Can a Responsive Design Impact Conversion for Retailers?


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Responsive Design is the latest buzzword in the web space. Everyone’s talking about how every website needs a Responsive Design to survive in a future which will have increased mobile traffic and engagement. The core intent is absolutely valid. Consumers are increasingly engaging with a company’s digital presence using multiple devices, its important to provide a consistent and seamless experience to users regardless of which device they are on.

Responsive works great for a publishing model or sites with rich content, is the poster child of how Responsive Design can provide a clean and consistent experience across devices.

Is it the best approach for retailers though? Let’s look at the potential cons of this approach, which could impact conversion for retailers.

1. Performance: In a Responsive Design approach, the site sends the entire page to a browser and the device decides how to display the page. This is the same page, which will also be sent to a desktop so the page size could be bigger than normally accessed via a mobile device. This could, in turn, affect the load time of the page. According to the Aberdeen group, a 1 second delay in page load time results in a 7% loss in conversion. This loss of conversion most likely increases exponentially as the delay keeps increasing.

Performance is particularly important during high traffic events like Black Friday. A client side solution could potentially cause more delays during these events resulting in a poor experience and higher abandonment rates.

Site speed is also a factor, which is considered in SEO rankings. The risk of reduced rankings is low as Google claims that only 1% search queries are affected by site speed, nevertheless it’s a factor to be considered.

Some of the performance issues could be solved by better design and early planning, though the process may not be easy.

2. User Behavior: The user’s intent in accessing a retailer’s site via a mobile device could be different from the user’s intent when accessing a desktop site. A review of web analytics data will provide detailed insights on user behavior across device types e.g. are they looking for different products, different functions and different conversion funnels? It’s important that user experience is customized to address the user’s intent.
A customized experience will help in better conversions for mobile users compared to presenting the user with a desktop site. Also, additional capabilities could be delivered on the mobile experience as the site knows more precise information about the user e.g. location.

3. Streamlined Checkout Experience: After the user has expressed the intent to buy, it’s important that the checkout experience is streamlined to prevent any drop offs. The experience on mobile devices needs to be more focused on making it extremely easy for the user to enter all the information needed quickly. For example the guest checkout process on Staples’s mobile site is slightly shorter than the desktop site.

4. Device Specific Behavior: Are mobile users behaving differently than tablet users? If so there’s a need to differentiate the experience based on device types. According to eMarketer’s 2013 Mobile Commerce Roundup, users were using tablets and smart phones to perform different functions on retail sites. One example the study states is of the luxury retail industry, common smart phone activities were looking up store information followed by product research and comparison shopping, whereas tablet users were more likely to look at product images and read user reviews and recommendations.

For most retailers, web analytics data will reveal that there is a need for three distinct experiences – Desktop, Tablet and Mobile devices. This could change in the future if using gaming devices for shopping gains more traction.

A viable alternative approach to Responsive Design is Adaptive Design. This approach relies on server side detection to decide which experience the device gets. Using an Adaptive Design approach addresses all the cons listed above for Responsive Design.

Adaptive Design however has its own limitations, maintenance being the main one. Since there would be more than one site to support, the cost to maintain the site will be more on an ongoing basis. The initial cost to set up the framework could be less than Responsive though. Most retailers have a desktop site and mobile site, so moving to an Adaptive approach will require less changes compared to a Responsive approach which would require an overhaul.

A detailed review of web analytics data and cost/ROI assessment should be done before making a decision on the approach to be taken. Depending on your line of business, the right answer could be Responsive, Adaptive or a hybrid approach.

Which approach is your business taking and why?

Please share your perspectives and insights via the comments link below.

Sajit Joseph
American Red Cross
Sajit is a senior executive in the eCommerce and digital space. He has extensive experience advising C level executives of large companies in US and Latin America on using digital channels for driving growth and improving customer experience. He is currently responsible for building and supporting the digital experience at the American Red Cross.