10 Challenges You’ll Face Building A Progressive Web App On Your Own

Mobify is the number 1 provider of Progressive Web Apps (PWA) for ecommerce in the world.

This isn’t hyperbole, and we’re not bragging. It’s taken hundreds of thousands of development hours to get to where we are today. In fact, at the time of writing, Mobify powers the only major retail Progressive Web Apps in North America or Europe to receive an “exemplary” score in Google’s Lighthouse PWA evaluation tool.

Debenhams’ old m.dot vs its new PWA 

When we started this journey in late 2015, most retailers hadn’t even heard of PWAs. We’re now at a point where retailers understand the benefits of Progressive Web Apps (offline mode, feels like an app but works like a website, improved performance, fast page load on mobile devices, push notifications on the web, no need to install from the app store), but they want to know, “Why use the Mobify platform rather than build it from scratch with my in-house team?”

This is the classic “build vs. buy” discussion revisited. The tradeoff is simple – when you build custom from scratch, you will get something that meets the requirements that were defined at the time when you started the project. When you buy a platform, you’re investing in ongoing innovation.  

If you’re thinking of a Progressive Web App for your ecommerce site, here are 10 problems you’ll want to make sure you can address before you decide to go-it-alone.

1. There Are Very Few Precedents

Progressive Web Apps are not websites. How many of your front-end team members have experience building large web applications that power hundreds of millions of dollars of commerce? At the time of writing, Mobify powers all of the major retailers with Progressive Web Apps in the western world. Google introduced PWAs 18 months ago and we all know the business impact of PWAs.  So why aren’t they more prominent? It’s not because there’s nobody else trying, it’s that they’re really difficult – and inexperience is expensive.

2. Unexpected Roadblocks

The keyword in Progressive Web App is “app.” Think about how many issues you ran into building a responsive site, which is just a liquid design.  PWAs require application architecture including event management, state, and caching.  

Has your team deployed ServiceWorkers before?  

There’s 180 degrees of difference between building websites and building apps. With PWAs, you’re doing all the work you would do to build a native app, but you’re building it for the web, which is a new process for most teams. You’ll need to plan to have all of your team members, front-end, back-end, and full-stack trained on the new paradigms and toolchain.

3. Your IT Team Isn’t Set Up For Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps are built by intermediate (or better) front-end engineers as they require application building expertise that goes way beyond JQuery and HTML. Yet, data from industry analysts show that front-end engineers are the most constrained resource on retail tech teams.  

Our commerce component library is designed for performance, and features 100% test coverage, support for accessibility, and internationalization out of the box. We also have a user interface kit that is based on years of ecommerce experience and research to make sure you’re using industry best practices out-of-the-box.

Remember, a software as a service offering means a strategic partnership that ensures your future needs are met, not just the requirements at the time the project is kicked off.  

4. Too Many Vendor Relationships

Let’s face it: multiple vendors to solve the front-end means custom integration work and a complex web of relationships to manage. So complex that some companies are even resorting to vendor management software to keep track of everything.

Reducing your offering isn’t an option: brand experiences are no longer complete without a host of omnichannel experiences for your customers. The best solution is a platform that combines a great mobile experience that converts with the new technology customers crave.  

5. Cache Me If You Can

Us computer scientists are funny folk. We have a running joke that there are only two hard problems in the discipline: caching, naming things, and off-by-one errors.

Caching is a difficult problem because it’s inherently about tradeoffs between performance and freshness. Caching is a critical part of Progressive Web Apps, since this is part of what allows instant rendering. Saying that getting your caching architecture right is hard is an understatement – you can spend thousands of hours on this problem alone.  

6. There’s No Open Source For This

Open source technologies such as Angular or React are just libraries for the UI. They provide great low-level tools for managing events and state. Progressive generators solve only the simplest part of building a PWA, such as generating the Manifest or a basic ServiceWorker. Furthermore, they don’t come with out-of-the-box integrations for major ecommerce and marketing platforms, or battle-hardened components optimized for speed and conversion.  

7. Platform Integration

Mobify has certified integrations for enterprise ecommerce platforms like Salesforce Commerce Cloud. These integrations generate an easily consumable API for the mobile experience, save thousands of hours of implementation time, and ensure that the mobile experience won’t be impacted by desktop or other changes.  

8. Need For Speed

Progressive Web Apps can be incredibly fast – but they don’t come like that automatically. PWAs are applications, and applications need to “boot” when visitors arrive on the first page of the site. Booting quickly requires a sophisticated understanding of mobile web performance. Even Amazon.com, one of the fastest commerce sites on the internet, only gets 64/100 on mobile performance from Google’s tool PageSpeed Insights. Mobify platform customers typically score between 90 and 100.

9. You Can’t Maintain Updates

Does your front-end have 100% test coverage against changes that will come in future iOS & Android releases? Ours do, and we test our component libraries against the Gold Master seeds released by both Google and Apple to make sure we’ve updated our software ahead of those releases. These features are all app-like, but your dev team is probably used to HTML-based thinking.

Building in-house solves today’s problems, but new web features are shipping at an unprecedented rate: Accelerated Mobile Pages, native payments for the web, credential management API, thumbprint login on the web, etc. You won’t have the instant access you need to build APIs for each of them if you go in-house, but with Mobify, adding these features is fast and simple. Our job is to be your mobile strategy partner, so we’re constantly innovating – and we don’t use that word lightly – to keep you ahead of the competition.

10. Analytics Ain’t Easy

You’ve built a PWA and implemented offline mode. Great! Did your team think about how analytics or your third party marketing JavaScript tools will work for tracking offline mode?

Most third party integrations, including analytics, were not built from the perspective of running in the PWA context. With PWAs, it’s important that a central dispatch event system manages state changes inside of the application, and notifies the relevant third party at the right time, or holds back that information if the device is offline.  

There’s an old saying in software, “The first 90% of the project takes the first 90% of the work, the last 10% takes the other 90%.” Details like analytics in a Progressive Web App context are a real world example of where the edge cases can unexpectedly burn hundreds or thousands of hours of project time, unless you have a platform that’s already solved those problems for you.  

Building Progressive Web Apps may be hard, but we’re here to help. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of development hours perfecting the PWA build so that you don’t have to. Contact us today learn more about building Progressive Web Apps on the Mobify platform. 

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