There is one thing that I often hear from eCommerce retailers when they talk about their mobile strategy. It always makes my heart sink. “We’re going fully responsive,” they say. When I ask what they actually understand by ‘fully responsive’, I’m met by blank stares and a quiet follow-up of, “an agency told us it’s great and the way to do mobile”. In reality, companies need to think beyond Responsive Design.
Across every demographic, mobile surpassed desktop years ago as the method of choice for internet access. Keeping in mind that among millennials, it’s an even larger proportion of the total. This is the demographic most targeted by retail sites. And millennials should be top of mind when defining a mobile strategy.
Yet many eCommerce brands still fail to deliver a decent user experience (UX) on mobile. It seems an attitude of ‘it works on mobile’ is acceptable, rather than ‘it is optimised for mobile’. Responsive Design in itself is not the answer. It was conceived to make developers lives easier with some tools to be able to resize, hide, shrink, enlarge, or move content around. This is fine for uncomplicated, smaller sites with simple user journeys. But it is definitely not fine for more complicated eCommerce sites where brands need to maintain their reputation and deliver a controlled and polished UX. After all, how often does the easy (and cheaper) option deliver the best results?
The Simple Truth
Responsive Design is a compromise. At a base level, it will be squishing the PC site onto a smaller screen. This leads to really, really long pages without a cohesive flow or key elements. Like navigation, which disappears or gets hidden. With mobile phones of today, ‘above the fold’ is not so important, but excessive ‘toilet roll’ scrolling is often the result. This leads to key messages being missed, a muddled user experience, and users left feeling frustrated and not in control.
In addition to UX concerns, at a technical level, eCommerce web pages become more and more complex, which leads to large page sizes. Plus the fact that you’re essentially delivering the PC page to a mobile device and then asking the mobile to throw a large percentage of this away as the page ‘responds’ to the small screen size. This bloating kills performance. Pages take many seconds to load and then display.
The Current Reality
Much research has shown that users expect web pages to load in two seconds or less and will abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. Keep in mind that if a mobile user is not connected to (decent) WiFi, there will be additional delays due to signal strength, distance from mast and number of other users connected to that mast. I’m thinking about every journey I’ve ever made into Waterloo on the train.
It’s also not just about the time to the first render of the page. Some techniques opt for a lazy-loading approach where non-critical content is loaded after the first render. This can also be a frustrating UX, with images and content jumping into the page when a user is already interacting with it.
The Clear Winner
To sum up, for retailers who care about their brand, customer perception and retention, an optimised mobile site is a must. Optimised for different devices, optimised content, optimised and contextual UX. Removing bloat, focussing on speed, making users feel like they’re in control. The key is not to just deliver the PC site, shoe-horned into a mobile device. Don’t give customers a second-rate experience, just because your developers want to take the easy route. Instead, give customers a reason to be loyal.
Want to know more about mobile retail? Read my article on Internet Retailing: Small screen shopping: clever tips for discoverable onsite search and navigation.
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