Update from December 08, 2020: Practical experience from several projects has shown that in our opinion the PWA approach is not suitable for all Magento projects. With Hyvä we have therefore developed a new approach for a high-performance and above all simpler frontend. More information about Hyvä Themes can be found here:
PWAs have become an indispensable part of my everyday life. In the conversations I have with shop operators and e-commerce managers of online shops, there is always the big question: When can I finally change my frontend? And which technology should I use?
In this article I will give answers to these questions in order to clarify at which point of the “frontend revolution” we are at the moment and to give tips for the right timing to change.
PWA – What’s behind the Buzzword?
PWA is short for Progressive Web App. It is currently widespread, and some conferences already dedicate entire tracks to the topic. In 2018, PWA also arrived in the Magento ecosystem as an important topic.
Behind PWAs you will find a sophisticated technology that makes it possible for a normal website to behave (almost) like a native app. “Mobile First” is not just a word here, but the fundamental principle on which everything is based.
The advantages are numerous:
- Offline mode – The website can also be used when there is no connection to the web
- Responsive – PWAs are, as mentioned at the beginning, intended for mobile devices and therefore can be used on any device
- Security – PWAs use secure HTTPS connections by default
- Home Screen Feature – Like native apps, PWAs can be stored on the start screen of any mobile device – a very special bookmark, so to speak
- Speed – PWAs are extremely fast
Is PWA a good idea for your project?
The above points all sound good, but is the investment in a completely new frontend justified? The return on investment of such a project must be individually evaluated for each company. But even Johannes Müller, well-known webmaster trends analyst at Google, said that PWAs generally have no advantage in search results and that Google doesn’t intend to change this.
Why exchange your frontend, then?
An Advocatus Diaboli could respond like this to the aforementioned advantages:
- Offline mode – is useful for customers travelling by train, but otherwise…?
- Responsive – many shops already are
- Security – HTTPS can also be used without PWA on all pages
- Home Screen Feature – Ok, this may be useful for some shops. In stores where customers have a Customer Life Cycle that doesn’t justify a constant visit, it’s of little interest
- Speed – all well and good, but some shops have already optimized their pages through Varnish and other caching mechanisms
So is PWA really a good idea?
YES, it’s a good idea considering the following:
The speed advantage is immensely important. Varnish is a treatment to relieve pain, it’s not a cure. The tool does a good job, but it makes it more difficult or even prevents the personalization of the shop from taking place. With a PWA, the initial situation changes. In my opinion, the combination of personalization and fast website that is possible with PWA will reach a new level of shopping experience, which is for the benefit of the customer and therefore also for the turnover of the shop owner. In addition: Since Google includes the speed of a page in the ranking, a PWA is indirectly important for the ranking
- Yes, the offline mode may not be too tempting at first glance, but especially in Germany there are still enough regions where data is not available in stable quality
- Responsiveness, security and the home screen feature are not the highest priority for many shops, but you can take these benefits with you at a reasonable price if a relaunch is planned anyway
PWA is what Responsive Design was about 5 years ago – the upcoming standard and indirect sales driver for online shops.
Is this the future yet?
If you’re itching to start it right now, I advise you to take a deep breath first and exhale and then check exactly what’s necessary for your own online shop. PWAs are not comparable to Responsive Design insofar as they are actually an “own” software system. At least when it comes to e-commerce, a kind of “database” is needed in which all the data is buffered.
To build the entire frontend of an online shop with many PWA-based articles is much more complicated than for example for a “normal” website with few dynamic contents. For this you need a “real” system.
The basis for my PWA frontend? Magento!
You know that you want to continue using Magento as the “right” software behind the PWA solution? This is generally a good choice. Because Magento 2 is technologically predestined for the use of a PWA in comparison to many e-commerce providers, since the API coverage (and thus the interface between shop backend and PWA frontend) is more comprehensive than that of the competition.
But unfortunately there is still the problem that from our point of view at this time no PWA provider can offer a solution that is completely ready to be used. Some providers, for example, have not yet completely mapped the checkout in their PWA. Others lack features like filter search or the representation of complex articles (bundle articles, group articles, etc.).
There are promising possibilities and we are investigating them all right now, but nobody has convinced us 100% yet. This may be different tomorrow, but unfortunately it is the case today. I will update the article accordingly when the status changes. Another blog post with the comparison of the existing providers is already planned.
So what now? Wait and see and keep your eyes open!
As a conclusion it can be said that it makes sense to use a PWA frontend for an online shop. If possible, shop operators should wait until the practical implementation has followed the theory.
Note: This blog post is alive.
Young technologies are subject to constant development. This is also how it should be with this article. From time to time I adapt it to the current state of technology.
Author: Christian Philipp
Christian Philipp is CEO and managing director at integer_net. He studied Technical Writer Computer Science at RWTH in Aachen, followed by different jobs as a project manager, developer and lecturer for Magento and TYPO3. These days his focus is on management and consulting.