Demystifying Responsive Commerce
Responsive commerce has become one of this year's hottest buzzwords as retailers aim to optimize their online sites for mobile shoppers. However, understanding just what this design strategy is, knowing whether or when to implement it, and justifying the expense to key decision makers all remain key challenges for many companies.
Here then is a crash course in responsive commerce and why it might be time to consider whether it can provide your customers with the seamless shopping experiences they've come to expect across devices.
According to Nielsen, 87 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use mobile devices for shopping-related activities, including browsing and research. And at current growth rates, mobile is expected to account for 50 percent of all e-commerce traffic by the end of 2014.
The explosion of mobile traffic to retail websites has created significant challenges for retailers, which for years focused on ensuring their websites were easy to navigate and convenient for desktop users.
Desktop sites aren't optimized for mobile in several ways, however. They're larger, making them hard for even the fastest mobile devices to process. They're horizontal, while mobile devices favor a vertical layout. Buttons and tabs on swipe-enabled mobile devices also need to be larger and "finger friendly." And mobile devices have unique capabilities such as geo-location and QR code scanning that set them apart from their desk-bound cousins.
The disparate screen sizes, computing speeds and performance capabilities of smartphones and tablets have forced many retailers to establish separate, slimmed-down platforms for each device.
While a necessary reaction to the fast-evolving mobile landscape, operating multiple sites has proven an expensive and time-consuming proposition, especially for small to midsized players with modest web and marketing departments.
Responsive commerce, also known as responsive design, offers an elegant solution to this problem. It uses a single base of code that automatically and dynamically adjusts the layout and content to fit the screen size and functionality of whatever device a shopper is using.
The approach promises merchants a streamlined process for updates and maintenance as well as easy adaptability to the new devices we know are right around the corner.
Google Glass, smartwatches, shoppable TV and other devices not yet developed are certain to continue diversifying the ways consumers interact with their favorite brands and merchants.
Most merchants can't afford to build or manage new platforms for every new device to come down the pike, but responsive commerce uses templates that can easily be adapted and optimized for all existing devices as well as those around the corner, effectively "future proofing" sites by preparing them for changes ahead.
While an alluring solution, there's a lot for any retailer to consider before selecting responsive commerce. Here's a quick overview of some pros and cons.
- Common code base: One set of code for all devices, meaning there's only one site to maintain.
- Future device release: Easy-to-adjust layouts for future devices and screen resolutions.
- Partial window browsing: Ability to optimize content for any window size, convenient for those who use multiple windows.
- Unified URL structure: Using one URL improves search engine optimization and eliminates the need for complicated redirects, which can slow response times.
- Development costs: Expect to pay two times to three times the cost of a typical site redesign, including costs for testing each device size.
- Mobile bandwidth: Designs needed to resize large images for display on small screens to avoid bogging down mobile bandwidth.
- Cross-browser compatibility: Older browsers that don't support media queries may not function properly.
- Image resizing: Current HTML markup doesn't support dynamically resizing of images based on the resolution of the device.
When considering whether to invest in responsive commerce, retailers should also consider the cost of inaction. The latest MarketLive Performance Index shows overall strong increases in mobile revenue, but it also shows plenty of missed opportunities.
While 22 percent of all e-commerce visits originate on smartphones, smartphone purchases account for just 6 percent of revenue. This data suggests merchants have a long way to go to make mobile a viable sales channel.
Other sobering statistics include higher bounce rates for smartphones and tablets compared to desktops, as well as high abandoned cart rates and lower conversion rates for mobile devices vs. desktops.
Responsive commerce isn't a silver bullet, however. Every organization will have to make its own careful assessment of the pros and cons of responsive commerce before making the call.
I suggest retailers use Google Analytics to get a clear picture of the browsers used by their customers. MarketLive clients have found a very small percentage of customers still using Internet Explorer 8 and earlier browsers. If a large percentage of your customers are still on those browsers, however, it may not make sense to switch just yet.
Implementation can also take two months to six months (less if you're simply upgrading your existing platform to one that incorporates responsive commerce, longer if you're starting from scratch).
How long it's been since your latest site redesign is also key. If you've just been through a major redesign, ripping it all up again to go responsive might not fly. Consider upgrading in conjunction with your next redesign to minimize the costs and disruptions.
Justifying the return on investment, which can easily hit six figures, will invariably prove challenging to those in your organization focused only on short-term, front-end development costs. But those who've gone responsive are seeing huge increases in mobile conversions, anywhere from 30 percent to 100 percent.
Those kinds of results should go a long way toward convincing forward-looking retailers that responsive commerce is a worthy investment and a necessary cost of doing business in a multidevice world.
Ken Burke is the founder and executive chairman of MarketLive, an on-demand e-commerce platform and solutions provider. Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.