Customers have come to expect three things from companies with which they do business: More, Faster, and Better. Not only do they want these three things, they want it on every available platform, and in equal measure.
No longer satisfied with seeing mobile versions of ecommerce sites which have less content and fewer features than the desktop versions, today’s consumers expect full-featured mobile sites with rich content. This has always presented a fundamental dilemma: The Marketing Department wants to give mobile consumers everything, while they web developers and webmasters insist on trimming the mobile site down so as not to negatively impact download speeds.
This has led to two unfortunate trends, neither of which is friendly to consumers: the minimalist website, and the “design for mobile first” imperative. Sparse minimalism on websites is less of a design choice and more of a response to slow download speeds, and disservices customers by denying them the rich features and content options they demand. Similarly, “design for mobile first” assumes a sluggish mobile experience and caters to the lowest common denominator of platforms, again limiting the type of content and features which marketers know customers want.
The mobile imperative in customer service
Customers have little patience with a slow website, and will often abandon a site if it has not downloaded within three seconds, with the “sweet spot” being 2.4 seconds load time across all devices, including desktop, tablet, and smartphone. But as demand for speed increases, the ostensibly slower mobile platform has increased in usage significantly. In the hotel room booking industry for example, research from hotel price comparison platform HotelsCombined notes that hotel searches on mobile grew 137 percent in 2016, 25 percent more than the growth seen on desktop.
“HotelsCombined noticed the shift towards mobile bookings back in 2014 and invested heavily in developing our mobile product to ensure we provided customers with the same experience that they would get on desktop,” said Chris Rivett, Travel Expert at HotelsCombined. “Since then we have seen mobile bookings continue to grow year on year, while desktop bookings have decreased. We believe that this number will continue to rise as more and more people embrace a mobile or tablet as their primary device.”
Overcoming the speed problem
The growing use of mobile as a primary platform underscores the need for a full-featured mobile website, and use of back-end infrastructure and technologies to ensure that website visitors get the rich content they want, while also enjoying fast download. This is easy to accomplish without shortchanging the mobile design, with tools such as content orchestration and content delivery networks, innovations that have rendered the minimalist design approach obsolete.
“Striking a balance between speed and rich content has always been essential for us,” said Jason Williams, CEO of Loan Cheetah. “A slow website is going to distract the visitor and take his or her attention away from what really matters, and that’s content, features and apps that provide information and help solve a problem. From a design and development perspective, the visitor shouldn’t ever have to worry about what’s happening on the back end. Our mobile users enjoy fast and easy access to all of the same features, content and apps as desktop users.”
Rich features and high performance equals more conversions
Removing the fat from mobile websites was always a misguided attempt at overcoming the speed problem, but as anyone enjoying a tailgate spread on Super Bowl Sunday will attest, there is pleasure in fat. Nobody wants to watch the Super Bowl while nibbling on rice crackers, kale chips, and skim milk – they want the full treatment of barbeque ribs, hot wings dripping in sauce, and beer. The same is true for mobile websites – an unattractive site with sparse content and features simply isn’t going to engage visitors and keep them interested.
To best serve customers and increase conversions, mobile sites must be designed for function and content first. Thin mobile websites are going out of style, and this year will enter the same “what we were thinking” category as popped collars and shoulder pads.
The reasons for flat design – slow downloads and smaller screens – are less evident than they were just a few years ago, and designers are now free to create mobile sites with richer content, complete e-commerce functionality, and high-performance apps.