owners who have been dinged by Google for their CRuX scores, and now want to speed it up. Personally: if your agency says you can’t speed up your site’s front end without a rebuild, get a second opinon.

* “Because the focus is put on mobile-first, customers become happier with their browsing experience” – happier relative to what? Non-PWA sites? How much happier?

† “Consider this… ‘With every additional loading second, the conversion rate drops by almost 4.5%'” – the full text of that quote is “…with each additional second of load time (between seconds 0-5)”.

After those 5 seconds, the drop-off rate is halved.

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