Is Responsive Design Necessary for an eCommerce Merchant?
Responsive design has certainly become a buzzword over the past three years. Still many site owners, and especially online retailers, wonder if the hype is warranted. Let’s take an unbiased look at the benefits of a responsively designed website for an eCommerce retailer and decide if a redesign is worth the effort.
What Is Responsive Design?
A responsive design is one that adjusts the display of a site’s content to fit virtually any browser window size. There are three major elements to a responsive design: fluid grids, flexible media, and media queries. The first, fluid grids, refers to setting grids or columns to reflect percentages of the whole page rather than specifically sized elements. These grids will respond to the size of the browser window and adjust the size and location of content accordingly. Flexible media refers to images, videos, and other media types, that scale up or down based on the browser window size. Media queries are guidelines within the design that instruct the browser to rearrange the content on the page. A sample media query may tell a browser to arrange a horizontal navigation bar to display vertically if the screen size is under a set pixel size. Note how Starbucks‘ menu degrades gracefully, depending on the screen size.
In simple terms, a site built to be responsive seamlessly adjusts from a television screen to a mobile screen.
Responsive Design Improves SEO
A responsive site is superior to other configurations for SEO purposes. Responsive designs do not require a separate mobile experience so all content is on the same domain, all links point to the same domain, and there is no need to set up mobile redirection, which has a high potential for error and interrupted user experience. For this reason, Google recommends responsive layouts:
Sites that use responsive web design, i.e. sites that serve all devices on the same set of URLs, with each URL serving the same HTML to all devices and using just CSS to change how the page is rendered on the device. This is Google’s recommended configuration.
Google favors mobile-optimized sites, especially for local searches. Google also favors sites with lower bounce rates. Because having one site reduces multi-screen redirection confusion and a responsive design would allow parity from mobile to tablet to desktop to television, a responsive design would not negatively impact your bounce rate and would likely decrease it.
Favorability from Google should not be understated for an eCommerce retailer.
Responsive Design Reduces Complexity
Focusing development on one design, one URL, and one methodology can greatly decrease engineering costs. When there is no longer a need to develop separate iOS and Android apps, create multiple versions of your site’s product and landing pages, integrate payment methodology across multiple experiences, and optimize CTAs per device, development gets a great deal less complicated. The initial development costs can be burdensome for a large site, but the upside is that long-term maintenance is less daunting when there is only one version.
Optimization Per Device Remains Vital
Because 30 percent of a site’s traffic is mobile, it remains imperative to consider the different needs of the mobile user. For a site that has embraced responsive design, optimizing for mobile is still necessary.
This means common conversion failure points, like landing pages for registration or shopping cart abandons, be given thoughtful mobile optimizations, even with a responsive design. For instance, how do you scale down beautiful photography on a product page for mobile viewing? It isn’t easy, but it is possible. Take a look at how Indochino, a small clothing retailer, wows you with the product page browser adjustment. Grab the corner of your browser and drag it smaller to be impressed.
Beware of Bloat
This is not to say that responsive design can’t be unwieldy. Using extremely large files so that they will be beautiful on a large monitor can backfire when the same site is loaded on a mobile device with questionable internet connectivity. A responsively designed site should include image size parameters and file size limitations, as well as strategies to adapt features to run with mobile in mind.
Responsive designs should be built to work well with the worst Internet experience and the smallest window size. Additional functionality, like lightboxes and customer service chat boxes, can be built on top of that experience, but their failure should not negatively impact the mobile experience.
When Responsive Design Isn’t the Best Fit
Finally, there are solid reasons not to choose a responsive design. In some cases, a user’s needs may vary greatly when on mobile as compared to their needs on the desktop. For instance, if your user needs to access data that cannot be delivered via the browser or if additional functionality, say a deeper level of touch adaptation, is required, a native app may be more appropriate.
Responsive design hasn’t yet caught on with eCommerce shops. Only 9 percent of the top 100 e-retail sites are using a responsive design. If you are considering a responsive design, study your options and make the best decision for your individual business. Responsive design is an exciting trend, but it may or may not be in your best interest.
Should I Consider a Responsive Design?
In the end, deciding whether or not to go responsive is a matter or assessing your current and future mobile visitors. It’s possible to see long-term trends within most analytics programs. If you are using Google Analytics, simply, navigate to the mobile view, from within the Audience section. Choose an extended date range, because you want to note long-term trends, and select the week or month view. Select the box next to each device type, and click Plot Rows. You should be able to spot if your mobile traffic is growing, shrinking or remaining the same from within this view.
If your mobile audience appears to be growing, you can very much benefit from a responsive design — either custom built or using one of our free responsive themes. If you are looking for help building a unique look and feel using the responsive design standards, call our team 615-790-0823